“Beth, shh!” I gave her sleeve another tug to try get her to move closer to the door. If there’s one thing I hate more than social contact its attention. A shop full of people dropping what they were doing and looking at me was almost paralysing.
I wanted to get out of there, fast.
But Beth wouldn’t move, for whatever reason.
“She… she can’t do that.” She turned to the cashier. “Please, can you try again? I’m sure… She can’t just cancel my account!”
“Mz, can you calm down please? I’ll try it again if you want, but if you raise your voice I’ll have to ask you to leave…”
People were turning away, returning to their innocent activities prior to the outburst. Thank god.
“I hate her so much…” Beth said to me, voice harsh but quiet at least. “I’m going to kill her. I’m going to…”
She ended in a half growl, half sigh as either her imagination or her ability to speak was overridden with frustration.
“Come on, let’s get out of here.” It was the best solution I could think of, I didn’t really know how to help. I wanted to offer her all my money, but I had none.
She allowed me to tug her towards the exit once she retrieved her now useless plastic card. I tried to convey my apologies to the guy behind the counter with my an expression.
“What am I going to do?” Beth said.
I resisted the urge to tell her to go home and talk to her mom. It was what she should do… but I think she might punch me if I suggested it.
“Don’t worry about it for now. Let’s just get home…”
* * *
I was planning on going for a run at some point that night but my hand ached so badly my teeth joined in. Besides, I was breathing heavily by the time we got back. I felt like I’d already gone running. I could feel the improvement over the day before though. I recovered quickly at least, and didn’t feel so exhausted.
I would have thought my arm to be worse, but the angry red swelling had gone down. No more throbbing pain. I almost missed it, because now it itched. It was infuriating. I tried to scratch, picking at the bandage, but Beth kept slapping my hand away.
I realised, after opening the door to the single room I rented that we didn’t really have much to actually do here. I didn’t have a TV, or a computer. Anything really… bare walls and a lack of my mother was enough to make me happy.
But not perfect for hosting guests… After a few minutes awkwardly sitting about while I tried to tidy some of the odds and ends I had scattered about. Got to be presentable. She made a suggestion.
“I can stream something on my phone if you want?” Ah! Of course. Something at least.
“Sounds good,” I should get something to sit on. Boxes, anything.
She spent a moment tapping the screen and we ended up on a random channel. It had some documentary on the ‘technology age’, the time when microchips and electronics had advanced more in fifty years than it had in the hundreds since.
Eventually just plain old physics got in the way.
It wasn’t convenient to watch, so we ended up just half listening to it in the background while Beth changed my dressings. She paled when she took off the bandage. I was happy to look away… At least she’d got the stuff she needed for a few days’ worth of dressings before her mom cut her funds.
She hesitated before putting the anti-septic cream on. Realising why, I held my hand out and did it myself. She didn’t look well. Her face had gone a bit green.
I nearly laughed, she was squeamish. “How did you manage on your own?” I said, smiling while I spread it over the cut.
“Shut up, I was distracted by trying to avoid being whacked in the face. You weren’t very accommodating.” She said.
“Sorry.” I forgot I’d been delirious, I’d just been imagining I was just a beautiful sleeping figure… Ha.
“It’s fine, wasn’t your fault.” She smiled at me, it made me feel warm. “Let’s see your hand.”
“It’s broken, there’s nothing we can do about it.” I said, but she wanted to see it anyway.
* * *
“Beth, eat it.” I tried to offer it. I wasn’t hungry.
“No! I’m not going to. I refuse to take any food from you,” she said, crossing her arms.
I sighed. At least she knew how I felt most of the time around her now, but I don’t think she recognised it.
Still, the hungrier she got the less likely she was to care about pride. You care about little more than food when you haven’t eaten for a few days.
* * *
“Look, I’ll have half, you have half.” I said. “I really don’t feel like eating anything. You want me to eat, I want you to eat. Let’s make a deal.” I said.
“But…” I could see her looking at the half squashed sandwich I’d made at lunch. Appetising. It seemed to be for her though, because she gave in. “Fine.”
I mangled it in two rough halves with the flick knife. It made an awkward breadknife but I didn’t really have anything else except the saw I’d got for cutting my amour, I wasn’t sure that would be hygienic. I handed her the larger half.
I actually enjoyed just sitting with a blanket each, our backs against the cold block wall and talking to each other. We hadn’t had a chance to talk about… anything, stuff that wasn’t important, for a while. I had to concentrate when we were walking to school, and we didn’t spend much time together when we got there.
I just made sure it was facing the door.
I noticed the pauses were getting longer, and our speaking slower. Eventually she just no longer replied. Eyes closed. Asleep?
She shouldn’t sleep sitting like that, she’d get all stiff.
Still, I didn’t want to wake her up.
“Beth, lie down if you want to go to sleep.” I said, just in case she had just closed her eyes. She mumbled something and leaned her head against my shoulder. Brilliant.
Actually, it was quite nice.
For purely selfish reasons I just stayed perfectly still, enjoying having her against me. I could wake her up in a minute…
A minute stretched out into a few.
When my back started aching I tried moving her. She grumbled at me, gently at least, while I tried to persuade her into lying down. She must be pretty tired, it wasn’t even late. I guess there was more than one type of fight and they all took up your energy.
