Somebody New

Once upon a time there was a home. A mother, a father, a baby girl. A little house on a narrow tree-lined street, with laughter and sunshine and promises.

The father left, the mother died. The girl was ten. Her name was Clementine.

"Clementine Smith!"

Smith was her father's name. Her mother had loved him very much and knew, from the bottom of her heart, that he had not left. He had disappeared, and was harmed, and there could be nothing worse.

"Fuck." She dropped to her knees behind a waste bin, scraped the rubber of her shoe along the gravel of the alley.

"Clementine Smith, come back here!"

The door slammed. Clementine ran, because there was no other way out. There went another house. Her latest friend, nearer and dearer than anyone in the world, was thanks to her on crack cocaine. "Erythroxylum coca," she had told Susie Lynn. "Widely used in South America for the last ten thousand years –" That was a rough estimate "- for its medicinal properties. Go on, try some. You'll feel good."

Clementine had no idea if Susie Lynn would feel any better. All she knew was that Susie Lynn was very upset at failing a pop quiz, and needed compensation for the intense grief she was experiencing. Clementine never had and never would go near the stuff herself. Relief be damned, it cost money that she didn't have.

She opened another stolen bottle and sat back. Susie's mom had chased her halfway down the block before Clementine jumped a fence and crossed a neighbour's yard. She was risking something, a lot or maybe not at all, camping so close to her previous home, but she was tired and it was raining. The gin slipped down her throat and warmed her to the tips of her fingers. A smile pulled at her lips. She snuggled deeper into her coat and fell into a half-sleep.

The next thing she knew she was being kicked awake. "Filth!"

There, that was an improvement. Smith be gone, she had watched him pack his bags as her mother slept. She rolled over, to find her face pressed against the corner of a blade. A moustache loomed over her, the mouth below it parting to expel a spray of spit.

"Pull your dirty little stiff from my porch or I slice you limb – from – limb."

He really seemed to mean it. If it weren't for the knife she would have laughed. She got up and backed away slowly.

"Pardon, sir, I didn't -" He brandished the knife, and she cut herself off.

"Come back and you won't wake up." He shoved past her, knocking her to the ground. It was very soft; the grass was well-kept. She decided the wisest thing was to stay put, and awake.

A hand pressed to her forehead, where an odd cut had appeared. She hadn't felt her skin break, still didn't feel the early morning cold under it. She felt the hand, though, and opened her eyes.

"Hi." There was a boy hovering over her, a few years older, grinning widely. "All right there?"

"Grand," she said, pushing herself up. "Stop touching me."

He did so, shaking his hair out of his face. He was very beautiful, and very conceited about the whole thing by the look of it. She watched him interestedly.

"Do you think it'll stop bleeding sometime soon, or can I fix it up for you?"

"Is it?" She put a hand up and brought it away scarlet. A strange sort of frown, amused, crossed her face. He picked her up.

"Can you walk? Will you fall if I let go?"

She shoved his hands away irritably. "I told you to stop touching me. I'm fine."

"My father likes that sort of thing. The violent upper-class fascist snob, embodied."

"Of course." She didn't really care, she was watching up and down the street because the sun was rising, which meant that it was seven o'clock, or a bit later, and Susie Lynn's mother would be driving by. The boy had his eyes on her and his mind in another place.

"Do you need to get somewhere?"

"Not here. Somewhere else. Right now. Oh, blimey. Bugger all, there she –" Clementine ducked behind the boy. He was quite tall, much taller than she. If only he would quit turning his head to peer down at her and bellow out questions for the whole street to hear she might be all right.


"Are you okay? You really walloped your head. Maybe we should hook you up with some sort of cream, or disinfectant, or painkiller. I have some liquor –"


"The whiskey? Oh. No. Painkiller, sure, I can sneak back in and maybe Mother won't –"

"Get me some whiskey," she said, peeking around his shoulder. The street was empty. She stepped out in relief. "It's only that I couldn't be seen by Susie Lynn's mother."

"From down the road?"

"Yes. I was living with them, up until yesterday evening."

"Cripes, it must have been bad to throw her off her cocker. That must be the most docile woman I've ever met. What'd you do, pitch bricks through all their windows?"

"I drugged up Susie Lynn. When are you going to get me that drink?"

He looked down at her, curious now. "How old did you say you were?"


"Twelve!" He whistled. "I've never given a twelve-year-old alcohol before. Except my little cousins, but that's different. They're family. The needed to get fucked up."

"You don't like them?"

"In a word, no."

They stood for a moment. Torin cleared his throat. "Look, we're standing on the lawn, and I'm getting kind of jumpy, so maybe we could –"

"I have to go," she said.

