Dear World, I think we all sleep for a while. Joe peels himself up from the floor around mid-day. He looks a mess, I think, gazing at him from my deck chair. His hair is getting too long, and it is all stuck up everywhere. His eyes look a bit red, and his clothes are crumpled. “Better go home then,” he mumbles dejectedly. I am not capable of saying much in way of comfort.
“Probably a good idea,” I tell him instead. Marianne does not move from where she is lying on the floor, with her eyes closed, and her hands laced together on her stomach. Her top is riding up enough to show us her belly button. Joe yawns as he opens the door.
“You still gonna’ come meet me like you said?” he asks me, in a lower tone. I nod at him in reply.
“You bet I am. See you then. Good luck.”
When he has gone, Marianne’s eyes snap open and fix on mine. “You’re going with him?” she asks, incredulously. “You’re gonna’ help with the drug deals?”
“I’m just going with him,” I shrug irritably. “I don’t want him going alone.”
“He’s a big boy, you know.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just saying,” she sits up then, and shrugs. “You do baby him a bit, you know.” I just stare at her, wondering what the hell she means and where this is coming from?
“No I do not!”
“Okay, calm down,” she says, holding her hands up apologetically. “Don’t bite my head off. I just meant that he’s managed this far on his own, so why do you suddenly feel the need to go with him?”
“Because he nearly got his arse kicked by someone the other day. I don’t want him to get hurt do I?”
“So what are you going to do? Protect him?” I glare at her angrily, trying to let her know she is pissing me off, but all she does is smile in that calm controlled way of hers, as if nothing touches her, nothing breaks through.
“Come too, if you want,” I say to her, wondering if this is what upsetting her. She just wrinkles her nose at me.
“No thanks. I’m not doing the dirty work for those idiots.”
“What’s your problem then? What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing is. Don’t be so touchy. You are so unbelievably touchy. Especially when it has anything to do with that family. Do you want some lunch?” Marianne pushes herself up from the floor, and shakes back her dark hair. I look up at her, and feel totally confused.
“No thanks,” I tell her. “Just a coffee.”
She rests one hand on the door and smiles at me sweetly. “Oh well done you. Still on the diet, eh?”
I bite my lip for a moment. “Sorry,” I say then, looking at her carefully. “I probably am a bit touchy about Joe. He kissed me yesterday. On the lips.” I see it then. I see it in her face, and there is not a damn thing she can do to hide it, though she tries fucking hard, I can tell you. Her face changes. Her face falls. Her eyes harden. It pisses her off. Then she cracks a massive smile. And I wish I hadn’t said it.
“Well aren’t you the popular one?” she asks, opening the door. “First one brother, now the next? Bet you’ve got your eye on Leon, really, though?”
“Don’t be disgusting,” I tell her. “I haven’t got my eye on any of them, least of all that moron.”
“Look, I’ll be back in a minute. You can tell me all about it.” She goes out, closing the door with a gentle bang behind her. I sit back, slightly triumphant, but also weakened. She’s cleverer than me. There is something about her, I think then. Something that lets you know she could destroy you if she wanted to.
While she is gone, I sit in the deck chair and seethe with paranoid insecurities. I feel like a dick for telling her about Joe kissing me. I really wish I hadn’t said it like that now. Why the hell did I do that World? Say something that I immediately wished I hadn’t? What is wrong with me sometimes? I wish I hadn’t smoked the weed either. That was stupid too. Suddenly I feel horribly self-aware, almost transparent in my crapness. Why did I say it like that? Like a fucking brag? Idiot. What is wrong with me? I sit there and wait for her to return, and fear what is running through her tidy little mind right now. I see myself sat in the deck chair, a wasted, gibbering wreck of a person. I tell myself that apart from Joe, who is a boy, I have no real friends. I’ve never had any real friends who are girls! I realise this with a crushing pain in my belly. Idiot. Loser. Freak. Now I’ve gone and pissed off the one girl who could have been my friend. Christ World, what if she secretly hates me? What if she is really one of those, what do you call them? Frenemies, that’s it, that’s what they call them! I don’t think I could deal with that. I know I couldn’t.
I try to shake myself out of it, when Marianne returns with a bag of crisps, a mars bar and a massive salad sandwich. She passes me a huge coffee silently, and kicks the door shut with her foot. I take the coffee gratefully and wonder if she has spat in it. She tucks herself up on the other chair with her feast of a lunch. I look at it, my mouth dry. I wonder helplessly if she is doing it on purpose. Lucky bitch can eat whatever the hell she wants and never put on weight. She doesn’t even have to exercise either. She was born tiny and will always be tiny. I sigh, and drop my head into one hand. “You okay?” she asks me. I nod and groan. “Bit wasted?” I nod again. That’s for sure.
“Shouldn’t do it really,” I tell myself, speaking out loud.
