Chapter Six

S

It's come to the stage where I have so much worrying me that I can't even tell. It's like it built up, bit by bit, and I didn't even notice that these things were problems before I sat down to have a think about it, and suddenly realised all at once, which makes it a millions times worse.

I mean, not only am I worrying about school and general teenage angst, but my sister has been struck down by a mysterious illness that I don't even want to give a name to, and she's emotionally ill as well as throwing up. One of my best friends is slowly drifting away, and there's nothing I can do to stop her. One of my other best friends (I guess I would call him that) has issues because his parents don't understand his homosexuality.

And the friend that has been there for me my entire life… who I could tell anything to, who keeps me in check when I cave to self-pity, who I may not spend every day hanging out with but who knows me better than anyone else in the world… has decided that he's in love with me, and so now we can't be friends at all.

To top it all off, I feel like a terrible person because (as bad as it sounds) it's probably the last thing that's worrying me most of all.

It's Monday now, and we're back at school, and I'm dreading the moment when I will run into Chris. How will we greet each other? Will we smile and say 'hello' as usual, or will his feeling still be too hurt? Will we have to ignore each other completely? And if so, for how long? Maybe we won't even be friends anymore; maybe we'll be acquaintances. And so I'll have to greet him like an acquaintance, with the classic 'head nod and eyebrow raise of acknowledgment.'

I haven't had English yet, so I haven't had a chance to see how Tiger's faring, but I have had an opportunity to be accosted by Bethany and Jasmine.

"Why were you so unreachable all weekend?" Jasmine cries when I finally catch up with them at recess. "We were both trying to call you!"

I shrug. "Maybe the phones were down?"

Jasmine ignores my response, too excited to waste time with normal civilities such as greetings and general inquiries.

"Whatever," she says, "I got all the details out of Grace, but I still can't believe it about Chris! I thought he'd never tell you." She pauses, and the continues, "Actually, I can't believe it about Grace, either. She told me how she ditched you," Jasmine explains.

I purse my lips. "Yeah, well. I'm sure she didn't mean it."

Bethany and Jasmine look at each other, and then roll their eyes.

"What?" I demand.

Bethany gives me a pitying look. "Abi, seriously. Haven't you noticed how she never spends any time with us at all anymore? She always hanging out with other people, and when she is around us she acts embarrassed."

"Like how?" I ask, though as soon as the words leave my mouth a few instances where Grace has behaved like this spring to mind.

"Oh, I don't know," Jasmine says, pretending to consider. "How about the other day when I tried to do a cartwheel and she got all angry at me, asking why I have to be such an exhibitionist all the time. I mean, it was a cartwheel, it wasn't as if I was stripping on the playground, or anything."

"Or how about when we wanted to make up that dance routine to Britney Spears last week, and Grace was really annoyed and wanted us to listen to 'cool' music."

"Maybe she just doesn't like Britney," I protest weakly, "I mean, I can understand that."

Bethany rolls her eyes. "Come on, Abi. You know as well as I know as well as she knows that we were being… we were being… ironic!"

"Be that as it may," I defend. "She's still our friend… Even if she isn't acting like one," I add on darkly.

They're about to protest some more, but I hold up my hands for silence. "No, seriously guys. I have something actually important to tell you."

So I do. I tell them all about Lucy, and how she's being sick, and when I finish speaking I can see the question on their faces.

"Do you think she could be…" Jasmine begins, but trails off. The final word hangs in the air, and I know I have to be the one to voice it.

I think this a moment of truth. The time when you can either say something, or not say something. It seems anti-climatic to be having this discussion with my friends, when really I imagined that light would be shed when I had some dramatic and theatrical argument with Lucy.

"Pregnant," I finish for her, and she nods solemnly. Before this moment I hadn't even allowed myself to think it, let alone say it. The idea had been battering at the edges of my consciousness, trying to force its way into my brain, but I had kept it firmly locked out.

"I don't know," I say, "I hope not."

"Abi," Bethany says quietly, "Even if she is, I mean, it's not like it's a disease. There are heaps of options open for her. And your parents are pretty easy going, and she is old enough."

"I know," I say, "It's just that she has her whole life in front of her. Her degree and then she could get some high paying job and become rich an famous doing whatever she puts her mind to and – well, all that would be harder with a child."

