I’m kind of done with this place. I hate to admit it, but I really am. I’ve lived here all my life but it’s not the place I grew up in, if that makes sense. It’s changed. Or maybe I’ve changed. Either way, it’s not where I want to be anymore.
For a start, there’s a really old guy lives next door; he’s off his face most of the time and plays his stereo at full volume and keeps my little boy awake. If I’m being honest (and I reckon that I should start by telling the truth, otherwise what’s the point?) I only kept my baby so that I could move out of my Mum’s and get a flat, but if I’d known this was where they’d stick me then I might have thought twice. It’s a shithole in this block; it’s where all the dossers and druggies live (or should I say pass out) and I’m always having to put up with smashing glass, loud music, raised voices and the like.
I can’t leave my pushchair downstairs either as one of pissheads would go to the toilet in it or set fire to it; oh yeah, there are pyros here as well although they don’t live in this block, thank God. I couldn’t sleep a wink if I thought someone might set fire to the place and we’d be trapped, although I can’t always sleep anyway as the neighbours’ kids run up and down the corridors outside until stupid o’clock some nights.
Then you’ve got the stoners hanging about on the stairs making it really difficult to get past with the buggy and I’m always scared that one of them is going to try and grab the baby. I heard about it happening to someone in another block. A couple of stoners held her back while a third grabbed her kid and threw him down the stairs. Broke his neck, just like that. When they caught him, the bloke said he’d been convinced the kid was Satan and a voice in his head told him to kill it before it killed him. Utter bollocks if you ask me. He was just off his face and had destroyed every brain cell his head might ever have contained. They put him away for only five years which was disgusting, but someone got to him in prison and now he’s a vegetable, which is kind of poetic justice I reckon.
Going back to what I said earlier about my son, don’t think that means I don’t love him to bits because I do; I couldn’t live without him now, but sometimes I do wonder what my life would be like if he’d never been born. That’s not a bad thing to say I don’t think, it’s just like wondering what would have happened if I’d passed my GCSE Maths instead of failing by one point. That was the night I got pregnant. As soon as I realised that I wasn’t going to get on the college course I wanted, I kind of cut loose and stopped caring about anything to do with my studies. I’d worked so hard for so long just to achieve my grades and suddenly I needed to have some fun. I also thought I’d fallen in love, but that’s for later in the story.
I’d wanted to do that course since I was in Year 8; that was when Mum’s boyfriend had moved in and she’d stopped being interested in anything I did. I knew that all I had to do was get a C grade in my Maths, English and Science and I was guaranteed a place. It was in the next town so I could live away during the week and then come home at weekends. I was going to get a job too, so to be honest I would never really have been at home, which suited me fine. I had my five-year plan; I would pass the college course then go to University and in only sixty months I would have changed my life beyond recognition. I’d be a success; unlike anyone I’d grown up around. That might sound harsh as well, but you have to understand where my Mum and I lived. We were on the arse-end of the most roughneck estate in the town; the streets where I grew up were a no-go area even for the police. Someone called an ambulance once because an old man had been knocked down in the street and before they could get him inside it, someone had nicked everything that wasn’t nailed down and another kid had torched it. The ambulance crew were lucky to escape with their lives but needless to say the old man died. Don’t feel sorry for him; he was a nonce that had been taking kids up to his flat for years. I’m surprised that anyone actually bothered to call an ambulance for him to be honest, and even more surprised that it turned up at all.
The day of the GCSE results I’d been up before six; my best friend Toni and I were going down to the school together and I was so excited. Mum was still in bed when I left although Teak (her boyfriend) was banging about in the kitchen. He barely glanced at me as he shuffled back upstairs for another few hours; most likely planning to drag themselves out of their pit around lunchtime.
I don’t mean to sound like a bitch; Teak wasn’t the worst of my Mum’s blokes by any measure and at least he didn’t knock her about like one or two had, but still. He wasn’t exactly the vision of a strong, dependable man that most little girls want their Mum to be with, although so far he’d been around nearly three years, which in fairness was three years longer than my actual Dad had hung about.
So Toni and I skipped off, picking up some of our other mates on the way and by the time we got to school there were about twenty of us desperate to get hold of that brown envelope which would decide our futures for us. Toni didn’t want me to go on the college course; she wanted me to go to the Tech like she was planning to do so that we could still be mates, but I knew I wouldn’t be happy with that, no matter how much I’d miss her. My five-year plan was set in stone as far as I was concerned and nothing and nobody was going to alter that.
As Toni and I crossed the playground, it occurred to me that this would probably be the only time that I’d be in school during the holidays and the unusualness of the situation made me giggle. Toni didn’t see the funny side when I explained and we walked the rest of the way towards the swing doors in silence.
As our group dove into the crowd jostling for space in front of the noticeboard and increasing the number of people by double, I saw Lisa Annersley, school bully and bain of my life for the last five years. In my experience, school bullies were either incredibly intelligent or incredibly thick and annoyingly, Lisa Annersley fell into the former category.
