Authors: Ellie Campbell
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Ellie Campbell is a pseudonym for sister writing-duo Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell. The two sisters were raised in Scotland until they were in their teens, when their parents moved the family down to Sussex. Between them they have had over 140 short stories published in magazines. Pam now lives in Surrey with her husband and three children where she divides her time between writing, family, her allotment, a part-time job and chasing down her writing partner and big sister, Lorraine. After sailing the Caribbean as a charter cook, Lorraine finally settled in Colorado with a husband, three horses and a dog. Their debut novel was
How to Survive Your Sisters,
published by Arrow in 2008.
Also by Ellie Campbell
How To Survive Your Sisters
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Published by Arrow Books 2009
2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
Copyright © Pamela Burks and Lorraine Campbell 2009
Pamela Burks and Lorraine Campbell have asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the authors of this work.
When Good Friends Go Bad
is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between these fictional characters and actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published in Great Britain in 2009 by
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,
London SW1V 2SA
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at:
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British library
To Esther, Rene and Vic
Our wonderful parents-in-law
A frenzied ferret of a lad with white spiky hair and red-rimmed eyes stood over Jennifer Bedlow and sneered menacingly, his lip curling and chin thrust forward as if daring her to take a whack at it.
'Stupid little first year.'
'First year yourself,' Jen returned sullenly, not certain if he was. He looked big for eleven – but then everyone was bigger than her – and his uniform seemed suspiciously new. No grass stains on the knees of the trousers, no buttons dangling by a thread or snow showers of dandruff marring the blazer's immaculate surface.
Without warning, he gave her a good hard push and bolted before she could respond. Winded, Jen prayed no one had noticed and slipped quietly away from the throng of teenagers amassing beneath the shadows of the nine-foot-high wrought-iron gates.
It was her first day at Ashport-on-Sea Comprehensive, a sprawling grey brick building which loomed sinisterly over the playground, as architecturally exciting as a five-year-old's Lego project with all the razzle-dazzle and appeal of a high-security prison. Charged with the education of over a thousand pupils, its claret-coloured blazers had come to symbolise a scourge of shoplifting, petty crime, violence and vandalism to the quaking neighbourhood. Once ensconced in its listless clutches the most ferocious appetite for learning, ardent dreams of glory or fiery blaze of ambition would shrink and fade in the face of overcrowded classrooms, apathetic teaching and lack of government funding. Of the thirty-eight eleven-year-olds about to join Jen's class, one would try to stab the RE teacher, two would be sent to borstal, three would end up pregnant by fourteen, and four would almost be expelled for an act of arson.
But all this was yet to come . . .
Jen slumped miserably against a wall, already longing for the familiar security of the small village primary school she'd loved for so many years. Nearby another new girl with long neat plaits and a navy tunic reaching well below her knees cowered as three menacing trolls loomed over her with peroxide mullets, inflated chests and crotch-brushing skirts. One of them darted a look Jen's way and she hastily studied her sensible Clarks shoes, kicking some dirt over their gleaming surface.
Suddenly a roly-poly girl with olive skin and a thick mud-brown ponytail planted two sturdy feet in front of Jen.
'Hello, I'm Georgina Giordani Carrington.' She thrust out her hand and in some crazy automatic reflex Jen found she'd opened two fingers to imitate a cutting motion, as if she were being challenged to a paper, scissors, stone contest. She snatched them back as Georgina continued in a posh imperious voice, 'Can I play with you?'
'I'm not playing anything.' Jen blushed furiously, instantly feeling a failure. As if she should be running around organising games of tag, kick-the-can or forty-forty home. But did kids do stuff like that in big school or would that just brand her a hopeless loser? She had no idea. Her mind went into free-fall panic. Why, oh why, hadn't she brought her new and baffling Rubik's cube with her? At least it'd have been something to show everyone.
'Oh.' Georgina shrugged and turned to lean against the wall. Out of the corner of her eye Jen saw the trolls give the plaited-haired girl a sharp shove then stomp away, cement shaking under their seven-league bovver boots. The girl scuttled over.
'What's a les?' she whispered.
Jen exchanged glances with Georgina, relieved the silence had been broken and yet worried this fragile spirit might attract the bullies' attention to them. Her face was very pale, her jet-black hair massacred by an uneven fringe, and her dazzling blue eyes were framed by fairy-tale lashes.
'They asked if I was a les. I didn't want to say yes or no in case it was like a PLP. When you say no they say "Well, you're not a proper living person" and if you say yes, they say, "Then you're a people's leaning post" and lean on you.' Jen and Georgina looked at her in amusement. 'I'm Rowan by the way,' she breathily added, beaming bravely.
'Well, a les is a lesbian.' Jen had heard the word that summer and turned her widowed father into a stammering wreck by asking about it. Now the ordeal of listening to his excruciating explanation was about to be worth it.
