The question I am most often asked about coming to live in America is: "What's the biggest difference to life in England?"
Seriously, you would not believe how many times I have been asked this. And it doesn't seem to matter that I came to this country 8 years ago, when I was 10. My older sister developed an American accent within the first few weeks of arriving, but I have somehow managed to retain my British accent, which not only causes great confusion when people find out we're sisters (that and the fact she is a blonde haired beauty i.e. fits in well with the Americans, and I am a pale-faced brunette), but it means people seem to think I have just stepped off the boat. Well, we came by plane, but you know what I mean.
After a while the 'biggest difference' question became tedious, and so did my answers. I think it was 5 years ago that the novelty wore off. That's when I started to try and get more creative. When I got asked what the biggest difference was, occasionally I said it was that America has electricity/microwaves/shoes. Sometimes I said that there were laws in Britain that said we had to have an umbrella with us no matter what. It was all just to see what I could get away with. Most of the time people took it as a joke. If they didn't, they didn't take offence – they believed me. Seriously, it's crazy how many people believed me. However, the more I got asked, the more annoyed I got, and the more outrageous my answers got.
My best friend Stacey never asked me that question. She never has. That's why she's my best friend. She elaborates on my answers if she's in the near vicinity when I get asked. Occasionally she even gives her own answers. She's pretty awesome and I love her to pieces. She invited me into her trio with Dawn and Kailey and we've been a tight foursome ever since.
Stacey Clark has two other siblings who also never asked me the "biggest difference" question, therefore they both hold special places in my heart along with their sister. Devereaux – believe it or not – who is older by three years and doesn't think me being British is the least bit interesting as he prefers the Irish accent, and Mikey who is only four and a half and is as cute as a button and, well, not likely to ask me that question as a toddler. It's hard to resist tucking him under my coat and stealing him when I have to go home every time I visit. Devereaux hates his name as you'd probably expect. The story goes his parents panicked when he was born as they still hadn't thought of a name for the baby and so named him 'Devereaux', which was the surname of the woman who had been in the bed beside Stacey's mum until she died in labour – the woman, not Stacey's mum. I'd always felt it was an incredibly morbid story, but Dev just finds it amusing to tell to other people. He's also the first one to call me 'Bea', short for Beatrice, which I hate, and so I immediately made everyone else call me that too. Who wants to be called Beatrice?
So, moving away from my sudden fixation on names, I was round Stacey's house yet again. It was the summer holidays and Kailey and Dawn had already left after an evening of laughing at supposedly horrific slasher movies and quietly sighing over romantic comedies. I even thought I saw Dawn tearing up over one particularly romantic moment, although she heavily denied it when confronted. Stacey and I were now in her room amongst the mess of pillows, duvets, popcorn and various empty DVD cases. I was lazing comfortably on her bed, thumbing through a magazine Kailey had left behind. In my opinion, you are never too old for sleepovers. I had already changed into my threadbare yellow pyjama top and grey pyjama bottoms, my hair still up in its usual ponytail, and was waiting for Stacey to stop fussing about with trying to clear the mess although, as far as I could see, she was only moving it around a bit.
"How come we always make so much mess in here? This is why I hate Movie Marathons being round my house. I end up with all the chaos left behind."
"Well," I said soothingly, turning a page in the magazine to 'Top 10 Ways To Make Your Man Your Sexual Slave', "if you'd stop volunteering your place, I guarantee we'll stop taking you up on the offer."
Stacey muttered incoherently under her breath, although I caught the word "smart-ass" more than once. Although I had no Man to change into a 'Sex Slave' – and if I had, no real desire to do such a thing – I read the article anyway, patiently waiting for Stacey to stop fidgeting. From downstairs we heard the sudden slam of a door and various bangs as cupboard doors were opened and closed.
"Wonder Boy's back then," Stacey remarked, finally giving up on shuffling things around opening her chest of drawers to find some nightwear.
