~ Chapter 1 ~

I don't know how it started. It kind of just…happened. People say that all the time: 'it just happened.' Like when they're trying to explain to their partner why they cheated on them. I never used to get it.

I mean, they must have had some form of rational, logical thought going through their mind at the time. There must have been something screaming at them to stop, telling them it was wrong and stupid and they'd regret it later.

I never used to understand how things could just happen. I get how you could leave your phone somewhere absentmindedly. I get how you could somehow end up at home and not remember the bus trip. I get that. But catching the bus is something I do everyday; I don't have to think about.

But surely, I must have been thinking when Cody Machett and I started making out in the broom cupboard. I know: so romantic, with all those cleaning products falling off the shelves and the pile of buckets begging us to trip over them. We did, in case you were wondering.

And yet, somehow, I ended up as Cody's plaything without even realising. And I didn't seem to mind.

This is what I'm thinking about in English while Mrs Johnson rambles on about…I don't know. Something or other. Hang on a sec while I ask her what she's talking about.

Okay, I asked her what she was going on about and she gave me this blank look, like she'd forgotten I was there, and then she shook her head and went back to writing things on the board.

I'm looking at the board and it's making me feel queasy because it's got words and arrows all over the place and it kind of reminds me of my room on a good day, which today is not. Today is one of those days where my doona is crumpled into a heap on the floor, my empty deodorant can is lying next to it with the lid somewhere on the other side of the room; you know, wherever it landed after I threw it over my shoulder in frustration because there was no deodorant left. There's books and papers and scissors and sticky-tape and God knows what else, strewn across the carpet. My desk is covered in clothes that I'd dumped there over the weekend trying to find something suitable to wear to the party. I ended up stealing something from my sister's cupboard. Actually, my outfit consisted almost entirely of her clothes, bar the undergarments, stockings and boots.

But anyway, I don't want to think about my room because that reminds me that I'm supposed to clean it before grandma gets here because she is apparently staying the night in my room. This is ridiculous because firstly, my room will never be clean in time due to me having track this afternoon, and secondly, grandma always gets my room so I think it's about time someone else gave up their room for her.

I tried voicing this to dad, but he never listens to anything I say anyway, so I don't know why I thought it would work. But hey, no harm in trying, right? I also tried convincing Kim but she is older and therefore far more important and deserving of a proper bed. "Besides," She said to me in that condescending tone she loves to use, "It's only two nights, Pippa." I hate her stupid boyfriend because he uses that tone all the time and I'm pretty sure that's who she picked it up from.

I also tried manipulating Ollie into giving up her room, but Ollie is not easily manipulated, despite being young and naive, and also I am not a very good manipulator. So that failed and Ollie just looked at me like I was stupid, even though I'm four years older than her.

I stop thinking about this because it is depressing me, and also because Mrs Johnson has just told me to quit daydreaming. Mrs Johnson is one of those teachers that everyone knows but no one really knows. You know? No one's really sure if it's Miss Johnson or Mrs Johnson. I kind of just assume she's married because otherwise I would feel depressed on her behalf, because she looks almost fifty and pretty hopeless. I suppose I can imagine her being attractive and interesting at some stage in her life, but it seems that the years have not been good to her.

Still, she looks younger and far prettier than my mum, who is actually only thirty something. I don't know precisely, because I don't really care. Dad says I should be a little more forgiving, but that's just because he's still madly in love with her. Kim, for once, agrees with me, and Ollie doesn't really know what to think.

But thoughts about mum also depress me, so I try to pay attention to Mrs Johnson's strained voice instead. It doesn't work. But the bell goes and lunch is here, and I have yummy pretzels to eat, so I head off to my locker in a slightly okay mood.

I spot Kirsten and Gemma heading out of the school and jog to catch up to them. Is it bad that I get really annoyed with my friends? I don't even know how we became friends in the first place. We kind of just fell together. Actually, Gemma and Kirsten became really close and then I just plopped right in and tried to pretend I'd always been there.

I never really chose my friends. In fact, I've never actually made an important decision by myself. Sometimes dad chooses for me, sometimes Kim manipulates my choice, and sometimes I just end up somewhere. Like with Gemma and Kirsten. And Cody. But that's an entirely different story.

Munching on a pretzel, I try to tune back into the conversation. I think, a lot of the time, they forget I'm there. Maybe that's why they still let me hang out with them.

"…twice!"

"No way!" Kirsten giggles, smiling widely.

Gemma nods with huge eyes, like she doesn't quite believe it herself either. "Uh-huh. It's true. You should have seen Madison. She was so jealous."

I am hearing this conversation about how Gemma (who has a boyfriend, by the way) made out with Charlie Brown at the party on Saturday, and this is what I am thinking: Gemma is a whore.

