Read You Against Me Online

Authors: Jenny Downham

You Against Me (9 page)

‘Let me go.’

‘Why should I?’

‘Because I haven’t done anything to you.’

‘You’re his lying sister, aren’t you?’

And that’s when Ellie felt anger, like liquid rising. ‘And what are you, Stacey? What’s the name for someone who dumps their best friend so they can go home with a boy?’

‘I didn’t dump her, I left her with your brother. How was I to know he was a rapist?’

‘Why would he rape her when she was gagging for it?’

‘Because he’s a paedo perve, like the rest of his family.’ Stacey rolled her eyes, playing to the audience. ‘Your mum shag a dog, or something?’

‘Yeah, course she did.’ Ellie folded her arms at her. ‘What else do you know?’

‘I know you’re a bitch.’

‘You said that one already.’

‘And a slapper.’

‘Very original.’ Ellie took a step nearer. Her brain felt pure, thoughts came hot and simple. ‘At least I’m not fat.’

Stacey looked down at herself. ‘I’m not fat.’

‘You keep telling yourself that.’

Somebody laughed and Ellie felt a stab of pleasure. Stacey ran her tongue across her lips.

‘Come on,’ Ellie said, ‘you must be able to think of something else to say about me. You can’t be as dim as you look.’

‘You’re the one who’s dim.’

‘How?’

‘’Cos you’re a nerd. Look at you, in your crap tights and shoes.’

Stacey had bronze foundation on her face. It stopped at the point where her chin met her neck, so there was a line. She had a spattering of spots across her forehead and around her nose. She was sweating.

Ellie shrugged. ‘I can always change my clothes – what’re you going to do about your face?’

Again, a ripple of laughter.

Blood thundered in her ears. ‘Don’t feel bad, Stacey. I’m sure your zits don’t look obvious in the dark.’

The crowd whistled approval. Ellie was vaguely aware of someone trying to muscle nearer and someone else shoving them back. ‘Don’t stop them, man.’

Ellie slagged off Stacey’s fake tan, her pudgy knees, her plastic earrings. The crowd laughed. And if they were laughing at Stacey, then they weren’t laughing at her.

Every curse she’d ever heard any girl yell at any other came hurtling out of her mouth. If she said them first, then Stacey couldn’t use them. Like a poison-pen letter – pass it on or die. She told Stacey she should sue her parents, warned her she wouldn’t piss in her ear if her brain was on fire. And the crowd cheered her on.

It felt like spewing. You chuck up and the stink is out of you. You leave it somewhere else and you can walk away clean.

But Stacey couldn’t stand it. She grabbed Ellie’s ponytail and yanked it hard. Ellie put her hands to her head to protect herself, and Stacey slapped her. It jolted Ellie’s neck, pain seared into her cheek.

‘How’d you like that?’ Stacey hissed, her face twisted, spit on her lips. ‘You want some more?’

She pulled Ellie’s hair again, slapped her a second time. Something rattled in Ellie’s head, as if her brain had loosened. All her words were lost. No! No! She wouldn’t win this. All the things Stacey couldn’t say were spilling onto her head.

And then a miracle. ‘Teacher!’

The crowd legged it, the teacher came bowling in. ‘Break it up!’ he yelled. ‘Stacey Clarke, what the hell are you doing?’

And Stacey said, ‘Me? It’s not me! This girl’s crazy!’

But she let go.

Ellie struggled free, her hand to her scalp, to her cheek. She opened one eye to Mr Morris, her History teacher.

He said, ‘You OK?’

Her brain felt hot, the world seemed to have got brighter, like an over-developed photo. She said, ‘Yeah.’

‘Good, because you’re both coming with me.’

He sat Ellie in reception, gave her a sheet of A4 and a pen. ‘Write a statement,’ he said. ‘Exactly what happened, from the very beginning. I’ll be back.’

He took Stacey with him. She scowled at Ellie over her shoulder as she was led away.

Ellie stared at the sheet for a moment. It swung from cream to white, through shades of eggshell blue to grey. Ellie wondered briefly if she had concussion. Maybe Stacey had given her brain damage.

She wrote her name on the top of the sheet and underlined it. The ink was blue.

Then she looked at the secretaries, two of them busy on their computers, completely ignoring her. Out in the foyer, a pale boy sat on a bench, his coat on his lap. Beyond the doors, the playground had emptied out, excitement over, classes resumed.

