Chapter One – The Clinic
It wasn’t the place I’d have chosen to be, on a breezy February morning. Through the window a pale winter sun was shining and I could see a drift of snowdrops under a nearby tree. I looked around the room. Vibrant yellow walls, which I guess were painted that colour to bring a cheery feel. Bright flower pictures, of poppies and sunflowers and marigolds, probably chosen for the same reason. I couldn’t help feeling that something a bit more soothing, perhaps calm pastel blues or greens, would have been a better choice.
I kept fidgeting on the fake leather bench seat, which squeaked embarrassingly every time I moved. A pile of magazines – quite recent ones, not the usual three-year-old copies you get in most waiting rooms – sat in a neat pile on a little table. They were wasted on me though: I couldn’t have concentrated on a magazine at that moment to save my life.
All this cheery stuff was not working at all. I glanced around the room again. Not one person looked happy to be there. The dark-haired girl opposite me caught my eye, and I tried to smile in a friendly way, but the smile died on my lips as she just gave me a steely stare and then looked away. She looked about my age, wearing skinny jeans and a pair of silver trainers I’d have died for. The blonde girl in the corner had shrunk into the smallest possible space as though she’d like to hide away, and was hunched up with her chin in her hands. Someone was talking to her – maybe it was her mother; maybe even a social worker – but I couldn’t hear what she said. The girl didn’t reply; she just shrugged her shoulders and let her hair fall forward to cover her face.
Two or three others, then there was Jade, sharing my blue plastic bench seat, looking as cool as usual, flicking through a fashion magazine, immaculate and relaxed, with long slim crossed legs and one turquoise ballet slipper dangling casually from her coffee-coloured toes with their perfectly polished nails.
I shifted in my seat, which squeaked again, and nibbled nervously at my nails. Someone came out of the consulting room and another name came up on the board. I wondered how much longer before our turn.
Jade was eyeing me critically over the page of her magazine. “Stop chewing your nails, Rebecca. It doesn’t do anything for your image, you know.” I was thankful she’d spoken in a low tone and the others hadn’t heard. At least she’d never publicly humiliate me. And after this, I felt we would be friends for life.
“Are you sure they’ll let us go in together?” I asked, not for the first time.
“Course they will. You can always take someone along to a consultation.”
“Yes, but it’s usually a relative, isn’t it?”
“Doesn’t have to be. Especially if you don’t have any, or don’t want them with you. Relatives, I mean. Don’t worry. It’ll be OK. Relax. Take a chill pill.”
She flicked over a page and studied an article called Dress to Impress. Jade’s future was all planned out. She’d spent a long time on YouTube studying how millionaires had made it big and had devised a life plan of her own. Good exam grades, then business college, making the right contacts, rising swiftly to the top of the tree, making pots of money and having it all, successful career, big house, swimming pool, fast cars, exotic holidays. I had no doubts she could do it, too. She’s a bright girl and knew the score. She thought I was a complete wimp because I wanted to be a writer.
“Well, I suppose that’s OK if you get to be a bestseller, like that woman who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey,” she said when I first told her of my ambitions. She’d looked at me dubiously. “But do you think you’re good enough for that?”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to write that kind of stuff.”
“It’s what makes the money.”
“I don’t care about the money. I just want to write about, well, the world and the things in it, and people, and their thoughts and feelings. Maybe I’ll write poetry . . .” I stopped, because she was looking at me as though I’d completely lost it.
“You’re a bit of a fruitcake, Becs, you know that? You need to get out more. Get a real life.”
Well, maybe I was a bit of a dreamer and needed a dose of reality. I certainly didn’t expect to find it in a place like this, though.
Another patient had emerged and another name came up on the board. Still not our turn. I wondered what exactly went on in there. All this waiting was setting my nerves on edge.
To take my mind off it, I thought about what would be happening in school right now. We’d be missing English, which was my fave subject. I’d been enjoying sixth form, enjoying the feeling of being more in control, not so much like a kid any more. We had our own common room and somewhere to make tea and coffee. A couple of the girls were taking their driving tests soon. One of the boys actually had his licence, and drove to school in his own car. It was only an old Fiat handed down from his older brother, but how cool must it be to have your own set of wheels?
The blonde girl had gone in, accompanied by the older woman, who almost had to push her along in front of her. As she passed I could see the girl’s face, white and frightened and tense, as though she was having to make a huge effort to hold it all together. I was amazed at how young she looked. Thirteen or fourteen, at a guess, two or three years younger than Jade and me. Surely she couldn’t be pregnant? Yet why else would she be here, in this clinic? I sighed, and began to bite my nails again, but Jade’s eye was on me and I twiddled my hair instead. She heaved a sigh herself, rolled her eyes and went back to her magazine, giving me up as a hopeless case. Nothing seemed to faze her. Not even when, after another long wait sitting in silence, the next name came up on the board and it was our turn to go in.