I feel kind of bad for thinking it, but it had to be thought. And maybe one day I will have the guts to say it out loud, perhaps even in the presence of another person, if I'm feeling particularly wild.

Okay, maybe whore is a little harsh, but her boyfriend is actually a decent person so what she's doing to him is really cruel. But it's not my place to say so, because I'm the disposable extra in this friendship group, and besides, it's not like I'd ever actually be brave enough to contradict Gemma.

"Where were you the entire time, Pippa?" Gemma turns her cute face to me. She's one of those people who look really innocent and cute and dainty. Sometimes I wish I looked like her.

Kirsten and Gemma are both staring at me, waiting for me to either give them some juicy gossip, or disappoint them as usual. I hesitate a little, kind of wanting to tell them about Cody, but knowing that they're not the kind of friends you can tell secrets to. And Cody would kill me if anyone found out about…whatever it is we have. He told me straight out, that first time in the janitor's broom cupboard, that he didn't want anyone to know because he didn't want girls to think he was unavailable. Not that that would stop them, but I guess he wants a clean image? You never really know with Cody.

So I do what I do every time Gemma is searching for gossip: I shrug. "I was just, you know, around." Yeah. Good one Pip. You really are clever, you know?

"I didn't see you at all. You know, after I saw you standing alone in the kitchen." Gemma and Kirsten both laugh like this is a really hilarious thing, and then they go back to ignoring my existence. I am okay with this because I find their conversations boring anyway.

Instead, I start thinking about the party, which was actually rather exciting. Jody Hilstone apparently told Hilary Morris that she had sex with Kyle Gregson, back when he and Hilary were going out. Kyle tried to deny it but he was too drunk to really care all that much, so then Hilary started pulling Jody's hair, and then Simon Parker tried to pull them apart, but one of them, I'm not really sure who, threw a punch at him (and missed) so he backed off. Then Jamie Walker tried pulling them apart, so Jody turned on her and called her dyke, which she is, but it was the way Jody said it that made her mad, so they started fighting and…It's hard to keep up with it all.

I'm not even sure how much of it is true, and how much is just exaggerated, because a few hours after I got there, Cody and I locked ourselves in one of the rooms and fooled around. We didn't actually, you know, get intimate, but I could tell Cody wanted to. Which makes it kind of strange that we didn't, now that I think about, because I was very drunk and practically begging him to go for it. Maybe he just didn't want to take advantage of me? Maybe he thought I'd regret it? It's hard to know with Cody.

I don't linger on this for too long. In fact, I don't even try to answer those kinds of questions because it's stupid and pointless and we don't have that kind of relationship, and I'm not really that interested in the answers anyway.

The only thing I'm interested in right now is my pretzels and sleep. I am feeling exhausted and wondering how Kim can go out every second night, when once a week is killing me. I'm also worrying, which I hate doing but which is hard to avoid, because I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to survive track, clean my room, then finish that English essay Mrs Johnson set us almost two weeks ago, which is due tomorrow and which I haven't started.

I'm not entirely sure how I could be so bad at managing my time, since dad and Kim are both very efficient and they have been my main influences throughout my entire life. It doesn't really make sense, but I suppose I could blame it on genes, in which case I could blame it on mum because she is a champion at wasting things, especially time.

Thinking about all this on the way back from the shops makes me depressed again, so when I walk into Geography, I am so glad Cody is there because it means we can sneak off to the janitor's closet in the empty hallway and he can take my mind off things.

Cody looks a little peeved, which is good because it always makes our 'seven minutes in heaven' more heaven-like. I feel a little selfish saying it's good that he's peeved, but I don't really care, because no one expects me to. That's one of the things I like about this thing I have going with Cody; he doesn't ask questions, he doesn't expect me to ask questions, I don't have to worry about what kind of person he is, and most of all, I don't have to give one little ounce of crapola what he thinks of me. It's refreshing not having to think about what I say, because Cody doesn't care what I say.

Mr Harris is talking about contour lines (I think), when I give Cody the signal. I think it surprises him a little, because he's usually the one who calls it, and also because we don't usually do it during class. But I don't care, because I'm depressed and annoyed, and wishing I had real friends who actually cared about my opinions and didn't laugh at me every time I opened my mouth. You know, friends I can trust with secrets and with myself.

Cody is quick to put his hand in the air, obviously just as keen as I am, and Mr Harris lets him go to the bathroom. The reason we don't usually do it during class, is because sooner or later, someone will pick up on the fact that we always seem to be out of the room at the same time.

A few minutes later, I put my hand in the air. I'm going to ask to go to the bathroom too, but at the last second I change my mind and ask to go see the nurse, because I'm not feeling up to the rest of today. I really just want to go to Sister Bunt and sleep through last period, because then at least I'll be able to make it through track.

