by Lady H
I rolled my eyes and acted nonchalant, but inside I was falling apart.
The Girlfriend Scam - Part One
I growled at my insistent alarm clock and threw my arm out to my bedside table, fumbling blindly around until I found the button to turn the damn thing off. The noise abruptly stopped and I sighed happily, burrowing deeper under the pillows.
Only to be roused no more than a minute later by a yell from the bottom of the stairs.
“Catherine! Get out of bed you’re going to be late!”
I just groaned and stayed put. What I wouldn't give to be a Hedgehog right now; hibernating for a few months in the winter would suit me perfectly. Only it wasn't winter. But that didn't matter too much, I could be one of those clever animals that adapt to their habitats. I could sleep all through September and October, missing the first few months of school. Yes – that would be wonderful! Wait a second, did hedgehogs even hibernate?
Coming back to reality, I heard stomping footsteps up the stairs. My bedroom door swung open and hit the wall with a dull thud.
I could picture the scene perfectly. Mum would be standing in the door way, already dressed immaculately for a day in the office. She'd have her hands on her hips, her perfectly plucked eyebrows crumpled in the middle and her steel grey eyes glaring daggers towards the bed. So I did what any teenager would do. Pretend to be asleep.
The seconds ticked by, and I was just thinking about adding in some light snores to make it more believable when I heard her mother's heels click across the wooden-boarded floor to the bottom of the bed.
In one swift movement, the duvet was whipped off of me and dropped into a crumpled heap on the floor.
“Catherine Granger get up. Now!”
Moaning softly, I rolled over, pulling the pillow off my head and glowered at Mum.
“Don't give me that look. What's wrong with you? You never behave like this.” She slapped my bare leg lightly. “Come on you don't want to be late for your first day back at school. You love school.”
I incoherently mumbled back into my pillow.
We both heard the soft footsteps padding down the carpeted landing and into the bathroom at the end.
I jumped up and charged out of her bedroom, running down the hall. The bolt on the bathroom locked. I saw red.
“Warren! Get out of the bathroom! I need a shower!” I thumped on the door. I'd never normally behave like this, but I really didn't like Warren, and he was just being rude now.
“Too slow.” came his muffled reply.
“Arggghhhh!” I moaned, banging my fist on the door in defeat. It just wasn't fair. “It's my turn in there from seven till half past! It always has been!”
“Well things need to change!” I heard him switch the tap on. But he was wrong, things didn't need to change - I liked things the way they were. When it was just me and Mum, everything was simple. We didn't need Warren; he just messed everything up.
“MUMMM!” I yelled, marching down the stairs in her pyjamas. I went and stood just behind behind her, watching her close down her laptop and pack it ready for work. “Tell your stupid boyfriend that it's MY turn in the bathroom!”
“Catherine, Warren is not stupid. He runs his own business – and you know what things were like before. We don't want to go back to that – he loves this family, and it's about time you accepted it.” Mum checked her watch. “And it's nearly half past anyway.”
“Look, I'm never going to be ready for school now, and I can't leave without a shower. I think it's best if I just stay at home today."
“Oh no you don't. You are going to school, Catherine.”
I quickly changed tactics; my hand went down to rub my stomach. “Actually Mum I'm not feeling too well.”
“Catherine. Stop it. I don't have time for this! Is this about that boy?” I didn't reply, and started slamming cupboard doors and putting together my breakfast of Frosties and Orange juice. Mum carried on. 'Look, we both warned you about boys like that. You didn't listen.”
I rolled my eyes and acted nonchalant, but inside I was falling apart.
The boy she was talking about was Daniel - I'd met him over the summer during my four week holiday in Crete.
Daniel was English too, like me. We'd first met on the beach when I'd cut my foot open on a sharp rock. He saw what happened and ran to the nearest beach hut, bringing me a bandage and helping me clean the sand out of the wound before dressing it properly. The first thing I noticed about him were his eyes – they were chocolate brown and so soft that when I looked at him I felt like I was melting.
After that day, he kept finding me, following me around until I agreed to go out dancing with him. It made me feel so special; I'm a bit of a wall flower and at school over the years I'd shown no interest in boys. I just preferred to get on with my life, get education over with so that I could travel the world. But Daniel was so insistent, and so caring and sweet that I eventually couldn't say 'no' any more.
The next few weeks were the best of my life. I was able to escape Mum's moaning and the ignorant Warren and just enjoy life – something I'd been unable to do up until then.
Mum was only eighteen when I was born. While I was in nappies needing early nights, Mum was still a teen and spent her nights out partying with her best mates, coming home in the early hours drunk. From a very early age I'd had to learn to fend for myself – quickly teaching myself how to cook and clean.
It got worse as I got older. Now that I was nearly eighteen, it was me that cooked the meals, did the shopping and made sure the clothes were washed and ironed. Mum, at 36, had never once taken responsibility. I never blamed her though; she wasn't a cruel mother and I know that she didn't do it on purpose. The problem was that she just never learnt how to be a mother, and as a result most of the time treated me more like a sister than a daughter.
