We squeeze our besties’ hands together to form…
A circle. A group. A gang.
A hive. Radiate love like heat from a lightbulb. Our eyes laughing ‘I love you. Stay with me, forever. You make me feel like I could do anything. I couldn’t do anything without you. Never leave. Please don’t ever leave me,’ and…
‘Judas is going down; this will be actually hilarious.’
Carly Morgan has betrayed us by taking a man who was not hers. As such, she will be sentenced, here, tonight, in front of everyone. The battle cry, some boy from Wickmoore mourns on stage. Year 11, two years above us and boring.
It’s the only time boys are allowed at St. Monica’s. Battle of the Bands, six ‘til eight, on the last day before the Summer Holidays. He sings a song our parents play in the car, in a voice like Mrs Chance telling Veronica to get off the table, ‘for the tenth time today.’
Carly holds Veronica’s hand on one side, Ava’s on the other. Everyone loves Ava. She’s the most popular girl in school and never did anything to anyone, and that’s rare, a girl who’s popular and nice. Tonight, Carly’s going to pay for what she did to her.
Girls stick together.
Tonight, I’m wearing my hair down, not in braids like Carly taught me to do the first time she invited me to her house.
“Orange eyeshadow will bring out the blue in your eyes,” she said, dabbing my lids. “I look weird in long skirts, but flowing dresses are your thing,” she used to tell me, all the time.
I borrowed one of Alisha’s miniskirts to wear tonight, and a black eyeshadow from Veronica. I feel weird but look good. The girls say Devon keeps checking me out. Everyone wants Devon to check them out.
When Mum came to pick me up that day, I could hear her engine before she was half-way down Carly’s road. Thing whirs like a plane taking off. But Carly said it wasn’t that bad. Said she couldn’t hear it and, anyway, her dad drives a van with his name on it.
“Eric Morgan Removals. As if anyone needed to know my Dad did removals, in a grotty van. But don’t tell anyone else,” she said. “So embarrassing.”
“You can trust me, obviously” I told her. Best friends forever and all that.
We bet she doesn’t shave. We’ve heard it’s a jungle down there. We saw it poking out in the changing rooms once. If someone starts drowning, don’t worry about a rope, just chuck ‘em one of Carly Morgan’s pubes. Tramp. Have you seen that van in town? The Eric Morgan Removals one? That’s her dad. Super grotty.
We ask Ava if it’s true. “Did Carly sleep with your boyfriend?”
She doesn’t say anything, confirms the worst.
Alisha pipes up, “pretty much.”
We know the girls have a plan to show her up in front of the boy she slept with, Ollie. We support them. There are some things you just don’t do. If everyone went around stabbing their best friend in the back, well, an eye for an eye and all that.
“Is that you?” Devon asks me, pointing at a row of paintings on the far side of the hall.
“Yeah,” I tell him, “Year nine art project, self-portraits. So embarrassing.”
“It’s really good,” he says.
“Thanks,” I say. But I didn’t paint it, Carly did. And I painted the one of her, it’s not as good. We spent most of that class painting each other’s nails, talking about how terrifying tampons were and whether either of us had found a hole yet. We hadn’t.
“Ollie is really funny,” I told her, “I really like him.”
“Want me to ask him out for you?” she said.
I threatened to nail varnish her eyes shut if she told anyone.
“I want to be the girl that all the guys fancy, but who’s like - nah sorry, I’m gay,” she joked.
I asked what that was supposed to mean, and she said Devon was alright, she guessed.
Our whole class had a picture up there apart from Veronica. She wanted to use spray-paint for hers, but Miss said no because Melissa was asthmatic, so Veronica punched one of the glass panes in the classroom door and it cracked. She had to sit out of class for the rest of term. She still passed, though. She’s the smartest girl I know.
Carly found Alisha crying, hiding on the science stairs, afterwards. “She’s worried Veronica will get kicked out,” she told me afterwards, “she doesn’t want to lose her best friend.”
“You still coming up to dance?” Devon asks.
Of course, they are. How else are they going to get Carly back for what she did to Ava? Poor innocent boys, they don’t understand.
Ollie is meant to be with Ava, it was about time she got a boyfriend, and he was nice, hadn’t slept around like Devon. Carly was the prettiest, she was supposed to go out with Devon because he was the hot one and Ollie was less hot because he had spots, but Ava had braces, so they made the perfect couple. Queens need a king and we all liked Devon and they all liked Carly, it made perfect sense. And Ava and Ollie would have been so cute.
They all agreed. Sat around Alisha’s table, eating her Mum’s ravioli, which is banging, by the way. Carly would message Ollie, find out if he was into anyone, get him to talk to Ava. It was going to be perfect. But Carly wanted to muck it up. First, she turned Devon down, and then…
A Queen isn’t born, she’s made, and Carly Morgan refused to be made.
