“I really am sorry I’m not home for your first day back at school,” Sarah Jane said on the computer screen. “I never expected to be stranded in Norway due to the ash from an Icelandic volcano.”
“That’s all right, mum,” Sky answered. “I’m going over to Rani’s house for the night, and Mr Chandra is going to take me to school. He promised to drop me off just before we reach the school gates so that the other kids don’t see me arriving with the headmaster.”
Sarah Jane smiled. That was such a normal teenage attitude towards school. Sky was really coming along in that way.
“I will be home just as soon as possible,” Sarah Jane promised. “If this goes on any longer, I’ll take the ferry and hire a car. I miss you, sweetheart.”
“I miss you, too, mum,” Sky answered. Again it was a wonderfully normal expression of affection. It was getting harder to tell that Sky was anything other than an ordinary girl.
They finished the call reluctantly. Sky closed down the ordinary computer and turned to the much more incredible one called Mr Smith.
“I’m going over the road, now,” she said. “You can have a rest.”
“I don’t REST,” Mr Smith responded. “Low power mode simply turns down my peripherals. I will be monitoring the planet for alien interference and other dangers as always.”
“Well, anyway, goodnight Mr Smith,” Sky answered him. The alien computer went into low power mode, sliding back behind the wall that screened it from prying eyes. She picked up her overnight bag and her new school uniform on a hanger with polythene still covering it. Rani brought the box with her new school shoes in and they made their way downstairs and out across the road to the warm semi-chaos of the Chandra home.
Mrs Chandra was in a ‘tizz’ because deliveries of something or other for her flower shop had been delayed by the problems with flights from Scandinavia. Rani didn’t take much notice. Her mum was always making a fuss about something.
Her father was a little agitated, too. It was the first day of a new school term tomorrow, after all. But he was doing his best not to let it affect the rest of the family. He greeted Sky warmly when she came into the drawing room.
“I thought we’d have a treat tonight,” he said. “I’m not cooking.”
Rani and Sky both giggled at his little joke.
“I’ll order a take out. What would you prefer, pizza, Chinese, Indian, Thai? There’s a Jamaican place opened up on the High Street….”
“Oh, no, not that,” Gita said, coming out of her own personal cloud for a moment. “I heard they do roast goat.”
“Pizza will be great,” Sky said before everyone got sentimental about the idea of eating goat. “I’m just going to take my things upstairs.”
“Try your uniform on,” Haresh said. “I’m sure we’d all like to see how smart you look. Hard to believe you’re a second year, already. It seems like yesterday that you joined us at Park Vale.”
“I want to try on a new outfit, too,” Rani said. “For my first day at my new job, tomorrow.”
Gita and Haresh both smiled proudly at their daughter. After an instructive year as an apprentice with Metropolitan magazine she had been offered the chance to work for a daily newspaper. Their daughter was a fully-fledged – if very junior – journalist.
The two girls ran upstairs. In Rani’s bedroom they both enjoyed that most feminine of activities – trying on clothes. For Sky it wasn’t quite so exciting. There were very few school uniforms designed with fashion in mind. Park Vale’s colour scheme was no exception.
“I asked dad to think about a cravat style for girls,” Rani said as she helped Sky do the regulation Windsor knot in the school tie. Her father was very strict about that. “I showed him loads of information about how the school tie was anti-feminist, harking back to when education beyond primary level was only for boys, and that it put girls at a psychological disadvantage. He said he would take the ideas to the school governors, but he hasn’t done it yet.”
“Mum says your dad has the right idea being strict about uniform. She says taking pride in our appearance shows pride in the school and in ourselves. It helps us to concentrate on our school work.”
“She’s right, but I am glad I don’t have to wear that tie any more.” She slipped her feet into the low-heeled court shoes that went with her outfit of skirt, jacket and blouse. She looked very grown up that way.
Frighteningly grown up. She looked in the mirror at herself and Sky. They could have passed for sisters – well, adopted sisters, anyway. That was almost how she thought of Sky from the first time she came to live with Sarah Jane. It had been nice after being an only child all her life to have a girl she could talk to and confide in and help through the trials of teenage life.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Sky said. “I have something for you - for your first day in your new job.” She looked in the pocket of her school blazer then found the casual jacket she had discarded. She gave Rani a very small object wrapped in pink tissue paper. Rani unwrapped it and smiled as she looked at the silver charm for her bracelet. It was in the shape of a rolled up newspaper.