Last year, when Mum turned up at five in the morning with Warren on her arm and introduced him as her new boyfriend, I never thought it would work out. And when she showed me the positive pregnancy test just a month later, I was sure Warren would run a mile.
Instead, the opposite happened, and I found myself in the middle of 'one big happy family' as Mum kept insisting. We had to move away from all of my friends and into Warren's new, big family barn house.
At first, when Ellie was born I thought Mum had finally grown up. She barely let anyone touch the baby and loved walking around the village showing off her new 'little girl'. Warren was about as much use as a chocolate tea pot - he was only 28 - Mum's, cringe, 'toy-boy'. But to give him credit he stuck with us, taking a sudden interest in his family business and taking over from his father just a few months later.
However, Mum soon lost interest in her new toy. The only problem was, Ellie wasn't a toy, she was a living, breathing child who needed stability in her life. So I became her rock.
When Ellie cried in the night, it was me who soothed Ellie back to sleep. I who dealt with the night feeds. I who brought Ellie clothes, and took her to nursery each morning.
I didn't mind, I loved Ellie to pieces, I just wished mum would take more interest in her children. She was always jetting off with Warren on holidays, and sometimes I wished I'd have had a real childhood, like the rest of my friends. They, on the other hand, envied my freedom. What they didn't seem to grasp was that I didn't really have any freedom, I had too much responsibility. The grass was always greener.
This year, when the summer holidays came, Warren arranged for him and Mum to go to Greece. When I'd asked about me and Ellie, the reply was that it was a romantic holiday away from kids for a few weeks – like all the other holidays this 'family' had taken so far I'd thought in my head. But I was hearing none of it and not wanting to stay at home while all my new friends went on holiday, I carried on until Mum relented and booked us tickets too.
Of course, I didn't actually want to spend time with them – since Mum had been with Warren she'd changed a lot, and she was now all for his family business, where she was employed as some sort of attorney. (I don't exactly know how that came about, because Mum had me so never went to Uni, and nor maths or law were ever her strong points. But I guess it's who you know, not what you know today).
This holiday, I decided to have some me time. I wanted to get a tan, swim in the ocean and go for long walks on an exotic island. So I flew to Greece and fell in love.
The house phone ringing brought me back to reality.
“Catherine would you get that, we have to go.” Warren materialized at Mum's side dressed in a smart suit and carrying a briefcase. “Oh, and we won't be home tonight. We're going on a short trip, maybe a week or two, around Europe.”
I struggled to keep my composure. They were leaving me to look after Ellie for possibly two weeks? Again? I should have been used to it by now, but it still came as a shock. “What about groceries?” I managed to stutter as the ringing abruptly stopped and the answer phone clicked on.
“We're coming home to pack at lunch time, so we'll leave you some money on the kitchen table with contact numbers.”
The answer machine interrupted. “This is Gloria from British Airways, just to confirm that Mr Holdsworth's tickets for this evening's flight to Paris are ready to be collected. Thanks, we'll see you soon. Beeep”
“See you when we see you honey!” Mum called out as they both made their way out. “And don't forget to take Ellie to nursery!” As if I ever would. The front door slammed shut behind them.
No goodbye hug. No packed up lunch. No offer of a lift to school. Not that I was ready anyway.
As soon as I heard the gravel in the drive I ran upstairs to my sister's bedroom. Ellie was laying in her cot gurgling happily and kicking the sweet dreams mobile that hung above her.
“Oh Ellie, what are we going to do eh?” I picked her up and she squealed delightedly. “Hmm yes I don't really think that would work Ellie Bellie!”
It took me another three quarters of an hour to get Ellie ready and into her pram, have a shower myself, get dressed and pack my bag. We were just about to walk out the door when I remembered my lunch.
Looking at the clock, which frowned down on me as twenty to nine, I quickly decided there was no time to pack up lunch, and ran into Warren's home office. I didn't like to think of myself as a thief, and from living most of my life without any free cash, I was used to trying to make the money stretch. But my purse was empty, and since Warren moved in he'd made no attempt to hide that he was literally loaded with money, and I knew from cleaning his office that he kept a roll of notes in the cigarette box in the bottom draw of his desk.
Sure enough, I emerged a minute later stuffing a twenty into my purse. Careful to close the door behind me, I said to Ellie who was staring at me with wide, bright blue eyes, “Don't tell your Daddy. Anyway, it's chicken burgers for lunch today – my favourite. And we need some milk and a few other bits, which I'll have to pick up on the way home. I'll replace it with the money they leave us later.”
As if satisfied, Ellie turned back around to face forward and thrust her hand towards the door.
“Yes yes we're going we're going!” I laughed, making sure I locked the door behind us.