August 29th: the worst day of the year, every single year. Marco walked with three bags on him – one on his back, and one on each arm. He was walking back to school, humming quietly, a randomised song playing in his ears. He grinned slightly when he saw the guys waiting at the metal gate that held the sign for St. Christopher's Vocational. Eric, Marc and Jack were all standing around; none of them had stepped over the threshold of the school yet.
“For fuck’s sake, Marco, do you have enough books with you?”, Jack asked, his brown eyes shining brightly in the morning sun.
“My stupid mother. ‘It’s better to bring them all in and set everything up’, she said. ‘Have a good day and enjoy it', she said. How could you enjoy a place like this?”, Marco growled as Eric took a bag off of him.
“It can’t be that bad, we’re going to be fine”, Eric pointed out, a rough crack in his voice.
“Say that for yourself. I hate this place, nothing good has happened here”, Marco muttered as he fixed the red tie around his neck.
“Why are you four just standing here? The others are inside”, Aaron announced before he wrapped an arm around Jack.
“Okay, it’s not even half eight in the morning, keep that shit until after break, please”, Eric groaned.
The group of five moved to the library. They were 5th years and would be working towards one goal for the next two years: the Leaving Cert. That was the exam that would get them into college, and for some of them it was the only thing that mattered. The green-walled room with forest green carpets smelled damp, like the rest of the school. Chairs were lined up in rows of ten; loud noises were coming from the students who sat in the plastic. Then Marco's speckled eyes fell to the group sitting in the top corner: Bernd, Antoine, Toni and Granit were sitting there, smiling as they noticed Marco.
Last year had been tough for the blonde. His migraines had gotten worse, so he was barely in school – in a day and out for a week. Then, after a brief stay in hospital, they finally found the right medication, but the attacks still occurred.
Marco had just sat down in the grey plastic chair when the principal, Mr. Klopp, walked into the library.
“If Mr. Reus is here, could he come with me for a moment?”. Most eyes fell to Marco.
The blonde sighed as he walked down to the principal, who then followed him out of the double doors. Marco stopped, leaned against a green wall and stared at the older man.
“You're not in trouble, Mr. Reus. I just wanted to let you know, all of the faculty are delighted to have you back. Now, we understand that there is a certain medication that you must take, but since drugs are banned on school grounds, they’ll be in the office. If you feel as though you're struggling, come to myself, Mr. Neuer or Mr. Vardy – he’s going to be your year head this year. How do you feel about being back?”, Mr. Klopp wondered, a fatherly smile blessing his face.
“I’m fine, sir. Thank you, everybody here has helped so much over the last year”, Marco replied. He felt the knot in his stomach tighten and the coffee he’d had for breakfast curl in this throat.
“I’ll leave you to it, then; the door is always open”. With that, the principal walked away, his tracksuit bottoms and jacket warming him in the icebox school.
As Marco turned, the bell rang through the intercom. He took a deep breath before he walked back up to where the others were. Jack was mumbling on his phone, probably to his overprotective mother. Aaron was looking at his nails, the perfect ‘I don’t give a fuck' attitude on his handsome features. Eric was sitting beside Marco's books and bag; Marco could see the anxiety that was wrecking his body.
“We’ll be fine. Mr. Vardy is our year head”, Marco whispered, smiling at the slightly younger man.
“Better than Mr. Walsh”.
The room decided into silence as Mr. Klopp, Mr. Vardy and Mr. Alonso walked up to the three desks that were lined together. Each of them held a box, more than likely full of the journals that the students would need for the year.
“I’m delighted to welcome all of you back; I hope you all had a brilliant summer. Before we begin, I'd like to start by congratulating you all – this is the beginning of a new chapter in your lives. Now, when Mr. Alonso calls your name, please come up to the desk. You will be given your class, journal, timetable and locker number. I wish all of you the best of luck in the future”, Mr. Klopp announced.
A light wave of chatter ran over the room before Mr. Alonso called the first few names; Marco knew a few of them, but not well enough for them to be considered a loss. An age passed. Jack was snoozing slightly, eyes half-lidded. Aaron was tucked under his jacket, bored out of his mind. Eric was sitting there, blank as a fresh wall. Marco was playing Angry Birds on his phone. Antoine and Granit were muttering to each other. Toni, Marc and Bernd looked as though they wanted to be anywhere but there. Finally, Class 5C was called out.
“Henderson, Lallana, Xhaka, Kane, Shaw, Reus, Dier, Griezmann, Vertonghen, Mertens, Can, Kroos, Butland, Hart, Alli, Icardi, Dybala, Wilshere, ter Stegen, Lukaku, Coutinho, Ramsey, De Bruyne, Leno, Smith, Torres and finally Götze. You twenty-seven are class 5C. Come up to collect your timetable and locker numbers. Then you can go to your lockers", Mr. Alonso announced.