“It should be safe,” Sky added, remembering some of the strange things that had happened with the charms on that bracelet. “It was just among a bunch of old costume jewellery that mum gave me to play with. I saw it and thought you would like it.”
“I love it, thanks, Sky,” Rani said. She hugged her fondly. “Oh, I am nervous, though. I almost wish I WAS trying on a uniform, tie and all, and going to school tomorrow. School is SAFE, easy, familiar. School has a timetable. I know where I have to be and when. The grown up world is so much scarier.”
“Funny,” Sky answered her. “I was just thinking I wish I was you, going out to a job where I could be treated like a grown up and not be told what to do all the time.”
“Plenty of people will be telling me what to do,” Rani assured her. “I am only a junior reporter, yet. Besides, you did enough growing up when you first came to us. Take the rest of your years one day at a time and enjoy them.”
“I will,” Sky answered. “All the same, I wish….”
“Yes, me too,” Rani said. They broke from the hug. “Come on. We’d best get this new stuff hung up again before the pizza arrives.”
It was a pleasant, thoroughly domestic evening consisting of pizza, DVDs, Gita still worrying about Swedish flower deliveries and Haresh writing a speech to give to the new first years at assembly in the morning.
“I don’t know why he worries,” Rani said as she and Sky got ready for bed at the proper time. “He gives the SAME speech every year.”
The two girls laughed and climbed into bed, Sky on a futon that was jammed into the corner of Rani’s room for her. They talked a little more with the light out before settling down to sleep.
The next morning Rani woke up feeling odd. Her bed seemed strange. The mattress was….
She sat up and looked at the futon she was sleeping in, then the divan bed with sprung mattress and Indian silk flowers all around the headboard. She gasped in shock as she saw herself suddenly sit up in the bed and stare back at her.
“What happened?” she heard herself say in Sky’s voice.
“I don’t know,” Sky answered in her voice.
“Oh….” She groaned. “Oh no. Something happened. Something weird and supernatural - something Sarah Janeish.”
“We’ve been switched around,” Sky said. “I’m you, and you’re me.”
“We wished it last night,” Rani remembered. “Oh, but I didn’t REALLY mean it. Quick, come over here and let’s wish ourselves back.”
Sky, in Rani’s body, dressed in Rani’s long maroon red Indian silk nightdress, jumped out of bed and came to the futon where Rani, in Sky’s body, wearing flowered cotton pyjamas grasped her hands tightly.
“I wish I was back in my own body,” they said together. They looked at each other. It was still like seeing themselves in a mirror.
They closed their eyes and wished again, harder. They opened their eyes.
Nothing had changed.
“I wish mum was home,” Sky said. “She would know what to do.”
“Maybe Mr Smith could help. But we can’t go to him now. It’s morning. We’re going to have to get through a day as each other.”
“Ohhhh….” Sky groaned. “Do you think we can?”
“It doesn’t look as if we have a lot of choice. We’d better get showered and dressed before mum starts cooking breakfast.”
Sky had just worked out how to put on nylon tights instead of socks when they both heard Gita calling them down. Fortunately both Rani’s parents were always in a state of controlled panic in the morning so they didn’t notice anything unusual about either girl. When Sky accidentally said ‘mum’ instead of ‘Mrs Chandra’ Gita just smiled in what she thought was a reassuring way and reminded her that Sarah Jane would be home as soon as possible and she didn’t have to miss her that much.
“Come on then,” Mr Chandra said at last. “Rani, I’ll drop you off at the tube station. You’ve got your Oyster card, haven’t you?”
Sky was panic stricken at first then she remembered that Rani had packed everything she needed for her work day in her shoulder bag, including her pass for travelling from Ealing to the City like a regular commuter.
The London Underground! She had travelled on it a few times, but with her mum or with Rani and Clyde or Luke. Going by herself was a terrifying thought.
“You’ll be all right,” Rani assured her as they waited in the hall for Haresh to find his car keys. “There are no changes. You get the tube straight to King’s Cross. It takes about thirty minutes. Then you go out of the station and around the corner to York Way and it’s a five minute walk to King’s Place. It’s easy, really. Just keep a tight hold of my bag and don’t look down when you step off the escalator.”
“What will I do when I get to your office?” Sky asked. “I don’t even know where to go.”
“My ID badge is in your pocket. Pin it on when you get there. Don’t risk it getting lost on the tube. Sign the firebook and tell the receptionist who you are. A Mr Walsh will show you where to sit and everything. I met him at my interview. He has a ginger toupee that doesn’t quite match his real hair. Try not to stare at it.”
