The best thing about school? Lunch break. She’d cross the basketball court and turn around the corner to reach the car park and sit behind the school vans.
There, she could read away from the other girls’ mockery. They had laughed at her so many times she no could longer tell when it wasn’t about her. The characters in her book didn’t laugh at her. They took her on adventures much more fun than the drudgery of classes and homework and gossip and keeping her head low. She fought villains with D’Artagnan and plotted her revenge with Edmond Dantes. She couldn’t ask for better friends.
Soon, her hiding extended to Sundays at the beach and family gatherings, when the boisterous prole of cousins and family friends made peace and quiet a luxury.
“Everybody needs friends,” her cousin sighed. Since he had discovered her hiding spot at the family beach house, he was the one they sent to bring her back. He was keen to look older, to distance himself from the little cousins with whom he was grouped. The cigarette between his fingers and his languid brown eyes made him feel older, more a world-weary traveller than a lanky 18-year-old fresh out of school.
“Do you have friends?” she asked.
“Lots of friends.”
“Like, real friends?” She pressed. “Do they really, really like you? Can you tell them anything?”
“Of course,” he replied quickly, more to reassure himself than her.
“How do you get people to like you?”
He shook his head. “It’s not about how to make people like you. It’s about finding people who are like you. Like, I could never hang out with guys who kick puppies or don’t like music. Sometimes, some people won’t like you. That doesn’t mean you’re bad or anything. You just have to find those who do like you.”
“Where do I find them?”
“Maybe you’re trying too hard. I mean, I think you’re a pretty cool kid,” he shrugged, with a flash of a smile before getting up and back to the house.