3: Laps

With a couple of hours to kill before dinner, George decided to get his laps out of the way, despite the rain. If he had a meeting about a potential mission, he'd rather not have to explain that he had unfinished business with the athletics track.

Judging that he was going to get drenched either way, he decided to just wear his athletic gear there, then come back to his room for a shower afterwards, instead of using the showers in the changing rooms. He laced up trainers and pulled on a hoodie, looking unhappily out at the gusting wind. It was one of the coldest days of the year and running would be very unpleasant, but five laps wouldn't take him more than ten minutes even if he took it slowly.

Being that the rain seemed to only be getting harder, the track was understandably deserted. George nipped into the office to check that the sign-off sheet was there, guessing that he could probably just sign his name off and nobody would be any wiser. However, he'd seen hours of toilet scrubbing handed out for skipping even one lap, so he decided to just go for it and be back under a hot shower in twenty minutes. Turning on his heel, he almost clattered someone coming the other way.

"Oh, sorry," he said instinctively, stepping backwards. It took him a couple of seconds to work out that he was speaking to Kimberley, Rex's little sister who was a grey shirt, the same as her brother. She was small for her age and looked more like a red shirt, especially in a tracksuit which was slightly too big for her.

"Hi George," she said, squeezing past to put her name on the sheet before using a hair tie on her wrist to pull her dark hair back into a ponytail. "I take it you're here for the same reason I am?"

"Why else would I be here on a freezing cold day like today?" George asked, looking miserably out at the squalls of rain covering the track.

"What was the crime?" Kimberley had her own crowd of friends and was some kind of brainbox prodigy, so George didn't see much of her even though she was only a year or so younger than him. They got on well, though, much to the irritation of Rex who normally wanted to be around his younger sister as little as possible.

Cracking a smile, George replied. "Exchanged blows with Nick in cooking class. Probably lucky only to get five laps."

"Nick Fosse?" Kimberley asked. "Always has his hair spiked up in that really stupid-looking way?"

George nodded. "I bloody hate him. Such a smug git."

"I teach him Physics," she said, zipping her tracksuit up a little more in preparation for braving the elements. "Next time he acts up in class, I'll slap an extra punishment on him just for you."

Laughing, George followed her out into the weather. "Watching him run a thousand laps would go a long way to making me feel better."

They jogged around the track together, since George preferred the company to running by himself, even though Kimberley was slower than him.

"So what did you do to get laps?" he asked, cutting to the outside of the track to avoid a puddle.

She rolled her eyes. "You know my friend Naomi?" When George shook his head, she looked exasperated. "I'm pretty sure you were her partner on a first aid course. Honestly, I bet you could name every footballer in the top division, but someone you've actually spoken to is a mystery."

"When Naomi makes the QPR first team, I'll learn her name, promise," George grinned.

Kimberley rolled her eyes. "Anyway, she flipped after a paintball match and decked some red shirt who'd been giving her lip, and the instructors handed out ten laps a day to everyone on her team," she said. "You know how they are with punishments; even if you were hiding in a bush a mile away, you're still somehow responsible."

Nodding fervently, George sympathised. "I've probably been punished more for other people's misbehaviour."

"I seriously doubt that," Kimberley said, raising an eyebrow. "That's not what the staff say. 'It all starts with two hours in the recycling centre, but before you know it, you're George Knight.'"

"Did they really say that?" George asked, partly ashamed but partly proud.

"Words to that effect. I think some of the red shirts think you're actually just a made-up person who gets punished all the time."

George had thought he was about average in terms of how often he got in trouble, but he'd already served two mission suspensions and had only got his navy shirt after bailing Letty out of a failed mission the previous summer. "I really ought to behave myself more," he said, shivering as a gust of wind cut through his hoodie. "Means I'd avoid having to run laps on days like this."

"Don't worry about it. It's actually kind of fun hearing about it," Kimberley said as they rounded the final corner of lap five. "Some of the girls I know think you're a bit of a bad boy."

This was something George liked the sound of as he pulled up, watching Kimberley carry on. He considered waiting for her to finish so they could walk back to the main building together, but he was soaked to the skin and didn't fancy spending fifteen minutes shivering, so he waved at her from across the track and set off at a brisk jog back towards the main building.

His mind was still on the question of what Courtney thought about him when, showered and dressed in dry clothes, he made his way down to dinner. He was pleasantly surprised to see Rex and Ralph already there, tucking into giant helpings of curry.

"Alright, boys?" he asked once he'd filled his tray, sliding into the chair opposite. "Enjoyed your little jaunt?"

Ralph's mouth was full of rice, but Rex grinned wickedly.

"While you were sat in lessons like a goody two-shoes, me and Ralph were getting an eyeful of a smoking hot babe, almost totally naked," he said, pointing his fork at George.