Ava is having second thoughts. We tell her Carly deserves it; remind her what Carly has done and of how funny it’ll be. Remind her that everyone’s been looking up to Carly when they should have been looking up to her, because she’s actually nice. She’s doesn’t hurt people.
“I kinda like Carly,” Ollie messaged me. “Do you think she likes me?”
I hated her, I wanted to rip her hair out. I thought about screaming in her face and headbutting her. But after a minute of heavy breathing, I got dizzy, so just laid on my bed and cried. I didn’t know how to fix it.
Veronica came over and I showed her the message. Alisha was close behind.
“Carly’s been hitting on Ollie,” Veronica told her.
“Carly’s been talking to Ava’s boyfriend behind our backs,” Alisha told Melissa and all her other friends. She was friends with everyone.
“Yeah, Ava’s Ollie.”
“Ava’s boyfriend cheated on her with Carly,” Melissa told Brooke.
And I should have said it wasn’t like that, because maybe it wasn’t, but…
Well, you shouldn’t betray your best friend. And Carly should have acted less pretty, and less cool. How was I ever supposed to compete with her?
“She led him on, just like she leads on every boy she knows,” I told Brooke.
Veronica and Alisha handled the plan and it’s a good one. Battle of the Bands is coming up and Ollie will be there.
“We’ll get her on stage,” they said. “People will be talking about it for years.”
We ignore her messages, don’t speak to her unless she asks us a question directly, and she stays quiet, doesn’t ask us if anything’s wrong because that’s how you start an argument.
We see her in the corridor and grin. Corridors go on forever, forcing us to face one another, no escape, nowhere to hide. She’s got to keep walking and smile back otherwise it’s a sign of aggression and she’s saying she’s got a problem. All of us smile, teeth out. If we were a few years younger we’d have been growling.
They set the plan in motion days ago. First, Ava messaged her…
“Hey, you up for Battle of the Bands? Mum asked if you wanted a lift. The boys are playing.”
And the others messaged Ollie and Devon, telling them they want to get on stage and dance with them.
“OMG YES!” with three hearts and “love you,” and we drive all the way to school in Mum’s aeroplane car. She tells me she likes my hair. I don’t speak for the entire journey.
“What have I done?” She finally asks.
“Nothing,” I say.
We stand in silence. A group of girls shuffles past and one of them shouts “slut.”
I hand Carly my phone – the message from Ollie and she pretends to puke. Just like her. She makes everyone love her and then throws it back in their faces.
“Why did you make him like you? It’s not like you’d have stopped being the pretty one. You’d still be winning,” I say.
She laughs. Tells me she doesn’t want to win Ollie and that she’s gay anyway, as if it’s nothing. She says she hasn’t spoken to Ollie in months. Shows me her phone to prove it.
A three-month-old message from Ollie; vaguely pervy and unopened.
I try to tell her, “We have to get out of here,” but the words are stuck and then Devon shouts into the mic…
“Hey, we’re Brother, thanks for coming,” Devon shouts.
We’re all up with the first tsst of Ollie’s drum, and bless, they think it’s for them, but it’s not.
We grab Carly, smiling, laughing. Come on, let’s dance. She’s smiling, laughing, thinks everyone’s in love, again. Ava shakes her head, she’s red and pulling at our arms but it’s for her own good, there’ll be a place for her when this is over.
Devon points to them, gestures for them to get on stage.
Ollie throws a wink and helps Alisha up and she pulls the others after her. The girls are climbing the stage like they’re breaking out of prison and the teachers aren’t happy about it and are waving about. But there’s too many of us in front of the stage for them to do anything else, and we’re pretending not to see them and that they can’t see us.
We know something big is about to happen. Change is coming. The air is hot and clammy, like it’s about to rain. The teachers don’t know, the boys don’t know, but girls always know. We feel the curve of universal order descending into chaos as it bends over the tip of each nerve. We can detect a passive-aggressive smile across a gym hall, a giggle a note too high or low. Who’s eating with who? Who’s losing weight? Who’s gaining weight? Who’s wearing their bag over their butt? Who’s wearing sweaters in Summer?
If Carly Morgan isn’t top dog anymore, then who were we? Better? Worse? The ripples of trouble have crested into waves since the beginning of the week and now our ship is lurching on stage. Our Queen is weakening, splitting our allegiances. And a weak queen has got to go because girls need to stick together.
Four girls dance on stage. Ava is shouting something to Carly, but Carly can’t hear her. Alisha takes Ava’s hands. They’re dancing together and we’re dancing with them. Veronica disappears behind the curtain and comes back with a fire bucket. She stands behind Carly and…
Everything’s gone silent. There’s a tiny,
as a piece of ravioli slides from Carly’s head.
And, even the teachers don’t move, they just stand with their mouths wide open, hypnotised by the ravioli plopping off the most popular girl in school.
Then Devon starts to laugh, and it spreads like a dam ripping apart and someone starts chanting.
“Slut, Slut, Slut.”
And they all join in and are having a really good time, but Carly’s not laughing. She’s staring at me.
