coral_sandhu: (age 5 hat)
Grandma had been begging Mum to take Coral and her siblings out for ages. Since Grandma and Grandpa split up, Mum hadn't been happy to let Grandma take them out on her own. Coral hadn't quite understood why, but she knew it was something to do with Grandma saying mean things sometimes, especially to Fry.

They got to see Grandpa quite often because he now lived with his new girlfriend called Maggie and her three kids. Grandpa and Maggie didn't say mean things. Coral wasn't quite so keen on Maggie's kids - Callum, Ethan and Mackenzie - who were a bit noisy and boisterous. But Mum said that Maggie was very kind because she would babysit at short notice which isn't easy when there are four of you.

Grandma said it wasn't fair that Grandpa got to see them all the time, and her new boyfriend wanted to meet them, so eventually Mum agreed to let them go out with Grandma and Bert for the day.

Grandma appeared to be on her best behaviour. Coral guessed Bert hadn't seen Grandma being rude to people yet. Bert was a bit older than Grandma, and was very tall and thin and posh. He said he liked children, but didn't have any grandchildren of his own, and that it was very nice to meet them. He seemed particularly impressed by Fry, who since being in Miss Havisham's class, had started standing up whenever any grown up came into a room and kept calling him 'sir'.

"Bert seems okay." Coral says to Brooke, after they finish lunch.

Brooke nods and grins. She's having a good time today, basking in the firm knowledge that she is Grandma's favourite. Grandma hadn't even been alarmed by the rather unusual hairstyle she was sporting since attempting to shave her own head.

"You've all been very good." Bert says. "We're going to take you to a toy shop, and you can all have ten pounds."

Coral cheers with the others. Bert drives them to a really big toy shop, on the edge of town, then hands Coral and Fry and Brooke ten pounds each.

"We'll all meet at the till." Grandma says, taking Gil's hand. "Don't drop your money, or you won't get any more. Nobody is to leave the shop without us."

Coral hesitates as Fry and Brooke dash off. Nobody has ever let them all loose in a toy shop before. Has Grandma forgotten that Brooke is only four? She doesn't think Brooke would shoplift, but does she even know how to read prices? She makes a mind to keep half an eye on Brooke, then goes into a big pink aisle to look for Sylvanian Families.

There's a cute set of red pandas, costing £9.99. Coral picks them up and looks at them longingly. It's hard not to adopt all of them; she feels sorry for them trapped in their boxes, waiting for someone to tell their story.

At the end of the aisle, Grandma has come past with Gil. Gil has got his eye on something, and he toddles forward to grab it. Coral looks over at him to see what he's found.

"Pretty!" Gil declares, bringing it over to show her. It's a soft angel doll, with a white dress with sparkles woven in, and golden wings, and when you press its tummy it plays the tune of Hark The Herald. Coral can see why Gil likes it.

"Oh, you don't want that sweetie." Grandma says suddenly, taking the angel doll from Gil. "That's for girls."

"Mum says there's no such thing as boys and girls toys, she lets us play with both." Coral says.

"Your mum's wrong, dear." Grandma says. Coral sighs. Now we're back to typical Grandma.

Grandma and Bert lead Gil down the next aisle to find him 'a nice car' or something. And Gil does look quite happy when he finds a big green tractor, but immediately lugs it back to the previous aisle and reaches for the angel again.

"No sweetie, just one toy." Grandma says, putting the angel back. Gil's lip wobbles slightly, as she marches him off with the tractor.

Coral watches them. She looks down at the red pandas, then goes and puts them back on the shelf. "Sorry Pandas." she whispers to them. "I hope you find a good home."

She goes back to the angel and picks it up, then goes to find the others. She finds Fry in the craft aisle, with a packet of 1000 ironable beads, and a frog-shaped board to put them on.

"That's two pounds fifty." Fry says. "That means I have seven pounds fifty left. I'm going to save it. Miss Havisham is teaching us about saving."

"You don't want to get a second colour?" Coral asks.

Fry blinks at her. "What for?"

"Never mind. Have you seen Brooke?"

"Grandma left Brooke here on her own?" Fry asks.

"Yes, you were there." Coral says.

They debate whether to find Brooke. Neither of them wants to confiscate anything off her, so they decide to go to the checkout instead, but half way there, a horrible monster jumps out at them with a loud gun that goes WOWOWOWOWOWOWOW!

Coral screams, and Fry puts his hands over his ears. The monster stops pressing the gun and takes off the mask.

"Scaredy cats!" Brooke teases. "Chickens!"

"I bet those are more than ten pounds." Coral says, looking hopefully at the labels. "The mask is seven and the gun is ten so you can't have both, and anyway, Mum says no gun toys."

"Mum's not here." Brooke says, taking the mask off and dumping it on top of some teddies, then marching off to the checkout with the noisy gun.

Grandma doesn't look too pleased with the noisy gun either when they all get back to the door. After five minutes she takes the batteries out and hands it back. Brooke looks somewhat disappointed, but manages to add her own sound effects.

Back at the house, Coral hands the angel doll to Gil. Seeing his little face light up is worth it, and he quickly puts the angel in the tractor, as she thought he was going to do.

"Pretty inna tactor! Pretty inna tactor!" he sings, driving them around. Coral volunteers to be the bridge, and the tunnel, and the hill, and Gil pushes the tractor and angel over and under and round her contentedly.
coral_sandhu: (age 5 hat)
The school music festival is the highlight of the year, and every child in the school is expected to do something, with the nursery children doing a group song with tambourines and the older ones competing in skill groups.

