CHAPTER FIVE
Making God Cry

Around Our Campfire

2:30pm

"What shall we do now?" Gordon says, "We can't very well play Hide and Seek again, at least, not so soon – or we'll get sick of it,"

"Why don't we play cards?" Stefan suggests, "I've brought a few decks with me,"

"Oh, great idea!" Gordon grins, "Who can play Newmarket?"

The Mikeys all say, 'Yes,' at the same time, which is a little scary, and everyone else nods – Gordon seems to have forgotten that he taught us all in the Easter holidays, when he had a party at his house.

"Brilliant! Come on, let's play,"

So Stefan fetches the cards from his bag and sits back down in his chair, "Damn it, I can't get the packet open! The tag's stuck…"

"Cut it off," Charmaine says, pulling a pair of scissors out of her pocket, "It's my solution to everything."

"What?" I say, "Even if you got something caught in your hair?"

"Cut it off," she replies.

Evie grins, "Even if you got your bra strap hooked around a door handle?"

"Cut it off,"

Gordon raises his eyebrows, "Even if someone got their dick stuck in a drainpipe?"

"Cut it off," she shrugs.

"Wait," I say, "when has that ever actually happened?"

"Well, my cousin went to this sleepover once and-"

"No, I didn't mean I wanted to know what happened," I stop him before the story gets disturbing. Wait, no. It's already disturbing. I mean before the story gets any more disturbing, and I get too badly scarred for life.

Playing Newmarket

2:45pm

"OK, Tim, that's a stopper. We need a red card," Gordon says.

Then the singing starts, as it was always going to, "Red! The blood of angry men! Black! The dark of ages past!"

"All right, all night!" Tim shouts over the thunderous roar of everyone's voices, "Three of hearts,"

"Four and five," I say, putting my cards down on the table.

"Six, seven, and eight," Tim continues.

"Oh! Nine, ten, Jack, and out! Blimey! Who shuffled that hand?" I pick up the chips from the ante pot and glance at Charmaine, who catches my eye and smirks.

"Well," she says, "Who was perfectly synced up with Timothy just now?" she raises one eyebrow and stares at the two of us, "Answer me that one, if you can."

I say nothing, letting my glare speak for me. As they say, if ladies disagree, they say it with their eyes, not with fists. Fists are for a different kettle of fish altogether… or so I've heard.

"'Well, then," Gordon breaks the silence, "Shall we continue our game before the Silence becomes any more eccentric?" he gathers everyone's cards back in and reshuffles them, "Put the chips in, everyone,"

Ellie decides, at that moment, to ask the question which has confounded our society for millennia, "Why do guys never spend nearly as much time as girls do, on their appearances? I mean, I spend hours every day doing my hair and makeup, slightly longer if it's a school day, and then most guys drag a brush through their hair and go straight off to school. What's going on there?"

Oh. Ellie gets existential… sort of.

The tent is filled by a chorus of 'Um…' and nobody actually comes up with an answer until Charmaine shouts, "Ooh! I've got it!"

We all turn towards her to hear the answer, and she grins mischievously and says, "It's because guys spend so much time masturbating that there's no time leftover in which to do their hair and makeup,"

"Oh, my God, they're worked out our secret," says Gordon.

"What, really?" I say, "You actually spend that much time… you know…" I don't want to say it in front of Tim.

"Of course not, you ass!" he replies, "Clearly, I was being sarcastic,"

"I wasn't," Charmaine continues, "That's the conclusion I've come to,"

"Oh, yes?" I say dryly, "Is that why you only wear lipstick?" I'll admit that that was a low shot, to say that in front of Stefan, but I wouldn't have been surprised to hear Charmaine say that sort of thing about me in front of Tim; I can't decide if it's confusing or amusing when she does. I suppose that that means it's confusing. It's very annoying, though.

But, to my surprise, she throws back her head and laughs, "Why do you even need to ask that?"

Wait a minute. Did she just… "Er… Charmaine? Was that a yes?"

"I'm certainly not saying it's a yes. But feel free to interpret that one for yourself. It's probably a good idea to remember that I make my lipstick from the blood of my enemies, though,"

Wow.

Around the table, everyone is sitting in stunned silence. Gordon has stopped shuffling the cards, pausing to instead lose the colour from his face.

Charmaine has actually succeeded in scarring us all for life… again. Oh, well. I wasn't particularly emotionally attached to my last shred of remaining innocence, anyway. It wasn't as if I had any big plans for it.

"So how does Ffion still have eight pints?" Lily asks, "If your lipstick is made from your enemies' blood, why is she still alive?"

