Since the moment I stepped through the door, this hasn’t been what I thought it would be. I’m not the warrior I imagined. I’m hollow and vulnerable and kind of lesser. I’m not winning any battle, sitting here, silently clutching the table, unable to speak, just thinking my own rapid, restless thoughts.
But more than that—there isn’t even any battle to have, is there? The Lawtons aren’t interested in me. I could say what I like—they wouldn’t listen. They’re playing out their little story in which Izzy apologises and she’s the hero and I’m the bit part. And I’m letting them do it. Why am I letting them do it?
I feel a sudden wave of revulsion as I survey Izzy’s bowed head.
She won’t look at me, will she? She can’t. Because I might pop the bubble.
I mean, I guess that’s one way to go. Slip back into being eleven years old, wear ponytails, and get homeschooled and let your parents take over and tell you everything’s OK, you weren’t really a bullying monster, my sweetheart. It was the nasty people who didn’t understand you. But if you write a poem, everything will be OK.
Out of nowhere, Linus’s voice comes into my head: Why would you even give her the time of day?
Why would I? Why am I giving her the time of day? What am I doing here?
“ ‘…but bad forces come from every direction, no affection, just affliction…’ ”
Izzy is still droning on in what seems to have become a tragically bad rap. She’s got another A4 page to go, I notice. It’s definitely time to leave.
I squeeze Frank’s hand and look at the door. He raises his eyebrows and I nod firmly. I even make a small, inarticulate sound.
“Yes, we have to go now,” says Frank, cutting across Izzy. “Thanks for the water.”
The Lawtons look poleaxed.
“But Izzy hasn’t finished reading.”
“We haven’t had any discussion.”
“We’ve only just begun the meeting!”
“That’s right,” says Frank cheerfully as we both get to our feet. “OK, Aud?”
“You can’t leave before Izzy has even finished her piece!” Mrs. Lawton sounds quite shirty. “I’m sorry, what kind of behaviour is this?”
And then I finally find my voice. “You want to talk about behaviour?” I say quietly.
It’s like a magic charm. Everyone else is silenced. Paralysed.
There’s an odd hush around the place—it feels like the whole of Starbucks might have picked up on our vibe, just for a second. Mr. Lawton’s face has kind of crumpled. It’s as if reality has pushed its way through his soap bubble of denial, just for a second, and he’s been forced to see exactly who I am. I’m the one they did all those things to.
Yes, those things. The ones they did. And said. And wrote. Your daughter in her ponytail. That’s right.
I don’t look at Izzy. Why would I expend the energy that swiveling my eyeballs in her direction would require? Why would I expend even one microjoule of energy on Izzy?
And then we’re walking out, Frank and I, not looking back, not talking about it, not wasting a second more of our lives on that load of shitty, shitty crap.
And I should feel high now. Shouldn’t I? I mean, I think I won. Didn’t I?
Only now it’s all over, I just feel kind of empty. Frank’s sole comment as we walked back was “What a bunch of weirdos.” Then he told me he was heading back to school for tech club and when I gave him a big hug and muttered “Thanks, I don’t know how I can repay you,” into his shoulder, he said “OK, well, I get to choose both pizza toppings on Friday night. OK?”
And now it’s seven o’clock and I’m on my own. Mum and Dad are out at their salsa class. They have no idea. I mean, how weird is that? I’ve actually met up with Izzy and they don’t know.
I’ve texted Linus and told him about it. I’ve said I’m sorry I blew up at him. I’ve said he was right, I should never have gone and I miss him and I want to see him so, so much. I want to go back to how we were. I want him to give me another crazy challenge. I want to forget I ever went to see Izzy.
I mean, I think we were both right. I was right because I didn’t relapse and there aren’t any pieces to pick up. And Linus was right because I shouldn’t have given her the time of day in the first place. So. And when he texts back, I’ll ask him round and maybe we’ll get back to that other conversation we were having in the park.
That was two hours ago and he still hasn’t texted back. I’ve checked my phone signal like a million times and it’s fine. Anyway. Maybe he’s busy or whatever.