At five or six, most of the children start learning some sort of instrument, and Coral had tried to pick up the piano, but hadn't really taken to it. Not least because Fry kept telling her she was doing it wrong, something which their parents hadn't been too pleased about.

Not wanting her to be left out of the solos, the school music teacher had let her play with some of the other instruments, and she had taken a liking to the glockenspiel.

"You can do Somewhere Over the Rainbow." the teacher had told her. "While you decide what instrument you want to learn."

Somewhere over the Rainbow was easy. Until Mum, who had been listening to her practice, leaned against the door to her room and spoke to her.

"Coral? Do you know who David Bowie is?"

Coral looks up, and shakes her head.

"David Bowie was a man who helped make it okay to talk about being gay." Mum says. "And to challenge things like boys and girls having to wear certain clothes. You remember I always tell you that a girl can do anything a boy can do apart from wee standing up?"

Coral nods. Mum continues.

"David Bowie died recently. But he wrote a song called Starman. It uses almost the same notes that you're using. Would you like to listen?"

They sit together, and they watch a youtube video. Coral stares.

"I want to do that."

"I thought you might."


Coral had told her teacher, Mr Walker, that she was going to play Starman at the festival, the day before. He'd nodded and smiled and said he was sure she'd be great.

It hadn't occurred to her that she might need to tell the music teacher.

Her friends, Extremely Brian and Rong, watched the video with her, and both got very excited indeed.

"You're going to be amazing." Rong says. "I'm glad you're in Group 7, if you were in group 6 you'd have beaten me."

Group 7 is the beginners' group, who have been learning their instrument for six months or less. Coral grins.

"You'll definitely beat me." Extremely Brian says. "But I don't care. Coral, can I make you look fabulous?"

"Um, yes, I'd like that!" Coral says, giving her friend a hug.

Before the show, they bring in face paints and draw the classic Bowie eye make up on her. But as she lines up at the entrance to the hall, with Extremely Brain behind her as the next entry, she hears the announcement.

"And next up is Coral Sandhu from Year 1, playing 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' on the glockenspiel."

She turns round to Extremely Brian.

"What do I do? I have the eye makeup on for Starman!" she whispers.

"Here, quick." Extremely Brian pulls the ribbons out of her hair, and flops it over her face. "Play like that, they won't notice, go!"

Coral steps out onto the stage, glancing at the audience through the curtain of hair. She sits at the glockenspiel. The music in front of her is for Somewhere Over the Rainbow. But then she remembers what Mum said, and how hard she worked. And she realises she doesn't need the music.

"Didn't know what time it was, the lights were low..."

She doesn't look at the judges, who are leafing through their pile of music in confusion. Just before the chorus though, she looks at Mum, who is grinning. And then she flicks back her hair, revealing the lightning bolt.

After the two verses and two choruses, she lays down the drumsticks and suddenly the audience go wild. She blinks and grins at them, before remembering to bow and get off the stage. She high fives Extremely Brian on the way out, and lingers long enough to watch him play 'Home on the range' on his flute.

There's a fair few more hours of performing - though they wait quietly in the classroom for some of it. Coral does slip back into the hall and sit on Mum's knee for Group 2, where Fry is performing, and watches him get every note of that really difficult grade 4 piece he's been struggling over for weeks. He looks frustrated though, and goes off without remembering to do his bow. Coral wonders whether he was annoyed that he wasn't in the top group.

And then, the judges step up to go out and confer. Coral notices Karol's mum - Karol being in group 7 also -stand up and go over to the judges, and have a long discussion with them. Rong, who is sitting with his parents quite near the judges, slips off his dad's knee and pushes through to Coral.

"Col, Karol's mum's trying to get you disqualified!" he hisses.

"What?!" Mum says, outraged. "Why?"

"Because Group 7 was supposed to be no piece longer than 90 seconds." Rong says. "And you played for three minutes."

"No way!" Coral complains. As if Karol should beat her, playing Incy Wincy Spider on the violin!

Mum is about to get up and stand Coral's corner, but then the judges retire into their decision room, and Karol's mother sits down, flashing a smug smile at Coral. Coral stares defiantly back until the mother backs off.

"For goodness sake, it's supposed to be a bit of fun." Mum complains. "Where does it say you have to play under ninety seconds!"

Soon the judges are back, and the awards are being announced. Coral holds her breath as the judges announce a runner up and a winner in each group. They start with her group, as it's the lowest. Extremely Brian gets the runner up. And then...

She doesn't win her group. Karol is up there, getting a little trophy. She feels like crying, but she doesn't. Mum gives her a squeeze.

But then the judge pauses.

"Also in this group, we have the winner of the Most Entertaining Performance from the Beginner and Intermediate groups, which goes to Coral Sandhu."

Coral gasps. Mum nudges her and she goes up onto the stage, to receive an even bigger trophy than Karol, who she does not look at smugly at all. The judge shakes her hand.

"Now it was pointed out to us that Coral played a three minute piece in a group that had a maximum time of ninety seconds." the judge says. "So we couldn't award her first prize for group seven, but we could award her a prize for groups seven to four."

Coral takes her big trophy, thanks the nice man, and goes back to sit on Mum's knee. Now they just need to wait for Fry's group, because clearly he's going to get a prize.

Except he doesn't.

