Are Teenagers Really Like That?

When I was in high school (oh, so many years ago now) I loved watching Dawson’s Creek. I loved watching Dawson and Joey and Jen and Pacey try to navigate their life. I loved Pacey. Everyone in my year watched it – okay, there was one girl who didn’t have a TV. She’s a doctor now so, well done her parents.

But while we all agreed it was great, we also agreed that ‘real’ teenagers didn’t talk like that. We could ignore it, sure, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t know that the characters talked like 30 year olds (well, 30 year olds some where. Not like me or my friends now that I am 30, but you know what I mean).

I mention this because lately I’ve been binge watching Awkward and I read a lot of YA fiction and what I wonder is, do teenagers feel that they’re portrayed accurately in books and television? And does it really matter either way?

If you are a teenager, what do you think? And if you’re through your teenage years (and isn’t that wonderful!?), what’s your take on this?

This is my gratuitous picture of Pacey. Because, you know, I loved him.

Hell Hath No Fury – Ages 16 years and up – contains strong language

 

 

 

 

“Let’s go!”

Tammy stared at the broken window, the jagged glass like the maw of some ravenous creature. The dark interior of the gym started to glow, there was a crackling sound and Tammy wrinkled her nose at the hot, sour, smell that wafted around her. Smoke spiralled up into the night, blotting out the stingy moon.

The whine of sirens jolted her out of her trance.

Anna pulled on her arm, “Jesus Tammy! Run!”

Tammy spun on her heel and ran. Something exploded inside the gym and she shrieked, ducking instinctively. Her pulse thrummed in her neck. She grabbed Anna’s hand and they ran together over the school driveway, through the gates and across the road.

“Quick, down here,” Tammy pulled Anna down a steep bank. They lay against the cold, damp, grass panting. Something skittered over Tammy’s arm, sharp claws pricking against her skin, and she swallowed a yelp.

Sirens tore the air. In the distance the fire alarm sounded at the station. Tammy’s dad would be up, his beeper raising him from his sleep, oblivious to the fact that his only daughter was hiding in the shadows and watching it all unfold. A wave of guilt washed over Tammy and she groaned, burying her face in her hands.

“What have we done?”

“Shit, don’t lose it now. It’ll all be ok.”

The fire truck rumbled past, spraying dirt and stones over them. Tammy coughed and rubbed her stinging eyes.

“I don’t know,” she said when the noise had died down, “I mean…I wanted to but…”

“But what? They had this coming.”

“I guess you’re right,” she brushed her dark hair back from her face, “C’mon. Let’s go.”

They clambered up the bank, laughing as their feet slid on the damp grass, and stepped into the road. A pall of smoke, carried by the gusty wind, spiralled across the night and spread out over the town like the claws of some giant bird.

Tammy crossed the pitch black road carefully. Pain exploded through her foot as it connected with the concrete kerb. She toppled forward, pain shot up her arm and into her shoulder. She gasped and grasped her wrist, tears sliding down her cheeks.

“Shit, shit, shit.”

“What? Are you ok,” Anna crouched down beside her.

“Shit Anna. I think I’ve broken something. Jesus, it hurts.”

“Don’t worry. I’m here, I’ll look after you.”

 

# # #

 

“Run Two Tonne! Run!”

Tammy kept her blue eyes focussed ahead. The finish line wasn’t far away now, she could see Miss Jessop waiting, clipboard in hand. All she had to do was keep going.

Her lungs burnt, her breath clawed at her throat and she wheezed painfully. Sweat ran from her hairline, leaving tracks on her smooth, soft cheeks. More trickles of sweat pooled between her breasts, which bounced painfully with each step, and in the small of her back. Her thighs rubbed together, she was sure that a small fire was igniting between her legs as she ran.

Finally she willed herself over the finish line and came to a halt, her joints complaining at the abrupt stop.

“Well done Tammy,” Grace Jessop said with a gentle smile.

“Yeah, good job Two Tonne,” Amelia Grey said, tossing her shiny black ponytail over her shoulder.

Miss Jessop’s eyes swivelled between the two girls. Tammy’s breath froze in her chest, her skin prickled in anticipation and her stomach clenched. She balled her chubby hands into fists and leant forward, trying to will Miss Jessop to say something, anything.

Miss Jessop opened her mouth and turned to Amelia, “You’re up Milly. Head down to the other end of the field please.”

Amelia smiled and sashayed towards the start line.

Tammy’s heart sank, shock buzzed inside her head. The beginning of tears stung her eyes and she turned away quickly. So close to it all ending and nothing had happened. How could Miss Jessop just turn a blind eye?

“Tammy? You can go get changed.”

“Yes Miss,” Tammy replied, trudging towards the change rooms.

Alone in the cement block change rooms she allowed a tear to spill down her cheek, wiped it away and began pulling off her clothes, exposing her pale, spongy, body to the cold air. She spritzed deodorant under her arms and then pulled her clothes on quickly as the change room door swung open and the other girls came in to change, their voices bouncing off the wall.

Tammy kept her head down, stuffed her PE clothes into her backpack and stepped backwards, colliding with someone behind her with a thud.

“Jesus Two Tonne!”

Tammy groaned and looked into Amelia’s brown eyes, “Sorry Amy,” she said. Amelia winced and Tammy remembered that no one called her Amy any more, that nickname belonged to a skinny little girl with grazed knees and calluses on her hands from the monkey bars, not the athletic woman in front of her.

“Just watch it,” Amelia muttered before strutting off and shutting herself in a shower cubicle. The pipes clunked a few times then the sound of running water filled the air and steam played in the weak sunlight coming through the grimy skylight.

Tammy made for the door, letting out a hiss of relief as she emerged into the fresh air.

                                                   # # #

 

“You know what I’d like to do?” Tammy said, kicking her heels against the steep concrete slope of the skate bowl.

“What?” Anna asked pulling the hair she’d been chewing out of her mouth and tucking it behind her ear.

“I’d like to burn the fucking place down. Just watch it go up in smoke, ya know?”

“What? The whole school?”

Tammy narrowed her eyes. Jacob flew down the slope and up the other side, planted his hand on the rim of the bowl and swung his feet into the air. He hung there for a second before bringing the wheels of the skateboard back down onto the concrete. The board slid out from under him and he slid on his arse to the bottom of the bowl.

He stood up and gave a mock bow. Tammy and Anna laughed and clapped.

Jacob scooped up his board, ran up the side of the bowl and sat down next to Tammy with a grunt, “What yiz talking about?” he asked, brushing his fringe from his forehead.

“Tammy wants to burn the school down.”

“Shit.”

“Not the whole school,” Tammy protested, her cheeks colouring.

“What then?”

“I just want to get them where it hurts,” she rolled her bottom lip into her mouth, “I want to burn down the gym.”

Jacob whistled. Anna had only introduced Tammy to him a few weeks before but already Tammy knew that was his signal that he was thinking. She waited patiently, taking in his skinny frame and brown eyes from the corner of her eye. Her stomach tickled.

“I reckon I could help you with that.”

“How?”

“You have really pretty hair,” he said suddenly, brushing a thick curl behind Tammy’s ear. Electricity sparked from his fingertips and made Tammy’s skin tingle.

“She asked how, Jakey. Chat her up later, ok,” Anna said, picking the pink polish off her nails and dropping the flakes onto her lap.

Tammy blushed.

“Lewis showed me how to make a sparkler bomb once.”

“Lewis, your dickhead big brother?” Anna snorted and rolled her eyes.

“He’s alright. Anyway, it was awesome. And the more sparklers, the bigger the explosion and it’d make a nice fire.”

Tammy pulled on a strand of hair, wrapping it around her finger until her fingertip felt prickly and swollen.

“They’d be heaps easy to get hold of too,” Jacob went on.

“Mmmm. Yeah, you’re right,” Tammy said, releasing her finger and wincing as the blood ran back into the nail bed, “Let’s do it.”

 

# # #

 

“Can I sit here?”

Tammy looked up from her book. A tiny, bird-like, girl stood at her shoulder, one hand resting on the back of the empty chair while she balanced thick folders in her other arm.

“If you want,” she said, returning to her book.

The girl sat down. She was waiting, it rippled out of her in waves of eagerness. Tammy bit her lip and tried to focus on the words in front of her but they seemed to fade into the paper and she gave up with a sigh.

“Hi, I’m Anna,” the girl said, giving Tammy a broad smile.

“Tammy.”

“Thanks for letting me sit with you. I don’t know anyone yet,” Anna smiled again. Tammy’s eyes were drawn to a yellow pimple under her bottom lip. She tried to look away but it was like a beacon.

“What? Have I got a zit?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Is it massive?”

“A bit,” Tammy rummaged in her pocket and pulled out a crumpled tissue, “it’s clean,” she said proffering it to Anna.

“Thanks,” she held the tissue to her skin and pinched hard, wincing as the pimple burst. “Is that better?”