“Sorry I said that, about you babying Joe. You’ve known him your whole life. I suppose it’s like looking out for a brother or something.”
I raise my eyes from my hand to look at her. She is nibbling delicately at her sandwich. “Mmm,” I say, half of me wanting to giggle for no reason whatsoever, half of me wanting to just cry.
“So,” she says, opening her crisps up. The sharp smell of salt and vinegar hits my nose, and makes my tongue sweat. “Tell me all about this kiss then. The kiss from Joe, that is. Not Travis.”
I can’t tell if she is being sarcastic or not. Feigning fake interest. I rub viciously at my temples with my hand. I swear I can feel her bright eyes piercing right through me. Just paranoid, I tell myself desperately. “Oh forget it,” I sigh. “I don’t even know why I mentioned it.”
“Because you were dying to tell me, obviously! Bet you couldn’t wait to get the chance.” Again, I feel like she is angry with me, but I am not sure why.
“Well it was nothing. Just a kiss. He took me by surprise. He wasn’t thinking straight. He was upset because Mick stamped all over his CD’s.” I lift my shoulders in a weary, halfhearted shrug.
“Mick stamped on his CD’s?”
“Yeah. Long story.”
“So he got upset and tried to kiss you?” Marianne asks, holding a large crisp up to her lips, and then flicking her tongue at it. I nod slowly.
“Stupid idiot,” I say, with a weak grin. Marianne lashes the crisp with her tongue again.
“Well, maybe he actually likes you. Maybe both of them actually like you.” I just look at her. I can’t work out the expression on her face, and it unnerves me, or am I just getting incredibly paranoid? I’m not going to tell her what Joe said about Travis, no fucking way. I decide to change the subject. That seems the best plan.
“Well anyway, I’m going with him tonight. Fuck it. I’m fed up of being such a good girl the whole time.”
“Ooh listen to you!”
“Well, it’s true. It’s always been the same. Me and Joe have always been the quiet ones in our families, you know? The rest cause all the drama and we just stay good and quiet.” I take a sip of the scalding coffee. She has made it good and strong, just the way I like it. I try not to look at the half eaten sandwich on her plate. I try not to remember what bread tastes like.
“Hey if you can’t rebel when you’re sixteen, when can you?” she asks.
“So what’s the plan? How does it work?”
“I don’t know really. I’m going to sneak out at eleven and meet Joe at the end of his road. Don’t know after that.”
“You don’t know where you’re going? Who you’re meeting?”
“He says it’s someone he’s met before, so it should be okay.”
“Christ,” grins Marianne, slowly licking another crisp. “You are brave Lou. I don’t think I would want to mix with people like that.”
“So who the hell did you get the weed off then? You haven’t told us that.”
“Oh it was just Ryan, you idiot,” she laughs at me scornfully. “He always has weed, you know that.”
“Didn’t actually. Didn’t know he always did.”
“He says it helps him be more creative,” Marianne shrugs. “You know, with the band or whatever.”
“Really should listen to them some time,” I murmur.
“You should,” she nods. “They’re not too bad actually.”
“Since when have you seen them?”
“Oh I don’t know, just sometimes, you know when you two are busy.” She meets my eyes with a sunny smile, and again I can’t read her. It’s her voice you see. She generally says everything in the same sweet, calm voice, as if everything just sort of thrills and pleases her, as if everything is just great. But her eyes give it away. If you look at her eyes you can just about tell when she is being sarcastic, or ironic, or whatever. “We need another party,” she tells me then. “You need to sort that out.”
“Me? How am I meant to?”
“Another one like the one Leon and Travis asked us to. That was the best night. This holiday is getting dull. We should be at parties every week!”
I shake my head at her, frowning. “That was not the best night, that was a fucking horrible night.” Marianne giggles at this. “Anyway, you’re the one with the big fuck off house, can’t you have one here?”
“Hmm,” Marianne touches her chin thoughtfully. “Maybe. I’ll have a think. It could be done, couldn’t it?”
“Don’t see why not.”
“And I could invite Leon and Travis.”
“Okay. But why would you want to?”
“I told you before,” she laughs, finishing her crisps and screwing up the empty packet. “They intrigue me! They all intrigue me. Doesn’t anyone intrigue you Lou?”
“Really?” she throws back her head and laughs deliciously at this. “Now that is funny! But true?”
“Course its true,” I tell her warily. “You’re a fucking enigma.”
“I can never tell when you’re being serious you know.”
“I can’t with you either.”
“Oh well, maybe we will just intrigue each other then!”
“Yeah, maybe. Look I better go actually. Got to squeeze a jog in somewhere today.” I get up from the chair, drink the last of my coffee and place the mug down on the floor. Marianne is just silent for a moment, curled up in her chair, with her feet tucked under her, and her fingers stroking her chin. In my wasted state I see her as some kind of evil genius, plotting extreme damage.
