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‘Jez.’ Charlie whispered after a few minutes of silence. I looked up at him, but not at his face. ‘Jez, you’re not a freak. Anyone who believes you are is just a very nasty person. Jez, listen to me. You do have friends. I’m your friend.’ ‘You’re my only friend Charlie. My only friend.’ I had stopped crying by now. I simply stood there. Charlie reached out and took my hand in his and pulled me closer. He was looking up at me with a look in his eyes that I just couldn’t place. ‘Come on. Let’s go to the park. I promised. Which way is it?’ He got to his feet and looked down at me with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. He still had a hold of my hand with his. I didn’t mind. He had warm hands. Safe hands. I turned around and looked back and forth around the clearing. Trees. Branches. Darkness. I’d never even been here before. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t even know which way I’d come in here. ‘Charlie, we’re lost.’ I said, looking back at him. ’I’ve never been here before. Everything looks the same.’ I took a step backwards, ‘It’s dark Charlie.’ Charlie put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently. ‘It’s okay. How about we just take you home then? We can go to the park tomorrow.’ He stepped backwards towards the tree line, I moved with him. I let him take lead. He seemed to know where he was going. Charlie held my hand all the way back until we were out of the woods, and back standing at the bottom of my garden steps. Then he crouched down in front of me and grasped both of my hands. ‘Come out tomorrow, okay? I’ll take you to the park then. And no matter what your dad says, I am your friend Jez.’ With that he pulled me into a quick hug and kissed the top of my head. ‘Goodnight Jez.’ Charlie stood up and walked backwards until he reached his gate, a smile, my smile, on his face all the way. Then he waved and took the steps two at a time until he reached his front door, where he turned, waved again, and went inside. I looked up at my house. Daddy was watching me through the window. This was bad. I climbed the steps slowly, head down and slowly and carefully opened the front door. As I closed it I heard someone shout my name. It was Daddy. I stood where I was for a few seconds, trying to slow my breathing. Daddy had seen me with Charlie! He was going to be so angry with me... I headed up the stair, my legs shaking, and slowly along to his office. That was where Daddy spent most of his time. If you ever wanted to find him during the day then that was the first place to look. ‘Yes Daddy?’ I asked as I entered the room. He took off his reading glasses and stood up. He rubbed the lenses on the corner of his shirt. ‘What were you doing with that boy?’ He asked me, voice low and firm. I couldn’t deny I was scared. At six foot seven my father wasn’t a small man. And comparing that to my three foot one, he could look pretty damn intimidating. I sucked in quickly and my body tensed. “He...we…urm…” I couldn’t think what to say. ‘That boy hates you Jezabel. Why then, were you pestering him?’ He never looked up, just continued rubbing his glasses. He spoke in that low, calm monotone that I hated so much. It meant he was just getting started, and things were about to get a whole lot worse. ‘He doesn’t hate me Daddy. He told me we were friends.’ I instantly regretted saying those words. It was true, I knew it was, but it would only make what was to come a lot worse. Daddy placed his glasses carefully on his desk, with slow deliberate moves. I held my breath. He turned to look at me, ‘Why do you lie to me Jezabel?’ ‘Lie, Daddy?” He looked me straight in the eye. Holding his gaze was hard. ‘That boy is not your friend. Whatever has led you to believe such lies?’ His voice grew louder, angry. ‘He said we were friends Daddy. He told me that-’ ‘Enough!’ He cut me off. He towered over me and I couldn’t help but step back. ‘That boy does not like you at all, Jezabel. You’re nothing more than an ignorant, disgusting little pest to him. I’m sure he finds your trust in his lies very amusing.’ ‘I…’ I could feel tears building in my eyes, threatening to overflow. ‘Your ignorance is punishable child!’ He lunged towards me. ‘Please, Daddy!’ I stumbled backwards into the wall behind me as his palms dug into my shoulder. ‘No!’ Grasping handfuls of my tee-shirt he lifted me, my back still pressed against the wall. He held me at eye level and I could see that spark blazing in his eyes as his hatred took over his control. ‘You will listen to me from now on Jezabel.’ His voice was scarcely more than a whisper. Then, as the last of his control gave in to his hatred he roared, flinging me full force into the adjacent wall. My world went black. *****

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