He looks dismayed. And Coral knows why. She's heard him play that difficult piece enough times to know that this time he got every note correct, and yet he still didn't win. He doesn't cry, but after the ceremony, he gets up and marches over to the judging station.

Coral follows him, with Mum and Dad making their way through the crowd. Fry goes up to the judge still sitting down, a stern-looking man with glasses.

"Excuse me." he says. "Was it close? Why didn't I get a prize? I got every note correct."

The man peers over his glasses.

"No, it wasn't close, you came seventh. You did get it correct. But you played it like a robot, young man. It's not just about notes, you have to play things with feeling! Pick something you actually enjoy, like your sister did."

Fry gives her a sulky look.

"I can't believe you won. Glockenspiel isn't even a real instrument!" he wails, before storming off.

Coral watches him go. Mum puts her hand on her shoulder.

"You were amazing, he's just cross because he lost and he doesn't understand why." she says. "You did us and Bowie proud."
coral_sandhu: (age 5 hat)
It was a red squirrel in a sweater.

Coral wouldn't normally go into the woods, certainly not on her own. Daddy has taught her better than that. But... she can see the tree from the edge of the wood, and she can still see the bar from the tree, so that's within the rules.

"Hello?" she says, running after the squirrel. "Are you... are you the red squirrel?"

The Red Squirrel preens his little jumper.

"I suppose." he says shyly.

"So this is really it..." Coral breathes, stepping forward and touching the tree tenderly. "This is the Faraway Tree?"

The Squirrel nods.

Coral grins.

"I should go and get my brother." she says.

"No, this is your adventure." the Squirrel says. "Come on!"

Coral hesitates.

"Please can I leave a note for my Daddy so he knows where I am?"

"Of course. I'll take it for you, I'm faster." the Squirrel offers.

Coral gets some paper and writes 'Gone up Faraway Tree, back by diner, love from Coral'. She watches as the Squirrel bounds back to the bar, pops in through the door, and then scurries back out again. Satisfied, she starts climbing up the tree, pausing occasionally to help herself to a grape, or a cherry, or whatever happens to be growing on the way up.

She doesn't peep in the first window. She knows better; if this is really the Faraway Tree, that's the Angry Pixie's house, and he doesn't take kindly to peeping. Instead she carries on up and up, past the owl when...

She hears the rush of water, but can't see a bough to move to, and as a massive wave of soapy water engulfs her she loses her footing. She screams, fearing she'll fall all the way down the tree, but she lands precariously on some thinner branches and twigs, grabbing onto leaves, and hoping they will hold her weight... this never seemed to happen in the books, it was implied that it was no more difficult than walking up some stairs...

"Grab my hand!" A pretty fairy is inching across the bough on her hands and knees, and reaching down to her. "I won't let you fall!"

Coral grabs the hand, and the fairy hauls her up.

"Thank you!" Coral gasps, holding onto her tight. "I'm Coral."

"I'm Silky, are you all right?" Silky asks, looking her up and down. "You poor thing, you got caught in Dame Washalot's water! Come in, I think I have something just about your size..."

Coral follows Silky into her little house. Silky gives her a towel, then goes through to her bedroom and looks in her wardrobe. She pulls out a little fairy frock, and hands it to Coral, who stares at it in delight. It isn't pink - although Coral doesn't mind pink she doesn't feel the need to have everything pink - instead it's a light, shimmery yellow, the colour of buttercups.

"Here, Coral!" Silky smiles and hands it to her.

"Thank you!" Coral goes into Silky's room to get dry, and get changed, and stares around it in wonder. She doesn't touch anything, but she comes out with her wet clothes.

"We don't get many children as little as you." Silky says. "It's nice to meet someone my size for a change!"

"Is there a land at the top of the tree today?" Coral asks.

"Yes, the Land of Wishes." Silky says. "But you have to be careful what you wish for."

Together they climb up, and Coral asks about the rest of the tree. They pass the top house, where a man with a big round head called Moon Face joins them. They put Coral's bag of wet clothes in his house to dry.

Together, they climb up a ladder at the top of the tree, up through the clouds, into a small land with a single cottage near the ladder, the other parts of the settlement can be seen in the distance. Coral starts wondering what she should wish for. Various little folk are queuing for the cottage, then emerging with a happy look.

"You only get one wish." Moon Face tells her. "So make it a good one! And remember you can't undo it."

Where to start? World Peace (or would that make aliens take over like on the Simpsons)? A bunny? A little height? Oh, but then she won't fit this pretty dress. A wish to have known this morning that she would get one chance to make a wish?

Suddenly, before she knows it, she's at the beginning of the queue. Silky nudges her to go in, and she goes in to face a rather gothic witch, who looks vaguely bored.

"What'll it be?" the witch asks, looking up at her.

"I..." Coral hesitates. "I think I am lucky and I have everything I need, can someone who really badly needs two wishes for something important have my wish?"

The witch headtilts at her, then shrugs.

"Sure. I can do that."

"Thanks." Coral beams.

"You really don't want anything?" the witch asks.

"Well I was going to ask you a question but I don't know if that counts as a wish." Coral says.

"Ask away, I'll keep your wish to give away your wish." the witch says. "What was your question?"

"My brother made a wish that turned out bad." Coral says. "Not here, at home. He wished to never hear about a girl's horse again, and then she fell off the horse, and now she's sad. He's worried it's his fault. He's autistic and it's hard for him to stop thinking about things. What should he do?"