“It’s easier for you. You already know Park Vale.”
“I don’t know any of your friends, and what am I going to do in your classes? Oh, no, school dinners!”
Then her dad was there, being deliberately cheerful for both of them, assuring them that they would have a great day.
“No need to be nervous, sweetheart,” he said to his daughter as the two girls settled in the back of the car. “I’m sure you’re going to have a great time. Your first day in a real job. You’ll love it.”
“I’m… sure it’s going to be memorable,” Sky answered, trying not to think too much about the fact that she was wearing nylon tights for the first time in her life. That was a rite of passage for a young woman that she hadn’t expected to come for another couple of years.
Rani felt equally uncomfortable in socks. When she sat down she was aware that her knees were bare under the school skirt. But only fifth and sixth formers were allowed to wear tights. She had to put up with it.
Sky was dropped off first, at Ealing Common Station. The two girls looked at each other anxiously and then wished each other luck.
Sky felt she needed all the luck there was as she watched the car move away and then turned and walked into the tube station. She got into trouble straight away trying to insert the Oyster Card in the slot. She did it wrong twice before it finally worked and the turnstile opened for her. Behind her a man with a briefcase called her a ‘stupid foreigner’. That puzzled her all the way to the platform before she realised something that had never really bothered her until that moment.
Rani was Indian.
Well, actually, Rani’s parents both came from Bolton, but to people who looked at her, she was Indian. Sky had never really thought about it. Rani was her first and best female friend on planet Earth. She was a very pretty girl who always wore nice clothes and Sky hoped to emulate her in that when she was older. She had never thought of her in any other way.
But sitting on the train going to King’s Cross she felt acutely aware that at least some of the people around her in the carriage didn’t like her just because she was a different colour to them, without knowing anything else about her. She wondered how Rani put up with that sort of thing all the time.
She also felt a little sick. She closed her eyes and shut out all the other people on the crowded train. She tried not to think about the big cooked breakfast she had eaten. She tried not to notice the rumbling and shaking of the train or her stomach churning.
She opened her eyes each time the train stopped and counted the stations desperately – Acton, Turnham Green, Hammersmith, Baron’s Court, Gloucester Road, South Kensington, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner, Green Park, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Holborn, Russell Square, and finally, King’s Cross. She stood up shakily and moved close to the door, half afraid that it would close before she got out and she would be trapped on the train until it terminated at Cockfosters.
The tide of people who alighted from the train carried her along to the escalator. At the top the crowd merged with those who had come from the mainline platforms and fought against people arriving for trains to other parts of London. She thought she would either suffocate or throw up before she actually got out into the open air.
And when she did, it wasn’t much better. Euston Road was gridlocked with cars, buses and taxis. The pavement was overflowing with pedestrians.
It wasn’t much better around the corner on York Way where eight double-deckers in a row were lined up waiting for passengers. Sky managed to get past them all and into a clear bit of pavement, but then she saw the building she was heading towards. It was a sleek modern business centre with lots of glass reflecting the early September sunshine.
And she knew she couldn’t walk into that building, yet. She just couldn’t. She glanced at Rani’s watch. It was only a quarter to nine. She wasn’t due at the office until half-past.
She stopped and looked around. There was a coffee shop opposite. Rani had money in her purse. She could buy a cup of coffee and think about what she had to do next.
She thought about it long and hard over a cappuccino at a table by the window where she watched those eight buses move off and more take their places.
She thought about carrying on up the road to that imposing glass building.
She thought about going back to the station and getting on the train again.
That was even worse.
“Penny for them,” said the young man who had served the coffee as he wiped down the table next to hers. As far as Sky knew anything about that sort of thing, he was good looking, and he was smiling at her as if he thought she was, too.
She really didn’t know how to answer him. She just hoped she wasn’t blushing. That would be such a childish thing to do.
“Penny for what?” she asked.
“Your thoughts,” the young man answered. “It’s an expression. Have you never heard it before?”
“No,” Sky admitted. “No, I haven’t.” Now she was sure she WAS blushing. She often had problems with ‘expressions’ and ‘puns’, and clever things other people could do with the English language. When it was just her, it didn’t matter. But now it was Rani who looked silly, too.
“Never mind. It was just that you looked very thoughtful – and a bit worried.”
