Gloria was more than a little put off when she heard she would have to share her room with four others. Together, she and Mum rearranged the beds in the large room while singing loudly along to one of Mum's U2 albums.
Mrs Huggin, known affectionately as 'Mum' to all the longer term residents of her informal hostel, managed to make almost any job into something fun. "If you've got a job to do, then you may as well make a party out of it" was one of her favourite sayings and right now was no exception. The bulky lady kept getting in the way of the vacuum with her dancing while Gloria failed at holding back giggles at the older woman.
Once the room was cleaned and the beds made it was time for a cup of tea.
"So who's coming to stay, Mum?" The teenage girl asked while watching her landlady's old dog, Ross, pad into the kitchen.
"Remember Zak who came last August? I got an email from him saying that he's bringing a few friends to stay." Mum reached into the biscuit tin and fed half a biscuit to the dog.
A smile lit up Gloria's face. "I love Zak, he is so cool."
"Yes, he is lovely. He's kept in touch and lets me know how he's doing back at home. It sounds like things are going a lot better with his family now."
Zak had sought refuge with Mum after telling his parents that he was gay and they had not received it well. He had stayed for a whole month until the school term began and decided to go back and face his parents. Gloria remembered him being so cheerful and energetic all the time despite his situation at home.
She spent the rest of the afternoon chasing after Nicky, a five year-old with a habit of getting into trouble whom Mum had informally adopted two years ago. The little boy wanted to see the new layout of Gloria's shared room and thought it was great fun to bounce on all the neatly made beds. She gave a sigh of relief when they heard the dinner bell ring and shooed Nicky off to wash his hands.
Mum had prepared an enormous pot of chilli with jacket potatoes and dished it out to the crowd around the table. At present, there were nine people staying at the hostel. Nicky was the youngest, then were two sisters at 8 and 10 who mostly played together. There were three boys and a girl all between 13 and 14 who were as thick as thieves and did everything together. Then came Gloria at 17 and a 24 year old woman who kept to herself but provided a reasonable amount of rent to help Mum feed all her 'kids'. Most of her income, however, was due to Ashley, one of the 14 year-olds. His very wealthy parents gave generously, happy that they could send him somewhere safe while they were away at work, which was almost all the time.
They were halfway through eating when there was a loud knock at the door and Zak burst through without waiting to be let in.
"Zak, my baby, come here!" Mum dramatically rushed towards him with her arms open wide.
"Mum!" He happily embraced her and they stood hugging for some time, probably each trying to give the other a bigger bear hug.
Gloria grinned and turned towards the door seeing another boy of the same age carrying large bags.
"Hi, I'm Patrick." He dropped his luggage and stuck out a hand.
She took it and grinned at him in welcome. He was good looking in a pretty-but-manly way with choppy black hair and clear blue eyes.
"Gloria. Nice to meet you." She reached down to take one of the bags and he nodded his thanks. A moment later though she regretted it as she tried to haul the bag over the doorstep and it nearly pulled her arm off.
"Sheesh, what have you got in here?"
"Oh! Sorry." Patrick looked a little sheepish."Leave it there, Maggie will get it."
Gloria looked behind him in surprise and saw the third guest. She was standing with her arms crossed while Patrick blocked the doorway. You know how sometimes you look at someone and can't think of anything at all for a moment because they are just too stunning to take your eyes off? She was stunning. Maggie was stunning. She was small with a petite frame but made up for that easily as her whole body simply screamed 'I'm here'. She had dyed her hair a soft whitish grey which completely suited her and her skimpy clothes looked anything but slutty with her combat boots, bold make up and masses of chains and chords around her neck and both wrists. She didn't think she'd ever met anyone who looked so cool and beautiful.
"Ha. Ha. I don't think so. You decided to bring this shit load of stuff with you and you can bloody well carry it yourself." She snorted at him with a disapproving expression and although her words were coarse there was a friendly twinkle in her eyes.
Gloria moved aside to let Patrick pass and was about to greet Maggie when she was cut off by a piercing shriek from Zak.
"Ahhh! It's Rossy!"
Everyone turned to the kitchen to see Zak pouncing on the dog while cooing meaninglessly at him. She rolled her eyes while Maggie snorted again, looking amused.
Suddenly Mum was giving Patrick a handshake followed by a quick hug and then pushed past her to Maggie.
"Gloria, take their luggage through to your bedroom would you?"
"But, Mum–" She tried to explain that it was too heavy but stopped when Mum ignored her and gave Maggie a bone crushing hug as well.