"Kind of late, isn't he?" I asked. I'd finished the article, unimpressed by the suggestions, and turned a few more pages.
"I'm not going to be his babysitter, but yeah, he is late. He's been staying out all hours recently. I think he's either found himself a nocturnal girl or is moping over one. Anyway, he's 21 so he can do what he likes."
I could faintly hear the sound of feet clomping their way up the stairs and something was thrown on the floor. Stacey's door opened to reveal the 6'2" figure of her brother leaning against the doorframe.
"Are the other Teenies gone?" Dev asked, his voice low with the effects of the alcohol he had obviously consumed during the night. 'Teenies' was the name he'd dubbed Stacey, Kailey, Dawn and myself with when we were fourteen. At the time, 'Teenies' had been a fairly derogatory name and we'd all hated it. While boys were becoming more interesting to us, brothers had become less so, especially Dev. Now, after four years, it was used more fondly than insultingly and we'd given up protesting against it.
"Yes, they're gone. Do you mind? We're getting ready in here."
A slow smirk grew on Dev's face.
"No, I don't mind. Please continue." He folded his arms and tilted his head to the side.
"Ok, one, gross, I'm your sister. Two, Bea doesn't need you eye-balling her just 'cause you're horny or pining or both."
I felt it best to keep quiet during these moments. Usually they got on like a house on fire but Dev had obviously had a few and Stacey was obviously mad at him for his recent behaviour even though she had claimed she didn't care. Knowing them both so well, I could tell this would be one of those arguments.
Dev had straightened, but his hand clutched the doorframe as if he wasn't quite sure if he'd be able to balance himself on his own. It would have been comical if his eyes hadn't looked as though they were burning and his expression hadn't been so dark. I felt like I had to look away, but couldn't.
"You don't know what they fuck you're on about. Don't fucking talk to me like that," he spat.
"God, get over yourself, Dev! You come home at all hours drunk off your ass and smelling of cigarettes and god knows what else. You probably do all kinds of drugs for all I know. I don't care! Go away and leave us in peace!"
Her hand was on the door but his free hand shot out to prevent her slamming it in his face. He looked as though he was about to murder her where she stood. But then he stiffly turned around and stormed out of our sight. A few seconds later his bedroom door slammed shut so fiercely the vibrations rocked through the house. Thank god Stacey's parents had gone to visit relatives with Mikey, or Dev would be very dead right now.
Stacey slammed her door as well and bunched her hair in her fists.
"Grr! He makes me so mad! What is his problem? He's always in this weird mood lately."
"I don't know Stace… but… you were kinda harsh."
She looked at me incredulously.
"Harsh?! He deserved it."
I held out my hands, palms outwards in an image of surrender.
"Ok, but he was only joking, you know? And you know better than to antagonise him after he's had a few drinks."
Stacey looked as though she was about to argue further with me, but then her shoulder slumped and her hands fell to her sides.
"Yeah, I know," she said dejectedly, and sighed. "I don't know what's up with him, and it's causing all this friction between him and me. Even mum and dad are getting sick of his mood swings."
"Maybe he's pregnant," I suggested, my mouth curving into a smile. Hers followed and she suddenly jumped on me, laughing.
"Dunno what I'd do without you Bea, you and you're British accent gets me through everything."
I laughed with her and hugged her back.
"I hardly see how my accent helps anything."
Stacey ruffled my hair, grinning.
"Because no matter what you say, you sound so damn cute no one can be mad at you. Why else do all the boys we meet flock to you and not the rest of us lovely ladies?"
I rolled my eyes and clicked my tongue.
"I don't know, my magnetic personality?"
"Yeah, that must be it..." Stacey said, and leapt off the bed to avoid being hit with my pillow.
"I'm going to go change. Did you want anything from the kitchen? I'm gonna get some milk afterwards."
