Bully For You

Fifteen-year-old Sally is an accomplished bully. She can't remember a time when power didn't matter to her. But behind the spite, Sally is a mess. She has secrets that she can't tell, and which mean that every day she hates herself, just a little bit more. But what if Sally made a choice to reveal who she really is? Would she fall apart... or could she start putting her life together?

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2. Nine Years Earlier

When Miss Trunks blows the whistle telling us games is over we all walk back to the pavilion. As Emma Daily starts to get changed I get really close to her, making her feel as uncomfortable as possible. I know exactly how to do this. I’ve done it to enough girls now to know what gets the best reaction. I know how hard to push it, how to make her cry.

 

‘Your boobs are too small for your hips,’ I say, looking her up and down. She ignores me. I carry on. ‘Not being funny, but you are so out of proportion.’

 

She ignores me again, and carries on getting changed. Pretending that I am not there is normal. It’s stage one. I carry on.

 

‘You should start using deodorant. It’s not fair on the rest of us who have to share a classroom with you.’

 

This always gets a reaction.

 

‘I do. I do wear deodorant,’ she says, reaching for some in her bag.

 

I am now so close to her that we’re almost touching. How will she raise one of her smelly armpits into the air to put on her deodorant with me right here? That would be gross. ‘Go on, put it on,’ I press.

 

She lifts an arm up into the air and BINGO, there it is. The hairiest armpit I have ever seen. Way too hairy for a normal fourteen-year-old girl. Laughing loudly I say, ‘Uh-oh, someone skipped evolution. We have an ape in the pavilion. I said, APE IN THE PAVILION.’

 

Emma drops her arm, scoops up her clothes and runs for the door. I make monkey noises until she is out of the room. No one else from the hockey team dares to look at me. Chuckling to myself, I get dressed. I am in control. This is good.

 

I walk up to Maths on my own. There’s a small group of girls in front of me walking quickly and a small group behind me walking slowly. Occasionally I stop just to be sure that I am being avoided and yes, the group behind me stops too. I keep smiling. The kind of smile that an angry dog would do, if an angry dog could smile. No one in their right mind would approach it, and that is the best way to look when you are the bully. Like you don’t want to be approached. It’s important to look like you don’t want people around you, because then when they’re not, people think that’s what you want.

 

I do, however, have a best friend. And when I walk into Maths she is sitting there, saving me the seat next to her, already frightened of what I might say. Her name is Flo.

 

It would be fair to wonder how someone like me has a best friend, but it’s easy. I don’t give her a choice. Flo has been my sidekick for seven years. I kind of own her. But it takes work. If I give her a moment to realise how pretty she is then I could lose her. So I have to keep on top of that. Keep on top of her. Not let her notice herself.

 

It all started when we were seven.

 

I wasn’t a cute kid. I was fat and snotty and people picked on me because I was whiney and always cried for my mum. I had long blondey-brown hair and my nose was too big for my face. My cheeks were chubby and so was my belly and I farted a lot because no one knew back then that my body couldn’t digest dairy products. No one wanted to play with me and I didn’t have any friends. I remember playing on my own and pretending I couldn’t hear all the other children calling me names. But one day a girl came over to me and grabbed my Cabbage Patch doll while it was in my hand. I tried to hold onto it but she kept pulling, staring at me right in the eye and pulling really hard. But it was my doll, and I loved it. So I stared back at her and growled, and yanked until she let go and fell to the floor. Then I hit her with the doll, right on the head. It must have really hurt her because she ran off screaming. When I turned around Flo was just sitting there watching the whole thing. I told her to get up and follow me. She did, and she has been following me ever since. That was the day I became the bully, and no one ever picked on me ever again.

 

‘You’d better have done your homework,’ I say to her as I take my seat. She gets her exercise book out and opens it. I see that her homework is done. ‘Good, then you won’t be copying mine. I hate it when you copy my homework.’ I straighten my skirt as it’s ridden up a bit from sitting down, and arrange my pencil case, textbook and exercise book on my desk. Flo has never copied my homework. We both know that.