"Have you seen how much her mother is like Ffion? And the rest of her family are just the same. That kind of bitchy resemblance just has to be genetic, don't you think? I don't want to take the risk of contracting The Evil – would you?"

"What a chilling thought," Emilie says, "Just how bad is Ffion? You guys seem to really hate her!"

"We seem to hate her because we do hate her," Lizzie explains, "She's a basic bitch,"

"Ah," Emilie and Simone say simultaneously, nodding.

"Yeah, there was a girl like that in our school back in Toronto…" Stefan says, "Emilie set her bag on fine once, so that was quite eventful, yeah…"

"No, that was only because she tried to get me expelled!" Emilie protests.

"Yeah, and then, when they found out that it was you, they did expel you, and you had to go to the public school!" Simone says, "I mean, I know you think that it was worth it, but you did very much get expelled from a private school. That is a thing that happened,"

"The uniform was ugly and stupid. At the public school, there was no uniform! So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Simone!"

Simone tosses her head and haughtily replies, "I don't smoke,"

"Anymore," Stefan says, "You used to!"

"Yeah, and, if they'd known about you and your pipe, they'd have expelled you, too, so don't play!" Emilie grins wickedly.

Simone just glares at her sister, reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small clay pipe, which she throws at Stefan, who shouts, "Hey, what did I do?"

Tim and I grin at each other, and, while Charmaine is trying to stop the triplets killing each other, I feel his hand snake around my back as he hugs me. Nobody seems to notice, but we sit like that for quite a few minutes until Charmaine and the Mikeys turn back to play cards. We jump apart just before she sees us, and, luckily, she doesn't say anything.

Our Tent Segment

10:00pm

"So, um… Charmaine?" I say nervously, "when you said you did phone sex… what did you actually do?"

"Why do you ask?" she leans back nonchalantly against her bedding roll and grins, "You're not thinking about trying it on with Tim, are you? My word, how things have changed since this afternoon…"

"Shut up!" I hiss, "He'll hear you – he's only on the other side of the tent!" I point angrily at the canvas wall, "And, besides, that has nothing whatsoever to do with what I mean, I only want to know if you've gone further than I have,

"Well, we were texting each other – you know I got his number on Friday… hang on a minute, Etta. What do you mean, 'further'? Just how far have you gone?"

I close my mouth and realise I am blushing furiously, "I'm not saying I've gone anywhere in particular, but today…" I say slowly, choosing my words carefully, "There was something of an update in our… in our situation, so to speak," I measure my words, so I don't give her anything to gloat about.

It doesn't work, though, and she squeals and bangs her hand on the ground. She leans forward, saying, "Tell me everything; I demand to know!"

"Hey, I want to know as well!" Evie says indignantly.

"A bucketful of soz, old sport," I say, "We thought you were asleep. Didn't we, Charmaine?"

"Oh, no, I was simply ignoring you. Although you didn't seem to be asleep, though, Evie. You talk in your sleep. You talked all night long last time we went camping, didn't she, Etta?"

"Yes. You kept on saying, "Ooh, Fred, don't –stop," – it was very amusing, I must say,"

Evie laughs, "Piss off!"

Charmaine remains cool and says, "You did, though,", and then Evie picks up her bedding roll and throws it at her. Charmaine squeals, and then I hear Tim say, "Are you having sex in there or something?"

I cringe. Oh, God. I think I might die from the humiliation of it all – if he heard Charmaine squealing, how much else did he hear? Oh, God. How much did everyone else hear?

I silently wish for a swift end, but it doesn't come.

Instead, I hear Charmaine say, "But of course, we are. Would you care to join in? Etta's all ready for you, mark my words,"

I pickup my kit bag and drop it on her head. It lands with a thump, but she picks it up and opens it, shouting gleefully, "Oh, Etta! What have we here? Inappropriate underwear? How shocking!"

Oh, God. Why did they think it was a good idea to let Charmaine loose on the world? I have a horrible feeling that she is going to start being a Victorian governess again, so I put my hand over her mouth.

This turns out to be the worst idea I've ever had, because she starts to moan loudly through my hand, and all Evie can do is sit there laughing.

Suddenly, I realise that the shoe is now very much on the other foot. I must remember, in future, to hide all shoes when Tim is around. Maybe he would think that a little eccentric, though. Oh, God, why am I suddenly so acutely aware of my brain?

"Ok, I'm just going to leave you three to it and hope that you don't make God cry," Tim says.

In that moment, though, I am struck by what think is a good idea. I get up from the ground, open the tent zip and spring into the main section, where Tim is tending the fire.