I shook my head and she left the room. I got up and listened at the door for the soft click of the bathroom's lock. Once I'd heard it, I ventured quietly out into the hall and down to one of the other doors that opened onto the hall. I tentatively knocked on the door for politenesses-sake, but when I heard no reply I entered the room and shut the door behind me. The room was an absolute pigsty, although that wasn't particularly unusual. Magazines lay open and covered the floor – thankfully there were no incriminating ones that could make me feel uncomfortable – three stacks of CDs lay against the wall underneath a shelf that held a very expensive sound system that appeared to be on, but no music came out of the speakers. Clothes were strewn over the floor, on the desk, on the chair, over the end of the bed, everywhere so that not a piece of carpet was showing. Books were also scattered everywhere and I had to pick and choose where I stood to make my way over to the bed.
Dev had obviously stormed into his room and just launched himself at his bed. He was still wearing his leather jacket and his shoes, his head buried under his pillow and his fingers beating out some rhythm or other on the bed covers. From this and the long cable that led from his sound system across the room and underneath the pillow I guessed he was listening to music, which was why he hadn't heard me when I knocked. I sat on the side of the bed and my added weight must have registered with him because his fingers stopped drumming. When he still didn't move I placed my hand on the small of his back, under his jacket but over his t-shirt. I'd done the same thing for years. After he had had a fight with a girlfriend of the past when I was 15 and he was 18, I'd done put my hand on his back impulsively and he'd mentioned it calmed him down for some reason. Back in the present, I could feel the tension from the argument with Stacey still radiating within him and it took a good minute for him to relax. After the minute, his hand reached and pulled the pillow off his head and he sat up, his dark hair sticking in every direction. He pulled off the headphones and dropped them on the floor and then just looked at me.
"She didn't mean to be so harsh," I told him quietly.
For a further four seconds he did nothing but look at me, then sighed, rubbing a hand tiredly over his face.
"I know," he said.
I nodded and looked over to his CD player, which whirred with activity despite the fact no one was listening anymore.
Dev and I had always had a pretty close friendship. There had been certain stages in the past where he had been exceedingly annoying and... boy-like generally. You know, the period where hanging out with the opposite sex is kind of awkward, and also a particularly uncomfortable moment when he had actually tried to kiss me 5 years ago when we were at a friend's birthday party. I'm pretty sure his friends had dared him to do it, but it had caused a temporarily uncomfortable situation for about a week until he had gotten over the embarrassment of having jell-o chucked all over him.
Still, despite the friendship that had grown between us there were still things that I couldn't figure out about him. Like his mood swings. Stacey hadn't been kidding when she had said he'd developed major mood swings lately. He had always been quick to anger and had raced from one emotion to the other pretty quickly, but recently he just seemed down most of the time. He hadn't told me anything and I didn't like to pry, I knew that wouldn't work with him, but lately I was beginning to wonder if maybe Stacey was right and he was pining after some girl from college.
"It's just-" he began, bringing me out of my day-dreaming stupor. His frustration was evident as his eyes stared up at the ceiling, "she keeps getting at me. She says she doesn't care and will let me do my own thing and let me fuck up my own life but then she keeps interfering all the time. It's suffocating, y'know? If I say something she doesn't think I should say she just goes off on one."
"I think she's trying to mask how upset she is with claiming that she doesn't care and then going ahead and interfering anyway," I said, "Oh, and mind your language."
Dev smiled slightly, looking at his hands and I put one of my hands in his. I squeezed his comfortably and he squeezed back.
"Yeah, maybe. And sorry, you know how I get when I've had a few... and don't start," he said when he saw I was about to remark on his drinking.
I reached out with my free hand to stroke his cheek and he leaned forward into my hand. At times like these I wondered whether he had someone other than me to talk to. Last year he had come home from college for his vacation and when we'd talked it had felt like he had stored up a year's worth of troubles for that moment. It often made me so glad I had my girlfriends to help me out.
I wonder if he's lonely.