Gloria pouted and 'hmphed' before noticing Patrick looking at her oddly. As soon as she looked at him, however, he quickly turned away and picked up his bags again.
"So, um, where shall I put these?" He asked.
"This way." She led him through the large house to what had been her room and now was temporarily 'their room', she supposed. They entered the room and she went to sit on her bed.
"This one's my bed but you can choose any of the others."
He set the bags down at the nearest bed with a sigh of relief. She watched him as he looked about the room with interest.
Gloria had decorated her corner with a few posters and pieces of artwork but the rest of the room was empty except for a few traces of previous guests. There were a couple of paintings which someone had left as a parting gift a couple of years ago and a tatty old sofa had been rescued from a tip and placed under the window.
Patrick approached it and looked out of the window.
"Nice view." He said after a few moments.
She shrugged. It was nothing special.
"We should probably go back, Mum had just got dinner ready."
They wandered back through and, sure enough, everyone was seated back at the table. Zak enthusiastically patted the place next to him and Patrick sat down beside him. Gloria idly wondered if they were a couple.
"Delicious as always, Mum."
Mum smiled at Zak and told him to help himself to second helpings. Everyone would be amazed if she ever ran out of food to give out.
It was nice to be sharing a room again, she mused as she lay in bed later on. There had been so much drama as Zak and Patrick fought over beds. Zak insisted he had to sleep nearest the door and Maggie said it was so he could sneak out and fuck all the cute boys in the neighbourhood which made him exclaim his innocence at the accusation. Meanwhile Patrick just laughed and told him he'd end up sleeping next to him anyway.
Gloria had looked on and wished she could be part of the playful bantering but couldn't think of anything to say. She smiled to herself as, later in the night, she heard Zak climb in to Maggie's bed an hour later. The drama didn't end there. She woke in the morning to hear Maggie yelling at Zak to get up because he was a lazy bastard and saw him now asleep snuggled next to Patrick.
"Tip him out the bed, Paddy, he needs to get up!" She commanded indignantly and continued hitting him in the ribs.
"Give it a rest, Mags, he can sleep." Patrick's voice sounded thick with sleep.
Gloria had no idea why Maggie was so determined not to let him sleep, but she sympathised with Zak as she buried her face into her own pillow.
When she woke a second time she saw Zak was the only other one still in bed. She showered, dressed and made her way slowly to the kitchen.
The famous four, Ashley, Abby, Dan and Ewan, and Patrick were sitting at the table playing Irish snap. Gloria got her cereal and sat down, watching the game. It was one of the their favourite games, as was any other fast, competitive and overly complicated card game. Mum was always despairing at multiple packs of cards left around the house.
"Three! Snap!" Patrick yelled and slammed his palm onto the table.
"No. You don't have to say snap, just put your hand down." Ewan scowled as he rubbed his hand which was looking red.
"Where's your friend?" Gloria asked Patrick.
"Mum took Nicky and Maggie shopping in town." Abby answered instead, keeping her eyes firmly on the game.
Gloria spent the rest of the morning with Patrick. He was so easygoing and friendly that she couldn't not like him. They hung out in the garden sitting on a couple of old rusty swings. Neither of the two were particularly chatty but found enough to talk about while they sat, enjoying each other's company.
He told her about his plans for the summer and how much he'd been looking forward to meeting Mum and staying at her hostel with Zak. He wanted to know what it was like to live there and how she found it.
"It's like being in a big, crazy family and like Mum really is our mum for most of us. It's always really noisy though so maybe it can be a bit overwhelming, I don't know." She shrugged and smiled. "I love it."
"So how did you end up here?"
Gloria opened her mouth to answer when they were interrupted by barking and Ross bounded up to them.
"Mum's back." She jumped off the swing to give the dog a pet. "I'll go help her with the shopping bags."
Patrick nodded and bent down to make a fuss of Ross while Gloria walked over to the car. She ruffled Nicky's hair as he scrambled from his seat and walked round the back of the car to get the shopping. She got there just as Maggie did and smiled in welcome at her. Maggie, however, just gave her a sharp frown, picked up a couple of bags and swept off into the house without a word.
Gloria watched her for a moment, unsure if she'd done anything wrong. Maybe the other girl just didn't like her? As she shut the car boot and turned towards the house she noticed Patrick standing there looking lost in thought.
"You alright?" She asked.
He just looked her up and down and smiled as if sharing a private joke with himself.