Tammy narrowed her eyes. The spot was still pink but at least it didn’t stand out like a vegan in a butcher’s shop.

Amelia waltzed into the classroom, her skin glowed and her hair had been carefully straightened. She surveyed the room like a queen, caught sight of Anna and smiled.

“Hi. Are you new?” She asked, stopping in front of Anna.

“Sort of. I live in Danst but mum and dad wanted me to go here.”

“That’s like, half an hour on the bus isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s a bit painful but I’ll get used to it.”

Amelia’s eyes flicked towards Tammy, who stiffened instinctively.

“Look, you seem really nice. If you care at all about your reputation I wouldn’t start hanging with Two Tonne.”

Tammy’s inside burned, heat rushed into her face and she scraped her teeth hard against her bottom lip.

“Two Tonne?”

“Two Tonne Tammy.”

Anna’s mouth dropped open. She seemed to be about to say something when a lean boy with dark hair appeared, looping his arm around Amelia’s waist and nuzzling into her neck. Tammy scrunched lower in her chair.

“Hey baby,” the boy said before turning his grey eyes towards the other girls, “Hi Tammy, how’s it going?”

“Ok.”

“That’s good. Who’s your friend?”

“I’m Anna,” she stretched out her hand which the boy shook.

“I’m Luke.”

“I was just telling Anna that Two Tonne might not be the best person to become friends with.”

“Shit Milly. You can be such a bitch sometimes. Just ignore her Tammy, she’s probably on her rags or whatever.”

Tammy smiled weakly. Luke was brushing his thumb backwards and forwards over Amelia’s hip and Tammy’s own hip tingled in response.

“See you around Anna,” he said, moving away from the table.

“Yeah, it was nice to meet you. Bye.”

“Bye,” Amelia mimicked, “I know a lot of girls are after him but Luke’s my boyfriend so, you know, don’t get any ideas. Anyway, if you want to hang out with my group just come sit with us.”

Amelia trotted away. She was halfway across the room when Anna called out after her.

“Thanks but I think I can pick my own friends and I’d pick Tammy over you any day. As for your boyfriend, you don’t need to worry about me making any moves on him…he’s not my type. I’m more into blondes. Oh, and girls.”

Amelia froze, blood rushing into her face, her mouth opening and shutting like a fish on land.

Tammy roared with laughter.

 

# # #

 

“So you’re gay?” Tammy asked, inspecting the contents of her lunchbox. She wrinkled her nose at the carrot sticks her mum and slipped in beside her cheese sandwich and pulled out a muesli bar.

Anna went rigid beside her and said nothing.

“My Aunty Kate is gay,” Tammy went on, “we went to her commitment ceremony last year. Her partner, Paula, she’s really cool.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,”

“You’re not worried about me making a move on you then?”

Tammy snorted, “You’d need to be into Rhinos to make a move on me, not chicks,” Tammy said, laughing.

Anna wrinkled her brow, “How big do you think you are?”

Tammy shrugged and changed the subject.

“So why’d you change schools?”

“I have a girlfriend at my old school and Mum and Dad thought she was distracting me from my school work. Now I can only hang out with her after school.”

“Your parents are cool with it then?” Tammy said.

Anna shrugged, “Cool enough. It’s not like we pash or anything in front of them. I don’t want to totally freak them out.”

Tammy nodded.

“You could come to my place this weekend, if you wanted. There’s no stress if you don’t want to.”

Tammy toyed with the corner of her sandwich, crumbling the crust between her fingers. Was it a trick? It sounded genuine enough but you never knew. Her stomach tightened but then she nodded, “I would like that.”

Anna smiled, “great!”

                                                            # # #

 

“Tammy? You can go with Alana and Milly.”

Tammy looked up. Miss Jessop was looking at her expectantly, her blue eyes enlarged by her trendy square glasses, bright red mouth slightly open as if she were out of breath.

A tremor moved from Tammy’s feet, up through her legs and spread across her body. Her vision dipped slightly as a wave of dizziness overwhelmed her, static roared in her ears, and she pressed her lips together. She waited, adrenalin rushed through her, colour blossomed in her cheeks and her vision sharpened.

“I’m not going with them.”

Miss Jessop raised her perfectly waxed eyebrows, “Let’s not be silly Tammy. Move over to their table please.”

“No,” Tammy said, louder this time, her mouth set in a thin line, “I’m not going to work with them.”

Miss Jessop crouched down next to Tammy’s desk. The class was holding their breath, their eyes seemed fixed in their sockets. Tammy’s resolve began to sink.

“Now Tammy,” she started in a low voice, “I know you’ve had some differences with those girls but part of growing up is working with people that you’re not necessarily friends with.”

Tammy’s mouth dropped open. Butterflies swooped inside her stomach.

Miss Jessop stood up, “Tammy,” she said firmly, “pick up your stuff and go and sit with Alana and Milly.”

“You must be out of your fucking mind!”

“Tammy!”

The class erupted into laughter. Tammy kept her eyes fixed on Miss Jessop, fear thrilled through her but she pushed it down.

“Tammy I know you’ve had a difficult time lately but that is simply unacceptable.”

“Oh fuck off,” Tammy spat, “It’s unacceptable for the fat girl to be a bitch but the skinny, pretty, girls can do whatever they want?”

Miss Jessop was as pale as snow, a blue line traced around her lips.

“You know Grace,” Tammy said in a sing-song voice, “part of growing up is realising you’re not in high school anymore and that teachers can’t be in the cool group, no matter how much they want to be.”

“Get out,” Miss Jessop growled, flinging her hand towards the door.

Tammy stood up slowly, picked up her books, and sauntered towards the door.

“Gladly,” she said and disappeared into the corridor.

 

# # #

 

“So, are you a lesbian now Two Tonne?” Amelia asked, leaning next to Tammy’s locker.

Tammy kept her eyes down and shoved her books into her locker. She slammed the door shut, twisted the combination lock, and turned away.

“Two Tonne,” Amelia called out as Tammy strode away, “it’s ok if you are. It’s not like any of us would hook up with you anyway, boys or girls.”

Tammy froze. Her stomach rolled over. She opened her mouth, words dancing across her tongue, and shut it again. Laughter cascaded around her as she walked away and went in search of Anna.

 

# # #

 

“What’s the deal between you and that Amelia chick, anyway?”

They were sitting on a concrete step in front of an old portable classroom, used now to store old sporting equipment and outdated computers.

Tammy shrugged, “We were good friends in primary school. Slept over at each other’s houses and that. Things just changed once we got into high school. You know how it is.”

“Yeah,” Anna said but she sounded uncertain, her little bow-like mouth was twisted to one side and she tapped her fingernails on the concrete step.

Tammy snuggled down into her faded school windcheater and sighed, “Thanks for having me over on the weekend. Your friends are really nice and your parents are cool.”

“That’s ok,” Anna replied, the concern flying from her face, “they liked you too. What did you think of Jakey?”

“The one with the skateboard and the long hair?”

Anna snorted, “Yes, that one.”

“He seemed really nice. He’s pretty cute in a scrawny sort of way,” she tried to remember Jacob. He’d had nice eyes, big and golden like a crocodile, and he’d smiled at her a lot and asked her a lot of questions.

“Yeah, well, he thinks you’re pretty cute too.”

Tammy’s highbrows shot up to her hairline, “As if.”

“What? He does.”

“He’s probably got plenty of girls interested in him, he doesn’t need to go after a pog like me.”

“He does have plenty of girls interested in him, but he’s interested in you,” the bell rang and the girls rose, shoving their chip wrappers through a gap between the steps and the portable.

“He wanted me to give this to you,” Anna pulled out a folded piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to Tammy who opened it. Jacob’s creased features stared out at her. He was smiling broadly, his hair curling around his earlobes. In one hand he was holding up his mobile and, across his bare collarbone, he’d written his number in thick black pen.

She smiled, “Not afraid to put himself out there, is he?”

“Nope,”

“Why didn’t he just friend me on Facebook or whatever?”

“It’s not really his style. He likes to make an impression.”

He’d certainly done that.

Tammy opened the  padlock on her locker, swung the door open, and jumped back as her books and folders spilled out onto the ground. Her fingers trembled and blood rushed into her cheeks. She knelt to pick up her belongings, her name floated through the air like a leaf caught in a storm. She bit her lip, salty blood filled her mouth, and forced herself not to cry.

“What’s this?”

Tammy looked up. Amelia stood over her, something in her hand. Tammy’s heart tightened painfully. Amelia waved the picture of Jacob around in the air so that the growing crowd of teenagers could get a good look.

“Is this your boyfriend Two Tonne?” Amelia said loudly, getting a few chuckles from the crowd.

Tammy inspected her shoes, “No. He’s just a friend of Anna’s. I met him on the weekend.”

“Oh but he’s cute. You’d make a nice couple.”