"Are you coming back?"


"All right then. I think I'll go to bed."

"Can I come with you?"

"Whoa," he said, holding up his hands. "Did you or did you not just tell me you were twelve?"

"I slept in your doorway last night. I thought it was a wall, actually, but I was outside, and I was drunk so I couldn't tell it was cold but now I'm starting to feel it and I'm going to freeze if I don't stay somewhere tonight. I can't afford food, let alone anything else, I need a place to stay and you need to look after me."

"You can't stay with me. My 'home' is a wreck."

"It can't be worse than the alley out back."

"It's tidy enough. That's not what I mean."

"Where am I supposed to go? My best friend kicked me out, my parents are dead, my house is gone. I have nothing."

He chucked her under the chin. "Get some emotion into that speech and someone might take you in for good. What are you doing hooking your friends anyway? You probably deserve what you get."


"But you still have nothing."

"I still have nothing."

He thought hard, and said, "Tell you what. I'll get you in touch with a friend of mine. His folks are good and he isn't clean. Right up your alley, hey?"

"Hey," she said.

"Hey. Your eyes are really green."


"That's cool."

"No it's not. My dad left in the middle of the night, and my mom thought he had croaked until she did."

"You're crazy."


"Were his eyes green?"


"I'll go write Michael," he said, and went inside.

Torin was worried, when he met the strange girl on his ground, that she might throw off his plans. She needed help, that was for sure, and he needed to get stoned. Fortunately for him, the two went hand in hand.

Torin was not independently wealthy. He was fourteen and had never earned a red cent. He was a first-class pilfer, though, with no qualms at taking his parents' hard-earned money; as he explained to the girl, it had probably been embezzled anyway. He borrowed as much as they could carry between them before they set off for the Spoon and Turtle Pub.

Tom the bartender let them rooms with a parlour between, where Clementine sat on the floor and began counting the money. Torin, unimpressed by the sums, wrote to Michael.

Ford -

We've got a nutcase on our hands, Father found her on the doorstep and I felt bad about that, so I hooked her up with some cash and told her I'd write you. I guess you can't take her in – any ideas?


Clementine read over his shoulder. "You don't think they'll take me?"

Torin jumped. "Christ! don't sneak up on me like that. They can't afford it. But he'll have thoughts. Forget about it."

She shrugged. "We've got two hundred forty-six."

"Thoughts? Oh. Right. Perfect. How much does it cost to go to school?"

Another shrug.

"Okay, well, I'll talk to the headmaster. If we can get you in you're home free, you'll live there and everything."

"I went last year," she said. "I didn't like it very much."

"It's food and shelter."

"It's paying to work."

"It's not really work, I never have. Tell you what. I'll get you enough to start off with, and then you're on your own. All right?"

She was doubtful as to his motives, that was clear. "What do you want out of it?"

He didn't have to think about that one. "Get me hooked."

"On what?"



He lifted his hands. "Why does anyone do anything? Why are my parents such whoresons? Why must the world turn about in such a mind-bending fashion? Make me into your next Susie Lynn, my girl, and I will set you up for life."

"If you overdose, and you die, and you leave me here, I'll find someone you care about and kill them."

"I'll be careful."

"I don't know you."

"Michael won't do anything too rash, but he'll buy off you. I know ninety percent of the school, they love me. I own them. If I tell them it's you, then it's you."

"How old did you say you were?"

He laughed. "You're quick. I'm in the up of everything, that's what matters to you."

"You're not it."

"Sure I am. They love me."

"But you're not it."

"Look," he said, getting impatient. "I've got three years left, right? That's it. Two years from now there is no one else that matters."

"That's two years too long. Who should I be talking to right now?"

"Me. You're talking to me because I have money and I can get you more. Please, please take my word on this."

"I need you."

"I know you do." The grin was back. She blinked slowly.

"I need you to not let me down. If you do, I will kill you."

"That's nice," he said.

"You're not taking me seriously because I'm half your size. I'm not kidding."

"Yeah, sure, whatever. I'm going to get in touch with Aglarond, and you can come to school with your wares and not get caught and you'll do fine."

She didn't say anything.

"Just graduate is all," he said, to break the silence. There was a rap on the door: his post man.

"That was fast," said Torin.

No. Fuck off.

the letter read. Torin scratched his head.

"Caught him on a bad day, I guess. No worries, we've got it down. Shall we sweet-talk Aglarond, or shall we be professional, do you think?"

She stood quietly beside him. He picked up his pen.

Dear Professor Aglarond,

he wrote, and then paused. "Professor? Or Headmaster? Should it be dear? He is, but this might not be the time and place."