"Did he hear about her falling off the horse?" The witch asks.

"Yes." Coral says.

"Then his wish didn't come true." the witch points out. "Because he heard about the horse when he found out she fell off it."

"Oh yeah." Coral grins. "I'll tell him. Thank you so much!"

"You're welcome." the witch gives her a grin. "Now clear off, there's a queue!"

Coral goes outside to join Moon Face. You aren't supposed to tell anyone what you wished for, so they wait for Silky.

"We won't get stuck up here, will we?" she asks anxiously.

"No, you should be all right." Moon Face says. "The land is not due to move on for a couple of days."

Silky comes out, and beams at Coral.

"The witch wants you to go back in."

Coral goes back into the witch's cottage. The gothic witch gets up, and crouches next to her.

"What's your name?" the witch asks. "I never asked."

"Coral." Coral says.

"Coral, I want to tell you something." the witch says. "If you give wishes, or good deeds, or anything else, people will always come to you for help. And that's a good thing. But remember, don't ever be too nice to have your own adventure. Promise?"

Coral nods soberly. The witch hands her a little gothic witch doll, and gives her a grin.

"Now clear off." she says again.

"Thank you!" Coral skips back out to join Silky and Moon Face. From the books she's read - or listened to - she feels like she's known them forever. They climb down the ladder back into the Faraway Tree.

"I'm so glad the tree is here." she says, hugging them both. "I mean, I've heard of it, but I never thought I'd see it. Thank you for taking me on an adventure."

"You're welcome, it's better than going to the lands on our own." Moon Face says, handing her her bag of clothes.

"I'll bring back your dress." Coral tells Silky.

"You keep it." Silky says. "My wardrobe is full, and it suits you."

"Oh thank you!" Coral hugs her again. "I'll come back soon."

Moon Face takes her into his funny round house, and gives her a cushion. In the middle of his house is a big hole.

"You can get to the bottom of the tree by sliding down here." he says. "This is the Slippery Slip. Give your cushion to the squirrel when you're done!"

Coral says goodbye, and carefully nudges herself over the edge of the hole... as she falls onto the slide she squeals as she whizzes down in the pitch black, but within seconds she's popping out at the bottom of the tree. She slides out so fast that she comes to a stop a good ten metres away. Picking up the cushion, she runs back with it.

"Mr Squirrel?"

The squirrel isn't there. She stops, putting the cushion down at the bottom of the tree. But the tree seems thinner now. And when she looks up, it's shorter. It's the same height as the other trees. She looks around, wondering if she walked back to the wrong tree, but her own footprints are there from where she skid out the bottom of the tree...

She searches another couple of minutes. But the footprints don't lie.

The Faraway Tree is gone, as quickly as it appeared.

Slipping a hand in the pocket of the dress, she pulls out the Witch Doll. It was real, it must have been. But it's gone.

Her eyes fill with tears and she runs back to the bar.
coral_sandhu: (age 5 hat)
"You don't need her." Extremely Brian had commented, when to Coral's dismay her new friend Hannah had gone back to Karol. "She's not very reliable."

Coral had shrugged, trying to hide her disappointment. It wasn't that Hannah had been mean, she'd just happened to remember that Karol was taking her to see Frozen on Ice, and it had only taken Karol to remind her of this for Hannah to come back and be friends again.

"But you have to be nice to Coral." Hannah had warned Karol. "And no more calling her a midget."

"Yeah, you shouldn't call her that." Said Sally, who suspected she was about to find herself demoted from the position of Karol's best friend again and therefore had nothing to lose. "Coral's nice."

There had been murmurs of agreement among the other girls present, all of whom had at some point been on the receiving end of kindness from Coral, and Karol was forced to comply, for the time being.

It turned out it wasn't just the girls who had thought Karol was being unduly mean; even the boys, who as a rule avoided having much to do with girls with Girl Disease and cooties, had apparently noticed enough for Extremely Brian to open up his invitation of friendship to Coral.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise: what Coral really wanted right now was a consistent friend and no drama. With Extremely Brian, she got both him and his friend Rong, and they got along right away.

Extremely Brian (whose real name was William) was an imaginative child who liked to make stories, and go on adventures, and pretend to be a robot, and tended to shout 'Kamehameha!' if he ever did anything involving hitting a ball. He has an older brother, Zack, who was in Fry's class and considered to be a hit with the girls.

Rong was Chinese and spoke English as a second language better than most people did as a first. He claimed he had heard every possible joke about his name, and kept a notebook with them all in. He was Extremely Brian's right hand man and tended to build on the ideas his friend started. Like Coral, he was an auditory learner, much better at thinking in his head than he was on paper. He accepted the addition of Coral to their duo good-naturedly; very little ruffled Rong.


"Karol Sanders." Mr Walker declares one morning, having observed the changing social dynamics of his class for some time. "You appear to be untying Coral's hair again. Maybe you better change places with Rong. You can change the contents of your desks over at break."

Karol, who had indeed been in the process of undoing Coral's ribbon, stares at him in dismay, before picking up her books and moving to Rong's place on the other side of the classroom. Coral and Extremely Brian grin at one another, then at their teacher; now the three of them are, if not on the same table, close together.

"Now remember." Mr Walker continues. "In two weeks it's Spring Charity Week, so make sure you sign up to make or sell cakes, or for the sponsored spellathon, or for the sponsored mental maths challenge, or if you have any other ideas come and see me, but everyone should be doing something."

