The night is loud, the snarls of the wind hitting hard against the window, even though the television is on. Every so often, Mia turns down the television so we can hear the wind fight in its loneliness in the night. Rain sometimes sympathises the wind, joining in and patting gently against the window.
“It’s late,” Mia says, “You’d better go to bed, hm?”
I shake my head, “I don’t want to go to bed until Dad comes back and tells us that Mum’s okay.” I feel like a little child, complaining about something stupid.
“I don’t think he’s going to come back for a while, now. I want to go to bed, Ella-May. You’ve got school tomorrow.”
“You sound like Mum,” I idly comment.
Mia’s voice turns cold, “Don’t say that…Come on, let’s go now.”
I reluctantly get up, leaving the living room. “You know I’m not going to get to sleep?”
“Yes, I know.”
I make my way up the stairs, and I get ready for bed. Mia enters my room when I’m getting my bed ready.
“Don’t cry, Smella,” Mia says. I furrow my eyebrows momentarily, not realising that tears were sliding down my cheeks. “Come here.” Mia wraps her arms around me, blocking my arms from mirroring her action. She rests her chin on my head, makes some comment on how I’m just the right height. “You don’t need to worry about Mum,” she says after a while.
I take in a sharp breath, “You weren’t there, Mia. You don’t know what it was like. She didn’t seem to know who I was, like…”
“Doesn’t matter,” I sigh.
I don’t reply to Mia, and I hear her release a slightly frustrated sigh. “Alright then, how about you sleep in my bedroom? Just for tonight?”
I look up at Mia, and smile, “Yes please.” Mia laughs, and releases me.
I help Mia pull the mattress into her room, and I prepare that bed. Once Mia and I are both in bed, and have been attempting to fall asleep for about twenty minutes, Mia speaks, obviously knowing I hadn’t dropped off yet.
“Listen to the wind, Smella. Each gust of wind is blowing your worries further and further away. The rain is humming you to sleep. Feel the wind lift and carry your worries and fears away, places you can’t reach, and won’t until the morning. They’re far away, now, Smella. You’ve nothing to worry about. The rain will sing you to unconsciousness.”
The next morning, Mia gets me ready for school. She won’t let me into Mum’s and Dad’s room, so I don’t know if Dad’s back yet or sleeping in, and whether Mum is with him.
I wait on the bus for Jenna, and she comes on bubbly and very excitable.
“Ella-May, I really need to talk to you!” she exclaims, swinging down on the seat and sliding her bag off her back. She fiddles with the zip, which is forever getting caught.
“What?” I say grumpily. I know she won’t notice my mood: she’ll be too in awe of whatever she’s got to tell me to worry about how I’m feeling.
“I’ve brought something in. I don’t need to be caught by any teachers, okay, so I’ve made up a cover-up story. Basically, you need to –”
“What’ve you brought in?” I interrupt.
Jenna smiles, and looks around her, as if a teacher would be directly behind her and listening in to our conversation. She leans in towards me, and whispers in my ear, “Alcohol.”
“No, Jenna,” I shake my head, “You shouldn’t bring that into school.”
Jenna’s eyes sparkle, “Exactly.”
I swallow, unsure whether to protest or not. But something about my Mum makes me want to feel sure of myself, not to be overlooked. I speak up, “No, Jenna, I don’t want to be part of it.”
“What?” Jenna practically spits in my face, “Are you kidding me, Ella-May? Are you really just not going to be part of it,” she clicks her fingers, “just like that?”
I grind my teeth slowly, unsurely. I try to think quickly of what to say, but Jenna speaks again before I get a chance to.
“At least know what the plan is in the first place. Right, I’ll probably want some at break time, so I put it in my normal water bottle. Now, if anyone notices, you just say that it’s my medication for…I dunno, make up something.”
“Why do I have to say that?”
Jenna rolls her eyes, “It’s more believable if you say it, Ella-May. The teachers trust you more.”
“You didn’t really bring alcohol into school, did you?” I say, tilting my head to one side slightly. I nervously scratch my lower jaw, playing with the thin golden chain that’s around my neck. Hanging is a heart that opens, holding a picture of my family about five years ago, when I was about ten, and Mum was healthy.
Jenna looks at me as if I’m stupid, “Uh, yeah,” she unzips her bag, pulling out a water bottle. “Hold out your hand,” she orders. I do, and before I can protest, she squirts some of the liquid into my hand. “Quick, drink it,” she tells me, and I have no other choice than to slurp at it. The zingy taste of wine stings my tongue, and I close my eyes, shuddering slightly at the taste of it. I’ve never liked wine.
The thought of wine reminds me of the boy whose name I didn’t ask for, the boy I danced with at the party on Sunday. I bite the inside of my lip as I remember that the boy I danced with is Jenna’s brother, Connor. I had never had a proper conversation with him, and hadn’t recognised him at the party. I feel guilty for saying what I did to Connor whilst I was at Jenna’s house, despite the fact that it wasn’t anything much. I shake away the guilt, telling myself that Jenna’s done far worse stuff than I have. But even if I try to shake off the guilt, it still clings on, like an annoying piece of chewing gum stuck to my shoe. I want to ignore it, but it stays there, hidden on the sole of my shoe, sticking to the ground as I walk and restricting me from moving my foot.