To our excellent Headmaster, overlord of and yet sympathetic toward his precious students,

Hi. This is Torin. Wright, you know, I was in your office several months ago, all that is in the past now. For real this time.

I have a tiny request to make.

A girl, twelve years old, by name of –

Torin paused. "What did you say your name was?"

"Clementine Smith."

- Clementine Smith was discovered sleeping upon the doorstep of our humble abode at roughly seven o'clock this morning. My heart goes out to her, this poor orphaned child, and the thought sprung upon me that Professor Aglarond, the unnamed leader of our beloved homeland, is the very one to take charge of such a drastic situation. Professor, this girl is lovely. She is alone in an empty world and requires a father figure to guide her on her way. You alone can provide that service, and I implore you, take her in. Give her a home. Let her learn from our able teachers, and sleep in the very warm beds that your accomplished servants so diligently prepare for we who are lesser than she.

I think she's going into her seventh year, by the way. Do you know her?

Yours very sincerely,

Torin Wright.

Two days later a response came.

You will be surprised to find, Mr Wright, that I do recall both you and the circumstances under which we last met. I am also fully aware of Clementine Smith and her situation, and had planned on making some sort of arrangement. We cannot keep her during the summer holidays, as you yourself know, but will be pleased to welcome her to our school. It would be very fine if some sponsor or patron were to assist her; otherwise, we shall have to come to an agreement. I thank you for taking her under your wing, as it were.

If you or she have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Yours,

William Aglarond


"Well," said Torin. "There you are."

"I like Aglarond. Should I know you?"

"Of course you should, if you want to survive in school."

Clementine was shaking her head. "No, I mean you went there, shouldn't I have seen you around?"

"You should have, yes. Do you by any chance know of a James Parker?"

He was shocked to see her giggling at the very mention. "Ooh, you mean that football player?"

"Hey, I play too," Torin broke in. She ignored him.

"Who doesn't know James Parker? Or should I say, the James Parker. He is the most -"

"Yeah, yeah, and I'm the Torin Wright. But listen – I don't want you to go near him, all right?"

"That's a tough order, Mr Wright. I don't see why not."

"He won't buy, and even if he will I don't want him too."

"That's sweet. Should he be the one I'm killing when you fail me?"

"Don't go near him is all." Torin closed his lips on that, and started another letter. She tried to read it, but he shooed her off, and eventually she went downstairs to sweet-talk Tom the bartender into giving her a glass.

Torin made sure to keep in touch with James over the summer. Aside from anything else, James was his contact to civilisation, not to mention a potential home when he could get out of his own. Torin's father was incredibly controlling, his mother incredibly loud. Between them he didn't get a moment's peace, which left him one option: holidays at school. Summer was forbidden by all rules and regulations. The other two he stayed, sometimes accompanied by a friend or six, sometimes not.

By Christmas it was determined that James would be going home and Michael would remain. Sam was going to holiday along the east coast of Scotland, where his mother had grown up. "Neat," said Torin. He really thought it was; he couldn't wait for Sam to go. The kid got on his nerves.

The last day of school rolled around. Torin was itching for everyone to be gone, up to and including James. Michael was all right as concerned Clementine, but as long as James was staying out of it Torin meant to keep him out. This meant dealing with his problems without the aid of laxatives, something he didn't enjoy; also drinking a lot, which James approved of, causing a slight alleviation of what Torin described as his heartfelt agony.

When James was gone, Torin, bundled in a winter coat over a mug of cider, said to Michael, "So."

"Can't this wait until we're back at the castle?"

"You don't even know what I'm going to say."

"I'm not going to like it."

"What is this, PMS?"

"Pre Michael Syndrome, yes."

"And Post. And Pin the fucking middle."

"Will you shut up and let me drink in peace?"


Michael gestured to Rosemary to refill his mug. "What, then?"

"Look, I found this girl."

"Surprise, surprise."

"Shut up."

"Make it fast, Wright."

"Shut up, I said. Over the summer she was living in the streets, and I got her into school. Now everything is laughter and sunshine and promises."

"That's nice."

"She thought so. She was living off her narcotics trade."

"How old is this bird?"

"Twelve or so."

"All right. Get to the point."

"I told her I'd get her contacts once she was living here. It's been hard with James around, but –"

"What's he got to do with it? Likes his glasses?"

Torin overlooked what he didn't understand. "I don't want him getting into that stuff."

"But I'm okay."


"Thanks." Michael scowled into his mug.

"Do you want to buy? Because I know you won't kill me for it if you don't, but it'd be great if you wanted to."

"Thanks." Michael was trying his hardest not to think, but Torin pressed on.

"Do you or not?"

"Sure, whatever. I have no money, mind you."

