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Extracts from my unfinished novels | 'Agent Plasma and the French Exchange'

Well, hello there! It seems you have stumbled upon a little room inside of my head. Don't worry, it's not as weird as you think; I can't talk as I'm extremely nosy myself. Welcome! This is a story that I came up with maybe five or six years ago. It's about a sixteen-year-old girl called Stardust who lives a very boring life. Her only friends are a fellow classmate, Alex and her pet hamster. However, like most characters who lead rather dull and uneventful lives, something dramatic happens to her and changes her world forever. She is chosen to become something of a spy, or a sort of physical guardian angel, if you like. The company that recruits her (I never came up with a name) poses as a supplier of high-tech cameras and gadgets but is actually an intelligence agency aiming to improve the lives of impoverished and / or disadvantaged young people across the UK. The spy / guardian angel, uh, people are assigned someone to protect; in return they are guaranteed sixteen years of protection for their children. The catch is that their children have to do at least two years of service once they turn sixteen. Stardust's dad - a mysterious character who lives abroad but sends his family money - turns out to have worked for this company, and now it's Stardust's turn. She is spied on for a brief period of time (hence the weird encounters that you will read about) before being recruited by the company out of the blue and assigned none other than Isabelle Arrigucci to protect - you'll find out why this is such a big deal when you read on. Stardust finds out that there are three other spy / guardian angel people in her school and one of them is in fact her best friend Alex's protector. Possible romance could ensue between Stardust and this guy, methinks. I had intended to make this a series, calling it Agent Plasma and the _____. Plasma comes from the name Stardust (ya get it? Star? Matter? Plasma? Yeah.) In this book, Agent Plasma and the French Exchange, Stardust has to undertake her first mission as well as getting to grips with being Isabelle's protector. Her boss tells her that among the French exchange students is someone that has been sent from a rival greasy French company to sabotage Stardust and her team (don't ask me why - never got round to the details!) This all comes together to create a humourous tale exploring the tension between Stardust and Alex (because Stardust isn't allowed to tell anyone about this new job), the threat of an unknown French spy and Stardust actually coming to terms with the fact that she has to serve as Isabelle's protector for 2 whole years...and somehow complete her A Levels. What could possibly go wrong? Extract 1 November the 11th



Hell (School)

Hellfire (Maths)

I look up at the clock for the thirty-first time (yes, I have been counting.) Wahey, I am still managing to apply maths while simultaneously trying not to fall asleep in, aptly, a maths lesson. My stomach sounds like a cage of lions – people who are still awake are giving me weird looks – and this headache is the worst I’ve had in a long time.

Worst of all, I’m in a test. God only knows why I chose Maths for one of my A Levels…ok, technically it was Mum who was responsible for the stupid decision. Just because she feels like a failure apparently means I have to make something worthwhile of my life. For some reason, maths (bullshit), English (language I already speak), French (language I will never speak) and chemistry (unnecessary experiments and equations that will make you end up acting like an annoying smart-ass) are the subjects that are going to help me reach my utmost potential.

That’s the thing: half of what we learn in this godforsaken classroom will be folded up and put on a shelf, never to be used again. I don’t know what I want to be when I’m older but whatever my profession, it definitely won’t involve simultaneous quadratic equations. Anyway, Mum didn’t learn half of these things when she was at school and she’s doing alright, even if she doesn’t think so. (Debatable - she’s a bit of a nutcase but I’ll tell you about her later.)

I sit there, flicking through the paper while Eleanor Cuthbertson, the girl who shares my table, entertains herself by cutting out folded paper hearts with scissors and then wondering why they never come out whole. She’s not the brightest crayon in the box and she’s not exactly what you call friendly either, but she’s company, and I need that in maths - I need someone to stop me committing suicide.

I shut my paper again and look around the classroom. Jordan Ling is sitting behind me and sleeping with his mouth wide open, dribble seeping down his face and onto the table. The girl next to him tries not to look too horrified and I stifle a giggle. If Mr. Shields catches me having a laughing fit, he will shout and spray spit in my face and probably kick me out of the classroom. He has no sense of humour, and this is probably due to the effect of him teaching maths for twelve years.

I know I keep going on about the flipping subject and ok, maybe I am over-exaggerating a little bit. Maths can be useful at times. Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing – these operations do have their conveniences, right? Even percentages and fractions are good to know when out and about.