‘Hey Dan,’ she called out loudly as she pinched the top of my arm, ‘so I guess this is the last time we’ll be seeing each other then.’
‘Finally being sent to prison are you?’ interrupted Toni as she waded in next to me, ‘I guess it was only a matter of time.’
‘You want to watch yourself Collymore,’ said Lisa, as she corrected her stance after being caught in one of the crowd’s waves of movement, ‘I know where you live.’
‘Of course you do,’ said Toni, deadpan; ‘you have to walk past my house to get back to your family in the zoo.’
Despite not being the wittiest put-down in the history of comedy, it caught Lisa on the hop and it took her a moment to respond. I tried really hard not to laugh at the banality of the remark but unfortunately Lisa caught me smirking.
‘Hey everyone, Dan Druff made a funny!’
I shuddered as she called me by the nickname I’d heard every school day since I was eleven years old. So my Mum couldn’t afford to buy Head & Shoulders and we made do with the cheapie brand? Big deal. Well, now maybe, but five years ago it was a tragedy. Trust my name to be Danielle. Dani for short.
Was that really the smartest put-down I could come up with? Jeez.
‘Do you know what’s funnier than that though Dan?’ Lisa was obviously enjoying her final moment of glory and was milking it for all it was worth.
‘What?’ said Toni, in the most bored voice she could muster.
‘I wasn’t talking to you Collymore, I was talking to your thinks-she-knows-it-all mate. Seen the results board yet have you Dan? I was very pleased with my six A-stars, but that paled into insignificance when I saw your results and felt joy like I’ve never done before. Enjoy your life retards; I’m getting out of this shit-hole town and you’ll be stuck here for life.’
Lisa walked away from us, laughing loudly, but she was no longer the focus of my attention. What did she mean about my results? It’s true I hadn’t exactly kept my five-year plan secret and I’d enjoyed telling people I was getting out as soon as I could, but I’d never acted like a know-all. Or had I? Maybe I’d been saying a bit too much a bit too often. Maybe I should’ve kept a better lid on my feelings, but I was proud of the fact that despite my unprivileged upbringing, I would be leaving this town at the first opportunity, unlike the majority of the kids in my class; most of whose families considered the position of dosser to be too much of an effort to undertake properly.
Lisa Annersley was the annoyingly smug exception; her mother had brought her up single-handedly, until when Lisa was nine her mother had begun re-training as a nurse. Three years later she had qualified and was working at the local hospital, where she’d promptly met a wealthy surgeon and married him a short-time later, before giving birth to Lisa’s half-brother Max the following year. Lisa’s step-dad was an incredibly supportive parent and he immediately started a trust fund for both his children’s University fees, meaning that for the first time in her life, Lisa would be able to use the brains she’d been blessed with for something proactive, rather than just bullying smaller children and considering inventive ways to embezzle their pocket money out of them.
I had to know what she’d meant about my grades, so pushing other people aside to a chorus of ‘hey’ and ‘watch-it’ I finally stood before the noticeboard and began running my finger down to where my name was printed.
I ran my finger across to the results columns over and over again before I’d allow the alarming truth to properly hit me. Despite hearing Toni’s voice yelling at me to come back, I ran straight out of the doors and across the playground, before heading towards the open grass that ran parallel to our school and bordered the rest of the estate.
I later found out that Mrs Kilpatrick, my lovely Maths teacher, had been waiting in the room where the envelopes were given out just so that she could break it to me gently about my grades, but I never got that far, preferring instead to join the throng around the noticeboard first. Maybe I was honestly no better than Lisa Annersley in reality; I’d wanted everyone to see my long boasted-about C (or above) grades and have them congratulate me and pat me on the back, reinforcing my long-held belief that I was smarter than almost every one of them. If I’d only gone to the envelope room first it wouldn’t have been so bad, but I’d been so sure.
The letters were whirling around in my head as I kept running; my future plans lying in tatters in all but an instant.
D. D. D. D. D.
How could I have got five D grades? I worked so hard, even spending Saturday mornings in the local library studying, when I would much rather have been hanging about in town with Toni.
Toni. I hadn’t considered what my best friend’s grades had been, much less been supportive if she needed me to be. I’d only thought about myself again, which was all I seemed to do lately. I slowed my pace down to a walk and I hoped if I waited around the field a while she might catch me up. If of course she’d come after me at all. I wouldn’t blame her if she hadn’t; after all, it was her results day too. Maybe she’d be out celebrating already.
After about ten minutes, I saw Toni approaching the field and I jumped up in readiness of our mutual commiseration. Seeing me pop up from my hiding place in the long grass, Toni jogged over to me and searched my face for a clue as to how I was feeling.
‘What happened back there? It wasn’t because of Lisa Ape-like was it?’
‘No, I couldn’t care less about her. Did you see my grades?’