“We’re going to be late for class,” Tammy muttered, stepping away from her locker. The crowd tightened around her, like a living wall, and a hot knife twisted in her chest, making her gasp.

“What’s wrong Two Tonne? We just want to know about your boyfriend,” Amelia looked over her head and smiled thinly, “Luke? Look at this, Two Tonne has a boyfriend.”

Tammy kept her head down as Luke muscled his way through the crowd.

“Donno’s looking for you all, he sent me to find you.”

“Look, it’s a picture of Tammy’s boyfriend,” Amelia persisted.

There was crackle of paper. Tammy swallowed a lump in her throat.

“That’s great. Now come on, before we all get in  the crap. We’re meant to be doing our presentations and he’s getting pretty shitty.”

“But don’t you think they make a nice couple?”

“Yeah, I suppose. Yeah, why not.”

“Yeah, I mean they’re perfect for each other as long as, well, you know…”

“Jesus Milly, what are you crapping on about?”

Tammy looked up. Luke was red in the face, running his hands through his hair. Amelia was looking at her, her big blue eyes framed by clumpy black lashes. Tammy couldn’t look away.

“Well you know the rhyme,” Amelia said.

The crowd  held its breath.

Amelia smiled, “Fat and Skinny went to bed, Fat rolled over and Skinny was dead.”

Laughter swelled around Tammy like a wave.

                                                                            # # #

 

The principal’s office was warm and quiet. He looked at Tammy and Anna over the desk, his hands steepled in front of him. Miss Jessop and Mr. Donovan hovered at his shoulders, like an angel and a devil, one on each side.

“We take bullying very seriously in this school,” he said at last.

Tammy nodded.

“We’ve spoken to Amelia and she insists that she had nothing to do with what happened. That you two are old friends.”

Tammy’s mouth fell open, a cold chill settled on her skin.

“We are not friends,” she said, her voice coming out an octave higher than usual.

“The thing is Tammy, you don’t make things any easier on yourself,” Miss Jessop interrupted.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, doing things to draw attention to yourself like flashing around a picture of your boyfriend…stuff like that doesn’t help you.”

Tammy froze. Her mind was numb and her tongue felt swollen and useless in her mouth. Words ebbed and flowed around her but they might as well been speaking Chinese for all the sense they made.

“So, I think that settles it then,” the principal said, “just try to keep your head down from now on young lady, keep away from Amelia if that helps…”

“And try not to be so sensitive Tammy,” Miss Jessop added.

Mr. Donovan shook his head but remained silent.

Tammy gripped the sides of her chair, forcing the blood out of her knuckles.

“Is there anything else girls? Then you can go.”

 

# # #

 

“You’ve missed your bus,” Tammy said quietly. The school was empty, papers and empty wrappers skidded across the ground, pushed by a cold breeze. Dark clouds rolled overhead and Tammy eyed them, her mood worsening.

“It’s ok, I texted mum and let her know what was happening. She’s coming to pick me up.”

“Do you want me to wait with you?”

“If you like.”

They perched on the kerb, Tammy flicked at the leaves in the gutter with a stick.

“I’m so sorry about everything that’s happened…”

“It’s not your fault…it’s just the way it is…”

“It shouldn’t be, but. We should do something to make them pay…”

Tammy interrupted quickly, “Just leave it ok…things are about as bad as they could get. I just need to keep my head down, high school doesn’t last forever.”

                                                            # # #

“Tammy? Tammy?”

Tammy sighed, swung her bag onto her locker, and turned around.

“What?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Look, I’m sorry about yesterday. I really am, things got out of hand.”

Tammy shrugged, “Ok.”

“Look, I made you a present…to say sorry. I really am sorry Tammy,” she pulled out a plastic container from her bag and offered to Tammy who eyed it suspiciously but took it with a sigh.

She prised the lid off.

“Chocolate butterfly cakes?” Tammy asked, shaking her head.

“Remember them?”

Tammy laughed, “We had them at my eighth birthday party. Remember we ate so many that we made ourselves sick…”

“And I had to go home! I know, I remember.”

“Do you…do you want one,” Tammy held the box towards Amelia, her heart fluttering in her chest.

Amelia shook her head, “No, they’re for you. Just for you, ok? I’m sorry,” she turned and began to walk away.

“Thanks Amy,”

Amelia hesitated and looked back over her shoulder, her smile faltered but then she grinned and with small wave she turned away.

Tammy inspected the butterfly cake and licked her lips. One wouldn’t hurt, she hadn’t had breakfast anyway. But what was the point at stopping at one?

 

# # #

 

“Tammy? You’re up.”

Tammy stood at the front of the class. Her heart seemed too big for her chest and beat against her ribs. She straightened her skirt, picked a spot on the wall and focussed on it.

“I did my report on the French Revolution and…”

Her stomach growled.

“…um, and I focussed on…”

Her stomach growled again, louder this time. It sounded like a dog was losing a fight with an octopus in her stomach. Sharp needles pushed into her guts and she clutched at her middle with both hands, bending at the hips to ease the cramps.

“Tammy? Are you ok?” Mr. Donovan asked.

“I…I think I might have a bit of a tummy bug…”

Her words were cut off by another churning rumble and she cried out in pain.

“I think you should go to the toilets Tammy,” Mr. Donovan said gently.

“I can’t…”

“What?”

“I can’t move…” she let out another anguished groan, the pain and fear of messing herself freezing her to the spot in front of the class. Their eyes burned in to her, their whispers rose in pitch.

Anna appeared at her side.

“C’mon, I’ll help you,”

“Oh my God! I can’t. I can’t move!”

She doubled over again. Sweat prickled on her brow and she let out a low moan. Tears slid down her cheeks and rolled off her chin, leaving dark marks where they soaked into her jumper.

“Dale, go get the nurse.”

Tammy looked up into Amelia’s steady gaze.

“I hope it wasn’t something you ate Two Tonne,” she said.

 

# # #

 

Tammy milled with other students at the school gate. She rubbed her sprained wrist, trying to scratch an itch under the white bandage. Someone touched her shoulder.

“Wow,” Anna breathed.

“I know.”

The gym was a smouldering wreck ringed by yellow tape which flapped in the wind like a streamer at a kid’s birthday party. The roof had crumbled and twisted and lay in the middle of the blackened building surrounded by dirty pools of water.

“Did you know that would happen?”

Tammy shook her head.

The fire had jumped, spreading from the gym to the canteen, to the first block of classrooms. Half the school had been reduced to smoke and ash.

Amelia and her minions were sobbing at the fence. Their mascara had run, they looked like skinny racoons in plaid skirts.

Tammy felt a wave of pity for them. They’re whole world had been reduced to nothing. They’d peaked too soon and now they were going to have to fight for their place in new schools where someone else was already top bitch.

She smiled.

“They’re saying the teachers will be transferred too, just until the school’s rebuilt,” Anna said, squeezing Tammy’s hand.

“Are you going back to Danst?”

“Yeah. It’d be good if you came too.”

“I heard Luke’s going to St. Dean’s.”

“That’s an all boys school isn’t it?”

“Yup.”

“No wonder Amelia’s upset.”

“Fuck her. Fuck them all.”

Anna rested her head on Tammy’s shoulder.

The principal called for silence. He looked pale, his eyes were droopy and his shirt was untucked. There was talk that the school would never reopen, that the staff would all have to find work elsewhere.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people.

 

 

Road Kill – Ages 16 years + (contains coarse language and strong themes)

Gaz had the paint, left over from a project his dad was working on before he pissed off with the chick from the petrol station, but Mower had the idea. And it wasn’t hard to get the others on board. After all, what were their big plans for the evening apart from hanging out in Gaz’s caravan, leafing though old pornos, watching skating videos on their phones and scratching their zits?

“Stop it!”

“Just fucking do it then.”

“I am. Stop being such a tool.”

“Whatever.”

“There. Done,” Gaz stood up, arched his back, and pushed his stringy orange hair out of his eyes, leaving a black smudge on his cheek.

Mower surveyed the work and smiled, “This is going to be awesome. You can’t even see where the lines were.”

Behind him Dezzy and Sonny were working on the give way sign but with bugger all to show for it but burning lungs and hands like ice from the cold steel post.

“C’mon you two. We’ve done our bit,” Mower called out, his words edged with irritation. He narrowed his blue eyes at them, picked up a clod of dirt and piffed it at Sonny who winced as it smacked into the middle of broad back.

“Well you fucking do it then,” he said, rubbing the sting out of his skin.

Gaz sighed, “What if we just paint the sign out?”

“Like that’ll work,” Mower snorted but Sonny nodded encouragingly.

“Yeah, if we paint the whole thing, no one’ll see it in the dark will they?”

They looked at Mower who shrugged, “Just hurry up will ya?”

Gaz spread the black paint thickly over the sign and then painted the pole as a bonus. Even Mower had to admit that the sign pretty much disappeared into the night.

