I set off down the little path and spotted a bunch of kids - almost a permanent fixture around this time. The smell of bud around them gave me a heady rush of homesickness. I got a few feet closer, the heavy greenery enfulging me and throwing me back to six-month-old memories of meeting Leo and my twenties, to discover that he'd met Matt and they'd broken into it already.
'You can borrow my bong, if it makes you feel any better, Cath.' Leo'd grinned sheepishly at me from under the same streetlamp the kids were under now.
Wait, kids? Nah, these were sixteen, seventeen, not year nines just starting out. One of them laughed, and it stopped me dead.
Oh, bollocks. I swear, I nearly turned round, only my legs were still carrying me past them. A girl stepped out, saying something slurred and I knocked into her in my haste.
'Sorry,' I muttered, attempting to skirt past, head down and not daring to look up. 'Til she grabbed me, of course, and my temper flamed at the realisation that it was Jodie. The other two guys were her brothers, approaching me quickly, playful, dangerous grins on their faces.
'Ah, bless, what've you got there, Jo? Little mousey come back for her boyfriend?' They snorted, closing around me. Jodie let go and I stumbled, just managing to catch myself and taking the opportunity to throw a quick look around. Oh, shit, shit, shit: Baby, fucking Claire Babylon, Leo's ex, had her arm around Will, who was laughing snarkily at the show. Only, that wasn't like Will. Will had a soft heart.
Jodie turned away with a casual 'Sort it out, Liam,' to one of her brothers, and she bent to snatch up a bottle. Vodka; the nasty cheap sort. Will never had been good after a few drinks.
I figured that Liam was the shorter, broader one, because he advanced, running off the usual spool of dirty-sketty-slag insults I'd become so peacefully accustomed to. I raised my eyes to the clouds and waited for it to end. The gesture didn't go unnoticed. Her other brother, who'd jeered throughout, started to get a bit shirty with me, a bit physical, knocking into me and mouthing about me being arrogant. My breath caught in my throat when he shouted Will over. Surely, Will wasn't gonna...
That stink on his breath was of more than vodka, more that fags and the dirt of one of Baby's famously gritty turbos. It was sour and stale, like the smell of festvial toilets: it was cocaine, and it was near enough pure. My eyes raked over him and I knew that it had to be coke, I'd been on it enough times myself, seen others on it enough times, to know that look, the blown-out pupils and ruddy face and angry, jittery behaviour. The unpredictability.
The blow to the side of my head was still a suprise. I didn't register it until I felt the cold of the path on my cheek, a pain from a boot into my stomach and someone pulling me up. I reliased that Will, that my Will, had hit me. I started to cry, despite knowing that this would aggrivate the girls. Jodie cackled... a shove and the splinter of glass before something burned and stung against my shoulder, in my shoulder... another blinding pain at the back of my head and I was on the floor. So much yelling, so much swearing... Will was always terrible for it... Who was crying? Was it me whimpering?
Jodie rolled me over and yelled some parting shot about my "pretty face". She ran after the rest quickly though; I waited a good two minutes, until it was silent, until I was sure that they were gone. Shakily, I got to my knees, picking up my dropped scarf, and careful not to look, clamped it over my shoulder. Jesus, my head was spinning... where the fuck was I?
Pain was blinding me but I forced myself to concentrate. I was of the edge of the path, in the scrub near the trees; I was definitely still on Crow's Green. I was near my auntie's. I bit my lip against the explosion that ripped into my breath as I stood up: a rib, I was pretty sure. I fought against it, keeping myself upright. I'd been in worse pain than this after I cracked my head when they dared me to backflip off the trampoline; I could do this, I had to. Auntie Kay's was only about a hundred metres from here. But, shit, my head was spinning so hard... My vision went out of focus and I threw up noisily. It cleared my head, though - like after a whitey. So I walked. Gingerly, slowly, wobbly, but I walked until I was outside her front door. I tried the handle... and it was locked. It was fucking locked.
It took five tenous seconds of staring at the house opposite until I shedded my pride and staggered accross the road to Leo's dad's. Leo better be in. Or not. We'd not spoken in months, but oh, good God, I was in so much pain and felt so damn sick... And it was Jodie. It was Baby. Jon's girlfriend. Leo's ex; Dicey's ex - well, for all I knew, they could still be together! What if she'd been behind his back with Will? Looked more than friendly to me, but, no; Will, of all people... I couldn't tell them... But I needed an ambulance, that much I knew. Blood in my mouth, on my face, in my hair - I couldn't stand it at the best of times - the sickly feeling and fading vision and the shots of white-hot, breath-stealing pain in my side. Plus, I'd been glassed. Fuck my pride. Fuck the consequences. I needed somone I could trust.
I banged on the door and it was opened instantly. By Dicey.
'What? Dicey?' I blinked, bewildered, forgetting the blood oozing out of my shoulder and all the angry pain. He blinked right back.
'Cath? Jesus, I-'
He stopped, paling, staring, properly registering me, and put one hand to his mouth in horror.
'LEO! FUCKING HELL! LEO!'
I looked at my hand, clutching my scarf over the wound. Blood had saturated the surrounding fabric. Lots of blood. I became very aware of my pulse throbbing in my head and a satiny, coppery scent turning my stomach.
The last thing I registered before I passed out was the panicked face of my old best friends above mine.