I go to my locker first, to put away my books, even though I'm sure Cody's probably getting pissed that I'm taking so long. But, like I said, Cody pissed makes for a better make-out session.

I'm walking quickly down the empty hallway one floor down, and Cody jumps out of the male staff bathroom, surprising me because I thought he'd be in the janitor's cupboard. But it doesn't matter, because Cody is kissing me fiercely and backing me towards the cupboard slowly.

He pushes me up against the door to close it behind us, and suddenly we're making out again. My mind sort of floats, like my head is full of air instead of a brain, and my hands are gripping onto his shoulders so tightly, I think I might be hurting him. But I'm not thinking, no. Not now, Pip. You think too much. Stop thinking. Concentrate on his kisses, his hot, rough kisses, his hand up your shirt, trying to push it over your arms, which are still gripping his shoulders like you think you might drown if you let go.

Once I realise this, I lift my arms up to help him out a bit, and we have to break apart momentarily to get the shirt over my head. I'm thinking it will get stuck, but he has apparently already undone the top three buttons without me noticing, because it slips off easily. We immediately fuse back together urgently, our tongues colliding messily for a bit, before Cody takes control again. But I'm not one of those girl's who tries to get control all the time, so I don't care that Cody is bossy and demanding, and I actually kind of like that he's dominant.

Besides, I couldn't care less if he thinks I'm submissive and easy, because his kisses make me melt, and his roaming hands are coarse and they scratch my skin, but in a nice way, a somewhat gentle way, and Cody's chest under my hands is smooth and warm, and I desperately want to get his shirt off so that his bare skin touches mine, because my stomach is cold and his is warm, and his chest is going up and down rapidly, and I like the feel of his heart beating really quickly.

And then we break apart, breathing heavily, and even though I don't want to stop, I know we have to get back to class because otherwise Mr Harris will start to suspect. Actually, Cody has to go back, and I have to go to those narrow beds, which are squeaky and flimsy, but which are beds all the same, i.e. places to sleep, because kissing Cody has made me even more exhausted.

I don't actually remember taking Cody's shirt off, but I must have because he is currently slipping it back on and buttoning it up efficiently. Watching him button his shirt makes me want to jump him all over again, but I refrain, because that's what I do best.

Meanwhile, I'm leaning against the wall, panting and still shirtless. Cody finishes with his shirt and tie, smirks at me, flattens his hair, and walks out. He does this every time, but I don't understand how: how is he not flustered and breathless?

I squeeze my eyes shut and sink to the floor, resolving just to sit there for a while before I go to Sister Bunt, because my legs are aching and my head is still spinning. Slowly, I reach for my shirt and slip it on, do the buttons up with shaky fingers. The way my hands are shaking violently is freaking me out a little, but I don't let it worry me. Instead, I stagger dazedly into sickbay, sign in clumsily, collapse into the closest bed and fall asleep in my dark blue and white school uniform and flat black shoes.

When I wake up, I'm feeling a little better, though still somewhat light-headed. The clock on the wall tells me it's twenty minutes after the bell, so I better hot-tail it to the change rooms if I don't want to run laps.

As it turns out, I'm still ten minutes late, even though I skipped out on food in order to get here. But Mr Whittle doesn't care because he doesn't have time for excuses, so I have to run around the 800 metre track four times, which actually isn't so bad.

Today, being Monday, the only people training are Rose Art, Devon Mills, Polly Ayres and me. And also some rowers who are supposed to be doing fitness but are mostly just complaining about having to do fitness, which they wouldn't be doing if they were actually fit.

I'm jogging slowly around the track, wishing I'd opted for some food, and watching Polly Ayres be a prissy poop. I might feel light-headed, but she really is light-headed. Meaning there's nothing up there. Polly Ayres is stupid and whiny, and I really hate her, mostly because she's so good at high jump even though she's a year younger, but also because she's mean and bitchy. And very, very self-centred.

Devon is also a year younger and likes to follow Polly around because he's also stupid and whiny, but Rose and I both hate her. We don't mind Devon, because he's cute and a little naive, and also because he's really good at sprinting but he's modest, so he doesn't make a big deal out of it like Polly does.

Rose and I like to do stretches together and say things like, "Polly wanna cracker?" and cack ourselves laughing, even though it's not really that funny. Rose does a really good imitation of Polly getting ready to do long jump. It is really very funny, because it's exactly what Polly does, prancing about for ages, trying to find the right mark from which to start her run. Rose also does long jump, so Polly is sort of her rival, the way she is also my rival for high jump. Although, the difference is that Rose is most definitely better than Polly, whilst I am worse than Polly, who beat me at last year's district.

