‘I woke early – it had been a weird night even by our standards’
I woke early – it had been a weird night even by our standards; we’d passed out mid-fight – and there was Kelly, curled round my duvet with her back to me. Her hair, all smoke and hairspray, clogged my mouth, and through the thin sweaty cotton of her green top you could count each of her vertebra. I stretched out my finger and placed it between two of the green cotton bumps and shuddered. She whimpered and wriggled and turned round. Her eyelids cracked open the layers of mascara and eyeliner.
‘Ryan?’ she murmured. ‘Iss not morning?’
I shook my head. I couldn’t trust myself to speak because when she opened her mouth I caught a reek of last night’s vomit, drink, smoke and, somewhere in the mix, the pizza we’d had on the walk between the pub and the club – she only ate when she was stoned. I half-turned my head away and focused on the far corner of my bedroom. The cold dawn light slanting through the slats of the wooden blind showed the dust on my guitar. If I looked above it I’d see the photo of me the night I won PopIcon, but I didn’t look up.
Kelly smiled dopily and reached her hand out towards me.
I drew away. ‘You have to go.’
Her face crumpled.
‘I said last night – I can’t do this any more.’
‘Ry.’ Her eyes widened. ‘We were both out of it last night. We both said things we didn’t mean.’
I had no idea what she’d said. She’d been talking all summer and I’d stopped listening about the start of August. I just knew that her cold thin fingers on my skin made me cringe.
And she’d called me Ry.
‘You have to go now.’
If she stayed another minute I’d hurt her. I’d tell her she disgusted me, that I hated who I was with her. That if I didn’t get rid of her I would lose myself. Again.
‘Is it the drugs? Because I only—’
‘It’s not one thing.’ I fell back on clichés. ‘It’s not you. We had a laugh, OK? But it’s over.’
Clichés and lies. We’d never had a laugh. Kelly wasn’t a laughy kind of girl. Maybe at the start, when she was a bit starry about me. I’d liked that – the flattery. And her friends were cool.
She cried and fussed and clawed at me and went out and locked herself in the loo for ages and came out all shiny-eyed and, God, it was boring. By the time I got her bundled out into the road, sobbing and yelling and calling me all kinds of names, I felt as knackered as I used to feel coming off stage, only without the buzz. I pushed the heavy front door to and took a second to lean against it, eyes closed in relief, breathing in the quiet, the glossy white paint cold against my bare arms.
I opened my eyes to see my mother. ‘Hi, Louise.’
She frowned, then stopped as if remembering that Ricky always told her it made her look older. Dark roots showed in her long blonde hair. That wasn’t like her. I suppose I hadn’t seen her for a few days. I’d been staying out, different places, mates’ floors, Kelly’s bed; one night a few of us sat up all night on the beach, drinking and having a laugh. Kelly’s mates. I’d have to make new ones now.
‘What was all that row?’
I shrugged. ‘Kelly just left.’
‘Was that shouting I heard?’
‘How do I know what you heard?’
‘Don’t call me that.’ I tried to push past her, but she blocked me with her arm. She was wearing a peachy satin dressing gown, and her bony wrist poking out reminded me of Kelly.
‘Did you upset that poor girl?’
‘We broke up.’
‘Ah, Ryan. She was lovely.’ Louise and Kelly had done a lot of girly bonding over hair extensions and calories. ‘What did you do to her?’
‘Nothing. She had issues. I can’t stand girls like that.’
‘Jesus, you’re a little bastard.’ She shook her head. ‘Poor girl.’
‘She was a bad influence, Mam.’ She loved it when I called her Mam. ‘I didn’t want to worry you by telling you this but, she was using – stuff. I couldn’t trust myself around her. You know I don’t want to get back into all that.’ I put a little crack in my voice, the kind of crack no mother could resist.
If you enjoyed this extract you might also like this introduction from The Jungle by Pooja Puri, the first book to be published on the Ink Road imprint.
‘The janitor probably figured he’d only have to scrub guts off one whiteboard this year’
‘It is moral courage as much as physical courage that wins the day for our young heroes’