“Oh. It’s…. It’s… my first day at a new job,” she answered. “I feel a bit….”
“Oh, yeah. Been there, got the t-shirt,” the young man said. “What’s the job? Typing pool? Secretary?”
“No,” Sky replied with a surge of borrowed pride. She showed him the ID badge from her pocket. “No. I’m a journalist – for the Guardian.”
“Oh, brilliant,” the young man told her. “Good luck with it. Maybe by next week I’ll have customers in here reading your stuff.”
“Maybe,” Sky agreed. She smiled as he went on with his work. She drained her cup and left some coins as a tip before she went on her way feeling no less scared, but at least determined not to let Rani down. She had to go to work. For this one day she would be a journalist.
She wondered how Rani was getting on as a second year at Park Vale.
Rani was having a miserable time so far. There was a girl called Antonia Ross who had tried to demand money from her in the playground. When she refused, Antonia grabbed her bag and threw it in the hedge upside down. It took her ages to pick up all of Sky’s pens and pencils and books. The bell had gone by the time she was done and she only just made it into her second year form room on time. She was too late to get any good choice of seat and had to take the one directly in front of the form teacher, Mr Anderson. Rani had never really liked him. He had always made what she thought were thoroughly unnecessary comments to her about being the headmaster’s daughter.
Of course, she wasn’t the headmaster’s daughter this time. She was Sky Smith. Unfortunately she didn’t remember that until he had repeated her name three times.
“You’re a second year now, Miss Smith. The time for daydreaming is over. Wake up and pay attention in my form room or you’ll be in detention.”
“Oh dear,” Rani thought. I’ve already got Sky into trouble.”
Sky was still nervous, even though she had got through the first hurdle of the reception and the firebook and had been shown to her own desk by Mr Aiden Walsh whose toupee really was hard to ignore. She had been given a password for the computer at her desk and told to relax for a bit and read through the day’s paper online to get a feel for the tone. After that she attended an editorial meeting with all the other reporters. The senior editor talked for a long time about the current political situation – the state of the Euro and the Prime Minister’s response to the new Irish bailout. He outlined the way the newspaper should slant all of its stories connected to that subject. Sky didn’t really understand most of it, and he went on longer than most of her school teachers.
Then she heard her name mentioned. Assignments were being given out to those journalists not already working on something. The sub-editor – Mr Brandon - called her over.
“I’m sure you’re ready to get stuck into the serious stuff with the big boys and girls,” he said with what Sky thought was MEANT to be a friendly and reassuring tone but actually came across as very patronising. “But as it’s your first day, I thought something for the Sunday supplements might be in order - less pressure and no political slant. Zac Efron is in London promoting his latest film and has granted us an exclusive interview. You’re the lucky girl who gets to join him on a working lunch and get an interview. See Marcia about expenses. Don’t go overboard. We don’t want bills for beluga caviar and champagne. He’s not THAT good an actor.”
Mr Brandon laughed at his own joke. Sky went back to her desk long enough to find out who Zac Efron actually was and how to spell his name – she was still a long way behind her peers on that sort of thing – then she got Rani’s coat and bag and headed for the taxi rank back at King’s Cross. In the cab she called Rani on her mobile, hoping that she had finished the morning lessons and could answer.
“How do I interview an American film star?” she asked.
“Look him in the eye and don’t giggle,” Rani told her. “Let him do most of the talking. Use my digital recorder but discreetly. It’s not professional to have recorders on the table in front of the interviewee.”
“All right,” she answered. “Is school all right?”
“I hate Antonia Ross. How do you put up with her?”
“I don’t, I hate her, too,” Sky answered. “She’s the only thing about Park Vale I can’t stand. Just try to keep out of her way.”
“Ok. Look after yourself,” Rani said. “Enjoy lunch. I’ve got SCHOOL DINNER to look forward to.”
That was a bit reassuring. Sky looked out of the cab window and tried not to be daunted by the size of the London hotels she was passing or the liveried doormen and people in very nice clothes who they opened the doors for. She wondered if her outfit was right for meeting a film star.
She tried not to remember that she was really thirteen years old and in over her head.
Rani hated school dinners at the best of times. The food was dreary and she hated the noise of the school canteen. It had been better in her last couple of years. The fifth and sixth year tables were a bit quieter and she and Clyde had usually escaped as they had eaten and found a quiet place to talk about their latest adventures with Sarah Jane.
Now she was a second year again. She was stuck at a table with twelve other second years, including a pair of very juvenile boys who kept flicking peas at the girls when nobody was looking.