However, trigonometry and algebra – NO. Unless you’re helping the kiddies with their homework of course. When else would you use sin, cos and tan? On the train? In the car? At work? At home? With friends? Swimming, ice skating, playing the ukulele? The answer is simple: NO, GODDAMN IT. 12:43pm I stare at my test paper in disgust. It’s a makeshift one courtesy of Mr. Shields. I’ve only been in the sixth form for two months and already the man has subjected us to exam conditions. I decorate my paper Stardust Bellmaine – Group 5 – Mr. Shields So now you know. Let me make a few things clear – my Mother was a total, utter hippy back in the day and she still hasn’t changed much. Most people call me Star for short, which is bearable. But I curse the woman every day of my life for what she has done and it will never cease until she apologises profusely. She hasn’t. Mum herself used to be called Anne but no, that wasn’t special enough for her. Anne became Liberty Moon and at the same time, sanity went out the window. 12:45pm ‘You have twenty minutes left,' Mr. Shields announces, not even bothering to look up at the clock for confirmation. That’s just because he’s probably so used to doing this that it comes naturally to him. What a sad man. I start drawing cubes on my paper. It’s really weird – whenever I doodle I draw cubes. This is also weird because cubes are shapes, and shapes are part of geometry, and geometry is part of maths and maths is just…no. Yes, you’re probably thinking: who’s the saddo now? I will undeniably affirm that my life is crap. You already know about my Mother. Well, you don’t, but my name alone already tells you enough. I don’t have many friends. Actually, I technically only have one friend. I have no hobbies apart from watching action films and playing with my hamster, Captain Cheeky (I named him when I was fourteen.) I go to a crap school in a crap town and I have crap lessons like maths. Enough said. 12:50pm Eleanor has seemed to have figured out her problem. She’s stopped cutting out hearts and is sitting there with the scissors, feeling silly. She pretends to study her paper. Moments later, I get a tap on the shoulder. ‘What’s the answer to question 5?’ she says. I flip to the page. ‘Find the value of x.’ Really. I turn to her and shrug. 12:57pm I’ve made up a song about maths. It goes like this: We all hate maths, we all hate tests We all hate old Shields and our acrimony suggests This ill-tempered man should be under arrest Oh woe, does maths molest Not sure if the molest part really fits the bill but oh, well. It’s just a stupid rhyme and I should probably throw it away. I look at the clock again. Approximately 8 minutes and 35 seconds to go till the end of the lesson. 1:00pm 5 minutes to go! Connor has finally realised that Raj has been flicking bits of paper at his head for the last fifteen minutes. Now he is making death signals at Raj (including a very strange one which sort of resembles Raj being crucified.) Connor is a bit of a psycho to be honest. And he’s a total, utter failure at maths. This makes me feel offended – why am I in a class with a guy that got an E on his last test and a girl who can’t even use scissors properly? ‘The test is finished,’ Mr. Shields announces bluntly and I immediately start to put my stationary away. HALLELUJAH.

