"Do you think you'll ever get away from him?" Jennie asked her friend, as she watched her scrub the oven tray clean, before putting it back in the oven. Grace just shrugged.
"I don't know," she replied, not wanting to approach the subject even vaguely. She didn't stop as she talked to Jennie, but carried on working at the same time, moving from one place to the next so quickly that Jennie had a lot of trouble trying to maintain eye contact with her.
"Well, maybe it's time you did something about it now?" Jennie suggested. "You know- tell someone. Then you can move on, and it wouldn't have to be like this."
"Perhaps you should just keep your nose out of it for a change!" Grace snapped, in a way which was totally unlike her. She immediately looked ashamed and apologised, and although Jennie said she understood, she still looked shocked at the outburst. It was not the way Grace normally dealt with things, lashing out. She was usually so closed-off, so calm, no matter what the circumstances. "Besides," Grace added, as she turned from the sink and walked over to the cupboard to reach for the floor-cleaner, "where would I go if I couldn't stay here anymore?"
"Sit down a moment, Grace," Jennie said. "You've been moving around non-stop since I got here. Just relax, yeah?" Jennie settled back in the wooden chair. She was comfortably round, although not fat. If she was a normal teenager, she probably would have been uncomfortable about how she looked, but Jennie wasn't like that. She was mature, and her personality always outshone her looks, making her beautiful both inside and out.
"I haven't got time to stop," Grace insisted. "Gran is coming for dinner tonight, and if this place isn't spotless, Dad and I will never hear the end of it. You know what my grandmother is like."
"Yes," Jennie said, slowly, thinking about the few times she had met the old lady. To look at, she was the picture-perfect Gran, curly grey hair, pearls at the throat, smelling of sweet perfume. But as soon as she opened her mouth, that was it. She had a tongue on her like a dangerous snake, and she could reduce her granddaughter to tears with the comments that she sometimes made. Grace had even refused to let Jennie help out in the kitchen that day, telling Jennie that her grandmother had certain standards of cleanliness she liked to see when she looked around the house, and Grace was the only once who had learned how to pass her so-called clean test.
"You didn't answer my question," Grace persisted. "Where would I go if I didn't live here? Gran's?" She laughed shortly, in a way that made Jennie uncomfortable.
"You could always go and live with your mum."
"Are you crazy?" Grace snapped. "Do you really think I would live in a house with that bastard?" She was referring to Thomas, her stepfather. When her parents had divorced, it had been Thomas' fault, or so Grace thought. It had been him who bewitched her mother, and stole her away from Grace and her father. It was Thomas' fault that Grace now lived with her father, and it was Thomas' fault that her father got angry when he was tired. If he had ever hurt Grace, it wasn't anything to do with her. It was him. Thomas. The scum that broke her family up.
"Why don't you give him a chance?" Jennie asked, tentatively. "I mean, it's not as though he's all bad is it? After all, your mum likes him. Don't you trust her judgement?"
"No," Grace said, shortly.
"But Grace, you can't keep going on like this- living here, doing all the housework, as well as going to school every day."
"Dad works hard too, and he copes," Grace replied, and Jennie just sighed, certain she wasn't going to get through to Grace, but willing to give it one more shot.
"He should be helping you, not expecting you to do everything for him."
"He doesn't expect me to. I offer, because he's tired after work."
"That's a lie, and you know it. I've been here when he's come home, remember? I've seen the way he speaks to you, like you're some kind of housekeeper. He doesn't give you any respect, or any thanks." Grace hung her head, momentarily forgetting about the grease-stain on the kitchen floor that she was in the process of removing. "Hey, I didn't mean to upset you," Jennie said quickly, "but no one else is going to say these words to you, and they have to be said." Grace sighed, thinking of what it might be like if she did go and live with her mother instead. Thomas had a daughter who lived with them, a ten year old. Grace was certain she was probably spoiled rotten, although she had never spent long enough in her company to tell. There was also a son, Vahn, who was older than Grace. She had met him once or twice, and secretly thought that he was amazing. Perhaps she should give Thomas a chance? She shook her head. Who was she kidding? Why did he deserve anything from her? A chance? She would give him no such thing. He had ruined everything, and Grace was never going to forgive him.