‘Yeah, I did. Sorry mate. What’ll you do now?’
‘Dunno, to be honest.’ I couldn’t bear to think about it. ‘What about you?’
‘Two Ds and an E. Much as expected really. Won’t the college let you on the course with Ds then?’
‘Doubt it. The places are so fiercely fought over that it’s always over-subscribed. They told me that when I went for the interview. It’s all Cs or above. No exceptions.’
‘I know you don’t want to hear this, but for what it’s worth I’m glad you’re not going away. I wouldn’t have coped without you. Now you can come to Tech with me in September. It’ll be a right laugh.’
Suddenly the reality of what my future actually held hit me. I’d gone from dead-cert for leaving when I’d woken up this morning to same-old loser as everyone else by mid-afternoon.
I later admitted that I shouldn’t have let all my anger loose on Toni, as she was only being honest with me, but right then it was the last thing I wanted to hear.
‘You think that makes me feel better?’ I yelled, rounding sharply on Toni. ‘You think that I can feel happy about being stuck in loser-ville and wasting away at the Tech for the next two years?’
Toni’s face flushed as if I’d struck her and I thought at first she’d yell back at me, but somehow worse, she spoke very quietly.
‘I thought you wouldn’t mind so much if it was still you and me there.’
‘Well I do. I was going somewhere; I had my five-year plan. Now I’ve got NOTHING.’
I turned away and began walking quickly across the field, before breaking into a run as I reached the edge. The tears were falling fast now; some were in anger, some mourning the life I never had the chance to lead and the rest were in frustration that my best friend could be so insensitive at my greatest hour of need.
As I rounded a corner, I almost collided with someone coming the other way and I angrily pushed past them, clipping their upper arm with my shoulder.
‘Watch out!’ they called, but I was in no mood to listen.
I didn’t look up as I thrust my hands deeper into my pockets and carried on walking.
‘Dani? Dani Elsmere?’
At the sound of my name, I mean my proper name, not the stupid nickname that Lisa had so cleverly devised, I stopped in my tracks. I didn’t look round though. Not then anyway.
‘Dani? Are you okay?’
I was beginning to think I’d heard that voice somewhere before, but I wasn’t sure. The honeyed low tones of a boy in his mid-teens could honestly belong to several of those in my year at school, although none had ever really given me much attention. To be honest, I’m surprised there was one who even knew my name.
I turned slowly, trying to wipe my eyes and face with the sleeve of my t-shirt. I’d also found a raggedy tissue and pulled it from my jeans pocket so I could wipe my nose as nonchalantly as possible.
Standing before me was Simon Welsh; a boy whom I’d had a crush on for almost the entire time I’d been at the school, until his parents had moved him from there without explanation about a year before. I felt my face flushing a deep red and I silently cursed my thin skin for probably the thousandth time since puberty.
‘H-Hi Simon. How are you?’ Trying to think of something less inane to say, I decided the exams were a safe subject. For him anyway. ‘Did you get your results?’
‘No, I can’t really be bothered. I know I’ve got enough to get into my school’s sixth form and do A-levels so apart from that what does it matter? How about you?’
I hadn’t thought about my disastrous results for all of three minutes during the exchange with Simon, but I was mortified to realise I had sobs choking up in my throat at the mere thought of the five Ds just waiting to taunt me.
‘Hey, what’s wrong?’ Simon took a step towards me and rubbed gently at the top of my right arm, which for some reason made me cry even more. ‘I didn’t mean to upset you.’
I waved my arm to try and signify that it wasn’t his fault, and as my tears began to subside again I told him about the devastation of losing sight of my five-year plan.
‘Oh God, I’m so sorry. I’m the same; I’ve got a plan that takes me right up to Uni and beyond and I know I’d be gutted if anything went wrong with it. I’m honestly, truly sorry Dani.’
Despite never actually exchanging more than a handful of embarrassed words with Simon over the previous four years, I felt that he was being sincere when he expressed his sympathy to me. That was how we started walking in the direction of town and why I let him buy me several alcoholic drinks over the next couple of hours, courtesy of his older brother’s I.D card.
When we left the pub I was embarrassed to discover I couldn’t walk very straight without Simon’s support, but despite my awkwardness, for some reason I also found it immensely funny.
Simon helped me all the way to the bus stop, where I presumed his intention had been to help me safely onto the number sixty-three and then leave me forever with the pleasant memory of those stolen moments together. However, as we stood together in the cooling evening air, Simon took his hand from my arm and instead placed it into mine.
‘I don’t suppose…well, my mate’s having this party tonight…’
I didn’t get a chance to reply because suddenly he was crushing my lips with his and thanks to the alcohol coursing through my bloodstream, I found myself unencumbered with the usual awkwardness that an inexperienced sixteen-year-old would feel kissing a boy she’s had a crush on for years. My hands went everywhere and I didn’t care about the sniggers and stares of the other people waiting at the bus-stop; nothing mattered to me right then except that Simon Welsh was kissing me and it suddenly gave me something to believe in, for the first time since I’d seen those Ds on the notice board earlier that day.
