John Hamish Watson was not best pleased.
Both of his feet were firmly planted on the worn carpet, his arms were crossed in front of his chest and the expression on his face was thunderous. He had been so looking forward to this day and now it had all been ruined. “This isn’t fair,” he said fiercely.
Unfortunately, Headmaster Owens looked entirely unimpressed. “Watson,” he said mildly, “you are not in primary school any longer. Things are bound to be different here.”
John sighed, trying to be patient with the man; clearly, he was not aware of how things were meant to be. “But Sherlock and I have always been in the same class. Since nursery, even.”
“How nice. But now you are eleven and in secondary school. New rules, new classes, new friends. It’s an adventure.”
John was not an idiot, no matter what Sherlock called him at least once a week, and he could see that his arguments were not going to move the headmaster at all. Still, he had to try. “Sherlock doesn’t want any new friends,” he muttered darkly.
The smile Headmaster Owens gave him reminded John of the hated Mycroft. Smug, Sherlock once said and after looking up the word, John could only agree. “Yet he is not here whinging, is he? Clearly, Holmes is in his proper classroom and so you ought to be as well. Good morning, Watson. Unless you want a mark against your name for being tardy on the first day, I suggest you hop to it and get to Mr Gilroy’s room.”
Of course Sherlock isn’t here, John wanted to say. Because this kind of thing is down to me.
Mummy Holmes had once called him the Ambassador to Sherlock and that had made him feel good. Important.
But right now, he didn’t say anything else. He just frowned at the headmaster once more, to make sure that his displeasure was clear and left the office.
He moved as slowly as he could down the corridor, pausing outside of Mr Hart’s class and staring through the window. He could see Sherlock sitting in the back row, his tie already askew, his long legs stretched out into the aisle defiantly. When Sherlock lifted his head, probably to sneer at something the teacher was saying, he saw John standing there. One brow quirked, a hopeful expression on his face.
John just shook his head and raised a hand in farewell.
Mr Gilroy was displeased when John finally showed up, but said that since he had been in the headmaster’s office there would be no mark against his name. This time. He merely pointed John towards an empty desk near the back of the room and continued his explanation of just how their days would progress in the future, especially as it related to his role as their form tutor,
John always wanted to be a good student, so he tried to listen, but a good part of his mind was still on Sherlock and how his best mate would be coping on his own. It did not take a genius to understand that Sherlock Holmes had a hard time dealing with people, other than John himself. They had met at age four, on their first day at nursery, when another boy had snatched away the book that Sherlock had been quietly reading in the corner and then laughed when tears welled up in the smaller boy’s eyes. “Cry-baby,” he said loudly.
John hated bullies, having had considerable experience with the one who shared his bedroom, so he marched over, took the book back and handed it to Sherlock. Then he glared at the bully until the bigger boy just shrugged and walked away. John dropped onto the mat next to Sherlock. “There,” he said.
“Thank you,” Sherlock whispered, clutching the book to his chest. The brightly coloured picture on the cover showed a fierce pirate brandishing a sword. “A cutlass,” Sherlock had corrected him when John commented. And then he gave a lecture on piracy, delivered softly, with a slight lisp.
Even now, the memory made John smile to himself.
The rest of the morning was taken up with meeting some of his teachers and receiving a syllabus for each course. It was all a bit overwhelming and something of a muddle, so John was relieved to find himself back in Mr Gilroy’s room before lunch.
The man handed each student several papers as they entered. “It is a requirement that you each register to participate in one extracurricular activity. These are your choices. Take the list home with you and think about it. Confer with your parents. Be sure to bring the papers back tomorrow with your choice marked and the permission form signed.”
Once in his seat, John ran his eyes down the list and then grinned. Football! Instead of just him and Sherlock kicking a ball around in the Holmes’ huge back garden, they could be on a real team.
As soon as Mr Gilroy dismissed them for lunch, John took the list and his brown paper bag and ran outside to meet Sherlock as they had planned. The other boy was already sitting on the stone bench, but he had made no move to open the shiny metal lunchbox on his lap. “John,” he said softly.
John dropped onto the bench next to him. “Was it horrid?” he asked.
Sherlock chewed on his lower lip. “I missed you,” he said. “Everyone else is boring and stupid.”
“I hope you didn’t tell them that,” John replied with a grin, then he nudged Sherlock’s shoulder with his own. “I missed you, too.”
They each considered their respective sandwiches and then wordlessly switched.
John took an enthusiastic bite of the ham and cheese, chewing and swallowing quickly before speaking again. “But isn’t it great about the football!”
Sherlock nibbled one corner of the egg mayonnaise sandwich and frowned. “What about the football?”
John nodded towards the list. “The extracurricular stuff. We can sign up for football.”
Sherlock busied himself opening the Walker’s salt vinegar crisps packet. “Why would we do that?”
John had already finished the sandwich and was eying Sherlock’s jammy dodger. “For fun, of course.”
“Football is not fun, John,” he said, carefully eating only the unbroken crisps.
“But we play it all the time! And now we can have a real team and play real matches.”
Sherlock sighed. “John, I only ever kicked that silly ball around because you wanted to and I like spending time with you.” He handed John the jammy dodger and took the chocolate digestives in return. “But being on a team with others…no, thank you.”
They ate in silence for a moment. Sherlock took a sip from his carton of fruit juice, then cleared his throat and pointed at the list. “I want to do ballet.”
John almost choked on the last bite of the jammy dodger. “Ballet?” he managed to say.
Sherlock nodded firmly. “Ever since Mummy took us to see The Nutcracker last Christmas. Didn’t you like that?”
After a moment, John shrugged. “It was good, yeah, but that doesn’t mean I want to put on pointy shoes and twirl around.”
Sherlock tucked away the debris from his lunch and snapped the lunchbox closed. “Well, I do want to.” His voice was soft, but firm.
There was another silence between them. John was watching some upper school boys out on the football pitch, their new blue and white kit bright in the sunshine as they practised drills. Sherlock’s fingers were tapping the top of the lunchbox. “Does this mean we can’t be friends anymore?” he asked in a small voice that somehow reminded John of that long-ago day at nursery.
John turned his head to look at him in complete surprise. “Of course it doesn’t mean that! We’re best mates, always will be.” He crumpled the paper bag that had held his lunch and lobbed it successfully at the nearby rubbish bin. “Will you come watch my matches?”
Sherlock nodded. “If you like.” He hesitated and then said, “Will you come watch me dance?”
“Every time,” John promised.
The bell signalling the end of lunch sounded, so they stood and started walking back towards the building. Once inside, Sherlock turned to go upstairs to meet his chemistry teacher. “See you after,” he said over his shoulder.
“Yeah,” John replied. “After.”
He needed to hurry to make it to his history class on time, John knew that, but still he stayed right where he was, ignoring the bumps and mutters of the other students as they tried to get past him.
Instead of moving, John just stood there in silence and watched as Sherlock climbed the stairs, each one taking him a bit further away.