A/N: So much for this update being out quickly… sorry guys. :c
It’s cold in the garage, so cold that my breath is misting in the darkness. My legs are cramping and the box I’m curled up in smells of mould and damp. Somewhere to my right, I can hear a faint scratching sound.
I shudder slightly and shift position in an attempt to soothe my legs. Fabric scrapes against cardboard and I wince. I’ll have to keep as still as possible when they finally arrive. I touch a button on my watch. It glows green and bright, and I have to squint to make out the time.
They’re half an hour late.
After a little while, I hear voices. They’re indistinct at first, but soon laughter floats clearly through the garage door. I curl up tighter in my box, trying to quieten my breaths. My heart is pounding in my ears, so loud I’m scared they’ll hear it.
I’m screwed if they realise I’m here.
“Damn, Row – all I’m saying is she had a fine ass.”
“Yes, but she had all the brains of a potato.”
My heart skips a beat at the sound of my brother’s voice. I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans and close my eyes, as though that will camouflage me more.
I’m so dead if Farrow catches me.
I jump as the garage door scrapes open. Footsteps echo on the concrete floor and there is a click and a buzz and a light flickers into life. I open my eyes again, but the light hasn’t made much difference to the darkness of my box. If only I’d thought to make eye holes.
“You don’t need them to have brains, if you know what I mean.”
“Ah, shut up, Dean.”
You see, Farrow has a band called ‘Jabberwocky’. You know, after the famous poem? He and his three friends formed it back when they were fifteen or something, so they’ve been together almost six years. Pretty impressive, really. They gig around town, playing the coffee bars and nightclubs and, sometimes, the park in the centre of town.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a part of them. I’ve wanted to sing. Jed says I should just form my own band, but he doesn’t understand. I want to sing with Farrow and his friends. I want him to approve of me.
That’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Me and Farrow kind of have a rocky relationship. I mean, he’s not a bad brother. He can say some cruel things and we fight like any brothers do, but I reckon, if I needed him, he’d help me. I haven’t been proved wrong yet. Of course, I haven’t been proved right either.
Farrow’s friends, on the other hand, well… I guess they just see me as the annoying kid brother that tries to join in with whatever they’re doing. They were pretty tolerant at first, especially as Farrow and I shared a bedroom, but, as Farrow’s patience waned, so did theirs.
Dean Brennan is my brother’s best friend. They’ve been close ever since Skip Broke, Farrow’s best friend in primary school, was killed in a hit and run a few years back. Farrow was pretty torn up about the whole thing. Dean, being the nice guy he is, penned a song about Skip and sang it to Farrow and they’ve been close ever since. That song is the one Jabberwocky usually end a gig with. It’s a slow, heartfelt song – a lot different from the rock ‘n’ roll beats of their usual stuff.
Hunter Mitchell is the cool guy at our school. Like, so cool he makes ice look lame. He usually has about a million girls fawning over him (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but seriously) and he’s good at sports, good at maths, good at… well, everything. Farrow says he’s actually really shy, but he never seems that way to me.
Abel Brett is the sweetest guy ever. When I was younger, he always used to play with me, even if the others got fed up. He’ll still chat to me now, if we meet in the street. There used to be rumours going around that Abel is gay, but I’ve heard them talking enough at sleepovers to know that he’s definitely into girls. Either that, or he’s very good at pretending.
Jabberwocky used to practice all over the place, including our house, and I loved to sit and listen to them. I used to daydream all the time about Farrow suddenly asking me to sing with them, and that I would blow them all away. I still daydream about it sometimes, but, unfortunately, since Farrow moved out they’ve been practicing in his garage and I haven’t been able to hear them.
I feel kind of bad that I had to practically break in (well, not technically since I know where Farrow hides his spare key) in order to listen to them practice, but I couldn’t help myself. I missed it too much.
I can practically see Jed’s disapproving face right now. Sorry, Jed.
It’s in a break between songs that I feel the sneeze tickling the back of my nose.
The sound echoes in the sudden silence. I don’t even dare to breathe.
“What in the name of fuck was that?” Dean says. His drumsticks clack together and I flinch. “You never said your garage was haunted.”
“It’s not haunted, idiot.” There is a pause, a stretch of silence. I’m done for. “Elery, get out here now.”
I don’t move. I’m already in such deep trouble that an attempt to keep hidden is worth the potential for more.
“Perhaps we were just hearing things,” Abel suggests, though his tone is doubtful.
