Rachel slammed into her bedroom. The door handle smashed through a faded poster and cracked the plaster behind it. Not caring, she pulled at the handle and kicked the door shut forcefully, screaming as she did so. That selfish, stupid, worthless bitch.
Her hands shaking, Rachel gripped her hair and looked wildly around her cluttered room as if some solution would pop out from behind the furniture and present itself to her. Nothing did. Anger was forcing its way through her brain, grinding any clear thought into splinters of insults, shame and bad memories.
She had never been this furious.
Once, when she was four, Rachel had been dragged out of her friend Alicia’s sleepover early. After eating her own bodyweight in chocolate, she promptly transformed into a sugar-crazed junkie with a tantrum so extreme that Rachel blacked out through most of it. Anger had invaded her sugary bloodstream like petrol gushing out of a burst fuel tank. All it took was one last spark of injustice as her bag of sweets were snatched out of her grasp, and she ignited.
Rachel remembered little of the screeching, punching and kicking, or the tirade of curses that no child should know which hurtled out of her mouth in a wave of spit and screaming. Yet she did remember the looks of horror directed at her mother from random passer-bys as the woman screamed at a child who was clearly having some form of epileptic fit on the pavement. Rach loved the memory of her mum’s pink, embarrassed face as she struggled to drag the tiny girl down the high street.
Rachel was used to anger, blackouts and tantrums, yet in her nineteen years she had never dreamed it was possible to be this uncontrollably furious.
Countless boyish faces smirked at her from all sides as she strode towards her bed and smashed her knee against the bedside table, just as she always did. She looked up at the faded posters surrounding her and longed for the grubby white paint underneath. When she was younger, she’d managed to steal enough posters out of teen magazines when her mum was buying cigarettes to coat her entire bedroom in one-hit-wonders and boy bands before she was caught. Today, the forgotten pop singers loomed at her smugly as she curled her hands into her hair tightly and tried to control her breathing.
The pounding in the room made it impossible to think clearly until she dimly realised that it was the pumping of her blood that she could hear gushing past her ears. She pulled her hands away, desperate to make the noise stop.
Rachel usually loved the self-justification that came with arguments, the feeling of being the only one in the room who was right. Yet the hate violating her body now was overwhelming.
Bex had always been the one to push her the closest to the edge. As children she had shown a talent for destroying Rachel’s favourite things, especially her toys. A bit older and she’d stolen her favourite shoes and ruined them in the snow. Then as soon as she was able there was that time when she’d stolen her favourite boyfriend and ruined him too. Oh yeah, stealing Jay Morgan while Rach was in the house still stung a year later. But this time her sister had outdone herself.
How could she be so stupid? So utterly stupid?
It was a mistake that Rachel could probably forgive, she lied to herself, if Bex had shown some form of regret or humility. Instead, Rebecca was proud. Remembering the smugness on her little sister’s face as she grandly announced her pregnancy immediately rekindled the desperate fury inside Rachel with a fresh surge of loathing.
She screamed into the still room and grabbed the nearest thing to her. Throwing it with all her strength, the make-up box shattered against her door dramatically. Lipsticks spun in all directions and powder exploded into the air, white dust mushrooming in the small bedroom and immediately coating Rachel’s red hair with white.
How did she not realise how selfish she was being? Did she really think that Colin would support them all after this? Support his step-daughter’s child?
Barely sixteen and her sister was pregnant.
“What the hell is going on up there?!” Her mum’s angry cry echoed through Rachel’s rage, redirecting it instantly.
She could kill her. Her own mum, and right now she could punch her in the face.
Rachel sincerely believed the words she had hurtled at the woman just moments before. This was all her fault. Bex had always been their mum’s favourite, always been spoiled while Rachel had been made an example of. Of course Bex would idolise her mum. Of course she would copy her in some misguided way to make her proud, not realising that it was the last thing that would provoke such a happy reaction in her mother.
The only comfort Rachel could find during the deafening argument downstairs was that the unborn child would screw up Bex’s life just like it had done their Mum’s. God knows she took enough out on Rachel for the nerve of being born. Rachel already hated her niece and she hadn’t even been born yet.
