2 September 1996
Louis's first day of Year Three is going smoothly. He's got everything under control; he's seven now, he's all grown up.
His only problem is that Stan got ink all over his shirt's right cuff. He's got to clean it before the bell rings, otherwise it'll get stuck and his mother will throw a fit. How Stan managed to snap a pen with his bare hands is a mystery to Louis. Why did he even have a pen during break?
As he gets to the closest toilet, paying zero attention to his surroundings, Louis curses Stan under his breath with the worst words he can think of. Yeah, the teachers have told him several times he shouldn't run in the hallways, but he hasn't got much time so the circumstances must justify it.
As soon as he goes through the door one of his feet connects with something he can't identify. Next thing he knows, he's landing face first on the tiled floor, lying on his stomach and with a sharp pain on his chin.
It doesn't hurt that much, it's more of an annoying ache. He wants to get up and check how bad it is, but he can't; somehow his limbs are unresponsive and he wonders briefly if he snapped his neck when he fell.
His mum has always said he's too dramatic for his own good, but Louis seriously feels like he can't move and resigns, thus, to live forever on the disgusting toilet floor. If this is his new life he'll find a way to adapt; perhaps he can survive on the water that spills from the sinks and the mould between the tiles. That prospect sounds better than having to share his parents with a baby sibling anyway.
His melodramatic internal monologue gets interrupted when he registers movement around him and hears a gasp. If someone has come to his rescue then there's a chance he'll be able to eat his mother's cauliflower cheese again.
He opens one of his eyes and sees a blondish little boy with pudgy cheeks that's looking at him like he's a zombie.
If the expression on the little boy's face is anything to go by, Louis should consider the whole ‘what if I'm dead’ possibility for another moment. He decides to ask, just to be safe.
“Am I alive?” Louis's voice sounds so weird, morbid and theatrical. It's sort of cool; he's going to have to think about adopting it to scare off the baby once they're born.
The boy blinks. His eyes are so big it takes him several seconds to complete the action. “Y— yes, but… there's blood? Lots of it?”
Maybe Louis should be afraid, most people are frightened by blood, and he knows he could be seriously hurt. But, nonetheless, the first thought to pop in his head is that if his shirt is ruined he'd be better off dead. His mum's mood is getting grumpier and grumpier as time goes by, almost like it grows proportionally to her belly. Besides, if he gets a cool scar he could really scare off the baby.
The ring of the bell breaks him out of thoughts of terrorising his unborn sibling, and he slowly pulls himself up with his arms, palms flat on the moist floor. He distracts himself from that disgusting sensation by gauging the damage on his previously crisp white button-up. He and Blondish-Boy both let out similar yelps of horror once his front is discovered. There's so much blood. Louis doesn't feel a hint of pain anymore, but his shirt definitely isn't white now, instead it's got big splotches of ruby red.
He's thinking of a plan when Blondish-Boy mutters a low “I'm sorry,” with a self-deprecating expression while he rubs his shoes against each other. The shoelaces in one of them are untied and follow the movement of his foot. Louis's eyes follow it as well.
“What for?” Louis asks, snapping his head up to glance at the boy's face. He's already suspecting foul play, so he narrows his eyes trying to appear menacing.
Blondish-Boy immediately takes a step back, throwing his hands up in surrender. “I didn't see you, I wanted to tie my shoelaces but I'm not good at it. And I don't know the school well; it's my first day, so I didn't see I was right by the door.” He speaks hurriedly and his voice is high-pitched like he's very, very nervous.
It dawns on Louis, then: that's what he tripped on. He decides, regardless, that he'll be kind. It's not like it's entirely Blondish-Boy's fault; Louis hadn't been paying much attention either. And he can be reasonable when he wants to, no matter what his dad says.
Before he can reply, though, the boy starts talking again, “I'll help you! I'm sure I've got something, wait there.”
He walks towards the door and kneels on the floor where a rucksack is resting against the wall; it's maroon with light blue highlights. Louis hates those colours. Blondish-Boy rummages until he finds what he's searching for, turns back around, gets up, walks up to Louis and offers him an object with a smile.