‘Wow, calm down,’ Simon murmured as he pulled away from our embrace, ‘you’ll get me going if you carry on like that.’
Whether it was Simon’s words or the several shots I’d consumed in a short space of time, I suddenly felt attractive, which was a wholly new sensation for me. Simon Welsh was the sort of boy who normally went out with the really popular girls at school, like the Lisa Annersley bully-types and I wanted to make the most of this situation that would probably end before much longer.
I grabbed his hand and managed to stagger along the road, trying to maintain my balance and what was left of my dignity, before heading behind a thick-set row of hedges and leaping headlong into another round of passionate kissing. I could tell how obviously excited Simon was, but I was shocked to feel the new sensations that were coursing through me. Of course I was aware of sex; we’d had a talk in year seven from a highly embarrassed Mrs Rushlake, the school PSE teacher, but what hadn’t been communicated in that discussion was just how damn good getting physical with a boy could feel. We’d been told about periods and shown how tampons worked (which had led to poor Claire Soames fainting and having to be helped from the room) but never had it crossed my mind that being with someone intimately, was something that I’d ever actually want to do. Unfortunately, this light bulb moment had occurred behind a hedge on the main road and despite my growing ardour, there was no way I was going to take things further there.
‘Can we go to that party at your mate’s house?’ I asked Simon, trying to get my breath back. I took his nod for the best kind of answer I was going to get and I let him walk me a few metres up the road where another bus stop on the same route stood.
‘I’ll text him and say we’re on the way.’
This time, it was me who could only nod, wondering just what exactly the night would hold for the pair of us and knowing one way or another that those five D grades were going to matter a lot less by the end of it.
By the time we’d travelled the couple of miles to his friend’s house, Simon and I had learned loads more about each other. I discovered he had an older sister called Melanie and his parents had saved up to take him out of our school due to its mediocre GCSE results the year before. He had heard about my Mum and Teak and he had begun to get an understanding of why I had been so desperate to do well in my exams and move away for college.
‘I have to say though; I’m kind of less upset about it than I was…earlier.’
‘Yeah?’ said Simon with a smile, ‘why’s that then?’
‘Just because…you know,’ I continued, embarrassed.
‘Yeah?’ said Simon again, but it seemed to me he had said so much more.
We’d walked hand in hand from the bus stop to his mate Miles’ house, whose parents had trusted him not to have any parties while they were in Dubai for a week. Such belief in their son had been misguided though as by only this second night of their holiday, he had filled their house with adolescents who were desperate to liberate his father’s drinks cabinet.
‘Welsh, you old dog,’ laughed Miles as he opened the door. ‘Who’s this then?’
‘This is Dani. From my old school.’
‘Well hello Dani from his old school,’ said Miles, ushering us in, ‘I thought I’d never seen you around before.’
‘Um, no,’ I managed, feeling a little out of my depth amongst Miles and the other local private school pupils. ‘I’m not usually this side of town.’
‘You don’t say,’ replied Miles, with raised eyebrows and an element of either sarcasm or condescension, ‘we shall have to make the most of this evening then, won’t we?’
I wasn’t sure what exactly Miles meant by that, but I smiled politely and let Simon pull me by the hand into the kitchen, where we collected some cans of beer before heading up the stairs.
As soon as we were alone and the music downstairs was just a thumping bass cacophony, I felt myself relax and let Simon take me in his arms again. We drank a couple of beers while we lay on the bed and alternated between kissing and talking about the future and for the first time in a long-time, I actually felt that there may be an alternative future to that of endless study. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to stay around here after all? Perhaps Simon and I could get a place together eventually? I felt I could probably even put up with living at Mum and Tink’s a while longer if I had Simon around to distract me from it all.
With those thoughts blurring my mind to sense and reason I let Simon undress me, him surprisingly taking his time, his apparent restraint making me even more eager.
Before I knew it we were under the covers, both of us naked, but I’m sad to say I don’t remember much else about losing my virginity due to the quantities of alcohol I’d consumed that day. It must have been okay though, as I had no sensations of discomfort when I woke up the next morning, although I did wonder if Mum and Tink would have noticed I hadn’t come home the night before. Somehow though, I doubted it.
Simon and I were pretty much inseparable for the next couple of weeks, spending all our free time together and hanging out at each other’s houses. I was concerned that he’d think badly of my Mum and Tink’s domestic habits, but in all honesty he barely seemed to notice. We were afforded more privacy at my house as they never came into my room when I was at home, which was not the case at Simon’s. He told me that his Mum would frequently pop upstairs and knock on his door for the flimsiest reasons, sometimes even walking in unannounced. He reckoned it was because his parents were paying so much for his schooling now and were worried that he would be easily distracted from his studies if he was spending too long with a girl, so we only went to his place when his Mum and Dad were both out.