She shrugged and walked on into the house feeling slightly irritated.
Back inside, things felt comfortably normal with Nicky running under everyone's feet, Mum busy in the kitchen and the four younger teens could be heard yelling from down the corridor. Zak was now up and back to his energetic self after having slept all morning. It was almost comical how Patrick seemed to breath a sigh of relief after seeing him up and dressed just before Maggie noticed him and gave the boy a hard look. It was evident that he had escaped another verbal lashing from her about getting up in the mornings or something similar.
After a noisy lunch the afternoon felt quiet and lazy to Gloria and Zak and his friends. The four teens walked into town for their Saturday club and Mum had taken Nicky with her to drop the two sisters off with one of their friends.
The teenagers mostly sat around their shared room and watched films on Patrick's laptop. Zak kept squirming and disturbing Maggie who repeatedly rapped him over the head and spouted abuse at him. Patrick appeared to stay out of it but became noticeably good at inconspicuously egging them on. Gloria couldn't quite work out if she liked him or if he was just okay to be around. One minute he seemed really cool and easygoing and the next he was sneakily either causing Maggie to yell at Zak or trying to distract her from hitting him. Strange boy.
"Loo break! Loo break!" Zak started hitting Patrick until he paused the film and shot out of the room a moment later.
"Moron." Maggie rolled her eyes. "You'd think he'd learn to go before he resembles a bunny on acid."
Her friend grunted and a silence fell on the room. Gloria fidgeted with her phone while debating whether to start a conversation. She was saved from having to say anything, however, as Patrick turned to her and spoke.
"So I was wondering..." He started, then frowned at her as if unsure whether to continue.
Zak bounded back into the room first and plopped himself down between them. Nothing more was said and the film resumed. Gloria wasn't sure whether to be grateful or disappointed by the interruption.
Maggie, sitting on the other side, just rolled her eyes again and swatted both boys on the head.
After dinner Zak and his two friends disappeared down the road for the evening. He wanted them to meet an acquaintance from when he'd stayed last time.
Gloria was a little miffed at not being invited but pushed the feeling aside. It wasn't as if Zak had been her friend, they'd just hung about all day. It had been the same last time he'd been there too, he always went off gallivanting around the town and making new friends while she'd just envied him thinking he was so cool and quietly boasted to her friends at school that she was best buddies with the cool gay guy who'd come to visit.
She wasn't completely boring, she just didn't go out much in the evenings. Her friends invited her to their shopping and cinema trips but she never really enjoyed the parties.
Mum gave her a knowing look as she stayed to help wash the dishes but said nothing. Gloria chased Nicky around with a toothbrush as she tried to get him to bed which was probably the most exciting thing to happen all evening. It was once she was already in bed that the three friends came back, except she was sure she could hear a fourth voice too. He and Zak were stifling giggles as they crept into his bed. She spent several minutes worrying that they were going to have some untoward activities in a shared room and wondered if she should go and find a couch to sleep on before Maggie and Patrick's whispered taunts and jokes put her mind to rest.
They had not had been having sex while she was a sleep, she was both utterly relieved and not surprised to discover in the morning.
Parallel to the previous morning she woke to Maggie's bickering and Patrick's tired replies.
"Why does he have to bring all these boys with him just to spoon all night? Look at them! It's so normal for him he can't even sleep on his own any more."
"Mags, you'd really prefer he was a rampaging sex addict?"
She flinched. "Hell, no. I just wish he'd stop putting on this cute little bunny act all the time. He'd die if he actually had to fend for himself."
"Maybe he really is a cute little bunny." Patrick scoffs. "We're not all as tough as you are."
Gloria could practically hear him stick his tongue out at her and smiled into her pillow at the scuffle that followed. Maggie chased him out the room and she was left in peace.
This time she couldn't fall back to sleep. She kept thinking about Maggie, trying to work through the confusion in her head. She wasn't sure if she even liked the girl that much, she had a loud personality and looked pretty awesome but was she actually someone she'd want to make friends with? She tried to work out what it was about the girl that made her feel so awkward whenever she tried to talk to her. In the end she gave up on sleeping and thinking and got up to get ready for work.
Sunday was Gloria's turn to disappear from the house all day. She worked part-time at a local corner-shop for most of the day and then met a few friends afterwards. They had all come back from the beach and enjoyed rubbing it in her face that they'd been out having fun while she was working. She just rolled her eyes at them and tried to tune them out. While she appreciated the independence of having her own job she did wish her friends could have postponed their beach trip until tomorrow, when she wasn't working. By the time she got back home she was feeling more than a little annoyed. During dinner she snapped at Patrick because he was giving her looks again.
