FROM HER ROOM SHE COULD STILL HEAR THEIR MUMBLINGS. A haughty laugh came from the doctor, then the front door closed and he was gone. Donna knew her parents would be back upstairs soon enough and didn’t look forward to that.
It wasn’t long before they returned, walking straight in to sit on the bed beside her. She noticed how serious they looked as if they were really concerned.
‘Donna, you have to pull yourself together, for your own sake as well as ours,’ her mother began, with watery eyes.
‘We were devastated when we found out you’d been raped, but what’s happened since is even worse. Splitting up with Blake, the abortion and now this business at work. And all you do is mope around up here, twiddling your thumbs. What’s got into you, love?’ Her dad looked deep into her eyes, shaking his head, obviously wishing someone could talk sense into her.
‘Nothing. I don’t need this – and I can’t help the way I feel.’
‘No, but you can’t expect us to sit here while your life goes down the pan.’ Her mother leaned over to put a hand on her shoulder. Donna flinched. ‘You’re still very young; with your whole life ahead of you. There’s so much you could do if only you realised it. It’s heart breaking to see you like this.’
She slid down into the bed, closed her eyes, and covered her ears with her hands to drown out whatever they were about to say. She hoped they’d get the message, as it was all she could think of to make them go away.
After a little while she was aware of them getting off the bed. Then she moved her hands from her ears and opened her eyes to see the door to her room closing. Thank God for that, she thought and turned onto her side and drifted off to sleep.
She woke to the sound of someone swishing back the curtains to allow in the light. Moving over onto her back, and with squinting eyes she saw her mother’s determined face in front of her, obviously in a very black mood. She was always apprehensive when her mother was like this.
Before long Donna felt herself being pulled out of bed by the arms.
‘Come on young lady, up you get. Before he went the doctor said not to let you lie around all morning in bed, feeling sorry for yourself. All right, everybody knows you’ve had a terrible experience, but that’s over now - time to get off your backside and start living your life again. And if you can’t do it by yourself, we’ll do it for you. Now – I won’t tell you twice.’ It was an order.
‘You can’t do this. Piss off and leave me alone, will you?’ It wasn’t the first time she’d sworn at her mum, but on this occasion she seemed incensed by it.
Donna saw her mother raise her hand, but didn’t expect the slap she got across her cheek. It stung painfully and made her gasp. ‘Wash your mouth out, young lady. Don’t you ever talk to me like that again – you hear? You will get up now whether you like it or not. Or do I have to drag you by the scruff of the neck into the bathroom myself, as I did when you were a kid? Come on, what’s it to be? And when you’ve had something to eat, we’re going out to fetch your prescription and then you’re coming shopping with us. No argument. I’m through pussyfooting with you.’
‘And what if I won’t go?’
‘You’re coming. End of story. We’re getting you some new clothes.’
‘I don’t need anything.’
‘You do. You need them so you can be presentable when you go to interviews.’
‘Yes, interviews for jobs. If you’re not going back to Bluethorn, you’ll have to find something else. It won’t be difficult with your qualifications. You were the one who wanted to get a degree, weren’t you? I know there’s not much you can’t turn your hand to, be it beauty or brains. So now let’s see you prove it.’
Donna found out some clothes, all the time glaring at her mother, and headed for the bathroom, still feeling the stinging pain of the slap. Her mum meant business that was for sure and was still waiting outside the door when she came out.
The two of them came downstairs together, and went into the kitchen, where Donna’s father was already sitting, reading his newspaper.
As she sat opposite her dad to eat a bowl of cereal, looking over his spectacles he said, ‘I gather we’re going shopping?’
‘That’s what mum’s said.’
‘Good. You need something to wear, to make you look nice again. So that you’ll stand out from everyone else at your interviews. Then you’ll be halfway towards getting another job.’
‘Dad, even if that were true, I wouldn’t want it to be that way. If I get a job, it’ll be through ability, rather than because I happen to be pretty.’ She got up and put her cereal bowl in the sink.
‘But you’d be a fool not to try to look your best. First impressions count for a lot.’