We were silent for a while and I thought about how long I could stay before Stacey got annoyed that I was no longer in the room. By now she was probably downstairs getting herself a drink, having realized I'd left the room. It was hard balancing between the two sometimes, especially after an argument. I didn't like to take sides and they knew it.
"I don't do them," Dev said suddenly, still not looking at me. When I didn't respond – because I didn't know what he was talking about – he elaborated. "Drugs, I don't do them. That's just stupid."
I smiled. I'd never believed he had. I knew it was just a hurtful accusation that Stacey had thrown at him because she was worried, upset and angry.
I drew my arms around his neck and pressed my face into his t-shirt, feeling his arms come up around me. He smelled of cologne, stale cigarettes and night air; not a bad combination – except for the cigarettes. His breathing was deep and I felt his chest rise with every breath. I enjoyed these moments, being close to someone and knowing they're just as alive as you, in that moment. I stroked the nape of his neck before pulling away.
"You'll be ok?"
His trademark small grin was instant.
I kissed him lightly on the cheek and then made my way back out of his room over all the clutter. At his door I turned back.
"And clean up your room, pig."
His grin grew and he shrugged. I waved, knowing he wouldn't. I'd been telling him to clean his room for years and he'd never listened.
I was back in Stacey's room and tucking myself into the spare bed in her room as Stacey came in, a glass of milk in one hand. Her parents had bought the extra bed long ago as I was always round her house for a sleepover. She didn't ask me where I'd been, and I knew that she knew anyway. We settled ourselves in for the night, talking in whispers until we fell asleep.
It must have been only a week later and I was over at her house once again for a sleepover. We'd done as we'd always done: watched movies, made popcorn, eaten popcorn, had pillow fights and all sorts of things that 18 year olds were supposed to have grown out of, but we still hadn't. Stacey had drifted off to sleep fairly quickly that night but I was still awake, looking up at the ceiling and barely able to make out any features of the room. After an hour, sleep still seemed very far off and I climbed out of the bed, pulling down the legs of my pyjamas as they'd ridden up, and made my way silently down to the kitchen. I was rummaging through a top cupboard for a packet I knew Mrs Clark would have in there when I heard the door to the kitchen open behind me. Turning around I saw Dev creeping into the room. He waved at me and shut the door behind him quietly. I continued to look through the cupboard when his hand reached over me onto a higher shelf and handed me the packet of hot chocolate I'd been looking for.
"Thanks," I whispered, and made to get the milk to heat when I felt him steer me to the kitchen table.
"I'll do it," he whispered and went to the fridge to get the milk. I rested my chin on my hand as I watched him make the hot chocolate. Soon enough there were two steaming mugs of my favourite drink in front of us and I sipped mine gratefully. It was hot but had plenty of sugar; sickly sweet, just the way I liked it.
"Can't sleep?" Dev asked in hushed tones. I shook my head and picked up my mug. We moved into the living room and I settled comfortably on one end of the coach, Dev at the other. Our feet and knees were entwined to keep the warmth in them and I sipped at my heavenly hot chocolate.
"How come you can't sleep?" Dev asked.
"I don't know. Stacey fell asleep sooner than she usually does and I… I don't know, I'm just not tired."
"Me neither. My head's buzzing so bad right now."
I gave him a disapproving look and he shook my knee.
"Come on Bea, I don't drink that much. I was just listening to music too loud and too late. It stops me sleeping."
I didn't reply. I watched as one of his knees rocked from side to side between mine, the tempo soothing. I finished my hot chocolate and put my mug on the coffee table and, feeling cold again, crawled nearer to Dev placing myself so that my back was against his front. His heat radiated through his thin t-shirt to my back and he put one arm around me, the other still gripping his still half-full hot chocolate.
"Where've you been? You haven't been over in a week." His breath brushed hot against my ear as he bent his head to whisper to me. Usually I was over at least every other day. It was much more fun here than being at home where my dad usually worked late or Rochelle was yelling at me for some reason or another. My mum was good to come home to but I secretly thought she'd always favoured my older sister, not that I'd ever voiced these thoughts.