The object is a plaster. A plaster. That's cute, but Louis is bleeding like someone's stabbed him, what can he possibly do with a plaster? He's about to decline politely when he notices the plaster's got a particular design. It's an Aston Villa plaster. And this has got to be a joke. Out of all the possibilities, Blondish-Boy offers Louis an Aston Villa plaster? It'd be ten times better if it was a broccoli plaster, and Louis despises broccoli.
Louis is a massive Baggies fan; West Bromwich Albion means more to him than Spider-Man, even. The only other team he hates as much as Villa is Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“You're a villain?” Louis puts as much contempt in his tone as his seven years and three-quarters allow him, all thoughts of politeness flying out of the window. “Of course you're a villain! Who else would make people bleed on their first day of school?”
He sneers at the plaster for good measure and turns in the direction of the sinks to face his reflection in the mirror for the first time. And yeah, he could easily pass for a zombie that has just eaten someone's brain. On closer inspection it looks like all the blood is coming from a wound on the edge of his chin. It's rather small, but it's like it won't stop bleeding.
“I wasn't trying to hurt you, you were running!” Blondish-Boy whines from behind him, there's a noise like he's stomping his foot.
“How old are you anyway, Little Villain? You look like a toddler,” Louis jeers.
He gets closer to the row of sinks and grabs some paper towels to stop the bleeding. Where is all the blood coming from? It's not like the cut is even that big. He wonders if he'll die of not having blood, he's not sure if that's something that can happen.
Dramatic, his mother's voice scolds him vividly in his head.
Whatever, the lad's a villain; if Louis dies then he'll probably be thrown in prison for tripping-murder. That'd be great. Louis could come back to haunt him later. While he's at it, he could also haunt the baby.
“I'm almost six!” the kid says outraged, crossing his arms over his chest and jutting his jaw proudly.
It's obvious he's trying to be intimidating, but he actually looks like the neighbour's kitten when Louis plays footie in the back garden in the morning and disrupts its sleep.
Blondish-Boy is still holding the plaster, Louis notes. He also has an Aston Villa bracelet round one of his wrists. And Louis doesn't like Little Villain one bit. For starters, he's clearly a big Aston Villa supporter. Then, there's the fact that he made Louis bleed. And now he's talking back! Louis's parents always tell him he's got to respect his elders. That means Little Villain has to respect Louis because he's two whole years older.
“How can you disrespect me like this? I don't like you,” Louis says determinedly. He moves the paper towels around to check if he's still bleeding. And yes, he is. Why?
“What does disrespect mean?” The little boy's annoying voice sounds confused and curious.
Just as Louis is about to make fun of him for being so stupid and such a baby, someone barges in through the door. It's Stan and he's all sweaty and flustered. Not that Louis has any room to judge considering he could easily get mistaken for an extra in The Shining. Louis shivers at the reminder. He's never going to sneak out in the middle of the night while staying at Calvin's ever again. Calvin's older brother's taste in films is terrifying.
Stan's shriek snaps Louis out of his daydreaming. He appears close to throwing up just by the mere sight of Louis. And that is so sick. Maybe Louis can indefinitely adopt this style? He'll have a serious discussion about it with Mum when he gets home.
“Is that— is that blood?” Stan asks shrilly.
Louis can't believe his mate is as dim as Little Villain.
“No, it's ink; your blue stain was so pretty I had to get a red one!” He puts on his best grin and cocks his head to the side. “D'you like it?”
Sometimes he seriously considers dropping football and becoming an actor. Or he could be the first footballer slash actor ever. The baby would never be as cool as him if he managed that.
He hears a quiet laugh and whirls around to glare at the forgotten boy. Louis's jokes are not for him. Hopefully his acting skills are good enough to convey that thought with a scowl.
Abruptly stopping his laughing, Little Villain casts his eyes down and his expression saddens, turning into a mixture of embarrassed and… scared? Good. Justice is finally being made.
“What the bloody hell happened to you, Lou?” Stan asks with a trembling voice.