‘I don’t need this from either of you.’ She started to move towards the door.
‘Sit down!’ her mother bellowed. ‘You’ll make the effort if I have to push you all the way myself.’
Feeling tearful again, she clasped her hands together before speaking, ‘I can’t do anything anymore. My confidence is shattered, and everywhere I go I keep imaging that man is out there waiting for me.’
‘Darling, he’s not. He doesn’t know who you are, or where you live or worked. He won’t even remember what you look like.’
‘Your father’s right, you’ll be with us, love, all the time we’re out shopping. We won’t leave you alone for a minute.’
‘I’m not sure. Don’t want you spending all your money on me. I’ll have some of my own one day, and then I can buy all the clothes I want myself.’
‘Donna, we have money sitting in a bank account doing nothing. Your mother and I can’t think of anyone we’d rather spend it on than you. Now, not another word. We’ll have a browse around the shops and see what happens – all right?’
She hadn’t the energy to argue any further.
The morning was cool, dry and sunny but windy. For Donna it was the first time she’d been out since the day of the Bluethorn incident. She shivered and was glad when she got into the car. Dexford Shopping Centre beckoned. Normally a place she relished visiting with all its boutiques and designer shops, but today she didn’t care and was only doing this because of the pressure her parents were putting on her.
They stopped outside every clothes shop they came across, pointing to this and that in the window, hoping to encourage Donna to go inside. But she pulled a face, or shook her head as if she wasn’t interested.
Her parents never lost their cool however, even when they saw how stubborn Donna was trying to be. It was only when they went inside a large department store to buy her dad a new coat that Donna looked at a few of the dresses situated close by.
‘Why don’t you try one on?’ her mum encouraged, looking across at her.
Donna jumped slightly, bit her lip, suddenly feeling embarrassed, but then saw a turquoise chiffon dress that was rather nice. Normally she would have gone for it like a shot, but right now…
She took it off the rack, stared at it for a few seconds.
‘Go on, what have you got to lose,’ her dad said.
The more she thought about it, the more tempted she became. Without looking at them she went into the changing room with the dress.
The old yearnings for nice pretty clothes didn’t quite return, but perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if she tried this one on. There would be no obligation whatsoever to buy. As she stared at herself in the mirror, even she had to admit, the dress was very fetching. However she wouldn’t parade about in it in front of her parents, and didn’t care what they thought.
She was undecided, her eyes darting all over the place as she attempted to make up her mind. Back in she went to the mirror for another look. Surely, it wouldn’t hurt – would it? She’d pay them back later.
Out she came, and without looking at her parents said, ‘I’ll have the dress, that’s if it’s all right with you?’
‘That’s fine,’ her father said with a hint of a smile.
Once she started, there was no stopping her, and going from shop to shop, she eventually settled on a grey suit and a cream silk blouse, in addition to the turquoise dress.
On the way home she said, ‘I’ll pay you back.’
‘And how will you do that?’ her mother asked.
She hesitated. ‘I don’t know, but I will.’
‘Anyway, I’m glad you got something. All we need to do now is to find you somewhere to wear them,’ her father said glancing in his mirror at her as he drove.
‘We’ll have to get ourselves invited to a few parties, go out more often too. And you, young lady should reacquaint yourself with a few of your old friends, the ones you dropped for Blake. Or make new friends when we go out,’ her mother added.
‘Don’t worry Donna. Just take it at your own pace. Why don’t you ring up a few people like Clare or Felicity – you were really close to them before you met up with Blake – weren’t you?’ her dad said.
Donna sighed to herself. Felt nauseous even to consider such a thing.
Her dad continued, ‘I can’t help telling you this, but you’ll look sensational in all your new clothes. Just think, if you can look great, when you’re at your lowest ebb, imagine how you’ll be when you’re at your best?’
She let out a quiet gasp. He was getting as bad as her mother. Would they never give it a rest?
