Pia is a jolly little German who enjoys writing, reading and all things to do with words. When she doesn’t bury her nose in books, she can mostly be found outside with her dog or wrapped in a blanket on the sofa, re-watching Grey’s Anatomy for the fifty-thousandth time in a row. Pia works in marketing and has written for a variety of German magazines and blogs before, covering everything from leaving home for the first time to making the perfect vegan dumpling.
When Lucy first meets Florence, she is certain she is everything she’s ever needed in her life to be happy. Growing up together, the two girls’ lives become so tightly interwoven that when Florence announces she is leaving town to go to university, Lucy knows that she has to come.
But as the two are out of their familiar spaces, their personalities slowly start to grow independent of each other and soon Lucy has to learn that the people who shaped her life are not necessarily the ones she might want to keep in it.
I can’t tell whether it’s the train rattling below my feet or if it’s her daring blue eyes piercing right through me that is making my hand shake as I lift it from my lap. It is reaching towards the dead insect that is lying on the windowsill. I think I can see her grin from the corner of my eyes, but when I look over, she’s gone. My hand drops, lands on my thigh like the dead fly must have dropped down to the sill a while ago, dead on its back, its wings snapped in half from the impact. I close my eyes and try to convince myself that I am alone in the carriage. That she isn’t with me anymore. For the rest of the way, I keep staring out of the window, my eyes flickering as the landscape around me turns into tiny houses.
I know that if I looked, she would be back on the seat opposite me, her eyes mocking me like they always secretly have.
I was ten when her family moved into the house opposite ours. It had been one of those days where even our neighbour’s dog, who was normally jumping around the garden catching imaginary mice burrowing through the ground, was too tired to lift his head from his spot on Miss Gardener’s doormat. I was the only person watching as the black Mercedes pulled up in front of the painted white gate, followed by multiple moving trucks.
I watched as they got out of the car, first the dad, then the three daughters followed by their mother. Even from the distance I could tell they were flawless; their shiny porcelain skin, their fluttering hair, the way they stood next to each other, eyeing the big house in front of them. Two of the girls had their father’s features, dark, brown hair, round faces with cheeks that made you want to squeeze them, but the youngest one of them looked like her mother, slender, tall for her age, her wavy strawberry blonde hair reaching down to the bottom of her spine.
I leant forward to catch a better look at her, the window in front of me fogging up from my breath, a soundless whisper on my open lips. I wanted her to turn around and look at me, wanted her to catch me absorbing her arrival with every inch of my body, wanted her to wave me down to come and join her flawless family. But she didn’t do any of those things. All she did was grab one of her sister’s arms, dragging her up the driveway to their new home.
I was still standing by the window when the keys in the door behind me turned and my brother’s pubescent smell filled the room. I heard his heavy steps go straight through the kitchen, his greasy fingers pulling open the fridge door, rummaging through it.
“Why do we not ever have anything to eat in this house?” he muffled into the fridge. I felt him come up behind me when I failed to come for his rescue. For a moment we both just stood there by the window, quietly, united in our motionlessness. Then he grunted in my ear.
“You’re ugly,” he pushed past me in such a violent movement my forehead knocked against the window, then the kitchen door shut behind him.
I returned to my maths homework that had been waiting for me on the kitchen table, but not even my favourite numbers could pull my thoughts away from the girl that I knew was now roaming the rooms in the house opposite me.
Dad is waiting for me in his car. As always, he has kept the engine running whilst waiting, poisoning the air with his Diesel motor that we have had since we were little. The smell of fresh bread from the bakery down the road lies in the air. The familiar scent makes my stomach turn. Dad is on the phone when I approach him, not looking up until I open the back door to lift my bag onto the seat, before sliding in next to him. His eyes look as watery and tired as I remember them.
“Welcome home.” His rusty voice matches the bonnet of his VW Golf 2. We both smile sadly, still aching from the last conversation we had. He clears his throat and turns his head away, making the engine stutter as he turns the key and squeakily puts it into first gear.
Car journeys with him have always been reticent, but this time it feels like we both have lost our ability to form words on our tongues. The accustomed silence presses down on me so heavily I think my chest might burst. I wind down the car window, but the air that comes in is thick and humid and only increases my discomfort.
As dad pulls up in front of our small terrace house at the end of a long road of similar looking houses, I focus my gaze on the once white, now grey walls of the small terrace house I grew up in. I don’t turn my head as I get out of the car and grab my bag. I don’t want to see the white house on the other side of the road, which I know will still look like it was freshly painted yesterday. I don’t want to think about the family inside, don’t want to think about the empty room that is exactly opposite mine on the first floor and that is now going to remain empty forever.
The year before her family moved to town the art gallery in the neighbouring town was hosting an exhibit by one of my school’s art teachers. The whole school was invited to come, and I begged dad to take me. He sighed when he saw me bobbing with excitement and told me he would try to leave work early on the opening night.
The exhibition started at 6:30pm. I was ready by 5:45, sitting on the doorstep, tapping my foot on the ground, waiting for dad to show up. I was wearing the only skirt I had, which was normally reserved for Christmas and New Year’s, and I had tucked one of Phil’s white shirts in, convinced that the oversized look would make me seem arty. Dad told me he’d leave work at six.
When I heard the church’s bell tower toll 6:15 I started getting nervous. The restaurant dad worked at was a ten-minute drive away from our house, he should have been home already. At 6:25 I went inside and dialled the restaurant’s number. No one picked up. I waited another five minutes, pacing around the kitchen, checking if dad had turned up every time I heard a car enter our road, then I called again. This time Lisa answered. She was one of the waitresses I knew from when I was too young to stay at home by myself and dad used to take me to the restaurant with him. I would sit at a table in the corner and Lisa would give me as much Coca Cola as I asked for.
