The second book in the Loch Lannick series will be available from the 28th December 2019. Scroll down for a sneak peek…
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“He’s awful,” Isla Mackenzie complained as she walked home from school with her older sister, Leana, and her best friend, Jenny.
“I felt so sorry for you,” Jenny said.
“Do you have to sit with him every day?” Leana asked. “Or was it just today?”
Isla brushed her hair from her face as the gusty April wind whipped around her. She’d assumed having to sit with the new boy was a permanent arrangement but felt a spark of hope that it might not be. Maybe she’d get to sit with Jenny again the following day.
“I think he’s sitting with Isla from now on,” Jenny said. “Up at the front where Mrs Bailey can keep an eye on him.” She laughed. “Except no one behind him can see the board any more.”
“He’s tall, is he?” Leana said.
“Aye.” Jenny slowed as she zipped her coat up. “I think he’s cute.”
Isla rolled her eyes. He might be okay if you liked bad boys. His messy brown hair and confident stance didn’t impress her at all. Plus, he’d just been expelled from his last school. It didn’t matter if he was cute or not; she didn’t want anything to do with him.
Leana nudged her shoulder against Isla’s. “Did he really punch a teacher?”
“I didn’t ask,” Isla said. “I didn’t speak to him. He seems angry, though. I kept thinking he might turn around and punch me.”
“It’s not fair that you get stuck next to him,” Jenny said. “Do you think they did that on purpose? Put the bad kid with a good student, hoping it will rub off.”
“It’ll probably work the other way,” Leana said. “Isla’s gonna turn into a thug and start beating people up.”
They erupted with laughter as they reached the corner where the road split. Jenny’s house was to the left – a little way up the hill towards the village of Lannick. Isla and Leana lived down by the loch. Their younger sister, Elspeth, was walking towards them from the primary school further up the road. At twelve, Isla was in her first year of secondary school. The sisters were neatly spread, two school years between each of them. Isla and Leana waited on the corner for Elspeth after waving goodbye to Jenny.
“Did you see the new boy?” Elspeth asked as they continued home.
“Isla’s sharing a desk with him,” Leana said excitedly.
“No way!” Elspeth said. “Mum’ll have a fit.”
Isla half hoped her parents might have a word with Mrs Bailey. Maybe they could get him moved to another desk.
They reached their gate and turned onto the gravel driveway that meandered down to the picturesque sea loch on the western side of the Isle of Skye. Just inside the gate to the right was a broken-down old house they referred to as the gatehouse. A couple of the windows were broken and had been boarded up. At the bottom of the drive, beside the water, was a cottage in a similar state of disrepair.
When their parents had moved in, they’d intended to renovate the cottage and gatehouse and rent them out. Then they’d spent all their money fixing up the main house to live in. Repairing the other houses had been put off. Their dad still talked about it now and again. Maybe it would end up being his retirement project. The main house was a decent-sized whitewashed house with a huge lawn in front which ran down to the public path around the loch.
The three girls filled their mum in on the news about Isla sitting next to the new boy as soon as they walked in the door. Christine looked surprised and a little thoughtful but refrained from commenting until their dad came home. Keith worked at the local distillery just up the road.
Isla’s parents exchanged meaningful glances at the dinner table while Leana and Elspeth chatted about how unfair it was that Isla had to sit with the new boy. Isla stayed quiet, watching her parents and waiting for the verdict.
“He’s got to sit somewhere,” her dad said.
Her mum nodded. “He might not be so bad when you get to know him.”
“He punched a teacher,” Isla reminded them.
“Hmm.” There was a flicker of doubt on her dad’s features. Surely he wasn’t going to let her spend the rest of the school year sharing a desk with a violent thug?
“You could ask Mrs Bailey to move him?” Isla said. “It’s not fair that I don’t get to sit with Jenny any more.”
“It might be good for you,” her dad said. “It’ll set you up for real life. Once you’re out in the real world and you’ve got a job, you won’t have your best friend by your side. There’ll be times when you have to work with people you don’t really want to.”
“She’s twelve,” Leana said sharply. “People should be able to sit with their friends when they’re twelve.”
“Just give it a couple of weeks,” Christine said, looking calmly at Isla. “If it’s really a problem we can talk to Mrs Bailey, but you at least need to give it a try. Besides, you’ll only sit with him in Mrs Bailey’s classes, won’t you?”
“Yes. But that’s most of my classes,” Isla pointed out. “The only subjects I’m not with Mrs Bailey for are science, languages and sports. I actually think going to the smallest secondary school in Scotland is putting us at a disadvantage. It can’t be good having the same teachers for different subjects. Maybe I should move schools.”
“Lannick’s a good school,” Christine protested.