“You’re going to get in trouble, Jenna. It’s not allowed.”
She smiles, “I know it isn’t. But just because it’s not allowed doesn’t mean I’m going to get caught. Seriously, Ella, trust me on this.” she smirks briefly, victoriously.
“Don’t call me that,” I mutter through gritted teeth.
Jenna raises her eyebrows, “Be on my side, then, Ella.”
I gnaw my lip, staring at Jenna’s face, thick with make-up. I know that Mia would be saying ‘you can do better than this’, but I’m not sure I can believe Mia. Jenna stares at me with her cunning eyes, knowing she’s got me this time. I want to refuse, show her that I don’t care what she does.
“No,” I tell her.
Shock flashes on Jenna’s face momentarily, before she poorly covers it up, “So, Ella, how is your Mum lately? Hmm?”
“I don’t think she is,” she laughs, “You know, I reckon that when she screams that your Dad’s going to hurt her, it’s because he actually does. When you’re not looking.”
“How do you know if you’re not looking?”
I keep my mouth shut, looking down at my hands, tracing the grooves, wondering how someone can tell the future by them, and what they’d say. A broken promise.
“Oh, I see how it is,” she pauses, “You’re not denying it. You’ve seen it happen, haven’t you? You’ve seen your Dad hurt your Mum, and then blame it on your Mum’s illness. It’s true, isn’t it?”
She laughs, “That’s hardly fighting your ground.”
Yasmin gets on the bus, “Hey Jenna.”
“Hey. Oh, you know Ella’s Mum?” she says, turning to Yasmin. I look up to watch Yasmin’s eyebrows furrow together.
Jenna grins, “I’ll tell you. Right, so –”
“Jenna,” I say sternly, stopping her, cutting her off. She turns to me, asking what. “That is my secret.”
“Um-hm, I know.”
“My secret to tell.”
“Well, earlier you weren’t talking, so I thought I’d be generous and tell Yasmin the secret for you.” she smiles again, “Unless, of course, you want to tell the secret…?”
Secret: noun, something kept unknown by others, I want to say, but I know what her reaction would be: laugh, call me a nerd, and turn back to Yasmin to complete her story.
I nod, and tell Yasmin, “A secret that’s for me to know, and you to never find out.”
“Cliché much,” Jenna sneers, “What she really means is her Mum’s mentally ill and her Dad beats –”
“JENNA!” the scream is released unexpectedly from my lungs, urgently trying to stop her. She was talking to Yasmin so quickly, I hadn’t much time to stop her.
Jenna turns to me, look more happy than anything. “Are you going to help me?”
I watch her eyes buzz; she knows that I have no other option. I swallow, and say quietly, “Yes, yes I will.”
In English classes, I sit next to Jenna. She pesters and leans over my work, copying it word for word. I’ve long given up trying to have a barrier between our work with my hand: she simply either moves it away, or says something about how I’m such a bad friend, how she won’t be my friend anymore, how she’d do the same thing for me, and in the end I’ll just let her copy it so she’d shut up.
Jenna pulls out her water bottle, full with the forbidden drink. She sips at it frequently, her giggling becomes more regular, her actions sloppier and lazy.
I try to ignore her, but when it comes to doing work, she teases and laughs at me even more than she’d usually do – and louder, too. She continuously keeps exclaiming ‘Oh, Ella-May!’, causing people to look over at us, questioning the laughter.
About half way through the lesson, the teacher approaches us, squatting down to our seated height. He turns the books around and views our work, muttering something inaudible about our work. Jenna continues to giggle at stupid things, like the teacher dropping his pen on the floor, or him just simply sniffing.
“Jenna, are you alright?” he asks.
Jenna smiles, “I’m fine, sir!” She reaches for her drink and consumes yet more of her wine.
“What is that that you’re drinking?” he asks, picking up the water bottle. He looks expectedly at both of us, “Excuse me, I asked you a question. What is this that you’re drinking?”
Jenna elbows me. I had decided to not help Jenna, despite my promise. But, of course, Jenna isn’t stupid. She’ll just spread things that aren’t true about my Mum and Dad.
Jenna reminds me, in a faint whisper that the teacher wouldn’t be able to hear, “Ella.”
I swallow hard, hiding my shaking hands under the table, “It’s her medication.” After the words have left my mouth, I suddenly realise how stupid the lie is. Nobody’s going to believe that – what type of medicine do you always drink? I frantically search my brain for a better reason why she’s drinking alcohol, but I can’t find any under the stress.
“Ella-May, Jenna, I don’t think any doctor in the world would subscribe,” he sniffs the drink, “alcohol to a fourteen-year-old girl that she’d have to drink at school?”
It’s a rhetorical question, but after Jenna’s had some alcohol, she doesn’t quite realise that, “My doctor.”
“Both of you are in isolation, tomorrow for the entire day, you hear me?” he says sternly, eying both of us.
“I haven’t drunken any!” I protest. I clamp my hand over my mouth. I’ve never talked back to a teacher before.
“And what’s the proof?” he asks, “Besides, you’ve lied to me, Ella-May. This school does not tolerate lying. You’ve helped Jenna plan to rebel against the school rules. You are both as bad as each other.”
I gawp at him, as he stands up and walks away, taking Jenna’s drink with him, confiscating it.
“Jenna!” I say, turning to her. She shrugs.