"But I mean, there's always abortion," Bethany says practically.

I know that would be the sensible thing, but I can't imagine Lucy doing that. Just because I can't imagine her being pregnant at all. It all seems to make perfect sense until it happens to you. I'm pro-choice; I just didn't ever think that anyone close to me would have to make that choice.

"I know," I say again, but the words don't seem to mean much. I don't know anything at the moment. I don't know about Grace or Tiger or Chris or Lucy, and my not knowing drives me insane.

"But," Jasmine says, looking me carefully in the eyes. "You know we're always here for you? We can help you? We can help you help Lucy?" I smile gratefully for her words even though I knew I had their support all along.

"You guys are the greatest," I say, and the moment is almost too soppy to handle.

"Oh, stop it," Bethany says in a perfect monotone, "You're making me blush."

S

I don't see Grace for the rest of the day, though in-between classes when I bump into Bethany and Jasmine they make it clear that they've told her all about my problems.

"I just thought she should be informed, you know?" Jasmine says, as if worried I'll be upset.

"That's fine," I reassure her, "Grace should know, she would want to know." But Jasmine doesn't look convinced.

"What?" I ask.

She shrugs. "It's just I'm not so sure about that. When I told her she didn't exactly jump up and hunt you down to offer her condolences."

"You make it sound as if somebody's dead," I accuse, "And besides, she might still be feeling guilty about ditching me on movie night."

"Yeah, sure," Bethany says, her voice steely, "She sure looked really guilty, laughing with her new 'best friends forever'."

I look at them both, and see unwavering resolve.

"Oh, come on guys. You're obviously just bitter that she's ditching us. We're obviously just bitter," I amend, because I know I'm to blame, too.

"So?" Jasmine asks, throwing up her hands defensively, "Don't we have a right to be? I mean, she's our best friend, and she's ditching us and doesn't even seem to care."

I secretly admit to myself that her argument makes sense, but I try to take the higher moral ground. "She's still our friend," I say, and that seems to quell their anger for the moment.

And just when I'm completely distracted, my thoughts on other things, I bump into Chris.

Literally, bump into him. My books go flying across the floor, and I can see the dismay on his face and feel it on mine. Now he'll have to help me pick my stuff up, because otherwise that's be inexcusably rude, and it just means we have to spend more time together. Considering the circumstances, it's less than perfect.

It's just before Chemistry, and although I'm in no rush to get there I'm definitely in a rush to get away from him. The crowds in the hallway are thinning, as people move off to class, and soon we'll be completely alone.

"Hi, Abi," he says, giving a small smile. It's not even a smile, really, just a quirk of the lips in one corner of his mouth. I give him a similar look back, and we both bend down to pick up my stuff. I curse the fact that I don't put loose-leaf sheets into folders, because now they're scattered all over the entire floor.

I desperately want to say something that will put us at ease, but nothing comes to mind. A wave of remorse washes over me, and I want to do nothing more than apologise for rejecting him and make everything go back to the way it was. But I know if I even so much as mention film night then it will make everything a million times worse.

I cast a glance at him out of the corner of my eyes, and am suddenly surprised by how big he is. Not like Tiger, who fills the room with his personality, but completely the opposite. Chris seems quiet and nice and dignified, but inside of him there's a strength that I've never really had to see. I think if he wanted to he could move entire mountains just from willpower alone.

And, emotional strength aside, I've just never realised how much he's grown since we hit high school. He seems far too tall to be crouching down on the ground, and he's almost had to bend in on himself just to reach the floor. His broad shoulders are hunched over, his hair falling into his eyes. The drumsticks as ever stick out of his back pocket. Sturdy, reliable Chris.

Chris picks up the last sheets off the floor from his side of the corridor, the silence is tangible. The hallways are deserted now except for us. I hurry to pick up the last of my books before Chris reaches me, but suddenly he's looming over me, a presence that I can't describe, and I crane my neck up to see him.

He holds down a messy sheaf of papers and plastic sleeves and books in his hand, and I take them inclining my head in gratitude. I wait for him to walk off, but he stays there, shuffling nervously and looming over me. He looks like he's rather be anywhere else in the world, but something is keeping him here.