Georgina and Rowan stared blankly at her.
'You know.' Jen gave a look she hoped would say it all. 'A girl who likes other girls.'
'I like other girls,' Rowan ventured timidly.
'So do I,' Georgina asserted.
'Well, I don't mean just likes them, I mean
them, you know.' She flapped her hands, getting as hot and bothered as her dad had been when he tried explaining. It was all more difficult than she'd anticipated. 'Wants to kiss them and things,' she elaborated and found the word he'd told her. 'A female ho-mo-sex-ual.'
Georgina appeared shocked and their new acquaintance even more puzzled.
For once in her short life Jen actually felt wise beyond her years. She, who, when asked by friends only six months ago if she knew what a period was, had answered with great authority, 'Course I do. It's a full stop, isn't it?'
A ginger-haired girl with a thousand million freckles bounded up to them.
'Are you guys in 1L?' Her accent was American and thrillingly foreign, her metal grin brazenly devoid of the shyness that crippled the English girls with the agony of self-doubt.
'Yes,' they chorused.
'So am I! My name's Nutmeg, but everyone calls me Meg. Come on then,' she chirped. 'We're all meeting up in the back quadrangle next to the huts.'
The three new recruits obediently followed her to a group of their soon-to-be classmates, each looking as awkward and fearful as the next. After all, it was a sharp descent from being kingpins in primary to being squitty little first-years in secondary. Jen was new to the area, as were Georgina, Meg and Rowan, and maybe that was why they were so glad to find each other. But Meg was the one who herded them together, and from that very first greeting Jen knew that not only was she going to like her immensely, but that Meg would be her heroine for life.
She had no idea how often that thought would come back to haunt her.
'Sorry, H, you lost me.' Jen was lining up three sticks of garlic bread on her pregreased baking tray. The lasagne was already bubbling away in a Le Creuset dish, the pasta arranged in precise rows, the cheese sprinkled in a perfectly even layer. 'Start again?'
'Put it this way, treacle,' Helen's husky voice rasped down the phone line, the result of smoking thirty Marlboro a day for the last two decades. 'You were googled. She found you on my website.'
'Googled? Me?' Jen opened the refrigerator, staring blankly at the immaculately organised contents, momentarily forgetting what she was searching for. 'Who googled me?
would someone google me?'
The doorbell rang, there was a scamper of running feet, a quick 'See you tomorrow, Mum' and a slam of the door. Chloe, off to Brownies, with her friend Sophie. She was having a sleepover tonight, Jen remembered belatedly. One less for supper. She sighed heavily. Ollie must have sorted everything, helped her pack her bag, grabbed all the goodbye hugs. They were quite the mutual admiration society, her daughter and her daughter's doting dad.
She should be happy about that. So why so often did she feel superfluous, the piggy in the middle that never manages to catch the ball? In her ear Helen wittered on.
'For your information, technophobe, the whole world's googling each other nowadays. If you didn't act so middle-aged . . .'
'But that's the thing,' Jen protested, tucking the phone beneath her chin. 'We
middle-aged. Practically. I'm thirty-eight, you're forty-three. And what my middle-aged brain's having trouble grasping is how could someone find
website? Why do you even have a website? I didn't know you were selling anything?'
Sometimes Helen's high-pitched giggle was contagious, but not today. Not when Jen could hear Ollie bounding down the stairs two at a time.
'Drongo, of course I'm not. I put you down on my Bebo.'
'Bebo? Sounds like a deranged clown.'
Ollie snorted, semi-amused, as he padded towards the tumble dryer bare-chested. 'Helen's on Bebo?' he guessed, raising his eyebrows. 'Now that's sad.'
'Is that Oliver?' Helen's voice took on that reverential funereal tone she reserved for Jen's husband. 'Ask him from me, why's he still hanging around? Has he no pride?'
'Well it's his house and he's paying the mortgage, after all. Be a bit heartless to throw him out in the street, wouldn't it?'
On the other side of the kitchen, the floor disappeared under a deluge of clothes as Ollie rifled through the dryer, tossing clean laundry on to the Italian tiles.
She turned her back on his chaos and found herself staring at the corner of a large manila envelope with a return address that meant it could only be one thing. As usual, Ollie had picked up the post this morning and left it unopened for her to take care of.
'Yeah, well,' Helen responded. 'To get back to Bebo . . . I put you down as my number one best friend, of course.' She sounded peeved. At Jen not appreciating the honour, probably. 'Under your maiden name because . . . well, you know . . . and lo and behold this old classmate of yours contacted me. She signed it
Love and light, Nutmeg.'
