Lawrie Marlow sat on a stool in the physics lab with her head pillowed on her arms on the desk. She wasn’t crying – this was too deep for tears. To have thought, for ten glorious minutes, that she was going to be the Shepherd Boy in the Christmas play, and then to find, awfully, that it was her twin sister Nicola who had been given the part. She didn’t know how to cope with this. Nothing had ever hurt so badly.
Rationally, of course, it wasn’t Nicola’s fault. She couldn’t have said no. But why, oh why, did it have to be Nicola, of all people? It wouldn’t have hurt nearly so much. And why did she have to have misread the list – if only she had seen that it said “N Marlow”, not L. She would have minded, but it wouldn’t feel as though she had been kicked in the stomach.
A hand on her shoulder. Oh, Tim. Yes, of course, she’d told Nicola to get Tim. Tim was the only person in the whole place who ever knew what she was talking about.
But Tim, for all she meant to be kind, hadn’t yet learnt that sometimes all you could do for someone was be there, a silent presence that supported, but didn’t try to put things right. Everything she said was wrong – she want to slag off Nicola for taking the part, but as both she and Lawrie knew, realistically, that Nicola couldn’t have refused, this didn’t work. She wanted to reassure Lawrie that it was nothing to do with her as a person, but again, they both knew that if Lawrie had been more like Nicola, she would have been offered the part in the first place. Tim found herself chattering on, saying nothing of real import, wishing she could shut up, wishing, even, to her secret shame, that she could just leave Lawrie to it.
It was a relief when Lawrie suddenly leapt up, rushed over to the nearest sink and was sick into it. At last Tim could do something practical. When Lawrie had finished, she helped her rinse away the mess, and then said,
“Right, we’re going to Matron!”
“Oh no, I’m all right, really,” Lawrie tried to protest, but as she knew she wasn’t, not really, she didn’t protest further when Tim steered her away and up to the San.
“Yes, well, bed for you, I think,” said Matron. “Thalia, please go and ask Ann Marlow to bring Lawrence’s overnight things.”
It was not long before Lawrie found herself tucked up in bed in the San, with a bucket beside her in case of further sickness, and instructions to go to sleep as soon as she could, but to ring the bell if she was sick again.
And then, finally, alone in the dark, the tears came.