My name is Harriet Manners, and I have friends.
I know I have friends because this is by far the busiest I’ve ever been.
Honestly, my calendar is manic.
Between group study sessions and movie nights, pizza-eating competitions and crossword round robins, it’s all I can do to keep my epic new social life in some kind of order.
So now I’ve got two diaries: one to make sure I’m in the right place at the right time, the other for making sure everyone else is.
What can I say?
Winnie-the-Pooh was Friendship Ambassador in 1997: I have an awful lot to live up to.
The other reason I know I have friends is that I have a badge that says this in bright blue ink:
“Harriet,” Nat said when I presented her with one. “Is this totally necessary?”
“Yes,” I confirmed, pinning it to my Best Friend’s coat.
“We don’t want our brand-new additions to feel left out, do we?”
Then I gave badges to Jasper, India and Toby.
Along with the key-rings and magnets I made on my laminating machine.
That’s right: I am now in an official gang.
A clique, a posse, a fellowship.
A group of five happy kindred spirits, never to be parted. Just like the Famous Five or Scooby Doo, except one of us isn’t a big brown dog.
And it’s literally changed my life.
Studies have shown that people with a large network of friends tend to outlive their peers by up to twenty-two per cent, but I’m having so much fun I expect I’ll last even longer.
It took sixteen years, but I finally found them.
People who genuinely want to know that the average London pigeon has 1.6 feet and the soil in your back garden is two million years old.
People who love discovering that a single sloth can be home to 980 beetles and that Martian sunsets are blue and then maybe trying to Google a picture.
I finally found my people.
Etymologically, the word happy comes from the Old Norse noun happ, which means good luck or fortune, and that’s how I feel: as if everything is finally happening exactly as I’ve always wanted it to.
Because for the first time ever, I’m not on the outside looking in any more: I’m smack bang in the middle.
Part of a team and fitting in perfectly.
And I’m having the time of my life.
So where am I right now, you ask?
That’s what you really want to know, isn’t it: where a gang of this epic coolness – of this rare synergy – could possibly be spending most of their free time together.
Well, it’s not the local launderette.
Those innocent days are behind me, I’m afraid.
I tried to keep them going, obviously.
In fact, for the first few weeks I even set up a circle of chairs next to my favourite drying machine and a tray of snacks on top of the coin dispenser, but India wasn’t having any of it.
“Harriet,” she said after our seventh game of ‘Which Washing Machine Finishes First’. “We’re sixth formers. Don’t you think we should maybe hang out somewhere with… I don’t know, less dirty underwear lying about?”
Honestly, I think she was just upset because her machine always finished last.
Some people are super competitive.
Anyway, after a lot of careful research and analysis I finally picked somewhere new: a cosy little cafe, less than fifteen minutes from my house.
And it’s actually kind of perfect.
There are lanterns everywhere and bright velvet cushions and shelves with interesting books piled high.
Little coloured fairy-lights are strung from the ceiling all year round, and newspapers featuring multiple crosswords are strewn across the tables: just begging to be filled en masse.
There’s chocolate cake and ginger biscuits and every kind of coffee you could imagine: espresso and macchiato, cappuccino and mochaccino.
Basically, a lot of drinks with o on the end.
Team JINTH even has its very own special spot: a large blue sofa tucked in the corner with two red leather armchairs and a series of green vintage suitcases turned into a table, where we sit all of the time.
Unless other people are sitting there first, and then we have to sit somewhere else.
In short, the cafe is a strategic success.
Close enough for easy access, far enough to feel like a real escape. Glamorous, intimate, mature: the absolute height of sociable sophistication.
It’s my new happiest place to be.
“The usual?” the barista says as I reach the counter, phone clutched tightly in my hand. “Or are we going to branch out and try something new and dangerous today?”
Without looking up, I type:
I’m here! 🙂 What is your approximate ETA? Hxx
Then I shake my head and press SEND. “Just the same as normal, please.”
There’s a loud buzz.
“So an extra-large and chocolatey hot chocolate with too much foam it is, then.”