Extract 2 It’s around half four when I arrive home. I trudge down my street, gazing at the identical semi-detached houses on my right. Despite it being only Mum and me, our house is pretty large. You can’t miss it – we have a wooden barn house painted electric blue and a big chair beside the front door called the Lazy Chair. It’s quite cool actually, and it’s good when you need to sit down and think about life, which I do often. It’s getting old now though and I’m not sure how long it will last. Another thing that makes us look different from everyone else is the fact that we don’t have a car. My Mum, being my Mum, is totally obsessed with being eco-friendly; she could put the Green Party to shame. She is green all over. If she could change her skin colour, she’d definitely be – you guessed it – green. There are signs everywhere in the house. For example, the numerous wall hangings made from recycled glass, the clothes dotted around that are made from her old garments and above all, the giant solar panels lying flat on our roof that Mum invested in for £4000 (she still isn’t aware at how indignant I was at having to wear the same pair of shoes to school for ages. Her response to that would have been: ‘Stardust, would you care to go through the list of your first-world problems a second time?’ Sarky so-and-so.) I open the gate and walk up the pathway; it’s starting to rain quite heavily now. Mum is in the kitchen making tofu. I grimace as I step through the hallway; Mondays are bean curd days. I toss my schoolbag onto the sofa in the living room and then walk into the kitchen. Mum turns around and jumps. ‘Star! You gave me a fright,’ she says. ‘Sorry,’ I say, sitting down at the kitchen table. We do have a dining-room but Mum doesn’t eat in there because it is, apparently, reserved for guests. I can’t think of the last time we had any guests round. ‘How was your day?’ Mum asks, humming a tune as she stirs the soya milk. I shrug. My usual reply. ‘Yours?’ I say. ‘Not much of a day off! I had to fix a leakage in the pipe. Huh! That was a job and a half. Cheeky also managed to escape from his cage at lunchtime so I had to conduct a rescue mission-’ ‘How did Cheeky escape?’ I interrupt, narrowing my eyes at my Mother. ‘How am I supposed to know?’ ‘He can’t get out of the cage unless the door’s not shut properly.’ ‘No, he…well, I did take him out so I could give him a few leftovers from last night-’ ‘Mum! You don’t need to take him out to give him food! I thought you would know that after three years.’ ‘I’m sorry! The poor thing just looked like he needed some fresh air anyway.’ I stare at her. Fresh air? For a hamster? I decide not to reply. Sometimes it’s best to leave her in the world of Liberty Moon, where ayuverdic head massages are part of daily life and rodents get claustrophobia. ‘Well,’ I say, shifting, ‘I’ve got homework to do.’ ‘Ok. I’ll call you when the food’s ready.’ 'Mum…I’m…I’d rather not-’ 'Stardust, how many times do I have to remind you to be thankful? Millions of people like you and me are starving and you decide to stand here and turn your nose up at a bit of bean curd! I cannot understand you at the best of times.’ I walk slowly towards the door, groaning at having to listen to this stupid lecture. I don’t act ungrateful on purpose…I’m just not someone with a particularly big appetite, that’s all. Mum looks pained rather than angry, standing there with a wooden spoon in one hand, her matted blonde hair falling freely over her shoulders. She’s wearing a shirt dress, leggings and her weird Japanese flip-flops that you can pair with socks. There’s a smudge of ground ginger on her nose and she looks ridiculous. ‘I don’t understand why you have to be so moody. I try my best with you, Star, I really do, but sometimes you make it awfully difficult…’ Why is she being so heavy? It’s rather unnerving. ‘…ever since you started A Levels you’ve been extremely aggravated and spiteful…’ She should get an award for exaggeration. ‘…and to think that you don’t even appreciate me cleaning your room! I just don’t get it. Isn’t that a favour? Isn’t that something you’d rather not have to do?’ Maybe I hate her cleaning my room because she puts everything in the wrong place. Once I found my iPod in the underwear draw and Captain Cheeky’s detachable fun-run wheel in the shoe cupboard. Plus, when she spring-cleans she uses incense to make the room nice. It smells so icky and makes me feel like I live in a Buddhist pagoda. ‘You will eat dinner whether you like it or not. That’s final.’She tries to sound firm but it just comes out all squeaky. Better luck next time. ‘Ok,’ I say, taking pity on her, ‘I’m sorry. I’ll eat whatever you want me to, even chunks of foodstuff that look like cheese but are actually deceiving blocks of nothingness!’ I realise I am nearly shouting. Confused and annoyed, I run out of the room before Mum can say anything. Extract 3 11:29pm My room 'She just sounds like robot constantly. "You must make time for your studies. You must make time for your studies. You need to stop listening to these Sexy Pistols, or whatever they’re called. They will do you no good."' I giggle. Ever since Alex started to undergo her numerous changes in fashion and music, Mrs. Chalmers has been on the case. She doesn’t understand that Alex is still "discovering her inner being". ' 'I told her,' Alex whispers, 'that it’s a rock band, not an advertising campaign for trendy vibrators. I should definitely never have said that.' I giggle again. 