I bent over and picked up the apple juice carton. The cardboard had ripped and my fingers became very sticky. It left a yellow puddle of liquid on the vinyl flooring and looked horribly like the result of a small toddler having an accident!
“Oh, thank you so much, sweetie!” croaked Audrey, the shop’s most regular customer. “It’s much appreciated. I just seem to be so clumsy these days, I’m getting old. Arthur must be having such fun!” I was confused by this at first. Then I realised she’s just like my Gran, being taken over by arthritis. Arthur Itis.
“You’re welcome. Any other way I can help?” I asked politely. I didn’t wait for a reply; reaching up to the top shelf of the fridge I got Audrey a new, intact carton of juice.
“Sweetie, thank you!” she clasped her hands together in appreciation before taking the juice from me. “I could have gone without but my grandson, Ben, he just loves apple juice. Thanks a million for your trouble!”
“It was no trouble, honestly!”
As Audrey walked to the till to pay, Amy flashed me a short wink as if to say “Nice one”. Everyone says I’m good at working in the shop, despite my age. I walked through the Staff Only door and into the storeroom. I grabbed the mop and was on my way out when Christie called me from the office, the room that comes off from the storeroom.
“Hiya sis, it’s my JoJoJayJayJosieJo! Come and help will you?” We’ve always had this thing, my sister and I, where she calls me by all my nicknames at once because she can’t decide on one! She looked up from the laptop and groaned. “Rrrr! Darn it! That mother of mine always leaves me in charge of the maths parts on the accounts which she knows too well I can’t do!” I pulled up a chair beside her and finished off all the bits she couldn’t do. To be honest, I found it quite easy, although I guess I am top set!
“What’s the mop for eh?”
“Oh it’s no bother just...” I started.
“Audrey? I thought I heard her come in!” Christie finished my sentence. “Dad says we’re seeing Gran this weekend by the way. Any idea when you’re going to see your mum next?”
“No, oh well. You know what she’s like!” I scuffed the floor with my worn Clarks trainers. I felt my cheeks starting to burn and my eyes were stinging. I tried to cover my face with my fringe as I feared I may start to cry just from thinking about my mum. It’s alright for Christie, she’s older, got both her parents, has everything she needs and doesn’t have anything to worry about. Whereas me? I should be so lucky!
You see Dad and Sarah, Christies mum, had Christie then split up, then Dad got with my mum and they got married. They had me but then Dad ruined everything by blaming Mum for hitting on some other bloke when it was completely the other way round! So they broke up. Now miraculously Dad is back with Sarah and has started to play happy families all over again. Now unfortunately we’re all lumbered with Tom the Tombo (sorry, insiders joke!) my stupid, idiotic, annoying, selfish, stinking kid brother! He’s even better off than Christie, he’s got both his parents too and he’s only ten so he wasn’t around to see all the pain and upset I had to go through.
“Hey, shh, don’t cry!” she said, giving me a hug. “Do me a favour and see if that Roxy’s arrived yet, Amy’s shift ended ten minutes ago!”
I went back out into the shop and started to mop up the mess. I had just finished when Carter Myers and Shannon Jones, my two best friends walked in!
“Are you alright there Miss Caretaker?” Carter joked.
“Shut up; get on with your Mummy’s shopping!” We all laughed as I put the mop back where it belonged and gave them both a hug. Amy left me to look after the shop, apologising that she had to rush off because she had an appointment with her dentist and how she was sure that Roxy would arrive soon etc etc etc... Carter blabbered on about some ‘hot’ girl called Kylie Himmonds who was on some stupid war programme called Shot Dead where she was this ‘ace’ woman soldier who was ‘sick’ at shooting with some sort of gun with three digits at the end! Shannon said she’d had to listen to the whole thing on the way! To be honest I couldn’t care less about Kylie what’s-her-face, I’m more interested in a new soap called Bentley High. It’s set in a high school and everybody, including me I hate to say, thought it would be rubbish but it’s awesome!
I’ve known Carter and Shannon since reception, in fact before that! Wow, that’s a long time. Carter is neither mine nor Shannon’s boyfriend because we’re really good as best mates and anyway he couldn’t be in any kind of sloppy, kissy relationship with one of us because he never stops talking about other girls. Carter cares about me and Shannon and we care about him and we promised that when... if we ever get girlfriends or boyfriends we’d never let them get in the way of our friendship! And it never has... so far! That sounded dramatic. Anyway I can’t be bothered with boys right now because I am always working in this flaming shop!
After they left I had to endure half an hour of ‘Do you know where this is love?’ and ‘You’re a bit of a youngster to be working in ‘ere ain’t you?’ and ‘What a nice little shop this is, you’re so lucky you could afford it, I bet my pension can only afford a chocolate bar!’ This comment came from a very confused old lady who seemed to think I was older than I am; she also thanked me for inviting her to my eighteenth birthday party. She told me it went down like a hoot. I had to bite my cheeks to stop myself laughing! In fact I was sucking the inside of my cheek where I’d bitten too hard when Roxy walked in!
“I’m so sorry, babe! I kept saying ‘No I need to go now, no really I do!’ but Mum wouldn’t listen! I was at her house, you know?” she gasped. “Then the bus had to be late so I waited at the stop for ages and then I got a cab because the bus didn’t turn up but the bloke wouldn’t take me the whole way because I didn’t have enough cash on me at the time. I said please, I’m getting my wages today, you see, so when I get them I’ll call the firm and pay you back. But the dude wouldn’t listen, what a right type he was eh? Then there were no spaces in the ...” I’ll cut it short, this went on for a while! I reassured her and said I had handled the shop fine and she calmed down and said I could finish my shift early as I’d already done most of hers!