‘I’m not interested. I won’t wear those clothes, nor will I go to any parties or meet up with any of my stupid old friends. They’ll all know about it too -’
‘Not that again. But how can they? There was nothing in the papers or the local news, there’s no way –’
‘They’ll find out, dad. Word gets around. I can imagine them now, hey… I hear some guy raped Donna... and so it goes on and on. You don’t know what it’s like out there in the big wide world.’
‘It’s no good talking to you,’ her mother said. ‘You can’t tell me the whole of Dexford know about the rape. Anyway if you won’t go out or socialise, find yourself another job. And if you can’t get a job you want, do what you do best. You’d walk into something in no time. All right, so you’re a little older but over the next five or ten years you could make a fortune and then after that, you could do whatever you choose.’
‘How can you even think I’d want to go back to that?’ A single tear trickled down the side of her face.
‘Donna, you haven’t much choice? If you can’t do what you’re trained for, what you did before is the only answer. Smile nicely at the camera and you’ll have it made. That’s not too difficult, now is it?’
‘You never give up; mother, do you? Even when I’m ill. How can you sink so low?’
‘Someday you’ll learn, Donna. I realise you’re uncomfortable modelling in front of people or cameras. But darling, your mother’s right, you don’t have to do much except to walk casually from one end of the stage to the other. It’s easy money if you look at it logically.’
Her mother looking serious joined in. ‘And love, as you’re no longer earning, think very carefully about your options. Unemployment or sickness benefit isn’t much and won’t last forever. And then what will you do?’
Donna’s face filled with torment and anguish. Coming back home had been a big mistake. And now there was no way out.
‘I won’t do it, no matter what you threaten,’ she blurted out, feeling like she was looking death in the eye.
‘You have to do something. Everyone’s in the same boat - they have no choice either. Not many things are certain in this life, but we all have to pay the bills. Whether we’ve been raped or not.’
What a heartless thing to say? And coming from her dad, made it seem even worse.
’Anyway, tonight we’re getting you out of the house. The three of us are going to dine out at ‘Rossi’s’, that new Italian restaurant off Dexford High Street. Very posh and expensive, your father says. You can put on that new turquoise dress of yours, doll yourself up. All right?’
She began to tremble, the very idea of going out with her parents was bringing on an anxiety attack.
As soon as they arrived home, Donna stormed out of the car with her shopping, making her way to the front door. She opened it with her key.
‘So where you going now?’ her mother shouted after her.
‘To my room –’
‘Fine, but don’t you forget we’re going out tonight. You be ready on time – all right?’ her father said following her into the house.
‘I’m not going.’
Her mother and father looked at one another with despair.
‘We’ll call you when... ’ her father began but Donna was half way up the stairs and didn’t hear the end of the sentence.
Slamming the bedroom door shut, she threw her new clothes onto the bed as if they were bits of rubbish. Then switched on her hi-fi and played heavy rock music loudly, knowing this would irritate her parents. Surprisingly, she never heard another peep out of them. Thank goodness for small mercies, she thought.
Perhaps they meant well by insisting she should go out, but they didn’t understand what an ordeal it would be for her. Whilst people had often been complimentary towards her, in her present state she couldn’t bear anyone looking at her, especially men, even if they were only admiring glances. Ever since the attack she wanted to fade into the background. This was building up to another crisis; she felt it coming on because as long as she lived she would never pursue a career in modelling.
Having sat on the bed for a while, she took the clothes out of their bags; and hung them in her wardrobe without looking at them. Then she lay back down, put the earphones in her ears and into her hi-fi, and closed her eyes to block out the world outside. Yet even this was no good, with thoughts of her parents floating around in her mind, she felt tense and her breathing came in great bursts, as she remembered the anger on their faces when they returned home. It was as if her mother had staged the whole affair, by spending money on new clothes so that she could dress up and be noticed.
However a little time later, the inevitable happened, she went on a guilt trip that wouldn’t go away, and pulling out her earphones, walked over to the wardrobe, took out her new dress and placed it on the bed. She would go out with them, but only this once, she decided. Finally she went for a shower, then hurriedly returned to her room to get dressed.
