I CAN'T SEE YOU. All Reece wanted was to make friends. When Oliver snubbed him, what should he do?
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I CAN'T SEE YOU

by Emma Laybourn

Chapter One

OPTICAL ILLUSIONS

wrote Miss Lewis on the whiteboard. Underneath it she added with a flourish,

Make the person disappear!
You may only use a pencil.

Oliver immediately began waving his pencil round like a wand, until the teacher gave him a stern look.

"Oliver and Reece, get on," she said.

Reece thought this was unfair. He was getting on. He was already busy drawing on his photocopied sheet of paper.

The sheet had a face printed on it. All over the classroom, groups of children were scribbling with their pencils on their own, similar sheets. They weren't allowed to draw on the faces, only round them. There was a lot of rubbing out and muffled grumbling, especially from Oliver.

"This is stupid," he complained. "You can't draw an optical illusion with a pencil. You need a computer."

"No, you don't," said Reece, eager to impress him. "I know how."

This was the first time he had sat with Oliver's group; although ever since he started at this school a month ago, he'd been wondering how to join it.

Oliver's table was cool. It was as cool as a fridge full of iced coffee. As cool as a skating-rink with champions gliding casually round it, hands behind their backs.

The four boys at Oliver's table were all on the football team. They had sharp haircuts and told witty jokes about the other children in the class. They ruled the roost in the playground.

When one of them went off sick, Reece asked the teacher if he could take his place. So now he was sitting where he'd longed to be, with Oliver, Kai and Joel: the cool crowd.

And he was determined to shine. To impress them. To show them that he had the right to be there.

The classroom filled with muttering and rustling as everyone struggled to make an optical illusion. Abby had already given up and turned her sheet into a paper plane, which she aimed at Maya.

"Stop that!" said Miss Lewis. "This is not an aerodrome."

"It's not a plane," said Abby. "It's a poison dart."

Oliver drew, rubbed out, drew, rubbed out again. He looked fed up. Reece reached over and took Oliver's sheet of paper off him.

"Hey," said Oliver.

"You're not doing it right," said Reece. "Do it like this." He began to draw swirly lines around the face.

"So what's that meant to be?"

"It's like camouflage," said Reece. "The face gets harder to pick out."

"No, it doesn't," said Oliver.

"It does," insisted Reece.

Miss Lewis, overhearing, turned to see. "Well done, Reece!" she said. "You've got the right idea." Reece glowed.

"It's not that great," said Oliver as Miss Lewis zoomed off again to scold Abby.

"You can still see the face," said Joel. "It's not invisible at all."

"It's rubbish," grumbled Kai.

"But look, it's starting to disappear!" protested Reece. "You just have to draw more lines, like this, you see?"

"You're a right know-it-all, aren't you?" said Oliver. "Why don't you just disappear?"

"Hey, he did!" said Joel. "I can't see him."

"He's invisible," said Kai.

Oliver began to smile for the first time that morning. "You're right. He must be an optical illusion."

"Look," said Reece, "I'm only showing you-"

"What's that?" Oliver cupped a hand around his ear. "I can't hear you."

"Hear who?" said Joel. "There's nobody there."

Reece bent his head over the sheet and drew determinedly. He knew how to make it work. He would show the others. They leant back in their chairs and watched.

"Excellent," said Miss Lewis when she came round to their table again. She held his sheet up for the class to see.

"Excellent," murmured Oliver.

"He's a genius," breathed Joel.

"Who is?" said Kai. And they all sniggered.

Miss Lewis looked at the clock. "Playtime," she announced. "Leave your sheets neatly on your tables. Put all the pencils in the pots, not in Maya's hair, please, Abby. Because of their good work, Oliver's group may go out first."

"Win!" said Joel beneath his breath.

And surely that win was worth something, thought Reece as he hurried out behind the other three. Surely that was worth a game of football.

"Can I play on your team today?" he asked.

Oliver looked around, up and down, from side to side: everywhere but at Reece. "Who's that talking? I can't see."

"It's me! I'm here!" said Reece urgently. "I don't mind going in goal."

"That wouldn't work," said Oliver. "I can't see you. Whoever you are."

"Can't have an invisible goalie," said Kai.

