Coming out for a coffee ...?

28th August 1998 at 01:00
Thursday August 27: Have been putting this off all week, but it's that time again. Out comes the staplegun - to be used with extreme prejudice: it's time to go into school and tackle the classroom displays. Water is one of the themes: since the kids have probably seen nothing else all summer it should interest them.

Scour the house for everything I need, and - feeling like a Blue Peter presenter - load up the car with jam jars, tin foil and assorted junk to transform into wondrously inspiring walls.

Rustbucket refuses to start. Ask Neil the Gay Housemate, who's got the week off, if he'll give me a jump start. Doesn't work. Why, oh why, didn't I go in with Rebecca in the first week of the holidays? At least she can't gloat, since she's now two-timing her boyfriend with the Wigan Wonder.

"Tell you what," says Neil helpfully. "I'll give you a lift. We well-paid private-sector workers have a duty to help you professionals with vocations when we can." Grit teeth and accept sweetly.

Nice though it is to have help lumbering all this stuff up to my classroom, I can feel Neil looking at last term's display with critical eyes and rather wish he'd go away. But he's at a loose end. He rips down a few bits of backing paper, starts reading one of the Roald Dahls (probably the most intellectual stimulation he's had for years) and then announces he's going to take a look round.

Am concentrating very hard on cutting out a cloud when the door opens. "Back already?" I mutter. "Pardon?" comes a strange voice, and I look up to see Luke Smoulder, devastating in ultra tight jeans and T-shirt.

Is there glue in my hair? Is this my big moment? "My housemate gave me a lift and he's on the loose somewhere," I burble.

"He hasn't been in a school since he was 16. My car's on the blink, so he gave me a lift - very kind of him since he's JUST A FRIEND."

Try my best to look fascinating whilst clutching the staplegun in one hand and a marker pen in the other. Luke smiles, devastatingly. Pluck up courage. Get as far as: "I was wonderingI" when footsteps echo down the corridor and Neil bursts in, crashing headlong into Luke. Curse inwardly. Still, Neil's heard me banging on about Luke often enough - if I introduce them he'll get the message and leave, surely? "Luke, this is Neil. My HOUSEMATE. Neil, this is Luke, our new deputy head."

They look each other up and down. Awkward silence. I glare at Neil, but it's not me he's looking at. "So, you're new in Grimbury. Found much social life?" asks Neil, eventually. "Not much of the sort of thing I'm looking for," replies Luke, eyeing Neil's biceps.

"Perhaps we could all go to the pub together one night, show you the sights, " I blurt. No response. "Have you moved far?" Neil asks. Luke starts talking enthusiastically about Clarybridge, which isn't all that far away, and all sorts of clubs and pubs. They've all got odd names like Mrs Madrigal's and The Bathhouse, and the peculiar thing is I haven't heard of any of them.

Neil has though, and soon he's telling Luke about the places he goes with his crowd, like Rock Hudson's. Luke looks more interested than I've ever seen him.

"Tell you what," says Neil eventually. "If you're not doing anything tonight, I could come and pick you up, get a bite to eat then we'll go on clubbing. If you fancy that..." Luke grins - a real smoulder of a grin - and says: "That sounds like the best offer I've had since moving here."

Then he glances at his watch. "I've finished here - do you fancy an expresso somewhere?" Neil agrees, and they disappear. Am about to jump enthusiastically at this plan, when realise belatedly I am not part of it. Just Neil. In fact, they have entirely forgotten my presence.

Penny drops, extremely loudly. Any smouldering done by Luke in my direction - or that of any other female, come to that - is entirely accidental.

Simultaneous feelings of stupidity and relief that I never actually did come out with anything embarrassing. Cut out some black storm clouds and lightning flashes and staple them to wall with murderous fury. Maybe I'll borrow some of Rebecca's management books next term.

Ted Wragg returns next week

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