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Authors: Eleanor Wood

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BOOK: Gemini Falling
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Luckily for me, she’s not a particularly good best friend.

‘Hungover?’ is all she asks tartly, raising an amused eyebrow at me.

‘Something like that,’ I mutter.

Lexy looks positively gleeful, but she obviously knows she won’t get anything else out of me. She takes the opportunity to start talking, at long and boring length, about a two-minute Facebook chat she had with Josh Green last night. Apparently he winked at her via emoticon and put a kiss at the end. The way she’s going on, you’d think this was code for ‘will you marry me?’, or at least asking her on an actual date. Which, by the way, has never actually happened – the closest she’s got is a couple of drunken party snogs and the odd stalker-ish
Facebook chat. I don’t know if she’s ever even seen him in daylight hours or talked to him on the phone. She’s just obsessed.

Thankfully, she hasn’t even noticed that I’ve tuned out and I’m not listening to a word she’s saying. In fact, I’m relieved that she keeps droning on and I’m not required to join in much. As the room fills up and more of our friends arrive I find myself on the receiving end of a few curious stares and I catch Lexy mouthing ‘hungover’ and making a face at Alice behind my back, but nobody asks me if I’m OK. Annoyingly, the only person who did was Sorana. I am filled with irritation as I am forced to wonder whether anyone in this room is really my friend and whether Sorana might not be that bad – two concepts I don’t want to think about, ever.

Ignoring the conversations buzzing all around me, I can’t help constantly swivelling around and looking at the door. I keep having to stop myself, and still I must look like some twitchy weirdo.

The twins don’t seem to notice me when they walk into the room. Elyse doesn’t even hesitate before selecting a new seat at the back of the room, on the opposite side to the rest of us. A few more surprised glances come my way as this is noted – ever since the twins started, they’ve sat with Lexy and me every day without question. They are too involved in a whispery conversation with each other even to notice the attention.

It’s not until Miss Webb has come in to take morning registration, and everyone else has settled down into their usual state of boredom, that Elyse meets my eye from across the room and shoots me the most evil look I have ever seen. I don’t know what’s going on, but I know for sure that I’m not just being paranoid.

*  *  *

Like most things in life, I’m generally fine with Games. It’s not my favourite thing in the world, but at least it’s free exercise. I’ve noticed that the people who tend to complain about it the loudest are either grossly overweight or just feeble.

So, hockey is the sort of ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ activity I usually enjoy, even if it’s just to roll my eyes at Sorana and Nathalie and their usual sad-sack excuses. Today, survival of the fittest seems like a scarier idea than it did yesterday.

‘What’s up with you?’ Lexy asks in a bored voice in the changing rooms.

I seem to be getting changed in slow motion, dragging my feet. Lexy always gets changed in slow motion to show off her belly button piercing and lacy thong. She and Alice treat every Games afternoon as a Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Who can blame them? I’m just not up for it today.

‘Nothing,’ I mutter, struggling into my PE skirt from underneath my hideous burgundy school kilt.

For once, the last thing I want to do is draw attention to myself. Lexy keeps bitching at me, and I know exactly what she’s thinking. In a small school like ours, there are only a few reasons why anyone would be acting this weirdly all of a sudden; we’ve seen them all: parents divorcing and/or family death/trauma; boyfriend problems, possibly including teenage pregnancy — impossible in my case, despite my nonchalant exterior about such matters; eating disorder… Yeah, that’s basically it. None of the above has ever applied to me – basically living a charmed life – so no wonder my sudden mood swing is attracting attention.

‘You’re so boring these days,’ Lexy sighs as she laces up her trainers.

Not exactly fair, since I’ve been boring for the grand total of half a day so far.

‘Just leave it, all right?’ I mutter, not for the first time today, heading for the door.

‘Whatever it is, you need to get over it,’ she goes on, following behind me and not letting it drop. ‘Like I said: boring.’

As if to prove this, once we get outside into the surprisingly chilly greyness of the afternoon, she strides away from me like she’s the one in charge now, and shouts some lame insult out at Sorana about her weight. Yeah, OK, Sorana looks like she could really do with a few good dinners, but it’s only funny because she actually eats like a fat kid, despite the fact that she’s built like Alexa Chung minus the long legs and sex appeal – I’m sure she gets it. For the first time, I actually stop to wonder if she does, and I kind of feel like apologising, or at least explaining that we don’t really mean anything by it. Lexy’s probably right – what the hell is wrong with me? I am genuinely trying to snap out of it but it doesn’t seem to be working.