“Hi honey,” she said when she recognised my voice, and then, “no sorry, your dad is still in the kitchen.” I heard him swear in the background. “Do you want me to go get him? Is it something urgent?”
I rolled the cord around my finger, watching the digital clock above our oven jump to 6:40. “No don’t worry,” I finally said. “It’s not urgent.”
We first encountered each other three weeks after her family’s move. I was walking home from school when I suddenly heard voices behind me. Some girls from school had followed me through the underpass that separated the part of the town I lived in from the centre. As I emerged from it, they started calling me, their voices echoing from the graffiti sprayed walls. It was a windy autumn day, and my hair was tossing around my head. Nervous, I sped up, but my head started spinning and turned the rows of grey houses into a never-ending labyrinth. I kept looking over my shoulder, but although their voices were coming closer, fright was blurring my view and I couldn’t make out who was following me.
Of course, I had noticed the stares at school, the resistance of some children to sit next to me in class, the conversations that ended abruptly when I came into a room. Of course, there had been little incidents that made clear I wasn’t one of the popular kids.
One time my running shorts had disappeared from my bag whilst I was in the toilet. I had to endure Miss Adams yell at me in front of the entire class for losing my stuff before making me run laps in my jeans.
Once, this girl called Megan put on a show of distributing her birthday invitations and stood at the front of the class calling out everyone’s name. When I was the only one to not have one, she walked past my desk and put a tissue down in front of me. Sorry, my mum won’t let me invite girls that dress like boys.
I knew they made fun of me for looking like Phil, for having the same haircut as him, for wearing his discarded clothes. He was growing like bamboo and needed new trousers every other week, and dad had neither the time nor the money to get me the clothes I wanted, the jeans with sparkly dots and funny patches on them, like the other girls had. I knew the other kids thought I was odd because I never brought cake to school when it was my birthday or threw a party.
Sometimes I thought they could smell the absence of a mother on me, of someone who took care of me and shaped me into a dress-up-doll the way their mothers did with them. But usually the mocking was confined to school. The school gate an invisible border that kept them from following me home. Up until that day.
Their voices got louder, reached into my ear and settled in my pinna, where they turned into a steady hum inside my head. Lame-ass Lucy. You’re not getting away this time. Desperate to escape I turned the corner, before realising that I was one road too early and now had to go round the other way, prolonging the distance to our house. Panicking, I turned another corner and again I was wrong, and I couldn’t see where I was going now, I was like a young bird that had fallen out of its nest, stumbling around the streets, turning left and right without knowing where they lead.
They were getting closer, their steps now hammering in my ears, echoing in my head. It felt empty, filled with a void that took over whenever I found myself in moments where I didn’t know what to do. When the numbers in my maths book started dancing on the pages. When dad got angry with me because I had forgotten to empty the dishwasher although he reminded me to do it three times before leaving for work. When my brother mocked me because my school report was much worse than his.
I wanted to drop to the ground and wrap my arms around my head, hold it together so that the forces around me wouldn’t break it apart. But I didn’t. I kept going to get home, to get back to safety, where I could shut the door in their faces.
I turned another corner and all of a sudden there she was. Her strawberry blonde hair scourging in the wind. Fierce, her eyes glistening with anger. I heard her shout at the kids behind me, making them split up and abort their mission. Then I felt her take my hand, guiding me back the right way, her grip firm and strong, her hand as cold as my heart felt. With every step the void in my head became smaller, until finally I could think clearly again. My vision was no longer blurred, and the houses didn’t look the same anymore. I could make out the high wall that kept Mrs Burns’ lavender garden from the nosy looks of bypassers, recognised the blue shutters of the Rupert’s house. She didn’t stop until we reached our street. When we got to her house, she turned around to me.
“Are you going to be okay?” Her voice was deeper than I had imagined it would be. I nodded. She furrowed her eyebrows.
“Does this happen a lot?”
I shrugged, then shook my head.
“Not like this.” My face still felt numb. She crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“Children are cruel.” She sounded so much like an old, wise lady and not like a ten-year-old that I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Right,” I said. “They normally leave me alone after school though.” We were both quiet for a bit, and I noticed that she didn’t have a backpack with her.
“Why aren’t you in school?”
“My parents had to sort out some stuff first. We’re starting next week.” She looked over her shoulder and I suddenly felt panicked that I was boring her.
“What’s your name?” I asked, desperate to not let the conversation end. She looked at me again, and for the first time I noticed the bright blue of her eyes, both eerie and compelling.
I repeated it in my head, let it bounce back and forth, roll over my tongue.
“That’s the prettiest name I’ve ever heard.”
She didn’t blush, but looked to the ground, almost bashfully, and a smile played around the corners of her mouth. After a pause she said, “We should hang out sometime.”
I felt warmth rise inside me, but I tried to stay calm and replied, “Yeah, sure.” When she didn’t say anything, I added, “I’m free tomorrow. I can come over if you like,” but she interrupted me.
“Let’s do Saturday. At yours.”
I nodded, intimidated by her sharpness, and then she finally pushed open the gate and walked through it. As it had already snapped shut, I heard her voice a final time. “I’ll see you then.”
The rest of the day I moved around with a fuzzy buzz inside of me. I felt vibrant, like someone had woken me up from a long slumber and I was finally seeing the world with my own eyes.