"Look," he says suddenly, "Jasmine told me about your sister, and I just want you to know – I just want you to know that no matter what has happened or will happen between us, that I'm here for you, okay?"

He looks down into my eyes earnestly, and suddenly I want nothing more than to jump up and hug him.

"Thankyou, Chris," I say sincerely, and the emotion must be too much for him, because he looks away.

"Yeah, well, I've got to get to class." He meets my eyes again briefly, and then walks off quickly, his steps echoing in the hallway. I'm going to be late for Chemistry, but I don't really care.

I look after him, watching the way he walks, watching the way he moves with such lanky confidence.

I gather up the last of my books and, shoving them haphazardly into my folder, make my way to class.

S

I get to Chemistry and am surprised to see Grace, because I've almost forgotten we have any classes together. I've almost forgotten that she even exists. That's how little I've seen her. And, looking at her as I enter the classroom, watching the way she studiously takes notes and seeing the new, blonde highlights in her hair, I realise I'm angry.

How is it that Chris, who should hate me right now, can offer his support for the minor issues I have, while Grace, who is the cause of some of my problems, can't.

I mutter an apology to the teacher and quickly take my seat, trying to avoid Grace's questioning glance. I've already missed half the lesson already, and she clearly wants to know where I've been, but there's no way I can tell her because the teacher's talking and he doesn't tolerate people chatting when they should be taking notes. Well, at least, I pretend that's why I'm not looking at her.

I sit for the rest of the lesson in what I hope is a dignified and stony silence, but it probably just comes out, at best, as sullen. I'm distinctly aware of Grace next to me, so unknowing at how pissed off I am, and I can feel the anger growing inside my chest. When I'm in this kind of mood I'm just looking for an argument.

Usually I pity whoever is near me when I get like this, but at the moment I half feel that Grace deserves it.

As the lesson comes to and end the students start shuffling and murmuring, eager to leave. For once our teacher doesn't go out of his way to make our lives hell, and instead throws up his arms.

"Fine, fine," he says, "I can see you're all keen to be gone from this place of doom. You're dismissed."

There's a scraping of chairs against the slightly rubbery floor, some synthetic material that's supposed to fireproof, though I think we should test that someday, and a sound of zipping bags and pencils hurriedly thrown into pencil tins. I take my time putting everything back into my school bag, and when I look up everyone has left the classroom except for Grace and me.

She's looking at me, confused.

"What's up with you, Abi," she says, shouldering her bag and moving towards the door. There isn't any real concern in her voice that I can hear, just an annoyed sense that I need to get over my issues.

"Gee, I don't know what's up with me Grace," I say standing my ground, forcing her to stop walking and look at me. "Maybe one of my best friends is completely ditching me in my time of need."

She looks ashamed for half a millisecond, and then she seems to decide that I'm being unreasonable and her expression changes.

"I didn't know that anything was bothering you, Abi. If you want we can talk about it and…"

I hold up a hand. "I don't want to hear your excuses. I know Bethany and Jasmine told you something was going on with my sister."

"Well, yeah, something," Grace says, stressing the last word, "But I didn't know that that something was important. I didn't know it was actually bothering you."

"You would've known," I accuse, "If you tried to find out. If you tried talking to me, or hanging out with the people who are supposed to be your best friends."

Grace's chin dimples, the kind of dimples that appear when she's about to cry. She holds her lips firmly together, and they thin into a white gash across her face.

"Abi," she says, and her voice wavers, "I'm sorry, but if we can just talk about this…"

"Forget it," I say sensing my argument is won. "There's nothing to talk about."

I pick up my own bag, and walk past her, attempting to remain dignified. For a second our shoulders brush against each other, and I realise that I'm being stupid and a generally bad person. But I know Grace is being stupid too, so I keep on walking.

I leave the classroom, and I bet that Grace is still standing in there frozen. Tears prick at my eyes, and I curse my tendency to cry when I'm stressed. It's not even that I'm particularly sad, just angry and frustrated, but that seems to be enough to set me off.

It's the last lesson of the day and so almost everyone has gone home. But I know that Bethany and Jasmine will still be out the front of the school and so, unwilling to face them, I leave through the back entrance and start walking slowly home. I don't particularly want to be there at the moment, but I don't want to be at school either. I just want to be in transit. Moving from one place to the other.