At that, Louis internally laughs. Bloody is rather fitting. Stan always knows the coolest swear words, his parents aren't careful around him at all.
“I tripped and fell… and I think I've broken somethin' 'cause it won't stop bleedin', see?” Louis replies, removing the paper towels and moving closer to show Stan his sick wound.
“No, you sleazy bastard, go away I don't wanna see your intestines!” Stan shouts, eyes filled with horror.
“I don't think you can see his intestines through his chin, though?” Blondish-Boy dares to chirp.
And that's too much; Little Villain has crossed a line. Louis won't tolerate an infant talking back to his friends. Stan is even two months older than Louis. This boy has no regard for authority whatsoever. Louis hates him.
“What if you broke it so bad he can, huh? Haven't thought of that Little Villain? What d'you even know you're like three years old,” Louis says with a bitter tone.
“Who's this baby, Lou? How did he break your chin? Did a little boy do that to you?” The amusement in Stan's voice is clearly overruling his nausea.
And no. No. Louis can't have that. He's got a reputation to uphold, he's almost eight. The lads admire him. He will not be the boy that got beaten by a five-year-old on his first day of school.
“No!” Louis shouts, stressing with the palms of his hands up. “This baby doesn't know how to tie his shoelaces and was lyin' on t' floor like an idiot and tripped me. You know what else, Stan? He's a bloody villain,” Louis adds, tacking on the insult he's just learnt.
“Oh, he is? What is a baby villain doing at this school? And wearing their disgusting colours 'n all… no respect…” Stan says, shaking his head and taking a few steps forward.
Stan is a big boy, taller than Louis and definitely taller than Little Villain. The kid doesn't move from his spot by the small puddle of blood. Louis reluctantly admits to himself that it's clever because Stan looks down for a second and loses a bit of his bravado, seemingly squeamish.
“I'm not a baby, stop calling me that! I'm almost six!” Little Villain finally says, stomping his foot again, voice trembling a bit. “My dad always tells me I should be proud of being a Lion, so… so… and… and… and I'm sorry for being in your way but you don't have to be so mean to me?”
“You're sorry? Well that's not gonna mend my mate, is it?” Stan sounds stern; he turns to Louis, his face kind. “Lou, are you still bleeding? Shall I go fetch the nurse? I got a cut like that over the summer and had to wear a bandage for weeks d'you remember?”
Louis is getting a little dizzy by now, he's heard that happens when you lose a lot of blood, besides, he barely ate any of his cereal this morning. He's afraid of being sick so he doesn't try to speak and closes his eyes for a bit to try to stop the room from spinning.
When Stan notices that Louis doesn't reply (and probably sees that his face is turning grey) he walks towards the boy, determined. He's not even paying attention to the blood on the floor any more.
“Look what you did!” He finishes the sentence shoving Blondish-Boy a little with both hands. The boy's expression is one of pure fear.
Louis gulps, but before he can react, be sick or just meddle, the door opens again. It's an older boy, Louis has seen him around the hallways; his name is Charlie Harvey, if Louis remembers correctly. He looks like he's in Year Six, he's got that air of we're the oldest and we rule the school all the sixth years share.
Probably-Charlie-Harvey stops in his tracks as soon as he sees the scene before him. “Lucas, what the fuck are you doing? Why are you trying to pick a fight with a kid so much younger than you? Shall I have a chat with your teacher?”
He then turns to Louis and his expression softens a bit. “You seem like you're about to pass out, why are you still standing there instead of seeing the nurse? And you,” he says to Blondish-Boy, who's still rooted to the spot looking even more petrified if possible. “I… I've got no idea what your role is in all of this but…” he pauses when his eyes get a glimpse of Little Villain's wrist, “wait, you're a Lion too? Sick mate!” he puts his hand up for a high five.
Doubtfully glancing between the three older boys, Little Villain seems uncertain on what course of action to take. His stupid pride for his stupid Lions apparently wins because he raises his tiny hand timidly.