She began to apply make-up, and as she glanced at herself in the mirror, stopped for a second, wishing so desperately that Blake had been the person to take her away from this. But no, he’d let her down badly, at a time when she’d needed him most. Now she had nothing to take his place.
In the middle of this, someone called her. Turning her hi-fi down, and poking her head around the bedroom door, she saw her mother shouting from the bottom of the stairs.
‘Donna! Are you getting yourself ready to go out or not? Time is moving on. Your dad’s booked a table for seven o’clock - and it’s almost six-fifteen now.’
‘All right, all right, I’ll be down in a minute.’ She screwed up her eyes in frustration at her mother’s attitude - it went against the grain to give in to her mother’s wishes. But she felt compelled after they’d just spent all that money.
‘Good, don’t be too long now.’
With that Donna closed the door.
How she wished there was a way out, but there wasn’t and although she had to go this time, she wouldn’t give in again. So she finished making-up, meticulous around the eyes, mouth and cheeks. Round her neck she wore a solid gold twisted necklace, given to her by her father on the occasion of her twenty-first birthday.
After combing her thick shiny hair, and glancing in the full-length mirror on the door of her wardrobe, she felt a little ill at ease, knowing what would be said when she went downstairs – how she hated all those sorts of compliments.
The clock struck six-thirty when she opened the bedroom door and walked down the stairs to the living room, where they were waiting for her.
She saw the delighted painted smiles on their faces, their eyes alive with pleasure at the sight of her.
‘Oh Donna, you look absolutely gorgeous,’ her mother commented in a proud voice. ‘Even better than before University and Mathematics took over your life. I can see you on the cover of any top fashion magazine.’
‘Incredible.’ Her father agreed as he went over to embrace her. ‘You’ll certainly turn a few heads tonight.’
‘Well, that’s ok if you want to turn heads. But I don’t!’ Donna was embarrassed, rolled her eyes, then her cheeks began to burn, as she stared at the clock on the wall behind her parents. She’d noticed briefly that they were dressed for the part and wondered whose benefit it was for.
‘Ready for the off?’ her mother asked staring directly at Donna, making her tremble slightly.
‘If I have to.’
‘Right, let’s go. I want us all to enjoy ourselves tonight. And not think about anything else – understand Donna?’
‘Well, father, that’s up to you two, seeing as you’re the ones who keep referring to my possible return to a modelling career – which I didn’t want as a child and I certainly don’t want now!’
‘Let’s call a truce, shall we?’ It seemed strange that her mother saw it that way, as a ceasefire in this battle between them, when all Donna was fighting was an illness, and the right to choose the life she wished to lead. She wasn’t well enough to socialise, in fact the pressure she’d be under tonight in trying to mix with other people would make her even more withdrawn.
She said little on the journey there, and although they tried to bring her into the conversation, she wasn’t listening and only mumbled yes and no every now and then.
Having parked around the corner from ‘Rossi’s’, they walked the short distance to the restaurant, an impressive blue-bricked building. As soon as they entered the brightly lit reception area, they were greeted by an olive-skinned man, with slicked back dark hair. Despite his pristine appearance, he smiled warmly and shook hands with all of them.
He beckoned them with his hand, escorting them to a table at the back of the restaurant, away from the spotlight, private yet relaxing. Donna sat facing her parents with her back to the rest of the diners, feeling nervous and afraid as a waiter brought the menus to them. Her father asked them what they wanted to order and in the end they all decided on a chicken pasta with cheese and tomatoes in a herby sauce.
Donna wasn’t particularly hungry, yet found the food and drink very palatable. Had it not been for the company, she might have even liked the place. As it was she found herself continually ‘clock watching’, wanting only for the night to end.
As they sat eating their meal she listened to them reminiscing about when she was a little girl. It seemed after each mouthful her mother took, the conversation went from her modelling career, back to her childhood fame, to parading on the catwalk as a beauty queen. It was like listening to a recording from years back and went against the truce her mum had supposedly called. It brought back bad memories when she’d rebelled against their wishes in any way she could. She remembered cutting up her outfits and pretending to be ill, hiding in places to avoid being in the limelight. Once she almost starved herself, until finally the penny dropped for her parents, but this time it wouldn’t get that far – because she didn’t intend going through that again. Sadly their demeanor only added to her misery.
