Later, the downstairs phone rings - a series of annoying, off key chimes - and below me I hear my mother slowly creaking across the hall to answer it.
They're old, my parents, my mother and father, much older than everyone else's my age. It didn't mean they ever loved me less though - the opposite even. My father used to call me his 'little miracle daughter'. When they'd lost hope, started to give in to despair, the pregnancy tests were suddenly positive, and a little later, there I was. As I grew up, I stayed very close to them both - they'd be the first to hear about my various tribulations, and then the ones to celebrate with me when I triumphed. When I fell out with a friend I'd sob for hours, with my parents the only people there to comfort me.
Look at us now.
In my spare time I'm constantly out of the house, or else holed up on my room, alone, not ever coming downstairs willingly. It feels like months since I've had any real conversation with my parents - anything other than "How was your day?", "Fine.", "Good." or other monosyllable words to this effect.
I miss them. I miss the feeling of safety, of knowing that my parents will protect me - from anything, from everything. I miss being a young, innocent child; I miss not having to constantly watch my back, afraid that my friends might stab it.
Nowadays, I feel old, nearly as old as my parents: I feel like I carry the weight of the skies on my shoulders. A long, long time ago, I thought the few popular girls I knew had it easy - they were widely loved, by pupils and teachers alike...
Let me tell you something.
I was wrong. Very wrong in fact.
I have to worry about my image now, in a way I never had to before. Leave the house with my hair barely brushed then, and no one would have paid any notice. Now that I'm friends with Ashlin, with the cool, liked kids, I have to watch out. Can't let my mascara clump together in unattractive blobs or people will take note, whisper about such a tiny mistake as if it was a drugs scandal. Smother spots with concealer and foundation the minute they show their startling red faces, else my friends will likely stop speaking to me in case I'm 'contagious'.
My mother breaks my thoughts with her weary, tired voice. "Ethel? Ethel, it's for you."
I wince noticeably as a sharp pang bursts in my chest. It seems so long, oh so long, since anyone has called me Ethel. Now, it's just Elle this, Elle that.
Ethel. I never used to like my name - it reminded me of an old witch woman, sitting with twenty cats on a rocking chair - but now just the thought of it comforts me. Ethel. That's me, that's the me inside - not Elle, with her glamour and her faked, forced charisma.
"Ethel?" my mother calls again, a hint of impatience tinging her voice.
"Coming," I answer back, before languidly moving out my room and towards the stairs. I can't help but wonder who it is, who's calling me. I don't give my number out freely, and surely my friends could have rung my mobile far more easily.
My heart lurches at the thought of my mobile - the prank call, or whatever it was, is hanging in my memory still. I bite my lip, scolding myself. I'm trying to make someone's idea of a joke into something far far bigger, much much worse. It was obviously only someone having a little bit of fun: certainly nothing to worry over.
And yet, I still shiver at the memory. Still blink away the blind, scared, unwarranted fear.
It. Was. Nothing.
But what if it was?
"Ethel!" my mother half shouts, and I can hear her foot tapping in annoyance. I quickly shake away my hindrances, the distractions in my head, and stride towards the living room. The phone has been put down, and my mother stands limply in the middle of the space, mouth sad, downturned. "There was a boy on the phone," she says, her eyes doleful.
"Lysander," I reply immediately, naming my boyfriend. The boyfriend I never thought to tell my parents about. The kisses and dates that I never decided to share.
Wrong thing to say.
"Oh," says my mother. "Oh." Her back stiffens, and she makes an obvious effort not to seem so upset, so defeated. "He's coming to pick you up at seven. To take you somewhere nice, he said." She pauses, and then, "He sounded nice, too."
"Yes," I nod my head. "He is."
We stand there in silence for a moment, mother and daughter, once so close, now on completely different paths. I'm not thinking about any ridiculous prank calls any longer - I'm thinking about the effect this real life, real consequences call has had on my mum.
The mum I used to tell everything to, and now knows nothing, nothing at all about the person I have become. The person I am now.
My mother looks up at me, her voice quivering. "He called you Elle on the phone, Ethel."
I don't know what to say. I don't know how to react, except to try and combat this awful, overwhelming numbness. I nod, wordlessly, without a sound, and then I turn to exit the room.
I have to get ready to see Lysander now.