Christ. She was an aunt.
“If you destroy this house then you can damn well get out of it!”
That was it. Rach stormed towards her mother’s voice, whipping open the door but found Bex outside it instead. Rachel took pleasure in seeing her sister jump.
The girl found her voice quickly, “Why can’t you just be happy for me like my friends?”
For once, Bex wasn’t shouting at her. Her eyes were red. Rachel refused to let her sister’s pale face guilt her out of her anger. She deserved to be this furious.
“Because you’re sixteen! And your ‘friends’ are morons.” She spat.
“God, you’re so selfish! What is wrong with you? Why can’t you just congratulate me like everyone else?”
She was joking. She must be.
“Oh I’m sorry,” Rachel began, sarcasm dripping from her tongue, “Congratulations. Congratulations for ruining your life and your unborn child’s. I hope you just have a wonderful time dropping out of school and spending the rest of your life on benefits. I only hope your child will grow up to despise you too for being such a self-absorbed, desperate slut.”
Bex’s white face flushed red and the hurt in it transformed back to hate. It was her turn to scream now. She charged at Rachel, pushing her back into the wall.
“God, I hate you! You think you’re so much better than everyone when you work in some dead-end pub! I hate you!”
“Good!” Rachel screamed back, “Because there is no way I’m letting you ruin my life too!”
She slammed her forearm into the one that was clutching her shirt and broke Bex’s grip. With little effort she pushed the sixteen-year-old away from her. Bex fell back into her bedroom door heavily and burst into tears, just in time for their mum to reach the top of the stairs. Rach bit her lip and waited.
“What the hell are you doing?! She’s pregnant!” Her mother ran to her middle-daughter, shock plastered onto her face. Bex threw herself into the thin arms and bawled like the child she was. Rachel tried not to let guilt ruin this.
“She’s not disabled!” She hurtled back, “She shouldn’t start what she can’t take!”
Without waiting for another retort she slammed into her room and grabbed her handbag, before pushing past them again. Sprinting down the stairs, she tried to ignore the shock, screams and curses that chased after her.
Megan was at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at her with confusion, blue eyes wide with terror. The sight almost made Rachel stop dead in her tracks. She’d forgotten it was half-term and that the eight-year-old had been playing in the living room. Rachel knew that she should stop and explain the situation to her youngest sister, knowing that no one else would bother, but she simply couldn’t stop when the walls of this damned house felt like they were crushing her.
Megan said nothing as Rachel opened the front door and stormed out, but watched her with wide eyes that burned guiltily into her long after she had ran halfway down the estate, long legs taking giant strides in her desperation to escape.
Pushing Megan’s worried face out of her mind, Rachel tried to focus on her anger, yet with every step it was dissipating, being replaced with a hollow wretched feeling in her stomach.
She didn’t know where she was going. As she walked past Chanise’s house she felt an odd obligation to knock on the door. She paused outside the small council house with it’s shabby front door and unkempt front lawn. Every time Chanise had a bad day she was at Rachel’s door. The girl only needed to lose her eyeliner and she would be banging on number 32, mascara streaming down her face.
Rachel carried on walking. Her friend would be infuriated that Rachel hadn’t shared this gossip with her first, but then, Chanise being mad at her was nothing new. It wasn’t like they liked each other or anything.
Turning off from the courtyard with its row of identical houses, she cut down a quiet alleyway. Lazy graffiti coated the high wooden fences, the meaningless squiggles of blue and red spray paint were as familiar to Rachel as the street names of the estate, or the bright, optimistic logo of a fast food chain that littered the pavement along with its discarded junk food.
Once she had reached the high street she stopped, not knowing where to go next. Traffic rumbled endlessly down the street in a blur and strangers wandered past her as she paused uncertainly on the corner, everyone trapped in their own thoughts and worries. A bunch of teenagers were loitering outside the ‘one schoolchild at a time’ sign in the corner shop window, smoking proudly.