 

She looks nice today. Her skin is clear, unlike mine. I have acne. It isn’t as bad as other people’s but still, I have spots. Having something that people think might upset me is bad. When I have an outbreak I have to be even meaner, laugh more at people, act more confident. I have to show at all times that I don’t care about my spots. Because the minute I show that I care is the minute that I stop being the bully. And to stop being the bully would mean the end of me, because if I’m not the bully, I don’t know who else I would be.

 

‘Your hair is a bit of a mess today. Did you wash it?’ I say to Flo as Mr Walker comes in and starts the class. She nods her head pathetically and scratches it, even though it obviously isn’t itchy. I rest my cheek on my hand so I can hide the spots.

 

I am a straight-A student. I work really hard at school, and I think that’s why I get away with the way that I am. A lot of people think bullies are the rebellious ones who skip classes and smoke, and don’t like school. But that isn’t me at all. I am the exact opposite. I pass everything, I have never had a detention, I don’t get told off and I am in the top set for everything. If someone told a teacher on me, I don’t think the teacher would believe them. In many ways, I am the perfect student. Teachers love me. And if that changed, my dad would kill me.

 

After school my mum picks me up. She’s recently started getting out of her side and walking round to mine to open the door for me. I never asked her to do this, she just seems to think she should. It’s something else to add to the massive list of things she does for me because she feels guilty.

 

‘Your father will be home from work early tonight. So you should do your homework as soon as you get home,’ she warns me. ‘That way you might be done before nine.’ I look out of the window. ‘And maybe at the weekend I can take you into town. We can go shopping? I can buy you some lovely things. Get your hair cut? What is fashionable right now with the other girls? Is there anything you need?’

 

I don’t answer.

 

We get home and I go straight to my room. Mum has tidied it so the stupid amount of cushions she has put on my bed are all plump and arranged perfectly. The air smells like washing powder, and the little pink china shoe on my bedside table has been refilled with sugared almonds, because she thinks that is what teenage girls like. I eat one then push all of the cushions onto the floor and lie down. I have a few minutes to collect myself before I start my homework, and prepare myself for tonight. And then the front door slams, and I know that he is home. Seconds later he is outside my bedroom door, and my mum is asking him to just give me a minute ‘to be a teenager’, to ‘relax after school’. But he tells her to shut up and opens my bedroom door. Without stepping in he says, ‘Be in my office in five minutes. Bring your maths book.’ And then he goes downstairs, and outside, and into his office in the garden. And I get off my bed and follow him.

 

My dad doesn’t abuse me. He has never hit me and he has never touched me. Literally. I actually don’t remember the last time he touched me. You’d think he hates me, the way that he speaks to me. He never asks me anything other than how well I am doing at school. He doesn’t know anything about me. He doesn’t tell me anything about him, other than that he wanted a boy.

 

I don’t think my dad likes women. My grandma, his mum, died before I was born, but Mum has told me that she wasn’t very nice. My mum isn’t particularly insightful or impressive, but one piece of advice she’s always given me is, ‘never marry a man who wasn’t loved by his mother’. I guess it has something to do with how hard it is for her to be married to someone like my dad. Compared to other mums and dads they don’t get on at all. Most mornings I hear Mum come out of the guest room before she wakes me up. I have never seen them cuddle, they eat in separate rooms, and they never just chat. The house is always silent.

 

When I get into my dad’s office he is sitting at his desk as usual. My little desk is on the opposite side of the room, directly in front of him.

 

‘Do your homework,’ he says in a voice that might suggest I have refused in the past. But I never have. I have never refused to do anything my dad tells me to do. I don’t know what he might do if I did and I don’t plan to ever find out.

 

I open my textbook and start my homework. He sets his stopwatch for twenty minutes and watches me for most of that time. When I have finished it he tells me to go to page 54 and do the exercises there as well. It isn’t until two hours later that I am allowed to leave his office. It is the same every day after school. This is what we do.

