I reached the front door, panting and breathless. I looked down at my watch again.
I surreptitiously slipped the key into the lock, praying fervently that my mother wouldn't hear me. I twisted it slowly until I heard a click. I opened the door gradually and crept inside. I shut the door almost silently. I could hear the faint buzz of the television as I sat down to take off my shoes. The sound of two Velcro strips being ripped apart echoed through the hall.
Oh great, I thought, I've been caught.
"What time do you call this?"
I hated it when my mother was angry, it frightened me slightly. I began to feel very guilty.
"I can explain."
"You'd better, Ayla Bronnley. Consider yourself grounded." I need to see Jacoby and the others, I thought.
"Wait!" I shouted, before licking my lips and taking a deep breath. "I met up with Jacoby as normal." I looked up to see my mother tapping her left foot on the ground, and her arms were folded across her chest. "Then," I continued, "he told me that he wanted me to meet some people. So I followed him through the alleyways and-"
I was cut off by my mother's exclamation.
"What! You let him take you through alleyways! Are you crazy, Ayla? Do you know what could have happened to you?"
"Yes, mum, but Jacoby isn't like that. Anyway, we arrived and there were loads of them."
"Of what?" I struggled to find a way to describe them, then settled on,
"People who need help." My mother seemed to calm down a little as I continued. "They were letting me in, mum. I didn't want to leave. I felt I'd achieved something. I glanced at my watch, saw the time, and ran home as fast as I could." My mother nodded understandingly, then calmly said,
"Go to bed, please." I turned to go when my mother suddenly adopted a softer tone as she said, "Ayla?"
"What happened to your cheek?"
I'd told Jacoby, surely I could tell my own mother? But I found it impossible, there was an expanding swelling lump of terror in my throat. Why was I so scared of Tamara? A glimmer of courage pulled the words from my mouth.
"I was punched, mummy." Suddenly, the glimmer was gone, and I began to be afraid again. Tears began to fall from my eyes. I felt my mother’s arms around me and took in the scent of her familiar, floral perfume.
"Can you tell me who did it?"
"I can only tell you that it happened at school, and Jacoby had nothing to do with it. He's my best friend. I’m sorry, mum... I’m frightened."
"Please tell me when you're ready, sweetheart. There’s nothing to be scared of.”
“I’m so sorry, mum. She...” I paused, realising I was subconsciously revealing more to her. My secrets needed to escape.
“Ayla, I’m here to help you through your problems. You can tell me.”
“I will, mummy, I promise.”
“I'll also consider canceling your grounding if your presentation tomorrow for assembly is fantastic." The tears stopped, and I rolled my eyes.
"You're coming to see me?" I asked, slightly fearing embarrassment. Then I realised that I couldn't fall much further from where I already was.
"Of course, I'm taking time off work to be there, so it'd better be good!"
"Aye, aye cap'n!" We both laughed, which was lovely, because neither of us had done much laughing in a while.
"Go to bed, ye scurvy dog!" She said, laughing and holding me tight.
"All right," I said once I had calmed down, "Night, mum. Sleep well."
"You too, dear" And so it was, feeling less burdened, I went to bed. I surprised myself.
I was actually looking forward to assembly.