"That'd be useless," said Joel. "Though come to think of it, you are anyway."

"Hang on." Oliver twirled the football in his hands, thinking, until he seemed to change his mind. "Yeah, all right, then. You can play."

"Thanks!"

"You don't have to go in goal," said Oliver. "Midfield. Just watch out we don't trip over you." He nudged the others.

That nudge should have warned Reece; but it didn't. It took a while for him to understand that he was still invisible.

When more children joined the game, Oliver passed the word on to them. And nobody passed the ball to Reece. Not once.

His team ignored him. No matter how loud he yelled or how vigorously he waved, he might as well have not been there at all.

"Who's that shouting?" asked Oliver. He shielded his eyes and peered around. "I can't see anyone!"

Joel put a hand to his ear. "Did I hear someone call?"

"Can't have," said Kai. "There's no-one there."

As for the other team, they took it up enthusiastically: after all, it was helping them to win.

So they decided that they couldn't see Reece either. They barged into him, over him and through him like reckless dodgem drivers.

"Watch out! I can't see you," yelled Cody, as he ran across his legs and scythed him to the ground.

"Ouch! That was a foul!" protested Reece, struggling painfully to his feet.

"Oops, I just tackled the invisible man," shouted Cody.

Reece hobbled to the sidelines.

"Prats," said Seth who was standing there with Adam. "Come and play with us instead."

Reece shook his head. Seth was a nerd. Adam was fat. They played weird and complicated games that involved pretending to be dolphins. They swooped and dived around the playground, beeping, as if they were six. They were not cool.

His ankle was hurting really badly. He limped over to the doorway and sat down on the step to rub it.

"Those boys are so childish," sighed Maya nearby with her gang of girls. "They are such idiots." She rolled her eyes.

"Yeah," said Reece, thinking, Great. So everyone's been watching me get hacked to pieces and humiliated.

"You have to just ignore them, Reece."

"Yeah," said Reece again; but he meant No.

How could he ignore them? He wanted to be them. Kai and Joel were looking at him now, and pretending not to, and bursting into whoops of laughter.

Reece got up and limped into the school.




Chapter Two

The classroom was silent. Reece mooched around it aimlessly, swinging between the empty chairs. He wasn't meant to be here without permission from the teacher. But there was no way he was going back out into the playground to be mocked and ambushed.

He got his reading book out of his drawer, in case Miss Lewis came in, but he didn't read. Instead, he looked at the sheet lying on his table.

His drawing worked. The face had nearly disappeared into its camouflage, like a leopard concealed amidst sun-dappled leaves.

Why couldn't Oliver give him credit for that? Why couldn't he just say Hey, that's good? Why did he have to be so snide?

Reece picked up the pencil and shaded in a bit more, to make the illusion work even better. Miss Lewis might put it up on the wall.

That would show Oliver: or it ought to. Oliver was proud enough of his own Highwayman story that Miss Lewis had put on the wall yesterday.

Reece limped over to the display and read Oliver's story. It wasn't that great. Oliver couldn't spell murder, and he didn't have a clue about speech marks. They were all over the place, as if someone had dowsed the paper in a bucket of tadpoles.

And his drawing of a highwayman astride a large black horse looked like Batman on a giant demented spider.

On impulse, Reece took up a pen and wrote under the picture in big letters:

BATMAN RIDES A SPIDER

The capital letters were to disguise his handwriting. Probably nobody would even notice it for days, anyway; but writing it made him feel better.

It made him feel better for at least three minutes, until the class came pouring in. Oliver glanced over at the wall and noticed it immediately.

"Miss Lewis!" he cried. "Someone's written all over my story. In ink!"

Miss Lewis looked, and frowned. "How unkind," she said severely. "Abby?"

"Not me," said Abby.

"No," said Miss Lewis, looking closer. "It is rather neat. Did anybody see who did this?"

Nobody had. So after Miss Lewis had stuck a strip of paper over the offending caption, she told everyone to sit back down, be quiet and prepare to draw and label eyeballs.

Oliver stared hard at Reece across the table. "It was you," he growled. "Wasn't it? You trashed my story."

"I can't have," Reece retorted. "I'm not here."