Feeling someone staring at her, Rachel turned to catch the eye of an old woman who was glaring from the bus stop. It was then that she realised how cold she was. Looking down, her eyes widened at her outfit of tight leggings and a crop top. It was her most ridiculous top too, white and slightly transparent, revealing bright pink bra straps to the world. She burst out laughing, her breath misting in the late November cold. Here she was at the start of winter in her clubbing gear on a Thursday afternoon.
Clearly deciding there was something wrong with this strange teenager, the old woman turned her head away from the hysterical girl and sunk even further into the enormous brown coat that enveloped her like a withered tortoise retreating into its shell.
Her sister was pregnant. Her sixteen year old sister was pregnant. Rachel bent over double and held her sides. Poor little Megan was barely eight and she was already going to be an aunt. She struggled to breathe as tears of laughter rolled down her cheeks. They could barely afford to feed themselves as it was but they were all proud of the girl who was so happy to drop out of school and bring another child into their miserable household.
Then, she wasn’t laughing anymore. Once the tears had been let loose, she couldn’t hold them back. Mortified, Rachel brought her hands to her face and sobbed. Stumbling to the covered bus stop, she sat heavily down on the hard plastic bench and wept silently. The old woman ignored her. Bouts of public crying weren’t unfamiliar in this part of town.
As she held her hand over her mouth and felt the tears trickle over her fingers, she finally let herself admit why she was so angry. If they were lucky, Colin would kick them all out, if they weren’t then they would owe him even more. Rachel was terrified to think what that might mean. She had been ten when her mum met Colin. Bex had been seven and was thrilled to finally have a father figure in their lives, Rachel was distraught.
They’d hated each other almost instantly. It had only got worse once Megan had been born. Rachel immediately recognised the resentment Colin held towards his baby, having been at the receiving end of the same resentful glance from her mother all her life. She’d been determined to not let Megan recognise it, but knew it was hopeless. And now it was all going to happen again with Bex.
She wiped her eyes aggressively and leaned her head back against the scratched plastic behind her. Rachel might never escape, but Meg might. She was bright and happy, for the most part. If that idiot teacher could remember who she was long enough to encourage her then she might even go to university. That is, if she made it through her teens.
Rachel sighed and eyed the bus trundling towards them with dark eyes. She needed to get drunk. Silently walking onto the half-empty bus, she found a seat by the steamed up window and pulled her emergency make-up from her handbag, grimacing as she looked at herself. Her eyes were red and she was still coated with powder. She shook her hands through he hair to get rid of the makeup and fixed the tangled red mop into a messy bun. Adjusting for the bumps and turns in the road that she knew by heart, she automatically applied more makeup while allowing herself to imagine a better future.
She tried to picture herself working in some club in Ibiza or pouring young Europeans rounds of tequila slammers in a Spanish bar, all of them golden, tanned and beautiful, but it was no use, she simply couldn’t ignore the heaviness lurking in her stomach. It just wasn’t going to happen. Every time she mused about her future, her mother would pop into her head, dead-eyed and miserable. This time it was Bex, complete with a screaming child in her arms. She stared out the steamy window blankly, not even seeing her own reflection.
The pub was half-dead when she walked in twenty minutes later, pausing by the door to let her eyes adjust to the dim light. Old men were scattered through the darkened building, each nursing their beers on individual wooden tables, steadily getting drunk alone. Somehow the building always seemed smoky and dark, even though no one had smoked in it for years. She often mused that the old cigarette fumes had permeated into the yellow walls forever, slowly seeping out toxins and giving her cancer.
She really needed to get drunk.
Stevo was leaning against the bar flicking through his phone. He looked up as she came in and wolf-whistled.
“Going out already?” he smiled at her as she perched herself heavily onto one of the vacant bar stalls.
“I had to leave quickly,” she admitted.
Stevo frowned, “You came out without a coat?”
She nodded and rested her head on her hand tiredly. She barely noticed Stevo disappear into the back room until he was back handing her his denim jacket.
She took the jacket gratefully and smiled, covering up the midriff which was becoming a great point of interest among the afternoon clientele. The old men grumbled in disappointment and went back to nursing their drinks.
“Wanna talk about it?” Stevo asked, automatically mixing her a vodka and coke without being asked.