“Yes, please. With extra powdered chocolate, in a round cup.” I quickly type out another message. “So it looks like a real cappuccino and nobody can tell it hasn’t got any coffee in it.”
“A Harriet-uccino. Got it.”
I know, I know.
Coffee may statistically be the most popular drink in the world, and in the UK we consume 70 million cups of it every day, but I tried it once and spent four hours talking to a pigeon.
Remember to wear your JINTH T-shirts for photo opportunities! Hxx
There’s another buzz.
Also don’t forget the itineraries for tonight! Hxx
Apparently one in three teenagers send over three thousand text messages a month, and according to my last phone bill I am definitely heading towards that minority. (Although judging by my parents’ reaction, you’d think I was already there.)
Being in a happily organised gang is a surprising amount of work.
There’s another buzz, and the barista pauses from frothing up my milk to grab his phone out of his apron pocket and stare at it with one bright blue eye and one brown.
“You know, Harriet,” Jasper says, “you’re standing right in front of me. You could just say it.”
I glance up in surprise.
His lightly tanned face is flushed by the steam, his dark blond hair has grown into a kind of scruffy mohican and his dark eyebrows are knitted together in their standard frown.
“But what if you forget? You might need it written down for later.”
OK, there might be another, slightly less poetic, reason why we hang out here. Jasper’s family owns this cafe, so he works here most evenings and every weekend and we usually get a discount or an extra sprinkle of chocolate.
If Jasper’s in a good mood, that is. If he’s in a grump, he gives us cinnamon.
“Take your fake-uccino,” he sighs, shaking his head and passing it over the counter. “Burnt biscuit? I’ve screwed up another batch and need to get rid of them before Mum notices.”
I beam at him: I love the burnt ones. “Yes, please.”
“Such a little weirdo,” he says, grabbing two from under the counter. “And what other documentation do I need to bring this evening? A passport? Some kind of visa? Do you have a finger-printing machine for security purposes?”
Oh my goodness, that would be awesome.
Then I spot his smirk.
“Jasper King,” I tell him airily, “I am very busy so if you’re just going to be sarcastic, I have more important things to do.”
He thinks about that for a few seconds. “I am literally always going to be sarcastic.”
“In that case, I shall be over there, eating my biscuits.”
I stick my nose in the air. “Which I appreciate very much, by the way. Please send more over in due course.”
Then, humming to myself, I take my hot chocolate contentedly over to my special section of the corner sofa.
I put little bits of typed-out, laminated paper on the rest of the seats to make sure they’re officially reserved.
I take a huge gulp of my delicious Harriet-uccino.
And I sit down patiently to wait.
Unfortunately, we could be here some time.
Regardless of my gentle yet informative lectures about the importance of punctuality – and the street maps I drew for each of them individually – the rest of Team JINTH is almost always late.
Even though every single one of them lives closer to the cafe than I do.
So I may as well use this delay to update you on what else has been going on in the four months since you last saw me. Just try not to imagine me breaking up my biscuit and crumbling it into my hot chocolate at the same time, because that’s not what I’m doing.
I’m not dropping three more sugar cubes in there either: that would be gross.
Or sprinkling extra chocolate on top.
1 Lower Sixth is going brilliantly. I am now Biology Prefect, International Physics Ambassador and Director of Dinosaur Studies.
2 Those last two aren’t real school positions: I gave them to myself.
3 According to my grades so far, I am acing my A Levels. Which is good, because 97.3% of accepted students at Cambridge University have A*AA, so I’m still on target.
4 I wrote Cambridge University a long letter letting them know this.
5 They have not written back.
6 My baby sister, Tabitha, has just started crawling, waving and clapping her hands every time she sees me.
7 Which is kind of a problem, because according to our baby book she’s not supposed to be doing that for another two weeks.
8 Annabel’s started working three days a week so that Dad can focus properly on his job hunt on the days he’s not caring for Tabby.
9 Wilbur has returned from New York to take up his old position at Infinity Models agency.
10 I haven’t done any modelling.
Well, none that I plan on telling you about right now, anyway.