We’d carried on having sex almost daily since the night of Miles’ party and I had to admit I was enjoying every aspect of mine and Simon’s new relationship. We had used condoms a few times but quite often we just didn’t bother, me misguidedly believing that I wouldn’t be likely to get pregnant this early into becoming sexually active. There was more to our burgeoning relationship than sex though; we would go to the cinema or grab a burger, or if money was low we’d just walk somewhere hand in hand and enjoy each other’s company.
With hindsight, maybe even by this point I was starting to be aware that this artificial reality we’d created for ourselves was unsustainable once the new term began, but at that moment I didn’t want to think of things like that; I just wanted to be with Simon.
It took about another week before Simon started to act strangely; coincidentally about the same time that I started feeling sick every morning. He began by saying that the pressure of the new term was getting to him as he was worried about the leap from GCSE-level to A-level, but I didn’t really buy that explanation as Simon was so effortlessly intelligent and had never worried about his schoolwork before. He’d told me as much himself. No, it was more the little things like him checking his phone all the time when he thought I wasn’t looking, but then jumping if he got a message notification. He also started cancelling on me a couple of times a week, which was awful at first as my confidence began to plummet and I truthfully hadn’t anywhere else to go since Toni and I had fallen out after the exam results. That meant I had to sit in with Mum and Tink most evenings which was depressing beyond imagining, so I was incredibly grateful when Toni called and asked me to go round, saying she missed me. I’d thought about her a lot since the new term had started, as I was dying to know how Tech was going; it seemed so strange not to be gossiping with Toni on a daily basis.
After Toni and I had hugged warmly and said how much we’d missed each other, I apologised for being such a bitch the day of the results and she told me to forget it; all water under the bridge. She said that she’d heard I was seeing Simon Welsh and couldn’t believe how lucky I was and I assured her I felt like the luckiest girl on earth. I told her about the previous three weeks and how much fun it’d been, but all she really wanted to hear about was ‘had we had sex yet?’ and ‘what was it like?’
I answered Toni’s questions patiently, although I didn’t really want to discuss our most private moments; even with my best friend. It felt dirty somehow, like I was letting a third person in on our secret world that was only really designed for two. Then she asked me whether I’d had to go to the doctor to get the pill or whether the family planning clinic had provided condoms.
‘No, I’m not on the pill. Simon’s good though; he uses condoms most of the time.’
‘Most of the time?’ said Toni, incredulously, ‘What about the rest of the time?’
‘It’s fine, stop fussing will you? He’s careful, okay?’
Toni leant back on my pillows and exhaled loudly.
‘You should take a test.’
‘You should take a test,’ she repeated. ‘A pregnancy test.’
‘Yeah, I got what you meant. I’m not pregnant though.’
‘When was your last period?’
‘Jesus, Mum, chill out will you?’ I snapped, annoyed by Toni’s superior manner. She should be in awe of me. I’m the one who was having regular sex; with Simon Welsh, no less. She should be well jealous.
‘Okay, okay. I’ll drop it, but only if you tell me when it was.’
‘Look,’ I began, nervously. ‘I haven’t actually had one this month; probably because I’ve been so over-emotional about me and Simon that it sort of, forgot to arrive. People say that you can miss them for no good reason.’
‘Yeah, of course you can,’ agreed Toni, ‘but you can also miss them for a very good reason. Being pregnant.’
‘I’m not PREGNANT!’ I shouted, just as Toni’s mum opened her bedroom door and brought in two coffees and some chocolate hobnobs.
‘Christ, mother!’ said Toni, annoyed, ‘don’t you ever knock?’
Telling her daughter not to be so cheeky, Mrs Collymore put down the tray, cast a knowing look in my direction and left the room again, pulling the door closed behind her.
‘Great! Now my mother even thinks you’re pregnant!’ said Toni shaking her head. ‘She’ll be on at me constantly now, making sure that I’m not having sex too, or at least if I am that I’m being sensible.’
‘Bully for you; at least your Mum cares. Mine couldn’t give a shit either way I’m sure. Anyway, this conversation is irrelevant; I’m not pregnant.’
But I was.
The next day, Toni gave me a testing kit that her Mum had bought ‘just in case’ and I went into their bathroom to perform it. Five minutes later my life had changed in yet another irreconcilable direction and I had to face facts; I was going to be a Mum. I really was beginning to tick off all the boxes on the ‘to-do’ list of the teenage no-hoper; I guess I did fit right in on the estate, despite what I’d thought and hoped. All I needed to do now was get hold of a bull mastiff and a packet of twenty Mayfair and my transformation would be complete.
The only light at the end of my doom-filled tunnel was Simon. I knew that he’d be shocked but ultimately supportive; he was so nice and had told me how much he liked me, so I figured it would be okay. His parents might even be able to give us some money towards things, although I knew they worked really hard just to make sure Simon had everything he needed at his upmarket school. Still, it was worth a try.