I shrink more into the box, my breath coming fast and shallow. I’m dead, I’m so dead.
“We weren’t hearing things,” Farrow says. He sounds pissed.
In a last ditch attempt to stay hidden, I hold my breath. It doesn’t work.
The top of the box opens and bright white light floods in, blinding me. I squint up at my brother’s silhouette, making myself smile.
Farrow grabs my hair and yanks me to my feet.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he snarls, shaking me whilst I whimper in pain. “Breaking and entering. I should call the police!”
“Technically, I used your spare key,” I mumble, though it’s the wrong thing to say.
Suddenly I’m sprawled on the concrete, pain throbbing in my hip and elbow where I didn’t break my fall in time. Farrow stands over me, fists clenched.
“I’ve told you before, band practices are off limits. Jesus Christ, Elery. Everyone else gets it but you.”
“I just -”
“This is my house, and I never wanted you here!”
Before I know what’s happening, I’m on my feet, shoving him away from me. Enough is enough.
“What the hell have I ever done to you, Farrow?” All the resentment from our childhood seems to be bursting out of me now, and I can’t stop it. I don’t want to stop it. “Are you ashamed to be seen with me? Is that it? Because I’m ugly?”
I desperately want him to deny it, to tell me that I’m being ridiculous.
Instead, his face goes still. His jaw clenches. Something flickers in his eyes, and I can’t tell if it’s pain or loathing. All of the anger drains away from me, leaving me cold and pale with fear.
And then, finally, Farrow speaks.
“I can’t stand to look at you.”
The words are like a punch in the gut. For a moment, I stand frozen, speechless. My head swims.
“He looks like he’s going to faint,” someone says, but it’s like they’re speaking from somewhere far away. There’s a dull roar building in my ears. “Hey, Elery…”
All that I can focus on is my brother’s face. He’s gone white, his eyes wide.
“Elery, I -”
“That’s enough,” Abel says, cutting him off and pushing him aside as though he’s little more than a curtain. “I think I should take Elery home, and then everyone can cool off a bit.” He looks pointedly at Farrow, then back at me. “Sound good, Ri?”
He lays his hand on my arm, and something inside me snaps.
“Get the fuck away from me! I hate you! I’m better off dead!”
The members of Jabberwocky seem as stunned by my sudden outburst as I am. Before any of them can react beyond gaping in surprise, I push past Abel and Farrow and run. No one stops me as I wrestle with the garage door, my breath loud and ragged in the heavy silence. As it opens with a screech, Jabberwocky come to life.
“Stop, it’s okay! Farrow didn’t -”
“Leave me alone!”
My footsteps pound on the pavement as I flee into the fading light.
No one follows.
People say things in the heat of the moment that they don’t mean, I know that. I mean, for one thing, I knew that I was better off being alive, thank you very much.
But the way Farrow had told me that he can’t stand to look at me… he meant that. I know he meant it. I’ve known it for a long time, but he’s never had the balls to say it out loud before now.
I don’t go home.
Farrow has probably already called Mum and told her what I’d done or, if I’m really unlucky, he would be waiting there himself. No, I can’t go home tonight. I don’t want to face Mum or my father or Heidi. I don’t want to see the flicker of pain in Mum’s eyes when she looks at me, or to see my father pushing limp salad leaves around his plate with a trembling fork.
I go to Jed’s house instead. His parents are away on a business trip, so it’s a good bet he’s the only one there. Besides, if anyone can snap me out of this miserable mood I’m in, it’s him. I hate feeling miserable.
I hold down the doorbell for a moment and then pound on the door for good measure. Sometimes, Jed gets so caught up in reading that he doesn’t hear anything going on around him.
Just as I’m about to ring the doorbell again, the front door opens. Jed doesn’t look surprised to see me standing on his doorstep; he just offers me a smile and steps back to allow me into the house.
“Did you argue with Farrow again?”
I make a face as I bend to take off my shoes. Jed always seems to know exactly what’s up.
“Something like that.”
Jed seems to sense that I don’t want to talk about it, so he keeps his mouth shut (for now) and leads me into the kitchen.
“I was just about to start dinner. You want some?”
“All right.” My stomach growls in agreement. I hadn’t realised how hungry I am.
“Macaroni cheese okay?” Jed says, grabbing ingredients out of the fridge.
I nod. “Need any help?”
“Nah, it’s cool.”
As he started fixing dinner, Jed shoots me a look.
