Authors: Sophia Gray
The Zoey Chronicles
By Sophia Gray
© 2013 BCN Press
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
And above all – Enjoy!
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My father’s war medal was cold in my hand, and it glistened in the morning light. I held it higher and smiled at how glorious it looked, and wished more than anything that I’d known the man who it had belonged to. He’d won it for bravery; that much I knew.
I turned and looked at myself in the mirror, and found it hard to believe that I was related to someone who’d won a medal for doing something heroic. Zoey Brook, one of the most timid-looking girls to have ever lived. Why did I put myself through this? I should’ve just destroyed all the mirrors in my house and been done with it. It’s not like my alcoholic mother would have minded, or even noticed.
I sighed heavily and rubbed my eyes. I hated school, but then again, who doesn’t? It seemed to me to be one of the most horrid organizations to have ever been invented. Why would someone force me to interact with people who hated me? Why should I be forced to endure the hell? Oh well. Despite my daily concerns, I put on my jacket and grabbed my bag, and made for the bedroom door.
I held the medal tightly in my hand as I descended the stairs. The stench of alcohol and sweat washed over me when I walked into the front room. My mother was sat on the sofa, a bottle of whisky in her hand, a cigarette in her pale blue lips, and food down her front.
“Are you okay?” I said.
She turned her head with what seemed like a massive effort. “Do I look okay?” Her voice had a keen edge to it. She’d always been like this. The moment I showed the slightest concern for her, she jumped on the chance to shout at me. She hated me, but I didn’t know why. I had never understood why.
“Yes,” I said, knowing that if I replied otherwise she’d go off the rails.
Her face clenched in pain as she struggled to her feet, the cigarette falling from her lips and landing on the dirty floor. She took a swig from the bottle of whisky and smiled with pleasure. She loved that poison. “Are you sure?” she said, walking the length of the room and standing in front of me. The reek of alcohol was stifling, being this close to her.
I held the medal and tried to imagine what my father would do. What would the man who’d won a medal for bravery do in this situation? He’d tell her to step away and leave the room, or he’d challenge her and make her sit back down. Was I going to do that? No way. I lowered my gaze and loosened my grip on the medal. I didn’t deserve it. I was a coward. “Yes, I’m sure,” I said.
“Good,” she said. “Now get the hell out of my house.”
I skulked away, feeling like a piece of dirt. Why did my mother hate me so much? What had I ever done to deserve it? I couldn’t think of anything.
In my earliest memory of her she sitting on the sofa and watching television. I’d walked over to her and smiled, and hugged her knee. She’d kicked me away and cringed like she’d just been touched by a rat. “Never do that again,” she’d said, even as I’d cried. “Never hug me again.”
The memory almost brought tears to my eyes, but I’d learnt how to be strong. She wouldn’t make me cry. She wouldn’t get the satisfaction. She’d already made me feel like I was worthless and didn’t deserve to be alive. I wasn’t going to let her see the effect she had on me.
I left the house and walked to Benjamin’s, feeling terrible. There was a knot in my chest that made me feel like I was going to be sick, and the idea of going to school made me want to fall asleep never to awake.
I held the medal to my chest and looked up at the sky. I muttered a quick prayer to my father, even though I wasn’t religious. I prayed to be as strong as him.
Benjamin was my best friend, my only friend in fact. He was a nice boy. He was like me. His mother was dead and his father beat him, and everyday he came to school with a new set of bruises. He was quiet and liked to hide in the library during break-times, and did everything in his power to avoid bullies, which seemed to make him more of a target.
He always looked at me with such loving eyes, and it killed me that I couldn’t return his affection. They were pale blue and the most beautiful thing about him. I knew that he liked me. I’d known it ever since we’d met. I didn’t understand it. Why the hell would he want me? But it was obvious to see. Every word, every gesture, every facial expression was an indicator of his feelings.
I also knew that it was unfair of me to stay friends with him. I was leading him on. But what else was I supposed to do? I had no one else. With him, my life was bearable. Without him, I don’t think I’d be able to cope. Plus we’d known each other for years.
I smiled as his pale blue eyes came into view, and he smiled back. “Zoey,” he said, handing me a chocolate bar. “I got this for you.”
I took and unwrapped it, and bit into it immediately. My mouth exploded with flavour. Dark chocolate swam through my teeth and around my tongue, and then down my throat. I closed my eyes and savoured the taste. When I opened them Ben was looking at me expectantly. “It’s good,” I told him.
He smiled widely, clearly happy that I’d enjoyed his gift. “Great,” he said. “That’s . . . that’s just fantastic!” Ben had a habit of trying a little too hard. Sometimes it felt like he was always trying to impress. “Do you want me to carry your bag?”
“No, it’s fine . . .” I said, but he was already taking it from me. His hands were clumsy and it took him a while to get it off my back. As he did so, his hand brushed my neck. It was warm and soft, and I wondered if he’d done it on purpose or by accident.
He smile grew even wider. “Shall we set off then?”
I swallowed and stroked my father’s medal. “I suppose so.”
The school was teeming with children
. I felt like I was lost in a sea of playfulness as I walked through them all. Looking around, Ben and I seemed to be the only two who weren’t joining in with the morning merriment. That made sense. Sometimes it seemed like everyone in the school hated us.