"Oh, just… around." Truth was I hadn't gone out of my way not to come here. It was coming to the end of the summer holidays and I had realised I would need to start doing my summer homework assignment in order to finish them before started again. I'd also been out shopping with Kailey, Dawn, and Stacey the previous day. Dev was quiet for a while, silently sipping at his drink.
"It's weird, but because I'm so used to seeing you over here, I've missed you," he said eventually and I could hear the smile in his voice. It made me smile too, hearing it.
"Of course," I replied, "My personality is addictive. You just needed your fix."
"So I really am on drugs after all, you being my drug," he said and I wrinkled my nose.
"That sounds too similar to a line in Twilight. Don't go ripping off other people's cheesy lines."
Dev laughed and his arm tightened around me as he leaned over to put his empty mug down, not wanting to tip me and make me fall off the couch. When he had properly righted himself he wrapped the other arm round me as well. Once again I could feel his deep breathing and enjoyed it. The rhythm of his breathing coupled with the hot chocolate was lulling me to sleep and after a while he shook me awake.
"Come on, you're practically asleep." He rose from the coach which brought me with him and I leaned heavily against him wanting to keep my eyes closed but knowing if I did I was going to stub my toe on something, Sod's Law and all. He helped me up the stairs and we stopped outside Stacey's room.
"I can't put you in there. It'll wake her up and then she'd probably go into one of her rants again, and I'd rather not hear another one."
By now I was so tired I could barely think straight. Instead of turning the door handle and going inside I turned into him more and wrapped my arms around his waist. Being only 5'4" this was actually a very comfortable thing to do and I was quite happy where I was. I could feel Dev's chuckle reverberating through his chest.
"Come on sweetheart, I'd love to tuck you in but Stace would skin me alive. Come on Bea," he said encouragingly, but as he tried to pry me away it only made me hold onto him tighter. He sighed.
"Bea what are you doing? You want me to take you to my room? Huh? You wanna sleep there is that it?"
I refused to move, despite how tired I felt. It was a strange feeling but I didn't think I could let go just yet. Dev was so warm and comfortable and I… really wanted to hold onto him.
"Fine, but just for a little while, ok? Then we move you back in there and no one's the wiser and Stacey doesn't yell at me." He gently propelled me towards his room and entered it, the door swinging closed behind us. I then let go of him and stumbled over his things before climbing onto his bed. His bed smelled like him too, that cologne, of which I still wasn't sure of the name, old cigarettes, leather, mint and something else that was very… Dev.
Dev pulled up his side of the covers and got underneath, while I rested on top of them, nearest the wall. We always did this when I slept in his room, which was infrequent but not unusual. It had always been innocent, of course, and usually happened after we'd been talking for hours and had grown tired. It had been a long time, though, since I'd last stayed here, and the tensions between him and Stacey must have been the reason he was intent on kicking me out after a while. It was always best not to antagonise Stacey more than necessary. Her temper was as infamous as Dev's.
I could feel his fingers lightly running over my bare arm causing goose bumps to appear. He laughed quietly at that and stroked my hair away from my face. I was able to pry open my eyes and saw him looking at me, that beautiful trademark grin of his in place. I reached up and traced it with my fingertips, feeling the softness of his lower lip and even the slight dip in the middle. For a second I thought I heard his breath hitch, but then he seemed normal and I dropped my hand and curled it under my head.
I was drifting off, and I thought I heard him whisper "sweet dreams, Bea" when sleep finally claimed me.
I didn't see him for a while after that. The next morning I found myself in bed in Stacey's room, and he wasn't in the house when I left. I'm not sure where he disappeared that morning or the days after that, but he was never around the house when I went to visit Stacey. At our next sleepover he didn't even come home.