“So… I know you don’t want to talk about it, but what happened?”
I sigh and focus my attention on the floor tiles. With anyone else, I would have told them to mind their own business, but with Jed it’s different. I’ve never hidden anything from him, not even the embarrassing crush I had on a supply teacher when we were twelve.
“Well… I broke into Farrow’s garage to listen to Jabberwocky practice.”
I glance up just in time to catch the disapproving expression on Jed’s face, the exact same one I had imagined as I’d huddled in that mouldy old box in Farrow’s garage. I know Jed too well.
“He caught you, I suppose.”
Jed is silent for a time and I lapse into my own thoughts. The macaroni cheese smells so damn good that I’m almost distracted from my bad mood. God, I’m hungry. I shouldn’t have skipped lunch.
I’m so busy thinking about food that the quiet sound of Jed’s voice makes me jump.
“What did he say to you?”
“Well…” My stomach clenches as I remember Farrow’s words. “He said he can’t stand to look at me.”
Jed drops his wooden spoon. Then, scowling, he picks it up again and begins to stir the macaroni cheese with a little more vigour than necessary.
“Tch,” he says. “I know you love your brother, Ri, but he can be a right…” He trails off and shakes his head, before taking the saucepan off the heat; his mother has always taught him not to swear.
I don’t speak as Jed spoons the macaroni cheese into two bowls, nor do I speak as we sit at the kitchen table, poking at our dinner in an attempt to cool it down. I don’t know what to say. Jed is right.
Eventually, though, Jed gets fed up with the silence.
“Elery, look… your brother is an idiot. More than an idiot. He’s always saying things that upset you.”
“Not like this.”
“Well, no… but, you can’t let it get to you. You’re stronger than that.”
“He’s my brother, Jed. He should be looking after me, not hurting me.”
“Have you talked to him?”
“Talked to him?”
“Yeah. About why he seems to hate you so much.”
“Well… I think you should. I know it seems a weird thing to suggest, but he’s got to have a reason, right?”
I frown. “I’ll think about it.”
Jed smiles and pushes his bowl away. “Good.”
After we’ve washed and dried up (Mrs Seven would kill us if we didn’t), we retreat upstairs to Jed’s bedroom. Jed’s room is warm and cosy, as familiar as my own room at home. When we were younger and I was unable to put lotion on my scars by myself, I wasn’t allowed to stay around very often. This made us sad. Eventually, though, Mrs Seven told Mum that she didn’t mind doing it and from then on I slept around Jed’s house at least once a week. Sometimes, Charity (our other best friend) came and stayed too, but she always had to sleep in the spare room so it wasn’t ‘inappropriate’. She usually sneaked in, though, after Mr and Mrs Seven had gone to bed and sneaked back out before they woke.
We were never caught, though once Mr Seven did catch us raiding the fridge for ice cream at two in the morning.
“Hey, Ri?” Jed’s soft voice startles me out of my reverie.
“Mm?” I sit up, shifting so I can see him properly. “What’s up?”
“Can I have some advice?”
I’m startled by the request. “You want my advice? That’s unusual.”
Jed sticks his tongue out, and I smile. Ever since we were younger, Jed’s always been the one to go to in a crisis. He’s always cool, calm and collected, at least about other people’s problems. The amount of times I’ve run to him after a fight with Farrow or when I’m stuck with homework or, well, anything doesn’t really bear thinking about. In comparison, I can count on one hand the amount of times Jed has had to come to me for advice.
“Well… don’t laugh, all right? It’s about a girl.”
My eyes widen. “A girl?”
“A specific girl.”
Jed, to my surprise, goes bright red.
My mouth drops open, but I shut it again rather quickly.
Elisabeth Grey is one of the most popular girls in our class. She’s stunning to look at, for one thing, but she’s also incredibly smart. This makes her a world apart from some of the beautiful airheads that seem to grace our school. She had been dating Tristan Amour, self-proclaimed prince of our school and top athelete, but according to Charity they had recently split up due to him being too ‘handsy’. Charity is a fountain of gossip, I swear, and much too talented at eavesdropping on the conversations of girls she doesn’t like.
I move up on the bed beside Jed, watching him.
“You have a crush on her?”
Jed nods, his cheeks still aflame. I let out my breath in a low whistle and push my hair back out of my eyes.
“Well… I’m crap at advice, Jed, you know that. But… why not just tell her?”
“Are you kidding? She’ll laugh at me.”
