I'm never late for school.
I leave home around eight o'clock on a school-day morning, even though it only takes five minutes on the bus, fifteen if I'm walking. And that's if I'm walking slowly, maybe stopping at Singhs for a penny chew or a look at the comics.
I'm almost always the first person to get here, even before Billy, the janitor, who comes at half eight to open up. Sometimes he lets me in for a warm by the big old-fashioned radiators, but mostly I just sit on the little wall at the edge of the playground and dream.
My friend Jo goes to gymnastics and swimming club. She reads teen magazines and scary books and collects beanie animals and she's learning to play the violin. She has loads of hobbies. I don't do all that stuff - my only real hobby is daydreaming. It's something that never lets you down, because it's free and it's easy and I'm in charge of what happens.
Sometimes I sit on the wall and imagine that this is the day the circus will come to town, right into the school playground. Acrobats, trapeze artistes and clowns will cartwheel and strut across the footy pitch. We'll all learn to paint our faces, ride a unicycle and balance on one leg on a galloping horse - better than fractions, spelling tests and getting picked last for the netball team.
Sometimes I dream that school is cancelled due to freak floods or blizzards, or that we all get stranded in class for weeks on end and have to be rescued by soldiers in boats or helicopters or dog sleds. Sometimes I imagine I've won a national competition for painting or acting or inventing a car that runs on orange juice and recycled sweet wrappers, and even Miss McDougall thinks I'm sussed and cool and dripping with talent.
My favourite daydream is about my dad. He comes driving into the playground in an indigo-blue Ferrari and squeals to a halt right in front of me. He leans over to open the passenger door and I can see him clearly - sometimes he's a cooler, fairer version of Robbie Williams, and other times he looks just like Mr Lennon, our head teacher, only not so podgy.
He smiles at me and it makes up for the whole of the last eleven years. I get into the passenger seat and we speed right out of that playground while everyone stands and stares, and I remember to send postcards to them all from New York, Cairo, Mexico City and our lush private villa in the Bahamas.
After half eight, kids start arriving at school, a few at a time. Some come with mums and pushchairs and squirmy baby brothers and sisters. Some come by car, some come by bus, some come on bikes, and Shane Taggart comes on his skateboard, every day, except when it snows.
Jo gets here at five to nine most days. She's been my best mate since we met on the very first day of school. She never laughed at my hair, which was all blonde dreadlocks and multi-coloured beads and feathers. She never asked why I was wearing an ancient turquoise felted jumper and tie-dyed leggings instead of a blue polo top and navy pinafore dress. She just raised her eyebrows, giggled and dragged me off to the sandpit.
I'm eleven now, and I know way more about fitting in. I got my mum to chop out all the dreadlocks when I was in Year Two - she still has them in a wooden box, along with her photos and her hippy jewellery and a yellowed ticket for Glastonbury Festival from hundreds of years ago.
I looked like a scarecrow for a whole year while my hair grew in, and ever since then I've looked after it myself - one hundred brush-strokes every night, conditioner every time I wash it, cute hairclips and tiny plaits and zigzag partings and little twisty buns with the ends sticking out, the way they do it in Jo's magazines.
I'm pretty much in charge of my own clothes too. Gran gets me basic uniform stuff every August and Mum lets me choose a few cool tops, some clumpy shoes or a little skirt to liven it all up. Sometimes they come from the charity shop, but I don't care about that as long as nobody at school catches on.
I look like the other kids, and that's what matters.
I've changed, and not just the way I look but the way I feel inside too. It might be something to do with growing up, but it's probably more to do with Mum and Max and Misti and all that stuff.
At least Jo never changes.
When things have been bad at home, she pretends not to notice. Jo doesn't ask awkward questions or try to get deep and meaningful. She doesn't do slushy and she doesn't do sad. She just rolls her eyes, digs me in the ribs and tells me silly stories and corny jokes, and we link arms and laugh and talk and the bad thoughts go away.