The boys are like, “what’s happening?” And they just leave, and Mr Grant gets on the stage, and starts shouting into the mic, but no one’s listening, and he doesn’t know where to put his mouth so we can’t really hear him anyway, and Mrs Chance is trying to get past us and Carly’s still staring at me.
She thinks I can fix it. Make it stop. Because I’m her best friend and if we’ve got each other, we can do anything, but I can’t. She tries to push past me, but I stop her. I tell her I’m sorry, I didn’t know this was going to happen. But she’s starting to cry and pushes harder, pushes me into Alisha, who wobbles and falls backwards - Carly reaches out to grab her arms but misses – there’s silence, again, until Alisha thuds into the floor and sends a column of howls bursting from the crowd.
The others jump down, too. Veronica pushes the monster away from Alisha.
Get her Veronica. Smack the bitch.
Carly’s crying. All an act. Claims it wasn’t her fault and that Ava will tell them it’s not true. We scan her, is this true?
Did you try to kill Alisha?
Are you a liar?
Are you not fit to be our Queen?
Should you be the one crying and covered in pasta?
‘Fuck you’, Carly hisses at me. And she starts shouting. She starts screaming.
“I didn’t do anything. I’ve never slept with anyone. I barely even spoke to Ollie, ask him. Ava lied to everyone because she’s jealous of me. She told me.”
She pulls out her phone, to show them the message and they’re looking and she’s right and I know I’m screwed so I shout back.
“Well, Carly’s been leading Devon on this whole time to hide that she’s actually a lesbian. So, if anyone’s a liar...”
We ask her if it’s true. She doesn’t defend herself, just stares at Ava. It’s true. She is a liar. A slut liar. She looks for an escape. Not over the stage, the teachers are there trying to round up the girls who wanted to watch the fight from above. Can’t go left because the girl she betrayed is standing in her way and there’s no way she’s pushing past anger management Veronica on the right. So, she comes for us. She walks into us, and we part to let her through, and the other girls follow, and we close behind them. She gets deeper and deeper and Ava’s grabbing her, trying to talk to her, but she’s pushing her off.
And then Veronica’s behind her.
Pull her hair. She ignores us.
Pull it harder, grab her.
She’s still pushing through.
“Carly!” We shout. “We’re just trying to talk. You’re so rude.”
And we stop moving, she’s in the middle and no one moves in front of her. No one moves behind. It’s 7:50, but the teachers have opened the door early and are shooing people out. They’re on the outside, trying to push through us but we’re firm. Girls stick together. Carly turns around.
Say something then.
Veronica smacks her in the face, and it makes us jump and shut up because no one was expecting it to sound like that. We thought heads were hollow, but it thuds, a dull thunk, like dropping your phone on a concrete floor. Carly just stands there; she can’t believe it’s happened. Veronica’s shouting in her face but no one’s home and then Veronica’s pushing her, and we start shouting again and eventually Carly pushes back, just once, and Veronica loses it. Carly starts screaming and hitting back but Veronica’s pushed her on the floor, is sat on top of her and is pulling her hair with one hand and punching and scratching her face with the other.
I just stand there. Don’t do anything. None of us do. Alisha’s crying, screeching at Veronica to stop.
What could I do?
“Hit me instead.”
“Hate me instead.”
“I’m the reason the group’s falling apart.”
“Look at me, it’s all my fault!”
Apart from, I don’t. I just stand there. And it’s 7:54 when Mr Grant pulls Veronica off Carly.
The teachers are trying to get everyone out and I help Carly to the nurse’s office. Clean the blood out of her eye, find her a clean top in a box of spare gym kits.
In the car on the way home, she holds my hand, silently tells me she still loves me. ‘Stay with me, forever. You make me feel like I can do anything.’ She doesn’t care that I let Veronica beat her up, or that I told everyone her Dad drives a grotty removals van, or about the gay thing. She understands. She understands what it means to be Queen.
And she has no one else.
We find a clump of purple hair on the floor, Veronica’s, and give it back to her, because, let’s face it, it’s hilarious. Alisha’s losing it, squatting, crying and panting on the floor. Probably because of the fall on her head. We keep trying to talk to her, but she keeps swearing at us. Mrs Chance gets her to stand up and practically carries her to an empty classroom. We’re not allowed in.
We go home, sit with our parents, stroke our dogs, cats, watch weird videos, go to bed, talk about it for the next week on Facebook and then forget about it. Veronica would be in trouble, but no one will grass and say she started it and it’s the end of the year, so nothing will happen.
Our Queen’s been dethroned. Next year, one of her daughters will fill the vacuum created by her downfall and things will be normal, again. Greasy Ollie will be dating some skank from Lordswood. Ava’s braces will be gone, and she’ll be the prettiest girl in school. She’ll be running St. Monica’s with her best friend by her side. Her best friend who’ll be slightly less pretty than her, because of the moon shaped scar she’ll have just above her right eyebrow.