The Broken Ones – Carla Kovach

I tap on Hailey’s bedroom door hoping that my mother can’t hear me. The last thing I want to do is wake my mother up. ‘Hailey,’ I whisper, but I know that isn’t enough. If she’s asleep, there’s no way that would have woken her but what I have to say can’t wait the few hours until morning. I have the solution to all our problems. There will be no school tomorrow or ever again. I have a plan and everything is in place, just like I promised her. I asked you to be patient and you have. Our nightmare will soon be over and we can start again, somewhere else, away from all the hurt that we’ve endured. A creak comes from my mother’s bedroom and I hold my breath. A trickle of sweat slips down my forehead and eventually bounces off my nose. Quietly exhaling, I grip the door handle and pull it down. Hailey’s perfect nose and the curve of her forehead is lit up by the moonlight that comes through her bedroom window. Something’s odd. She normally has her curtains closed, preferring to sleep in pitchblackness.

She always said she couldn’t sleep if there was the faintest bit of light coming through. I creep across the floorboards, purposely missing the squeaky one and I stare at her face. Her skin has a serene blue hue, like an almost white baby blue. I reach out and move her hair from her mouth then I tuck it behind her ear. She still has her earphones in. She must have fallen asleep while listening to music. I pull the one bud out and place it to my ear. Nothing. I pick up her phone and play the last thing she was listening to as she fell asleep, hoping that my movement and presence will slowly wake her. The last thing I need to do is startle her and make her scream.

We need to get out of the house quietly before Mother hears us. ‘Beautiful Dreamer.’ That’s the song she was listening to last. That’s weird too. It was one of Nan’s favourites. Hailey normally prefers the Black Eyed Peas. Her bedroom is testament to the fact that she is their number one fan. There are posters of will-i-am and Fergie on every wall. As I remove her other earbud by reaching under her head, I flinch and gasp for breath. ‘Hailey.

’ I nudge her. She’s freezing cold. I reach for her arm. That is cold too. I nudge her again. ‘Hey, wake up.’ Nothing. No breaths, no reply, no movement. ‘Get up. Hailey, we have to go.

’ Tears begin to slip down my face as the realisation of what has happened dawns on me. ‘No!’ I grab her stiff body and place her head on my chest and I can’t hold my sobs back. It was all going to be okay. I’d fixed everything for us but now she is gone forever. We were finally going to be safe and happy. I spot the empty blister packs of tablets on her bedside table, the water glass is on its side and some of the packs have fallen onto the floor. I let out a distraught yell and grip her ice-cold hand, knowing that she’s not coming back from this. Everything I’ve done has been for nothing. I’ve lost her. I draw her quilt up to her chin before rushing out of the bedroom and into my mother’s, turning the main light on.

I can feel the veins on my head pulsing and my hands ball into a fist. I’d always held back at Hailey’s insistence, but not this time. ‘You did this.’ I grip the sides of my head and pull my hair as she stirs. At the back of my mind, I hear Hailey’s voice, telling me she doesn’t want anyone hurt. She doesn’t want trouble and she doesn’t want to be punished. She won’t be punished again. I left it too late. I should have done something earlier. ‘What? Go back to bed.

It’s the middle of the night,’ she murmurs and yawns under the blanket but I can hear what she’s saying. My mother. My lovely mother. ‘Turn the light off.’ I jump on the bed and reach for her neck under the top blanket, my hands gripping her windpipe to a squeeze. She flails and wriggles beneath me. I hate her. I’ve never hated anyone so much. I feel her fist hit my nose and I fall to the floor, landing on the rug. She has a punch on her that would rival a boxer, Hailey and I have felt the strength behind her fists on many occasions.

‘You killed Hailey.’ My mother looks puzzled as she rubs her neck. ‘What?’ My blood is smeared over her knuckles and I just want to pound her head to a pulp. ‘You heard me.’ I’m back on my feet, seething, and my own fist hits the side of her head, and I don’t stop there. I hear a rib crack and a shriek as I catch her jaw. She goes to fight back but I am no longer a kid. I’m a man now. After a few blows, I feel a weakness run through my body. So much for being a man.

That didn’t save Hailey. Another punch and another. I can’t stop myself as I think of Hailey’s cold body. Mother has to pay for what she did and I’m making her pay, right now. ‘Stop! You’re killing me.’ If only I cared. 1 FRIDAY, 22 JANUARY Now Amber sifted through her clothing rail and held up the pale pink jumpsuit. ‘How about this one?’ Scrunching her nose, Lauren shook her head. ‘You should go with the blue dress, it really suits you and it will be easier to take a pee.’ Her friend giggled.

She remembered the time that Lauren had got so drunk while wearing a jumpsuit that she’d almost peed herself outside a nightclub in Birmingham. ‘No! The blue looks like an old lady dress. I wore it for a job interview. Why don’t you make us a drink while I get ready?’ Lauren padded out of the room, pulling a comedy face as she glanced back before leaving the room. Grabbing her phone, Amber smiled as she spotted another message. She didn’t give this phone number to anyone, but he wasn’t anyone. She liked him, a lot. He definitely wasn’t like the others. I seriously can’t wait to see you for real. You don’t know what you do to me.

Xxx She twiddled her finger through her curls. That’s what student life was all about, trying new things, new men, new women. She’d tried it all and only regretted the one and that was Lauren. She shrugged as she pulled the jumpsuit on, pairing it with leopard print heels and a long winter coat, which she knew she’d be able to remove when she arrived at the restaurant. Grabbing a chunky necklace to finish off the look, she was as ready as she’d ever be. She typed back. Bring it on! She finished the message with a wink emoji before hitting send. Maybe that sounded too forward. No, it was exactly what she meant to send and it sounded perfect. She unclipped her hair, allowing the rest of her long black locks to flow down her back.