She felt her chair violently pushed from behind. It was Antonia Ross again. She turned but Antonia just gave her a look that dared her to say something. She sighed and turned back to the tasteless shepherd’s pie and picked stray peas out of the potato.
Afterwards she went back to the second form room to find that somebody had tipped everything from Sky’s school bag out onto the floor and stepped all over the pens and pencils, smashing them to bits. She picked everything up and put the bits into the bin, making up her mind to buy Sky a new set of pens when she got her own body back.
She also decided to find a way of paying back Antonia Ross. She had already dismissed the idea of going to her father. Even when she WAS the headmaster’s daughter she didn’t tell him things like that. She would have been ostracised as a ‘sneak’. Sky couldn’t go to him. Her life wouldn’t be worth living in the school.
It was petty and stupid, of course. Bullies SHOULD be reported. Teachers were supposed to protect the other students from people like Antonia Ross. But the unwritten rules of school life meant that, no matter how nasty it got, you COULDN’T tell a teacher.
That was what she had always hated about school, from her first day at primary school when a boy stole her share of the plasticine so that she couldn’t make the model of a duck everyone else was making, to junior school when she first heard the word ‘paki’ shouted at her in the playground, to being a terrified first year of high school with a whole new set of ‘rules’ and ‘conventions’ to learn.
School would be fine if it was just about the lessons on the timetable. She had told Sky she was lucky not to have anything to worry about except school. But she had forgotten just how much there WAS to worry about.
Sky stepped out of the taxi in front of Savoy Place and walked up to the front of the hotel. There wasn’t a doorman outside, but inside the beautifully old fashioned revolving door there was a man in a smart uniform and pristine white gloves who asked her if she was staying in the hotel and if she had any luggage. She struggled for an answer, wondering if she might be thrown out for not having a reservation.
“I’m… um… I mean… I’m meeting somebody who’s staying here,” she answered.
“Of course, miss,” the doorman said. “If you go to the reception over there they’ll be able to help you.”
Another reception desk, she thought. But it was easier than she expected. She told the neatly dressed woman that she was from The Guardian and meeting Zac Efron for lunch. A few minutes later a woman with an American accent introduced herself as Linda, Zac’s publicity agent, and gave her a glossy folder with the details of his film project, inviting her to look it over in the American bar while waiting for him to come down.
She found the American bar – the Savoy actually had two bars and three places for light refreshments as well as its world famous restaurants. She hesitantly approached the bartender and asked for a glass of orange. She liked fizzy orangeade. What was brought to her table instead was a glass of fresh orange juice in a stemmed glass. It tasted nice and cleared the dryness in her throat.
The second years were filling up the classroom around Rani. She asked the girls nearest to her if they had a pen she could borrow for the afternoon English lesson. Before anyone could give her one, though, Mr Anderson was standing at his desk expecting silence from the class. As Julia West passed her a biro he seized upon the chance to take her to task.
“I said silence,” he thundered. “That applies to you, too, Miss Smith. Just because you rode to school with the headmaster doesn’t give you any extra privileges in my class.”
“I was… just borrowing a pen,” Rani answered.
“First day of term and you don’t have a pen?” Mr Anderson retorted in a scathing tone. “You obviously don’t take after your brother for brains. Detention tomorrow night for disorganisation and for talking when I called for silence.”
“That’s not fair,” Rani answered him. She stood up, stung by the injustice of it all and tried to look him in the eye, forgetting she was quite a lot shorter than usual. “The only reason I don’t have a pen is because somebody threw everything in my bag on the floor and stepped on them. If you look in the bin, you’ll SEE where I cleaned up so that you couldn’t complain about the mess. But it’s not fair to complain at me for not having a pen. You should be doing something about the person who ruined my things. It’s theft and vandalism and intimidation, and against all the school rules, but you’d rather have a go at me because I’m smaller. Well I’m not having it. I’m going to my… I mean, I’m going to Mr Chandra right now and telling him that you’re a bully and a bad teacher.”
At that, she turned and walked out of the classroom. It felt like a very LONG walk between the desks with everyone looking at her in stunned silence. She hardly breathed until she was outside the door. Then she closed her eyes and exhaled deeply before walking a little faster along the quiet corridor to the headmaster’s office.
Mr Anderson deserved everything she had said, but she really regretted saying it now. What would happen to Sky when her father found out that she had wilfully disobeyed a teacher in such a way? She might be expelled or worse.