Meg. Oh yes, it would be her. Not sweet, loving Rowan, who'd never wittingly hurt a soul in her whole life and might have been the very person Jen needed to pull her out of her current doldrums. No, because
vanished off the face of the planet ten years ago. Instead, meddling, mischief-making Meg had tracked her down, without the sense or sensitivity to know that after the Marlow Arms fiasco, Jen never wanted to see anyone from that night again. OK, maybe it was wrong to bear grudges but with everything going on in her life she had the right to be irrational, didn't she?
And now couldn't-she-ever-mind-her-own-business Helen, had opened the door a crack.
'So anyway, I emailed her back and . . .'
'Wait, wait.' Jen's temples throbbed. Rising blood pressure, she suspected. Ironic, eh? She'd moved from London almost three years ago partly to be near her ex-flatmate, but these days the woman constantly rattled her nerves.
'Please don't say you gave her my address?' Jen carefully avoided Meg's name. Not that it mattered much any more, but Meg linked to Georgina linked to Starkey and Starkey was taboo in the Stoneman household.
'No . . . though I did pass on your telephone number.' Helen huffily defended the indefensible. 'You need to accept every invitation now. Embrace all offers.'
'Climb every mountain . . . tra la la la,' Jen trilled, as she cut up some tomatoes for the salad.
Ollie was loitering, half listening, drinking milk, not from the bottle the way that had once driven her barmy, but from a glass just as she'd trained him. Was he waiting for her to get off the phone? Would they open that manila envelope together, cooing over it as if it were a newborn bairn?
'You know what the matter with you is,' Helen rattled on, in no mood for Jen's silliness. 'You're trying to cope with your problems single-handedly. Not confiding in anyone is making you . . .'
'Please!' Jen yearned to halt Helen's psychoanalysis in its merry tracks. Halt it, turn it round, race it back downhill and straight over a high cliff, watching from the top as it burst into flames. 'Sorry H, this really isn't the time, I've got to go. Speak later?'
Hanging up, she turned to Ollie and was shocked to see he'd not only tidied the floor but folded and stacked the clothes. How long had Helen kept her talking?
He'd covered his rippling six-pack with a slightly frayed sky-blue sports shirt wrinkled from sitting in the dryer. It would have been a moment's work to iron it but, well, that wasn't her problem now, was it? And it wasn't as if anyone else would notice or care when they'd be too busy drooling at how it matched his gorgeous eyes and how his jeans showed off his exquisite bottom. Even the men, damn it. Oliver Stoneman had always been enviably handsome. Nine years married and he still had a perfect body, killer smile and that mop of dirty-blond hair, like a field full of ripened wheat.
And why shouldn't he look good?
Jen brooded, selecting cutlery to finish setting the table. Unlike most of the Huntsleigh fathers she knew, Ollie was a mere thirty and in his absolute prime. Walking into their local, Ollie drew flirtatious stares like flies to a butcher's, something Jen had first found entertaining, then simply tiresome. Worse, he was entirely oblivious of the fact.
But then again none of the Huntsleigh wives had made her mistake of peering into cradles when seeking their spouses, eloping with what Helen liked to refer to as Jen's 'hoochie-coochie stud boy' – an ill-advised joke of Jen's that hadn't sounded so amusing when Helen blabbed it to Ollie one drunken evening.
Ollie's mobile began to ring. 'Yes, yes,' he said. 'I know. I'll see you there.'
What did he know? Who would he see? And where? At one time she'd have asked him. He was listening now, smiling privately, his mobile clutched to his ear.
She carried two plates to the kitchen table, glimpsing her reflection in the display cabinets as Ollie wandered into the hall, his laughter filtering back. It was so unfair. Most of her life Jen had wanted to appear older. At thirteen she looked eight. At seventeen she could pass for fourteen, but only if she was wearing three-inch platforms. At twenty-five, even with full warpaint, she had to show ID to get served in pubs but now . . .
Father Time had caught up with her. Caught up, overtaken and left her standing. When guys asked Jen her age, no more could she flutter her eyelashes and say in a seductive voice, 'How old do
think I am?' and still receive a positive response.
Granted, her ash-blond hair hadn't changed, these days styled in a trim little cap that left her neck exposed and demanded six-weekly visits to the hairdresser. She had her dad's velvet-brown eyes and her Icelandic granny's clear skin and strong cheekbones. A constant running routine kept her slim body toned – essential really, because when barely topping five feet, it took scarily few pounds of belly fat to make her feel like a little round dwarf.
But whence had come that ploughman's furrow between her brows and the completely unmerited laughter lines erupting round her eyes? Let's face it – nothing was
In her velour flared lounging trousers with matching button-down top she looked exactly what she was – how Ollie's youthful metropolitan friends saw her – a dull suburban housewife.
Almost two years before their move, when they lived in the Islington flat they'd bought together when Chloe was eighteen months, she'd been the unwilling eavesdropper on an illuminating conversation at one of those shitty-awful out-of-her-element parties she usually tried to avoid.