Sitting there quietly Donna sensed there seemed a smugness to her mother’s attitude tonight, as if she was getting her own way or was perhaps pleased with herself. In fact there was an aura about her parents actions, that made her feel vulnerable and threatened. Were they trying to corner her into doing something else? Or was this leading up to something more? After all she’d been through this so many times before. She couldn’t allow that to happen, and would rather walk the streets, or even end it all if there was no other way out.
And as they talked about Donna’s achievements with pride and admiration, there was little mention of her university degree. Her teeth almost crunched together, her hands clammy as panic set in. Little thought had been given to the lasting effects of the events of the last few months. They reiterated time and time again how a career in modelling was short and there would be ample time to take up mathematics again later – rambling on as if she wasn’t there.
She’d had enough, and might have thrown another tantrum had not a middle-aged couple suddenly appeared at their table. Donna recognised the woman at once, heavily made up, with short auburn hair wearing a lot of jewellery - rings on every finger. Priscilla Evans, the famous fashion designer. Donna was startled, as it dawned on her what the new clothes, the meal, and talk of her appearance were all about.
‘Well, hallo there!’ Priscilla exclaimed in her posh cultured voice, loud but affectionate. ‘Fancy seeing you here loves. Joe, Beryl - how delightful. It’s been such an age since we last met. And Donna too. Well might I say you are looking lovelier than ever, darling?’
‘Hallo Donna, Joe, Beryl,’ the man said. He had an abundance of jet-black hair that seemed to cover most of his face, sprouting down his nose, and out of his ears.
They all smiled at each other, but this meeting brought uncomfortable flashback memories to Donna.
‘Good to see you again Mrs Evans,’ Donna remarked.
‘Priscilla, James – why don’t you pull up a chair and join us. We’d love to hear your news - it has to be all of four years since we last saw you,’ Donna’s mum said.
‘Oh, we couldn’t possibly intrude on what must be a family gathering.’ Priscilla’s smile revealed a large set of brilliant white teeth in the process.
‘Not at all, you wouldn’t be. We’d be honoured if you’d join us as our guests,’ Donna’s dad said, getting up from his seat to fetch two chairs from nearby tables.
‘Well, in that case, we’d love to.’ Priscilla laughed in a horsey way.
While Priscilla and James waited for their meals to arrive, Donna was forced to listen to them talk about the latest news in the fashion industry. She wasn’t interested; although fashion conscious, she was just as happy wearing jeans and a top. Feeling awkward, she couldn’t believe this was happening.
‘So what are you up to these days, darling?’ Priscilla asked Donna. ‘I sincerely hope you got that degree you gave up your modelling career for.’
‘I did.’ She was quite surprised that Priscilla should ask her this, or even remember it. So she started to talk about her graduation and job as a Statistical Analyst, omitting to tell them that at present she was unemployed.
‘Very impressive Donna. I’m glad you’ve achieved your ambition. It’s a shame you can’t combine it with the modelling. You could have gone right to the top, darling.’
‘I wouldn’t say that.’
‘Believe it, my dear. I for one will never forget the impact you made before. You were so photogenic – the camera loved you and always will. If you ever decide to take up modelling again, I’d definitely take you under my wing. Couldn’t you consider working part-time in your day job? It’s not too late you know,’ Priscilla said staring at her.
‘I’m sorry, that’s not possible. I’m not interested in anything like that now.’
‘How old are you, Donna?’
‘Well, you’re not even in your prime yet. With your face and figure, if you look after yourself properly, you could go on well into your thirties. And the money you could earn, why I’d say within five years you’d be a millionaire.’
‘Oh really –’
‘Yes, really. I imagine your job is a good one, but somewhere down the line, you have to ask yourself about your earning potential elsewhere. Wouldn’t it be nice to be financially independent for the rest of your life? Then you’d be able to pick and choose what to do in the future.’