The sound of a car, some little shitbox with a crapped out muffler, made them look up. A single headlight winked at them and they scurried into the bushes, pushing and shoving to get a good look.

The car approached the intersection and tore past their hiding place and into the intersection. The crash barrier glowed suddenly in the headlight, there was a squeal of breaks and rubber on road, the car spun around in a full circle and came to a stop. The driver’s side door swung open and the driver fell onto the road where he crouched for a few minutes. Mower sniggered.

The driver picked himself up, slid into his seat, restarted the car and drove off.

“Did jya see that? He fairly shat himself,” Dezzy said.

“I told ya it would be awesome,” Mower agreed.

Another car approached but it’s growl was drowned out by the rumble of a truck coming the other way.

“Shit, actually, I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Gaz said, suddenly feeling sick, “I mean, what if they hit each other?”

“Awesome,” Mower growled.

The car, a tiny pink hatchback with a green P plate hanging in the back window next to a yellow diamond which said, ‘Bitch on Board’, flew into the intersection. There was an explosion of sound from the tanker and the tortured whine of the engine breaks but the mass of grey metal continued to slide and crunched the hatchback under it’s front wheels.

There was silence.

“Let’s go,” Mower said suddenly, pulling the others from their trance.

Gaz started towards the accident but Mower grabbed him roughly by the arm, “Not that way, dickhead,” he hissed, “we’ve gotta get out of here.”

“But…”

“Come on!”

They climbed onto their bikes and headed for home, not stopping until they collapsed at Gaz’s caravan, hot and red and gasping for breath.

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,”

“Shut up,” Mower barked pushing Dezzy up against the side of the caravan.

“We did that, they could be really hurt or…”

“Just shut up!”

“He’s right. We should have gone and helped. We should go back,” Gaz added, pacing backwards and forwards, tapping his phone against his teeth.

“Don’t be an idiot. They’ll be fine. The ambos will be there by now.”

Sonny took a deep drag on his cigarette, the only one who could inhale without chucking his guts up, “I think we just need to keep quiet and wait till it all blows over. We can’t do anything now anyway.”

The boys fell into silence. No one argued.

“Right. So we all just keep our mouths shut,” Mower said gruffly. He eyed his friends until they nodded in agreement.

The phone in Gaz’s hand began to ring, making them all jump, and he slid a finger across the screen with a groan.

“Hey mum.”

“Hi pet. Look I’m going to be home late, there’s been a terrible accident on Buccannon’s Road and they need me to stay on.”

“Oh, right. Is everyone ok,” he asked, feeling sick.

“I can’t really talk about it right now pet. Tell your friends they need to head home, ok. I’m going to ring Des and Paul’s mother’s and tell them they’re on their way home and James’s dad is already on his way over there to pick him up.”

“Oh, ok.”

“Great. Love you,”

“Love you too. See ya later,” he hung up.

“Mum says you have to go home. She’s ringing your mums. Mower, your dad’s going to pick you up.”

“Here he comes now,” Mower said, nodding at the headlights coming up the drive, “remember what we said, ok? Just your mouths shut.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

“Whatever. See ya,” Gaz said.

A blue sedan pulled up next to them and Mower pulled the front door open, his dad said something and he turned back to the others, “Do you two wan’ a lift home?”

“Yeah, that would be great.”

A few minutes later Gaz was standing alone watching the red tail lights grow smaller and then wink out altogether.

Gaz slurped another spoonful of cereal into his mouth and wiped the drips off his chest with the palm of his hand. His brother Steve flopped down next to him on the couch.

“Watch it!” Gaz said, his cereal slopping against the rim of the bowl.

“What’s up your arse?”

“Nuffin. You almost made me spill my breakfast, ‘s’all.”

“Whatever.”

They stared at the tv, watching a half naked singer gyrate across the screen.

“How’s work?”

“Ok,” Steve rubbed his eyes, “I’ll be glad when I stop doing double shifts, but,” he shifted into a more comfortable position, “you coming to see dad today?”

“Nup.”

“He’d like to see you.”

“Fuck ‘im,” Gaz said with a shrug, drinking the rest of the milk from his bowl and heaving himself off the couch, “anyone in the shower?”

“Nah, Dean stayed with Lindy last night,”

“I’m jumping in then.”

“Gary,”

Gaz turned back, “What?”

“You’ve got to forgive him some time,”

“Whatever,” he walked away, threw his bowl into the sink and headed for the bathroom.

Steam curled up from the kettle and condensed on the kitchen window. Gaz poured some water into a mug and placed it on a tray with a plate of toast and a glass of water. Balancing the tray in his hands he walked carefully up the hall way and knocked lightly at the door. There was a muffed call from the other side and Gaz eased the door open and stepped into the gloom shrouded room.

“I brought you some breakfast mum.”

There was a groan from the bed, “Thanks hun.”

He place the try on the bedside table and waited while his mum pushed herself up on her elbows with a sigh, “I’m wrecked. What a shift,” she said, bringing the hot black tea to her lips, “beautiful. You’re good to me, you are.”

“You remember that when you’re writing up your will,” Gaz said with a laugh.

“Shouldn’t you be getting ready to head to your dad’s?”

Gaz shrugged and changed the subject, “So what happened last night?”

His mum sat up against her pillow and pulled the tray onto her lap. Between mouthfuls of toast she explained what had happened the night before. Gaz felt sick.

“So, was she ok?”

“It’s hard to say, she was pretty messed up. She’s in an induced coma but, you never can tell. Some people come out of it pretty well. She’s lucky to be alive at all. Whoever painted that give way out should be locked away for a long time, rest of their lives.”

“They were probably kids just stuffing around,” Gaz protested gently. His mother scoffed.

“That’s no excuse. That girl could die, the poor truck driver is a mess emotionally. In my mind their as good as murderers.”

Gaz swallowed hard and gave his mum a weak smile, “Yeah. Well. I’ll leave you to it ok mum. Love you,” he backed out of the room, pulled the door shut behind her and wiped a hand across his face. Fucking Mower and his brilliant ideas. He’d been getting him in trouble his entire life but this was way out of hand.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and tapped at the screen, sending Mower a text. Only a few seconds later it vibrated in his hand. He scowled at the message, “Keep your mouth shut,” and kicked the wall, leaving a crack in the plaster.

Gaz approached his friends reluctantly. If it weren’t for his brothers giving him the shits about their dad he would have stayed at home. Dezzy and Mower were sitting on a wooden bench chucking a footy between them. Sonny was slotting coins into a yellow money spinner, watching the money run on it’s edge around the plastic cone until it clattered out of sight through a hole in the middle.

“Why don’t you just catch it before it goes through?” Dezzy asked.

“Don’t be a prick. It’s for charity,” Mower answered before Sonny could say anything. Sonny shrugged and sent another coin racing after the others, he looked up as Gaz approached.

“I thought you might be at your dad’s today,” he said.

Gaz shook his head, “Nah. Steve and Dean have gone, but.”

“I heard him telling dad he’d like to see you.”

“Shut up, ok?”

Sonny shrugged. There was a pause and then Dezzy caught up with events, “O, I get what yiz are talking about. She’s pretty hot though, the chick your dad hooked up with.”

Gaz rolled his eyes, “Not any more. She’s fat as.”

“Mum says that happens when people get into a relationship,” Dezzy said, nodding sagely. Gaz laughed.

“No dickhead. She’s knocked up. She’s due in a couple of months or something.”

“Wow. So you’re going to be a big brother. That’s cool.”

Mower shook his head, “Your mum must of dropped you on your head or something. C’mon, let’s go.”

The group moved off, Gaz trailing behind, his face serious. No one has put it like that, you’re going to be a big brother. Definitely no one had said it was cool, but maybe it was. It would be cooler if his dad wasn’t starting a new family with someone else though.

He looked up, the back of neck prickled.

“Where’re we going?”

“Back to Buccannon’s,” Mower said over his shoulder.

“Why,” Gaz felt his guts turn over.

“I wanna have a look, that’s all.”

Dezzy met Gaz’s eye and shrugged.

The road was empty, only some black streaks of rubber on the bitumen remained. Gaz felt light headed with relief.

“Mum says she’s in an induced coma,” he said.

“It was that girl who works in the takeaway. What’s her name?”

“Abby,” said Sonny, looking at his feet.

“Yeah, Abby,” Dezzy agreed.

“Your mum wasn’t on the night shift though, was she?” Mower asked, looking at Gaz intently. Gaz suddenly felt hot despite the cold wind. Mower smirked at him.

“No, why?”

“My mum was. She said the girl died just before she got off this morning.”

“She’s dead?” Sonny said, his voice cracking on the last word.

“Yup. Her family turned off her life support this morning.”

“Shit.”

“We’re murderers,” Gaz said suddenly.

The others looked up sharply.

“What?”

“We killed her. It’s our fault. Oh shit.”

“We should go to the cops,” Dezzy said, “if we go and tell them it was an accident then we might be ok.”

