TW - Mental health issues
I scroll through my feed with a shaking finger, temples throbbing, until my fear rolls onto the screen. Hand clenched around my phone, scalp prickling. I knew it would be there, but the bile rises in my throat all the same. Patrick has liked another one of her pictures!
I cough to prevent myself from heaving. She’s on the golden beach at Glenston, in a tiny red bikini, looking like a slut. She's licking an ice cream as big as her head. Her pose is intentionally provocative. I bet he’d like to be that ice cream. I bet he’d like to get inside that bikini. Maybe he already has. She has the same name as me, maybe it’s enough to confuse the poor lamb.
The kitchen door squeaks open downstairs and a herby scent wafts up to my room. It's overwhelming. I don’t think I can eat.
I throw my phone onto my pillow and drag three trembling fingers through my hair. I’m going to have to face Mum and Dad. They probably already know that Patrick is cheating. They probably already know that he’s going to dump me for the OTHER Katy Jones. Can I face the humiliation?
I stare at my outlined eyes, examining their mascara in the dressing table mirror, wondering, why me? Why Me? Calm replaces anguish.
I sprint down the stairs into the dining room, all smiles, and take a seat at the table between Dad and Lottie. I hold their hands, bow my head and say a heartfelt Grace.
‘Anything exciting going on Love?’ asks Dad as he offers me the gravy.
‘Not really. I’ve got a new Geography assignment, something to do with local agriculture. Thought I might wander down to Hangleton Farm for some inspiration at the weekend. I haven’t seen Lilly in ages.’
‘Good idea. See if you can bring a few duck eggs back, eh?’
After dinner, I sit down at the family PC in the living room and log into Facebook. I’m reassured when I see that Patrick has commented on my picture from yesterday’s trip to The Greenroom Café.
‘Nice picture if I do say so myself! How about we take some more this weekend?’
He’s a good photographer, he makes me seem photogenic when I know I’m not. Somehow his pics of me seem happy and glossy. My smile shines through the lens straight into his deep brown eyes when he tells me how to pose. Even with all my long, fly away hair, and constantly pale cheeks, I glow for his camera.
I reply, ‘Would love to! (smiley face) (heart emoji) Let’s make a plan.’
I must have left my phone upstairs. I dash off to WhatsApp him. It’s so exciting having my first boyfriend, we chat all the time and he’s such a good kisser. We sit together in Geography and he sometimes puts his hand on my leg under the table.
I find my phone on my bed and sit down at my dressing table to check it. I catch a glimpse of my messy mop of blonde hair in the mirror. It could really do with a cut. Maybe I should go next week after class. I finish at three on a Wednesday.
‘Hi Patrick, good day? (sun emoji)’
‘Yo! Yo! Yo!’ he replies. Still excited to hear from his actual girlfriend then, not entirely focussed on the slut from the beach. ‘How about Derwood Forest on Sunday?’
‘We could take a picnic (sandwich emoji)’
‘Sounds gr8. Wanna work on that Geog thing 2?’ there's a short pause, 'Thought you could ask your farm friend? (horse emoji) What’s her name?’
‘Yeah, U saw her last week, right?’
‘I see her all the time, she’s just down the road.’
I’m on the brink of asking him if he’s secretly seeing someone else but I cop out at the last moment. What if he says yes? What if he doesn’t even think it’s a problem? He’s so blatant on FB, maybe he doesn’t think we’re exclusive. My stomach turns at the thought of him touching her. Maybe it's just online, I never see him with her at college or anything. Maybe I'm imagining the whole thing.
‘Gotta go Mum calling. Catch up l8r (smiley face)’ and he’s gone.
I click through to Facebook again and go to his profile. ‘In a relationship’ yeah, but it doesn’t say who with. I know it’s me. I KNOW it is. But still, he could add me in there, make it obvious, like I have on mine. I flip to mine. ‘In a relationship with Patrick Arnold’ it announces to the world.
I go to her profile. Just seeing her profile picture makes me huff out a short, dark breath. I don’t really know why I’m friends with her on here. We’re in all the same classes but I never speak to her. Actually avoid her if I can. Bitch.
I do know why I’m friends with her. It's so I can look up when they interact. Every time he comments on her posts I see it. I know it’s bad for me to monitor that stuff but how else would I know what he’s doing? How else would I see when he was liking those pictures of that pretty little cow? With her perfect make up and her perfect smile and her perfect hair. Some part of me secretly wishes I looked more like her, but I push that part down, way way down.
I’ll get my hair cut this week, maybe I’ll feel better.
I switch my phone camera on and flip it as if to take a selfie. Staring into my own eyes, the world feels somehow at peace. I'm soon snuggled up in bed.
I get to college early and seek out my BF in the common room. He’s sipping from a bottle of Sunny D and I wonder if he’s gone back in time.
‘Where did you get that? A former life?’ I can’t help but grin at him as he looks up from his textbook.
‘There you are! Did you get my message?’
‘Nope. Haven’t checked my phone since I got up. Everything ok?’
I reach for my phone but Patrick stands and kisses my cheek, putting his hand round my waist and pulling me against his warm chest.