“Why would she laugh at you? You’re attractive and smart, Jed, and I don’t think she’d be put off by your glasses, if that’s what you’re worried about. And, as far as I know, you’re not all ‘handsy’ like Amour.”
Jed makes a face.
“That’s another thing I’m worried about. He’s bigger than me.”
“Seriously, though…” I smile. “You should just tell her how you feel. The worse thing that can happen is that she says no.”
Jed frowns. “I guess so… but…”
“But nothing. You asked for my advice, and that’s what it is. I can’t make you ask her out, Jed, but… it’s what I would do.”
“Sure, Ri, but you’ve always been a lot braver than me when it comes to girls. I mean, there was that time you stood up in class and read out that love poem to Sarah Martin.”
I scowl. “Yes, and everyone laughed at me for days. Including her.”
“Doesn’t stop you being brave.” He grins.
“You’re not stupid.” Jed sighs. “I’ll try out your advice, or at least, I intend to. I don’t know if I’ll be able to just… come out with it. Enough about me, though… do you have a crush on anyone at the moment, Ri?”
The question catches me off guard. I haven’t really thought about girls since the Sarah Martin fiasco.
“I haven’t. I’ve been concentrating on my studies, and on practicing singing.”
Jed gives me an odd, unreadable look.
“Are you sure about that?”
“What do you mean?”
Jed tilts his head and gives me a grin.
“Never mind. I’m not going to tell you if you haven’t figured it out -” His words die as I grab a pillow off the bed and hit him with it. “Elery!”
Thus begins the evening’s epic pillow fight, in which all thoughts of girls are forgotten.
The next day, I still don’t feel like going home.
Luckily, it’s Saturday, so Jed calls Charity and we head out to Lost Willow Park. Not many people ever come here, so it’s a great spot to hang out and mess around without a care in the world.
Charity is already there when Jed and I arrive. She’s sitting by the pond, trailing her fingers in the water, but when she sees us she looks up and grins.
“It took you long enough!”
I grin back.
“Blame Jed. He spent hours in the bath.”
Jed snorts at that. “Did not.”
We flop down on the grass beside Charity, and I sigh with contentment. Today is going to be a good day, I can feel it.
Charity cocks her head, looking between the two of us.
“So, how come I wasn’t invited to the sleepover?”
“Its was kind of unplanned,” Jed says, whilst I make a face. “Elery argued with his brother and turned up on my doorstep.”
Charity rests her hand on my leg, her expression sympathetic, but she doesn’t say anything. To be honest, we’ve exhausted the topic of Farrow’s assholery far too many times for her to have anything new to add.
“I’m sorry, Char,” I say after a moment of silence. “You know we’d have invited you if I’d given Jed more warning.”
She smiles, and I’m suddenly uncomfortably aware of the fact she hasn’t moved her hand from my thigh.
“Yeah, I know.”
I’ve never really thought about Charity in a romantic way. I mean, she’s always been just one of my best friends, no different from Jed. Why should I care if her hand is on my leg?
And then, I remember Jed’s words from the night before.
Are you sure about that?
He couldn’t have meant that he thinks I have feelings for Charity… could he?
I’ve honestly never thought of her like that before, but now the idea has crossed my mind I can’t let it go. How come I’ve never noticed what colour her eyes are before? How come I’ve never noticed the way light plays in her hair, fractured and splintered by the sunlight?
How come I’ve never thought of her as a girl?
“Hey, Earth to Elery.” Charity’s voice startles me into sitting up straight. “Are you in there? You kind of spaced out.”
“Oh… yeah, sorry. Just thinking.”
“That’s new.” Charity sticks her tongue out. “I asked you a question.”
“I asked if you guys wanted to go to that new karaoke place tomorrow. It opens tonight, but I thought tomorrow it might be a bit quieter.”
Jed makes a face.
“Sorry, I can’t make it. My parents are coming home tomorrow and they’ll want to have a big family dinner.”
Charity turns her gaze back to me and my stomach does a weird little flip flop.
“Elery?” she says, waiting for an answer.
In the moment before I speak, Jed gives me a quick wink behind her head. I suddenly realise that, even if his parents hadn’t been coming home, he would have made up some excuse not to come.
Oh, you sly bastard.
“I can make it,” I say, making a rude gesture at Jed behind Charity’s back. He at least has the grace to blush.
Charity grins, and I find myself thinking about how nice her smile is. Damn it, Jed.
“It’s a date!”
Oh, man… what have I let myself in for?