"Probably at a girl's house. Maybe he's decided to stop pining," Stacey said laughing, and I ignored the way my heart panged a little when she said it. I'd never really heard Dev talk about girls after the fight he'd had with his girlfriend when he was 18. I knew they'd broken up a week later, but he never mentioned it to me, and he never mentioned any other girls either. I'd heard rumours about some of his relationships in high school, but I'd never brought it up with him. It wasn't important or any of my business. I couldn't help being curious now, though, that there may be some girl he liked so much that it was affecting his mood and making him act strangely. My heart twinged again and I put down my packet of Doritos. Clearly the junk food was starting to affect my arteries.
When I eventually saw him again, he and Stacey were having a huge row. I'd entered the house, having left a couple hours ago, to the sound of shouting upstairs. When I'd left I'd forgotten one of my new CD's that we'd been listening to, and having promised Kailey that she could borrow it that evening to copy, I'd come back to retrieve it. Clearly I wouldn't be going up to retrieve it now – a CD wasn't worth getting in the middle of one of the sibling's fights and I turned to leave.
".... Bea wouldn't...."
The rest was intelligible but now I was curious about what they were arguing about. I willed myself to leave but found myself drifting to the bottom of the staircase where the voices became clearer. I had missed what Stacey had said but I caught the end of it.
"– didn't know?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You always thought it was such a well kept secret, that no one would figure it out, but I did."
"Are you fucking crazy?"
"Don't call me crazy, I've known it for years," Stacey screamed. Her voice was slightly muffled from behind the wall, but I could still hear her. "I kept it a secret but I don't give a shit anymore. I'm going to tell her and I'm going to humiliate you!"
I winced. This argument sounded worse than any of the others. Again I tried to back off but curiosity got the better of me once more and I couldn't move away from the stairs.
"You're not going to tell anyone anything 'cause you don't fucking know anything!"
"Oh yeah? How about how you treat her like no other girl you know? How come you go out of your way to be nice to her and not let her see what an absolute prick you are? How come you made sure for years that you were always around when she was? Only lately you've probably fucked something up 'cause you're never around anymore, especially not when she's here."
With a jolt I backed away from the stairs. I knew it then. I wasn't stupid. I knew they were talking about me. I swallowed hard and this time my feet moved towards the front door of their own accord. I didn't want to be there when they came down from their screaming match. I could still hear them screaming at each other as I made my way across the hallway.
"Get the fuck out of my face."
"Fine! I will! I'll go to her house right now and tell her, tell her how the stupidest guy in the whole planet has liked her for years but is too fucking chicken to do anything about it. Then we'll see how fucking serious I am."
They were coming nearer.
I was at the front door and turning the handle when I heard the sound of two pairs of footsteps pounding on the stairs. Knowing it was already too late for me to escape unnoticed, I froze. I could tell the exact moment when Stacey saw me.
The silence was immediate. I was still facing towards the door, and it took a few moments for me to turn around and look back into the house. Stacey was staring at me wide eyed from the bottom step. I don't know what my expression was, but hers was practically comical if I'd been able to laugh. Like a magnet, my eyes moved away from her and were drawn up the stairs to the figure that stood just as still as she only a few steps further up. Dev's face was like stone. He didn't even seem to be looking at me; more like over my shoulder.
Nobody moved or spoke for what seemed like an eternity but must have been only a few seconds. Then Dev was flying down the steps, past Stacey, past me and, grabbing his keys which were hanging by the door, he disappeared through it before I could even remember how to work my mouth to form a sentence. Unable to say anything, I let the sound of the door slamming echo round and round my head.
A/N: I know this is the same chapter but I reread it every time I add to the second part that I'm writing and the more I read it the more I felt a few things needed to be changed. It's only minor stuff, things I felt were really irrelevant and things I felt needed a little more explaining.
Again, if anyone catches any spelling mistakes or think some parts don't work, please let me know so I can rework it. I find it hard to distance myself from my work until it's been a few years. Oh, and if anyone sees any inconsistencies please let me know about those too. Thanks!