"It was you."

"Who? Who are you talking to? I'm not here. You said so yourself."

"You think you're so clever," hissed Oliver.

Well, that was the idea. Reece wanted to show Oliver's group that he could come up with a witty answer just like they could; and that he wasn't willing to be messed around. He thought he'd managed the whole lot in one go.

"It's ruined now," said Oliver. "And my dad hasn't even seen it. I wanted to show it him on Open Day."

"Prat," snapped Joel to Reece. "What did you do that for? You know his dad's away fighting in the army. He's been away for months."

"He'll never see it now," said Oliver dismally.

"Dumbo," grunted Kai.

Reece had totally forgotten about Oliver's dad. He could have kicked himself. Yet it had been one of the things that had first impressed him about Oliver - that he had a father on the frontline in Afghanistan.

His dad's picture had been in the local paper, in uniform, with medals. He was a hero. Reece's dad worked shifts in a bakery, and brought home stale doughnuts. Doughnuts didn't compare with medals.

Joel said, "Your dad's back next month, isn't he, Oli? Isn't that when his tour of duty finishes?"

"Yeah, but they might send him to GCHQ," said Oliver. He sounded depressed.

"GCHQ?" said Reece, trying to show sympathy. "That's the spy place, isn't it?"

"Shut up," said Oliver between clenched teeth. "I can't hear you. I can't see you. You're not there."

Reece shut up. He got on with drawing and labelling his eyeball, hoping that if he kept quiet, by lunchtime Oliver might just decide to drop the invisibility thing.

Oliver did not. In any case, Kai and Joel would not have let him. So Reece continued to be invisible for the rest of the day.

By home time, he knew they were not going to let up any time soon; not since he'd written on Oliver's Highwayman. He'd asked for it. He had it coming.

Reece slunk out of school hoping Dad wouldn't be waiting for him. Although Mum was at work, Dad often came to meet him after his early shift at the bakery.

But Dad was too obviously not a hero. Reece did not want him to be there today.

As soon as he walked out of school, he saw Dad with his big daft grin almost as wide as the belly stretching his faded t-shirt.

"Doughnut?" Dad held out a paper bag.

"Not now," said Reece, walking straight past him. He wanted to move on before Dad heard the others calling him.

Dad hurried after him. "Why the long face? What's wrong?"

"Nothing. You don't have to come and meet me. I'm old enough to walk home by myself. Hardly any of the kids in my class get met."

Oliver and Joel didn't get met. They were walking down the other side of the road together, looking over at Reece and his Dad, and laughing. Reece felt his face grow hot, and turned away.

"I like coming to meet you," Dad said. "So how was school?"

"All right."

"What did you do at playtime?" Dad sounded anxious. Reece knew what he really meant: Have you made any friends yet?

"I played football," he said.

"Oh, good!" Football equalled friends, in Dad's eyes. "Did you win?"

Reece shook his head. "I hurt my ankle." As he said it, his ankle immediately started throbbing. He began to limp.

"Poor you! We'll put a cold flannel on it, as soon as we get home." Dad sounded happier now that he knew why Reece was so long-faced. A bad ankle was a good excuse.

So Reece did not say anything to him about Oliver or being invisible.

There was no point; his father wouldn't understand. He wouldn't get it. He'd just wear that worried look of his, and say, you need to tell the teacher.

As if that would help.




Chapter Three

Reece told the teacher. At least, he asked her if he could move back off Oliver's table. He didn't know how to explain why.

"You want to go back to Abby's table?" Miss Lewis said in disbelief. That was where he'd sat before. Abby's table was a shambles; it looked like an explosion in a pencil factory.

"I'd rather just sit on my own," he said.

"Are they not being nice to you, Reece?" she asked.

Reece glanced warily over at the three boys. He didn't want to be a tell-tale, because that would make things even worse. "It's not that."

"Then give it another go. It was you who wanted to move there. I can't have everyone changing tables every five minutes."

So Reece slowly plodded back to Oliver's table. And he might as well have told tales, for all the good it did him; because he was still invisible, as far as Oliver and Kai and Joel were concerned.

He tried to pretend he didn't care. He got his head down and got on with his maths, listening to Oliver chatting with his friends.

