I've been lying in bed for the last week, fretting about the bloody interview Dad's set up with the college. How will I convince them I want to study? I'll have to lie right to their faces, and I don't even know if I can do that. If they can see through me, they won't let me in, and then...
Screwing up my face, I toss and turn. The red numbers on the alarm clock beside me have moved so slowly that I feel like my life's draining away. But now they tell me I've only got three hours left. The interview's this morning, and I don't even know what I'm going to wear.
Swearing, I throw myself out of bed. I fling open the wardrobe. I don't have any smart clothes I've never needed them 'til now. These clothes may be black, but T-shirts, hoodies, jeans, or combat trousers won't do the job. And what about shoes? I doubt they'll approve of my tattered trainers or clunky boots. I'm screwed, and Dad probably can't afford to buy a new suit unless we go to Primark or something, but we don't have time.
Sighing, I scuff out of my room. I cross the small landing and knock on Dad's door. The blinding light from the window up here's making my headache worse.
"What?" he calls from behind the door.
"I ain't got the right clothes. Does that mean I don't have to go?"
He yanks the door open. "Oh, you're fucking going, young man." Frowning, he looks me up and down. "You've got nothing decent at all?"
I shake my head. "You've never bought me anything smart."
"Never had a reason to. And don't have the time or money to buy a new suit right now, so I'll have to lend you something, won't I?"
He turns and shuts the door again. I roll my eyes. He hardly ever lets me see inside his room. I've always wondered if he's hiding something, but I've never been able to sneak in because he locks it when he goes to work.
I fold my arms and wait. After a while, he opens the door and thrusts a pile of clothes at me: a white shirt, a blazer, and a pair of black trousers.
"These were mine when I was younger." And thinner, by the looks of it. "Kept them to remind myself of a better time. Now hurry up and try them on. And be careful with them."
I sigh under my breath and return to my room.
I feel like a right prat. I grimace at my reflection in the downstairs hallway mirror. This is as smart as I'll ever look. The trousers just about fit, but the shirt and blazer hang off me slightly. At least they cover my scarred arms. I never wore a blazer at school. It's so stifling; I'm going to overheat. Dad gave me a plain black tie, but how does he expect me to do it up when I've never worn one of these either? At the moment, it sits under the shirt collar, with its two long ends dangling down.
Dad stomps down the stairs and stops at the bottom, frowning at me.
"Tuck that bloody shirt in. And do up your tie."
My fists clench. "You never taught me."
He moves closer and grabs the ends of the tie, tying a perfect knot in seconds. "No time to teach you today, either. Now tuck that shirt in."
I sigh, shove the bottom of the shirt into my trousers, and clutch the tight tie knot. Does he want me to choke?
"Stop sighing. Be grateful I'm helping you out at all, otherwise you'd be turning up there looking like a scruff."
I scowl at him.
"Go fix that hair too," he says. "Use some of that gel and make it presentable."
What would he know about styling hair? He's been balding for years, which really is sad at thirty-five.
I take a deep breath and plod up the stairs in his leather shoes, which need to be nearly two sizes smaller. This is going to be fun.
Dad drives us through a maze of busy roads in his crappy car. I've felt sick all the way here, and not just because of being scared of dying horribly in an accident; I think we're nearly at the college. I try to keep my eyes inside the car, staring at the crumb-covered flooring.
"How was that meeting the other day?" Dad asks, frowning at the road. "You didn't really say."
I shrug. "It was all right."
"Come on. That's what you said before. What were the people like? What did they say?"
"They were...okay. They said we could all quit if we stick together."
"Hmm. This better be useful. Or I might have to drive you to Hulme and try out that one."
I roll my eyes. "They'll all be the same."
I glance outside and see a white sign with the road name 'Chorlton Street'. You've got to be kidding. Looks like Chorlton follows me everywhere.
Dad turns left through two black gates and pulls into the long, narrow car park. He stops in a space near the entrance.
After turning off the ignition, he looks at me. "Now, remember to sound enthusiastic. Maybe smile every now and again. And for fuck's sake, make sure you sit up and don't slouch like that."
I squeeze out of the car and glance up at the brick building towering over me. Dad told me the college is split into a few separate campuses spread around this area. The white sign above the glass-panelled entrance reads, 'Shena Simon Campus'. Apparently, my classes will be held here... if I even get in.
Dad pushes me to the entrance. Through the doors, I can see a wide set of steps leading to the reception area. My stomach clenches as we step in and make our way up. A couple of smartly-dressed adults pass us on the steps. I try not to trip in Dad's shoes and peer through another set of doors. I can see quite a lot of students around it is May, after all.
The white walls of the huge reception area hurt my eyes. We approach the desk at the back of the room.
"Hi," Dad says, obviously forcing a smile. "We spoke on the phone. George Nelson. This is my son, Drake, here for his interview."
The woman smiles at us with red lips. "Please take a seat. We'll be ready for you in a few minutes."
And he was worried about being late.
Dad nods and we move over to the seating area. I slump on a chair and he plonks his arse on the one opposite me and folds his arms.
"What did I tell you about slouching?"
I sneer at him. "I ain't in the interview yet."
His eyes widen and he whispers, "Shut up and sit up straight. It'll be good practise."
I guess I should at least try before I go in. Sighing, I straighten my back. Man, this hurts; I already want to lean back again.
"Now smile," he says.
For a couple moments, I stare blankly at him. Then I force a big grin. There. Good enough? He raises an eyebrow and looks away, shaking his head. My smile dies.
I watch the clock on the wall. Each second stabs my gut. I want to go home and sleep. I want to stay there and not have to worry about classes, grades, or people.
Just as I'm contemplating running out, the woman behind the desk calls, "Mr. Nelson, we're ready to see you now."
I glance at Dad with a smirk and whisper, "Shouldn't that be Master Nelson?"
He rolls his eyes. "Just get up there."