I woke slowly. Of course I did, it was a school day after all. Struggling to order thoughts in my partially functioning brain, I reluctantly began pulling on my uniform, fiddling with my tie to get it in the right position. I didn't want it too high, that was just "nerdy", but if I had it too loose then everyone would laugh and say I was just trying to look "cool". Finally happy with how it was, I went to grab my trousers. They weren't there.
"Mum…? Where are my school trousers?" I yelled down the stairs.
"Oh, they're in the wash sweetie. I thought you could wear your skirt. You don't mind do you?"
"No. 'Course not."
Shit. I glanced at my hideous navy skirt, peeking out from behind my jumper, teasing me. I squeezed my eyes shut; trying not to remember the last time I wore it and pulled the scratchy polyester over my large thighs. Cringing, I braved a look in the mirror. The shapeless skirt fell down my shapeless legs from my shapeless waist. To make things even worse, it hung way below my knees as I normally wore trousers so we hadn't bothered to get this tailored to fit properly. This day was only going to get worse.
They were loitering by the gates. Like always. My mum pulled up right outside. Like always. She pushed my tie right up against the stiff collar. Like always. I tried to dart straight out the car. Like always. I failed. Like always. My mum kissed me on the cheek with the whole school watching. Like always.
"M-u-m," I hissed. She didn't appear to notice.
"Look after yourself sweetie, and have a great day. There, look,
your friends are waiting." I stepped out of the car and through
the dreaded school gates, towards my "friends". Ella gripped one
arm whilst Trisha hung on to the other. To the teachers it just
looked like a group of friends taking a stroll. It really
"I like your skirt, Thumbelina." Sara appeared from behind me out of a burst of perfectly curled blonde hair and designer perfume. "Couldn't get one in your size could you?" She sneered, looming over me as she looked me up and down.
I guess I forgot to mention I am a dwarf. Literally. I was born with Achondroplasia, which is a type of dwarfism that means I have short arms and legs, but a big head.
"My trousers were in the wash so I… I had to wear this." I mumbled, instantly regretting ever opening my mouth. They all laughed.
"Sure, I bet you just thought it would look good didn't you, Thumbelina. Well trust me; skirts don't look good on fatties like you. Especially fatties who wear their ties like a nerd. Oh, wait; you are a nerd, aren't you?"
With this the two buddies turned into hyenas. Evil and giggling, they pranced off as the bell rang.
"See you later Thumbelina," Sara called over her shoulder, as she sashayed away, all long legs, bronze skin and flawless make-up. A group of new year 7's wandered past. One of them stuck their thumb in my direction.
"See her there; her mum always kisses her before she comes into school." They burst into laughter as tears burst from my eyes.
I turned and ran back through the gates. As I reached the end of the road, I began to stumble, scared of what I had done. I'd just run out of school! Mum and Dad, they'd be mad at me. I couldn't go back and I couldn't go home. With floods of tears streaming down my face, I wandered aimlessly down random streets.
After a while, the tears ran out and I began to notice people looking at me strangely. "Excuse me, but aren't supposed to be in school?" A tall woman with a sharp nose asked me.
"I, ummm, we're aloud to go out at lunch to, errr, buy food."
"Your school," she replied, jabbing a manicured finger at the badge on my jumper, "Is on the other side of town." I looked her in the face. Bright red lipstick on her huge lips matched her nail varnish, bold and daring. Long, black eyelashes framed her grey eyes. Were they grey though? Hidden behind the uniformity were flecks of brilliant blues and twinkling greens, peeping out from behind the curtain to watch. Always watching.
"I'm calling the police." She pulled out a phone. Shiny and silver, it was the latest model. She put it to her ear, which was when I saw her hair- golden curls, pulled into a beautiful bun. And in my mind, I didn't see this stranger who was just trying to help. Instead I saw Sara. Sara bossing me around, influencing what I did, how I felt, and how others thought of me. Sara smirking at me, I was wrong again, and she knew. She always knew, she was always there in the middle of the crowd, the first to point out when I did something stupid, the first to laugh at my embarrassment and tease me scornfully, making me feel like a little kid again. Always there; always watching.