"How much does Prongs owe you?"


"Write him. His parents will pay up if he has a good enough excuse."

"Of which he has many," Michael said. "All right, let's do it."

"Right on."

"Who is she?"

"Clementine Smith. Seventh year. Red hair, green eyes, real cute. You might have seen her around."

Michael shrugged. "Is her dorm by ours?"


"I don't know. I'll keep an eye out."

"Don't. James knows nothing, you got me?"

"Just fughetaboutit." Michael waved an arm much in the manner of a gangster, minus the cigar, and Torin laughed.

"You're a pal." He got up. "Let's get out of here, that door is real drafty. 'Night, Rosie," he called.

They blew out into the street, quiet once more.

By their second to last year Torin was doing heroin on a weekly basis, sneaking off to one of the empty classrooms or a bathroom or, if he was really desperate and wanted to be warm more than safe, the library. It was a secret both closely guarded and widely known, but James turned a deaf ear, until Torin began over-using to a dangerous extent.

His third overdose raised suspicions in James that something other than alcohol poisoning was going on; he had witnessed the amount that Torin could ingest without losing his blood alcohol level, let alone his head, and wondered that Torin would even be able to obtain so much so regularly.

The school had been taken in with this drug trend, and even after all the cures the hospital wing could ship in, the way that Torin was going was looking for trouble. Time and again he refused the help offered by his friends, unless they planned on stealing the tonics necessary to keep him properly functioning. Nevertheless, he was forced into the hospital wing almost as often as Michael, who pleaded a weak constitution; his family was ridden with incest.

There were always plenty to keep Torin well supplied with flowers, candy, heroin: he could count on Clementine to be the first one there when he was committed after yet another bout of the flu. His immune system was low, he was weak, and as far as she concerned that meant he would be that much more eager to avoid withdrawal, and would pay that much more. She would have plenty left to finish school with. She liked him well enough; it was just that she wanted to stay off the streets.

James was running late for class when he was held up by a crowd in the stairwell. The ninth-year next to him, shoving her way through, suddenly let out a cry.


James moved behind her and caught a glimpse of Torin, before the backs of the people in front of him shifted and blocked his view. He was lying at the foot of the steps, his skin a sickly shade of blue, a crowd watching him die. James shoved after the girl, and got down in time to see her drop to her knees beside Torin.

"What the hell did you do to yourself?"

Torin didn't move. She punched him in the gut. "You fucking asshole. What do you think you're doing?"

James tried to drag her off, but she was fighting like a wildcat and punching at Torin. He let out a hacking cough and was breathing, almost. The girl was holding him close, stroking his hair and murmuring to him. He got up the strength to lift an arm, shove at her.

"Get off me," he said. She backed away.

"You're alright?"

He pulled himself upright and slumped so that his head was supported on his knees. "Sure. Get out of here."

She turned to go. James blocked her way. "What are you playing at, you filthy bitch? Are you trying to kill him?"

"Leave off, James," Torin said, and retched. He threw up on the floor. James moved to help Torin up. He got shakily to his feet and looked out from under his hair to see the corridor packed with wondering faces. He waved a little sheepishly.

"Hi, guys," he said. "Please continue to your classes as the moment has passed and is no longer interesting. Where are we going, James?"

"Hospital wing," he grunted.


"Dorms, then."

Torin let James half-carry him up to the common room: the comforts of his bed weren't worth another flight of stairs. He collapsed onto a couch and let his head fall back over the arm.


"What happened?"

"Had too much to drink," Torin said. "Be careful, Prongs, you don't want to turn out like me."

"In many months when I'm as old as you are." James dropped onto the carpet in front of the fire.

"You never will be, you know."

"Not unless you die first."

"Oh, well," Torin said. "If I stop aging then, I suppose."

"What, will you shrink in some hypothetical afterlife until there's nothing left of you?"

Torin barked a laugh, hacked a cough, rolled over with a hand to his chest. When he could speak he said, "I'll make sure to die in my prime and stay put there."

"Don't," James said. Torin pressed his lips together. His skin pulled at the bones in his cheeks, making him look desperately thin.

"If you ever, ever go near drugs," he said, his voice strangled, "I will kill you."

James looked up sharply. "What makes you say that?"

Torin stared into the fire for a minute, not hearing him. Suddenly he shook himself, pulled himself back over and said, "Nothing in particular. This stuff gets around, you know."


"And it's awful – from what I've heard – for your health, which comes to light with my latest episode –" Here Torin grimaced comically, and James managed a vague smile "- so don't."

"Or you'll kill me."


"I'll kill you too, should the circumstance arise," James said cheerfully, "have no fear of that."

Torin laughed again. He didn't find it very funny.