Donna shook her head angrily.
‘The trouble with my daughter is, she’s never realised how lucky she is. And as you’re well aware, in the past it has helped her to be successful, but not only in the field of modelling. When she was a little girl, she could act a bit too. I know it was only in commercials and bit parts in the odd children’s serial, but her character always came shining through. She was the little girl everyone loved and thought was so sweet. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t turn her hand to.’
‘Mum – you’re talking rubbish again.’
‘Don’t be so modest. God gave you a gift, so you’d be foolish not to make use of that –don’t you think Priscilla?’
‘There you are, you’ve heard it from the horse’s mouth. If that doesn’t convince you, nothing will,’ Donna’s mother said.
‘Tell you what I’ll do. How about if I arrange for you to have a photo session, with Alan Nicholls, our top fashion photographer, who I seem to remember, you’ve posed for before, some years ago. You could model a succession of my latest designs – that would help bring you to the attention of lots of people. I’ll show the photographs to a few people in the loop. You’ll be a sensation, my dear. So how about early Saturday afternoon? A day when you’re not at work. Alan has a studio in Rochester, a tiny village about twenty miles from here. What do you think Donna?’ Priscilla said raising her plucked eyebrows expectantly.
Donna was dumbstruck. Where had all this come from? She’d been suspicious from the start. But it was too much of a coincidence that Priscilla had ‘accidentally’ been at the restaurant at the same time as them. This was hard to comprehend but typical of her parents to resort to something like this. And for the time being Donna decided to keep quiet. But when she did open her mouth, nothing came out. There were tears in her eyes.
Her mother put an arm around her and said, ‘She’ll be fine. She’s a little emotional at the moment – having recently split from her boyfriend.’
‘Oh, I didn’t know.’
‘Looks like she needs something to bring her out of it – and returning to modelling could be just the thing,’ her father said.
Donna didn’t agree with any of this, but was so distraught, she let it lie.
The rest of the evening passed in a blur. Donna watched her parents suck up to Priscilla, obviously thrilled about her proposed return to modelling. It seemed all they were interested in was making money out of her.
As Priscilla and James got up to leave they both remarked on how they looked forward to hearing about the photoshoot on Saturday. Everyone seemed happy but Donna. The very thought of posing for the photographs and everything it entailed filled her with trepidation.
She didn’t know why her courage had suddenly failed her again, why she’d meekly said nothing. And to make matters worse all the way home from the restaurant, her parents talked about nothing else but this new adventure. As her heart beat faster, she felt an anxiety attack coming on. Somehow, she had to find a way out of this before it was too late. She put her head against the back seat to relax herself, and breathed in and out slowly, closing her eyes.
As they turned into their street her mother glanced back and asked, ‘Tired are you, Donna?’
‘Just a little, think I’ll go to bed.’
‘Don’t blame you, love,’ her father said. ‘It’s been an eventful day, hasn’t it? But at least now you’ve got a chance of pulling yourself out of the hole you’re in. You should have every reason to be optimistic about the future.’
‘I don’t want to go... ’ Donna mumbled holding her elbows with her hands.
‘Oh come now love. It’s only a photo session, even if it is with one of the top fashion photographers in the country. What possible harm can that do? You won’t be on your own, your father and I will be there to help you. No need to worry about a thing.’
Fidgeting uncomfortably she said, ‘How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t want to do any more modelling.’
‘Of course you do. It’s what you’ve been destined for all your life – and it’s about time you realised that,’ her mother said.
Donna shook her head at them as if she thought they were mad. ‘You’ll regret this, just like the last time.’
‘No we won’t, because once you get there you’ll be in your element.’
She wasn’t listening to them. The car had barely stopped when she swung her legs out of the door, dashed into the house and ran directly upstairs to the safety of her room. At this point she realised she’d have to go through with the photo session, but by God after that she would fight by whatever means she had at her disposal to get away from these two people who’d ruined her life. It was a do or die situation now.