I went straight round to his house without announcing my arrival in advance, just so that I could hopefully speak to his Mum and Dad at the same time as I told him.
As I walked up the drive of the tidy, three-bedroom detached, I saw Simon’s mother standing with her back facing the window, looking into the room as if she was talking to people there. I rang the bell and heard her cursing the ‘unexpected visitor’ as she came towards the front door. I smiled broadly as I opened it, about to apologise for interrupting her and her friends, when I caught site of Simon sitting on the sofa next to a girl with dark, wavy hair. Worse, he had his arm around her shoulders.
Without hesitation, I pushed past Mrs Welsh and stood in the lounge doorway. Seeing it was me, Simon jumped up quickly, his face a mixture of surprise and anger. Forcing me out into the hallway and following behind, he closed the lounge door and spun around to face me, gripping the tops of my arms too hard.
‘What the hell are you doing here?’
‘I haven’t seen you much the last few days and I missed you. Haven’t you missed me?’ I asked him, as I stretched up to kiss him.
Turning his face away, Simon released his hold on my arms and stepped back. His face seemed to soften as perhaps he realised that I genuinely had missed him, I don’t know; but whatever the reason, he took me through the kitchen door and we both sat down at the dining table.
Neither of us could really ignore the huge great elephant in the room, except that she was actually a gorgeous brunette sitting on his lounge-room sofa, so I asked the inevitable question.
‘Who is she?’
Simon flushed red, his embarrassment at being caught out apparently equalled by his annoyance that it was me who’d caught him.
‘Come on Simon; the girl you had your arm around? On the sofa? I know you haven’t got a sister so don’t try that one on me.’
‘Look, don’t get weird, okay? That’s Emma, she’s…well, she’s my girlfriend.’
I suddenly felt incredibly nauseous. Clamping my hand to my mouth, I dove out of the kitchen and into the under-stairs bathroom, trying not to let my sobs get the better of me or the threatened tears to spill down my face.
I sat on the closed loo seat for what felt like ages before there was a quiet tapping and Simon’s loudly whispering voice was echoing through the door.
‘Dani? Dani? What are you playing at? My Mum’s wondering what’s going on and Emma’s threatening to go home if I don’t go back in the lounge and rescue her from the family inquisition. Are you coming out?’
In all honesty I could have happily stayed in that little cupboard-sized loo for the rest of my life, if it meant I wouldn’t have had to face Simon, Emma and his parents, let alone my Mum and all those others who thought I’d never amount to anything and I’d seemingly proved right.
As I wiped my face and blew my nose I unlocked the door, grateful that my stomach had finally settled down. Simon pulled it open out of my hand and looked at me quizzically.
‘Why are you being so weird about this? You always knew we were just having fun until I went back to school. Didn’t you?’
‘No,’ I croaked, hoarse from crying and retching, ‘I don’t remember you telling me that Simon, so how on earth could I possibly know? To be honest, I might have thought twice about having sex with you the first night we met had I realised how little I meant to you.’
‘Oh come on Dani, you were as willing as I was. Don’t try and make out that I forced you. You couldn’t wait.’
‘You bastard,’ I started crying again, not caring that the lounge door had opened and Simon’s parents and Emma were now listening to every word we were saying.
‘Look Dani, it’s complicated with Emma, okay? We had a bust-up at the end of last term and then she went abroad all summer with her parents. I didn’t know if we were together or not until this week. I never meant to hurt you, honestly.’
I heard a sharp intake of breath coming from Emma’s direction and I could imagine she was as thrilled with Simon’s statement as I was. I started giggling at that point; unsure of why, as there was certainly nothing funny about the current situation.
‘You’re so right Simon. It is complicated; very complicated. So much more complicated than you could ever imagine in fact.’
Before he had a chance to react or say anything else, I delivered my killer punch.
‘What?’ That was Emma, stood in the lounge doorway of her boyfriend’s parents’ house, having just learnt that said-boyfriend had been busy shagging someone else while she was in another country.
‘No, Simon!’ That was his Mum, who immediately stole my thunder by bursting into tears and running into the downstairs loo.
‘Jesus Christ!’ Finally, that was Simon’s Dad, who in fairness was probably secretly relieved that his son was a red-blooded male, but was also doubtless aware that he would potentially be facing the financial costs of his son’s own personal meltdown, whatever they may be.
I can’t pretend that the rest of that evening was terribly enjoyable; once Simon’s Mum had got over the initial shock, she made a huge pot of very sweet tea which made me feel sick all over again, but which I managed thankfully to just keep down.
Emma excused herself almost immediately, saying we obviously had ‘a lot to discuss’ and that she ‘needed to do some thinking’. God knows what she thought she had to think about; it was me who was facing this nightmare situation with potentially zero support. She’d be alright; she had a good education at a great school and her parents were wealthy, if Emma’s brand-new car and designer handbag were anything to go by. She also had that air of confidence that only the financially well-off have; a sort of measured condescension, like she knew she was better than all of us but nevertheless sympathised with us because of it.