We finish the ridiculous warm-up exercises and get started on the hockey match, Mrs Kingsley blowing unnecessarily on her whistle at every stage. I hang back for once, grabbing a bib at random from the sad little selection at the edge of the field rather than trying to stick with my friends.

Before I have the chance to join my friends, or anyone else has the chance to notice, Elyse stands unnervingly close to me for a minute and gives me a look that sends shivers down my spine.

‘Be careful, remember?’ she mouths at me, before stepping away and looking like any other girl reluctant to join in a game of hockey on a drizzly day.

In a gesture that looks casual to anyone else who happens to be looking, she swings her hockey stick so that it whips through the air like a lethal weapon, then hits the ground with it as hard as she can. The look of concentration on her face is terrifying. Then she looks me in the eyes and smiles at me oh-so-innocently for a moment before jogging away to join the game.

I know then that something very bad is going to happen.

Chapter 2: Lexy

My world – slowly, quietly – is imploding. Everything feels so surreal. My best friend has, overnight, become unrecognisable. Those twins are driving me to insanity and I constantly have the feeling they’re laughing at me behind my back.

Then there’s Sorana Salem. Amie and I have always disliked Sorana, but she is now officially My Nemesis.

Two words: Josh Green. It’s always those two words. I can’t help it – I know I’m completely obsessed with him and it’s not cool, but I can’t seem to help myself. I’ve been madly in love with him ever since we were fifteen, when we first met at Alice’s birthday party.

He’s just so… I don’t know; I can’t even explain it. It’s like magic, or fate, or alchemy. He somehow manages to seem really cool but sort of grown up at the same time. There’s something solid about him that makes everyone else seem blurry. He’s good-looking, obviously, but he’s really quirky – he wears shorts and flip-flops pretty much all year round and he currently has dyed yellow hair for some obscure reason. At the same time, he does well at school, has millions of friends and gets on well with his family. He’s amazing.

All the other boys I know are either tragically uncool, total idiot meatheads, or
so
serious – really into music or some kind of sport or something. Josh is just fun and easy-going – always grinning, always having a good time, friends with everyone. Things seem to come so easily to him.

Maybe that’s why I’m fixated on him – because he’s the opposite of me. I am clever enough to know what I’m like – I can be a nightmare. I take myself too seriously; I’ve got a terminal case of Bitchy Resting Face; I lose my temper way too easily; and I get totally obsessive about things – Josh Green being the main case in point, but one of many.

I was a competitive ice-skater when I was a kid – I used to win because I took it more seriously than anyone else – then I gave it up to concentrate on drama when I got a part in a local musical. Now I seem to have given up all of my childhood hobbies, so that leaves me with only schoolwork, friends and Josh Green to obsess over.

It’s probably why I’m always on edge and get way too drunk at every party I go to – trying so hard to have fun that I tie myself in knots. I can’t do anything just for fun; I want to be the best at having fun. If I’m not winning, there’s no point; I just don’t get it.

Amie’s so lucky. If we were going by the usual arbitrary school rules: I’m a bit prettier than her; I do much better at school; my parents have a slightly nicer house… But in the end that’s not what matters – it’s much more subtle than that. Everything is straightforward and hassle-free for Amie – compared to me, she’s the Sunshine Kid. When she makes a bitchy comment, it sounds funny rather than all-out mean. You just know that she’s having a good time all of the time. Well, until recently – she’s definitely lost a little bit of her sparkle, but that’s not exactly the point. Like I said, things have got strange lately.

‘Alexandra, what are you doing in there?’ my mum slurs as she staggers past my doorway on her way to bed, seeing my light still on.

As if she cares. I don’t ever sleep that much and she doesn’t notice. Certainly not after half a bottle of gin when my dad’s ‘working late’ again.

‘Homework,’ I call out softly as I hear the door of her bedroom slam, although there’s clearly
no need for me to reply at all.

Of course, I finished my homework hours ago. Since then I’ve been sitting in my room with the TV on, sending the occasional text – but mostly I’ve been sitting here and thinking. Thinking, obsessing… Plotting, even.

I need to do something drastic. Something amazing. This has been going on too long, and I’m not really getting anywhere with Josh. Every time I think I’m taking a step forward, it all goes depressingly quiet and flat. I know some of his friends, and mine, make fun of me and call me a stalker – and I pretend to laugh along like it’s hilarious – but I just don’t know what else to do. If I weren’t pretty and friends with Amie, I know I’d be considered a total loser.

