Chapter 7:

A Clean Slate

Fair, no Fair

The next morning I woke up early due to Joey's obnoxious alarm. I moaned and covered my face with my pillow while Joey stumbled out of bed to snooze it. "Oh, sorry to wake you up,” he apologized with a soft smile. “Me and the guys are going for a morning jog. I'll be gone in a minute."

He quickly switched outfits and put on his shoes as if he was in a hurry. "I'll see you again when we're going to the museum." He was gone before I could fully comprehend what he just had said. At least he seemed cheery, that ought to be a good sign.

It took me a while before I managed to drag my ass out of bed. My body felt sore and tired from my very unfortunate fall on the ice yesterday and it made my morning exercises twice as difficult. Luckily the scrapes on my knees were healing just fine. By the end of my routine, my muscles were burning and I decided to take a quick shower before heading over to the dining room for breakfast. Georgy, Max and Derek settled down at my table, chatting excitedly like a flock of birds, right after I had sat down. Their loud presence instantly made me feel uncomfortable and I had to remind myself multiple times of my intention to befriend them to stop myself from bolting out of the room.

“Jesus Simon, you look like you’ve been hit by a truck,” Georgy yawned ever so subtly while grossly chewing on a piece of toast.

“Well, you don’t look too good either and you haven’t even fallen on your face yesterday,” I snarkily replied while taking a sip of my coffee. I was not in the mood for Georgy’s dumb comments this morning. Derek snorted and I was almost afraid he was going to choke on his croissant.

Max made a successful attempt at changing the topic of conversation whilst he was peeling the skin off an orange. “How’d it go with Joey yesterday? Did he try anything funny?”

I shook my head. “Nah, it’s fine. He acts… sorta normal now? It’s strange, but at least he’s not insulting me anymore.” I pushed a leftover grape across my nearly empty plate with my fork and frowned quizzically.

Derek looked pleased with himself. “See? I promised you Joey's not a bad guy at heart. That being said, I will advise you to avoid him if he’s with his friends, they can be a toxic combination... But I don't need to tell you that, you've already experienced that first hand.”

Derek, who always needed to be the centre of attention, talked on for a little longer, but while I pretended to listen, my attention was drawn to Joey and his pack as they entered the room. They were all laughing and joking and frolicking around as they claimed a table, and their presence lifted everyone's mood (except for maybe Georgy’s). Although I deeply despised what their group stood for, I could not help but stare in awe.

Like always, Joey’s food was gone from his plate in the blink of an eye and I seriously started to wonder whether he was the first person on earth to invent a way to inhale food. After everyone had finished their breakfast, we were instructed to retrieve our backpacks and meet up in front of the hotel where our travel bus was waiting. The last thing I wanted was to be paired up with a random kid, so I claimed a spot next to Derek. Despite being in the front of the bus, I could still hear Joey and the other rowdy popular kids who were seated in the back.

I sighed and talked with Derek for a bit about our school’s theatre group and GSA which he was a part of. Luckily for me, Derek loved to talk about himself, so I did not need to say all that much except for an occasional: “hmhm” or “yeah, definitely” or more rarely a “They did not!?”

As fun as it was to hear about Derek’s hectic social life, I was relieved when we finally got out of the stuffy bus. Unfortunately for me, we did not have much time outside before we were pushed into the stuffy museum that we were visiting. Our math teacher, Mr Khan, tried to hush our energetic group but calming down a herd of teenagers who have not been able to move freely for the past hour and a half was easier said than done. Eventually, he gave up and our PE teacher took over his task.

“Listen up, you wild animals,” she shouted, silencing the group immediately. “First you must form 4 to 5 groups. Each group will be taken on a tour through the museum by one of the lovely tour guides that the museum has assigned to us. You are not at home, so behave yourselves! After the tour, you will get half an hour to explore the museum by yourselves. We will meet up here again at 1 pm sharp, got it!?” A weak sign of agreement came from the crowd in the form of silent nods and muttered “yes, ma’am”’s. “Good! Go form some groups and then we can start.”

Derek grabbed a hold of my arm. “Come on, I’ll take you to my other friends. That way you’re not stuck with Joey again.” I nodded and followed Derek somewhat hesitantly. My fears were confirmed when I looked around my tour group: I did not recognize a single one of them.

I shot a distressed look at Max and Georgy, who were on the other side of the room. My original plan had been to join a group with them, but when I saw our PE teacher pair them up with Joey’s pack, I was glad I had chosen to stick with Derek. Max caught my eye and gave me a thumbs up. I sighed in relief. I'm sure they would be fine without me.

Our group was the last one to leave and Derek had left my side in favour of catching up with a friend of his. I sighed. I guess I was on my own again. “It’s okay”, I muttered to myself as I took my camera out of my backpack. I took a deep breath. “Everything will be fine... I’ll just focus on taking some pictures.”