“No one is saying anything. No one. Gaz,” Gaz looked up, “if I even think you’re going to spill your guts then I’ll fucking kill you. I mean it.”

Gaz believed him.

When Gaz got home there was an unfamiliar car in the drive way. Fear rose in him but he told himself that it wouldn’t be the cops, not in a green Corolla. He pushed through the front door.

“Mum? What’s for tea,” he called out, kicking of his shoes and heading for the kitchen, “I’m star…” he trailed off.

“G’day mate,”

“Dad. Mum, I’m going to my room. Call me for dinner?”

“Wait a minute Gary. You’re dad just wants to talk to you. Sit down please.”

Gaz groaned and threw himself into a chair with as much bad grace as he could. His dad smiled awkwardly, giving him that ‘take pity on me, you know I don’t know how to do this stuff,’ look but Gaz just kept his eyes on the table.

“I missed you today. Thought, if you wouldn’t come to me, I should go to you.”

“You shouldn’t have bothered. I don’t want to see you.”

“I know you’re angry…”

“Oh great. If you know everything already then why did you have to come here,” he interrupted, rolling his eyes.

“C’mon mate. Don’t be like that.”

“How am I meant to be? You left us. Why don’t you just go home to your new girlfriend and your new kid. I don’t need you here.”

“I didn’t leave you. I left my marriage but I would never leave you Gary,”

“Whatever,” Gaz said, standing up suddenly.

“I know you don’t understand now…”

“Here we go again, you know everything.”

“Look, whether you like it or not I’m your dad. It doesn’t matter if you want me, you’ve got me.”

“Right, well I bet that changes once the new baby comes along,” he said and stormed off to his room, knuckling tears away from his eyes.

Gaz kicked his bag under his locker and tried to shrug deeper into his faded school jumper. Usually he’d go and pretend to smoke behind the woodwork room with his friends but today he loitered next to his locker and waited for the bell to go. His stomach dropped as he heard a crackle over the PA system, then the principal’s voice telling students to go to the gym for an assembly. Of course, she would have been a student at the school once and, judging by the weepy year 12 girls who drifted past him, she still had friends here.

She was dead. She would be missed. She’d been popular, likable, much loved. For all Gaz knew she could have been a psycho bitch who slept around and sold drugs to little kids but now she was dead, so she was a saint. Then the bell went and everyone shuffled out and headed for class.

He threw his books onto the a desk at the back of the room and sat down. Mower, Dezzy and Sonny took the seats next him as they usually did. He suddenly felt claustrophobic. Sonny’s eyes were pink and he looked around vaguely. Dezzy jogged his leg up and down, making the table shake, until Mower reached over and smacked him across the back of the head.

“What is wrong with you?” he growled.

“We killed her,” Gaz said.

“We didn’t do anything except paint over a few lines. Just keep it together.”

“What if they find out it’s us?” Dezzy asked, always piss weak in the face of danger.

“They’ll only find out if someone tells them,” he slapped a hand heavily of Gaz’s shoulder, “and you’re not going to do that are you.”

Sweat prickled on Gaz’s forehead. Even Sonny was looking at him intently. He scooped his books into his arms, stood up with a grunt and went and sat at the front of the room. He could hear Mower swearing behind him.

Gaz was spread out on the couch. The images flashed across the tv but he wasn’t really watching, just staring in that general direction. It had been a hard, lonely, week.

He heard his mum come in but he didn’t look up.

“It’s lasagna for dinner. Ok?”

“Yep.”

“Are you going to James’s place tonight?”

“Nope.”

She perched on the edge of couch, “Have you two had a fight? I worked with Annette yesterday and she said that she thought you might have.”

“He’s a dick.”

He heard her click her tongue, “Don’t use that language.”

He grunted.

“You’re dad’s expecting you at his place tomorrow.”

“Fu…dge him.”

“No. He’s your dad and you should make the effort. You owe him that much at least.”

“What? I don’t owe him anything. He left us. Doesn’t that upset you?”

“Of course. It made me upset and angry and hurt and then, and here’s the important bit, I moved on. And you need to as well,” she shrugged and stood up, “life goes on. Crap stuff happens and Blake might have turned out to be a jerk of a husband but he was always a great dad.”

“Whatever.”

“You should have a relationship with your dad. You might regret it later. You think you have all the time in the world and then something happens. Look at that poor girl last week, and the driver. Poor man.”

“He wasn’t hurt was he?” Gaz asked, paying proper attention for the first time.

“He killed himself. Couldn’t cope with the guilt of killing that girl. Not that it was his fault,” she drifted away into the kitchen, “dinner will be ready in a few minutes.”

Gaz barely heard her. He stared up at the ceiling and wondered if he could just run away.

“I think dad really liked having you there,” Dean said as they pulled into the driveway of their mum’s house.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, it was the happiest I’ve seen him in ages.”

“I don’t understand how he could have done what he did to mum, that’s all.”

Dean shrugged, “Neither do I but I think he’s trying to make up for it.”

“How?”

“By being there for us, by making things easier for mum, that sort of thing.”

“He left mum,” Gaz snorted.

“Yeah, but he paid her out for the house and stuff,” Steve said from the back seat, “he didn’t contest anything or take her to court when they decided to get divorced.”

“Why?”

“I don’t he know. He said, he couldn’t undo what he’d done but he could try and do the right thing now.”

They sat in the dark, looking at their home glowing against the night.

“Do you think that works for everything?” Gaz asked.

“Like what?”

“Like if you did something really bad but you didn’t mean it? Do you think if you do the right thing later it sort of…makes up for it?”

“Dunno. Maybe. Maybe you have to do the right thing whether it makes up for it or not. What did you do?”

“Me, Mower, Dezzy and Sonny. We painted out those lines. We killed that girl.”

The air seemed to fizz.

“What?” Dean asked.

“We painted out the lines and the sign. It was just a joke.”

“Shit.”

“I wanted to tell the cops but Mower said if I tell anyone he’ll kill me. I think he might.”

“Jesus. You need to tell the cops Gary.”

Gaz ran his hands through his hair.

“Gary!”

“But what will happen?”

“I don’t know but…Jesus she’s dead. You need to tell them.”

“Maybe…”

“Definitely!”

“Maybe…I ‘ll think about it.”

Gaz walked towards his friends slowly, dragging his feet. He could feel their eyes on him as they leant against the wall of the woodwork room, soaking up some winter sunshine.

“Hey,” Dezzy said.

“Hey,”

“Smoke?”

“Nah. I just wanted to come and let you know that I’m going to go to the police this afternoon and tell them everything. You can come with me if you want. I’ll wait for you out the front of school.”

There was silence. Mower flicked his cigarette onto the ground and scuffed it out with his foot. He shrugged.

Gaz nodded and turned away.

A weight hit him in the middle of the back and he fell forward, his arms spread out in front of him. Grit and stones cut into the soft flesh of his hands. He struggled for breath, it felt as though a car had driven over his chest, and pushed himself up onto his forearms. A few metres away Mower was scrabbling to his feet.

Gaz jumped up onto the balls of his feet and ran at Mower, charging into him with his hip and shoulder.

Mower stumbled but didn’t fall. He turned and launched himself at Gaz. They fell to the ground and rolled apart.

Gaz felt the back of his head with trembling fingers, they came away red and wet. He began to sit up, his surroundings dipping and swimming in front of his eyes, but suddenly Mower was on top of his chest, forcing him back down.

Mower rose up over Gaz and drove his fist into his face. There was a crunching sound and Gaz felt his nose crack and something warm gush over his lips and drip down his neck. Another blow connected with his left eye and then he felt Mower’s hands grip his neck. He tried to push the other boy off his chest but Mower held on with his knees. He pulled at Mower’s fingers his hands were too slippery with blood to get a good grip. His vision began to blur.

“Mower. Jesus, get off him. Mower!” Gaz could hear Sonny screaming but it seemed like he was a long way off.

“Fuck Mower, you’re going to kill him!”

Suddenly the grip around Gaz’s neck loosened and the weight was lifted off his chest. He rolled to his side and threw up.

Mower stood over him, red faced and panting hard.

“Keep your fucking mouth shut,” Mower hissed at him and then Gaz heard a retching sound and something slimy and hot landed on his face.

Then he was alone.

Slowly, Gaz pushed himself into a sitting position. He grappled for the phone in his pocket, slid his finger across the screen and tapped aimlessly, hoping to call someone who could help. Blood ran into his eyes from a gash that had opened up above his brow. He tried to wipe it away with his sleeve as he held the phone to his ear, hoping to hear his mum’s voice.

“Hello?”

Shit!

“Hello?”

“Dad, help,” he croaked into the phone.

“Gary?”

“I need you. Help.”

“I’m on my way. Just hold son, I’m on my way.”

“I don’t feel good,” he heard a car judder to life.

“It’s ok. Where are you?”

“School, behind the woodwork shed.”

