'Who's the stuffy old tart?' the girl asked her.
Lydia looked at her in surprise. her mouth hung slightly open for a few seconds before answering, 'Er, which one?'
They both laughed. The boy extended a hand. 'Aiden.'
Lydia reached over and shook it. 'Hi. Er, I'm Lydia.'
Aiden nodded and sank back into his seat. 'And this is Amelia, she's my cousin.'
Lydia nodded and smiled, then looked at her knees, wondering what to tak about next. She heard her mother's fake braying laughter from the kictehn and her fists clenched in anger. She didn't see Aiden's eyebrow raise, or the glance he gave his cousin. She didn't look at him until he spoke.
'Sorry about the stuffy old tart thing,' he said apologetically. 'I didn't realise who she was.'
'Oh.' Lydia sat up, trying to hide her surprise. Aiden and Amelia were slouched back, looking at her like they expected her to say something important. This was unusual, especially from strangers. Surely they weren't interested in talking to her? 'Well, she is my mother. It's ok, though. She kind of is.'
Aiden nodded. 'That was my mother. The one who brought us here. We're as bored as you.'
'Of course. Isn't it obvious?'
'Well, yes,' Lydia said, sitting up. 'Erm, how old are you two?'
Amelia spoke. She had a strange, peaceful-sounding voice. 'We're both seventeen. You look about sixteen, am I right?'
Before Lydia could answer, her mother swept in, a glass of room-temperature white Shloer in one hand. She sniffed at the two on the opposite sofa, and then turned to her daughter.
'Lyddy,' she wheedled. 'Why don't you come in and say hello? I've told Mark and Vanessa all about you. They'd love to hear how you're getting on at school.'
Lydia glanced at Aiden and Amelia. They were both watching her. 'Mum, I don't really feel like it,' she said, pulling her jumper over her wrists.
Her mother sniffed again, jerking her neck at that disgusting pair of goths. 'I have to say, Lyddy, you're being very inconsiderate this evening. I am only asking for you to behave and play at being a good daughter. Now come and meet our friends.'
Lydia felt hatred burning in her stomach, in her lngs, in her eyes. She stared at her knees and mumbled, 'I really don't want to, Mum.'
Her mother gulped, sighed, spilled Shloer on Lydia's shoes and swept out of the room, doing her best to look and sound hurt. She was going to talk about how difficult she was with other adults. She just knew she was.
Aiden peered at her over steepled fingers. 'You hate her.'
Lydia whipped her head to him. 'What? no, no, it's just... well, she's a bit annoying.'
'It doesn't matter that she's your mother,' Amelia said kindly. 'She is a person, and you're allowed to dislike her, as a person.'
'Well, maybe...' Lydia wasn't at all sure where this conversation was going.
'People hate us on sight,' Aiden continued. 'They see our clothes, and they hate us based on their assumptions. At least we have the good grace to find out what people are like before we hate them.'
'My mum's not all that bad,' Lydia said doubtfully.
'Perhaps not. But you recognise that she does bad things, and behaves like a bad person.'
'Well - now wait a minute,' she said, forgetting for the moment that she was talking to strangers. 'Your mother is just the same as my mother.'
'He knows,' Amelia responded. 'He hates her too.'
Lydia blinked. 'How do you know all this anyway?'
They took a moment to answer. 'We just see the way you act around her, and talk to her,' Aiden explained. 'We can see you're not happy with who she is. And that makes you weak. You don't want to be weak, do you?'
It wasn't a statement. It was a question. It was actually a question. So Lydia answered.
'No,' she told them. 'I don't.'
Aiden nodded slowly, and got up. 'We're going upstairs. You should come with us.'
Lydia stood up. 'Um, are we allowed?'
Amelia smiled. 'Does it matter?'
Lydia glanced into the kitchen, full of grown-ups sipping from stemmed glasses and pretending to be interested in each other's pathetic anecdotes. She shrugged. They wouldn't miss her. She let the pair leave the room first, then went after them. They thumped up the stairs together.