"Um… hi," I say awkwardly, "I just came out here to reassure you that we are not, as it happens, having sex in our tent section,"

As I finish my sentence, Charmaine pokes her head through the section door, and moans as loudly as possible.

Timothy laughs, but 1 turn to Charmaine and hiss, "You are absolutely not helping!"

Charmaine just grins inanely and retreats back into the inner tent, barricading the section door with her bedding roll, "Whoops," she says, "I seem to have obstructed the door to our tent with my bedding. I suppose there's only one thing for it - we'll just have to push it out of the way. Help me, Evie! One-two-three, aaahhh!"

"Um… that's probably not helping my case, is it?" I say, my voice floundering in a sea of sound. Having heard Charmaine's 'cunning' plan, the rest of the tent (apart, of course, from Tim) have decided to add their voices to the mix. A chorus of "Oh, yeah!" and "Ooh, don't stop!" flood the tent, and our friends poke their heads through the section doors to stare at us.

Well, this is fun and definitely not the most awkward situation I have ever been in.

"Charmaine, if you do that again, I may have to quietly murder you in your sleep. I am so embarrassed because of you and your antics! Oh, my God! I could literally die right now," I say, stomping back into the tent section to see that she and Evie have set up the bedding rolls and are lounging around on their blankets and cushions – rather like Queens of Sass, or perhaps Empresses of Sordid Behaviour. Charmaine is even eating grapes and waving a black lacy fan around.

"Might you really?" she raises one eyebrow and leans backwards even further, resting her chin on her chest so that it doubles up, "How interesting," she examines the fan like you'd examine your nails if you were bored, "Do tell me more; I am dying to know,"

"You are joking, aren't you?" I say, never entirely sure when she's jesting, "You're not seriously asking me to describe how I shall end you if you humiliate me like that again! There's no way I am ever going to be able to live that down – not to mention how everyone on the campsite will have heard all of that and thought we were having an orgy, which is just bloody perfect, because that's exactly what my Dad said would happen! So if he hears about it, and he might very well do that because we don't know who's camping here! I will never be able to look Tim in the eye, ever, ever, ever again, and I might not ever be able to go camping again! And it's all because you can't keep your bloody trap shut! I hope you're happy, Charmaine, because you've screwed up any chance I ever had with Tim. Thanks a lot,"

She looks like she's about to cry. Well, good. I am so pissed off with her. Evie isn't saying anything, either.

"I'm so sorry, Etta… I… I didn't realise. I'm so sorry," she says, shaking her head sadly, "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean it. I'm sorry," she actually starts crying.

"Why did you do it, though?" I say crossly, "What was the point?"

"I'm sorry, Etta. I was trying to help you. I was trying to stop you getting hurt. I was trying to stop you getting hurt like I did," she says.

"What? What are you talking about?"

"Well, it's quite complicated," Charmaine says, and then it all comes out, "Ever since I broke up with Bernard Southsea in September, Ffion's been calling me a slut and she goes on and on about how disgusting I am for breaking up with a guy and not caring about 'saving myself' for marriage like she's doing. And I know she'll do the same to you if you even get a boyfriend, let alone break up with him! And, Etta, you're like a sister to me and I don't want you to go through all of that. So I mess around to stop you getting serious with Tim. I worry about you. That's all,"

"Oh…" I suddenly understand, and things begin to make a lot more sense, "Oh, my God. Charmaine, I'm so sorry; I should've realised. Oh, my God. Oh, God,"

"It's OK. Do you want a hug?" she says, holding out her arms.

I nod, and hug her, saying, "I'm really, really sorry,"

"It's OK," she replies, patting my back, "Now, go and talk to Tim!"

Main Tent Section

10:45pm

"Hi," Tim says, looking up from the camp fire, smiling. Then he sees the tearstains on my face and says, "Are you OK?"

I nod, "Yeah, I'm fine,"

"I heard the shouting. Have you fallen out with Charmaine?"

"Not really. We're still friends, if that's what you're wondering. It was a misunderstanding, that's all. It was all just a fuss over nothing, really. Tim, I'm really worried that I've annoyed you-"

"You haven't," he says, "And you've got as much chance with me as you ever had,"

"Wait, do you know?" Oh, God, Satan, Krishna-whoever's there, please let me have misunderstood that last bit. I don't know what I'll do if it turns out he knows.

"It wasn't difficult to work out. And then, just now, when you and Charmaine were arguing, I sort of put two and two together. It's OK – I don't mind,"

Oh, God. He knows. Oh, God, why? Why?