I punched the stranger in the face.
She froze, shocked, her phone clattering to the floor. It landed screen up, but she hadn't called the police as it was still on the home screen, the call icon glinting mischievously in the corner. My hands flew to my mouth, horrified at what I had just done.
"I… I'm so sorry… I didn't mean to… I just thought you…" my voice trailed off, lost in a well of dark silence. The woman gently wiped away a fleck of blood from the corner of her mouth.
"You thought what, honey?" Her voice was softer, gentle. It was a strange change.
"I imagined you were someone else." I admitted in a small mumble. To my surprise the woman grinned.
"Well it's a good thing you didn't hit them then honey!" the tone of her voice confused me. It was caring and joking, but it told a tale of upset and self-doubt, something I knew only too well. "You have a good hit, sweetheart. Come, I'll buy you a drink."
I stumbled behind her into a nearby coffee shop, taking a seat by the window as she went to the black glass counter to order the drinks. She came back with two cups: one a squat mug filled with creamy cappuccino next to a tall, lean glass inside of which was a rich hot chocolate that was pushed over to me.
"My name is Jane, Jane Reel." I cupped my hands around my glass, looking her in the eye for the first time.
"You're not angry."
"You're not happy." She responded in a simple matter-of-fact fashion.
"What's your name?"
"Phoebe. Phoebe Granger." She asked me some more questions, like how old I was and what school I went to.
"Why didn't you go to school today honey?" My breath lodged in my throat, my lips brushing the warm glass.
"I did, but I ran out. I had to wear my skirt, because my trousers were in the wash. I hate my skirt, I hate it so much. Trisha and Ella, they can't stop laughing when I wear it, and Sara is ten times worse. She laughed at me, she called me names… I know it sounds childish, but it really upsets me, even when she calls me Thumbelina."
I used to love that fairy tale. Thumbelina. I loved it because she was like me, I thought. My dad would read me it as I lay curled up in bed, then, when he was finished, he'd ruffle my hair and, in that warm, jokey voice of his, he'd whisper in my ear.
"Night, Thumbelina." That's what he used to say, every night right up until 3 years ago. That's the year he died.
I felt a hand on my hand. It brought me back down to reality- to relentless tears bouncing in to my drink from my puffy red eyes. My head ached, and I accepted the tissue Jane passed me.
"My dad, he… he died when I was 10."
"That's when the bullying got worse." I nodded, not trusting my voice to speak again. "And the girl, Sara, that's who you thought of when you punched me?" Another nod, as Jane paused, unsure of how to continue. "I understand, you know. When I was 12, my dad died. I moved schools, there was a girl, Molly. Somehow, she found out about my dad, everything about me in fact. She made my life like hell."
I looked up to see Jane's eyes brimming with tears. I squeezed her hand, and she smiled a sad smile back at me. That day I gained my first true friend.
I stood in front of the gates. My fingers tumbled over one another, and I chewed the inside of my cheek nervously. My mum stood on one side, Jane on the other. I'd asked her to come, because this was a big deal for me and I wanted to know her reassuring smile would follow me for as long as it could. Today I was starting my new school.
"Ready?" My mum asked. I peered in to the courtyard. There were lots of people milling about, but it was really noisy, full of laughter and bright colours. I stepped on to the concrete path. Almost instantly, a teacher had appeared. "Phoebe Granger? We're all delighted that you're here. Your timetable and things are in the office but first I thought you might like to meet Annie. She'll show you around."
A girl stepped towards me. Her hair couldn't quite decide whether it wanted to be blonde or brown. Her lips were quite thin, but dark in contrast to her pale skin. Her eyes were her most prominent feature, big and round, they were a stunning turquoise. But the most important thing to me- she had Achondroplasia too.
"I'm Annie." She told me quietly. She was shy, but the smile she gave me as she spoke was dazzling. I liked her already.
"Phoebe, I like your bracelet." She blushed, and I grinned back at her. Life could only get better from here, right?