Dear World, I have strange, disjointed dreams where I start to believe that Joe is right. That everything will be okay. That when I wake up in the morning, everything will be okay again, and so will we. But Joe is wrong. When we wake up in the morning, everything gets even worse.
I am vaguely aware of Will’s feet hitting the floor beside us as he jumps down from his bunk. I have the duvet pulled over my head and I don’t move. I can feel Joe breathing softly and slowly beside me. His arm is around me. The next thing I know, the bedroom door is crashing open, and heavy, angry footsteps are filling the room fast. “Joe Lawrenson!” I hear Lorraine shrieking, and suddenly the duvet is whipped away from us, and Joe awakes in total confusion, his hair stuck up at every angle. He sits up in alarm, and so do I, and Lorraine and Mick have invaded the room and are breathing heavily through their equally flared nostrils. It takes me a while to work out why they are so angry, but then Joe looks at me, and I look at him and I get it.
“What the hell is all this?” Mick demands, hands on squat hips, eyes bulging angrily. I catch a glimpse of Will in the background, dancing around on his light little feet, and I think the next time I see him I am going to punch him in the head.
“Joe Lawrenson!” Lorraine barks again. “What the hell is going on here?”
“Nothing, mum, nothing,” Joe starts to say, lowering his feet onto the carpet and rubbing the sleep from his eyes with his hands. I do not know what to do. I am still wearing my party dress, and I am suddenly aware of the tight sensation of crusty blood gathered along my forearm. I quickly spread my hands out on the sheet, my fingers searching for the towel Joe had pressed against me last night. I do not know what to say and I am finding it increasingly unnerving looking into their faces.
“Doesn’t look like nothing!” Mick accuses, stamping his feet. I can see his eyes moving quickly between Lorraine and Joe, trying to work out what she wants him to do. He reminds me of an angry little troll like that. Lorraine snatches the duvet away from us and it falls to the ground, and her eyes zoom in on my arm, and then all hell really breaks loose. She pounces on me, grabbing my arm and holding it up for Mick to see.
“What the hell is this?” Her voice has gone up another octave. She is really shouting now. I hear movement in the other bedroom, and I imagine Travis and Leon lurking in there, listening and wondering. I try to pull my arm away from her, but she holds on tight, and her raging eyes move between Joe and I, as she pieces things together in her mind. “What is this? What have you been doing?”
“It’s nothing,” I tell her quietly. “I fell on some glass last night. I got upset and asked Joe to bring me home. It’s all my fault.”
“Nothing happened!” Joe tries to defend himself then, as their accusing eyes bear down on him thunderously. He keeps his head low, as he looks up at his mum and his step-dad. Mick is right there next to him, standing over him, hands cocked on hips. Lorraine looks back at me, and I suppose I must look a right pathetic state, because her eyes soften, and her shoulders sink a little bit. Then she looks at Mick and jerks her head towards Joe.
“Get him out of here! I’ll deal with you later young man. Sneaking girls in your room behind our backs, I ask you!” Her voice rises again towards the end of the statement. Mick takes his cue and grabs Joe by the neck of his t-shirt. Joe looks panicked then, and tries to turn towards me.
“You people are being ridiculous!” he shouts, and I frown, as it is the first time I have ever heard him answer his mother back. Her face darkens automatically. She is looking at him in pure disgust, as Mick manhandles him towards the open door. “She’s my best friend!” he cries. “We didn’t do anything you idiots!”
“Don’t you call your mother an idiot!” Mick shouts back. Joe holds onto the doorframe as he gets pulled through it.
“Just leave her alone!” he tells his mother. “I want to walk her home!” Lorraine drops my arm then and strides towards her son like an army major marching towards an unruly recruit. I can smell her confusion and it only adds to her rage. Joe has never shouted at her before, ever. Joe would never dare. Joe was always like me, I think, watching from the bed as she bears down on him, still clinging to the doorframe. Scuttling around in the background, trying not to annoy anyone. Joe is angry with them, and I don’t understand why. He tries to pull free from Mick and face his mother. I have never seen his face look like that before. Twisted with scorn and knowing.
“How dare you speak to me like that!” Lorraine barks into his face. “What is wrong with you?”
“You’re just so bloody stupid mum!”
She slaps him. Really hard. Right across his face. I cover my mouth with my hands. The sound of it. I see his head rock back. I start to cry. Joe does too. I see his face crumple. He drops his hands from the doorframe and he lets Mick pull him away. But not before I hear him say to his mum; “I hate you…I hate all of you.”
She slams the door in his face. She takes a second, breathing heavily, staring at the carpet, before she finally spins on her heel and looks at me. I just want to get the hell out of there. Away from her. She looks dark and scary, and God knows what terrors lurk behind that slash of red lipstick, so I crawl to the edge of the bed and lower my feet and look desperately for my shoes, before remembering that I left them at Marianne’s. Tears are falling down my cheeks steadily and silently. My head is a mess of pain and foreboding. “Lou,” I hear her say, and her tone is gentler again. “This is not like you. Not like either of you. Please tell me what happened to your arm. How am I going to explain this to your mother?” She comes to the bed and leans towards me. She attempts to lift my chin, to make me look at her, but I turn my head away from her grip and stand up. The room spins and shakes. Fuck it. I just need to get home. To get into my room. I don’t have to speak to her, I think. I don’t have to do anything for her. “Lou,” she says, more urgently. “Look at me please. Talk to me!” I push my hair back behind my ears, take a deep breath and head for the door. She takes my arm, holding me back. “Lou, wait!”