I smile awkwardly and say, "Well, um… I'm going to go now. There are things to do; I've not even set my bed up… um…"

"You can stay, if you want. I'd quite like to sit and chat with someone," he says.

"OK, I'll just go and set my bed up first. I'll see you in a minute,"

"OK," he says.

I go back to my tent section, set out my bed, meanwhile flustering at Charmaine, "He knows! He knows! But it's all right, because he doesn't mind! Maybe that's not the same as happy, but he doesn't want to throw me out of a window, so that's something, isn't?"

She grins, and hugs me again, "Aw, it's my ship finally going canon!"

"Hush your gums," I say, "He'll hear you!"

"But he already knows," she points out, "You have nothing to lose, so go and get him. Go!"

I get up to go back to the centre tent, "I am terrified, though,"

Main Tent Section

10:50pm

"Hi," Tim says, "How're things?"

"Not so bad," I reply, "Um… how's the fire?" I can't think of anything else to say.

"Oh, you know… still burning lustily," he grins.

There is a moment of awkward silence, right before we both start laughing uncontrollably. Apparently things aren't as awkward as I'd worried they would be, so that's something.

"I have biscuits," he says, holding a pocket of Bourbons to me. "Would you like one?"

"I'm OK, thanks," I smile, "So… what are you reading?"

He has a book, which looks heavy, tucked beside him on the camping chair, "This? It's very interesting, to say the least,"

"So what is it?"

He passes the book to me. There's no dust jacket on it, and no printing on the spine. He says, "Read a bit. See if you can guess,"

I take the book and open it to the first page of the story – there's a long introduction at the beginning – I begin to read from the bottom of the first paragraph, "…We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen. This was more or less Constance Chatterley's position…' Oh – Chatterley! Oh. I see. Is this what I think it is?"

"That all depends. What do you think it is?" he asks.

I grin at him, "Is it Lady Chatterley's Lover?"

"Yeah, it is. That's about as far as a person can read in public, although I read it on the train once, you know, just to scare people,"

We laugh again, and sit for about an hour and a half staring at the fire, with Tim occasionally reading excerpts from the book and cackling, "No! No! No! That's not how you do it!"

I dread to imagine what Charmaine and everyone else thinks we're doing out here.

An awkward silence descends, and we say nothing more for the next hour-and-a-bit. I wonder what's gone wrong.

Our Tent Section

Monday 22nd May, 1:00am

I crawl back into our tent section, unsure of whether or not I'm about to cry. Something tells me I've annoyed Tim.

"So, Charmaine, you never did say what you and Stefan did," I whisper. Most of the rest of us are asleep – including Evie – and this is also a very private conversation, "You know, on the phone,"

"Well, I suppose it wasn't phone sex quite as much as sexting," she says, "But – do you remember that bra I bought last time we went to Alnwick?"

"How could I forget?" I remember that day as if it were yesterday, although it was about two months ago now.

Evie and I had sat on a bench in Market Street while Charmaine had browsed the bra shop, then come out with a bag, saying, "Look what I bought! I'm going to start making God cry, I've decided,"

The bra was dark blue silk with a black lace overlay – rather beautiful, actually – but a push-up bra.

"Well, I happened to be wearing it that day and… well, we were texting each other and things got a little horny-porny and we exchanged a picture each,"

"You sent him a bra picture?"

"Not showing my face. Anyway-"

"In a push-up bra? Charmaine, you could kill a person with those things!"

"Well, yes, but anyway. Then what happened was that Stefan mentioned that he'd like to tear it off with his teeth, and things progressed from there,"

"How long did you talk for?"

"I didn't get to sleep until about three o'clock in the morning, if that's what you're asking,"

"I wasn't, no. Well, this has been interesting. I am going to try and go to sleep now and hope I don't have any nightmares," I curl up in my sleeping bag and squeeze my eyes shut.

Just as I am dropping off to sleep, I hear Charmaine say, "Don't picture me naked!"

I shudder, but, thankfully, I am spared any horrific nightmares.

8:30am

The morning light is visible, even through my eyelids, and I wake up to the thought that things have gone strange between me and Tim. Maybe, if I don't open my eyes, things will be all right. Maybe not.

I open my eyes and stare up at the white tent canvas. Then I turn my head and glance at Charmaine, who has slumped over the end of her pillow, with her head squished into the groundsheet.

Evie's sitting up, dressed and reading – she had the last fire shift, which only ended half an hour ago. Ellie's cooking breakfast at the moment – I can hear sausages crackling over the campfire.