“I'm Charlie,” Definitely-Charlie-Harvey says, smiling down at the boy, who returns the smile more confidently. “So, explain what happened here.”
“He tripped me—”
“It was an accident, he was running—”
“He made Lou bleed—”
“One at a time bloody hell! Jesus, is this what teachers deal with every day?” Charlie interrupts the three boys with an exasperated huff. “Nah, you know what? I'm not getting involved; you'll solve it with your teachers. I've just seen a few of them looking everywhere for some students. I'd bet my right hand it's you lot they're looking for. Hurry up boys; lesson's been going on for a while. Leave… uh, what's your name little lad?” he asks Blondish-Boy.
Little Villain's face gets all red and he mumbles “Harry” while chewing on one of his fingers.
“Harry,” Charlie smiles, nods and continues. “Leave Harry here alone, is that clear? Come here, Harry, I'll walk you to your classroom, I've got a brother your age and I think you'll get along. You're in Year One, yeah?”
And with that Definitely-Charlie-Harvey walks out of the room, grabbing Little Villa— Harry's rucksack on the way.
Harry takes one last glance at Louis, says “sorry” again, still chewing on his finger, and trails after Charlie dragging his feet a bit. He leaves faint traces of red on the floor as he goes, and now the place looks like a proper horror film scene. Louis would appreciate this more if his vision wasn't going all fuzzy.
“Stan,” he croaks, throwing his arms out towards his friend. “Go, save yourself, 'm not gonna make it…”
Rolling his eyes, Stan snorts. “C'mon you daft git, let's see the nurse. D'you know I was looking for you everywhere? The teacher was going bonkers, saying she couldn't lose a student on her first day. D'you reckon you being covered in blood will get us out of trouble?” He puts one of Louis's arms over his shoulder to help him stay upright.
Louis thinks it's useless, he's probably going to die on the way there; it's so far away. He's about to ask if he'll possibly need extensive surgery (whatever that is, he's heard adults say that a lot on the telly) when something on the floor catches his attention. A crumpled Aston Villa plaster.
“Look, Little Villain dropped his stupid plaster.”
Stan steps on it on the way out but Louis obviously doesn't feel bad. Why would he? He certainly doesn't come back after seeing the nurse to save the plaster in his pocket as a memento of his bizarre first day of Year Three.
Harry has to run a bit to catch up with Charlie's longer strides. He just wants to go back to his lesson, he hopes the rest of his day isn't as complicated.
It wasn't nice, seeing all that blood, and those boys weren't nice either; one of them even pushed him. And the other one, the one Harry accidentally hurt; he remembers his name being something that sounded like ‘Lou’. That boy was so rude insulting him and his team, and then he didn't even accept his apologies. Harry's parents always make him and his sister say sorry and forgive each other when they do something bad.
“Which way do we go now?” Charlie asks when they reach the hallway that leads to the classrooms.
“Um…” Harry has to stop and glance all around.
He's lost for a second until he remembers which way he came from. He points in what he hopes is the right direction and they walk in silence until they're near the door.
After peeking through the door's window, Charlie turns and gives him a smile. “Okay, so you're in my brother's class. His name's Jonny, have you met him yet?”
Harry shakes his head no, there are several kids in his class and they've all introduced themselves before the first lesson, but he doesn't remember many names.
“Don't worry, yeah? I'll point him to you. I'm sure you'll get on; he's a Villa fan as well. About those other lads… you should stay out of their way. Some Baggies are very rude, they think that because our school is in West Bromwich, Villa and Wanderers supporters aren't welcome here.” Charlie frowns and shakes his head. “That's rubbish and ridiculous, but it's easier to avoid them than fighting them.” He hands Harry his rucksack and knocks on the door.
As the teacher, Mrs Morris, calls “come in” from inside, Harry gets more and more tense.
“Hello Mrs Morris, sorry to interrupt, but I've just found Harry here, I thought I should return him.” Charlie says with a wide grin.
“Harry, we were looking everywhere for you! Are you alright?” Mrs Morris sounds right worried.