"Hey Coral." Rong whispers. "Challenge you on the mental maths one? You nearly beat me the other week. I'll put two pounds in your sponsorship pot if you win, you put two in mine if I do?"

"You're on." Coral grins.

"I'll put two pounds on the winner." Extremely Brian whispers back.

By break, talk of the challenge has spread around the class. Extremely Brian suddenly found he was running the book.

"It's not really gambling." he says. "Since the charity gets the money either way. But people seem to be joining in anyway."

"Who's the favourite?" Rong asks.

"You, at the moment." Extremely Brian replies. "But a couple of kids think Coral."

"I think you'll win." Coral says. "I'm not that good at maths."

"You're good at mental maths." Rong says. "Just not the written down kind, same as me. Get your parents and brother to test you; my parents make me practice every day."

"Okay, you're on." Coral grins. Even if she doesn't win, it's nice to be involved.
coral_sandhu: (age 5 hat)
Coral stands in front of the mirror painstakingly putting her school tie on. Was it under the bridge and pull, or over the bridge? It's no surprise that so many kids cheat and use the elastic one, but Coral had watched enough people get pinged by them to be put off.

Mummy eventually comes in to help her tie it and do her hair. By break time, it will be in a mess again. Sometimes she wishes that she had curly hair like her brothers and sister, but when Mummy fastens it up with her froggy hair clips, she doesn't mind so much, because Mummy always says it's nice that at least one of them has hair like hers.

"Mummy?" she looks up as Mummy finishes fastening the ribbon. "Do you think Carol will still be cross that Hannah's my friend now since the party?"

"Maybe." Mummy says, tucking her tie in. "But Hannah's allowed to be friends with anyone she likes, just like you, and Carol's got other friends. She might feel a little sad though, so don't rub it in, okay?"

"What's rub it in?" Coral asks.

"It's like showing off." Mummy says. "Maybe you and Hannah would be best staying away from Carol, but being nice if you are around her."

Coral thinks about this on the way to school, squeezing the toy dinosaur in her pocket. She's not sure Carol will be playing by the same rules. They've been arguing about mixing up each other's name since the nursery class, and Coral suspects this is the last straw, even though it's a silly thing to fight over.

"Are you even listening?" Fry asks her suddenly. "Mr Irons has moved the seating around again and I don't know where I'm going to sit."

Coral comes out of her daydream and pays attention to her brother.

"It'll be okay. Mr Irons always looks out for you." she says, in lack of a better reply.

This seems to pacify her brother, who goes back to rambling on about some sort of theory he has about the seating arrangement using words like 'per cent' which Coral doesn't really understand, before he goes back to counting the 'checkpoints' along their route to school, which Mummy introduced a while back to stop him worrying about being late.

In minutes, they're in the playground, and Coral looks around for her new friend. Hannah is waiting for her, and waves, before skipping up.

"Did you bring your dinosaur? Let's play on the big tree!"

The big tree stood in one corner of the playground; behind it was a gap that the smallest children could wriggle through, known as the 'Monster's gob'. Since someone had got their head stuck in it, going through the hole wasn't allowed, but it was a good place for toys to go through.

After a couple of minutes, they are interrupted by Carol, who used to be Hannah's best friend before the fateful party. Except two weeks previously, when she was Sally's best friend*.

"Hey, midget." Carol says, coming up to Coral.

"Don't call her that." Hannah says, glaring at Carol. "What do you want?"

"I want to tell you that now I'm spelling my name with a K." Carol says. "So that babies who can't read won't keep stealing my stuff."

"Like K A R O L?" Hannah asks.

"Yep." 'Karol' says, folding her arms. "It's more cool anyway."

"You don't have to, I'll be more careful." Coral says.

"No you won't, you never are." Karol glares at her before turning back to Hannah. "Hannah, I thought you and me were best friends."

Hannah looks away awkwardly.

"I hate you both!" Karol goes red in the face and runs off.


Karol's new name spelling meets with a raised eyebrow from Mr Walker, but he doesn't forbid it. She gives Coral an icy glare as she sits on the table behind her, and proceeds to spend the morning doing annoying things like flicking paper at her.

Half way through the morning, Coral gets up to take some work to the teacher, and squeaks as she discovers her plaits are tied to the chair by the ribbon. Mr Walker doesn't notice above the general chatter, and the boy next to her, Extremely Brian**, gives her a hand to untie them.

"Just ignore her, she's being stupid." Extremely Brian says, tugging her hair out of the ribbon in order to free her.

Coral shoots him a grateful smile, before going up to get her maths book marked.

"Good job Coral, have you been practicing your maths over the holiday?" Mr Walker asks, giving her a smile.

"Yes, every day." Coral says quietly.

"Working hard will get you a long way." Mr Walker says, approvingly.

Coral feels a lot better when she sits back down. She ignores Karol for the rest of the morning, eventually more successfully than Extremely Brian, who puts his hand up.

"Mr Walker, Karol keeps throwing things, can you make her stop?"

Mr Walker comes over to investigate, discovers Karol has done hardly any of her maths, and keeps her in for break, much to Coral's relief.

It's only later on in the afternoon, at PE, when she remembers the ribbons, and heads back to her seat to find them gone.

[*As is the fickle nature of friendships among six year old girls
**Nobody could remember the origin of this nickname, including Extremely Brian himself, whose actual first name was William]
coral_sandhu: (listening)
It's a very pretty dress, Coral has to admit.