"What?" She bit at him and forcefully slopped more stew onto her plate.
"Sorry!" He leant back from her and help up his hands, palms facing her. "I was just going to ask if you're coming out with us tonight."
"Oh." She felt embarrassed and carefully placed the ladle back in the pan. "Yeah. Um, I suppose."
She glanced at the other two and saw that Zak was busy inspecting his nails while Maggie gave her a lazy shrug and went back to her meal. Maybe she was just being paranoid about Patrick even though it did look like he was always mentally analysing her and judging what he saw. She mentally shook her head and sighed at the dinner table as her dysfunctional family kept up the noisy chatter around her.
She changed quickly into something less drab while Zak hammered impatiently at the bathroom door. He'd been there almost since she went in and it was annoying the hell out of her.
"Hurry up" He whined. "I need a pee."
"There is another toilet in this house you know." She reminded him, pulling on some skinny jeans.
"But I need this one!"
"Seriously! I'm only getting changed."
She knew the real reason was that he had left his eye-liner in the bathroom and didn't seem to want to mention that to her. He was never upfront with her and had certainly never actually conversed with her. She didn't know why he apparently didn't like her but she wished he would just say what he meant and stop whining about the toilet.
"Zak! Get your arse over here."
She heard Maggie's commanding voice and breathed in relief at the sudden peace.
She checked herself in the mirror and hesitated before picking up the eye-liner and leaving the room. Zak pounced towards the door as he heard her come out and she stopped him by wordlessly handing over the pencil. He eyed her suspiciously for a moment before taking it with a mumbled thanks and disappearing into the bathroom.
She huffed in irritation as she came into the bedroom where Patrick was idly playing with Maggie's hair as she sat reading a worn paperback.
"Hey, what is his problem? Is he always like this?" She nodded her head accusingly towards the doorway.
Maggie burst out laughing and almost headbutted her friend. "That's hilarious. And yes he is."
"Zak's..." Patrick looked troubled, "he's got issues."
Gloria bit out a laugh. "Haven't we all? It's like he refuses to even acknowledge I exsit!"
Maggie stopped laughing and frowned as Patrick explained.
"I think he's afraid to be himself. He doesn't want to be judged and decides it's not worth the risk opening up to people."
"Oh." Gloria deflated. Of course he has issues, his parent's nearly rejected him for gay. She felt ashamed for getting angry and sat on her bed in silence.
"Um, what are you reading?"
She tried to change the subject and Patrick groaned as Maggie answered, "Hobbit."
"Zak reckons she's read that book about twenty times since he's known her. Just don't mention dwarves or the difference between goblins and orcs."
Maggie looked faintly amused at his moanings and didn't bother looking up, even as Zak ran in and announced that it was time to go.
It turned out to be a good evening in the end. Gloria started off feeling incredibly embarrassed from noticing just how many people there were from her classes at school and kept her head down. Then Maggie pressed a cup of beer into her hand and Patrick shoved her onto a sofa where some guys were having competitions on some video game.
It wasn't a massive crowd, there were about a dozen teenagers in someone's lounge chatting and drinking beer. Not a proper party then, Gloria thought, just a social gathering thing. Although there was one lad in the corner who didn't seem in a social mood and poured can after can of beer down his throat looking faintly miserable at the same time.
Gloria stayed put on the couch for most the evening, chatting occasionally to people from school and half-heartedly cheering on the video games. Zak seemed to have disappeared some time ago and Patrick was making friends with everyone. One of the girls from school had taken a shine to him and kept catching up with to to flirt. Considering that the attention was unwelcome, Gloria found it highly amusing to see him look so uncomfortable. He squeezed himself next to her on the couch hoping she wouldn't follow him and spoke hurriedly about gun choices to the gamers.
It didn't take long for Gloria to decide that she was tired and bored and ready to go home. She was waiting to get Patrick's attention to let him know she was leaving when Maggie threw herself on his lap. She buried her face in his chest and let her feet rest on Gloria's knee.
She couldn't quite explain why, but the contact made her heart swell. It was a warm feeling and she reached out and put a hand on one of the stay feet.
"I'm tired and Zak's being a penis. Can we just leave him to come home in the morning?" Maggie whined against his chest.
Patrick sighed and rubbed her back. "I don't know. I'll go have a look."