It's a relief to be moving, and not anywhere in particular. At school I have issues to cope with, and at home I do too, but when I'm in-between it's like my problems disappear. As if my issues are tied to physical places.

I feel kind of bad that our argument was over so quickly. Part of me thinks that such a relationship-destroying fight should have gone for longer. But then, I guess the fight wasn't really the problem. The problem was everything that happened before.

I mean, not that Grace is the equivalent of the Wicked Witch of the Whatever, and everything is her fault alone. I know I'm to blame too. Even more, I know our friendship isn't even completely demolished yet. Our group has had fights before, and we've pulled through. Not many, granted, but some fights nonetheless. But I just feel that maybe this time we won't have the opportunity to kiss and make up, because Grace won't be spending any time with us. When people aren't forced into close proximity with each other, it's much harder to overcome disagreements.

The air is slightly humid, hot and sticky, and it makes me uncomfortable. The warm air is making my throat dry.

The walk home seems longer than usual, and the hill even steeper. It's like I'm carrying emotional baggage in a physical form on my shoulders, and it makes moving just that much more difficult. It just gets worse the closer I am to my house, and everything that awaits me there. I don't even know what is awaiting me there, really, but I can tell it's something.

Something I don't think Lucy is ready for, or my parent's are ready for. Something I'm not ready for.

S

Lucy is crying again when I get home, and this time I can hear it, loud and clear. It isn't muffled and she isn't hiding away. She's sitting in the lounge room, and her sobs come right from the stomach, and that's where the knowledge sits that is causing her pain.

She wants me to find her.

Lucy looks smaller every time I see her. More brittle and fragile, and all the most delicate parts of her seem more obvious than usual; the jut of her collar bone, the stretch of skin as her neck bends, the skin of her eyelids, now turned red.

I walk into the room, and she looks at me. Just looks at me, for a moment, without saying anything, her bottom lip caught between her teeth, her chin trembling.

"Abi," she says, and her voice breaks on the 'b,' and my heart swoops low before flying up into my throat. In an instant I am beside her, wrapping my arms around her, closer than we've been in a long while.

I still don't know what's wrong, not really – I haven't had it confirmed. But something inside of me tells me that I'm right.

She starts crying harder, and I rock her backwards and forwards, an instinctive movement. Something taught to me from birth. Her hair seems to be charged with electricity, or emotion, and is more flyaway than usual, strands standing on end.

"It'll be okay, it'll be okay. They'll understand. You'll be fine, nothing will go wrong."

"I don't know," she wails breathlessly, unable to articulate what she means. "I don't know what to do."

"It'll be okay," I say again. It seems an inadequate response to grief such as this. And how do I know? How do I know everything will turn out for the best? I don't – everything could go to shit.

But I can't tell her that. I can only tell her words that don't mean very much, but might make her feel better, if only for a moment. I don't feel up to this job. Looking after Lucy is as strange as looking after my mother would be. She's the elder sibling; she's supposed to be looking out for me, not the other way around. It's not that I begrudge her for this, but I'm out of my depth.

She keeps crying, and I think it's a testament to her sadness and stress that she can't keep it in. Lucy is usually so composed, and these past few weeks she's a completely different person. Her sobs begin to quieten, and I have a feeling that she may have accidentally wiped snot all over my shirt.

She sniffs and sits up, visibly straightening her shoulders and spine, pulling in her stomach as she pulls herself together. She looks right at me, my older sister again, but the confidence in her jaw is belied by the fear in her eyes.

She's about to say something. Her mouth opens; breath is drawn in, her lips curve. I want to make her stop, because if she says it then it isn't just wild speculation anymore.

"I'm pregnant."

I've always jokingly thought of foetuses as a kind of cancer: a collection of cells, sapping the strength of their host, growing. In reality, it's almost the complete opposite - giving life, not death. Christenings, not funerals.

But when Lucy said those words, it almost seemed like her own death sentence. Or something else's death sentence.

She could stop her life to have a baby. She could have an abortion, and destroy those few, growing cells. She could do that latter, and be dead inside because of guilt. I can't see a safe, easy way out of it. I can't think of a solution that didn't involve hurting.

"It'll be okay," I say again, and hug her. She starts crying. I think she knows it's probably a lie.