Simon’s Dad on the other hand had headed straight to his study, no doubt feeling that this sort of conversation was better suited to his wife. Judging by the way Simon’s Mum’s hands were shaking as she held her mug of tea though, I wasn’t so sure.
‘So is it definitely Simon’s? Are you sure?’
‘Mum!’ said Simon, outraged on my behalf, but then he ruined his concern by turning to me and asking the same question.
‘Of course it’s yours! How could you think such a thing?’ I cried, blushing beetroot red. ‘I hadn’t been with anybody until I met you.’
‘That’s what you say dear,’ said Mrs Welsh, ‘but how do we know that’s true? You could be trying to trap my Simon. He’s got a bright future ahead of him you know; I won’t have some tarty girl stopping him from reaching his true potential.’
‘Mum, you’re not helping!’ cried Simon, but made no attempt to castigate her for insulting me. ‘It was only meant to be a bit of fun.’
Turning to me, he echoed his sentiment. ‘It was only meant to be a bit of fun.’
Well, you can imagine what I made of Simon’s final statement. When I realised that I wasn’t going to get any kind of constructive help, or even a declaration of responsibility from him, I walked away and decided that I was the only person I could rely on. I asked for, and got, help from the health service and social services and various other places, but ultimately I was the only one who could decide what I wanted to do. I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do; that was the easy bit.
Surprisingly, my Mum turned out to be a bit of superstar in all this, taking to imminent Grandma-hood with the sort of enthusiasm that I hadn’t seen her muster in years. Even Tink smartened himself up a bit and started doing the house up with gusto. I think they wanted me to have the baby even more than I did, and I eventually decided that I definitely wanted to as well.
I also decided that I should take the council-offered flat, even though Mum and Tink said I could stay at home, because I wanted to try true self-reliance and make sure I really could cope with the responsibility I now had. To be honest though, that was the only part of the story that didn’t really work out for me, as living here has been and is, a daily waking nightmare. This estate has many salt of the earth people residing on it, but unfortunately those people do not live in my block. I would never ask to go back to my Mum’s though; that would have to come from her, as I would never want it to seem that I couldn’t cope and was asking for help.
I get that you might wonder why I’m telling you all this now; why today is the day I’ve spoken about all this? Well, that’s the strangest part of all. I was sitting on the sofa giving the baby his bottle when someone knocked on my door. I ignored it at first, because the local kids frequently gain entry to the block via the trade button and then run up and down the galleries knocking on everyone’s doors.
This time though, the person was persistent. They didn’t knock and run, their tell-tale giggling giving them away. This person knocked twice; a purposeful, professional and what’s more friendly knock.
I carried the baby to the door and was more surprised than I could begin to describe to see Mrs Kirkpatrick, my former Maths teacher standing there.
‘Hello Dani; how are you?’ Casting a look downwards she said, ‘well your Mum told me he was a gorgeous baby and she was right. He’s beautiful!’
Still shocked as to why she was here, I couldn’t think of any sort of appropriate response, instead I invited Mrs K inside and made us both a coffee while she cuddled Charlie, who’s named after my late Granddad, bless him.
‘So when did you see my Mum?’ I asked her, as I set our mugs down, ‘you said you’d spoken to her.’
‘Yes I popped round there this morning. I expected to speak to both of you actually, but your Mum said you’d moved into a flat a few weeks ago. After I’d explained why I’d come to see you, your Mum was happy to give me your new address. She said you wouldn’t mind either, once you knew.’
‘Once I knew what?’
‘Why I’d come round. What I’ve been doing. Dani, I lodged an appeal on behalf of you and a few other students as I felt your exams had been, let’s say, aggressively marked. It turned out that quite a lot of students were marked down last year when they shouldn’t have been. Well, I appealed and we won.’
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; Mrs K had done all that extra work for us? A group of usually ungrateful and non-attention-paying young people who had a diamond for a teacher and we never even thanked her when we left. The woman was a living legend!
‘So…what was the result?’ I asked, trying to keep the tremor out of my voice, ‘what happened?’
‘Well Dani. Congratulations are in order as your five D grades have now turned into two Bs and three Cs!’
So I’d messed up my life for nothing? I could’ve gone on the course anyway? I’d sabotaged my own and it seems my son’s future for absolutely nothing. I walked into the kitchen and stared out of the grimy window, endless moss-covered slate tiles stretching away from me like a metaphor for the future.
‘Dani?’ Mrs Kirkpatrick had followed me into the kitchen, still holding Charlie. ‘Look, I know what you’re thinking-‘
‘I doubt it,’ I interrupted.
‘Yes I do. You’re thinking that you could’ve gone on the course after all, but now that you’ve got Charlie your chance has gone.’