Keith pointed his fork at Isla. “And you’d soon change your tune if you had to drive all the way across the island to go to school. You girls don’t know how good you’ve got it, being able to walk to school in less than ten minutes.”
“Here we go.” Leana rolled her eyes then affected a deep voice to mimic their dad. “When I was a lad …”
The girls all fell about laughing while Christine pressed her lips together to stop herself from joining in.
Ignoring them, Keith glanced at his wife. “Do you know anything about the new boy’s family?”
Christine shook her head. “I heard it’s just the boy and his dad, living over in Portree.”
“That makes sense,” Leana said. “It’s always the ones from broken homes who end up in trouble, isn’t it?”
“Just eat.” Keith shot Leana a look that told her to be quiet. He turned to Isla. “What’s his name?”
“Logan Donnell,” Isla replied.
* * *
The first couple of weeks at Lannick High School were painful for Logan on many levels. He’d always felt a bit of an outsider because he was so tall for his age. A lot of kids found him intimidating. More so now he was the kid who’d punched a teacher. It seemed unlikely that he’d ever make friends at his new school. That didn’t bother him too much. What bothered him was how stressed his dad was.
Not only was he worried about how Logan was settling into his new school, but he was also working more hours to make up for the time he had to take off in the afternoons to drive Logan home. As a self-employed painter and decorator he’d always worked long hours but now it was worse than ever. Previously, Logan had been able to walk home from school, but Lannick was all the way over on the west of the island. It was a half-hour drive from Portree, and the bus didn’t run at the right times.
After his dad dropped him home in the afternoons, he’d go back to work, leaving Logan to spend his evenings alone. He volunteered to go with his dad and help him, but most of the time his dad insisted he stay at home and get his homework done. Logan didn’t see the point of school. When he was older he planned on working with his dad, so all the time in a classroom felt like a waste.
“Can we get pizza tonight?” he asked as they drove home in his dad’s van on Friday evening. They had a favourite pizza place where they sometimes got a takeaway.
“I’ve got to get back to work,” his dad said. “I’ve got a bathroom to tile and I promised to get it done this evening.”
“I could help you,” Logan suggested. “You keep saying you’ll teach me how to tile. We can do that and then get pizza after.”
His dad rubbed his forehead. “I’ll show you another time. I just want to get on and get it done. It’s been a long week.”
Logan’s jaw tightened and he turned his attention out of the window.
“We can stop at the shop and get frozen pizzas,” his dad said.
“They don’t taste as good,” Logan muttered.
“I know, but they also don’t cost as much.” His dad leaned onto the steering wheel when they stopped at traffic lights. An awkward silence hung between them. He sighed heavily. “You really want to help tile a bathroom?”
Tiling turned out to be more difficult than he had expected. It was all so precise, not just slapping on the tiles but measuring and making sure they fit properly. His dad made it look easy, but every time Logan tried putting the tiles in place they seemed to slip. Thankfully it was only a small area that needed tiling, otherwise they’d have been there all night.
Darkness was setting in when they left the terraced house. The owner had come up to check the work and the old guy had seemed pleased with it. He’d slapped Logan on the back, saying he made a fine apprentice and would no doubt take over the business before too long.
“I think you earned yourself pizza,” his dad said as they climbed into the van. Pulling out his wallet, he thumbed through the two five-pound notes as though some more might magically appear.
“We can just get frozen pizza from the shop,” Logan said. “I don’t mind.”
“My boy just tiled his first bathroom,” his dad replied. “We’re celebrating.”
“We can get pizza from Little Italy next week,” Logan said. “The meat feast one from the supermarket is pretty good.”
His dad ruffled his hair and smiled sadly. “Next week we’ll get a takeaway,” he promised. “How am I supposed to let you know I love you if I don’t buy you pizza from Little Italy now and again?”
Logan stifled a grin and stared out of the window.
“Your arms will probably ache tomorrow,” his dad told him when they sat on the couch with the large meat feast pizza between them.
“It’s a change to learn something useful,” Logan said as he chewed. “I don’t see the point of school. Why do I need to learn about Eilean Donan Castle? How’s that going to help me in life? Unless you want to be a tour guide there, it’s pretty useless.”
“Is that what you’re learning about at the moment?”
“Yeah. We have to do group projects: make a poster and do a presentation to the class.”
“Who’s in your group?”
“We’re in pairs. It’s whoever you sit with, so I’m with Isla.”
“Is she nice?”
“She practically ducks under the table every time I move. Everyone thinks I beat people up for fun.”
“You’ve still not made any friends?”
“No.” He almost wanted to say yes just to make his dad feel better, but he couldn’t be bothered to lie.
“You’ll find some. Once people get to know you.”
“I just want to be back at school here in Portree,” Logan said. “I miss hanging out with Gary.” It had always been an unlikely friendship between the two, given that Gary was short for his age and could easily be mistaken for being five years younger than Logan.
