Sinead squeezed her eyelids together and threw herself onto her side. Her duvet did nothing to drown out the electric buzz coming from the bedside table. She had already pressed snooze twice but her alarm just wouldn’t take the hint. With a sigh she flung the duvet onto the floor and slammed her hand on top of the clock. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up. The illuminated numbers blinked at her in the semi-darkness. 09:51. Just over three hours to go.
She took a drink of orange squash and stood up, listening carefully. Someone nearby was listening to the radio, a cat cried for its breakfast. Otherwise, silence. Her dad must have been out – or, more likely, passed out in front the telly. She looked around her room. Oasis and the rest of the Brit-Pop posse stared back at her from the walls. Even her collection of Beanie Babies neatly arranged at the base of her keyboard stand seemed to eye her suspiciously. She averted her gaze to the wardrobe. A cream suit hung limply over the door. Aunty Cath had been firm in her resolve not to let Sinead go home with something more fashionable. Catching sight of herself in the mirror next to it, Sinead instinctively pulled in her stomach. Despite her distaste, she just hoped it still fit.
She slowly opened her bedroom door and listened. She walked across the landing, being careful to avoid floorboards that would give her away. Safely in the bathroom, she turned on the shower and sat on the toilet. She eyed the bathroom window as it slowly steamed over. She would be able to squeeze through it, but it was pointless – her past would catch up with her soon enough.
In the kitchen, she flicked on the kettle and switched on the radio. She hummed along to the latest offering from Boyzone as she pulled a loaf of Mighty White out of the bread bin and put two slices in the toaster. She would never normally acknowledge a song from such a band but people judged her no matter what she said or did these days.
Sinead stopped humming as soon as she heard the front door slam shut. She listened to her father as he made his way along the hallway. She busied herself buttering her toast as his bulk filled the kitchen doorway.
“Cup of tea, dad?”
Her father grunted. Sinead took a bite of her breakfast and handed him the steaming mug she had just made for herself. She stole a glance at his face. He was watching her with bloodshot eyes, his mouth curled with contempt.
“What’s all that shit on your face?”
Sinead didn’t react to the stench of stale cider that hit her.
“Well, is that so?”
Sinead took another bite of her toast and busied herself making a second cup of tea. She felt her father’s eyes follow her.
“Take it off. You look like a common whore.”
Sinead bit her lip.
“I want to look nice today. It isn’t much.”
She flinched at the sound of her father’s fist against the kitchen table.
“God damn it Sinead, can’t you just do what I say? If you listened to me once in a while you wouldn’t be in this mess, would you?”
Sinead squeezed a teabag against the side of the mug. She knew better than to respond. She heard her father exhale loudly.
“Oh, forget it. Everyone knows you’re a slut anyway. Just go upstairs and get dressed, will you? I told the boys we’d meet them at twelve.”
Sinead looked down at her breakfast. Her appetite gone, she figured there was no point finishing it. Just as there was no point trying to ignore the fact that her life was effectively over. Swallowing back tears, she ran out of the kitchen to the sanctuary of her bedroom. The sanctuary that, in less than two hours, would be taken away from her. She grabbed a box of tissues and rubbed her eyes roughly, her tears acting as natural make-up remover.
Billy’s eyes snapped open. Instinctively her hand shot down to the carpeted floor and searched for her Blackberry. The text message was from her mate Suze.
Gud luck babe. Thinking of ya. X
Billy dropped the mobile back onto the floor. She needed more than luck. This wasn’t the first time she’d ended up in this situation and it was clear that this time she wouldn’t get off lightly. She sat up and lit a cigarette. Her dad didn’t like her smoking in the house, but his attempts to discipline her had fallen short. It wasn’t that Billy disrespected him; she loved her dad. It was just so easy to do want she wanted and, quite honestly, there was nothing he could do about it.
She listened for him now. The flat was still around her. She looked at her phone again. 09:51. Three hours to go. She dropped the cigarette end into an empty can of Relentless and slid out of bed. She picked up the pile of ironed clothes her dad had handed to her when she got in last night, now crumpled after a night on the bedroom on the floor, and dumped them onto her bed. She rummaged through them, pulling out a pair of Juicy Couture jeans and a white tank top. She grabbed her trusty Wonderbra and a thong from her chest of drawers and headed to the bathroom. If she was going down she was going to go in style.
“Billy? Billy! You there?”
Billy heard her dad over Rhianna and put down her eyeliner with a tut. Her dad was already outside her room when she flung open the door.