But there was nothing for it but to go to the headmaster’s office and tell him the whole story – the whole truth.
Oh, if only. Her father was a strict teacher. He was a strict father. But he was a caring man, too. He cared about the students in the school and he cared deeply for his daughter, for her. If she could tell him the whole story from the start, if she could tell him who she really was….
But that was impossible. He would never believe a story like that. It would only make things worse.
She nervously approached the closed door of his office. She took a deep breath before knocking.
Sky was having a slightly better time with Zac Efron. He met her in the American bar and took her arm as they moved to the River Restaurant for lunch. He poured wine from the bottle he ordered. Sky was too surprised by it all to refuse the glass he offered her.
The thing that bowled her over most was that everyone, from the doorman to the receptionist, to Zac’s agent, the barman, the waiter who took their order, didn’t see a scared little girl who had no idea what she was doing, but a smart, attractive young woman. She was being treated like a grown up by all of them.
Of course, they saw Rani, who WAS a smart, attractive young woman. They didn’t see the scared girl inside.
“You know, you’re supposed to be interviewing me,” Zac said.
“Sorry?” Sky looked at him and was startled by the way he was smiling. “I mean… sorry. I was… I mean….”
“You’re new to this, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” she admitted. “Yes, I am. I’m sorry. I really am. But….”
“It’s ok. I’m used to it by now. Just keep your recorder switched on and I’ll talk about the film. If you DO think about something you want to ask, go ahead.”
She had never even SEEN one of his films, but she was so grateful to him for letting her off so easily she thought she would go out and buy every one of them on DVD. She listened to him outlining the plot of the new film that had been partially made in England, his role in it, his co-stars. He told a couple of funny anecdotes that would make a paragraph or so in the article she had to write later. She tried not to think about that too much. She hoped it was no harder than an essay for English lessons.
She sipped the glass of wine as she listened to him, and that was her big mistake. After a little while his voice started to sound strangely distant and she had trouble focussing on his face.
He reached out and took the wine glass away from her.
“You’re new to drinking wine at lunchtime, too, aren’t you?” he said in a gentle tone.
“Yes,” Sky managed to answer without slurring her words too much.
“Come on,” he said. He stood up from the table and took her by the arm, signalling to the maître-d to bring her bag and coat. The next she knew she was in the lift and then she was sitting on a sofa in a very nice drawing room and the film star was pressing a long cold glass into her hand. It contained soda water with a twist of lime and lots of ice. She took a long gulp of it then drank it more slowly on his advice. He sat beside her and asked if she felt a little better.
“I should have asked,” he said. “Is it a religious thing with the alcohol or do you just not drink?”
“I’m….” Sky hesitated. “I’m only just eighteen,” she confessed. “I wasn’t ALLOWED to drink before. And… I don’t think I will again. I don’t like this feeling at all.”
Zac laughed softly, but not unkindly. Then he asked her about herself. She forgot that she was meant to be interviewing him as she told him about Mr and Mrs Chandra. He, in return, told her about his parents who were ordinary people just like them except that they lived in California which seemed a million miles away from Bannerman Road, Ealing. He asked her if Mr Chandra was tough on her at school and she remembered Rani telling her that he had always been disappointed if she got less than an A minus in any subject. Zac told her how he had been very hard working at High school and took himself to task if he got less than top marks. His parents were proud of him anyway. He talked about the encouragement he had from both of them in his chosen career. Sky forgot all about the recorder in her pocket. She forgot she was interviewing him. She forgot he was a famous actor from America. It was just like talking to somebody nice about quite ordinary things like school results and parental pride. As the effects of the alcohol wore off and she started to feel normal again, she began to actually enjoy herself at last.
“I’ve kept you way longer than a lunch interview,” Zac admitted. “I hope your editor won’t be mad at you.”
“I….” Sky wasn’t at all sure about that. “Oh dear, I think he might be. I… really hope I don’t get fired on my first day.”
“How about some exclusive photographs to go with your article?” Zac offered. “That should pacify him.” He reached for the phone and made a call. A few minutes later a man came into the room with a camera and took a whole set of pictures, including some with Sky sitting on the sofa with Zac, looking as if she was asking him important questions about his film.
“I’m sorry I was rude to Mr Anderson,” Rani said, suppressing a sob and trying not to burst into tears again. “But I was so… so… It just wasn’t fair. It WASN’T my fault about the pen, and I WASN’T talking. I was just leaning over to Julia because she had a spare one to give to me. He didn’t have to shout at me.”