But whenever Reece reached for the ruler or turned his page, Oliver would glance at him through half-closed eyes and say,

"Did you see something move just then?"

"Nah," said Kai. "There's no-one there."

That was bad enough. Reece knew playtime would be worse. He couldn't face going outside and being invisible in front of the whole school.

Luckily his ankle gave him an excuse. Dad had put a big elastic bandage on it; so Reece pulled faces of agony until Miss Lewis relented and told him to stay in and read a book.

"We'll stay in with you," offered Seth. "Won't we, Adam?"

"No, you won't," Miss Lewis sharply contradicted him, somewhat to Reece's relief.

So at least there were no dolphins swooping round the classroom with him; but it was boring, staying inside on his own.

Although he tried to read, he couldn't concentrate. He felt slightly sick. Eventually he replaced his book in his drawer, got his lunchbox and nibbled at a sandwich to see if that would help.

It didn't. But Mum had put a chocolate bar in there, which was some consolation. Slumped despondently against the row of pupils' drawers, Reece was about to unwrap it when he heard footsteps just outside.

Eating in the classroom was forbidden. Quickly Reece slipped the chocolate into the nearest drawer behind his back.

However, it wasn't Miss Lewis who entered, or any of the other teachers: it was Oliver and Kai.

They ignored him pointedly. Reece slid away as Kai rummaged in his drawer.

"Can't find them! I must have left them at home," he complained.

"I've got some." Oliver pulled open his own drawer. He took out a pair of football gloves; and then, more slowly, Reece's bar of chocolate.

He held it up and turned it round.

"What's this doing in my drawer?" He looked at Reece.

"Are you talking to me?" said Reece. "I thought I wasn't here."

"Who put this in my drawer?"

"How should I know?"

"Was it you?" demanded Oliver.

"Me? Give you chocolate?" said Reece bitterly. He was furious that now Oliver had his bar of chocolate, on top of everything else. "I wouldn't give you a mouldy sprout."

"Hey, it's probably one of the girls who fancies you," said Kai to Oliver. "Come on! We're missing the game."

Oliver still looked bewildered, but he took the chocolate and ran out.

Reece felt like ripping the Highwayman right off the wall. It just wasn't fair. He spent the rest of playtime fuming about the unfairness of it.

But at least the matter had one saving grace: it meant that it was the girls who copped for all Kai's jokes that afternoon, not him. Although he still had to sit at their table and be invisible, Kai and Joel were more interested in solving the new mystery of Who Fancied Oliver.

"Was it you, Ruby? Hey, Lucy? Do you like Oliver? Maya, was it you?" persisted Kai.

"In your dreams," said Maya haughtily. But Kai wouldn't give up.

"Lauren? Samara? Did you give Oliver a bar of chocolate?"

"No way!"

"Perhaps it was Abby," murmured Joel.

Kai snorted with laughter, and called across the classroom. "Hey, Abby! You want to go out with Oliver?"

Abby looked up. She was small and scruffy, as if she was practising to be a scarecrow. "I might," she said.

"Woo-hoo!" jeered Kai.

"Is Oliver any good at ping-pong?" demanded Abby.

"Ping-pong?" said Oliver.

"Archery? Scuba diving? Forget it, then. Kate might go out with you, though."

Her friend Kate blushed and shook her head.

Joel pounced. "Kate! It was Kate."

"It wasn't," said Kate, almost too quietly to hear.

"Leave it," said Oliver. He was uncomfortable, and Reece was glad.

"I reckon it was Kate. She's the third prettiest in the class," said Joel approvingly. Reece thought that grading girls was an ignorant thing to do, and that anyway Kate was the prettiest, although she was also as wet as a soggy sponge.

"Leave it," repeated Oliver, sounding tense. "It wasn't Kate."

"You know who it was, then? Who was it, Oli?"

Oliver just shook his head. Reece, invisible and ignored across the table, knew that Oliver was baffled.

Good. Let him be baffled. Reece liked to see him baffled.

And he began to plot how to baffle Oliver some more.

* * *

And so Reece begins his campaign to baffle Oliver and get his own back... until events take an unexpected twist!

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Copyright Emma Laybourn 2013




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