 

I sit with Mum in the kitchen as we eat dinner. Minutes earlier she had delivered Dad’s to him on a tray in front of the television. He is watching the snooker. That’s us done with any communication for the next twenty-two hours. He doesn't say thank you to Mum for dinner and he doesn’t say goodnight to me. Do I care? The cool thing would be to say no, wouldn’t it? ‘Of course I don’t care, why would I want to have a relationship with him when he is so weird?’ But I do care, and I hate that I disappoint him because I am a girl, and I hate that I don’t interest him in any way, and I hate that he doesn’t care about any of the things I like, and that all he cares about is me not being a failure at school. I don’t hate him, though. I love him, but I don’t know why. But we have to love our parents, don’t we? It’s what we are supposed to do.

 

After dinner I go up to my room. I sit at my dressing table and examine my face. I wish I was beautiful. We can’t wear make-up to school so every day my red, raw skin is out for all to see. And I have to look at Flo, whose skin is perfect. Her hair is dark brown and shiny, her teeth are straight, her lips are big and I know the boys would fancy her if I didn’t work so hard to tell her they wouldn’t. I have lots of fears, but my biggest is losing Flo. So I say things so cutting, so cruel that even I can’t believe I say them. I keep her confidence low to boost my confidence. Horrible, aren’t I?

 

I can’t stop now though. I’ve set the tone. If I were to change and be nice there is no way she would be my friend. The best thing I have going for me is that I can be a real bitch. Bad as it is to say, I am really good at it. I wonder what my dad would say to that if he knew. Would he be proud of me to find out I was really, really good at being mean to people? Would that stop him putting all the pressure on me for my grades at school? Probably not. And how could I ever make him notice?

 

As I sit looking at myself in the mirror I laugh. I laugh at the thought of doing something so mean to Flo – like shaving off her eyebrows or drawing ‘I am a loser’ on her face with a marker pen – that it might make my dad proud. But if straight As don’t even get me a well done, I am sure nothing else I do will.

 

I’m not a happy person. I know what happy people look like – my class is full of them. Girls who come to school and are in the same mood every day. Who speak about their families in a nice way, and who have lots of friends and find being surrounded by people easy. I am not like that. No one understands me and no one tries to. No one wants to be friends with me because they know that I will make them feel small. And I know that I can’t be trusted not to do that so I don't make any effort to be friends with them either.

 

Flo is my only hope at having someone, so I won’t let her go. I make sure she knows that if she makes other friends I won’t make it easy for her. I have to keep hold of her so the real me stays safe and hidden. I need Flo to hide behind. She has no idea how important she is to me. I am sure she thinks I don’t really like her, that I think she is fat and a bit stupid and all the other things I’ve called her over the last seven years. Why wouldn’t she think that? I say something mean to her every day.

 

But the truth is I think she’s lovely. She’s so pretty that I would do anything to look like her. She doesn’t get angry, and she is never mean. She just takes whatever she gets from me and keeps calm. And it isn’t because she is pathetic like I tell her – it is because she isn’t angry enough to need to destroy me back. She takes my relentless bullying and walks away without saying a word. I scream in her face and call her everything I can think of but she never breaks. She stays together. And then there is me. Totally broken and behaving so badly, so cruelly, that even I can’t believe the things I say.

 

Maybe tomorrow I could change. I could say ‘Good morning’ to Flo, and ask her how she is. And I could tell her that her hair is nice and her skin is clear and that she makes me happy. It would be nice for her to hear those things, it would be nice of me to tell her that she is my best friend in the whole wide world. So tomorrow I will. I will tell her.

 

The next morning at school I arrive early and wait for Flo. I have a Wagon Wheel for her, because she likes those. I sit and wait, ready to change. Ready to be nice. Then she walks in. Her hair is shining more than usual today. She sits next to me.

 

‘Hiya,’ she says gently.

 

‘Hello,’ I reply.

 

As she unpacks her bag I watch her. I can do this. I can be nice. And as I am about to ask her if she is alright Becca Stephens calls her from the other side of the room and says, ‘Flo, will you be in our drama group?’ and I feel my happy thoughts leave me and the fear take over and before I even know what I am saying I shout:

 

‘Why would you want her in your group? Flo can’t act to save her life.’

 

And so that is that. The bully in me is back. I can’t shake her off. The real me is now so small she can’t surface, not even for a minute. Maybe it’s time for me to admit she isn’t there at all any more. So there it is. I am a bully. And from now on I won’t pretend to be anyone else.

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