I slept well that night, and the rest of the week even though school was getting close. I wondered whether to ring Beth – she had given me her number before I left. I couldn’t return the favour because we didn’t have a phone line installed. I’d never really needed one. The few times I’d ever needed to ring up anywhere I’d used a payphone.
I didn’t want to seem too clingy though, she might want some time to herself…
I’d hidden the money I stole with everything else I valued behind the loose skirting board without even counting it – I didn’t really want to think about it too much.
I did think over what had happened, I’d nearly gotten seriously hurt – I really needed to cut my hair. Not that I was going to try anything like that again but I’d gotten in a fight twice in the last week. If anything like that happened again I’d hate to get caught out like that. I was wondering how I was going to do it myself but then I thought I could ask Beth, she’d have a decent chance of actually making it look ok. I’d ask her at school.
Sunday night Mom woke again. She had a few dollars left from the money I’d stolen so I went to get her a tin of soup or something. I was pretty hungry myself; I’d eaten my whole buffer in the last three days. I’d been planning on having it last a week and a half. I’d gotten used to eating so much food at the beginning of the week… I was feeling so much stronger than usual though. I felt alert. I hadn’t known how tired I was until… I wasn’t. I guess it’s all relative. I’d done my homework in half the time it usually took.
She didn’t say much to me, which was a relief, just eating the food I’d cooked in silence. I took the bowl and spoon off her to wash; it was easier as soon as possible without hot water. She was lucid enough to let me take her stinking sweat soaked clothes and give her a quick, if limited, wash with a bowl of water, dry her and get her dressed in something a bit cleaner.
She lay down and went back to sleep without another word leaving me without anything to do but some washing before getting some sleep for school.
I decided to be extravagant and have a shower, the cold wasn’t so bad now I was feeling stronger and for some reason I had the urge to feel clean and refreshed – cold showers were always refreshing whether you wanted it or not. Needless to say, I didn’t spend long in there.
I studied myself in the cracked mirror above the sink, I liked being clean. If I was going to ask Beth to cut my hair I should probably brush it or something, I didn’t think she’d want to be anywhere near this knotty mess. I found an old hairbrush in the pile of stuff in the wonky cupboard, I wasn’t even sure we still had it.
Brushing my hair was harder than I expected, the ends were so tangled together I couldn’t even get it through. I definitely needed Beth’s help with this mess, her hair was so nice.
I can’t believe I’m thinking so much about my hair.
* * *
The first half of my return to school was blissfully quiet. I hadn’t met Haley or any of her gang. I kept finding myself thinking about lunch though. I was watching the clock waiting for class to be over.
Normally it came so fast, today it seemed to be taking forever.
After an age the bell rang and everyone filtered out of the classroom. Everybody seemed to be moving infuriatingly slowly. My heart felt like it was in my mouth as I walked into the canteen and I scanned around for Beth.
She wasn’t here yet. My heart fell back down to its normal place. I am so stupid.
No, it was fine, she hadn’t arrived yet. Not many people had got here. There wasn’t even a queue.
I got a lot more food than usual, I could eat more now and it made sense to get as much as possible while I could. I had the clever idea of getting some rolls from the soup stand and going to the salad bar and filling them. I could shove them in my bag for later today.
I took my usual seat and tried to eat as much as possible, with mixed success. The longer it took Beth to get here the less I felt like eating. Eventually I gave up and just watched to room waiting for her to enter.
My heart did a little flip when I saw her come through the main door then sank again when I saw her talking to someone. Some boy.
Well, it made sense that she had other friends right? Not everyone was like me, it was normal to have friends. I just hadn’t considered it. I watched them queue and take their trays. They were still talking. Beth laughed. I wondered what she was laughing at, hoping it wasn’t me.
To my surprise Beth dragged him to my table. I had assumed that she’d sit on her own with him and wasn’t prepared for it.
“Hi Alexis, you look nice today!” She said. I felt myself blushing. I had tried to brush my hair and worn the clothes I’d borrowed from her. “Let me introduce you to Mike, he’s been my friend for years. Mike, this is Alexis who I told you about.”
“Hey.” He said as they sat down. I didn’t know what to say back so I just kept quiet. “Wow, you are smaller than I expected.”
Ok, what was that supposed to mean? I must have looked confused because he continued.
“I saw you on the news, I couldn’t really recognise you but Beth was telling me what happened.”
“Mike! I told you. Don’t bug her about it.” I think Beth kicked him under the table because he gave her a pained look.
“But it was totally badass! That guy must have been shitting himself. I wish I had been there, it – Ow!” She’d landed another kick on his shin. “Fine fine, I’m just saying it was cool.”
He was holding his hands up in surrender and didn’t mention the subject again. Beth started talking about the holiday she’d been on with her mom and dad last summer. I hadn’t heard her talk much about her dad, I think he was in the military and wasn’t home much. Mike jumped in with all the right comments and laughed in all the right places. I listened as the talk flowed uninterrupted into Mike talking about someone he’d met on his last holiday. He’d been funny apparently.
I wished I could make Beth laugh like that, or just talk to her like that. We’d spent most of our time together without talking much at all.
I was actually happy when lunch ended. I wanted to get away.
In my evening classes my mood was the polar opposite of that morning. I had wanted to ask Beth if she would cut my hair but I hadn’t wanted to interrupt them.
To deepen my bad mood I was in a class with Haley and one of her friends – Samantha I think her name was. Being in a class with Haley was a lot of effort. She had been throwing chewed up lumps of paper at me trying to get them caught in my hair without me noticing. When she went past to collect some books she knocked my bag off my table, on the way back she kicked it so it slid under someone else’s.
Just before the class ended she came up to me, flicking her blond hair. I was on edge by now – I really didn’t know what to expect from her. I pulled my arms up to cover my chest in case she tried to hit me.
As she walked past her hand darted out like she was trying to land a punch. Sharp pain blossomed in my arm. It wasn’t like being hit; she shouldn’t have been able to hurt me that much punching me in the arm like that.
On instinct as a reaction to the pain I lashed out with my other arm. It wasn’t calculated, my hand wasn’t really a fist and I didn’t connect solidly enough to do any damage.
But yes, I punched her in the face.