“No, he didn’t,” Mr Chandra said. He passed her a tissue as the tears flowed. It wasn’t just because she was upset about the incident, and about what might happen to Sky in punishment for her behaviour. She was crying because she SO wanted to hug her dad right now and she couldn’t.
Mr Chandra waited until she stopped crying before he spoke again.
“You really shouldn’t have shouted,” he said. “Students shouldn’t be disrespectful to teachers, and it gives a very bad example to the others in your class. You must give me your word that you won’t ever do something like that again.”
“Yes d….” she began. “I mean… Yes, sir. I promise.”
“Then we’ll say no more about that. I will speak to Mr Anderson about this. It does appear that he got the wrong end of the stick, as it were. I’m rather more concerned about the destruction of your property. That is very serious. You didn’t see who did it, at all?”
“No, Mr Chandra,” Rani answered, truthfully.
“Do you have any idea who might have done it?” he asked. “Has anyone threatened you in any way?”
“No, sir,” she said again, though this time it wasn’t quite true. She was almost certain that Antonia Ross had done it. But she couldn’t say that. She wasn’t absolutely sure it was her. Besides, she couldn’t tell on her. That would just make things even worse.
“Are you sure?” Mr Chandra asked. “Sky, if somebody is bullying you, you know you can tell me about it. Don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid,” she lied. “It might have been an accident about the stuff in my bag. I….”
She stopped. Her throat felt tight. She looked at her father and wished once again that she could tell him the truth. It was just so hard to be sitting there with him and feel so far away from him emotionally.
“All right,” he conceded as a bell rang outside in the corridor marking the end of the first lesson period of the afternoon. “What do you have next?” he asked.
“Double biology with Mrs White,” she answered.
“I’ll walk with you,” he said. “Make sure you get to the class on time. And here….” He went into his desk drawer and found a very nice retractable pen. “Use this for the rest of the day. You can give it me back later.”
She was almost at the biology classroom when Mr Grantham, the janitor, called to Mr Chandra and asked him a question. He stopped to speak to him. Sky carried on around down the corridor and around the corner.
“You!” Antonia Ross was waiting. She had two of her friends with her. They blocked Sky’s path. “What did you tell Chandra about me?”
“I didn’t tell him anything about you,” she answered.
“Liar,” Antonia said, punching her in the shoulder hard. “You told him about me stamping on your stuff, didn’t you? You’re a sneak. You live opposite him and pal up with his family and tell him stuff about what goes on in school. You tell that dirty….”
Rani was not the only one who gasped in shock as Antonia use a word she had heard very many times about her and her family, but never in this school where her father was the ultimate authority. Antonia had crossed an uncrossable line. Her two friends looked at her in surprise. So did a half dozen other students who were witnesses to the scene.
“Antonia Ross!” Mr Chandra’s voice was loud in the sudden silence. “Go to the secretary’s office and wait there until a letter of suspension can be typed up. I will not tolerate bullying and I certainly won’t allow racism in this school. You can tell your parents that I will be seeking permanent exclusion from the board of governors. Your behaviour is inexcusable. Absolutely inexcusable.”
Antonia looked pale as she edged past the Headmaster. Her two friends watched in silence.
“As for you two,” Mr Chandra added. “Get to your classrooms and think twice about who you choose as friends in future. Everyone go to your classrooms.”
Everyone did as he said quickly. This was no time to bring down his wrath upon themselves. Rani looked at him hesitantly.
“Go to your lessons,” he said. “There is no need for you to worry about this any further. I heard everything she said. She cannot accuse you of informing on her.”
“Yes, sir,” Rani said. “Thank you, sir.”
Sky arrived back at the newspaper office in time to type the first draft of her article before it was time to go home. Mr Brandon was perfectly happy with the extended lunch since Zac Efron had put the bill on his own account and provided those exclusive photographs into the bargain. He told her she had done very well for her first day. Sky was sure she hadn’t really. The interview had been a disaster. She was just lucky that Zac had been so nice about it and helped her out. She gathered her bag and coat and hurried out of the office before the sub-editor changed his mind. She walked down York Way to King’s Cross and joined the queue at the ticket barrier with her Oyster Card. She sat on the train with her eyes closed until she reached Ealing Common. Her father’s car was waiting outside. Rani was there with him, wearing her school uniform and looking as tired as she did after a day at school.