“What?” I stare at the closed door. I can hear the thumps and thuds downstairs, and I close my eyes briefly and a weary sigh escapes me. “You shouldn’t always do that you know,” I hear myself say. “Just hit people. That’s the whole fucking problem, you know.”
“Don’t you use that disgusting language with me young lady!” Lorraine snaps, pulling me round to face her. “What the hell has gotten into you kids? Are you on drugs? We’re getting seriously worried, you know!”
“I need to go home.”
“Yes, you do, and I’m taking you. Come on.”
There is nothing I can do. I feel so weak and powerless. So beaten down and ashamed. She opens the door and leads the way down the stairs. I just go limp and let her take me. I wonder where Joe is. If he is still crying. I think, this is the way it always is. He tries to do the right thing, he helps me and this is what he gets for it. I wonder dully why he fucking bothers at all. I think he was right to act like Leon a few weeks ago. I think, he was damned right punching Will in the head at the park, and stamping on his stupid Lego. What the fuck else do they deserve?
I cross my arms as we walk to my house. Lorraine keeps a motherly arm around my shoulders the whole time. I walk with gritted teeth and stiff legs. “Your mother is going to be beside herself,” she says more than once. “And you better be telling the truth that nothing happened with you two!” I do not bother answering. What would be the point? Let them think whatever disgusting thoughts they like. Perverts. “I don’t know what’s gotten into that son of mine,” she goes on. “He never used to be so defiant. He was always so good!” She looks at me, as if hoping for an answer, or a clue, but I give nothing away. I stare straight ahead and keep walking. She sighs, and tightens her arm on my shoulders. “Oh my, Lou, you are getting so thin these days. I can feel it. You know, your mum is worried sick about that too, don’t you love? You were fine before you know. You know that, don’t you?” I roll my eyes and want to be sick right there on the pavement in front of her. Yeah, right I think scathingly. I was fucking perfect before. Fucking gorgeous. And you’re a stupid liar. “You kids,” she says. “You kids will drive us to an early grave. Sleepless nights, I tell you, worrying about you all. Worse than when you were babies!”
We are home, and she opens the front door and walks in, calling out as she always does; “Coo-ee it’s only me!”
“Lorraine?” My mum comes out of the kitchen holding a tea towel. I can see Les is sat at the table with his newspaper spread out before him. Nothing ever changes, I think. You would think my mother was surgically attached to the sink. Sewn to it by her apron strings. She immediately catches sight of me, and throws the tea towel onto the table and marches towards me, her face a mask of concern. “Darling, you look awful!”
“Just found her in bed with my Joe,” Lorraine tells her with a heavy sigh and a look on her face that lets me know she is enjoying being the bearer of this news just a tiny bit. She stands back so my mother can reach me. “Thought I better bring her home. Lord only knows what they’ve been up to.”
I want to punch her in the fucking face. Really, I do.
“Lou!” my mum says breathlessly, shocked. She takes me by the shoulders. I keep my arms crossed tightly. The last thing I need is for her to see my bloody arm.
“I’ll say it one more time,” I reply, my eyes locking with Lorraine’s. “We didn’t do anything. Nothing happened. We are just friends. He was looking after me. If you choose to believe something else, that’s up to you.” I shrug, and look down at my feet, while my mum and Lorraine swap concerned looks with each other.
“Lou, there is no need to be so cheeky,” my mum says. “I thought you were staying at Marianne’s?”
“Changed my mind,” I shrug again. “Is that against the law?”
“Can I go to my room? I need to go to my room.”
My mother drops her hands down to her sides. She looks at me, confused and unsure. She looks at Lorraine. I make my move and squeeze past her in the hallway.
“I’ll be up to speak to you soon,” she calls after me. I can hear the relief in her voice as I go. She is as unnerved and uncomfortable as Lorraine was when Joe called her stupid. She wants to talk to Lorraine. She wants to put the fucking kettle on and make cups of tea, and discuss us over the kitchen table while Les reads his stupid newspaper.
I close and lock my bedroom door. I feel angry and vile as I yank my dress over my head. I am just in my pants and bra, pacing the room, searching for my pyjamas, because I have a thought in my head, I have a plan. I have a plan to hit my bed and never fucking get out of it again. Not until all this insanity ends. I catch my reflection in the dressing table mirror and stop pacing. I see that strange girl again. The one that surprised me in the mirror at Marianne’s. I stand sideways, and run one hand over the bumps of my ribs, and for some reason this just makes me collapse in tears, because when I look at her, when I look back, I can still see fat where it shouldn’t be. It disgusts and enrages me. And my face….my face…I throw back my duvet and climb into my bed in just my underwear because I cannot bear to look at myself anymore.
I reach out with one hand to hit play on the CD player on my bedside table. My best of Bob Dylan compilation CD is in there. ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,’ starts to play, as I pull my hand back under the duvet. I like the sentiment. It is all over. That is how it feels, anyway. I curl into a tight ball within my dark little cave. My only wish is to be left alone.