Her irritation melted when she saw the cup of tea in his hand. She looked at his face. He was still good looking – according to her friends anyway. In the last few years the lines across his forehead and around his mouth had started to set. These days he looked like he was in a constant state of anxiety.
She took the tea from him and smiled briefly before turning back to her mirror.
She took a sip. It was milky and sweet, just how she liked it. She made space for the mug among her make-up and glanced at her dad’s reflection in the mirror.
He looked at the floor.
“I’ve got stuff in for breakfast. Sausages, beans, the works. When will you be ready?”
Billy grabbed her mascara and carefully wiped the end of the wand with a tissue.
“Dad, I can sort myself out you know.”
“I know you can. But... I thought it would be nice to have something together just in case, well, we don’t get chance for a while.”
Billy stopped what she was doing and looked at her dad. It was the first time he had acknowledged that she might not be coming home that night. His eyes met hers and, although his gaze was strong, his pain was clear. Billy looked at the make-up brush in her hand. Suddenly she felt ridiculous. She had fucked up big time, and hurt her dad. Okay, so she had been systematically punishing him for the death of her mother since she had found out how she really died, but this... this was unforgiveable.
“Okay dad. I’m nearly ready. I’ll come down and give you a hand in a sec.”
“Great. I’ll go make a start.”
Billy watched him as he walked stiffly down the hallway. Without warning, her eyes filled with tears. She blinked them back as she dabbed the corner of her eyes, being careful not to smudge the kohl around them. She checked her face for any damage. Her granddad had always told her she looked like her mum – or had done until she bleached her hair and started wearing so much make-up. That had stopped the comparisons of their appearance, if not their ability to get into trouble. Billy pushed her granddad’s disgusted face out of her mind as she applied her lip gloss, pulled open the bedroom door and went to find her dad.
Sinead stared at the 7 Up in front of her. The people around her were laughing loudly. She felt her dad nudge her but ignored him. He muttered something under his breath before roaring along with his friends at another joke, more than likely about her.
“Come on love, it isn’t that bad.”
Sinead looked up. It was Jen, the landlady. She glanced up from the glasses she was clearing and winked.
“Seriously, that Daniel is a good lad. Not all boys in his situation would have stood up to the mark like he has. He’s got a job now, hasn’t he?”
Sinead heard her dad snort.
“Yeah he’s got a job. Some bloody apprenticeship in a shop. And I’m sure he’s going to stick around when he realises he’s given up his chance of a proper career.”
“It’s a management training programme, dad.”
Sinead’s father looked at her incredulously, his pint glass hovering in front of his lips. The others around the table grew quiet.
“That sounds good, doesn’t it Joseph?” Jen said as she collected an assortment of empty crisp packets.
Sinead took a sip of her drink. She felt her dad’s eyes on her as she put the glass down.
“Well, it’s better than the dole. And more than this silly cow can do.”
Sinead closed her eyes against the rise in her father’s voice. She heard Jen sigh before her heels clicked back to the bar. A comment from the other side of that table dissolved the group into another fit of laughter, distracting her father. Once more, she was forgotten, another faceless statistic existing in a world where other people lived.
Billy placed her knife and fork neatly on her empty plate. She swallowed down her last mouthful and smiled up at her dad. He was staring at her, the food on his plate nearly untouched.
“What’s up dad? Can’t you even stand your own cooking?”
She laughed and stood up to clear her plate.
“Sit down again, will you Billy?”
Billy hesitated, the dad’s unfamiliar tone throwing her.
“I was just gonna wash up, dad.”
“I know you were. Just leave it a sec though. I want to talk to you.”
Billy shrugged and sat down again. She pulled a packet of Marlboros from her jeans pocket and lit one. Her dad watched her carefully. She offered him the pack and struggled to hide her amazement when he took one. She passed him her lighter and watched him as he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He opened them as he exhaled.
“Your mum made me quit when we agreed to get married. She didn’t want you growing up in a house full of smoke. As you smoke so openly yourself these days it seems ridiculous for me not to on your account.”
Billy watched her father dumbly. He very rarely spoke about her mother, especially about what she wanted for her daughter. Her usual response had put him off.
“Your mother and I, we didn’t have the same choices as you. You know what your granddad’s like. He has his faults, but he’s a religious man. There was no way he was going to let his daughter have an abortion, and the thought of having a bastard grandchild nearly finished him off.” He smiled wryly. “Okay, I could have fucked off and left your mum to deal with the consequences, but I wanted to do the right thing.”
“Maybe using a condom would have been a better thing to do, dad.”
