Even at home, you couldn’t stop pretending.
After three days at home, Bee had already concluded this, realising she might as well have stayed in Stirling. She could just as easily pretend everything was ok there as here. The nightlife was better in Stirling, where students filled the pubs and clubs with their noise and bustle. It would have been far easier to go out and get hammered every night, so hammered nobody would tell that she was completely empty inside, somewhere where there weren’t parents to scrutinise her with disappointed eyes, their dissipated firstborn. Where there wasn’t Tobes, always hovering around the house, glaring at her in a silent gesture of contempt.
Jake- it hurts, to say his name, even to think it- had said she was paranoid. “He’s just a kid. What, year nine, year eight?”
“year ten,” she’d said, The kitchen in the flat had been full of light, and she was doing the washing-up, the bubbles in the sink iridescent in the sunlight streaming through the window. He’d been propped up against the counter, his mug of coffee left on the side in a way that would have had her father rushing for a coaster, but Bee let it slide, because even when they’d only just got together back in first year she loved him so much. Too much. Sometimes, when they were alone together, she’d wondered where she’d began and he’d ended…it was no wonder that now, without him, she felt like her world had just stopped and half of herself was missing.
Anyway- she distracted herself from the recollection, before she started freaking crying, again-he’d told her she was paranoid, that of course Tobey didn’t hate her. He was just her kid brother; it was a phase he was going through. Then, Bee had described to him again the way Tobey watched her, the way he, for the most part, refused to speak to her, the way his fists would curl up when she entered the room, and Jake had eventually concluded “that’s one freaky kid”. Tobey was “disturbed,” and this made her feel slightly better. Because if Tobey had a screw loose, then him avoiding her didn’t necessarily mean anything significant. She could kid herself that everything was fine.
Which it was. Beer, chocolate, Ouija board, duvet, what more did a girl need?
It was all very well, Tobey being disturbed, but now, a year on, it seemed to be getting worse. He paced about the house as silent as a ghost, just as he had done then, but also seemed to be spending excessive amounts of time outside the house. Goodness knows what he was doing. The squirt didn’t really have friends. Perhaps he was taking drugs?
The image of her uptight younger brother sniffing glue on a street corner was enough to make her collapse in a helpless fit of the giggles, even though her heart was, officially, broken. That was the real reason she’d left Stirling. Never mind the rubbish she’d spouted about realising psychology wasn’t her calling; she’d left because of Jake. To be here, putting up with Tobey’s strangeness and her mother’s irritation- red-hot anger cooling to a low-level simmering, just enough to stop her feeling too comfortable- and above all, the atmosphere in the house, was purgatory. Every breath she took was a struggle, every word, a strain, every movement as if she were swimming through thick treacle. She’d always felt like this at home, or at least since Anna had died and Mum had gone all weird, but now, when she was already upset, the added misery was oppressive.
And it was her fault that Anna had died.
Don’t think about that, Bee.
Where was she? Oh yes, Tobey. Getting up from the beanbag in her room, she decided to find him and ask him what he was doing. Still in her pyjamas, she padded downstairs, hoping she wouldn’t meet Mum on the way down.
Only one of her wishes came true. When she reached the hallway, it was deserted, and the door closed behind her elusive brother.