“You can still see Gary,” his dad said. “Why don’t you arrange to meet him after school or at the weekend?”
“He’s not allowed to hang out with me any more.”
His dad slapped his hand on the arm of the chair, making Logan jump.
“It doesn’t matter,” Logan said quickly. “I’ll make new friends.”
“You should never have been expelled. You were sticking up for someone, and it’s you who gets in trouble instead of the bully. The system is all wrong.”
“Sorry.” Logan had apologised a hundred times, but he still felt bad about how much trouble he’d caused his dad.
“It’s not your fault. We just have to make the best of it, that’s all.”
“My teacher’s nice,” Logan said.
“Mrs Bailey? Aye, she seemed all right when we met her.”
Logan glanced at his feet. He’d been waiting for the right time to have this conversation with his dad. He hated lying to him, but it was for the best. And if he was careful he was fairly sure his dad wouldn’t find out. “She stays in the school until half five,” he said slowly. “Doing marking and stuff. Some of the other kids stay back and do homework in the classroom after school. Anyone’s allowed to stay. If it’s easier, I can do my homework at school and you could pick me up later.”
His dad’s mouth twitched. “That would make things easier. Do I need to call and arrange it?”
“No. It’s just an informal thing. Mrs Bailey said it’s fine.”
“And you don’t mind?”
“It’d be easier with work,” his dad mused. Then he smiled at Logan. “What about this project then? Do you go on a trip to the castle?”
Logan hesitated for a moment. “No. We just read about it.”
“We could go over there if you want? We used to go when you were little. Do you remember?”
“I think so.” Logan had some vague memories of running around a castle. There were quite a few in the area, though.
“If you get there an hour before closing time they sometimes let you in for free. Why don’t we go tomorrow afternoon? You can come to work with me – it’s just a house-painting job – then we can go over to the castle. What do you think?”
“You’ll get top marks for your project and impress that lassie you sit with.”
* * *
On Monday morning, Isla handed over the white envelope when Mrs Bailey came around. It contained her permission slip and money for the class trip to Eilean Donan Castle on Wednesday.
She glanced at Logan.
“I forgot it,” he said to Mrs Bailey. “I’ll bring it tomorrow.”
Isla tapped the end of the pencil on her desk. It really wasn’t fair that she had to do the project with him. Obviously he didn’t care about it at all. He couldn’t even remember to bring the permission slip.
“Bring it tomorrow,” Mrs Bailey said. “If you don’t bring it, you can’t go.”
“They really don’t let you go if you don’t bring it,” Isla said as Mrs Bailey walked away. Logan looked vaguely surprised. Probably because she only spoke to him when absolutely necessary.
“I’ll bring it tomorrow,” he said. “Or Wednesday.”
“The trip’s on Wednesday. You have to bring it before then. Otherwise you’ll spend all day sitting in the office. And we’ll fail the project if you’ve not even been to the castle.”
Logan glared at her. She wished she’d kept quiet. Maybe he’d fly into a rage and punch her.
“I’ll bring it tomorrow,” he mumbled, reaching to get his books out of his bag. “I’ve been to the castle before anyway.”
* * *
Isla didn’t wait for Leana to come out of school on Wednesday afternoon but set off home on her own. It was probably the fastest she’d ever walked. She threw the kitchen door open in a fury.
“What’s wrong with you?” Her mum was hanging her coat up. She worked part-time in the office at the primary school and had only just got home herself.
“It’s not fair.” Isla flung her backpack down. “He didn’t go to the castle! He couldn’t even remember to bring the permission slip, so he couldn’t go, and now I have to do the project with someone who hasn’t been to the castle. We’ll definitely fail.”
“Logan didn’t go on the trip?” her mum asked, shaking her head as she tried to keep up with the conversation.
“No! But I still have to do the project with him. Tomorrow we have to make the poster and plan the presentation for Friday. Jenny said she and Sabrina are meeting tonight to work on it. And they’re meeting tomorrow after school too. They’ll definitely get an A. It’s not fair.”
“You could invite Logan over here tomorrow to work on it after school,” her mum suggested hesitantly.
“I’m not inviting him here! He’s awful. You need to go to the school and talk to Mrs Bailey. You said we’d wait a couple of weeks and see how things turned out but it’s all just unfair. First I don’t get to sit with my friend and now I’m going to get bad marks.”
“You’re not going to get bad marks,” her mum said with a sigh.
“But I know everything about the castle. I should get an A. But you get graded as a group not as individuals. So there’s no way I’ll get an A now.”
“We’ll talk to your dad later,” Christine said. “But I don’t think there’s much we can do.”
“As soon as Dad gets home I’m telling him he has to call the school.” Grabbing her backpack, Isla stormed up the stairs.