The Burning by Susan Broadby by Susan Broadby - Read Online

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The Burning - Susan Broadby

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Chapter 1

Juliet and I have always been best friends, ever since we were kids. Our families were close. Juliet has two older brothers—Nigel, a name I just hate and Rohan, a name I just love. She has the most gorgeous hair. I always wanted my hair to be blonde like hers and to curl up at the bottom like hers did. Funny thing, I spent hours wishing I could change what I looked like.

Her father works in a bank, he’s the manager and sometimes after school we used to go and sit in his board room and do our homework, or mostly dump our school bags, get changed into normal clothes and go into the city to the shops. Our school was very strict; we weren’t allowed to go shopping after school in our school uniforms, unless one of our parents was taking us.

Her father was really great. He would give us each some money and we’d go and buy a hot chocolate or go to the fancy chocolate shop down the road from the bank. If he was feeling really generous we’d end up with twenty dollars each and that could get us a new top or makeup. I didn’t like makeup much, and my dad wouldn’t let me wear it anyway. But Juliet was allowed to have makeup and wear it on the weekend. I wished her dad was my dad.

My father sold cars. Funny now, thinking about it, a car salesman, they have a bit of a shoddy name but Dad only sold expensive cars and that made him different. He was always going off to fancy dinners and getting awards, I don’t know what for, I never really cared but he’d bring them home and line them up in a row on a shelf in his office. We had a cleaner, Josie, and she wasn’t allowed to clean in his office—my father was too worried she might knock over one of his precious awards. He also had this collection of model cars, scale cars he said they were. They were all fancy kind of cars, Porches and Lamborghini cars, and he had five different styles of BMW. Once when he was out, I snapped all the emblems off the BMW models and I hid them in my room. When I was about eight Juliet had given me a necklace in this big velvet black bag. I still had it—back then I didn’t throw anything out. So I stuffed the little plastic emblems in the velvet bag and hid it under my bed. He never knew it was me, never even suspected. I heard him one night yelling at my mother, blaming her. It made me feel so bad, even after I heard him hit her. But not bad enough to go and fess up.

I still have them.

Juliet is older than me by nine months. We’ve always joked about my parents being so excited about her birth that they went home and celebrated with a big bottle of wine and no condoms. My mother’s none too pleased when we talk like that, and she often growls at me to behave. She growls about a lot of things.

Behave! What’s that I wonder? To act like the rest of the world expects us to act? I think I’d be a majorly great actor or actress. I’m a girl so actress it would be, I can even imagine my name up in lights, Stephanie Sidewinder. I kid you not, what a shocking surname. Like a snake, but I’m nothing like a snake, at least I don’t think I am. Imagine being Mr Sidewinder selling cars. Hi, I’m Mr Sidewinder, would you like to test drive this limited edition vintage Cobra? Juliet and I would often pretend to be my father selling cars. She didn’t like him either.

I told my mother when I turned eleven that I thought I’d become an actress, and she suggested I join in the local theatre troupe. I was horrified. I didn’t want to spend my Saturday afternoons with a group of misfits traipsing around talking like Shakespeare, I told her. But I did think my name would look good up in lights, and apart from that I didn’t need any training. She’d stared at me like I was hollow inside, like there was nothing there, and then demanded to know why I didn’t need training. I can remember being so honest, and telling her that damaged people made the best actresses. She slapped my face and sent me to my room.

Juliet and I went to the same all-girls school. It wasn’t Catholic like some of the all-girls schools but I did do chapel and I did learn about religion. All religions. I never told Juliet but I liked learning about what other people believed in. Juliet was a Christian, but I liked to listen to our pastor tell us all about Buddhism and Islam and all the other religions in the world. I did think that when I grew up I would become a Buddhist, not that I ever told my mother that. I don’t think she’d have forgiven me.

I think my mother would have preferred me to go to a Catholic school, but my father was strongly against Catholics. Not that he was for anything, but he just had this thing about priests and the pope and all the money they tied up in the church and how much good they could do the world if they melted down some of their old gold. It was just terrible when he got started. He’d talk about world poverty and how the church was prospering from it rather than ending it.

I know years ago, after my parents were first married, they backpacked around Europe. They spend a whole month in Italy, and my mother still talks about it like it was yesterday and how beautiful and wonderful it was. Well she used to talk about it. She used to talk about a lot of things, and laugh and sometimes giggle so much she had tears. Now she has tears but never the laughter.

My father obviously loved the whole backpacking trip—that goes without saying—and they’d planned to return two years after their first trip, but that was when my mother found out she was pregnant, and they had to shelve their travelling plans. My father grew up fast, my mother told me, and she worked part-time at the local bakery. They were only twenty-three and hadn’t planned to start a family until they were at least thirty.

Though they said they didn’t regret a thing, I think they did.

Now, on this trip around Europe they went to Vatican City—my mother still has this tea towel with the Pope on it, and we use it, wiping our dishes with his face. Which I think is funny and so did my dad. I used to like the way he would laugh, watching me make jokes about the Pope while I dried up. I know it made Mum mad but it was this secret thing Dad and I shared.

When my father used to get started on about the Catholic church he would tell tales of the riches inside Vatican City and how if they just sold a few things off, maybe to Bill Gates or even that Virgin bloke—I know he means Richard Branson—then it would fix world hunger and get rid of a lot of crime. He talks about Vatican City as being a Disneyland for Catholics, and declared he would prefer to go on a few roller coasters than be subjected to that ever again. I wonder if he still thinks like that.

I need new bra’s again. I know I have to ask my mother to take me shopping, but after the last time I did that, well I don’t want to know. I started early, my mother’s curse, apparently as so did she. At twelve I was in a ten c-cup bra and now at fourteen I need new ones again.

Mum had promised to take me shopping when I was twelve and three months and six days old. I used to count my age back then right down to the exact day. It was a Sunday and it had disappeared in a blur; Mum had forgotten she’d promised to take me shopping for new bras. The ones I had were digging in and I was oozing out the top of them. I gave up waiting for her to remember in the early afternoon. Dad had just made her a cup of tea and she’d looked at him, full of love, thanking him and smiling at him. I could see that she still melted his heart. That was what real love was, I was sure of it. It was the sort of love I was going to have when I was older.

So I sat there and asked her what time we were going shopping, and then she closed over again. The briefest ray of sunshine on her face disappeared.

Can’t you go, love, on your own? she asked me.

But, Mum, it’s so embarrassing, I whined at her.

My father put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to whinge at my mother.

I’ll take you, Stephie, he announced. I just stared at him. I know he was just trying to be nice or helpful or whatever but the last thing I was going to do was go shopping with my own father for bra’s.

Thanks, Dad, but no thanks, I told him and exited the room, running down the hall, listening to the two of them start a fresh argument. They always seemed to argue about me, switching from two madly-in-love people to aliens in seconds.

They never asked me what I wanted, not then and not now. I knew what I wanted. I’d told my mother what I wanted but she’d slapped my face and told me not to lie. If only they’d ask me, I knew what I’d tell them, that I wanted everything to stop for just a moment so I could catch my breath.

I laid there almost having a panic attack, breathing so hard that my heart was thumping through me. Then I heard the yelling. At first it was only his voice and then I heard hers kick in. I pulled the pillow down over my head trying to block them out but still even through that I could hear them.

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