“Ok, I’ll ring the school and get them to send a teacher round to you.”

“No, don’t go. Don’t leave me.”

“It’s ok, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“I fucked up dad.”

“We all do son, I’m coming.”

Gaz slumped back against the wall and closed his eyes. He could hear his dad talking but the words were thick and unclear. It felt like hours but suddenly he could hear footsteps approaching, running towards him.

“Gary. I’m here sweet heart, I’m here.”

“Dad. I’m sorry.”

“Everything is ok. I’m here. I won’t ever leave you.”

Gaz rested against his dad’s chest and finally slid into blackness.

Sighing in the Night – ages 14 +

The plaintive, cat-like, calls of a hungry baby intruded on Zoe’s dream. She opened her eyes slowly, looked at the glowing red digits of her Hello Kitty alarm clock and groaned. No wonder it was still dark, it was only a few hours after midnight. Somewhere in the house there were footsteps, the creak of a door and then silence. With a sigh, she rested her shaggy blonde head back on the pillow and went back to sleep.
Four hours later Zoe woke again, this time to a room bathed in a light. With a yawn, she swung her legs out of the bed, negotiated the minefield of dirty clothes, library books and lost homework, and made her way to the kitchen where Jane and Daryl were already sitting at the kitchen table.
“Morning Zoo.”
“Morning Mum,” she yawned again, slid into a seat, and helped herself to a bowl of cereal, “were you up a lot with Chelsea?”
“Did we wake you?” Jane asked, shifting the chubby baby onto her other breast where she suckled noisily.
Zoe shook her head, her mouth too full to answer, and pointed meaningfully at the empty chair next to her.
“In the lounge. James’s been up for hours.”
“What are your plans for today?” Daryl asked, folding his newspaper and taking Chelsea from her mother, balancing the baby over his shoulder and patting her back firmly.
“I’m meeting Amity and we’re going to the pool,” she glanced at the clock, “she’ll be here soon.”
Her stepfather hid a grimace behind his mug but Zoe could guess what he was thinking, “I know you don’t like her…”
“I just think you deserve better friends,” he answered with a shrug.
Zoe rolled her eyes, “I have to go get changed,” she said, rising from the table.
“Zoo Zoo? Put your bowl in the washer,” Jane called out but Zoe had already disappeared into her room.
She pulled on a pair of yellow bathers, scowling at her flat chest and gently rounded figure, and snapped a quick picture with her phone, immediately sending it to her friend. Within seconds a pinging sound alerted her to a response and she glanced as at the screen as she eased herself into a pair of jeans.
“I ws goin 2 wear yello. Plz? Luv u.”
Zoe sighed and changed into her old blue bathers. She finished dressing, ran a brush through her hair and tossed her phone and purse into a bag where they joined a tampon that had shed it’s pink wrapping, an empty chewy packet and a fluff encrusted lip gloss. Finally, she found a towel in the linen closet and headed for the front door, just in time for the door bell to announce Amity’s arrival.
“See ya mum,” Zoe called out over her shoulder.
“Bye love, have a good time.”
Zoe pulled the door closed behind her but Amity seemed reluctant to leave. She tugged at her dark ponytail and hovered by the door, “Do you think your mum would drive us?”
“What? It’s a five minute walk,” Zoe replied, incredulous.
“It’s so hot already and I’ll get blisters,” she whined, pointing at her new plastic sandals in explanation.
Zoe laughed and grabbed her friend by the wrist, tugging her away from the house, “Mum was up all night with Chelsea. C’mon.”
Amity shook herself free from Zoe’s grip and stomped ahead, her arms crossed. With a wry smile Zoe trailed after her, knowing that Amity would eventually get bored and pull herself out of her sulk. She plodded happily past the houses in her street, letting her fingers trail against the flowers that bobbed their heads over the fences, and relished the warmth soaking into her skin. With a grunt Amity fell back and linked arms with her, their disagreement forgotten.
At the pool they spread their towels out on the grass and began pulling off their clothes. Zoe had her t-shirt pulled over her head when she heard Amity laughing, “Nice bathers,” she said with a snort, “They’re almost see-through on your bum,” she squealed. Zoe blushed.
“Well, I was going to wear my yellow ones but…” she pulled herself free from her t-shirt and gaped at Amity dressed in her red bikini, “you said you wanted to wear yours.”
Amity looked down at herself and shrugged, “Sorry, I changed my mind. Mum says yellow makes me look a bit sick. Don’t I look hot in these?” she walked to the pool and dived in before Zoe could say anything further.

 

Of course it was easy to forgive Amity, Zoe thought that night as she wrestled off her wet bathers and threw them into the dirty clothes basket, she’d known her pretty much her whole life. She twisted the taps on the wall and the shower juddered to life, sending a stream of warm water cascading over her body. She was just lathering up her hair when there was quick knock on the bathroom door and Jane’s head appeared around it.

“Can I stick Chelsea in with you?” she asked.

Zoe nodded and accepted the squirming, naked, bundle into her arms. She swished the giggling baby under the rushing water and then held her so that it flowed over Chelsea’s soft, smooth, back.

“You’re such a beautiful baby aren’t you,” Zoe cooed at her adoring sister.

“Just like you were at that age,” Jane added, reaching in and pulling Chelsea out of the water, “Thanks Zoo Zoo. Dinner’s about ready.”

“No worries, I’ll be out in a minute.”

Later, Zoe would wonder why that shower didn’t seem more important, why she didn’t take longer in there with her baby sister. She’d only been asleep for a few hours when voices seeped into Zoe’s dreams. Reluctantly she surrendered to wakefulness and sat up in bed. She could hear crying, her mum’s voice and then Daryl’s and then footsteps in the hallway outside her bedroom. Light crept under her door.

Rubbing her eyes Zoe pulled herself out of bed and shuffled into the nursery. Her mum was sitting in the middle of the floor, her shoulders hunched and shaking, her blue dressing gown spread around her like a shabby towelling cape. Chelsea was in her arms, limp and grey skinned, her lips outlined in blue.

“Mum?” Zoe’s voice cracked.

“She’s dead,” she whispered, not looking up.

Zoe collapsed to her knees, crawled across the cold wooden floor and nestled into Jane’s side, her perfume still hung faintly about her. Tentatively Zoe lay a trembling hand on Chelsea’s chubby leg. She felt so cold.

 

Zoe passed a plate of ridiculously small sandwiches to James and ruffled his brown hair. He gave her a weak smile and slid along the bench a little, making room for her to sit down.

“When do you think we can go home?” he asked, sniffing a sandwich and putting it back on the plate.

“I don’t know,” Zoe answered. Her eyes felt dry and swollen, “I can ask Aunt Mary to take you home, if you like?”

James shook his head and pulled his DS from his jacket pocket. Zoe sighed and went to find her mum.

“I think it’ll be a lot worse for Daryl than Jane. After all, she’s got two other children but Chelsea was his first.”

Zoe stopped, her body zinging with shock as the speakers noticed her and moved quickly away. She scanned the room and saw Daryl standing with some of the men he played cricket with, he looked tired and thin. She had never really thought of herself as not being his child. She’d been six when he and her mum had moved in together and, even though she saw her dad every weekend, Daryl was the one who was there for all the important moments, buying her ice-cream when she had her tonsils out and grounding her when she stumbled in drunk from a party when she was 14.

She continued on, pushing her way through the small groups of people, exchanging sad smiles with friends of her mum. She skirted around the trestle table laden with food and saw her grandmother talking at a group of woman, her voice lowered in a conspiratorial way.

“Of course men don’t have a lot to do with the baby at that stage do they? He’ll probably find it hard to understand just how she’s feeling that’s why…”

Zoe pushed down a stab of irritation and moved away from the group, finally sighting her mum sitting in the corner. To her surprise Amity was hovering at her shoulder.

“Hello Zoo Zoo,” her mum said, reaching out and drawing Zoe towards her. She wrapped an arm around Zoe’s waist.

“I’ll just go get you another cup of tea,” Amity said, looking pointedly at Zoe and disappearing into the crowd.

“Sorry mum, I…”

Her mum shook her head and smiled reassuringly.

“James wants to know when we can go home.”

“Soon pet.”

Amity reappeared balancing a cup of tea and piece of cake on a saucer. “It was a nice service,” she said.

Zoe thought back to the packed church, her mum’s strangled sobs and Daryl’s grim face as he carried the tiny white coffin to the hearse, the daisies on top glowing like jewels in the too bright sunshine.

“Um, yeah. I’m going to check on James,” Zoe replied. She heard Amity tut as she walked away but decided to ignore it.

 

Deep, bone jarring, snores echoed around the house. Zoe pulled her pillow over her face but it made no difference and she threw it across the room in frustration. She marched out of her room and into the kitchen, flicking on the humming fluorescent light and jumping back in surprise.

“Jesus! Mum, what are you doing in here? You scared the… you scared me.”