My hands usually shook for hours after one of my fights. It didn’t matter how long the fight was, or how hard it had been. It could be I didn’t lift a finger, when Haley just tormented me and I didn’t dare retaliate. But the exhaustion afterwards was just the same. I guess Beth’s confrontation with her mother felt like running a marathon.
I rearranged the new pillows she’d got, which were so much better than my old ones, into something that looked comfortable. I don’t think she cared right now but she might in the morning…
I felt tired myself, like I was going to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I lay down next to her.
Sleep didn’t come. I just lay there.
I had a lot on my mind and it just ran around in circles. Firstly, I was right next to Beth. Our arms were touching, yeah there were a couple of layers of clothes and blankets but it still felt close, closer than I was used to. Closer than I was comfortable with.
I didn’t want to move away though.
Secondly, there was what had happened today. The situation had just completely exploded out of proportion… But I knew what it was like not having a mother, or at least what it was like having one that you were better off without.
Regardless of what she’d done – which was horrible, she was still worth having. I could see the way she’d just been trying to protect her daughter, even if she might have lost that along the way and it was no excuse.
Beth would have to make up with her. They would have to forgive each other. The more they escalated this, the harder it would be to claw back the remains of a normal relationship. I couldn’t think of a solution.
Thirdly, there was the small matter of a criminal gang hunting for, at least I assumed, my head.
So no, I didn’t get to sleep. At all.
* * *
I offered her some of my clothes, she hadn’t brought enough of her own. Her plan of just buying a few more things while we got around to washing her old stuff was scuppered.
If the situation wasn’t so awful I would have been amused at the irony. She refused even my best, the ones I’d borrowed off her or Mz Gregory. Instead opting to re-wear what she’d brought.
I’d have to remember to do some washing tonight.
Even without sleep to refresh me we made it to school in better time than yesterday. It was Beth holding me back. I was itching to move faster, especially through the worst areas. Beth was speculating about whether she had detention or not. Oblivious to my agitation. I didn’t see anything overly suspicious. No one seemed to be following us and I never saw anyone who seemed unusually interested in two teenage girls.
The school day was much like any other. I had a lesson with Haley, which was Fun. She’d got more confident, going from quietly kicking my shins under the table to doing things more noticeable. The kind of things that make noise and are Really Fucking Obvious. Knocking all my work onto the floor, throwing tiny things at me from across the room.
The teacher didn’t do anything, which annoyed me more than what Haley was doing.
But fuck, I could handle it. It was all pretty minor.
Beth didn’t have any money for lunch, she didn’t qualify to get it for free like me. I stocked up with massive amounts, even more thankful there was no limit on what you could take. The only limit was how much you could endure the funny looks and occasional tut of the serving lady.
Beth’s friend, the mousey girl with glasses, sat with us again. She even shared what she had, unasked.
That made me think a little more highly of her. And mentally kick myself.
I’d been cold towards her, she’d helped me but I guess I was ashamed I ever needed that help, and that she’d ever seen me in that situation.
Maybe I should make more of an effort with her?
“Thanks,” Beth said, “Lost my lunch money.”
“I know what it’s like,” she said, in a knowing voice. I wondered, for a moment, what she meant. Maybe she was particularly forgetful and kept losing it?
“Sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” Beth said to her, mouth half full. That’s weird, why wouldn’t Beth know her? I thought they-
“Emma,” the girl responded, quietly.
“You should have introduced us.” Beth said to me.
“Eh?” Now I was confused. “I thought she was your friend.”
“I thought she was yours! She was the one that came and… told me about… you know.” Beth should know that I don’t have any friends. Other than her.
“But…” I struggled for words, and then noticed the poor girl was just sitting here while we argued about her. What a nice introduction. “Sorry. I’m Alexis.”
Against my instinct, because it was probably what you should do when you introduce yourself, I held out my hand. Like Jim would.
“I know,” she said, and shook it. I managed not to wince. Still not used to being touched.
I’m not going to lie, it was pretty awkward. There wasn’t much more conversation. I regretted her ever coming over to sit with us, at least I could try talk to Beth without her here.
But she seemed kind of lonely. I knew lunch was awful if you were on your own. She must have had some balls just coming and sitting with us. And to keep coming when we’d hardly treated her nicely. I could put up with waiting till later to talk with Beth.
The bell rang for our lessons, we stood up and shoved the sandwiches we had had made into our bags.
“See you later.” I said to Beth, and after a moment’s thought said to Emma, “Bye”.
She didn’t say anything back, was that rude? I couldn’t imagine her being rude though. She didn’t seem the type. The most frequent words I’d heard her say were ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’. She apologised a lot.
Me and Beth split up to go to our lessons, Emma must have had one in the same direction as me though, because she walked beside me. I hate it when you say goodbye to someone and it turns out they are going the same direction as you. Awkward.
When she still didn’t peel of and go to her own class I looked at her, confused. She noticed and, unsurprisingly said “Sorry,” looking at her feet.
I got to my door to the classroom, and she still hadn’t gone to find her- Oh, wait…
She was in the same class as me? Seriously, I hadn’t noticed.