Marco couldn’t believe it. The people he was in class with already knew each other, through sport, clubs or just being in their class in primary school. It made the knot in his stomach deflate a bit. The chairs moved against the green carpet as people grabbed their bags and moved to their locker numbers. Marco sighed in relief; he had a top locker, and Paulo was beneath him. Jack and Aaron were on either side of him, Grizi was beneath him to the left and Mauro was beneath to his right.
“I swear, if you two start necking in the middle of the corridor, I will hit both of you”, Marco shook his head.
“Please, we have a bit more tact than those two”, Mauro rolled his eyes before he shoved in colour-coordinated hardbacks.
Marco looked at the timetable he was sellotaping to the metal door. It was fine. Apart from English, Maths and PE, his four chosen electives were Biology, French, History and Geography. Then he had a double Religion on a Tuesday with Mr. McLean.
“Please tell me some of you have a double Religion?”, Marco wondered.
“I do", Jack muttered. The others shook their heads.
Marco went back to filling in books and hardbacks, manuscripts and folders. Somehow, he managed to get everything to fit, but there would be no room for anything else. He looked down the corridor: Joe and Jack were sitting beside each other, while Antoine was kneeling down. All of the class was in the little square of lockers. The corridors were painted with a green wash and the floors were a green tile, though half of the wall was white. The group shook their heads and went back to arranging themselves.
“Do you think he’s okay?”, Harry asked. He was staring at Luke, a frown on his lips.
“I don’t know, Harry. Go and talk to him”, Eric shrugged before he took out his lunch.
They weren’t in school for the whole day, only to get everything sorted, classes decided into higher and ordinary level. They’d be out at twelve thirty-five, but then tomorrow they’d be back to school full time: more slugging books, studying and dealing with bullshite than the summer had.
“But what if he flings a book at me like he did this morning?”, Harry whined.
“Go over and see, and if you see him reaching for a book, take his hand and apologise. You're at fault here, you cancelled on your anniversary”, Marco pointed out as he leaned against the locker face.
“I was sick, I didn’t want him to get sick", Harry defended.
“Just go over and shift him – it’s Luke, he’ll forgive you in a minute”. Jordan shrugged from beside them, still trying to organise his locker.
“If he throws a book at me, you owe me lunch for a week, Marco”, Harry frowned before he walked to the taller teenager.
Jordan, Marco and Eric leaned back. The other two were whispering furiously, then Harry laced their fingers together and Luke melted.
“If only you could be like that”, Jordan grinned before he raked his nails through his messy hair.
“Fuck you”, Adam grinned.
After a ten-minute lunch break, all of them headed back to the library. All of the teachers were in there; it was time to decide up the classes.
“If I get Mr. Grey for maths, I'm going to cry”, Marco whispered.
He'd had that man last year. Mr. Grey hated Marco’s guts and anybody that was close to Marco or Paulo or Luke or Eric. He hated them. Wherever he could take away points, he would.
“Okay, so it’s my class up first”, Mr. Brady announced.
Marco's heart sank; he loved that teacher. Jordan and Harry, along with Jan, Dries and Phil were off, meaning it was the higher level class.
“Would the following students go to room 36 for maths...”, Mr. Long began to read off the list.
Granit, Mauro, Joe, Emre, Mario and Toni were on the list. Marco could feel Eric and Luke shake on either side of him. He wasn’t fairing much better.
“This is my class”, Mr. Grey spat.
The first name called was Marco’s, then Paul's. Luke stilled when he heard his named called out, the disdain evident in the teacher’s voice. When poor James got back from holiday, he’d cry. Then came Adam and Jordan. Both Jacks cursed when their names were called out. More names filled the list, and Eric thought he was safe – until the last name was called.
Eric dropped his head between his legs as his anxiety went through the roof. His heart was lumping deeply in his chest; the thump-thump almost hurt.
For the people in Mr. Grey’s class, the rest of the separation passed in a haze. All Marco knew was he had Mr. Vardy for Chemistry, Mr. Lewandowski for Biology and Mr. Lloris for French. He also had Mr. Bale for History, but Mr. Lewandowski would be there to assist the class when he was free because of the heavy workload. He had Mr. Long for Geography and Mr. Hummels for English. The other subjects were attended by the whole of 5C: for Careers he had Mr. Müller, for Guidance he had Mr. Löw and for PE he had Mr. Hazard.
“I hate this year already”, Marco whispered and Eric nodded, his throat bobbing.
“We’re in this together, mate, but we’re all fucked”, Luke growled.
“But we can fuck with him more”, Jack muttered, a mischievous smirk on his face.
“Can we?”, the other Jack smirked, but Joe shot him a look.
Marco shook his head and sunk back into the seat before he placed a hand on Eric's thigh. He knew it wasn’t enough to calm he older boy, but it promised him that he wasn't going anywhere. Marco would just have to go home and regroup with the others. Each of them would be a crutch for the other to stand on when they needed to. They were close as friends could get; now they just had to get through the next two years, or more importantly, this year alone.