“V! You need to get up!” comes the call through the door. I wake reluctantly, only now realising how late we must have been up last night. The knocking on the door prompts me to sit up and call a tired response.
“OK, I’m up,” I say through the fog of my bleary eyes.
“There should be a spare uniform in there for you, I’ll see you downstairs in about five minutes OK?” Abi replies.
“OK,” I call after her, swinging my legs around to get out of bed.
I stand shakily, my legs not only tired, but out of practise. Still, I manage to find the clothes she was talking about and change into them relatively quickly. The jumper is a little short and is clearly designed for someone with a bit more weight than me. The shirt is about the right size, if a little baggy in places. None of the clothes are damaged or, it seems, worn at all. It feels strange to be wearing something new for the first time in such a long time. In fact, these probably fit me better than the uniform I usually wear.
I glance around the room for my bag, but remember that I left it at my house. I’ll have to go and pick it up on the way to school. For now, I shouldn’t worry; I suppose they’ve made breakfast for me downstairs. I should at least be a little more energised today, despite my condition.
I head out of the door and find myself on a narrow landing, a watercolour painting hangs above the stairs, which I stumble down, still not quite awake. Abi is waiting for me eagerly at the bottom of the stairs, she hugs me then signals for me to follow her. She leads me into the largest kitchen I have ever seen, a woman sits alone at the table, I assume she is Abi’s mother. While Abi searches through the cupboards, her mother notices me and gestures to a chair opposite her.
“Don’t just stand there, sit down,” she says, eyes drawn to my gloved hand. “So you’re the girl Finn and Ellie found?” she asks.
I nod, pulling back the chair and sitting down heavily.
“And your name is…”
“Volani,” I reply quickly. “N-nice to meet you.”
She doesn’t seem surprised by my stutter, I suppose she thinks I’m just tired and not thinking straight. Abi puts down a plate in front of me and another in front of the seat next to me before kissing my cheek, much to her mother’s surprise.
“You two are good friends then?” she asks. Abi laughs as she walks over to where some eggs are frying.
“V’s my girlfriend,” she replies bluntly. Her mother smiles for a second, then becomes stern as she turns to Abi.
“What do you mean, dear?” she asks, quite unnecessarily. Abi rolls her eyes as obviously as she can before responding.
“I mean that I love her,” she says, “and V loves me.”
I nod to back her up, watching as her mother takes it in. I never even considered how Abi’s parents would react; I suppose I just assumed they couldn’t be any worse than Dad, so it didn’t seem worth thinking about. On second thoughts, they’ll probably have more of a problem with it, seeing as Dad doesn’t quite know what’s going on most of the time. It’s more that his usual self is worse than most people when they’re really mad. He doesn’t care who I kiss, he doesn’t even know who I am half the time, but Abi’s parents might care. Especially on the evidence I’ve seen so far.
“Are you sure, Abigail? This seems awfully rushed to me,” Abi’s mother says, though I don’t think even she thinks it will make a difference.
“Mum, you know I don’t like being called that,” Abi scowls as she brings the eggs over to us, making sure to dish mine out first and with the most care. “And I don’t think it matters how long I’ve known her.”
I smile to myself at Abi’s defiance, imagining the thoughts going through her mother’s brain. Her stare quickly wipes the smile away, as she starts to formulate her next argument. She opens her mouth, but closes it again, thinking better of it. She turns back to me, locking her eyes onto mine, reading every emotion that crosses them.
“Very well,” she says, still staring. “If that is what you wish, but you, Volani, must promise not to hurt Abigail in any way. If you do, believe me, I will not let you get away with it.”
“I promise,” I reply quickly, without a doubt. Of course, I would never hurt her, but my Dad might. Abi squeezes my hand as she walks past with some bacon that smells divine, flashing me a quick smile. Her mother seems satisfied with my promise, but seems to have another question on her lips. After a while, her curiosity overcomes her.
“Tell me, Volani, where is that accent from?”
“Šluknov,” I reply. A realisation crosses her face, as the name rings a bell in her mind. I suppose she knows more about the Czech Republic than I thought.
“Ah, my husband has a few contacts over there; I suppose you came over from the poorer districts?”
“Yes, we moved when-n my paren-nts split up.”
She raises an eyebrow at that; I suppose she doesn’t agree with divorce.
“Who do you live with now?” she asks.
“My Dad,” I reply, a little reluctantly. This is beginning to feel like more of an interrogation than a conversation.
“Where?” she asks as Abi serves the sausages and hands me some cutlery, before sitting next to me.
“You probably wouldn-n’t kn-now it,” I say, trying to dodge the question. She spots my attempt straight away, pressing further.
“I doubt that, why don’t you tell me?”
I feel an itching in my left hand and start to get nervous. I know I can’t tell her, because if she knew we’d lose the house, our one place of relative safety. Abi steps in to try and diffuse the situation.
“Come on Mum, leave it, it’s not that important, you’ve already brought up enough.”
“Abigail, please don’t tell me what I can and cannot do, I am fully capable of deciding that on my own.”
Abi scowls at the use of her first name, but gets over it quickly and starts eating. I tentatively cut off a piece of the sausage and let the flavour fill my mouth, it tastes even better than it smells. This is what I miss; being able to taste something delicious and know that there is more to come. My bliss is interrupted once again by Abi’s mother.
“Mum!” Abigail protests. “Let her eat in peace.”
She seems a little taken aback by the outburst, but finally ends her question and lets us enjoy our food. I glance at Abi and mouth a silent ‘Thank You’ as I take a piece of bacon and let my tongue experience the simple wonders of cooked meat again.
Then I see the time, I realise that if I want to get my bag, I’m going to have to leave soon. I put down my knife and fork and thank Abi for the food, she seems confused.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“I n-need to get my bag f-f-from home,” I explain. She drops her cutlery and stands up to come with me.
“I’ll come with you,” she says excitedly.
“N-no, I’d rather you didn-n’t,” I protest. She gives me a strange look, which I return with a look which I hope says ‘You can come later’ but I doubt it does. Whatever she thinks I mean, she seems to accept that I don’t want her to accompany me. She sits back down and reluctantly returns to her food.
I leave the room and find the front door after a few minutes of wandering aimlessly. I find my shoes on the doormat and slip into them, ignoring their slight dampness. The door is unlocked, so I gently push it open and leave the house.
Looking behind me, I see that this house is much like any other in this part of the town, but far larger and more modern than any I have seen around where I live. The property is detached, if only just, and made of a sandy-coloured brick. Its walls are smooth and clean, no sign of wear at all. The house is in a condition I could only dream of.
I turn and leave the house behind me.