Billy’s dad looked at her and laughed. “I did, just clearly didn’t know how to use one properly. I knew it had split, but those days they didn’t have the morning after pill.” The smile from his face vanished. “Anyway, it happened, I got a job, we got married. That was all we could do.” He took another drag of his cigarette. “Your mum was really unhappy though. She was stuck at home whilst I was at work. Most of her friends deserted her or were too busy. And your granddad wasn’t exactly supportive.”
Billy stubbed out her cigarette on her plate and stood up.
“You told me all this before.”
“Billy, your mum was trapped. She was imprisoned in a life she hated and there was no way she could get out of it. You have choices. Your life doesn’t have to end before it’s even started.”
Billy scraped her plate into the bin and put it into the sink.
“Today I don’t have many choices, do I? What happens is up to some old fart in a wig.”
“True. But what happens tomorrow and the day after is up to you. Wherever you end up tonight, you can decide whether enough is enough. You can choose to go back to college, do some courses. Or you can carry on wasting the life you’ve been given.”
Billy turned back to her dad. Her eyes met his.
“Mum didn’t have to kill herself. She had choices too.”
Her dad stared back. “Yes, she did. She made a really bad one. Just please don’t do the same.”
Sinead blinked as she stepped out of the town hall. Something touched her bare arm lightly, making her flinch. Confetti. She looked up to see a sea of faces obscured by cameras and hats looking back at her. She felt someone take her by the elbow. Instinctively she pulled away.
“Give the kid a break will you Sinead? You didn’t mind him touching you six months ago, did you?”
A few smothered titters rose from the crowd. Sinead spotted her dad, another pint of Guinness already in his large hands.
“Sorry Sinead, didn’t mean to make you jump.”
She looked around. Daniel smiled back. A blush had crept across his cheeks, no doubt in response to her dad’s crude comment. She tried to smile back, but a wave of nausea hit her. She felt Daniel’s arm slip through hers.
“Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Is it the baby?”
She blindly let him lead her to the pub across the road and fuss around her as she sipped her iced water. As the bar began to fill she fixed a smile onto her face and muttered her thanks to anyone who congratulated her. Seemingly satisfied with her recovery, Daniel brought her over a plate of pork pie and sandwiches before disappearing to chat to his friends. Watching him, Sinead felt her stomach flip. He still had friends, a job, even a family. The only thing she had was growing inside her. And it scared her to death.
Billy stood up and fixed her gaze on the wooden panelled wall ahead of her. She heard people shuffling to their feet, speculating her fate in hushed tones. Her barrister had told her that the parents of the victim had shown up. The thought of them watching her made her skin prickle.
She heard the judge stride into the court room and make himself comfortable. As he cleared his throat Billy felt bile rise to the back of her own. She concentrated on breathing deeply as he rattled off the charges against her and summarised the findings of the court, hoping the anger management techniques her social worker had taught her would also prevent her from vomiting.
“Needless to say, if you are sentenced to custody, this will be reduced by a third thanks to your early guilty plea.” The judge continued. Billy felt the blood drain from her face. The silence around her amplified the thud of her pulse in her ears.
“Before I pass your sentence, do you have anything to say?”
Billy turned to the bench and, with effort, focussed her eyes. The judge stared back at her over the top of his glasses. He raised an eyebrow.
Billy looked over at the public gallery. A middle aged couple were sat in the front row clasping each others hands. They looked back at her with cold eyes. Her dad was sat on the back row on the seat nearest the exit. He was looking at the floor. Billy swallowed.
“I’d... I’d like to say sorry.”
She heard the judge sigh.
“Well, I’m sure Mr and Mrs Wilson will pass that on to their daughter. Now...”
“No, I mean, I’d like to say sorry to my dad.”
The words escaped Billy’s mouth before she knew she wanted to say them. She glanced at the judge before turning her attention back to the gallery. Her dad was looking at her blankly.
“I’m sorry I’ve been such a pain to live with. And I’m sorry I’ve said bad things about mum. I just...”
Billy bit her lower lip and looked down at her hands. Her eyes felt dangerously hot.
Billy looked at the judge and took a deep breath.
“I know I’ve messed up. I just want to go home and start again.”
The judge held her gaze for a moment before looking back down at his notes.
“Miss Connelly, this is the fourth time you’ve been dealt with by the juvenile court system. Am I really to believe that, if I don’t sentence you to custody, I won’t be seeing you again?”
Billy opened her mouth to respond. She looked over at the public gallery.
“I’ve made my mind up. I want to change.”
She saw recognition in her father’s eyes before he turned his attention back to his hands. She looked back at the judge and lifted her chin defiantly. It didn’t matter what he or anyone else said to her now. She had made up her mind. And nothing would make her change it.