I’m far too traumatised to go into it quite yet. All you need to know is I never want to hear the words “Paris Couture Fashion Week”, “fluorescent swimming pool” or “giant rabbit head” ever again.
The humiliating nightmares are still recurring.
Nat and Theo broke up and she won a big fashion award at college – consequently she seems to spend even more time there, if that’s possible; India was promoted from new girl to Head Girl – making her simultaneously cool and powerful; Jasper has done a lot of stomping around, covered in paint and scowling at everyone. (Everybody in my gang has a talent and that’s his speciality.)
In fact, every person in my social circle appears to be on a similarly positive trajectory: the only way is up.
Literally, in Toby’s case.
My ex-stalker has managed to grow another three inches over the last two terms, and we’re beginning to worry that – much like Alice in Wonderland – he’s just going to keep eating things and shooting up vertically until he hits the ceiling.
And that’s pretty much everything.
My entire life: neatly summarised in a series of beautifully organised bullet points and decisive sentences.
Except that’s not what you want to know, is it?
You’re sitting there, nodding – yes, Harriet, lovely,
Harriet, how interesting, Harriet – but there’s one burning question I haven’t answered and you’re not going to pay any attention until I do.
Trust me, I understand: that’s how I feel about burning questions too.
So here it is.
I’m just sorry if it’s not what you were hoping for, that’s all.
Every time we fall in love, we statistically lose two good friends: reducing our average friendship group from five people to three.
So six months ago, I pushed a wooden box full of memories under my bed.
I opened the big box in my head.
I put love and romance inside and locked it up tightly.
Then I kept moving forward with the things that make me happy: into a neat, tidy and organised world with lots of extra space in my story now for other things.
Like learning that polar bears can eat eighty-six penguins in one sitting and if you lift a kangaroo’s tail it can’t hop, or that outer space tastes of raspberries.
For spending time having fun with my gang.
So no, I don’t have a boyfriend.
And no, I definitely don’t want one.
Because there are approximately a hundred thousand billion cells in the human body, and for the first time in over fifteen months every single one of mine belongs to me again.
I think that’s all you really need to know.
A lot can happen in fifteen seconds.
In just fifteen seconds, 69,000 tweets are posted and eighteen hours of YouTube videos are uploaded.
Every fifteen seconds, 615,000 Facebook statuses are updated, 51 million emails are written and 600,000 texts are sent.
Basically, a lot of socialising goes on.
Over the next quarter of a minute, I do my best to single-handedly boost those statistics.
With my phone mere centimetres from my face, I type as fast as I can: sending a group message letting everyone know it’s unseasonably warm today so they probably don’t need coats, and another asking if I should get their drinks in for them so they don’t have to wait in line.
A text, asking where everyone is now.
Another, asking if they’d like a biscuit or slice of cake, then another just to let them know that I’m totally fine about the cancelled night-trip to the zoo last weekend.
A funny joke I just remembered about a duck.
Another about a whale.
An observation about an interesting squirrel I saw in a tree on the way here.
In fact, I’m texting so hard the only thing I don’t do over the next fifteen seconds is look up or glance around the room.
Which means I’m just sending everyone an interesting fact about biscuits – it comes from the old French word bescuit which means ‘twice cooked’ – when a laugh comes completely out of nowhere.
And it takes a lot longer than it probably should to realise that although it doesn’t belong to anyone in my friendship group, I still know it very well indeed.
Better than I’d like to.
“Well,” a tall blonde girl says as I glance up, finger still paused on SEND, “if it isn’t Harriet Manners.”
And there – looming over me with an extremely confusing statement – is the one part of my life I failed to update you on: the single bullet point I completely left off.
First published in Great Britain by HarperCollins Children’s Books 2016
HarperCollins Children’s Books is a division of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd,
1 London Bridge Street
London SE1 9GF
The HarperCollins Children’s Books website address is: www.harpercollins.co.uk
Copyright © Holly Smale 2016
HB ISBN 978-0-00-757462-9
TPB ISBN 978-0-00-757463-6
Holly Smale asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved.