~ Chapter 12 ~

"You ready?" Cody asks, looking up from his locker briefly.

I nod tiredly and sling both our bags over my shoulders without even needing to think about it. Cody shuts his locker, picks up his crutches and joins me as we head to the other end of the school for detention on a Friday afternoon. The back of my head aches from exhaustion and I can tell Cody feels the same with the way he sighs every now and then.

It's been a really long week, especially with the principle wanting to see us almost every day to clarify what actually happened. Luke's parents were furious and called the school to demand that more be done but all the principle could really do was give us both a few more detentions and a couple of lectures. And, of course, our parents were notified which has left my dad in a state of fury and disappointment that feels like a stab in the heart every time he puts his head in his hands like he can't really believe I'm his daughter.

I don't even try to explain myself. I just shrug and avoid him as much as possible, which isn't hard considering he's rarely home. Ollie, on the other hand, is much harder to avoid, particularly since she keeps coming into my room so she can be mad or disappointed or sad or confused or all of them all at once and remind me that I broke a promise.

And I go right back to feeling like a monster. But then I'll get to school and Charlie and Nate will be going on about how awesome the punch was and trying to re-enact it for Katie and Fiona's benefit and Rose will be nodding with pride and Cody will smile at me like we're sharing some big secret and it sends warm tingles down my spine.

Still, as Cody and I head to our second of ten detentions, I can't shake the feeling that I've let Ollie down just like mum always used to. And it's this thought that sends me tripping into myself but I don't miss the look Cody gives me as I rest my head on the desk. He has this way of knowing the exact moment I fall back inside my eyes and he'll always look at me kind of intensely.

Right now though, he's got that look that goes on forever in his eyes and as I stare at him through the gaps in my hair I get the sense that there's something wrong. Something more than just exhaustion. But then he looks away and I'm left wondering.

Instead I stare at his back and read the name on his jersey which says 'MACHETE' and I smile a little inside at the play on his last name. Nathan chose it for him and every time someone comments on it he'll pop up out of nowhere and make sure everyone knows it was his idea.

When I wore my jersey to school on Monday, Gemma and Sally did a double take and looked incredibly confused and it made me grin crazily at the constipated looks on their faces. But they didn't say anything about the change so neither did I.

I almost fall asleep with my head on the desk thinking about Cody and the way we've suddenly gotten really close and then the substitute teacher at the front of the room finally lets us go and while everyone else in the room practically sprints out the door, I wait patiently as Cody uses the desk to stand up slowly and then he looks at me with a grimace and says, "Can you carry me?"

I shake my head with a laugh and watch as he rubs his underarms, takes a deep breath and puts the crutches under his arms painfully. "So much pain," he tells me, "and it's only the first week."

"Suck it up, Machete," I say with a smile, leading the way out the door. We make our way to the bus stop in a nice kind of silence and I know Cody wishes he could walk home like he usually does but we both know it would hurt his arms too much.

Cody suddenly turns to me and says, "So what's your plan for next year?"

"What?" I cough because this has come out of nowhere and it's a question I've been avoiding all week since the teachers mentioned we should start applying to universities.

"What. Is. Your. Plan – "

"I know what you said. I just don't know the answer." I grumble and cross my arms over my chest as we take a seat on the bench. Cody laughs so I throw the question to him instead.

He shrugs and looks away, "I might take the year off. I'll get a part-time job or something and help my mum with Emmy."

"Yeah but, you still have to apply for uni, right? And then you'll defer," Cody nods slowly so I add, "What are you going to apply for?"

This is apparently the wrong question to ask because he suddenly groans and throws his head back in frustration, "I don't know. Something...just something."

"Oh, that's new. I don't think anyone else is applying for something."

"Pip..." He says warningly so I decide to take pity on him and as we stand up to get on the bus that's just arrived I throw out a few suggestions.

"I think you'd be really good at Business or Economics. Or you could be a teacher. Kids would love you."

"That's sounds mildly perverted."

"Cody! You know what I mean," I humph, taking a seat next to him as the bus starts to move.

Cody laughs his real laugh and I blow my fringe out of my eyes to distract myself from the way his leg keeps bumping mine and while I'm looking out the window at the rain that's just starting to drizzle I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

I'm in a fit of giggles when we finally get to Cody's and he's pinching his mouth together to stop himself from laughing too.

"It's not that funny Pip." He growls a bit, pushing the door open with his shoulder.

I swallow the last of my giggles and follow him inside and say, "It is actually pretty funny if you think about it. Not even just the part where she fell on you, but also the part where she didn't get up for ages and then she was like – "

"Okay! I know what she said. We don't need to go over it again."

"Oh, don't be so grumpy," I laugh, rolling my eyes at him.

Cody opens the fridge with a grunt and even though he's pretending to sulk I know inside he's laughing because there's no way he can't find it funny that a lady tripped down the bus stairs onto him, lay there with her eyes shut for a while and then finally got up and said, "You have a really firm butt. Not quite as comfortable as the squishy butts I've fallen onto, but definitely more comfortable than the bony ones."

"You know," Cody says loudly as I start to giggle again, "You could've helped her up or something. You didn't have to stand there doing nothing."

"I wasn't doing nothing," I protest, taking the two cokes from his hands and following him outside, "I was busy laughing."

"That'd be right," Cody grunts again as he takes a seat and while we listen to the rain make music on the roof I suddenly realise that this is the first time I've been inside Cody's house. So I take the time to look around the garden a bit more and I'm in the middle of admiring the jacaranda tree when a huge dog comes bolting out of the shed with his tail up in the air and his tongue flopping about everywhere.

I spit the coke out of my mouth in shock as the dog collides with my chair and starts licking my legs and my shoes and my knees and then he's got his two front paws on my lap, trying to get his slobber all over my face and meanwhile Cody's just sitting there laughing stupidly until eventually he comes to his senses and whistles his dog over.

"Good boy, Benson."

I'm about to scold Cody for encouraging this, but someone else cuts me off yelling, "Cody!" It's his mum. And the moment I hear her voice I feel my guard go up. I'm wary of this lady, who has palmed Emmy off onto Cody. He's been getting very little sleep because his mum never wakes up to the baby's crying and he even had to take a day off school to look after her.

"Hi mum," Cody says with a small smile, one hand still on Benson. His mum steps outside with a relieved look on her face.

"Cody, honey, I'm so glad you're home. I have to pop out quickly. Could you keep an eye on Emmy for me?" She asks. But there's something about the way she's already dressed and already heading back inside that gets me frowning. It just kind of seems like she hasn't thought about the fact that Cody might have other plans.

"Sure," Cody says with that small smile again. It's the kind of smile that doesn't reach his eyes and it makes me feel all weird, watching Cody give his mum everything she wants. At the last second she turns her head my way and gives me a tight smile which I'm about to return but she's already back through the door.

Cody and I sit silently for a second. He's looking down at Benson, biting his lip like he knows exactly what I think of his mum. And I want to reassure him that I like her, that I'm not judging her for what she's done, just to see him smile, but the words get stuck on my tongue.

I cough awkwardly just as Cody says, "She's been working from home."

"Right," I nod, determined not to get into this conversation.

"It's really tough on her, with Emmy and all."

"Yeah, must be,"

I try to sound convincing, I really do, but with the way Cody's eyeing me while he pats Benson, I can tell it's not working. "Work's just been really crazy lately. She's had to catch up on all that time she lost when she was pregnant...It's been tough on her."

"Uh-huh," I say with a grimace because suddenly I want to explode with all the anger I've been holding back. It just doesn't seem fair to make Cody do most of the work when he should be focusing on his studies right now.

"She just needs a bit of help every now and then," Cody adds in a final attempt to convince me, but it only makes me frown some more.

"Can't your dad help out some?"

Cody frowns, biting his lip in thought, "He's away on business."

I give Cody a look because I can tell he's lying. There's something going on that he's not telling me and as much as I want to get angry at him for it, because it makes my chest ache kind of sadly, I don't really feel like I have the right since I'm guilty of the same thing.

There's a frustrated silence between us that Benson finally breaks with a short bark, upset that Cody isn't patting him anymore. "Want to watch TV?" Cody asks me hesitantly like he's afraid I'm going to explode at him.

And I really want to explode because Cody is being stupid, but I don't feel like fighting with him since that's all we seem to be doing lately. So, slowly, I nod and try to smile and we head inside with Benson at our heels.

"Hand it over!" I say with a grin, putting down my controller after winning the race. We're in the living room sitting on the floor with our backs against the couch. There was nothing on TV so, after putting Emmy back to bed, we decided to play Mario Kart.

"Naw, come on, you cheated!" Cody grumbles, holding the pizza box away from me.

"I just took a shortcut. That's not cheating." I laugh, leaning across him in an attempt to reach the last piece of pizza. It's nearly eight o'clock and this one piece of pizza is the only thing we could find in Cody's fridge that doesn't require preparation, so even though it's a day old and cold, we decided to play best of three for it.

"Yeah, but then you threw a piece of pepperoni at me, which is distracting enough in itself, without Benson attacking me to try and eat it." I laugh some more, remembering the way Benson had leapt onto Cody, trying to reach the peperoni that was stuck in his hair.

"Come on, Cody. Deal's a deal. We never said we couldn't cheat." I'm starting to discover that reaching this piece of pizza is virtually impossible without moving from my spot on the ground, because Cody has long arms and even though I'm basically on top of him, I still can't reach the box.

Cody looks outraged as he says, "It was implied!" I just grin cheekily as I adjust myself onto my knees and start moving around his outstretched legs. Cody sees what I'm trying to do and, placing his controller on the couch we're leaning against, he holds me off with one hand, using the other to grab the piece of pizza and pretend to take a bite out of it.

"Hey!" I yell, but I can't stop my smile. Benson starts barking and wagging his tail, not really sure what's going on, and then I lunge for the piece while Cody's distracted. The moment I've got a hold of it I stand up ready to run away because there's no way Cody can catch me on crutches. But Cody falls onto his stomach as he grabs my ankles and then I'm on the floor too and the pizza piece drops out of my hands.

By the time I free my ankles from Cody's grip and try to settle my messed up hair, Benson has already swallowed the piece whole. I turn to scold Cody but he's face down and not moving. For a second I think he's dead. "Cody?" I say hesitantly, poking his head. He suddenly grabs my hand and I yelp in surprise.

"Cody!" I yell angrily, but he's laughing like crazy. I frown at him and try to straighten my school uniform while I wait for him to stop. "You owe me pizza," I grumble when Cody finally sits up. He's in slacks and an old t-shirt which he changed into a while ago, and for some reason he looks ten times more gorgeous with his crumpled shirt and his messed up hair than he ever does when he dresses up.

"You've got..." Cody grins, pointing to my hair.

"What?" I growl, patting down my hair some more.

"No, you missed it," he laughs, crawling towards me.

"What is it?" I ask again, smoothing out my hair with more vigour because I just know that if Cody gets any closer I'm going to want to kiss him. And I won't be able to stop myself.

"It's poking up at the back," he says, stopping on his knees just centimetres from me and reaching out to smooth it down. And there's that smell of rain again. I swallow and breathe out but while I'm trying to distract myself from his hands in my hair, images of us making out in the janitor's closet are playing in my head.

Finally, Cody leans back and grins and I just know my cheeks are pink but I'm hoping he'll overlook that. "How's my hair looking?" He poses stupidly which makes me laugh.

"It looks great," I tell him, because it does, even though it's poking up every which ways.

"Sexy, right?" He grins again.

I shake my head hopelessly, "Sure Cody."

And then just when the silence starts to take on a new kind of energy, the front door opens and two voices float down the hall into the living room. I watch as Cody's grin falls and he starts to stand up, but with nothing close enough to support him he's having trouble, so I quickly grab his arm and help him, never letting my eyes leave his face.

"Cody?" His mother's voice calls out.

"Here, mum." He replies, letting his eyes flit over to me for a second. I let go of his arm and grab his crutches. He nods in thanks.

His mother walks into the living with a smile that falters a little when she sees me. "Oh," she says in surprise, "I didn't realise you were still here."

I just smile with my lips pursed and watch as the owner of the second voice waltzes in behind her and wraps his arm around her waist. She turns to smile at him and I can feel Cody tense beside me. This is not his dad. And from the way Cody doesn't even seem surprised, I get the feeling this guy has been coming around a lot lately.

"How's Emmy?" Cody's mum finally asks, turning her attention back to Cody.

"She's asleep," He replies in monotone. I feel incredibly awkward, witnessing something I'm sure Cody never wanted me to see.

"Great. Thank you so much Cody. Now, I'm going to order some Thai for us..." She starts, moving into the kitchen and searching through the drawers for a brochure, "What dish do you feel like?" She calls out.

"Actually, Pippa and I are going to get some pizza. I owe her," Cody says with a smile in his eyes.

There's a short silence as his mother processes this and then she's back in the living room and staring me down like she thinks I've corrupted her son or something. "Okay. But don't be back too late."

Cody nods and then motions with his head for me to follow him out the front door. "Wait!" I hiss, catching up to Cody, "I can't go to a restaurant like this!"

"Like what?"

"I'm still in my school uniform."

Cody chews his lip for a second and says, "Wait there," before heading off to his room or wherever, presumably to get me some of his sister's old clothes to wear. So then I'm standing awkwardly in the living room, rubbing my arm, as the strange male guest sits on the couch flicking through channels as though he's done this a thousand times.

Eventually I manage a "Hi," since it seems that no one is going to introduce us. "I'm Phillipa. I'm a friend of Cody's."

He grins at me, getting up from the couch to shake my hand and in a Russian accent he replies, "I am Andrei. A pleasure to meet you," And then instead of shaking my hand like I thought he would, he lifts it to his mouth and kisses it lightly.

I don't even know what to say. I just stand there with an "oh" expression on my face, completely shocked. Cody's mum finishes on the phone and bustles into the living room as Andrei returns to the couch. He really is incredibly good looking, but seems to be at least ten years younger than Cody's mother.

And he has a charm that I can't deny even though I want to snap his neck in half.

Cody thankfully comes back into the room before another awkward situation can present itself, but he hasn't got any clothes for me to wear. Instead, he's changed back into his school uniform but I'm still too much in shock to say anything. I just frown and point and follow him out the front door with my bag.

"I thought you were going to get me something to wear?" I finally manage as we make our way towards the main shops.

"Huh. That probably would have been smarter," He says like this had just occurred to him. But I can tell by his mischievous smile that he thought this would be funnier.

"Cody!" I scold, giving him a very light shove so that he doesn't fumble with his crutches. He just laughs and I don't push it anymore because this is his real laugh and I'm so glad to be away from his mum, around whom he seems to become a very different, very subdued person.

We get to the Italian restaurant along the main strip of shops and even though I feel like a fool in my uniform, at least we're fools together. Or anyway, that's what Cody says to me when the waiter gives us a funny look and I like the way he says 'we' and 'together' so much that I feel kind of pathetic but I smile anyway.

"So..." I start after we've finished our pizza and are now standing at the gelato bar trying to decide on a flavour.

"What's that flavour you had last time? Ages ago?" Cody asks, obviously knowing that I want to start up a conversation about Andrei.

I don't answer at first, staring at the side of his head like I think this will let me see what's going on inside of it. Cody looks up eventually and catches my eye. "Pip?"

"Hmm? Oh! Oh yeah. It's, um, blueberry toffee." I nod rigorously, trying to disguise the fact that I had just been staring at him strangely.

"Want to share one?" Cody asks as he orders two scoops in a cup. I nod again and then we head to an outside table to eat the most amazing gelato in the world and even though it's started to rain again, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside and I'm trying to hold back my crazy grin but I can't. I really can't.

And then Cody goes, "She's not a bad person, you know," looking off to the side.

I have to stop myself from disagreeing because what he says kind of reminds me of my conversation with Ollie not long ago. So this is about the time when that knot twists in my stomach to remind me of what a horrible, judgemental person I am and I can feel myself closing up but I can't let that happen because Cody's only just starting to open up.

So I nod, forcing myself to reply instead of thinking of my own problems. "I know," I say, taking another scoop of gelato.

"She's just not satisfied with her life anymore and I guess she's sick of always putting others first."

I purse my lips. I get that, I really do, but there is a much better way to go about getting what you want. Cody seems to realise this because he grimaces and says, "That sounded better in my head."

We're silent for a long time as we finish the gelato and start walking to my place. Cody seems to be battling internally about how to explain his mother's actions in a way that doesn't make her look bad. I finally sigh and take pity on him. "You don't have to explain to me. I get it. And I know she's not a bad person, Cody, but she still shouldn't be putting this sort of stuff on you."

"She's not doing it on purpose. She's just...finally happy again."

I scrunch up my eyes, incredibly frustrated with the way Cody is letting his mother walk all over him. And sure, it's sweet that he's ranked her happiness higher than his own, but that kind of thinking only ever works if the other person reciprocates it.

"That's great, Cody, it really is. But she can still be happy without making you miserable." I tell him kind of angrily.

"She's not making me miserable – "

"Cody, come on! I'm not stupid. Well, I'm not that stupid. What she's doing is really awful and it's not fair on you at all." I barely even realise that we've stopped on the corner where our paths split even though normally Cody would walk me home.

"That's my mum you're talking about," Cody growls at me, crossing his arms angrily as he leans against the low fence of the house we're out the front of.

"Which is exactly what makes all of this worse! She's supposed to be the one who puts herself before you all the time but here she is, palming off all her problems onto you! Open your eyes, Cody! What kind of mother puts those sorts of burdens on her child's shoulder and then brings home the root of all problems to rub it in your face?!"

"Hey!" Cody yells back, standing to his full height without his crutches and using his hands for emphasis. "You don't know what she's been through, okay? You're not exactly in a position to judge her!"

I let out a strangled scream and tear at my hair some more and even though in the back of my mind I'm worried that all this yelling might wake someone, I'm far too frustrated to hold back. "I don't care what she's been through! I care what you've been through and what you're still going through and you're mum could be some random but it wouldn't change the fact that there's someone putting you through hell and I want to punch that someone so badly it actually hurts!" I shout, clenching my fists so hard my knuckles turn white and my nails draw blood on my palms.

Cody's so angry by this point that his face is turning purple but I don't wait for a reply from him; I just keep going until my throat hurts, yelling about mum's and dad's and their responsibilities as parents and how they should never abandon their kids and they should never do something that hurts their kids and at some point I realise that I'm not just talking about Cody's mum, I'm talking about my own mum and my dad, who I virtually haven't seen all week.

Cody yells back at me, over the top of me so that we're not really listening to each other, and yet I hear him anyways. I hear him go on about how his parents had lost their passion a long time ago and how his mum was feeling really lonely and how she really just needed someone to talk to about her life and how he was glad she'd confided in him, even if it meant he had to keep a secret from his dad.

We end our argument with an "Argghh!" And then we stomp off, Cody going left, me going straight ahead. And I'm so mad that I forget I'm scared of the dark and I go straight inside to my bed but I don't sleep. My chest hurts so much I feel like I'm going to die, until eventually I just burst into tears and I cry and cry and cry until I can't anymore, and then I lie there not moving, not sleeping, wishing I could take back everything I said to Cody and that we could go back to kissing in the closet and that Kim would come back and Dad would remember his daughters so that we could be a family again.

My eyes hurt the most when I wake. I try to run off the shaky feeling that's twisting my insides. I run ten kilometres without stopping but not even the pain in my legs distracts me from the ache in my chest.

By now, Cody would be at soccer training co-captaining the team with Charlie for the Grand Final next weekend. I wonder absently if he's as distracted as I am while I'm catching up on my notes. By the time I get through half a page I've bitten through my bottom lip with worry.

Ollie pops her head into my room at around six, asking what time dinner will be ready and my head falls into my arms as I realise Dad's away on 'business' again. "It'll be ready in forty minutes," I tell Ollie, trying with all my might to hold back a grumble because I don't want her to feel bad for something that's not her fault.

But the longer the weekend drags out, the more worries start popping up from the back of my mind where I'd shoved them all ages ago. Like that voice on the phone asking for Dad kind of desperately and every morning in the minutes right before my alarm goes off I wake up thinking I know who it is but then the name falls off my tongue again and all I'm left with is the same horrible feeling that the voice can't mean anything good.

By the time Monday rolls back around, I've fallen so far into myself I'm almost back to the way I was before I became friends with Rose and Katie and Fi. I'm trying to listen to Katie complaining about Charlie and Rose complaining about her sister, but it's hard to hear them over all the thoughts in my head that are screaming things at me to remind me of what a horrible, pathetic, crazy waste of space I am.

I can't even look Cody in the eyes because then he'll see all the things I hate about myself and he'll start hating me too. That is, if he doesn't already.

But it's not hard to avoid him since he seems to be avoiding me too. The only times we really see each other during the next week and a half are in geography and detention. At lunch, I sneak off to the library and after school I stay behind doing homework just so I don't have to sit on a bus with him.

On the plus side, my teachers are now giving me smiles instead of frowns because I'm actually handing everything in on time, even though it's not necessarily very good. Mrs Johnson is particularly pleased with me because I've been turning up to all the Extra Practise classes that she holds at lunch and after school.

On Thursday of the second week my mind has managed to push all the bad thoughts to the back for another day, and instead all I really have time to worry about is the track tournament this weekend and Katie's surprise party which we're throwing for her at Rose's house on Saturday night.

Today, however, it's her actual birthday and we've brought in a cake that Rose and I baked last night. We're sitting outside under the tree we always seem to be sitting under lately and while the boys normally play soccer, they've decided that it's too hot today, so they've joined us under the tree and I'm doing my best not to catch Cody's eye.

He and Charlie are sitting across from me pushing each other over in an attempt to grab the biggest piece of cake.

"I'll just cut another one!" Rose finally yells, annoyed. She snatches up the knife like a madwoman and cuts a piece almost twice as large as the other, so now Charlie and Cody are fighting over the new piece. Rose gets fed up and just turns her back on them to join in our conversation.

Katie's trying to organise for us to go to her place on Saturday after track and the soccer grand finals to watch movies and whatnot, but we'll of course be busy with her surprise party. So Fiona's rambling on about helping her sister with some wedding stuff and I'm going, "Oh, um, maybe...I'll have to check but I think my dad wants me home for something..."

Rose explains to Katie that she has to entertain her cousin who has been staying with them for the past few days. This is actually true and I met her really hot cousin last night when we were baking the cake. His name is Michael and he's doing chemical engineering at uni but he's taken the week off to visit Rose's family for some stress relief. Except that he must've forgotten that hanging out with Rose is stressful in itself.

"You guys are the worst friends ever. I'm going to be alone all weekend or worse: stuck with Charlie." Katie says with her mouth full of cake, screwing up her face at the thought.

"Hey!" Charlie shouts over Rose's shoulder, momentarily giving up the fight for the largest piece of cake. "I resent that!"

Katie pokes her tongue out and turns her attention onto Cody and Nate instead. "What about you guys?" She asks hopefully, "What are you doing this weekend?"

Cody and Nate look at each other in a way that is so suspicious I can see Rose's face start to twitch, worried that they've blown our cover. But Nate recovers quickly, saying, "I'm grounded."

Nate is always being grounded for some reason or another, so this is actually a really good cover. Katie just rolls her eyes, "You're an idiot."

Then she looks at Cody who shrugs and she says, "Oh that's right, you're too busy sulking. What's with all the sulking lately anyway? Philly's been moping around all week too. Argh! You guys are the worst. I don't care if this is the most brilliant cake I've ever had, you guys still suck."

"Naw, Katie. We love you too." Rose grins, ruffling Katie's hair affectionately.

"Whatever," Katie grumbles. But then Nate, who stupidly decided to join the fight for the biggest piece of cake when he could've just cut himself a new piece, accidentally squashes it all over Charlie's face which gets Katie in a fit of giggles that lasts so long we worry she can't breathe.

Charlie eventually puts a stop to it by shoving the other piece into her open mouth, and then she's up and chasing him around the field, yelling crazily.

"Why are you two moping anyways?" Rose suddenly asks, taking us by surprise.

"Been pretty tired lately," Cody says at the same time as I blurt out, "Tired." Rose eyes us suspiciously but doesn't push it and I'm grateful, even though I know I'll be getting an earful later.

I lie back on the grass and close my eyes because I really am quite tired. It's been a tough two weeks and with our two-day track tournament starting tomorrow, I'm worrying so much I've got stress headaches at every spot across my forehead and between eyes and, strangely, around my jaw like I've been clenching all night.

I take a really deep breath trying to calm myself and fall asleep on the grass.

A/N Hey readers! So yes, this has taken much longer than I said it would. I got distracted with uni stuff :( just want to say a special thanks to my most recent reviewers: Darling Deer, renegade01, The Girl Who Can, ooglemac, flunkybubbleshorts and of course who kicked my butt into action. I felt really bad when you reminded me of my promise so yeah, sorry about that. Anyways, love you guys! xxx