The problem is me. I’m convinced that Josh and I are supposed to be together; I’m not exaggerating. It’s fate; I know it. It has to be, or there’s no way I’d feel like this. He’s not like anyone else in the world. He’s perfect for me.

But this feeling is so overwhelming that I find it impossible to be myself around him. I get too drunk, or I can’t think of anything to say, or I overcompensate and find myself being louder and bitchier than usual. I don’t know what my problem is. It’s not like my normal self is so great, but I’m sure he would realise that we are meant for each other if I could stop myself from being such an idiot around him. Plus there’s the glaring fact that I am popular and pretty – not showing off, just fact – so if I can’t get him to go out with me, then I must have even more serious personality flaws than I thought.

When we kissed at a party over the Easter holidays – finally – I swear, it was the best day of my life. We were all at Alice’s boyfriend Dan’s house; I had lost Amie and I went out into the garden by myself. Miraculously, I found Josh out there, also on his own. This never, ever happens – he’s always surrounded by a gang of people. So, like I said: fate.

I was so taken by surprise, I didn’t have time to get flustered, and I actually managed not to be too moronic. I sat down next to him on the garden wall and we had a nice chat. We ended up snogging in the garden until a load of his mates came out and he went off with them. I mean, what else could he do?

I got hold of his number and texted him the next day, but I didn’t hear anything from him for ages. We chat on Facebook sometimes, but he never texts me; I have to count on running into him in town or at parties. Sometimes it feels like the only reason I go out. We’ve kissed a few times since, but always at random parties, usually at the end of the night, and usually when one or both of us is pretty drunk.

I used to think this must mean he really liked me, but then I found out that – allegedly – he’d kissed Sorana. That’s the other problem, of course: Sorana Salem. Technically, Josh and Sorana ought to exist in different universes, they have so little in common – but their mums are best friends and their families hang out together all the time. It’s obvious that Sorana has a crush on Josh – although why she would, I have no idea, since he’s a sort of preppy surfer type and she’s practically a goth. In her case I think it’s just a lack of other options. I don’t think it’s a real connection, like the one I have with him.

Anyway, it might not even be true, but I’ve got the feeling there’s something going on between those two. It could just be because she and her best friend Shimmi are in this little gang with the twins now, but Sorana definitely seems different. I’m full of suspicions and, either way, I don’t like the way things are going. My chances with Josh seem like they’re slipping away. It feels like trying to hold water in my hands; there’s nothing I can do and it’s absolutely horrible.

Except…there must be
something
I can do, and the time has come for drastic action.

*  *  *

I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. It was late at night. I must have been half delirious with tiredness and stress and desperation.

I woke up this morning and instantaneously regretted it. I have a terrible feeling I might have started something I can’t stop; I can feel that sense of impending doom. But I know I’ll go through with it. All day, I’ve been filled with adrenaline every time I think about it.

So much could go wrong, but I’m beyond caring. I have to make something happen. I have to. Even if it’s destiny, sometimes you have to give it a tiny little push.

I sent Josh a text late last night, before I lost my nerve. I only have his number because I begged it off Alice – tragic, I know. I’ve barely used it before. I knew I had to make this good.

Josh, it’s Lexy – I know this sounds strange but I really need to talk to you about something. Can you meet me tomorrow after school? The little park on Belmont Road. It’s about Sorana and it’s really important!!

I didn’t really expect him to reply – much less to say yes – so I thought what I was doing wasn’t that catastrophic. It wouldn’t even happen like I’d planned, so everything would be fine. Maybe at least it would set the wheels in motion for something later. I mean, obviously my brain is twisted but maybe I wouldn’t end up acting on this – it was just an idea, just a thrill.

But then he replied straight away, nothing but casual and easy-going as usual, and apparently on some sort of study leave at his boarding school. He said yes. Just like that. I read his text and I could hear my own heartbeat quicken, pumping in my ears. I was so shocked I could have fallen out of bed. Of course, after that I didn’t sleep for a second. I should clearly have been delighted, but this opened up a whole new world of problems to deal with.

I agreed to meet Josh at five o’clock, to give me a bit of extra time after school. I’m going to need it. I spend all day counting down the minutes, in between looking over at Sorana occasionally and wondering if I should feel guilty about what I am going to do. I force myself to decide not. I tell myself that she’s only got herself to blame. I’m just looking out for myself, that’s all. She’d do the same in my position, maybe. Well, she would if she really cared about Josh as much as I do.