'Why’re you whispering?' I say. 'I’m supposed to be asleep. I’m pretty sure she parades down the hallway and then comes in every so often to check whether I’m unconscious.' 'Why are Mums so strange?' I say, sighing. I get up and walk over to the window, still holding the phone to my ear. It’s dark and eerie out there and the Lazy Chair swings in the wind. I shiver. 'Hey, I think I'm gonna hit the sack.' Alex says. 'Ok. I should probably go to sleep too. I’m exhausted.' Something catches my eye. I squint through the glass of the window and can just make out a figure standing beside a tree on my lawn. My heart thumps. 'Alex?' I say. 'Yeah, dude. I’m still here.' 'There’s someone on my lawn.' It’s too dark to make out who the person is but I’m pretty sure it isn’t anyone I’m familiar with. 'Huh?' Says Alex. 'There’s someone-' I stop. Because the person’s disappeared. I retreat to my bed and sit down heavily, gulping. Who was that? Was I just imagining it? Maybe it was Mum. Yeah, right. What would she be doing outside on a cold night like this? I mean, she likes to practise yoga out on the lawn sometimes, but rarely at midnight. 'I think you’re sleep deprived, Dusty.' 'Don’t ever call me that again.' I walk over to the window again, just to confirm that I’m not going completely loopy. Ok, good. I’m not. There’s no-one outside. The road is empty. 'I’ll see you tomorrow,' I say. 'Alright. Bye!' 'Bye.' I hang up and put the phone down on my desk. Then I crawl into bed, still slightly nervous. About what? There was no-one out there. Alex was right; I’m sleep-deprived. These past couple of nights I have been going to bed too late. It’s unacceptable. Especially for a teenage girl undergoing the dreaded A Levels. What did I think that person was going to do, anyway? That’s if there was a person out there. He / she might have been a drunk. Or maybe a nocturnal bird watcher. They wouldn’t have been a mass murderer set to come into my house and rip me to shreds. Ok, they could have been, but this is Chiseldon for crying out loud. No-one gets killed around here. No-one even gets beaten up around here. The worst crime ever committed in Chiseldon was a burglary at Mrs. Sanderson’s house, and the stupid thing is that the burglar got caught. Because it happened in the middle of the day and the burglar was Mrs. Sanderson’s 22-year-old son. Who forgot his keys. So basically, it wasn’t a burglary at all. Hehe. I can be so weird at times. Go to sleep Star! Extract 4 We walk out into the playground; the clouds overhead have slightly cleared and the sun is peeking out, sending numerous rays of sunshine out across the area. 'Are you still thinking of emigrating?' I say. 'Totally. If I ever become rich, which I will, the first thing I’m buying is my own island. Preferably in the middle of nowhere so I can be as far away as possible from my family, school and…her.' I look over to where Alex is staring at Isabelle Arrigucci. Isabelle Arrigucci is probably the most popular, uptight and beautiful girl in the whole of our school. Yes, she is your classic Queen Bee – why does every educational institute have to feature one?! – and is everything everyone else is not. True, there are a lot of pretty girls in my year but Isabelle just seems to have that flair, that style, that very presence that no-one else has. From her surname alone you can tell that her Dad is some rich Italian businessman, intent on getting his "little angel" into a top university so she can continue the preservation of their exquisite and respected family name. I’ll bet Isabelle probably owns enough clothes that are altogether worth the same amount of money a starving village in Rwanda could put to good use. As we are a school with a uniform policy, Isabelle’s chance to express herself through fashion is limited…or so you would think. Her hair is always neatly styled and highlighted, her skin is always perfectly tanned, her skirt is always perfectly hoisted above the knee and her bag, which is simple yet stylish, perfectly sits on one shoulder and shows off its designer label. She’s not exactly the brightest of students – even Queen Bees have their weaknesses, right? – but it doesn’t matter anyway because I’m sure her Dad would hire an executioner to deal with whoever gives her less than a C on an exam paper. 'I’ll bet her island is right next to yours,' I tell Alex. She is gritting her teeth as Isabelle and her friends chatter away excitedly to one another about…I dunno, the latest knickers currently in season? Isabelle’s friends are, surprisingly, nowhere near as glamorous as she is, or as spiteful, but maybe Isabelle chose them specifically so she could always feel more powerful. These sick people have their strategies. We walk past them on our way out of the school gates. I can smell Isabelle’s perfume from about a mile away. She stops talking to her friends and turns around, catching my eye. 'Hey,' she says suddenly. I freeze. Is she talking to me? I turn around. Nope, it’s definitely me. 