“Sorry. I couldn’t sleep with your grandma’s snoring and I’m so sore…you know,” she nodded at the breast pump in her hand. Zoe blushed.

“Do you want a cup of tea?”

“No, I’m ok. I know it’s hard to sleep but why don’t you go back to bed? I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Ok. Night.”

“Night Zoo Zoo. Love you.”

Back in her room Zoe grabbed her laptop from the desk, slid back under the doona, and flicked it on. The glowing screen cast weird shadows over the walls and she shivered.

A few quick taps at the keyboard brought up her Facebook page. There were some condolence messages but for the most part her friends seemed to have gone silent on her, unsure of what to say or do. Amity had updated her status though. Zoe felt vaguely sick reading it, “So sad today.”

She scanned the comments the statement had received, pausing with a jolt as one caught her eye, “I don’t know where Zo was but I thought someone should be with her mum.”

Zoe felt a bitter taste rise in her mouth. She shut the laptop with a snap and carefully slid it onto the bedside table, then she found her IPod, jammed the headphones into her ears and curled into a tight ball, tears sliding down her cheeks.

 

“You’ve finally decided to join us then?” Zoe’s grandmother said, looking up from her bowl.

Zoe rubbed her eyes and gave the older woman a weak smile.

“It was a big day yesterday, a bit of a sleep in wouldn’t hurt her,” Daryl said from behind his newspaper.

“Well, no, I suppose you’re right,” she said with a sniff, “When does school start again Zoe?”

“Next week.”

“Mmm,” her grandmother appeared to be thinking about something, she pursed her thin scarlet painted lips and tapped her manicured nails on the side of her mug. Zoe felt her stomach tighten.

“Is it difficult to get from your father’s place to school?”

Zoe eyed her grandmother warily, “No.”

“Mum,” Jane warned.

“I just think it would be good for everyone if the children went and stayed with Jeremy for a while.”

Zoe grunted, picked up her bowl, and took herself off to the lounge room where James was engrossed in the cartoon characters flashing across the screen. She curled into an armchair and slurped the rest of her breakfast from her bowl. There was something lumpy underneath her bum and a bit of investigation brought out a squashed, greying, baby’s comforter. The corners were frayed from hours of being lovingly stroked and the stuffed elephant head seemed to have a wistful expression. She tucked it into her dressing gown pocket and pulled out her phone.

There were five messages, all from Amity.

“Wanna cum 2 beach”

“Plz. R u angry with me”

“Call if u wnt 2 cum”

“Going @ 10”

“Bitch”

Zoe glanced at the clock on the wall. It was already eleven, Amity would be long gone now. She felt relieved but quickly texted a selfy, her mouth drawn down in an exaggerated frown. Her phone pinged.

“Lazy cow. Get dressed ;)”

Jane appeared carrying a chipped Bambi mug which she passed to Zoe.

“Thanks.”

“That’s ok. Look about…” the doorbell cut her off. She sighed and headed for the door. Zoe could hear her fiddling with the deadlock and then, “Jeremy?”

Zoe’s head whipped around.

“Hi,” she could hear her dad step into the house, “sorry we’re a bit late.”

“Late for what?”

“Glenys called last night. She said that you and Daryl wanted to talk to us…” he sounded confused, “Jesus Janey, don’t tell me…”

Jane flew through the lounge room and into the kitchen. As the discussion became louder, Daryl made a hasty retreat.

“G’day mate,” Jeremy said, giving Daryl an awkward pat on the shoulder, “how you holding up?”

“Ok. You know. Thanks for all your help organising…”

“Don’t mention it,” Jeremy interrupted, running a hand through his thinning blonde hair. He gave Zoe a warm hug and squeezed James’s shoulder reassuringly. Belinda, his second wife, trailed after him. There was a sticky purple hand print on her t-shirt but the culprit was nowhere to be seen and Zoe guessed they’d left her half-sister with a babysitter. She smiled. Her family was unusually well-adjusted.

The argument in the kitchen was carrying clearly into the adjoining room now and everyone milled around awkwardly.

“Um, why don’t you go get dressed Zo and your dad and I will take you both out for the afternoon. Would that be ok?” Belinda asked.

“Yep. I’ll just be a minute,” she disappeared into her bedroom and then appeared a few minutes later. Gratefully she followed her dad and stepmother out of the house while the voices in the kitchen rose another octave.

 

“So, is your gran still at your place?” Amity asked, shoving her books into her locker and hoisting the waistband of her skirt a little higher.

“Yep. It’s not exactly how I wanted to spend the end of the holidays, listening to mum and grandma go at it.”

“I know what you mean. My dad took me fishing all week,” a cheerful voice joined in. Zoe smiled at the slender redhead next to her.

“That sucks.”

“I don’t mind fishing…but all week. Um, I heard about you little sister, I’m so…”

“Jesus Tracy,” Amity interrupted, stepping in front of Zoe, “don’t be such a frigid bitch. C’mon Zo, we’ve got science first up,” she dragged Zoe away, leaving Tracy stammering and blushing in front of her locker.

Morning classes dragged on painfully, Zoe was feeling claustrophobic and deeply alone by the time she’d stuffed her books back in her locker and found her lunch box. A couple of girls cast curious glances her way but, like everyone else that day, disappeared around th e corner without speaking to her.

She loitered in the breezeway, waiting for Amity to emerge from the girls toilets, and rearranged the contents of her lunch box. The cucumber sandwich, bottle of water and carrot sticks were a none to subtle hint from her grandma about her weight. Someone stopped next to her and she looked up expecting to see Amity.

“Justin, hi. How were your holidays?”

“Not bad,” he shuffled his feet awkwardly and pulled at his school tie, “I just thought…I sort of know what you’re going through, you and your family. I just want to say, if you need someone to talk to. You know.”

She smiled, “Thanks, that’s really nice of you. I…” she trailed off as Amity stepped into the corridor and frowned at her. Justin followed her gaze, gave her a quick hug and walked away.

“What the…he’s got a girlfriend you know?”

“Huh? So, we were just talking,” Zoe replied, furrowing her brow.

“Look, I’m your friend so don’t take this the wrong way but just coz you’ve had a bad time lately doesn’t mean you can act like a slut.”

“What?”

“I’m just saying. I know you’re grieving or whatever but that doesn’t mean you can turn into a moll.”

“Christ Amity, we were just talking.”

“Whatever,” she flounced away.

Zoe watched her go. Her throat felt thick and she couldn’t swallow, tears burnt behind her eyes. She’d never felt so alone.

 

The house was quiet when Zoe arrived home and dropped her bag next to the front door. She went to find Jane but, on hearing the muffled sobs coming through the bedroom door, retreated into the back garden instead. James was already there, his back against a tree, his DS beeping furiously. He flicked it off as he saw her approach and she sat down next to him with a sigh, pulling her skirt lower to protect her legs from the itchy dry grass.

“What’re you doing out here?” she asked.

“Avoiding grandma. You?”

“Same.”

They sat in silence for a while. Her phone pinged in her pocket but she ignored it.

“How’re you going?”

James shrugged, “I miss Chels.”

“Me too.”

“When do you think grandma will go home?”

“Dunno. Soon I hope. Do you want to go live with dad?”

“I don’t want to leave mum and Daryl. Then they wont have any of their kids here.”

She nodded and put an arm around him, “You’re a really good guy. Even if you do stink.”

“I don’t stink!”

“You do. You stink bad. Oh, yuck. I can’t breathe, it’s so bad,” she laughed, shoving him playfully.

Daryl came through the door, “Come in you two. Dinner’s ready.”

“What’re we having?”

“Pizza.”

“Yes!” James scrambled to his feet and trotted towards the house with Zoe close behind.

Inside Jane and Glenys were already sitting at the table. Jane’s eyes were pink and puffy and Zoe kissed her gently on the head.

“Hello love. How was your day?”

“Pretty good,” Zoe lied, helping herself to a slice of pizza.

The conversation ebbed and flowed around the table. Zoe had just begun to relax when Glenys pushed her plate away and cleared her throat.

“Zoe, have you been in your room since you got home?”

Zoe narrowed her eyes, ” No. Why?”

“I think you’ll find it’s a little improved on how you left it this morning, that’s all.”

“Mum, what have you been up to?”

Zoe pushed back her chair and bolted into her room. The floor was spotless, her posters had been removed from the walls and her desk was neat and orderly. She gasp, frozen to the spot, and then began pulling open her drawers and cupboards. Even these had been tidied. She ran back into the kitchen.

“Where’s all my stuff?” she demanded.

“All the rubbish is in the bin, the rest is put away neatly.”

“What about my posters? How do you know what was rubbish and what wasn’t?” she said, struggling to breathe.

“I just assumed that anything left on the floor, or screwed up or covered in filth was rubbish. It’s just that describes most of what was in your room.”