“Well off you go then,” she says sleepily. “Can’t get in the way of Lou Carlings bid for the perfect body, can we now?” I just raise my eyebrows at her. “Have you got a new target weight in mind then?”
“No, just want to stay like this,” I say, trying not to sound as defensive as I feel. “I don’t want to put it all back on again, do I?”
“God no,” she agrees quickly. “That would be awful. And so many people do that, don’t they? Pile it all right back on again as soon as they relax.”
“Well, not me. No way.”
“Good for you. You go for it. You’re looking so amazing now. Didn’t have all these boys after you before did you?” I stare at her. I bite my lip. I feel hurt and anxious and I want to get the hell away from her, but she just smiles up at me, that sunny sarcastic smile.
I wander back home in a dreamlike state. World, how can I explain that I feel hurt, somewhere inside me, but I don’t know why? For some reason this feeling makes me want to find my mum and crawl onto her lap. Then I get even more worked up and insecure in my own company, and that is not good. I walk along, and I am sure I can feet the fat of my thighs rubbing together as I do. That can’t be good. I place a hand against my belly every now and again, picturing Marianne’s hard flat stomach in my mind. I may have lost weight, but I am still all flabby and wobbly everywhere, how do you get rid of that? Oh Christ. I feel like shit. I feel like I want to shrink down small so that no one can see me.
I push open the front door and pause immediately. The kitchen door is closed. The kitchen door is never closed, unless people are having private conversations in there, and true enough, I can hear the murmur of voices coming from the other side of the door. Curiously, I close the front door quietly so that they don’t hear it. I tiptoe towards the kitchen door. I can hear my mum and my sister, which totally freaks me out and confuses me. Is she back? What the hell? I reach out to open the door, but freeze when I hear my mum say; “she’s taking it too far now Sara. Jogging every day. Hardly eating at all.” Oh right. Okay then. It’s back to this again, is it?
“Okay, okay I’ll have a word with her about being sensible,” my sister agrees reluctantly. I press the side of my face against the door and try not to breathe too loudly. I am outraged, but also enthralled. I have never, ever overheard a conversation about myself before now. I would have a hard time believing that anyone talked about me ever, before this. What would there be to say?
“What with the drugs and everything, I’m at my wits end!” my mum is exclaiming to my sister. She does sound anxious; I’ll give her that. Funnily enough, this does not make me feel guilty, which is odd, because it should do really shouldn’t it World? My mum is a good person, and I have caused her stress. For some reason though, I just feel vicious and smug and snarly. “Her and Joe seem to be running wild at the moment, or that’s what your dad thinks anyway. I don’t know. I don’t know what to say to her.”
I decide that is enough. I don’t really want to hear anymore through the door about what a delinquent I suddenly appear to be. I open the door and they both look up in surprise from the table. “It’s okay,” I say. “You can carry on.”
“Lou…” my mum says, her hand reaching across the table for me. “I am just worried about you. I thought Sara could help.” I look coldly at my sister.
“Are you back then?”
“No, no, I’m still living with Rich. Just came to see mum.”
“Oh,” I nod, and turn out of the room. “Okay then.” I head up the stairs, and become aware that someone is following me. It is Sara. She follows me into what used to be our bedroom, and closes the door behind her.
“Don’t worry about mum,” she says warmly, perching on the edge of my messy bed. “She’s just being a huge drama queen as usual. I’ve spent the last few hours convincing her that all is fine with Rich and me, and so now she’s turned her anxiety onto you. Sorry.”
“What’s she even on about?” I complain, looking around the floor for my running clothes. “Bloody bollocks. I eat loads!”
“You sure? You’re definitely looking slimmer again.”
“Well fucking good!” I explode at her suddenly, facing her. “Who wants to be fucking fat their whole life? Jesus Christ. It’s got nothing to do with her at all.”
“Okay, okay,” my sister makes a face and holds up her hands. “Calm down. Don’t shoot the messenger. I just said I’d make sure you were being sensible.”
“Oh God,” I groan, holding my hands over my eyes for a moment. “You lot are priceless. None of you gave a shit when I was too fat did you? No one worried about that being healthy or sensible, which it wasn’t!”
“True,” Sara nods at me. “Okay then. Calm down.”
“Well it’s all right for you,” I tell her. “You’ve left. You don’t have to be surrounded by all this pointless shit all the time.”
“She says dad was okay about Les?”
“She says that. Who knows? Who cares?”
“Well, if you ask me, she’s just looking for trouble…”
“Sara do you mind?” I find my jogging trousers on the floor, pick them up and shake them off. “I’ve got to go for a run, before she tries to force feed me a fucking doughnut. You can go and tell her I’m fine.”
“Okay, okay,” my sister says, getting up. “Do you want to come by the flat and see me and Rich some time? I gave mum the address and number.”
“Yep,” I say, not looking at her. “Whatever.”