Ben smiled at me as we waded our way through. It was then that I noticed the nasty purple welt on the side of his face. “Ben!” I gasped. “Your face!”
He looked away like he was embarrassed and covered his face with his hand. “It’s nothing,” he said. He picked up his pace and I had no choice but to follow him. I wanted to help him somehow, but I didn’t know how to. His father was a big man, and it wasn’t my place to go telling anybody what was going on. That was Ben’s responsibility.
“You should tell someone,” I said when he finally stopped. It was quiet here, around the back of the science classrooms where people rarely went. It was our regular before-school hangout.
He shrugged like it was nothing and smiled, but then his confidence broke and he utterly collapsed. He started to cry, and I instinctively went forward to embrace him. I wrapped my arms around him and stroked his hair. I could feel tears falling on my front, hot against my skin. He buried his head into me further and continued to cry. “It’s okay,” I said. “It’ll all be okay.”
After a long while he pulled away and wiped his eyes. He stared at me with big, puppy eyes, eyes I’d seen before. “You mean everything to me,” he said. “Zoey, you’re the only reason I’m still here.”
I knew that his words had two meanings. The first was that we had a solid friendship, one that we’d both benefited from. The other was that he loved me, really loved me, for reasons I didn’t understand. I chose to reply as if he’d only meant the first meaning. “You too, Ben,” I said. “Without our friendship I don’t think I would be here either.”
At the word
his face dropped, and he wiped his cheek with the back of his hand. “Exactly,” he said. “Our friendship means everything to me too.”
I tried to smile, but I could see that I’d hurt him, and all I could manage was a weak mockery of a smile. I put my hand on his arm and squeezed it, and he looked up at me and smiled. Some of his strength seemed to have returned. But then his expression completely changed as he looked past me, over my shoulder. “What is it?” I said, but even as I spoke I knew.
Jessica Kinburrow. She was one of the vilest creatures to have ever walked the earth, and she hated me even more than my mother did. I heard her voice before I saw her. “What’s this?” she said. “A couple of freaks getting freaky behind the science rooms?” Her friends laughed.
I squeezed the medal and prayed to be as strong as my father. Would my father have let himself be bullied? Would he have meekly apologised for the crime of being alive? How would he have reacted to someone trying to make him feel small, like Jessica did to me every day? I knew the answer. He’d be brave, and deal with the problem.
For the thousandth time in my life, I realised painfully that I was nothing like my father. “Oh, hello,” I said weakly.
There were four of them. Jessica stood at the front. She was a fat girl, her school t-shirt barely able to contain her stretchmark-covered belly. She had a pig-snout for a nose, and her ears stuck out from her head at a harsh angel. Her friends seemed identical: bullies in school uniforms with mean smiles on their faces. “What did you say, you ugly worm?”
I looked at the ground. “Hello.”
Ben stepped forward, puffing his chest out. He looked ridiculous, like a mouse before a group of wolves. “Leave her alone,” he said, but they either didn’t hear him or pretended not to.
“How much money you got, ugly?” Jessica said, coming forward and standing in front of me. Ben made to put a hand on her, but quicker than I would have believed her friends jumped forward and grabbed him, and threw him to the floor.
They started beating him, and the saddest thing is that he didn’t fight back or call out. He just took it. I knew why. He’d been beaten so many times that he was used to it. I lurched forward, but Jessica shoved me up against the wall. I tried to struggle free, but I was no match for her massive bulk. “Did you hear what I said?”
Suddenly I realised something, and the realisation gripped my heart. The medal! What if she saw the medal? It was still in my hand. If she found it she’d surely take it, simply because she could and she knew that it’d hurt my feelings. I clenched it tight and gritted my teeth.
I knew what I had to do, but it would hurt. Was a chunk of metal worth it? Yes, I decided, because it wasn’t just a chunk of metal. It was the only connection I had to the father I’d never known.
I spat in Jessica’s face with all my strength. A big, green-slime glob shot out of my mouth and hit her squarely in the nose. She fell back and screamed out in disgust, and I used the seconds to slip the medal into my back-pocket. But then she recovered.
I tensed up and closed my eyes, but it didn’t make the beating any easier. For a time all I knew was pain and blackness. I was dimly aware of Ben calling out, screaming for Jessica to stop, but it was hard to hear over the sound of my own cries, or Jessica’s laughing.
Her fist came down hard on my shoulder with a loud cracking sound. I screamed out and felt pain shoot through my body. She hit it again, and again and again, and the pain became unbearable. I opened my eyes and saw Ben being held back by Jessica’s friends. “Stop!” he was saying. “Stop! Stop!” But no one was listening.
I felt my eyes becoming heavy and all I wanted to do was sleep. Jessica hit me again, in the same place, and it felt like someone had just stabbed me with a white-hot knife. I curled up into a ball and cried, and it felt like I was crying tears of blood. My face burnt with agony. I heard myself begging and Jessica laughing, but it didn’t feel like me.
I was somewhere else, in my head, trying to escape the beating. She hit me again and this time there was no pain.
There was just blackness.