Mrs Kirkpatrick gently placed Charlie back in my arms and I looked down at my sleeping son. It occurred to me then, for maybe the first time, how vulnerable we all are; how fragile life is and how we all need someone to look after us, no matter how old we get. The all-consuming rush of love I felt for Charlie just then was overwhelming and I knew I owed it to both of us to try and achieve my goals in life and support us as best I can.
‘Mrs K, the course I wanted to do; do you think I could apply for it again next year?’
‘You could do,’ said Mrs Kirkpatrick, smiling, ‘if I hadn’t already asked them to defer your place anyway. There’s no need. You’re already guaranteed for next year!’
‘Oh my God,’ I cried, as the threatened tears began to fall, ‘that’s amazing. You’re amazing!’
‘No Dani; you’re the amazing one for never having given up. I’m just doing my job but you’re changing your life. You’ll do so well on the course and I’m so proud of you.’
As Mrs K’s words sank in and excitement threatened to engulf me, I suddenly had a massive reality check. What was I thinking? I had a baby son to provide for; I couldn’t just go swanning off to college without a second thought.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Mrs Kirkpatrick, seeing my face fall, ‘you looked so excited a second ago.’
‘It’s a lovely idea; everyone needs a dream, but I can’t go, can I?’
‘Oh come on, Mrs K. I’m so grateful for what you’ve done for me but I’m not in a position to go anywhere.’ I looked down at Charlie and smiled wryly. ‘I’m stuck in this flat, I can’t get a minute’s decent sleep and I’m like a zombie half the time. How the hell could I study in this place?’
I was so frustrated at the injustice of the whole situation that I burst into tears, thrusting Charlie at Mrs Kirkpatrick and grabbing some kitchen roll to wipe my eyes.
‘I know you’ve had it difficult recently and that’s something else I was talking to your Mum about. Dani; she wants you and Charlie to move back home. She’ll help you take care of him so you can go to college. Tink’s got a job working away so he won’t be there most of the time; it’ll be just you, your Mum and Charlie. The best part is, you’ve got a few months to see how it works out before your course starts. What do you think?’
By the time Mrs K had finished talking I’d got through three pieces of kitchen roll. I couldn’t believe that everyone was being so great; even Mum and Tink had pulled their fingers out and got sorted! Who said miracles don’t happen? I reckon I’ve just witnessed a bona fide one.
So that was my story. I moved out of the flat a couple of weeks ago and apart from Tink singing in the shower, it’s so much quieter at Mum’s; Charlie and I are so much more relaxed. Don’t get me wrong, this estate’s not paradise and we still get the odd one or two idiots thinking it’s funny to have a shouting match with themselves at two in the morning, but compared to the flat, it’s golden. Charlie and I are getting a decent night’s sleep which has made us both less grumpy and my Mum’s being a legend with him, even getting up for night feeds sometimes. Tink’s also redecorated to make the place more welcoming and I’m finally starting to feel more positive about the future.
The college course will be Monday to Wednesdays, so Mum’s going to look for a job that fits in with that, but we’ll keep Sunday for our ‘going out as a family’ day, as we’re all off then. It’s all working out and I’m so grateful.
I haven’t heard a thing from Simon or his family but I’m not surprised; Simon has his five-year plan same as I did and I can’t see anything interfering with that, even his son. Mum says it’s them that are missing out and every time Charlie looks at me with those huge brown eyes, I know that she’s right.
Funnily enough, I saw Emma the other day, when I was pushing Charlie through the shopping centre. I wasn’t going to say anything to her, but she approached me and asked how I was! She also said how gorgeous Charlie was and that he must take after me rather than Simon! She was actually really nice and for the first time I realised that it must have been hard for her too.
I asked if her and Simon were still together but she laughed and said she’d never wanted to see him again after the night I announced I was pregnant. Apparently, at first he’d sent her flowers and apologetic messages and begged for her forgiveness, but within a couple of weeks he’d supposedly moved onto an ex-friend of hers, so she was well rid of him. After our short conversation I really thought Emma was great and far too good for Simon, so it actually worked out much better for her too. While we chatted, there was a lad waiting for her who was way better looking than Simon and looked totally besotted with Emma, so fair play to her.
As for me? Well, I’ve been out a couple of times with a lad who I knew from primary school whose family has just moved into our road, but believe me I’m taking it slow. I’ve been to the clinic to get myself sorted out just in case it goes any further, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon and he’s cool with that. He’s taken me to the pub as well but I’ve sworn off alcohol for life, so it’s strictly Diet Coke!
As for Mrs Kirkpatrick, Mum and I have nominated her for a top teaching award, so fingers crossed. The finals of the ceremony are in London, so we could all get invited down for a posh knees-up if she gets that far. I reckon it’s a dead-cert that she does as she’s the best teacher in the world. Thanks to her I’ve finally got my five-year plan in my sights again and it may only need twelve months adding to it. Five year plan or six-year, who cares? All I know is that the future looks bright once more and it’s all down to the fact that someone believed in me.
© Sarah Butcher, 2015