He shuffled her off him and pushed her towards Gloria instead. She just whined again and slid into the seat he'd vacated.
Gloria tentatively touched her arm. "You alright?"
There was a pause and then the other girl nodded and leant against her shoulder. They remained silent, Gloria feeling warm and content and happy, until Patrick retuned and pulled them up.
"He's fine, we'll see him in the morning. Come on, let's get you two home."
They groaned and got up, found their coats and said bye to a couple of people before going out into the cold.
They mostly walked in silence. Patrick held Maggie's hand and Gloria led the way home. As they neared the house Patrick asked if she'd had a good night.
"Yeah, I suppose. Um, thanks for inviting me."
He frowned at her. "You don't have to be invited, Gloria. If you want to go anywhere then go, you just turn up," He shrugged, "if you don't, then don't go."
His words sounded like advice and she felt embarrassed, wondering how he perceived her.
"Yeah, thanks." She mumbled and fished out the key to the house.
If Gloria had thought the relationships between Zak and his friends were strange before, the next day didn't disappoint either. The 'famous four' had gone off to a friend's all day and Mum took Nikki and the two girls out for the afternoon. There was no early morning shouting at Zak this time as he didn't return until the other three teens were munching on a late lunch.
"Well, hello there, my beautiful friends!" He exclaimed loudly as he strode into the kitchen.
"Take your disgustingly smug face out of here, you whore." Maggie scowled at him.
"Aw, come on, you need to share my happiness."
Maggie choked on her sandwich, looking pale, and fled from the room.
"You idiot." Patrick glared at him.
"But– it's not fair!" Zak spluttered. "I was happy and now it's all ruined."
He did sound genuinely upset but Patrick didn't seem to care.
"You know Maggie. You should be more careful." He ran a hand through his hair. " God, it's like I'm surrounded by children all the time!"
"Yeah. Thanks!" Zak bit out and stormed out.
Patrick groaned and dropped his head on to the table.
"I'm just going to... go for a walk." Gloria decided it may be wise to stay clear for a while. She grabbed her shoes and jogged down the street, glad to be in the sunshine. She headed towards town and wondered around the lazy streets for a while before turning in the direction of the café where one her friends worked. There were only a couple of customers eating lunch so she was able to hang about and chat to her friend while she wasn't serving customers.
By the time she returned home everything seemed to be back to normal. Zak was making a mess of the kitchen by baking biscuits and Patrick was blaring out music from his phone. Maggie was sitting on the floor reading her book and leaning against Patrick's leg as he sat at the table stealing bits of mixture when Zak wasn't looking.
"Looks good." She smiled at the scene before her.
"Hey." Maggie managed to nod at her without taking her eyes off the book.
Gloria decided to have a quick shower and by the time she'd finished the biscuits were done. They watched another of Patrick's films as they tucked in, demolishing the whole plate in half an hour.
The film was kind of 'slice of life' thing set in France and they all felt rather sleepy afterwards, not to mention full of tea and biscuits.
"Zak?" Patrick asked languidly.
"Is Gloria gay?"
Gloria spluttered in shock while Zak sprang up and stared at her.
"Woah!" Zak yelled in excitement. "I never thought of that before. Are you gay?"
He was staring at her and it was a little unnerving "I..."
She glanced at Maggie who was watching with mild interest. Patrick was just waiting with raised eyebrows.
"Why would I be gay?"
"Why wouldn't you be?" Zak countered, still looking at her closely.
"Because you've been acting weirdly around Maggie the whole time." Patrick interjected.
Gloria frowned. "What? No, I haven't."
"Yes you have. You always look like you're afraid to touch her or something. You didn't seem to have a problem being near me."
She opened her mouth in disbelief. She could feel her face going bright red.
"Yeah, well maybe I don't like you. Maybe Maggie's just... scary?"
Maggie and Patrick burst out laughing and he smacked her head affectionately. "Nope, I think we all know she's not that scary. Think of a better reason."
"Is that why you kept giving me all those judging looks all the time? You can't just sum a person up like that." She felt rather indignant.
Maggie, however, didn't seem the least bit phased. She just looked slightly amused and vaguely curious; she hadn't even moved from where she lay with her head resting on Patrick's leg.
"Okay then. Ever had a boyfriend/girlfriend, crush on anyone?" Zak, for the first time, was actually paying her his attention.
"What's this? Twenty questions?" She felt extremely embarrassed and rather indignant.
'For a moment the world hung, suspended, everything else inconsequential and her mind felt hazy but sharp all at once.'