I finish my four laps and head over to Mr Whittle, who is also the basketball coach and likes for us to call him Coach, or Coach Whittle. Polly does, all the time, batting her eyelashes furiously, but Rose and I like to work him up by calling him Mr Whittle.

Rose has finished her stretches already, so I have to stretch on my own, which is boring and horrible because Mr Whittle likes to count painfully slowly so that the stretching session lasts for hours and hours and hours.

After that it's just regular training, except Polly is hogging the high jump, even though she doesn't need practise. It's mainly because her friends are watching and she wants to show them how high she can jump. Eventually she finishes up and leaves, and even though I know I'm supposed to go home and tidy my room, I really want to beat Polly this year, so I spend another thirty minutes practising high jump.

When Mr Whittle tells me to beat it, I'm exhausted and starving and feeling like I'm about to faint. But I don't. Instead, I head into the change rooms just as Rose is coming out, and she smiles at me, and I remember that I really like her.

"Hey, don't push yourself too hard, yeah Pippa?" She gives me a whack on the bum as she passes, because that's the kind of person she is: confident and wild and totally cool. She hangs out with Katie Hanson and Jamie Walker and Fiona Hart and Tim Jones and Charlie Brown and Nathan Cook and Cody Machett. They're the kind of friends I wish I had.

But wishing never got anyone anywhere, so I stop daydreaming and slip into the shower, liking the feeling of the cool water sliding off my skin. I close my eyes and stand very still, trying to get my head to stop spinning. I really need something to eat.

Eventually I get out and get changed and catch the bus home, stepping inside at six o'clock and realising I have half an hour to tidy up this bomb site that is apparently my room. I groan, but get cracking, because complaining never got anybody anywhere, as my dad likes to say.

At six thirty on the dot, I am shoving the last of my shoes under my bed and hoping grandma doesn't look under there and get a heart attack, when I hear a car pull up. I am thoroughly relieved that I even managed to change the bed sheets in time, and I grab a change of clothes and some schoolbooks so I can do some long overdue homework.

I hear dad open the door and greet grandma loudly, like she's deaf or something, which she is most definitely not, but dad likes to pretend she is because actually he is partly deaf. Kim and I like to tease him about it constantly, but he just grumbles because he can't really hear what we're saying anyway.

I can hear Ollie running up the hall to greet grandma as well, because she absolutely adores her, and it has been so long since we last saw her. I slowly get up, my aching knees grinding in protest, and poke my head into the hall just as Ollie crushes grandma's bones.

Grandma spots me and smiles over Ollie's head. I give her a wave and head towards her, waiting for Ollie to stop hogging her hugs, which are brilliant and comforting and make me wish I had a proper mum.

"My!" Grandma exclaims in a very grandma-like fashion, "Olivia, dear, you are twice as tall as when I saw you last. How long has it been?"

"Almost a year, Grandmama." It's funny how the moment Grandma turns up, Ollie starts acting ten, and at every other time she acts like she's fifteen. "I'm thirteen now! I'm a teenager!" Seeing Ollie let go of her maturity and her worries, and seeing her look a lot lighter, like a million responsibilities have just lifted off her burdened shoulders, makes me want to cry a little. She shouldn't have to be acting so grown up all the time, but it really does help, even though I just want her to be a kid. It makes me really grateful to grandma.

Speaking of grandma, she has finally finished congratulating Ollie on being a tween, even though Ollie insists she is a teen, and Ollie runs off to help dad make coffee. Grandma turns to me and smiles, opening her arms, which I fall into gratefully.

Getting a hug from grandma is like going to a spa treatment place, because it's so comforting and relaxing and makes me feel twelve years old again, when everything was okay and we were a proper family and I wasn't so tired all the time, and I didn't have so much to worry about, and mum made cookies for afternoon tea.

But then Kim is behind me and it's her turn to get a hug, so I head into kitchen, which is also where we eat and watch TV. It's basically just a square room with a few kitchen benches and cupboards, a fridge, a sink, a table and a little television with an antenna.

Sometimes dad says we should move Ollie into my room and make her room into a living room, but we never get around to it and also it would mean buying couches and other stuff, and we don't watch nearly enough TV to go wasting our money like that. Besides, my room isn't all that big, so it would get a little crowded with Ollie in there too.

Grandma comes into the kitchen/dining room/living room with Kim, who is looking much happier and carefree than usual, and as I'm sitting there with dad and Ollie and Kim and grandma, I find myself wishing grandma would move in with us, because I hate the fact that she lives alone, hours out of the city.

And suddenly I feel completely terrible for not wanting to give up my room for grandma. And I hate myself even more, because I'm pathetic and selfish and spend my time wishing for better things, when I should just do what Ollie does and make the best of what I have. Sometimes it feels as though Ollie is so much older than me.