And Harry is embarrassed now, everyone's watching him. He wants to protest that he'd been in the toilets down the hall the whole time, so they obviously didn't check everywhere. His mum always says he shouldn't be cheeky, though, so he keeps his mouth shut.
Luckily Charlie saves him, “There was an accident with a Year Three boy that got hurt, Harry was helping him out, but everything's okay now, right Harry?”
“Yes, I'm fine,” Harry murmurs. He wasn't helping ‘Lou’ but he guesses saying that wouldn't help his case, so he doesn't mention it. He doesn't know how to feel about lying to his teacher on his first day.
Mrs Morris stares at them for a few seconds, considering them. “Hmm well, go back to your seat, Harry. It's almost dinner time. You can explain later. Thank you, Charlie. You should go to your classroom, what were you doing wandering the halls?”
“Oh, I just excused myself to use the loo and found them there. I'll head back now, Mrs Morris. Bye Jonny!” Charlie waves at a boy with straight dark hair that's sat at the back. “Bye Harry! Be good boys!” He turns to leave, closing the door behind himself.
When he walks back to his spot, Harry notices he and Jonny were already sharing a table.
“What happened to you?” Jonny asks in a whisper once Harry has sat down.
“Can I tell you during dinner?” Harry whispers back with his eyes glued to the teacher. She's carrying on with the lesson and Harry doesn't want to be in her bad books. He does want to talk to Jonny, though; having a friend who's a Lion too would be great.
The rest of the day goes by without incident. Harry and Jonny have agreed to be best friends. They even shook hands on it. Harry's sister, Gemma, has lots of best friends and she seems happy about it, so he's smiling wide and toothy when his dad collects them from school.
“So children, how was your first day?” he asks from the driving seat.
Gemma launches into a long report on everything that's happened during her first day of Year Four, but Harry only half pays attention to it. He's still thinking about the boy from the toilets and how mean he and his mate were.
“Oh, and Harry went missing today before dinner!” Gemma finishes, smiling slyly at Harry and bringing him back to reality.
“No, I didn't!” Harry whines.
“Yes, you did! I heard my teacher talking to yours,” Gemma says, sticking her tongue out. Her dark hair is in a ponytail and it sways mesmerisingly behind her head.
That's the only thing Harry envies about Gemma; that she can have long hair and do different styles with it. He doesn't like anything else about the way she looks, she's way too tall and her face is stupid. Harry doesn't believe it when adults say they are ‘so similar’. They only share the green eyes and the dimples. But both of them look wrong on Gemma's ugly face and cute on Harry's, like they do on their mum's. Harry is sure of this.
“What happened, H? Are you already a troublemaker? Wow, didn't know you had it in you, son,” his dad says with a chuckle.
“I was doing up my shoelaces and a boy ran into me and fell and hurt his chin. It was an accident but there was lots of blood and he was angry because I'm a Lion and—”
“Whoa, slow down, boy! Breathe. Please explain from the beginning,” his father replies laughing.
The lines next to his eyes get deeper when he laughs. Harry's mum always teases him and tells him it's because he's so much older, pointing at his grey hair and comparing it to her own dark chocolate locks.
Harry takes a deep breath and tries to tell the story through Gemma's interrupting cackles. He glares at her but she remains unfazed by it. When he finishes, his father seems sympathetic which relaxes Harry even more.
“Well son, I've always told you that you should be proud of your team, yeah? But I don't want you to fight anyone over it. You only fight to defend yourself if someone else starts, do you understand? If there's more trouble you tell a teacher. And you were a good boy for apologising for the accident, I'm proud of you,” he says tenderly.
“Thanks, Daddy,” Harry replies with a small smile.
His father is right; Harry doesn't want to fight, especially with older boys. He'll try to avoid them just like Charlie suggested, it's a big school after all; it shouldn't be too difficult. Plus, he's got a friend now, so all in all, Harry's happy with his first day of Primary School.
Once he gets home, though, he notices he lost his plaster. It was the last one in the packet too. He must have dropped it on his way out of the toilet.
He hopes ‘Lou’, or whatever his name is, slipped on it at least a little bit.