Roxy is the kind of gal who says ‘gal’ not ‘girl’! She is really skinny with glossy, black hair scraped back into a ponytail that is always tied with the blue and yellow hair band which is part of the girls’ uniform at the shop. Then she wears blue eye-shadow, loads of blusher, mascara and lipstick! Another part of the uniform is a baggy, blue shirt with ‘The Corner Shop’ in yellow. She tightens it so its shows off a lot of her flat stomach and shows how grown up she is around her chest! You know what I mean! Then there are the blue trousers that she substitutes for blue skinny jeans. And to top it off she doesn’t wear black ‘simple’ shoes, instead it’s all the way for high heels! She may be mad and bad because she has never turned up on time, but I like her. She’s funny and very supportive and she treats me like a friend not a little kid.
I thanked Roxy and put a fifty pence piece in her hand.
“Oh, don’t pay me for being nice!” she giggled, thrusting it back into my hand.
“No stupid, I’m buying some sweets. Are you going to serve me or not?”
“Oh, oh yes of course.” She cleared her throat. “How can I help you Miss?”
“I’d like the usual please, a bag of Mr Bubbles Bubble Gems.” I love those sweets, shops have a big tub of them and the shopkeeper scoops them into a brown, paper bag like a proper old fashioned sweet shop. They are all different colours and flavours and they are shaped like little balls. I especially like them because they are so juicy like you’re eating real fruit! I get them all the time!
“Alright, that’s fifty pence please!” I handed back the coin and we both laughed.
“I’m going to my room, see you later Roxy!” I said as I walked back into the storeroom.
“Bye, babe!” she called.
I poked my head round the door of the office to see if Christie was OK. She was slouched on the moth-eaten sofa in the corner. It was covered in patches of random pieces of fabric where Shannon and I had tried to salvage the tears. I could see that it was spotted with dust and I swear that I saw some mould on one of the arm rests! She was listening to Ed Sheeran singing about Lego Houses and humming along, tapping her fingers on the side table.
“Ooh hello JoJoJayJayJosieJo! What you up to?” she said over the music.
“Oh nothing much, I’m just going up to the flat!”
“And out of all these things I’ve done...”
“Huh?” I questioned.
“What? Oh right, no it’s nothing, that’s just part of the song!” she laughed.
“You’re crazy!” I said. “See you later!”
At the back of the storeroom there is a flight of stairs which leads to the flat upstairs where Christie, Dad, Sarah, Tom and I all live. I walked up the stairs and got my key from my pocket and pushed it into the lock. The door opened as I pushed and I stepped back in surprise. From inside I could hear muffled sobs. I opened the door slightly wider and crept inside. I was in the hallway and my room (which I have to share with Tom) is first on the right, next to that is the bathroom and on the left is Dad and Sarah’s room. Further down the corridor are the kitchen, living room and Christie’s bedroom. But I couldn’t see anyone in any of the rooms. I went back into my room to get my phone when I looked up and saw that the trapdoor to the attic was slightly ajar. I climbed onto a chair and opened it fully. At the time I didn’t know exactly what had happened until a size three pair of trainers flew at my face! Tom’s trainers.
“Go away!” a voice yelled.
“Tom?” I called. “Hey, Tombo, what are you doing up there? The ceiling is done for; you know that!” I didn’t know what was wrong with him, but he never cries so I knew it was serious. As a roommate he’s pretty cool! Well, he’s still my half brother and he’s still very irritating at times but we stay up half the night and he’s really funny! He even stocks us up with sweets! There’s a bunk bed in our room but we only ever use the top bunk, I sleep there and he sleeps in another bed. The bottom bunk is our den! We put loads of blankets and cushions and sweets there and snuggle up in the middle of the night, nice and cosy! We tell each other ghost stories and secrets. I’ve told him my most private secrets and he doesn’t tell anyone or laugh, he just smiles and says ‘That’s ok’ or ‘Don’t worry about it’. I know deep down I love him (forget I said that ok?!?!) He’s the best brother I could ask for, not that I did ask for one or anything! So I knew I had to make him feel better.
“Please come down, you know I can’t come up to you. That ceiling won’t take my weight too!” I said comfortingly. “Please?”
I saw my mobile flashing on the bed-side table as it started to vibrate and play a stupid little tune. What bad timing. And that was the understatement of the century! I saw a photo of a woman in sun glasses and a hat on my phone and the words ‘Mum’s calling’ on the screen. That picture was taken when Mum, Dad, Christie and I all went to Barcelona together on a holiday. That was the last picture I took before everything went wrong. I was so happy. I hadn’t spoken to her in ages! I jumped down from the chair and picked up my phone.
“Hey Mum!” I said.
“What’s going on?” asked Tom.
“Josie! How are you, my love?”
“I’m fine thanks!” I told Mum. And then I shouted up to Tom: “It’s ok, I’m on the phone.”
“Yes I know, love!” laughed Mum.
“Ok, don’t tell her I’m upset!” said Tom.
“I won’t!” I replied.
“You won’t ... What won’t you do, love? What’s happening, are you ok?” asked Mum.
“I’m going to have to call you back!” I didn’t wait for her reply before hanging up. I reassured Tom that everything was going to be fine all over again but he didn’t budge. I just sat on the bottom bunk...waiting. I don’t know how long I waited but I think Tom thought I had left. I heard the ceiling creak, and then a leg dangled down from the trapdoor and then two. Then Tom’s whole body appeared on the floor of the bedroom. His back was to me so he didn’t notice me. But then he turned to close the trapdoor. And I could barely distinguish his face...through all the blood.