“How WAS it?” Rani asked when they were alone at last in her bedroom. “Do I still have a job tomorrow?”
“Yes, you do,” Sky assured her. “And you also have tickets to the London premiere of Zac’s new film and an invitation to the party afterwards. And….”
“Zac?” Rani smiled. “You’re on first name terms with him?”
“No,” Sky answered. “You are. So remember that when you meet him. What about you?”
Rani’s smile faded as she went over the events of the afternoon. Sky looked worried for a while, then relieved when she heard about Antonia’s suspension.
“She really SAID that? And your dad heard her?”
“She did. He was absolutely livid. Even if he lets her come back to the school, I don’t think she’ll dare bother anyone again. And Mr Anderson… well, he didn’t exactly apologise, but he said you don’t have to do detention. So I think that’s all right, too.”
“All we have to do now is sort out this thing,” Sky said. “And we’ve GOT to do it tonight. I don’t think I can get away with another day in your job.”
“And I definitely can’t be a second year for much longer.”
They were discussing what to do when they heard a car pull up outside the house. They looked and recognised Sarah Jane’s green Figaro. They both rushed downstairs to greet her as Haresh opened the door.
“What happened?” Sky asked. “Did they let the planes fly again?”
“Not the commercial ones,” Sarah Jane answered. “But I pulled some strings with U.N.I.T. I got a lift back to London with the RAF.”
“Well, I’m glad,” Rani said, as Sky. “Mum… come upstairs. There’s something me and Rani need to show you.”
“Give your mum a break,” Gita cut in. “She’s just got home. Sarah Jane, you must be dying for a cuppa.”
She was. The girls had to be patient a little longer before they could get her alone and explain their problem to her.
“Oh,” Sarah Jane said. She looked at Rani. “Sky….”
“Yes, it’s me, mum,” she answered.
“And you’re Rani…. Oh dear, you must have had a terrible time.”
“Horrible,” Rani agreed.
“It… wasn’t too bad,” Sky told her. “But we need to get back to normal again, now. I don’t want to be stuck like this.”
“We don’t even know what caused it,” Rani said. “Except that we both said some things last night that we really regretted this morning.”
“I know what happened,” Sarah Jane told them. She touched the charm on Rani’s bracelet on her wrist. “I don’t know how that got mixed up with the junk I gave you to play with. It’s far too dangerous. Aunt Lavinia gave it to me when I started as a journalist. And the same thing happened. I got stuck with giving her lecture on micro-fractals or something and she had to interview Arthur Scargill about the miner’s strike.”
“Who’s Arthur Scargill?” the two girls asked. But they really didn’t care. What mattered was that Sarah Jane knew all about it. Just being able to tell somebody was a relief. And telling Sarah Jane meant that there was a chance they WOULD be all right.
“Will Mr Smith be able to help, do you think?” Sky asked.
“No need,” Sarah Jane answered. “You just need to sleep on it. This all happened when you were asleep last night. It will sort itself out tonight while you’re asleep again. That’s how it worked for me and Aunt Lavinia. I had a theory at the time that the thing granted wishes for a day and then reverted them, but I never tested it. I wasn’t used to mad things happening back then, before I met The Doctor. I just hid it and tried to forget all about it.”
Both girls were relieved. Their troubles were almost over.
“Your dad is cooking, Rani. He’s doing something special to welcome me home. Let’s go and enjoy it and have a nice evening together. I’m glad to see both of you again after the weekend I’ve had. I don’t care what order you’re in.”
And that’s just what they did. Gita was disappointed that Sarah Jane’s U.N.I.T. connections couldn’t get her flowers flown over from Sweden, but she got over that. At the end of the evening Rani, as Sky, and Sky, as Rani, headed over the road to number 13 Bannerman Road to spend the night there. They got ready for bed in Sky’s room that used to belong to Luke and settled down to sleep as soon as possible.
Rani was the first one awake in the morning. She sat up in the camp bed and looked around Sky’s bedroom. Sky sat up in her own bed and grinned.
“We’re back, just as Sarah Jane said we would be.”
Rani’s mobile phone beeped. She had a text message.
“It’s from him,” she said. “Zac. Wishing me luck on my second day at work. You gave him my mobile number?”
“He asked for it. I think he fancies you,” Sky giggled.
“I hope he won’t be too disappointed if I take Clyde to the premiere then,” Rani answered. “Still, being on first name terms with a film star isn’t a bad result of it all.”