'This is an invite to Darren’s party,' she continues, holding out a shiny white envelope. Darren is Isabelle’s current boyfriend and is – shock! Horror! – the most popular guy in school. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. He’s on the debating team, the football team, the basketball team, the swimming team and is lead guitarist in a band. He basically has the social life I have always dreamed of. Actually, he has the life I have always dreamed of (although I would much prefer to be a girl and would rather not have to spend part of my time snogging Isabelle.) After thinking about all that lipgloss, I feel slightly nauseous. I suddenly realise that while I have been thinking about going mouth to mouth with Arrigucci - eww! What? - I have forgotten to take the envelope that Isabelle herself is holding. Then it hits me that she is actually inviting me to her boyfriend’s party and I haven’t said anything at all yet. She’s INVITING me to Darren’s PARTY??? 'Th-thanks,' I stutter. Alex is standing beside me, her mouth hanging open, tongue piercing on full display. 'That’s gross,' Isabelle says, then she turns back to face me. 'Do you know Zack Tucker? The tall guy in your English class?' I nod. 'Could you give that to him? Thanks.' She turns around, hitting me with a wave of Chanel perfume and then glamorously struts away with her crew following at the rear.There is silence for a moment. 'What a bitch,' Alex hisses, although she looks at Isabelle with a sort of strange admiration. 'I wouldn’t ever have gone to that party anyway,' I say, shrugging and putting the envelope in my bag. 'Because you wouldn’t have ever got invited in the first place.' 'I know, but-' 'No-one ever invites you to their parties.' 'It’s not always-' 'But it is.' 'Shut up, Alex!' I snap and walk away in a huff. She catches up to me and links arms with me. 'Who needs Princess Non-Fat Latte anyway? You have waaaaay cooler friends. Take me, for example.' I trudge along the street as Alex spins the story of why she thinks we go to a school surrounded by losers. I try to ignore her and stare up at the sky. It doesn’t work though, because Alex pinches my cheek, makes a funny face, which totally distracts me and then says, 'You’re not listening to me, Stardust!' That does it. I throw myself at her, punching her playfully and pawing at her with pathetic wildcat claws. She does the same and soon we are having the most ridiculous fight ever. Alex ends up rolling comically in the grass while I bend over and try to tame the giggles. 'You’re mad, Alexandra Maria!' 'Not as mad as you, you bloody panther!' 'You should know by now not to use that stupid name.' 'Don’t worry. There are plenty of variations.' Extract 5 Some time during the night I’m having the weirdest dream ever. I’m sitting on a sailing boat when a storm starts to brew. It’s a heavy one and I have no idea what to do (because I’m not a sailor) so I just start to scream and hang onto to the edge, hoping it will subside. It doesn’t. I am flung out into the sea while lightning crashes and thunder roars and fish nip my toes. I am carried away by the waves and start to swim helplessly. I don’t know how long I’m swimming for but it seems like ages. Several (minutes…hours…days?) later I am washed up on a desert island. There’s a procession of tribal people marching towards me, so I sit up and scream. The tribe starts to play music and the chief takes off his mask – it is Mr. Shields. 'Get up!' he roars and the instruments bang and clang together. Trembling, I do as I’m told and he leads me away deep into the forest to a hidden palace. I am taken to the Queen of the Forest, who looks alarmingly like Isabelle Arrigucci. 'You have been arrested on suspicion of blasphemy!' she says and a minute later, a trio of hula dancers start sashaying towards me. The one in the middle is Alex and she starts to giggle while I stare in horror. I scream and scream but Isabelle raises her staff and points it towards me. 'Kill her! She has insulted mathematics!' she screeches and suddenly everyone is coming towards me…I scream and scream and scream and scream… I wake up in a pool of sweat, coughing and retching and shivering under the damp sheets. I can still see their faces staring at me with hatred. What a stupid nightmare. I get up and stumble towards my door, dying for a glass of water. Cheeky is awake and playing in his wheel. I walk down the stairs like a drunk, groggy with sleep. Pouring myself a glass of water, I exit the kitchen and sit down on the sofa in our living-room, shivering with cold. Why is there no heating on?! Mum really needs to get her priorities straight. I sip and the clock ticks. There is silence and then… BANG! I jump up, spilling the water over my pyjamas and squealing like a demented pig. What the hell could that have been? Ok, I don’t actually think that to myself until after I have legged it upstairs to my room and flung myself under the covers of my duvet once again. What the hell could that have been??!! Gulping, I sit up again, my heart drumming. I push the bed sheets aside and tiptoe over to my window, peering through the curtains. The lawn is empty but something dark flashes behind a tree and disappears, causing me make to another strange noise that sort of resembles a muted, strangled cat. Jeez, when did I become such a