When the bell rings at four, everyone else rushes to get off school premises as fast as humanly possible, as is the norm. I hang behind and loiter in the common room as long as I can, pointlessly sorting out the contents of my locker and slowly packing up my bag.

‘Are you coming?’ Alice and Katey are still hanging around my locker when nearly everyone else has long gone. ‘We’re walking into town, thought we’d go and have a look in Topshop then maybe go to the noodle bar or something.’

The three of us quite often hang around in town together after school. Usually it’s my favourite thing to do, because it delays having to go home and means there’s always a slim chance I might run into Josh.

‘Um, no,’ I say. ‘Not today, I don’t think. You go on without me.’

‘What are you up to?’ Alice asks suspiciously. ‘Hang on a minute — why do you look so nice today?’

Actually, I still need to get rid of them so that I can sneak into the loos and do my make-up, for one thing. But I did straighten my hair this morning and my hideous school skirt is probably rolled over one more time than usual to shorten it.

‘I’m just…’ It turns out I can’t resist. ‘I’m meeting Josh!’

As I say it I realise that this is the right thing to do. Be honest. Act normally.

‘What, like a date?’

‘Oh, I don’t know about that,’ I say, trying to sound all nonchalant and breezy. ‘He sent me a text last night because he’s on some sort of reading week or study leave or something from school. We’re just meeting for a quick chat – or, you know, whatever.’

‘Ooh!’ Alice exclaims, and she and Katey both burst out laughing.

‘Nice work!’

‘So…’ I continue, affecting a minxy look stolen straight out of Amie’s repertoire. ‘I need you two to get out of my hair so that I can get myself ready for my hot date.’

I giggle and joke along with them, and Alice even high-fives me on her way out. By the time they leave, I am shaking. I wait a couple of minutes until they’ve definitely gone, and then sneak downstairs to the changing rooms. They’re a bit out of the way, behind the sports hall, and nobody ever goes in there just to go to the loo. I should be safe for long enough.

Head down, I dash past some Year Seven and Eights in the sports hall doing some sort of after-school club choreographed dance routine, and barricade myself in.

Obviously I know what my plan is, but at first I’m not sure what to do. I have no idea how to go about it. I don’t even know if this is going to work. It should be so simple, but the whole thing suddenly seems harder than I thought.

I try chucking myself around the room a bit, colliding with the sinks; then I try hitting myself with a hockey stick that someone’s left in the corner, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to do it properly. None of it works at all. I just feel ridiculous.

I think for a moment and then go for new tactics. I grab my pencil case from my schoolbag and fish out my hardly used compass. Staring at my own reflection in the mirror above the sink, I brace myself and draw the compass down one side of my face. It’s not that sharp so I have to dig it in as hard as I can. It barely draws blood but a raised red welt comes up along the length of my cheek. It’s just right. I do a couple more, slightly shorter this time; they could easily pass for fingernail marks.

I hack up my forearms as much as I can, for good measure, and then bend down and go to work on my knee, but it doesn’t have much effect. I’ll have to tackle that when I get out there. With a sudden brainwave, I reach down further and take off my shoes. They’re chunky school shoes with a decent heel on them. My schoolbag is quite flimsy with long, thin straps. I empty everything else out and put my shoes in the bag.

First I try whacking myself around the legs and then my torso with it. I manage a few decent hits, especially around my shins and hipbones, but soon I find it’s easier just to drop it and punch myself as hard as I can around the ribs and stomach. Luckily, I’m quite pale and bruise easily – it should come up pretty nicely.

I wish I could make it hurt more. It all seems pretty feeble, but at least I’m finally making progress. Still, this really isn’t the big dramatic effect I need to go for. As always, it’s Not Good Enough.

Last of all, I swing the bag high above my head and smack myself as hard as I can in the face with it. It takes a frustratingly large number of goes, and I must look ridiculous, but eventually I hit the jackpot – one of the shoes cracks me at the exact spot in my nose that makes my head fill with pain for an instant, my eyes fill with tears and my nose start bleeding.

I look at myself in the mirror, and I am slightly horrified all over again at what I am doing, but I still manage to give my reflection a sick smile. My face is already red and puffing up, a tiny trickle of blood snaking undisturbed from my nose down to my chin. I still look pretty, still innocent, but definitely damaged…

BOOK: Gemini Falling
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