That's life.

This is story about a girl, a boy, and the person that stands between them. It's about a brother, a useless aunt and a missing dad. It's about an overworked Mum, a twin and 7 year old that grew up too quickly. But most of all, it's a story about love, in all its forms, and the damage it can do.

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2. Stella

‘I think we’re nearly here now.’

Clarissa’s overly bright, enthusiastic voice wakes me from my day dreams, and sighing, I switch off my ipod and slowly wrap the headphones round it.  I haven’t taken much notice of where we’re going since we left two hours ago, and look out the window to see old cottages, small lanes and green fields. Great. I’d forgotten granddad had lived in the country. It’d been ages since we’d been there, after his funeral 3 years ago, Sara was meant to clear the house out and sell it, but it seems she’d only just got round to it now. I glance at Sam, who looks up from his phone and shoots me an anxious glance.

 

‘So did Sara actually want us? Like, she was happy for us to come?’ The disbelief in his voice is obvious. Our social worker squirms in her seat and plays with her ash blonde hair, trying to think of an answer which doesn’t tell us anything we’re not meant to know.

‘You have to understand, Sam, that these were exceptional circumstances, and that seeing as she’s your only relative in a fit state to loo-‘

At the end of the road, turn left. D’oh!’

She’s interrupted by an exceptionally annoying voice booming out the latest instructions. For some reason, Clarissa thought it would be funny to install a Homer Simpson voice for her Sat Nav, and it had been driving me mad the entire journey.

 

‘This must be it then!’ Clarissa drawls, whilst turning into a very familiar little windy road full of semi modern house. All the memories of visiting Granddad rush back to me, one Christmas where it was so cold the petrol froze, a week during the summer holidays where we spent the whole time in the park, playing on the swings and eating ice cream. When I really think back, I can remember Mum sitting next to Dad as we drove up this road.  To stop myself from bursting into tears, I concentrate on all the houses we pass as we go further up. A man is cleaning his car; a cat jumps off a wall.  A boy and a girl are kissing goodbye on the steps of house. They all stare at us we go past.

 

After what feels like a lifetime, we finally pull up outside a house that, when you first glance at it, looks no different to the rest. But when you start to look closer, you realize that mad, out of control ivy climbs up the back the house, and that the grass in the front garden is beautifully green and overgrown, full of daisies and buttercups. A giant rose bush has bright pink flowers blooming from it, reminding me of a time when we visited about 7 years ago…

 

‘Dad, you really need to sort out that ivy. And the rose bush, for goodness sake! It won’t be long before you won’t be able to see the house!’

Granddad just smiles at my Mother, and picks me up, twirling me round and round until I’m dizzy and in hysterics.

‘I like it. It’s my own private jungle.’ I look up at my grandfather in awe.

‘Can it be my jungle too, granddad?’ I ask. Granddad laughs.

‘Of course, sweet pea. We can share it.’ He says, chuckling as I wriggle out of his arms and run through the long, green grass, pretending I’m an explorer….

 

‘Stella, are you alright?’ Sam’s looking at me in concern, and once again I’m shaken back into reality.  I realize I’ve been standing at the same place staring at the rose bush for ages, and quickly get my bag from the car.

‘Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.’ I mumble. Sam gives me another weird look before trailing after Clarissa, who’s knocking on the door. No one answers. Clarissa holds her fist up to knock again, but the door suddenly swings open, and before us stands a very tired and annoyed looking Aunt Sara.

‘You’re early!’ she says accusingly. Her hair’s been cut shorter, and she’s lost a bit of weight, but she’s still the same beautiful Sara. I have her and Mum’s shining, thick hair, but unfortunately nothing else. It was Sam who had inherited the good looks. We go into the house to see that nothing had changed; it’s still exactly the same as it had been after the funeral. Boxes everywhere, furniture scattered randomly, wall paper peeling off the walls.

 

‘Sorry about the mess.’ Sara says, ushering us into the slightly tidier kitchen. ‘What with my work, I only just managed to come down a week ago. And it’s a good job I didn’t sell it before then, or you two wouldn’t have anywhere to go!’ She gives us a grim smile and puts the kettle on. Clarissa starts getting bits of paper and leaflets out of her bag, and gives Sara her best fake grin.

‘Before I can, go we need to go through a few things together. Is that alright?’ Sara pulls a face.

‘Yeah, yeah. Fine. Kids, you could take your stuff up to your rooms. You can have the ones you used to stay in when you came here.’ We nod and heave our bags up the stairs.

 

‘Feels weird being here again.’ Sam comments, dumping his bag and stepping into his new room. ‘I wish we didn’t have to go to school. It’ll be so crap. I’m not gonna know anyone at all. ‘ I look at his face and see he truly is scared.

‘Well, I’ll only know Maddie, and that’s if she still lives here. So don’t worry. You’ll be fine.’ Of course Sam will be okay. He’s funny, friendly and cheerful. He’ll make friends in no time. I walk into my room, throw my bag on the floor and get out my phone, wondering whether I should call Maddie. I doubt she’ll even remember me, seeing as it’s been so long, but I press the call button anyway. Ever since I was little Maddie was my best friend every time I came here. We met at the park when we were five, and even though we lived so far apart, I’ve always felt close to her. She’s the only person I ever told about my Dad’s ‘job’, because I knew she wouldn’t judge me.

After waiting for ages I'm about to hang up when a voice screeches into my ear;

‘Stella!! Omigod! It’s so good to hear from you!!’ I was already smiling at her friendly, hyper voice.

‘Maddie! I know, it’s been ages!’

‘Yeah, so how are you? Why are you calling suddenly?’

‘Listen…Do you still go to Oakwood secondary?’

‘Yeah, why?’

She listens as I explain to her what’s happened in the last few months. It’s the first time I’ve talked to someone about it, and it’s a relief to get everything off my chest. When I’ve finished talking, there’s a small silence.

‘Oh…I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise. We have to meet up soon, now you live so close.’

‘Yeah.  So what’s Oakwood like?’

‘Oh, not so bad. I can’t wait for you to meet my friends! I normally go around with Lydia and Poppy, they’re really cool, and sometimes we hang with Poppy’s boyfriend Mikey and his mates Tom and Callum. I think you’ll like them, in fact, Mikey lives somewhere down your road.’

‘Great, erm, are you like…’

‘What?’

‘Are you popular?’

Maddie laughs.

‘Us? Nah. We’re not losers either, just in the middle. ‘

I relax when I hear this. The popular crowd at my old school all seemed to be bitches. They all pretended to be each other’s friends, when in actual fact they were all bitching and backstabbing, and only wanted things for themselves.

‘That’s alright then. You really don’t mind me tagging along with you?’

‘Are you kidding? It’s great. Do you want to meet up tomorrow?’

‘Yeah, I’ll text you when I’m free.’

‘Sounds cool!’

‘And, erm, do you mind not telling any of your friends why I’m here? It’s just that-‘

‘Don’t worry, I understand. I won’t tell them.’

I knew I could count on her.

‘Okay, bye then!’

‘See ya!’

I put the phone down and lie on my bed, staring up at the cream ceiling. Maybe this could be a fresh start after all.

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