There are some advantages to being tiny. Although it was in the age 12 section, Coral managed to pick up something rather sophisticated and sparkly.

"Did you ask Josh?" Jenny asks her, as they get ready for the Valentine's Day Dance.

"I tried." Coral says, carefully straightening her hair. "But all I managed was a sort of squeak."

Jenny laughs. "Well, maybe he'll give you a dance if you can manage not to squeak. You look cute."

"Not babyish?" Coral asks, anxiously.

"No no, just petite." Jenny says quickly.

Still, when they get to the dance, Coral finds, as expected, that she's the smallest person there. Last year, they went to the Spring Thing, which made up just the three younger years of school. Now a fourth year, they're with the fifth and sixth forms. It didn't use to bother her being tiny, but now she feels self-conscious as she watches the other teenagers in their long dresses. Her dress now feels very much more 'Age 12' than it did an hour ago.

Still, she doesn't want to spoil things for the others, so she throws herself into the dancing enthusiastically with Jenny, compliments Em on having made a cute couple with her date, and laments Clare having flu on the day of the dance.

She suddenly stops. Josh, standing with his mate, is looking at her. She feels her face going red. Oh no, oh no, he's coming over, what does she say?!

"Hey, Carol isn't it?"

"Coral." Coral squeaks.

"Want a dance?" Josh asks, smoothing back his hair.

"Yes!" Coral grins.

It's not the most easy dance she's ever done, but soon the music changes to a slow dance, and Josh is holding her close.

"C'mon." he says, when the dance is finished, pulling her gently. "Let's go outside for some air."

Coral isn't quite sure what to make of this - she shoots a glance across the room to look for some guidance off Jenny, but she can't see her. Josh takes her out the side of the school hall, pointing out the stars.

And then he leans in for a kiss.

Oh gosh, this is meant to be exciting, but mostly she's too busy trying to stretch up and working out what you do when you actually kiss someone and lamenting that teenage boy breath is not that great... she finds herself a little relieved when he pulls back.

"You know, if we went into the bushes, nobody would see us." he says, in a low voice.

"What for?" Coral asks, blinking at him.

"You know..." Josh fiddles with the zip on the top of her dress.

Coral staaaaares at him.

"Don't be ridiculous, I'm only fourteen." she says, laughing. Clearly he's joking, right?

"So? I'm fifteen. Everyone else does it." Josh says. He's not laughing.

"Actually that's not true, while the majority of fourteen year olds claim to be sexually active, only about twenty percent actually are." Coral says.

"So you were just leading me on?" Josh frowns now.

"What? No! I never imagined you'd..." Coral flails. "Josh, I like you, but..."

"Whatever, you're just a stupid little kid." Josh says. "I should have known better, you don't even have breasts."

Coral stretches to her full height.

"I can turn you down as a woman any time." she says boldly. "An hour ago you didn't even know my name correctly."

There is an applause from nearby, as a boy in a long, rather gothic jacket, wanders up.

"I was just about to rescue you, but you seem to be doing well of your own accord." the boy says.

"Mind your own business, Spike!" Josh yells.

"Coral, would you like me to find your friends or a teacher?" Spike asks.

"I think we're done here." Coral says, turning and heading back into the hall. She's not going to cry, not going to cry...

Spike hands her a handkerchief, edged with black lace. She accepts it with a shaky smile.

"Thank you. For coming to rescue me." she looks over at him. "How come I haven't seen you around before?"

"Oh I was here." Spike says. "But I didn't express myself as a goth until last summer. I was afraid people would laugh."

"Well I think your jacket is lovely." Coral says.

"Thanks. Listen, don't let what Josh said get you down." Spike says.

"I think it'll be hard to get a date in future if he starts spreading..." Coral says, wiping her nose.

"Well..." Spike considers. "I don't really have a date for these things either, but if you'd like a 'plus one', I'll give you my number so you can think about it at leisure. On one condition though - if you wish to dance, I must insist on teaching you ballroom."

"That's very kind of you but I don't think I'd be very good at that." Coral says.

"If you're worried about your height, don't be." Spike replies. "My mother taught me and she's not much taller than you are. And if you're worried I'll make advances, you're quite safe."

"Then I'd like that, thank you Spike." Coral says, going back into the hall.

Spike gives a funny, polite little bow and leaves her, as Jenny and Clare rush back to ask her all the questions.
coral_sandhu: (appalled)
It's going to be difficult to top Gil's play from last night, but Coral has been excited and nervous all day. Her one big chance, the lead role as Elpheba. Well, alongside Candy, who is playing Galinda.

"Break a leg." she says to Candy, who is getting make up next to her.

"Why would I want to do that?" Candy asks, blinking at her. Coral, knowing her 'secret', translates without taking the mickey.

"It means good luck, in the theatre. According to Gil, anyway." she says.

"Oh. Thanks." Candy smiles slightly, and as her make up gets finished, goes abruptly to talk to Heidi.

Coral watches after her, sighing slightly. Heidi has retained her role as Queen Bee, most 'popular' girl in the class, and of course that attracted Candy to her like a moth to a flame. When Candy had been at Fry's school, she'd longed to hang out with 'normal' girls, to be 'popular'. Since joining Coral's school earlier in the year, Candy has struggled to make friends with anyone, yet has largely shunned Coral's attempts to be nice.

"Look, if I know you, they'll know I went to special school. So you don't know me, Coral. And since you're not exactly in the cool group, there's not really much reason for us to hang out here."