I get out of my sleeping bag and pick up my wash-bag and towel. I put some clean clothes and underwear in a carrier bag, slip my shoes on and unzip our tent section.

"Ellie, do you, by any chance, have a spare saucepan?" I say, "And maybe a wooden spoon? It's just for a minute – it won't even need cleaning,"

"Oh, yeah, here," she says, reaching into a crate filled with cooking utensils, "Here you go, Etta,"

"Many thanks," I take the saucepan and spoon from her, "Ready?"

She grins as she realises what I'm about to do, and nods, "Ready!"

I lift the saucepan and spoon above my head and squeeze my eyes shut, starting to bang the two together as quickly and as loudly as possible, and shouting, "Get up! Get up! Let's have a freezing cold shower!" This has become a tradition among us, every time we go camping

I give the spoon and pan back to Ellie and run down to the shower block with my washing things. There's no queue, and I manage to get the shower with the best temperature control before anyone else even gets to the block. To be honest, I don't think I want to talk to anyone else.

I feel like crying, so I turn on the shower and wash quickly, then dry myself off and dress. I have on a blue tunic with grey leggings and navy blue deck shoes with white laces. Then I go into the main part of the shower block, where there are mirrors and hairdryers, to brush my hair and plait it around my head in a band. I am on my way back to the tent when Charmaine crawls out of the door, dragging her stuff behind her in a bag. The weave of the groundsheet is printed into her face.

"Say nothing," she says.

From the door of the tent, I can see all the way down into the depths of the valley. The brook flows out of the forest and jumps and sparkles over rocks.

"Ellie, have you showered yet?" I go into the tent and pick up the kettle.

She shakes her head, "Not yet, no,"

"OK, you go and shower and I'll get some water to make tea. Evie's coming up the hill now – she can tend the fire,"

"OK," she leaves me in charge of the campfire while she goes to get her things, and, when Evie comes in through the tent door, I take the kettle down the hill to get water from the tap by the car park.

As I go, Tim passes me, and his hair is a little bit damp from the shower and, oh, my God – am I going to be able to hold a coherent conversation with him, if, by chance, he talks to me? Somehow I think not.

To avoid embarrassment, particularly after yesterday night – I feel very awkward now – I keep my head down and hope he doesn't say anything.

Nevertheless, he speaks, "Morning, Etta,"

This catches me so much by surprise that it is all I can do to nod my head, let alone actually answer. Instead, I quicken my pace, reach the tap, fill the kettle, and hasten (that's a good word, now I think of it: hasten) back up the hill to the tent.

When I get there, Tim is slicing bread, Evie is poking the fire, and Gordon is pushing sausages round the frying pan.

Tim says, "Hello," again.

Again, I am at a loss for words. Damn. I think that the worst thing about this is that I don't know what's caused it. All I know is that, suddenly, for some reason, we just stopped talking and now I can't think of anything to say.

"Are you OK?" he asks.

"Sorry," I say, putting the kettle down on the cooking rack and go to my tent section. I curl up in my bed, which is still unmade. I lie there for several minutes, trying not to cry, until Charmaine comes to sit with me.

"Etta, what's wrong?" she says.

I shake my head and push my face into the pillow.

She rests a hand on my shoulder, "It's OK, Etta. You can tell me. What's the matter?"

There's something about Charmaine's voice that makes me feel able to talk, so I sit slowly up and tell her about what's happened with Tim.

"But what are you talking about?" she asks, "He keeps trying to talk to you – why don't you reply?"

"I don't know what to say to him. Everything I think of saying just doesn't seem to make sense anymore and I don't know what's changed,"

"But he keeps trying to talk to you! How about this: just ask him a question, like what the last book he read was, and let him talk for a while until you think of something to say. That way, if you don't think of anything quickly, you've got time to come up with something,"

I nod, "OK. That might work,"

"Come on, come and have breakfast," she says, "Sit next to him,"

"But I thought you were worried! What about Ffion?"

"Screw Ffion. Not literally, though. She's a Class 'A' Bitch,"

I start laughing, and Charmaine laughs, too, "OK, have you thought of anything to say?"

Suddenly, a brilliant idea – nay! An invention – springs to mind. I grin, "I most certainly do,"

Together, Charmaine and I return to the main tent section, just as Ellie is finishing cooking the breakfast.

"I have a plan! Gordon, you'll particularly want to hear it. What would you say if I told you we could take Ffion and Leon down?"

"I'd ask what you'd been smoking," Gordon replies.

"I've not been smoking anything," I say, "But how's this? A force for badassness. A syndicate! We could do it – we'd be the Chase Syndicate,"

Everyone grins.

17