‘Oh my goodness, you look beautiful, Amber. Your eyes are so… feline.’ Lauren placed the cup of mint tea on her bedside table, kicking a few items of clothing aside to get there. ‘Thanks, and thanks for the drink.’ Amber knew she wouldn’t be drinking it. As soon as she could get Lauren out of her apartment and back into her own, she’d go. ‘I may or may not be home this weekend. We’ll see how things go.’ Amber winked. Insensitive maybe, but Lauren needed to get the message.

‘You know, you do look hotter in the pink. Go have a good time. If I don’t see you tomorrow, then I’ll know you’re having too much fun.’ The forced smile on Lauren’s face told another story. ‘Catch you later. I’m off to FaceTime my mum before she turns up uninvited to check on me.’ She listened as Lauren left and the door slammed. One last spray of her hair and a splash of her favourite perfume, and she was ready to go. Bending over, she picked up the tiny overnight bag she’d packed earlier, containing the bare minimum. It looked like a going out bag but larger.

Nothing would be assumed by its presence but she’d be prepared if she needed her toothbrush and some clean lacy underwear. As she locked her door, Lauren opened hers. Her pale face had blotched up a little bit. ‘I’m going to miss you.’ ‘You said we were okay.’ Amber didn’t have time for this. Regretful, that’s how she felt. She had crossed the line with Lauren and damn, she wished she hadn’t. All that ‘have a good time’ was a front. It was now obvious that Lauren had wanted more.

‘I have to go.’ ‘Please stay.’ Lauren reached out and placed a hand on her arm as she passed, her fingers stiff and cold. Her phone beeped in her pocket. He’d be waiting for her at the restaurant. ‘We’ll talk about this when I get back, I promise.’ Amber broke away. Wiping a tear from her cheek, Lauren slammed her front door. As Amber navigated each step in the most impractical shoes she owned, she couldn’t get the look on Lauren’s face out of her mind. Let it go for now, she thought.

She pushed through the creaky main door and an icy gust filled the hallway. It hadn’t snowed yet, but the weather forecasters were threatening it. If only it could hold back for the next hour, she’d be fine. The sound of someone yelping made her stiffen and stop. A man leaned over the boot of his car at the back of the car park, holding his back as he tugged something. She squinted to see into the darkness. As he yanked again, he slipped and stumbled backwards onto the kerb, screaming out as he hit concrete. ‘Oh my goodness. Are you okay?’ She teetered towards him, almost slipping on the ice in her stilettos as the contents in her bag jangled. An icy blast whipped up the bare branched trees that surrounded the car park, whistling through the underpass opposite.

‘Hi, Amber. I’m lucky you came out when you did. My leg, it kills. I was just trying to get my crutches out of the boot and now look at me, I’m a mess.’ ‘I didn’t know you’d hurt yourself.’ ‘It only happened yesterday. I had a few too many and you know how it goes. The pavements have been icy and I just went. Whoosh. Just like that.

Looks like I’ll be trussed up for a bit.’ Her gaze was immediately drawn to his pained smile. She checked her watch. She could have him back on his feet in a minute and still make the bus. ‘Right, I’m going to have a go at helping you.’ He yelped again and began breathing heavily as she tried to pull him up. ‘I’ll be okay, honest. Just go for it.’ She winced as she imagined what pain he must be in. She knew all too well how much a broken leg hurt after she’d fallen in PE at school and broken her own.

‘Right, let’s try again. Are you ready?’ He nodded. ‘I tell you what, can you just get my other crutch out of the boot? I think I wedged it in a bit tight. That’s how I fell in the first place.’ She nodded and glanced into the boot. He was right, the crutch had been jammed between the two sides of the car; the rubber nugget at the end was firmly pressed on its interior. She tugged and tugged but it wouldn’t come free. It was definitely stuck. ‘I can’t seem to budge it.’ Warm breath, that’s what she could feel on the back of her neck.

Shaking, she turned only to be faced with his nose almost touching hers. The grin on his face told her that he didn’t need help. It was a trap and she’d fallen straight into it. A sharp pain flashed through her head as he struck her with something hard. As she stumbled to the frozen ground, her trouser leg caught on something, she heard the tear. Glancing across at her apartment block, she knew no one was looking. All the curtains were shut and she was all alone with a man who was trying to kill her. The moon above appeared to be spinning. Climbing to a standing position, she tried to turn and run but the dizziness sent a sickening wave through her body. Her heel caught in a pothole and she stumbled back into his arms.

She went to punch but he batted her fists away. ‘You’re not going anywhere.’ Any sign of his limp was now gone. All she could see was his seething mouth and his penetrating stare. ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ She paused, knowing that her words were slurred. ‘I’m meant to be somewhere. He’ll call the police if I don’t turn up.’ He grinned and shook his head. She tried to pull her phone from her pocket. ‘You won’t get away with this.

’ He snatched it from her hand and popped it in his pocket. ‘You won’t need that any more.’ Another flash of pain seared through her head as he brought the rock down again before forcing her into the boot. Pinpricks of light filled her vision as she fumbled for anything but there was no room to move. When the boot lid slammed, she knew she was in trouble. Her shoes were catching on everything and her coat was twisting. The other crutch was sticking into her side. Jammed in, she was stuck. The car trundled over a speed bump, then it carried on and on. Then nothing but the sound of a dual carriageway followed.

The whooshing past of fast-moving cars and a horn in the distance. She was going to die, she knew it.

.

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