Well whatever. Coral maintained her default level of nice towards Candy, and was more than happy to hang out with her own friends. She had hoped the play might bring them a little closer together, like their characters.

The first part of the play goes flawlessly. That is, until Coral mounts the broomstick at the end of the first half. When she was picked for the part, Faye from the sixth form had said how lucky they were that they'd found someone who was actually small enough to use the stage's hoist. Faye is set in position tonight, and lifts Coral up at the right moment.

It's Candy's job to turn on the wind machine just below her. As she does so, Coral notices Candy pushing the machine way too far forward, with an amused smirk on her face. Coral is mid-song, so she hasn't long to wonder about this, before the machine turns on and blows her skirt right up.

A laugh breaks out from the audience, all the more so from some of the girls when they realise Coral is wearing a pair of pink little girl knickers with bunnies on.

"Turn it off!" Coral covers her mike and hisses at Candy, fighting with her skirt, but the girl is laughing too much. She steps back on the broom, her foot catching it behind the second wire that hoists it to the ceiling. The front of the broom shoots up, smacking her full in the face and knocking her glasses off onto the floor.

Everything stops. The laughing stops, except for Candy, who continues for an awkward few seconds until she realises everyone is staring. She turns the wind machine off.

Coral freezes just for a second. Her right eye is watering and can't see anything, the left is so short-sighted normally that she can't see anything through that either... but there's only one thing she can do. She holds the broom upright, as though that is how it is meant to be, and sings her line with all her heart.

"And nobody in all of Oz
No wizard that there is or was
Is ever going to bring me down!"

The spell is broken. The pianist plays, the chorus sings, and she carries on. As she finishes her song, the audience breaks into a standing ovation, not that she can see it, and the stage hands quickly close the curtains.

Faye lowers her down, and she gropes for her glasses. Heidi, for once not playing the mean girl, finds them and hands them to her.

"I think they're broken." she whispers awkwardly. "Are you okay? Your lip is bleeding... you're pretty blind without these aren't you, stage door is over here."

Things must be bad if Heidi is being kind. Coral thanks her and sits down backstage, examining her glasses. Everyone is talking at her at once. She puts her wonky glasses on and makes a beeline to just one person.

"You. Complete. Bitch." she says, standing square up to Candy, albeit a lot smaller. There is a slight stunned silence around her. Nobody has ever heard her swear before. "I saw you do that on purpose, how could you do that? I thought we were friends!"

"I didn't know you were going to smack yourself in the face." Candy says, defensively. "It was just a joke."

"Well why couldn't you do it during rehearsal, then?" Coral asks, feeling her temper rising. "You humiliated me in front of everyone!"

"Is this true?" Faye demands. "Did you do it on purpose?"

Candy, beginning to realise that she's in trouble, points a finger at Heidi.

"She told me to do it."

"What are you, four?!" Heidi explodes. "I was clearly joking! I'm not that mean."

"Enough." Faye says, irate. "Candy, even if Heidi told you to do it, you're not a baby, you chose to do it yourself. You haven't even apologised to Coral for getting her hurt. Go and get changed."

"What?" Candy gasps slightly. "But what about the rest of the play?"

"Lucy has understudied you just fine, she can take your role." Faye says.

Candy looks at the hostile faces, bursts into tears and runs off. Coral looks uncomfortable.

"I don't want to spoil the play, I can still work with her." she says to Faye.

Faye puts a hand gently on her shoulder and leads her to one side.

"Coral, if you are nice to people who are horrible to you, they will take and take and take. I know you're the forgiving type but don't let her push you around, okay? I'm not going to kick her out of the play completely - even if I ought to - so let's get you cleaned up and back out there."


But Coral knew it wasn't going to be over that easy, even if Lucy did just fine and her performance was, apparently, stunning. Gil had videoed the whole thing and promised to give her the £250 for selling it to Home Video Show.


The atmosphere in school is awkward. On one hand, everyone is crowding Coral to ask about the black eye and to support her. On the other, she feels terrible seeing Candy ostracised and miserable.

It gets worse when her form tutor tells her the headmistress wants to see them both at break.

"Did you sneak?" Candy whispers, as they wait outside the office.

Coral shakes her head.

"Do you really think I'm a bitch?" Candy asks, sounding genuinely upset now.

Coral hesitates. Then replies honestly.

"No. I don't think anyone is a bitch really, and I'm sorry I called you that. There's just people who sometimes do bitchy things."

Then, the headmistress calls her in. Suddenly, she's very afraid. She called Candy a swear word in front of everyone... but the head doesn't seem angry with her, just asking her questions.

"Am I in trouble?" she asks timidly, after a minute.

"No no, we don't tolerate bullying of any sort in this school." the head says. "And certainly not of the public display Candice admitted to."

"I swore at her." Coral admits.

"Not something to be proud of, but you were clearly very much provoked." the head says. "You can go now."

Coral goes back to the classroom and tries to avoid questions. Candy is being an awfully long time.

"I bet she gets expelled." Claire says, swinging her legs on the desk.

"Are you serious? For a prank?" Coral asks, in alarm.

"I heard the governors were at that play, and members of the public." Claire says. "You can't arse around when you're representing the school, the governors will have gone nuts... geez, don't look so worried, it's not your fault, she was the one who chose to do it."

