I'm in the middle of re-applying my make up, and the voice startles me, knocking the mascara wand out of my hand. "What?" I call down in annoyance. Lysander can't be here yet, after all. He lives miles away, on the other side of the town, and even if he took the bus he would arrive only in another fifteen minutes.
"There's a boy at the door." My mother, the owner of the voice, pauses, and then: "You know. The one on the phone."
Her unspoken words ring clear in my head. The one you didn't tell me about. The boyfriend I didn't realise you had. "What?" I call again, frantically running my fingers through my still wet hair. He can't be here yet. He can't be. I'm not even ready - barely halfway presentable.
My hair hangs in soggy tendrils around my face, concealer and slightly smudged mascara the only makeup I've had time to apply. I'm not wearing anything particularly nice or special - just the old clothes I threw on on arriving home from school.
"You heard me, Ethel. You should hurry, or he'll get impatient."
"But I'm not ready," I pout, rolling my eyes with frustration I can't be bothered to try and conceal.
"Ethel..." my mother warns, and I hear her fumbling about downstairs searching for the keys to open the door to the boy. Frantically, I run to my dodgy old hair dryer, which insists on only blowing cold air, and plug it in to the socket, picking it up and waving it around my head like a lunatic. Downstairs, I can hear the door being opened, and my mother greeting Lysander.
"Ethel!" she calls, a little crankiness showing in her tone. "Ethel, your erm... Friend is here." To my visitor she says aside, "What did you say your name was again?"
"Lysander," I supply helpfully, trudging into earshot. "I'm here."
"Er... No, actually," says the boy at the door, who I now see is not Lysander, as I suspected he would be, at all. "My name's Greg." He extends a hand to my mother, who shakes it hesitantly, raising her eyebrow quizzically at me. "And, may I say," he continues smoothly, his voice showing only the tiniest amusement, "That you do look lovely today Ethel."
My face burns red, heat rising through my cheeks and flushing them a dark, unbecoming shade of deep crimson.
He's poking fun at me. He's dialled my phone number, come to my house and now he's poking fun at me, at my bedraggled, hardly perfect appearance. Even in the old days - back when looks didn't matter, and I didn't know Ashlin - I wouldn't have let a boy see me dead looking so terribly bedraggled as I do now.
Smiling stiffly I descend the staircase to meet him. I should say something - berate him for coming here, make sure he never approaches me again. As a matter of fact, I almost - almost - do, and I wouldn't have any qualms about attacking him here and now... If it weren't for my mother.
My mother, standing so still with such a bemused expression, her forehead creased.
I can't do that to her. I can't let her worry about me, and my stupid, insignificant life, when there are far more important things there to worry her. I'm not going to tell her that Greg isn't my boyfriend - that he's actually just some bastard who fancies that he can waltz up to my house and 'take me somewhere nice'.
My lip curls.
"See you later then, Ma'am," Greg is saying, his smile smug, confident that I'm not going to tell her that he shouldn't be here. Holding his arm out to me, he starts to walk out of the open door, his irritating smile still firmly in place.
I shove his arm away.
Screw worrying my mother.
My temper has always been relatively mild - I tend to get upset or frustrated rather than full blown angry. Still, that doesn't stop me now from glaring at him with utter contempt, telling him as calmly as I can manage, to get out of my house, to never speak to me again. I didn't give him my number, or my address, and yet, somehow, he turns up here, posing as my boyfriend, wanting to take me on a date of some sort.
A date which, I make sure he notes, will never, ever happen
It's an invasion of personal privacy, that I don't take kindly too. I don't know what Greg, a boy I barely know, is thinking to come here - take the time to actually dig my home number and street address out from somewhere or other. He's like a bloody schoolboy stalker.
My face is contorted into a mean, scrunched up snarl, my words coated in cruel condescension while he stands silently, his face shocked - a stark contrast to my mother's carefully blank expression, a mask hiding so much hurt confusion behind it.
I stop suddenly, looking to her with pleading apology in my eyes, showing her that I'm not meaning to upset her, or stress her, despite what things probably seem. My mouth closes slowly, mid insult, as I see the salt water tears creating a film over her eyes.
And that's when my phone rings, a familiar chime from the depths of my jeans pockets, cutting through the tensed silence with a sharpened knife. My hand still shaking from my outburst, I reach in to take the call, to silence the cheesy ringtone Ashlin has downloaded for me.
With one finger, tipped with perfectly painted pink nail, I press answer.
A tinny, muffled voice spews from the oblong, speaking my name in a chilling, icy monotone.