She should be in Art. It was the one thing she’d been looking forward to.

She looked back down at the paper. It reminded her of the police station, of the two detectives behind the desk. Good cop, bad cop. All the questions they’d asked.
Where were you? No, where exactly? Who was your brother with? What time was this? All we need is the truth, Ellie
.

Well, the truth was that she had
nothing further to add
. She scrawled this in big letters across the clean page, then she stood up and walked out of the office. One of the secretaries glanced up and looked straight back down. Ellie was evidently too much hassle for her. The boy in the foyer winced as she walked by. Maybe she should whack him, give him a reason to be afraid. What would happen to her then? How bad could she get?

She walked across the empty playground, her shoes scuffing the tarmac. She unzipped her coat, raked her hair until it was wild, undid her top shirt button and rolled her skirt high, so the breeze swirled her thighs. Everything seemed more than it usually did – the earth lit with sun so bright, a single seagull circling low over the river.

She stood on the bridge. She was different from earlier. The rush of badness was thrilling, like something had found a voice. She felt alive. Not a mermaid. Not someone who combed their hair all day and sat on a frigging rock. She mentally torched that image, watched all the scales catch fire and shimmer silver before sinking beneath the water.

She’d emerge as Phoenix from the X-Men movie – the one with the red eyes, so angry that she’s off the scale, able to destroy the universe with the power of her mind.

And if she was Phoenix, then anything could happen next.

Eleven

They got dressed side by side. There was something medical about it, like they’d both just been checked over by a doctor. Mikey finished first and sat on the edge of the bed watching Sienna pull her shoes on. When she was done, she sat down next to him.

‘What are you thinking?’ she asked.

He was thinking about giraffes. He’d watched a pair of them shagging in a zoo once. The male was really desperate, scrabbling up high on his ridiculous legs. He kept sliding down and the female kept moving away, munching on a twig as if she hadn’t even noticed. He’d thought sex would be like that – some girl gritting her teeth and him just getting on with it. And sometimes it was.

He wondered what Sienna would do if he didn’t say anything, how long she’d last. He stole a look at her. Her hair was messy and her eye make-up was smudged. It was like looking at a stranger.
Who are you?
he thought.
Who have I just spent the last hour with?

In the end she grabbed hold of his T-shirt and gave it a tug. ‘Don’t you fancy me any more?’

‘I’m meeting a mate.’

‘It’s your morning off.’

He tapped his nose. ‘We’ve got runnings.’

‘What does that mean?’

She reached out to stroke him, but he shook her off and went over to the window. He looked down at the road below, willing Jacko to hurry up.

‘So you shag me and then run away?’

Anger prickled under his skin. Why were women on at him all the time?

She folded her arms at him. ‘I think you’re pathetic.’

He sighed, checked his phone for messages. Two texts. He hadn’t heard them arrive – must’ve been when he was in the middle of things with Sienna. One from Jacko saying he was outside and the other from an unknown number. He opened it up.

Still want to get to know me better?

Whoa! He absolutely wasn’t expecting that!

‘Who is it?’ Sienna moved to see, but Mikey held the phone away from her.

He texted,
Does this mean u like me?

‘Serious,’ Sienna said. ‘Who’s it from?’

She got up and tried to grab the phone from him, but he held it higher. ‘It’s private, all right?’

She flung herself back on the bed and pulled the duvet over her face.

‘I told you I couldn’t be with you all day,’ he said.

A reply.
Ur ok
.

He grinned, texted back, Only ok?

He put the phone away. Days had passed and nothing – he’d almost stopped thinking she was real. He leaned over and patted Sienna through the duvet.

‘Got to go.’

She yanked the duvet from her face and glared at him. He grabbed his tobacco and lighter from the table and held his hand out.

‘Come on, let’s have a smoke outside before I go.’

Jacko was down in the road sitting on the roof of his car. He gave them the thumbs-up as they appeared at the door.

Mikey leaned over the railing. ‘Be with you in a minute, just having a smoke.’

‘Have a good time up there?’

Sienna scowled. ‘You gonna let him talk like that?’

‘He doesn’t mean it badly.’

Jacko chuckled as he slid off the roof, opened the door of his car and got out a duster. He rubbed lovingly at the windscreen, then bent down to do the same to the mirrors.