The Camberwell flat was filled with Ollie's friends from uni, hip young Londoners chatting about that year's Glastonbury festival. Jen skulked at the top of the stairs behind a giant rubber plant, trying not to feel like everybody's granny. At the time it seemed all she could talk about was Chloe, a subject that inspired glazed boredom in her listeners and even herself sometimes.
'. . . and he's
incredibly cute,' a female voice enthused. 'What on earth does he see in
'She is attractive in her own way.' The speaker sounded doubtful, like a reluctant defence lawyer who knows her client was seen bludgeoning the victim.
'Maybe it's all that great sexual experience! Older women, younger men, grrrrrr.' The third female gave a tiger roar and giggled.
'You must be joking! I've never seen anyone so uptight. No wonder Ollie works in fucking Outer Mongolia. I heard she trapped him and he only stays because he's besotted with that little girl . . .'
The door to the upstairs bathroom opened and another of the same clique emerged, heading towards Jen, ready to join the gaggle below. Any minute now she'd be seen and caught eavesdropping, however unwillingly.
Nothing else for it. She stood up, marching boldly down the stairs. 'Old Hag coming through,' she declared to their mildly embarrassed faces, and then hid herself amongst the crowd dancing in the living room. She and Ollie, Jen had realised with a shock, were the only married people there. It was then she'd started planting the seeds for change.
Ollie had returned to the kitchen and was staring at the table in evident dismay.
'Almost ready.' Jen picked up the tray of bread, wondering if he'd somehow overheard Helen mention Meg. It was the last thing she needed today of all days, when their divorce nisi was lying forsaken on the table.
But Ollie was already leaping for the door with the alacrity of an overanxious thespian who'd caught his solitary cue. 'I thought you knew I was going out. I was hoping we'd get the chance to catch up first but I'm already miles late. Maybe when I get back?'
'Maybe,' Jen said, feeling stung, knowing that even if he came in early, she'd be in bed asleep – or pretending to be. Damn Helen. Damn Meg. And damn Ollie too. She smiled, too brightly.
When Ollie had left, she threw the unwanted meal in the bin, climbed the stairs and slunk into bed.
'I still don't get it. Why do we have to go there?'
Zeb leaned against the bedroom door jamb, slamming a baseball into his leather catcher's mitt, dark hair shoved under a backward-facing Portland Beavers baseball cap. Ridiculous name for a team, Meg thought, her heart softening at the sight of her son's narrow face, so like her own, and the long eyelashes she would have killed to possess.
'Don't you want to see your Uncle Mace?' She kept her voice cheerful, wrenching free the warped top drawer of the crummy little dresser that she'd rescued from the kerb and repainted. She pulled out bras and panties, throwing them on to a pile of other garments on the bed. 'Visit your mom's old home town, see the school we terrorised when we were just your age? It's an adventure, kiddo.'
'Thought you said it was boring.' He wandered to the bathroom, his voice coming from behind the half-open door as she heard him pee. 'That Ashport place. Like power drills screwing through your skull boring.' The kid watched way too much television. 'You said the school sucked big-time, the teachers were losers and the happiest moment of your entire life history was stepping on to the plane that took you outta there.
And that's why you're lucky to be home-schooled, Zeb,'
he imitated as he flushed the toilet.
'No nasty rules for you. No Little League baseball, no soccer team, no summer camps, no fun.'
He appeared in the doorway, gesturing at his dingy surroundings with an operatic flourish. 'We have our
'Wash your hands,' she told him, sending him back to the sink with its leaky tap and mould-blackened grout. 'And don't be such a smart-ass. If I miss my old pals, is that such a crime? I haven't seen them for years.'
'Can't be such great pals then, can they? How come they never visit? Or even call?' Always ready with a comeback, Zeb bounded up to sit cross-legged in the centre of the clothes-strewn double bed. Outside a neighbour's beagle barked and howled, chained all day in its weed-infested yard while his owners were out cooking meth or spraying stolen cars or whatever they called work.
'Maybe they email me, clever clogs.' She closed the trailer window, blocking out the noise of the dog and the Hispanic kids next door, screaming and laughing as the eldest dragged the youngest two in a plastic red wagon. 'You don't know everything about your mom.'
'No, but I'd still rather go to Mexico.' Zeb's sneaker knocked a raggedy old concertina file, sending papers all over the crocheted wool cover. 'At least we could swim.'
'Jesus, Zeb,' Meg snapped, on the verge of losing it. 'Cut me a break. You're not the boss of me, not yet anyhow. If I say we're going to England, we're going, mister, and you'd better just start packing. I have important things to do there, if you must know. And Ashport has a beach too.'
Even if you'd have to be nuts to go in that sewagey water,
'I'm done packing ages ago. What's this?' Unchastened, he'd fastened on a scrap of paper. 'I can't read a word of it. Talk about lousy handwriting. It's worse than yours.'