Candy appears back in the classroom the minute before the bell goes, giving Coral no chance to talk to her until later. She follows her out the school gate and stops her before she can escape.

"Um, Candy?"

"Get lost." Candy says, miserably.

"Look, I don't want you expelled..."

"They're not expelling me." Candy says, then lowering her voice. "They said if I didn't have Asperger's they would have."

"Well, I'm glad, that would have been too far."

"It's nothing to do with you any more." Candy says.

"I've asked everyone to drop the hostility." Coral says. "Everyone screws up."

"You don't get it!" Candy says, raising her voice now. "You're not the only person who's been nice to me. A whole bunch of people have. Pretty much everyone welcomed me here. It was like a wonderful high. And what did I do? I struck straight for the people I saw as being top of the social ladder, everyone else I rejected. And now I have nobody."

Fry, who has come to pick Coral up, appears nearby.

"You should come back to Jackson Street." he says. "I don't know why you left in the first place."

"To be normal?" Candy says.

"But you're not normal. Neither's Coral, neither's Rahne or Brooke. Not even Heidi. Nobody is normal." Fry says. "There's no such thing. And even typical popularity is a myth. Coral might be the geekiest teacher's pet in her class but the others soon stuck up for her when you hurt her. We liked having you in the band, and Nimesh missed you a lot."

"Jo hates me. So does Kathy. And I can't bear Jordan. I don't have any girl friends."

"They haven't seen you for a year, just make a fresh start and don't insult them." Fry shrugs. "We have a couple of new people anyway."

Candy hesitates.

"I'll think about it." she says.
coral_sandhu: (Default)
It's House Music day. Coral's been pretty excited about landing a solo, not to mention that she managed to persuade her house to perform a rendition of 'I'd like to teach the world to sing' that Fry put together for them.

"You're going to look like a right moron." Heidi said nastily, the day before the competition. "That song is so cheesy, the whole school will laugh at you."

"You're just jealous because your house is singing something in Latin." Claire, Coral's friend, puts in.

"Like I would sing in front of the school." Heidi says.

"Of course not, you're too scared." Claire says. "C'mon Col, even if you're not in my house, I'll come listen to you practice."

On the day of the performance, the house captain comes to wish them luck before they start. The entire school is watching, plus the teachers, the headmistress, and a guest judge. As the curtains open, just before Em flicks on the stage spotlight, Coral spots Heidi in the front row, armed with a camera phone...

For a moment she freezes. She's starting the song, it's all a cappella, and the conductor is looking at her to get her attention. She forces her eyes off the camera, and makes up her mind that all she can do is sing so well that nobody can ever laugh...

"I'd like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves.

I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company

I'd like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills
Oh peace throughout the land."

It works. There's a rousing chorus as the other girls sing the parts. Rahne, who can't sing a note, is at the side with a tambourine. And that's when Coral gets an idea.

They win the competition by a significant number of points. And it seems to have done nothing to dent Coral's street cred (not that she had much), as a whole bunch of people she doesn't even know the name of come and tell her how well she did. She's used to people knowing her more than she knows them, though, being still the smallest girl in the school despite a second year.

Heidi looks a little put out by the positive attention Coral is getting from students and teachers. But Coral knows that the video thing needs to be nipped in the bud, and approaches the mean girl at the first opportunity.

"Thanks for videoing my performance, I'd love a copy. Shame it can't go on the internet."

"Try and stop me." Heidi says nastily.

"Oh I don't need to, the law prevents you." Coral says, smiling.

"Like anyone is going to prosecute me for that." Heidi scoffs.

"Oh it's not that unlikely. You see, you have videoed twenty minors, without their or written parental consent. Furthermore, your entire footage contains Rahne, who as you now know is my foster-sister; you can't upload film, pictures or even something with her name on without prior agreement from her social worker." Coral grins. "We anticipated you were going to try something like this, so she made sure to tambourine right in your view the whole way."

Heidi looks momentarily lost for words.

"'Furthermore', Coral, you're still a dork." one of the other Popular Girls says.

Heidi doesn't dare upload the footage. But by the evening, a rather mocking still of Coral is circulating around the social networks, with her mouth wide open in song, Rahne fuzzed out, and various unkind captions. She was tempted to just ignore it, but it's hard to not look and see what people are saying.

As she pauses on a particularly nasty one, Rahne comes in the room behind her and sighs.

"Col, don't beat yourself up about that picture. It's just a small clique of stupid high school girls, everyone else thought you sang amazingly."

"I guess I'm just a bit disappointed." Coral says. "I thought I outsmarted them."

"You did." Rahne says. "They'll get tired of it soon, and in the meantime, you can flag all of their social networking pages as inappropriate use of pictures of a minor. They'll soon stop if they get a warning that they'll lose their accounts."

"Why do they hate me so much?" Coral asks, looking around at Rahne.

"I don't think they hate you." Rahne says. "They just want to be top of the food chain, and they do that by trying to make other people feel small." She squeezes Coral's shoulder. "And you're the smallest girl in the school, but you're super determined."

"I'm not sure I get that theory."

"You wouldn't, you're still far too nice to people. Though you're getting better, you're learning to be academic without being a teacher's pet." Rahne says, in her usual blunt manner.

"Thanks. I think."

"Hey, look." Rahne points to the screen. A whole bunch of people have jumped on the bullies, threatening to have their accounts removed. "See? Told you you're more popular than you think."


coral_sandhu: (Default)
Coral Antonia Sandhu

November 2016



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