It’s happening again.
Voices rise above the music playing in my headphones and I know that the argument has gotten out of hand. I sit on the top step of the stairs and listen to my mother and Rob shout at each other from the depths below.
“I can’t believe you spent my money!” Rob cries. I can see his towering shadow, as he paces back and forth in the living room.
“I’m sorry! I’ll pay it back! I promise!” mum is saying, her voice taking on a defeated tone.
I hear a smash and fear grips me. “That’s not good enough Collette!”
“I can give the money back to you next month!”
“The money won’t be good to me next month! I need it now!”
I hold my breath and close my eyes, imagining that I’m on a beach and it’s sunny and Rob isn’t there. All I can hear are the waves crashing against the shoreline, the wind whipping my face, the salty air rising up to greet me.
The best part is that I’m alone and I’m at peace with the world. There isn’t anyone or anything that can spoil this moment of utter tranquillity... except, of course, the harsh reminder of my reality which is about to come crashing down once again.
“Stop fucking crying!” Rob shouts.
“I don’t know how I can make any of this better Rob,” Mum’s croaky voice returns.
“I don’t want to hear your pathetic excuses or apologies. You can start by selling something valuable. My dealer isn’t going to be happy to find out you’ve spent his money.”
Dealer? I knew Rob couldn’t be trusted.
“I don’t even know why I put up with you! You’re just a slapper that can’t help herself around men! Pathetic and desperate is what you are. No wonder you’re so messed up. No wonder nobody wants you.”
That’s enough to put me over the edge.
I launch myself downstairs and find mum on the floor in tears. Rob is standing over her and I’m tempted to attack him, right here, right now. I have never hated someone so much in my life.
I crush my fists together, nails tearing through skin. “I think it’s time you left Rob!” I screech.
Both heads turn to look at me. “You’d better stay out of this,” Rob snarls.
“You have no right to talk to my mum like that! Get out!”
Mum crawls over to where I’m standing, her eyes bloodshot and teary. She looks terrified and there’s nothing I can do to help, because she won’t let me.
“Skye, please go back to your room. It’s fine. We’re sorting things,” she reassures me.
“He’s speaking to you like you’re a piece of dirt on the back of his shoe! You don’t need him, he’s ridiculous!”
Rob edges forward and I take a slight step away from him. “You’d better watch it.”
“This is none of your business Skye. Go,” mum pleads. “Please go.”
Reluctantly, I walk back upstairs and wait. Batman decides to make his presence known somewhere in between all the commotion. He doesn’t stay very long and I can’t blame him. If I had the opportunity to get out of here, I would take it in a heartbeat.
The voices die down after an hour and when I hear the front door slam, I return to my mother’s side. She’s in a worse state than when I left her.
I reach for her hand and try to get her to look at me. She’s staring into space, oblivious to her surroundings. Tears are falling down her face.
“Rob wants the money back by next week,” she whispers, lowering her head.
I swallow the growing lump in my throat. “How much does he want?”
My eyes widen. “What did you spend his money on?”
“The recliner and I bought some other things too.”
I sigh into my hands. “Weren’t you aware that Rob would be needing his money back eventually?”
“Yes, but I thought it would be okay to pay him back later.”
I hold my head. “You can’t keep doing this.”
I quickly realise that I’ve said the wrong thing when she erupts from the couch. “It’s not like I can help it Skye! Everything I do is for you – for us!”
“I understand that, but when you use money that doesn’t belong to you, that’s when it becomes a problem. Rob is dangerous. He could do anything.”
“I don’t need reminding Skye!” she shouts through the panic. “I wish I’d never touched it!”
“Can’t you send the sofa back?”
She shakes her head. “I can’t. It’s non-refundable.” Of course, it is.
I’m starting to feel the first pickles of sweat. “Where are we going to get that kind of money from then?” Dread rises in my chest at the thought of it.
“I’ll find a way.”
She raises a hand in the air to silence me. “I said I’ll sort it Skye.”
Rob is dangerous. Considering it wasn’t even his money to begin with, we’re faced with another dilemma. The dealer that Rob was talking about could be an even bigger problem if he discovers that we’re responsible for his lack of payment. We might be dragged into something that neither of us signed up for.
I spent the next morning on the Indeed website. It doesn’t come as a surprise to find that there are no job openings available in my local area. This is a huge disappointment. Leaving the situation in the hands of my mother isn’t helping to ease my anxiety either.
I thought that I’d dreamt everything that happened yesterday, including the Lakesiders joining us. But, when I walk into class it’s clear that I didn’t invent the whole thing up. It wasn’t a dream.
Grayson glances in my direction as I sit down. His girlfriend is sitting in his lap and she’s the walking definition of beautiful. I ignore them both the best that I can, even though I’m aware I’m being watched.
That’s when I overhear his girlfriend say, “What is she wearing? She can’t even dress herself properly.”
Turning around, I glare at the pair of them, unamused. “Wow, if looks could kill,” she adds, planting a lingering kiss on Grayson’s lips before saying, “I’ll see you later babe... if you survive.”
Grayson holds a pen between his teeth, grinning. I stare at him, narrowing my eyes. “You’d better watch the ink doesn’t spill, you wouldn’t want to ruin your pearly whites,” I say, when his girlfriend is gone.