‘Geography test today! Rivers and stuff. I’m looking it up now. Want to do a quick quiz?’
I sit next to him asking him if he can remember the difference between a delta and an estuary. I love physical geography and despite knowing it already I’m happy to help him.
I go to the loo before class starts and stare at my reflection above the hand basin. There’s something in my teeth so I pick it out with a fingernail.
‘What happened? I thought you knew this stuff better than I did.’ Patrick looks shocked at my 7 out of 20 test score.
‘I dunno.' I mumble into the cuff of my jumper as I pick at my lower lip. 'Guess I wasn’t concentrating.’
I remembered him looking behind him all the way through. He must have been staring at her. I hadn’t turned to look for fear of being accused of cheating on the test, or worse, having Patrick ask if I was jealous. He must know I am, but he never says it. And who cares about rivers anyway? The process of oxbow lake formation is already well out of my consciousness, and good riddance.
I take his hand and we walk past the library. His palm is a little clammy, could that be guilt?
‘I’m heading to Chemistry.’ He scoops his floppy fringe back with his other hand and kisses my forehead. ‘Catch you at lunch time.’
‘OK, see you later.’ I saunter to the common room for a free period and time to reflect on our flaky relationship.
Penny bounds up to me with a paper bag when I arrive.
‘Hi! Want a pear drop?’ her neat black bob cut catches the light.
I’m never sure if I like Penny or not, she’s a bit weird. I only tolerate her hanging around because she gives me sweets. I take a pear drop and offer her a grin as fake as my belief in God.
‘Hi Penny. Good weekend?’
‘Yeah, it was fun at the beach, eh?’
‘I guess it must have been.’ I’d seen the pictures of course. His liking of them was stuck firmly in my mind along with that slutty red bikini, but I’d forgotten Penny was in a few. I’d rather not associate with the girl trying to steal my boyfriend, so I’d stayed well away.
‘You’re so funny!’ she giggles. I have no idea what she means but I laugh along. ‘I found these yesterday at the corner shop.’ She pulls a highly polished silver tin from her bag “Curiously Strong Mints” it says.
‘Want to try one?’ she flips the tin open and I reach in two curious fingers.
As I take a tiny mint from the container, I note that my lipstick is smeared in the reflection in the lid. I pop a mint in my mouth and grab a tissue from my pocket to wipe the smudge.
‘Wow those are strong!’ I put my arm round Penny’s shoulder and give her a friendly squeeze. ‘Want to join me and Patrick for lunch?’
Penny takes a selfie of us both giggling and uploads it to FB. She tags me in it. My phone pings, Patrick likes it almost immediately. I swear he never pays attention in class. But I kinda like that he's always looking out for me. It’s clear I'm the only one for him.
I wait around for him at the main gates after college. He likes to walk me home and I like the opportunity to steal kisses on the way. I take his hand and he walks proudly beside me as if he's showing me off. We soon get back to my place.
‘Are you coming in?’ I ask with a slight yet deliberate pout. I haven't quite learned how to turn on the feminine charm but I'm working on it.
‘I can for a bit.’ he winks.
I put my key in the door and let him into the hall.
‘Hello Love!’ it’s Dad in the kitchen.
‘Hi Dad, Patrick’s here.’
‘Hello, Mr Jones!’
‘I wish he wouldn’t call me that.’ Patrick sighs, ‘I sound like a cartoon postman.’
I pull him up the stairs to my bedroom and quietly close the door behind us. There is passionate kissing before he stops and takes off his shoes and lies down on my bed.
‘Come and get me!’ he grins from across the room.
‘My Dad’s right downstairs!’ I remind him, but I approach the bed anyway and kick my shoes off too. I catch my reflection in the window. If I do cut my hair I’ll keep it quite long.
‘Can I ask you something?’ I’ve decided it’s time. I can't cope with this soul destroying doubt any longer.
‘OK, it’s a bit awkward.’ I sit next to him on the bed.
‘Is there someone else you like? At college?’
‘Of course not. Why would you ask that?’ he sits up and runs his hand down my shoulder. His forehead wrinkles and his mouth purses into a puzzled expression, but I've known liars before.
‘Well, there’s that other girl, the girl who was at the beach on Saturday. I’m sure you were distracted by her in Geography too, when you kept looking round. You always like her pictures on Facebook and to be honest I’m getting a bit upset about it.’
‘There’s no other girl. The only pictures I liked from the beach trip were ones with you in.’ he smiles and rubs my arm.
I pull away from him. ‘I wasn’t at the beach.’
‘Of course you were.’ there's that puzzled expression again.
‘Then why weren’t the pictures on my Facebook profile?’
‘They were, on your other one. I never understood why you had two.’
‘I don’t have two. The pictures you liked were of the girl in the slutty, red bikini, remember?’
Patrick gently pushes me to one side and stands up from the bed. He steps across the room to my chest of drawers and rummages through the top one, the one I never go in.
‘What are you looking for?’
He holds something up to show me.
‘You mean, this slutty, red bikini?’