Clyde thanked Sarah Jane politely as she dropped him off at his house, then she turned and drove back towards Bannerman Road. There was a strained silence in the car. Neither Maria nor Luke knew what to say. Maria was especially lost. Usually she had no trouble chatting to Sarah Jane. She was easier to talk to than her mum – MUCH easier. And she listened, unlike her mum. But suddenly, ever since she came back from talking to the headmistress, she was changed.

“I’d better get on home,” she said when the car stopped in the driveway of number 13. “Dad will be home from work by now, and he said he’d order a pizza and a DVD in case we lost really badly and I wanted to forget my troubles.” Sarah Jane didn’t seem to be listening. “I’ll come over and see you tomorrow, Luke,” she added.

“We’ll be out in the morning,” Sarah Jane said. “Luke has to have a new uniform for Beaufort Academy.”

“Mum…” Luke began, then fell silent, not knowing what to say. He watched Maria as she crossed the road to pizza and a DVD and a dad who would listen to her. His mum USED to listen to him, but she didn’t seem to be just now.

He followed her inside. She dropped her bag on the kitchen counter and began to make tea and butter some scones.

“That was all really interesting, wasn’t it? I must thank Maria. I never would have known about Beaufort Academy if it wasn’t for her netball. It really is a wonderful place.”

“Mum!” Luke protested. “You can’t DO this to me.”

“Do what?” she answered. “I’m just making a nice cup of tea.”

“You know what I mean,” he replied. “I don’t want to go to that weird school.”

“Of course you do. It’s a really wonderful institution specialising in academic and sports excellence. It’s the very best place for you7. Park Vale is all very well for ordinary children, like Maria and Clyde, and those boys you hang about with. But you’re not ordinary. You’re special. And you deserve the best.”

“No, that’s not right,” Luke persisted as he watched her pour hot water into a teapot and put it on a tray with the milk, sugar, cups and plate of scones. “And I don’t eat scones. You keep them because Clyde likes them. But he’s gone home.”

“Come on, Luke, dear,” she said. “Let’s sit down in the drawing room and enjoy our tea in a nice, civilised way.”

“We never drink tea in the drawing room, either,” Luke added. “We always sit in the attic when I get in from school.”

Sarah Jane didn’t respond to that. She brought the tray to the dining room. Luke sighed and followed her. He sat down on the chair and took the cup of tea she poured.

“There, now,” she said in a bright, almost artificially cheery voice. “When you’ve had your tea, there’s a little booklet in my handbag for you to read. All about Beaufort Academy. And there’s a sort of questionnaire, it’s a quick iq test, to find out what level you’re at so they know what class to put you in.”

“Mum, I don’t WANT to go to Beaufort Academy. I don’t care about it being a great school. I don’t think it IS anyway. I think it’s weird. And I like Park Vale. I’ve got friends there. Maria and Clyde go there.”

“You can still be friends with them in the evenings and weekends. If you really want to be, that is. I’m sure you’ll soon make new friends. There will be plenty of new people. People more like you. Maria and Clyde are very nice, but really, they do hold you back. You’d be much better off…”

“Mum, what is going on?” he asked. “You said you wanted me to go to an ordinary school and learn to mix with ordinary boys, so I won’t stand out and be picked on for being different. And I was very scared at first. Because I AM different and it was all so new, so many kids, and all of them understood things better than me. Not… not science and maths and geography, but what was on TV last night, and the football scores, pop charts, who’s hot, what’s cool and what’s not cool. The things people of my age are supposed to know. And I’ve got to know things like that. I still get it wrong sometimes, but I have friends now, and they don’t let people pick on me about it. Not just Clyde and Maria, either. There are others who like me. A lot of boys, and some girls, too. And I don’t want to go to another school.”

There were tears in his eyes as he said that, but Sarah Jane didn’t even seem to notice.

“I know what’s best for you. I’m your mum.”

“No, you’re not!” Luke yelled. “I don’t have a mum. Or a dad. You know that. I’m nobody’s son. I’m an ‘experiment’ created by aliens who wanted to take over the world. I DON’T HAVE A MUM!”

There was a shocked silence when he said that. He shocked himself by saying it. Sarah Jane just blinked and looked at him for a long time.

“If you’re going to be silly like that then you can go up to your bedroom and stay there. Tomorrow, we’re going to buy your new uniform and on Monday you’re going whether you like it or not. And that’s that.”

“Mum!” Luke cried. “I'm sorry, I didn’t mean what I said.” But Sarah Jane wasn’t listening to him. He turned away and ran upstairs. In his room he sank down on the bed and cried.