“Only if you make that a double,” she responded.
“Oh boy, this must be bad,” he popped the drink in front of her and shook his head when she reached for her purse. Stevo was too good to her. For some reason he had always shown more interest in her than any of the other girls. Maybe it was because she was the only one likely to still be working there when they were both grey and wrinkled.
“Well?” he prompted when she didn’t say anything, choosing to down half her glass first.
“My sister is pregnant.” She announced with a flourish.
Stevo’s eyes widened and he put down his phone, “I really hope you’re not talking about Megan.”
Despite herself, she laughed loudly. Stevo was good at making people poke fun at themselves. She shook her head and took another sip.
“I met your boy the other day,” She smirked evilly.
Stevo let her change the subject and a small smile escape onto his usual stoic face.
“Turns out he’s Megan’s teacher.” She continued.
“Is he?” Stevo replied, “I didn’t know that. Well she’s definitely got the best then.” He sighed, the happy sound of a man in love. Rachel protected him from what she really thought of his boyfriend who had spent the first ten minutes of parent’s evening talking about the wrong Megan.
“It sure is a small world,” she replied instead.
“She’s gotta be going on that London trip then. Adam can’t wait.”
She let Stevo prattle on about his boyfriend in silence and embraced the odd hush of the pub. She’d been accused of being unforgiving in the past but Rachel didn’t care. She’d be grateful to the bloke when Megan was a bestselling author or something. “He had to battle with the school to get it all sorted. It’s all he’s been talking about.”
Rach took another long gulp of her drink.
“Is Megs excited?” he asked when she didn’t respond. He had a habit of continuing to talk for you if you weren’t in the mood.
“No,” Rachel replied, “Colin ain’t paying for it. Says it’s a waste of money you know. She didn’t ask twice.”
“God that guy’s a waste of space.”
“Yeah well, we know what I think of him.” She finished her drink and handed Stevo a note from her purse. He eyed her suspiciously as he took it and began pouring her another drink.
“He bothered you recently?” he asked, trying to be tactful.
Rachel scoffed, “His existence bothers me.”
“You know what I mean,” Stevo replied quietly.
She presented the big man with a genuine smile. Stevo may look like a thug with his shaved head and sleeve tattoos crawling round his arms but he was the kindest person she knew. He cared about his staff.
“He ain’t said nothing recently.” She replied.
“He don’t, like, bother you at night or nothing does he?” Stevo couldn’t look her in the eye anymore.
“No.” She tried to laugh at him but couldn’t. The fact was, she’d been getting more concerned about Colin by the day. God knows what he would do once Mum told him about Bex. After a silence, she eventually got the nerve to ask Stevo what she’d wanted to for months. “Can I ask you a favour?”
“Anything.” He replied happily.
“Put a lock on our bedroom doors could you? I’ll get ‘em but I don’t know how to put them up.”
Stevo’s eyes snapped back to hers immediately. He stared at her intensely for a long time, “Are you telling the truth about Colin?”
“Yes,” she replied, forcing herself not to look away from Stevo’s serious gaze, “He ain’t done nothing. I’d just feel happier if there was a lock between me and a screaming baby.”
Stevo scoffed, although his eyes were still serious. “Of course I can.”
She smiled at him and hoped it reached her eyes.
“Well Megan may be happy she ain’t going on that trip.” Stevo eventually continued, happy to turn the conversation back towards his love life. “Adam says them kids in his class are weird.”
“What, your boy’s scared of a bunch of kids?” She replied dryly.
“No. But, well, Adam says they’re proper weird. I don’t think he really likes them. They’re not friendly, you know, not like most kids that age.”
Rachel thought of her half-sister and tried to recall the last time she’d been round a friend’s house. Nothing came to her.
“Yeah, I know.” She sighed unhappily.
Stevo frowned at her again.
“We’re okay Stevo.” She lied. “Honestly.”
Well, what do you think so far? How does it compare to my prologue? I’m uploading a chapter once a fortnight so it won’t be long until you’re introduced to a new character. What do you think of Rachel and her family?