I sighed, turning away from the spaceport I’d been building in the sand pit and returning to the house, making sure to brush all the sand from between my toes before going inside. From the sound of Mum’s bellow, I was in enough trouble already without messing up her precious floors as well.
She stared at me from the other side of the kitchen table, her expression unreadable. “Have you given any more thought as to which high school you want to go to next year?”
Any more thought? I hadn’t given it any thought at all. I shrugged.
“I didn’t think so. There’s a stall down at the shops today promoting the new school that’s starting up here, and from what the lady said, it sounds, well, I thought maybe you’d like it there.”
I shrugged again as she handed a pamphlet to me.
“Go on, at least read it, sweetie.”
Probably some special school for drongos, I thought, thinking of what the creeps at the back of my class kept calling me. I swallowed hard before looking down at the folded glossy paper I was now holding.
School of Intergalactic Studies, the big letters across the top shouted, followed by Coolum Beach Secondary College in smaller print. Below that, a grainy photograph showed a blonde woman surrounded by a bunch of barefoot kids. Huh? My jaw dropped as I took a closer look, certain I must be mistaken.
“It’s run by that space family who were in the news a lot just before you were born.”
“Yeah, I remember,” I said absently, now reading through the fine print on the inside of the brochure. There must be a catch, surely.
Mum sighed again. “The lady said that, as well as all the usual subjects, they have special courses on extra-terrestrial languages and culture, and I know you like reading about that sort of stuff on the ultranet.”
“She said if you’re interested you can go down and have a talk to her. She’ll be there until five o’clock.”
I flicked back through the pamphlet, staring again at the photo on the front. “Yeah, okay, I’ll go over there now if you want.”
She slobbered a kiss on my cheek. “Thanks, sweetie. They’re on the footpath just outside the pizza shop.”
* * *
The blonde lady from the photo looked up at me, smiling. “Can I help you?”
“I’m Joel Morison; my mum was talking to you earlier and sent me over to see you.”
“Joel, yes of course, I’m Lorina Collins. Your mother thought you might be interested in what we’re offering.”
“Yeah, I, um, I like reading about the other planets out there, and what the different people are like.”
No, I just made that up to impress you. “Yeah, I do.”
A man with long black hair and wearing only yellow boardies came out of the pizza shop towards us, carrying, believe it or not, a box of pizza. He grinned as he put it down on the table.
“Mark, this is Joel Morison who’s interested in joining our school next year.”
Whoever said first impressions matter most couldn’t have had me in mind. Instead of shaking his offered hand, I just stood there like a first class drongo with my jaw drooping lower and lower, trying to remember what the cat did with my tongue.
“Hello Joel,” he said, still with his hand sticking out waiting for me to shake it. After several ages of the universe, I finally persuaded my arm to complete the ritual. “Would you like some pizza?”
“Sorry, you’re, um, yeah, thanks.” There you go, Joel, a C- in elocution already. Remembering my manners, I took what looked like the smallest piece and stuffed it into my mouth. He whispered something to his wife as she took a piece, causing her to chuckle. A joke at my expense, no doubt.
“You yoose yoo,” I started to say, before finally understanding why Mum keeps telling me not to talk with my mouth full. I chewed, chewed, chewed and swallowed while they both stared at me like I was the prize exhibit at the zoo.
“You used to be Mark the Bewildered, didn’t you?” I finally said.
Mark grinned. “Yes, but I stood down as Supreme Councillor a couple of years ago.”
“He’s still bewildered, though,” Lorina said.
“I heard about what happened on the news,” I said, but at that moment, a blonde girl of about my age dashed across the street towards us, presumably having come from the beach since she was wearing a wet bikini and carrying a beach towel. She handed the towel to Lorina before running further up the street, the spray of water from her hair creating a halo around her in the afternoon sunshine.
“That was our daughter Loraine,” Lorina said. “She’ll be in your class next year if you decide to come to our school.”
“I get to decide?”
“Your parents will no doubt want a say in it, but really I think the decision should be yours.”
“But, but I thought there’d be admission tests and stuff.”
“We don’t have enough applicants for that,” Mark said, earning himself a poke in the ribs from Lorina.
“There is one other thing,” she said, causing me to loudly gulp. Here comes the catch. “The college is technically still a part of the Delphinidae Order, and our tradition includes an expectation that students attend school barefoot, although exceptions can be made if need be.”
I gulped again. “I, no, I mean yes, no, I never wear shoes anyway.”
“Well that makes it easy then.” She handed me a booklet and several more of the pamphlets. “Give those to your friends, if you like.”
“I don’t … I will, yes.”
As I turned to walk away, my head still spinning, I bumped straight into an Aboriginal boy who was walking up to the stall.
“Sorry,” I said.
“Mum,” I heard him say to Lorina as I turned the corner. “Who was that git?”