The next day Sarah Jane drove Luke into town. He submitted to trying on school shirts and trousers and jumpers and blazers that he thought made him look totally stupid. They all came from an expensive department store with a specialist school section. It only stocked the uniforms for private schools. He was mildly surprised just how many of them there were in the local area.

There were shoes, too. Black leather, lace up shoes with soles so stiff and heavy they felt as if they were chiselled from stone. He usually wore trainers at Park Vale, like all the other boys. But Beaufort Academy had a strict dress code.

“It’s good to know standards are maintained,” Sarah Jane said. “School uniforms are so sloppy at most schools. Look at the way everyone wears their ties at Park Vale, just tied in a knot around their necks, and the top button undone on the shirts. The Academy children are so neat and tidy.”

“They’re all dead,” Luke answered. “They’re zombies who’ve been programmed to look like real children.”

“That’s another thing,” Sarah Jane told him. “Fanciful ideas like that. You get that from Clyde Langer. He’s a nice enough boy, but he has too much imagination.”

“He’s a boy. He’s supposed to have imagination. Besides, zombies are real. You’ve told us about them.”

Sarah Jane didn’t say anything about that. She just repeated what she had said before about Beaufort Academy being a fine school with neat, tidy, well behaved pupils.

“You don’t care about that sort of thing – neat and tidy, well behaved. You said the Park Vale kids asserted their individualism by not wearing the uniform in the standard way. You said you hated uniforms and regimentation. You said it was a form of social control and you hate people who think academic achievement is everything. You told me about Thinktank and the people who wanted an educated elite to take control of the world by force…”

“I just want you to have the best education possible,” Sarah Jane insisted.

“There’s Maria and her dad,” Luke said and waved. Sarah Jane looked irritated but it was too late. They were already coming over to say hello.

Of course Sarah Jane talked about Luke’s new school.

“It’s a pity you can’t afford the fees,” Sarah Jane said. “Maria is a bright girl. She would benefit from the Academy, too. Away from the unsuitable sorts who go to Park Vale.”

“Unsuitable?” Alan was surprised by that. “They’re just ordinary kids. Park Vale isn’t so bad. There’s a low truancy rate and none of the kids have ASBOs. And they DO come very well placed in the GCSE league tables. I really don’t think an Academy is the place for Maria. But for heaven sake, don’t mention it to her mum. She’ll get airs and graces and start expecting me to take out a second mortgage for the fees.”

“Well, isn’t it worth it?” Sarah Jane asked. “For Maria?” Somehow her tone seemed to imply that NOT taking out a second mortgage for Maria’s education made him a bad parent. Alan was, not surprisingly, irritated.

“Maria,” Luke whispered as Sarah Jane continued to go on about the same issues. “Come round later, please. After dark. I’ll let you in.”

He didn’t say anything more for now. He stood by Sarah Jane until she was ready to go. He said a polite goodbye to Maria and her dad and they walked on.

“What was all that about?” Alan asked. “Sarah Jane… She was… like she was when we first moved into Bannerman Road. All cold and stuffy. What’s going on with her?”

“I don’t know,” Maria answered. “But Luke is miserable.”

Alan looked at his daughter. She was miserable, too. Sarah Jane had been more of a mum to her than her mum. She had even gone to watch her play netball last night when he had to work late. Chrissie had some excuse about having to be somewhere with Ivan.

Sarah Jane was fantastic. Usually.

But today, something wasn’t right.

“Maybe,” Alan began. “No, that’s silly.”

“What is?” Maria asked.

“I thought… you know how you hear about these hypnotists who get people up on stage doing really mad things. And then weeks later they still act out of character because their heads are still messed with. Has Sarah Jane been to see any hypnotists lately?”

“No, just the headmistress of Beaufort Academy.”

“Is SHE a hypnotist?” Alan joked.

“Don’t think so,” Maria answered with a sigh. “I want my Sarah Jane back.”

Alan hugged his daughter. If her mum and her surrogate mum had let her down, at least he could make sure he was there for her.

“Pizza?” he suggested looking at the brightly lit restaurant front they were standing near. “Lunchtime All You Can Eat Buffet? Let’s have a pig out?”

Maria smiled, despite her worries. Her dad was doing his best for her. Just like he always did.

“You know, pig outs are not good for me,” she told him. “I need to watch my weight to fit the fashion clothes mum buys me. But… oh, go on. Just this once.”

Luke looked back as they crossed the road. He saw the way Alan had hugged Maria before they headed into the pizza restaurant, laughing and joking together. He sighed. He wanted it to be that way for him. He wanted his mum back.

To Be Continued...