‘Look at him,’ Sienna said. ‘All he thinks about is sex and cars.’

‘He’s a bloke.’

‘He looks at me funny.’

‘He fancies you.’

Mikey thought that’d make her feel better, but it didn’t seem to.

She frowned at him. ‘Will I see you later?’

‘I can’t.’

‘We could go out.’

‘I’ve got work, then I’ve got to get shopping.’

‘I’ll come with you.’

‘No.’

‘I’ll come to the flat later – you can introduce me to your sister.’

‘She doesn’t want to see anyone.’

Sienna glowered at him. ‘Have you even asked her? She might like a visitor.’

‘She’s got plenty of mates who are up for the job if she does.’ ‘Why won’t you let me help you? You don’t have to do this all by yourself, you know.’

But he did. Karyn and Holly belonged to him and he belonged to them. He was the only brother they had.

‘I don’t think this is working,’ Sienna said. ‘I don’t actually understand the point of you.’

Good call.

Sometimes Mikey fantasized about drowning – pretending to at least. Leaving his jacket and phone on some beach and swimming away. He could be anyone. He could start again. Do it better next time. He chucked his fag on the ground and stamped it out.

‘I’m off.’

‘You’re walking away?’

He nodded, kept his mouth shut.

‘If you go now, it’s over. I mean it, don’t bother calling me again.’

He didn’t look back.

Twelve

‘A text from his sister?’ Jacko laughed so hard he nearly crashed the car. ‘Oh man, you kill me. You genuinely can get any girl you want!’

‘It doesn’t mean anything.’

‘Of course it does. Hey, let’s stick her in the boot of the car and send her brother a ransom note!’

Mikey shook his head, smiling. ‘What are you talking about? We’re not going to kidnap her.’

‘Listen, man, listen. Here’s what happens after that. The brother climbs into his Jag XJ to come and find her, but in his rage he forgets he’s got the supercharged version and goes roaring too fast at some corner.
Wham!
He hits a tree. Instant decapitation. Bits of his brain spattered all over the road.’ Jacko slapped the steering wheel. ‘That, my friend, is one beautiful revenge.’

They elaborated on the story as they drove through town, both of them doubled up with laughter as it got more and more ridiculous. They rammed Tom Parker’s dead head on a stick and paraded it down the high street, leaving his bereaved family to scrape the rest of him off the tarmac. Grateful townspeople lined the streets. Flags were waved in their honour, pub doors were flung open, girls threw knickers and phone numbers.

‘It’d be so cool!’ Jacko howled, his eyes watering. ‘We’ll take the hottest girls to the Prince of Bengal – best table and free rogan josh and poppadoms all night!’

‘Enough, enough!’ Mikey laughed. ‘Curry and love don’t mix, you know that. Come on, man, we have to stop this. We’ve got to get serious and think what to do.’

It was beautiful weather for March, the window was down, his elbow was stuck out in the wind. They passed a group of cyclists – tourists from the bike-hire place, probably cycling along to look at the lighthouse, or maybe further round the coast to the crazy golf and slot machines. It had been Mikey’s favourite outing as a kid – he and Karyn used to save up two pences until they had enough to make it worth getting the bus out there for the afternoon. Afterwards they bought ice cream and sat on the beach.

So, how could meeting Ellie Parker help Karyn? She’d be able to tell him stuff about her brother, where to find him alone, what his routines were. She didn’t know who Mikey was. She fancied him. That was a lot in his favour.

Maybe he could meet her more than once, use all that charm Jacko was always telling him he had. He’d do it properly, really romance her. Then, when she was completely under his spell and he’d got all the information he needed, he’d dump her.

Nobody needed to know. He wouldn’t tell Karyn or Mum. He’d make sure Ellie never found out who he was.

‘Pull in after the lights,’ Mikey said. ‘Then turn round at the garage.’

‘What’s going on? I thought we were doing a recce of the golf club.’

‘It’ll have to wait.’

‘I’m telling you, Tom Parker’s a golf freak. We just need to check out CCTV and escape routes and we’re laughing.’ Jacko swung an imaginary club high above his head. ‘We’ll kill him on the green with a five iron.’

‘I need to go back.’

‘Back where?’

‘I’m going to meet his sister.’

Jacko frowned. ‘We’re
really
going to kidnap her?’


We’re
not going to do anything.
I’m
going to chat her up and get information out of her.’

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