Zoe’s world seemed to shrink. Somewhere she could hear her mum arguing with her grandma but it sounded a long way off. Then she remembered something. She ran back into her room and began pulling the blankets off her bed but there was nothing there. She ran back into the kitchen, her pulse racing.

“There was something in my bed and now it’s gone. Where is it?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Where is it!” she screamed, tears spilling on to her cheeks.

Glenys looked taken aback, “I put you bedding in the wash, that’s all. It’s in the machine.”

Zoe turned and tore into the laundry, wrenching the washing machine door open and pulling the wet sheets onto the floor. Tucked amongst the folds of material she found it, Chelsea’s comforter, damp but uninjured, the elephant looking a little squashed but otherwise fine. She buried her face in the cool, damp, material and sobbed uncontrollably. She felt arms encircling her and then heard her mum’s soothing voice, “Shhhh, baby girl, shhhh. It’s ok. It’s all ok.”

 

Zoe had just shut her locker door when Tracy came up beside her. She hesitated and then said, “I’m really sorry about yesterday, I didn’t mean…”

“You didn’t do anything wrong. Amity was just being a bitch,” she said with a shrug.

“Oh. Um, do you want to sit with us in English? Amity said you needed some time alone but,” she shrugged, “you know, If you want.”

“Yeah, that would be nice I…”

Amity stormed over to her locker, threw her books in and slammed it shut. Her eyes swiveled between Tracy and Zoe and then she flicked her hair behind her and stormed away. Zoe sighed.

“What’s with her?”

“I’m not sure but I’d better go see. See you in English, ‘kay?”

She hurried away and caught up with Amity sitting on a bench in the quadrangle. She sniffed when Zoe sat down beside her but didn’t get up and leave.

“What’s wrong?” Zoe asked, trying to keep the frustration from her voice.

“I’m meant to be your best friend.”

“You are my best friend.”

“Yeah right. Just coz all these other people want to know you because of what happened to your sister, you’ve started to push me away.”

“That’s not true. You called me a slut,” Zoe threw her hands up.

“I’m just trying to look after you.”

Zoe sighed, “I’m sorry if I made you feel bad.”

“Not everything is about you, you know.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

Amity looked at her, her eyes shiny with unshed tears, and then smiled, “Ok. I forgive you. Sit with me in English?”

“I already said to Tracey I’d sit with her. Why don’t you sit with us.”

Amity’s smile dissolved into a scowl and she stood up, “Stuff you. I hope your happy when everyone realises what a two faced cow you are and you’re on your own.”

“Amity!” Zoe called but the other girl didn’t turn back.

 

Zoe was exhausted when she arrived home. Amity had spent the day giving her dark looks and she knew that people were saying things behind her back. All she wanted was a hot shower and a sleep.

Daryl was sitting on the front step. He tried to hide the cigarette in his hand but it was obvious that Zoe had seen and he gave up with a wry smile.

“I didn’t’t know you smoked,” she said.

“I don’t usually. Only when I’m a bit stressed. How was school?”

“Crap.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“Nope.”

“Fair enough.”

“How was your day?

“Crap.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“Nope,” they laughed and then Daryl stood up and then went inside together.

“Mum?”

“We’re up here,” Glenys called back. Zoe sighed and headed for the nursery. She stopped in the doorway, a chill wrapping itself around her body. Daryl came up behind her, “What the hell? he asked.

The nursery was empty. Chelsea’s cot and toys were all gone, the pictures of her that had been on the wall, the teddy bear that Zoe and James had given to her when she came home from hospital. Jane and Glenys stood in the middle of the room. Glenys smiled warmly at them but Jane avoided their eyes and blew her nose loudly.

“What’s been going on here?” Daryl asked, disbelief clear in his voice.

“It’s time this room got cleared out and the memories put away,” Glenys replied. Zoe thought she saw her eyes twinkle.

“You stupid…how could you,” Zoe started, stepping towards the older woman who backed away nervously, “we don’t want her to be packed away. We don’t want to forget her and move on. You have no right to come in here and do this. Who the hell do you think you are?”

“How dare…”

“How dare I? How dare you, you wrinkled old cow. I’ve had enough of you poking your nose in where it’s not wanted. I’ve had enough of you making my mum upset. I’ve had enough of you trying to get rid of James and me and I’ve had enough of you keeping me awake all night snoring. Why don’t you JUST GO HOME?”

Glenys gaped at Zoe then she snapped her mouth shut and pushed past Zoe and Daryl. A few minutes later the front door slammed shut, a car started in the driveway and roared out of the street.

 

Glenys returned two hours later, quietly letting herself into the house and joining the rest of the family at the kitchen table. Zoe held her breath, she could hear her blood thrumming in her ears.

“I just wanted to say that I’m sorry,” Glenys began, she kept her eyes fixed on her hands, “I really was just trying to help. I…” her voice broke and she appeared to be pushing back tears. Zoe felt as though her heart was breaking.

“Grandma, I know. I’m sorry about what I said…”

“No, you were right. I’m just so sorry.”

“Well, you can make it up. I’ve had an idea if, if that’s all right with everyone? Could you pick some stuff up for me tomorrow and could we all meet here tomorrow afternoon”

Glenys reached across the table and took Zoe’s hand. It was cool and soft and pale. For the first time Zoe noticed the dark spots sprinkled across her grandmother’s skin. She squeezed her hand reassuringly.

 

“Did you get my message last night?” Tracy asked, concern etched across her face.

“Um, no. I didn’t really check my phone. We had a bit of a rough night.”

“So you haven’t heard what Amity’s been saying about you?”

Zoe slid into the chair beside Tracy and arranged her books on the desk, “No? What?”

“She’s telling everyone that you hooked up with Justin Maine. You know, he’s going out with that girl in year eleven. What’s her name…”

“Emily…”

“That’s right. Emily. It’s all over Facebook.”

Zoe rested her head on the table with a groan. Tracy patted her on the back.

“Do you think everyone believes her?”

“Mmm. Maybe. Some people have written pretty horrible stuff,” she pulled out her phone and brought up her face book page. Zoe read through the comments that people had written underneath Amity’s status update and clutched her stomach.

Justin came into the room and gave her a confused look. She shrugged helplessly. Amity, sitting at the front of the room, saw the exchange and whispered something to the girl sitting next to her. Zoe heard the word ‘slut’ pass between them.

She felt her heart thump against her chest. As the class began she could barely hear the teacher, her voice was muffled by the fog of panic in her head.

Zoe stood up, almost without realising it, as if her legs had taken matters on themselves. The teacher looked at her questioningly.

“Can I just say something?” she heard Amity snigger and swallowed down a lump in her throat.

“My little sister died during the holidays. It’s been really hard on my family but lots of people have been really nice. Like Justin. He was been a good friend and said he would be happy to talk to me if I felt like I needed it…”

“My little brother drowned in my nan’s pool last year,” Justin cut in quickly.

“Yeah, so he thought he might be able to understand what I was going through. And now people, people who I thought were my friends, are saying stuff about us that isn’t true. Some people seem to think that I’m using my sister’s death to, I don’t know, be more popular or something, which is stupid because I would give anything to have my sister back. So, that’s all I wanted to say really, that you shouldn’t believe what people say because, I think they’ve probably got their own issues or something,” she sat down, glancing at Amity who had gone bright red.

Zoe could feel Amity hovering at her shoulder as she packed up her books while the rest of the students filed from the room and hurried to their lockers. Tracy gave her a questioning glance but Zoe nodded and she left with only a brief backwards glance.

Amity opened her mouth but Zoe cut in quickly, “You’ve been a complete bitch. If you ever want to be my friend again you will be at my house after school and you will be polite and sensitive and awesome. If you don’t come don’t bother talking to me ever again,” she picked up her books and strode from the room.

 

“We did this at school. Sort of, not like this but same idea,” Zoe smiled weakly at her family clustered around the table. Jane nodded encouragingly.

“So, you take a strip of paper,” she picked up a long  strip of purple paper, “and then wrap it around the top of the glass with some of the paper over the top and then fold that paper in,” she folded five millimetres of paper over the top of the glass and then slid the circlet of paper off the glass. She put it on a plate and half filled it with soil. There was knock on the door and everyone looked round.

“I’ll get,” Jeremy said, disappearing from the room and reappearing a few seconds later with Amity trailing awkwardly behind him. Zoe gave her a little wave.

“Ok, now write a message on one of the little bits of paper and put it on the soil and put more soil on the top up to the rim,” she patted the soil down gently and then sprinkled some seeds on top and pushed them a little deeper into the soil, “so I thought we could all write a message to Chelsea and plant them in the garden. But you don’t have to, if you think it’s stupid or whatever.

“No. It’s beautiful,” Daryl said picking up a piece of paper.

“What seeds did you choose,” Amity asked quietly.

“Daisies. Zoe said to get daisies” Glenys answered, pouring soil into her makeshift pot.

“Oh, Chelsea’s favourites,” Jane said, her eyes shining.