The Tiger`s Den

Natasha`s move back from Connecticut to England had not been an easy one. Now she´s being challenged to make friends in her new school. Can she let go of her troubled past and really ever feel safe with others? A short teen fiction story set in 1980`s where cassette tapes were the norm and liking or friend-ing were more tricky than just hitting an icon.

Natasha looked around the small hall draped with orange, brown and cream seventies style curtains.  Everyone had been asked to find a place to sit on the floor, in lines.  Being in her normal school day defense mode, she looked around the crowded hall with beady eagle eyes.  Her previous school had been a day in day out battle. Little girl cat fights that seemed to border on gang-like behaviour.  Get tough or get beaten seemed to be the motto.  Natasha spotted a auburn haired girl with a sensible hair cut and skin as pale as snow.  Confidently Natasha strode up to the timid girl, but just as she was about to plonk herself down and start introducing herself loudly, an extremely tall girl with blonde, frizzy hair, spots and already wearing a bra, sat herself down cross-legged on the floor and started chatting.  Natasha cowered away, yet still close enough to listen in to their conversation.

"I think they are putting us into classes" the giant girl whispered secretly.
"Great" Natasha thought. "How am I supposed to be the boss with this giant around."

It wasn't easy for Natasha to think outside this survival mode.  Having entered primary school late due to living in Connecticut, everything had been just perfect before landing in what she saw as a mini hell.  In Connecticut at school, there had been apples, peanut butter and celery every snack time.  She would play in the forest round the back of her house with her best friend Joy and enjoy pool parties with her big brother and friends late into September.  Arriving back to England seemed like some kind of prolonged prison sentence where a damp air of disappointment seemed to linger on.  So much so, that Natasha had made up a story that on her 9th birthday she would wake up find the nightmare of coming back to England was just that, only a dream.  She would be back at in Connecticut running free through forest, eating Reeces Pieces at snack time and playing with Joy.  No such luck.  Her 9th birthday came and went and she was still in damp England.  Things had changed though.  That summer they had finally moved house what had seemed like far away from that horrid little school where Natasha always found herself either in fights or cliques that were suffocating.  In fact they had just moved 7 miles away, but was enough for Natasha to feel a sense of relief that summer that the very thing that had been chasing her, had decided take a summer vacation, leaving her to enjoy a new bedroom, full of books, cushions and sunlight.  After playing endlessly with her cat in the garden, climbing the tree with a rope ladder and helping her parents take things of of hundreds of boxes, Natasha would fall asleep to the sound of Lord of the Rings playing on a cassette tape in her adjacent brother's room.  The rough, concrete playgrounds of school seemed a million miles away, until September.  The familiar smells of floor polish and feeling the cotton grey skirt against her skin, Natasha felt herself putting up her shield once more and feeling determined not be the victim again.

"I think they´re putting us in the same class. " The giant whispered loudly to her auburn friend. "I asked them to.  I told them we had spent the whole past five years in the last school together."

"Wonderful. Sisterly solidarity." Natasha thought apprehensively "The giant's probably going to corner me at the earliest opportunity.  I better make friends with them, before it's too late".

Natasha sat herself down next to the girl with snow white skin, reached her arm over her and held out a sweaty hand to the giant girl.  "I´m Natasha.  You can call me Tasha. But not Natty, or Nat" She paused to see the giant frowning back at her. "Or keep it as Natasha if you like" She found her voice quivering a bit as she flashed a nervous smile in the giants disgruntled direction.

"Hello" The giant girl answered indifferently and continued chatting intimately until the teachers boomed our names and class numbers.

After putting away her outdoor shoes, she looked around at the desks arranged two by two.  The giant and auburn girl had already snuggled next to each other and there was only one space left next to a slight brown, haired girl staring at her pencil case. 

"I suppose I better make my home next to plain Jane" Natasha thought feeling more alone than when she had arrived back from America.

As a tanned, young teacher with strong but kind features took us through the school rules and the first reading dictation. Natasha tried to focus but kept crossing out her words as they hit the page.  Her neighbour, with long brown hair as straight as a pole, silently pushed an eraser next to her and gently touched her arm that was shielding her work.  Natasha swung her head round hastily, to see so called 'plain Jane' gently smiling back at her.  Suddenly Natasha noticed her brightly coloured top and olive skin. 

Two weeks later Emma had given her the eraser and in return Natasha had given her a pen from New York with the big apple embossed upon it.  Emma wrote with it everyday and the jagged edges of Natasha's primary school could only be seen behind her in the distance as if she was sat in the back seat of her family´s car driving away to a destination beyond harm's reach.

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