George's mouth dropped open. "No way, seriously?" he asked, a lump of chicken halfway between the plate and his face. He looked over at Ralph for confirmation, expecting it to be a wind-up, but Ralph just nodded.

"To be fair, she wasn't conscious and I'd only rate her a seven at best," Ralph confirmed.

"A seven? We're talking a solid nine," Rex replied, shaking his head at Ralph. "Probably the first pair of boobs you've seen."

"Oh, and you've seen so many," Ralph replied contemptuously. "With all those zero girls you've snogged."

"Who's been snogging girls?" Beatrice asked as she sat down next to George, slopping some of her orange juice. "Can't be Rex, I've heard he doesn't know what girls are."

"Har har," Rex said, going back to his curry as everyone sniggered. "I at least have the balls to hit on girls, unlike you two."

"Hey, don't knock George. I heard he was caught in bed with a girl on his last mission, and he was hitting on Courtney Emerson today," Beatrice said, sounding smug as Ralph and Rex both groaned.

"Firstly, I wasn't caught doing anything, we only kissed," George began, but Rex interrupted.

"Courtney Emerson? She is such a dog," he said, shaking his head. "At least have some standards, dude."

Ralph nodded. "She does have a lot of acne, and it's definitely the blotchy kind."

Jemima sat down next to Beatrice, trying to tune into the conversation. "Who are we talking about?"

"Courtney Emerson. I just told them George was chatting her up earlier," Beatrice replied through a mouthful of food.

"Oh, yeah, he was," Jemima said, shuffling away to avoid the puddle of juice Beatrice had caused. "Didn't get anywhere, though."

"Wow, such a stud," Rex said, causing Ralph to snort and spray curry sauce all over himself.

Looking with Ralph with complete disgust, Jemima turned to address Rex. "George has something to say to you."

It took George a couple of seconds to get up to speed with what she meant.

"Oh, yeah, Rex, you're a knob," George said, trying to sound casual.

"What?" Rex said, sounding confused. "What prompted that?"

Nobody said anything, getting on with their food while Rex got more and more bewildered. The silence was finally broken when George's handler, a redhead called Rose, came over to their table with an empty tray.

"Okay kiddies, I've spoken to the karting place this afternoon and they say they're happy to go ahead with it, even with the poor weather, but make sure you take waterproofs and warm clothing. If you get hypothermia, I'm just leaving you to die," she said, keeping a straight face. "We'll meet at the car park in half an hour."

Everyone nodded and picked up their eating pace as she left, still needing to leave time to get ready. Ralph pointed his fork in the direction of Rose as she returned her tray.

"Now she is a solid nine," he said, cracking a grin as everyone around the table reacted with a groan.

"She's ten years older than you," Jemima said, tutting.

"At least," Beatrice added. "That is so disturbing."

"Oh, forgot to say," George cut in. "I've got a meeting about a mission tomorrow morning."

Nobody seemed all that interested, but Beatrice slapped him on the back.

"Congrats. Any idea what it'll be?"

"Nope," George told her. "Completely clueless."

"Probably something routine, then," Jemima said.

Rex looked annoyed. "Such a jammy bastard. Already a navy shirt and getting mission after mission."

"I've been stuck here for six months, and you were out on a mission literally today," George replied, "So don't call me jammy."

All five of them headed down to the car park after dinner and once they'd had a chance to grab coats and gloves. The only other addition to the group was Harry, who'd been in their group for basic training but had been away on a couple of long missions since, as well as putting on a couple of noticeable inches in height. He'd skipped eating dinner communally in order to do some last-minute homework and almost missed their ride for the evening, a Grand Espace people carrier with Rose in the driving seat. George bumped fists with him as he climbed in, taking the only available seat, which was between Jemima and Beatrice in the middle.

"Sitting in the pimp's seat," he announced, putting an arm around each of the girls, who made faces and pushed him away. All the boys laughed, although Ralph stopped quickly, since he'd drawn the short straw and had to sit up front with Rose.

All the Cherubs were in a good mood as they left campus, skimming through the security gates with minimal fuss. Rose had the heating on full blast, but with a full house it didn't take long for it to become warm anyway and after shouted complaints about being roasted alive, she turned it down again.

The roads were soaking wet and the car was heavy, so Rose drove cautiously, sitting five mph below the speed limit and slowing down for any major corners. Despite requests from Rex and George for her to 'floor it' and 'unleash the beast', she ignored them and followed the sat nav. The only excitement came when Beatrice demanded they pull over to let her get out and pee, and after getting soaked climbing an embankment to get a bit of privacy, she slipped over on her way back down and ended up with mud soaking into the back of her jeans. She moaned about them being designer, and after a round of comments about skid marks, Rose announced that the next person to say anything on the topic would spend their next lunchtime cleaning the mud off the upholstery.