It was a shame, because she normally got on very well with her mother. The two had been close before her mother had wanted to move in with Thomas, and take Grace with her. Grace had protested, over and over, so her mother had eventually given up asking and allowed her to stay with her father. But she didn't like the arrangement, because she had a sneaking suspicion of what life would be like for Grace if she lived on her own with her father. And she was right.
"Grace!" a voice shouted, and snapped Grace out of her thoughts. She glanced up at Jennie.
"He's home. You'd better go, because it sounds as though he's... tired," she finished lamely. "Out through the back door, quickly." She pushed Jennie out of the door, then turned her attention back to cleaning the kitchen, calling out a hello to her father as she did so.
"How's that kitchen coming along then?" The tall, light-haired man came into the room, looking around with approval. But he didn't say how nice it looked, he simply asked Grace how much longer it would take.
"Only a few more minutes, Dad," she said.
"Good. Put the kettle on, will you? It's been a long day." Into the living room he strode, kicking off his shoes untidily and throwing them onto the floor beside the sofa, where he sat with his feet up on the coffee table, immediately becoming engrossed in one of those late afternoon game shows which drove Grace crazy. At least when he was watching television, he wasn't hanging around her. Or hurting her. Yes, there had been occasions when Stuart had hurt his daughter. Normally he would be drunk. But it had happened. And there was something else... Grace didn't trust the way he looked at her sometimes. Like... like he was planning something. But she didn't know what, and didn't care to know either.
After Grace had put the dinner on, ready for her grandmother's arrival, she went upstairs to get changed into something nicer, hoping to please her grandmother for a change. Grace was still pondering the things that Jennie had said to her. Maybe Thomas wasn't so bad after all? After all, she had never spoken to him long enough to find out anything about him. She simply hated him straight away. Grace was intelligent enough to know when she was in the wrong, and this was one of those moments. She began to see how childish she had been over the last few months, refusing to see her mother if Thomas was going to be there, hanging up if she rang and he answered. If he made her mother happy, perhaps he was decent after all.
Grace dragged her schoolbag out from underneath her bed where she had pushed it, and looked through her books, realising how much homework she had left to do before the next day. She really was finding it hard juggling her work with the amount of time she spent looking after the house for her father. She continued to kid herself, but she knew he was lazy, she knew he took her for granted.
Jennie was the only ray of light in Grace's otherwise dim world. She knew most of what went on, and yet she didn't nag at Grace to do something about it. There were occasions where she'd confronted Grace and it still hadn't changed anything, so most of the time, Jennie simply allowed Grace to do things her way, just letting her know that she would always be there if Grace ever needed her.
Too little time passed for Grace's liking, and the doorbell rang. Grace waited until she heard her father answer. She recognised the voice as her grandmother's, and sighed. She knew she had to go down, but she didn't want to. She glanced at herself in the mirror, knowing that she was bound to receive criticism for what she was wearing no matter how hard she tried to look right. She wore a denim skirt which came to halfway between her knees and her ankles, and a blue blouse which she thought went very well with the skirt.
"Hello Gran," Grace said as she walked into the hallway, and kissed her grandmother on the cheek. "How lovely to see you again."
"What a polite child you've raised, Stuart." Her grandmother smiled at her father, and then slipped her arm into his. "Let's go and sit down and have a nice little chat, shall we? A cup of strong coffee would be nice Grace, and put some brandy in it if you have some." Grace was left standing on her own, once again excluded from a family circle. The only difference was, this was one she hadn't stepped back from herself. These people really didn't seem to want her around, or even notice she was there.