coward? I back away from the window quickly and then whip around, getting that feeling when you think someone’s behind you. Then I laugh. This is what sleep-deprivation and having no friends has evidently done to me. I think back to the other day when I reckoned I saw a weird man on the lawn (emphasis on the ‘reckoned’.) This is different, however, because that huge noise couldn’t have just come out of nowhere. When you put two and two together…the situation makes more sense in a creepy, sinister, annoying kind of way. I return to my bed, sad and scared. Is someone stalking me? If so, why? They’ll be disappointed when they find out how depressing and uninteresting I am. Screw this, I’m going to sleep. Extract 6 November the 13th Wednesday 8:45am Form room 'Star, when was the last time you watched Scream?' I wrinkle my nose at Alex, who is sitting beside me and sucking on a Fireball Jawbreaker. Why she eats those things I will never know. It’s doesn’t seem worth wasting painful minutes of your life trying to get to a piece of bubblegum when you can just buy a normal pack of bubblegum anyway. But Alex is weird like that, and ever since she was little she has wanted to be a dragon, so maybe this is her consolation for being brought into the world as a human girl. 'Which one? I don’t know…a couple of years ago?' I reply, as Alex’s piercing gets caught in the process of consuming the Jawbreaker. She groans (I silently laugh.) 'Well, after a story like that I wouldn’t have thought so.' 'Alex,' I say, leaning back in my chair, frustrated, 'I’m being serious. Either I have a stalker or there is a ghost on the loose.' 'Or,' Alex interjects, 'you’re just a bit of a head case.' 'You’re supposed to believe me!' 'Why?' 'I don’t know…' I reply sulkily. Alex leans back in her chair and mirrors my body language by folding her arms. She laughs though and I can't help smiling. Maybe I should just forget all about it. 'Hey,' Alex says suddenly, 'we’ve got French next. And guess what?' I take a minute to process her question. Then I groan. 'The exchange students!' I exclaim and plonk my head down on the table. Alex rubs my back comfortingly. Alex isn’t nervous, oh no, she can’t wait to get her hands on a French buddy. As for me, I’d rather eat my Mother’s tofu. I’m hopeless with languages and am dreading inviting some fille or garçon into the queer abode, also known as my home. 'I can’t believe they’re arriving next week!' Alex says gleefully. 'It’s going to be so much fun.' 'Yeah, so much fun for you,' I reply. 'At least you’ll actually be able to communicate with your partner.' 'Oh, don’t be such a Negative Nancy. Your pronunciation is just top-knotch, isn’t it?' Alex falls about laughing and I kick her in the shin. Even though she’s taking the piss, I know she’s right. I just can’t seem to get the hang of the vowels and consonants of the French alphabet. My written work is ok but the oral exams? I spend most of the time in the run up to them thinking about the best way to commit suicide. 9:45am French 'This is it!' whispers Alex. Madame Sanderson stands at the front of the room, her hands clasped together. Annoyingly, she isn’t actually French, which means it sounds a bit silly when we have to address her, but apparently she used to be a child prodigy and knows not only French and English but German, Italian and Russian, too. I slump down in my seat as Madame Sanderson begins to talk. 'I hope everyone is preparing themselves for the French exchange next week! As you know, the students are arriving by coach on Monday evening, so you need to be at school by six the latest. Because there aren’t enough boys taking part in the exchange, some of you girls may find that you have been paired up with boys. I know it’s not ideal, but I’m sure it won’t be too much of a problem.' She smiles warmly. I know I’m going to get a boy. This sort of stuff always happens to me. 'Ok, I need everyone to log onto the laptops and open up the school’s internet site; there will be a webpage specifically for the exchange and there you will find out who you have been paired up with. I think it also states if any of the French pupils have special medical or dietary requirements…' She tails off as we open up the laptops and await our fate. I watch Alex as she scans the webpage, her eyebrows raised. She nods and then flashes me a grin. 'What's the verdict?' I ask. 'It’s a girl.' 'Sounds like you’re pregnant.' Alex chuckles. 'What’s her name?' I query. 'Arianne Boucher.' 'She sounds nice.' I say vaguely. I switch my attention to my own laptop and search for my name amongst the fifty others listed. Finally, I see it. Alongside Raphael Mercier. Great. I will soon be burdened with a hormonal male that I won’t even be able to communicate with. 'He could be seriously dishy,' Alex comments. I hadn’t realised she was peering at my computer screen. 'Dishy? Really, Alex? That’s something my Mum would say.' 'Got a problem?' 'No.' 'You’re just grumbling because you’ve got a guy.' She couldn’t have hit the nail any harder on the head if she'd tried. 'Somehow I don’t think he’s going to be "dishy".' I say. 'How do you know?' 'I just know.' 'Star, you’ll be fine. It’s only for a week.' 'A week is a veeeeeery long time…'

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