“Aw, thanks for caring.”
“Don’t misunderstand me. I’m more worried about the pen and how much ink would go to waste.”
His mouth curls up into an almost smile, but there’s no warmth to it. “I hope I didn’t get you into too much trouble with the teacher yesterday.”
“Nothing I couldn’t handle.”
“Ah yeah, that’s true. You’re probably used to getting told off for misbehaving, aren’t you?”
The urge to wrap a hand around his throat and squeeze is only getting stronger. Luckily, Harper comes to my rescue. “How are you finding Barnett so far Grayson?”
Grayson snorts and rubs his temple. “I can’t say I’m warming up to it. Lakeside is my home and obviously, I would much rather be there than in this—” I dare him to say a bad word about the place, but he quickly reconsiders. “College facility.”
“Hurry up and return then,” I mumble, receiving a kick under the table from Harper.
“I understand that it must be hard for you, coming to a new college where you don’t know anyone. It must be daunting,” Harper attempts, for a second time. I applaud her for continuing to be friendly despite his bad attitude.
“I wouldn’t call it daunting exactly, I’d say it’s more of... a nightmare becoming a reality.”
This gets Harper’s eyebrows shooting up to her hairline. I face forward, determined to block him out of my system. It’s kind of impossible though when he’s got an answer for everything and he’s sitting in the chair right next to mine.
“If we were to conduct a news interview for example, how would we approach it?” Ricky is in the middle of asking, scanning the room for a show of hands.
Grayson doesn’t let me finish. “First you would schedule the interview.”
“State the blinking obvious Albert Einstein.” I direct my full attention towards Ricky again. “One of the main procedures would be to carry out research. You can’t conduct an interview without research.”
Grayson places a hand over his heart. “Thank you, I’m so glad you’re comparing me to one of the brainiest men that ever existed.”
“There’s this thing called sarcasm,” I say, sharply.
“Never heard of it.”
“Ugh, you’re so annoying.”
“Ugh, you’re so annoying,” he repeats back to me, an octave higher.
“Stop that,” he mimics in a voice that sounds absolutely nothing like mine.
Ricky sighs heavily. “Both of you quit it! You’re acting like a pair of bickering children.” He places two hands on his desk and whispers under his breath, “I swear, I’m not getting paid enough for this.”
“Sir, when are we actually going to be doing some work?” Shelly demands, making me want to hit her over the head a few times... with her own stationary kit.
Ricky maintains his composure, keeping his voice light. “Group discussions are a good way to get ideas flowing and as aspiring journalists, you need to be able to work together.”
Shelly pops her gum. “We used to work individually at Lakeside and that suited us just fine. We didn’t need much guidance, unlike these Barnett college wannabes.”
What happens next is a total blur. The class erupts. Josie looks as if she’s about to punch Shelly and Shelly is covering her face to protect herself. Harper is trying to be the voice of reason but can’t be heard above the noise. Sheryl and Eddie are throwing insults at each other and Grayson has just aimed a rubber band at me, signalling that the war has only just begun.
Grabbing my pencil case, I launch it at him full force and instead of hitting Grayson, it hits the glass window with a smack. Grayson bursts into laughter and while his eyes are closed, I whack him over the head with my notebook. He doubles over and stares up at me with the coldest expression.
“What the hell? This is physical abuse!” he cries, cradling his injury.
“You are such a drama queen!”
“This town is bonkers! You people are mad.”
I inhale sharp breaths. “No, we are normal. You’re too stuck up your own behinds to fit in here.”
“That’s enough!” A loud voice screams, silencing the class in seconds. “Everybody sit down!”
We do as we’re told, not wanting to rile Ricky up even more. He’s exhausted after trying to control the class.
“This is not acceptable.” I throw Grayson a disgusted glance and he sends me one right back. “Quite frankly, I’m disappointed.”
“Me too,” Grayson exclaims, throwing his hands in the air. “I thought this college would at least have computers that function. I can’t even comment on the Wi-Fi. It only works in certain areas of the building. I have to lean out of the window to get internet access.”
Ricky approaches the table and Grayson backs up in his chair. “If you are constantly going to crack jokes, maybe this isn’t the right course for you Mr. Swain. Journalism is a serious profession.”
“I do take it seriously.” He waves his hands in protest. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
Ricky returns to the whiteboard, eyeing us all carefully. “Please remember why you are here. I know nobody is happy about the situation. But you’re going to have to start accepting that this is how it is if you want to continue learning. You can comment on my work ethic as much as you like, but I am not going to change my way of teaching or technique for anyone.”
I do a little victory dance in my head and I’m dying to chant, “Go Ricky! Go!” but I keep quiet.
“Barnett college students, this rule applies to you also.” Wait. What? “Your behaviour has been just as unacceptable. You can all hate each other if you wish, but in my classroom, I expect you to put your differences aside. We may not have the best computers, or the best technology, but what we do have is spirit and motivation. We support our students and want them to succeed. We are a family and that’s how it’s always been.”
There are a few hushed whispers, mostly coming from the Lakesiders. “And if you really can’t tolerate it here any longer, then feel free to go. But remember that the only way to get to university is by finishing this course and we are the best you’re going to get.”
Nobody moves or says anything, and I didn’t realize how much I missed learning in silence.