Chapter Five

April

"Susanne?" Angelo looked into the darkened rec room. The girl in question was asleep in an armchair in the corner, so he went in, and crouched in front of her, looking at her face. She didnít look relaxed or happy, but exhausted, and there were tear stains down her cheeks.

He was quite shocked at this; she had been coping fine so far. She had brightened considerably since telling him about the attack, and almost all her bruises were gone. Basically, apart from the broken arm, she was fine.

Or not. Something must have triggered to make her so upset. Something from her past, a strong, hateful memory.

Then he saw the box of papers on the coffee table.

On top, strewn as though she had just read it, was a letter.

Dated some months back, it read:

Dear Susie,
This is really hard for me to say, but I have to say it. I donít think we ought to see each other anymore. Itís not because you were attacked - Iím really sorry about that, but I wish youíd told me you were a mutant. I wish you thought you could trust me, but evidently you donít. I donít think I really want that between us. Iím sorry,
Yrs,
Ben

{Madre de dios! She wasnít kidding when she said there wasnít much love for mutants. Sheís been beaten to a pulp, and he chucks her. Such a lovely country.}

He put the letter down and picked up the next paper.

ĎLyrics for that Suse woman, love Mango=)
Creep Thom Yorke (Radiohead)"

Then there were song lyrics, which Angelo skimmed through, reading a couple of verses that caught his eye.

"...You look like an angel,
Your skin makes me cry,
You float like a feather,
In a beautiful world,
I wish I was special,
Youíre so fucking special

But Iím a creep,
Iím a weirdo,
What the hell am I doing here?
I donít belong here..."

{Interesting choice of words,} he thought.

A couple of photos were next in the box.

The first: a middle aged couple stand in front of a semi-detached house, arm in arm. They look happy, proud. "Mum and Dad" it says on the back.

Second: a pretty oriental girl is crouched over, trying to feed a cat something out of a pot. Another girl, half obscured by a fingertip stands watching, laughing at her. "Katie with Chelsea and a pot noodle on D of E. Thatís Nadia under Becís big fat finger."

Third: a group of girls messing around in what looks like a classroom, decorated with tinsel, paper chains, Chinese lanterns, large cardboard snowmen, the list goes on. "Us lot" is the brief description.

Looking harder, he sees a younger Susanne there, riding piggy-back on a smaller, blonde girl, with a huge grin on her face, as the blonde is trying to ram another girl with Susyís outstretched feet.

This one makes Angelo smile: a girl wearing glasses, with something brown smeared on her face, is pouting in front of a mirror. The mirror has something written on it, in what looks suspiciously like squirty cream. He can only make out the first two words, "Hello boys", because the rest is dripping down the glass. The girlís hair is done in two buns on the top of her head, covered with something done up under her chin.

He turns it over to read the caption. "Pip in Italy being a prat with Nutella, Zoeís Wonderbra and strange Italian cream. It says, ĎHello boys, you caught me at bedtime.í Canít tell sheís been on cheap vino and gherkins, can you?"

A skinny blond guy in jeans and a jumper leans against a brick wall. Heís obviously been told to smile, and he looks embarrassed. "Ben".

He studies the picture again and raises his eyebrows. {So...} he thinks, {thatís him. Well, I donít suppose thereís any accounting for taste, is there?}

The last lies underneath a load of British sweet wrappers, almost hidden. She is lying on a bed in a hotel room, a soft mellow light casting grey shadows on the cream-coloured wall behind her. Sheís laughing, her head thrown back, eyes twinkling and soft brown hair tumbling over her shoulders. She looks so happy, unlike any way heís ever seen her before. Against her legs leans a young man, seeming to bathe in her effervescence. His eyes shine with equal brightness and his face glows with unmistakable love.

He wiped his brow with the back of his hand.

"Andreas in Italy" the picture says.

Angelo stared at it. His arms resting on her knees. Her hands running through his hair.

He shook his head to bring himself back to the real world, and continued looking through the box.

The next thing was a card. It was a red background, covered with bright, multicoloured flowers with grinning faces. "Happy Flowers" it said in yellow on the front, and "Get Well" inside. Under that sentiment were the names of those sending it: Francine, Becky, Jo, Pip, Nadia, Mandy, Katie, Lisa, Michelle, Gemma, Julie, Laura, Emily, Sophie, Clare, Louise, Becci, Sarah, Helen, Lindsay, Claire, Amanda...it went on and on. So many names.

Then Angelo understood how hard it had been for her.

How hard it had been to face these people, knowing they were judging you as soon as they saw you. The whispers that went round the school, the town. (Thatís the mutie. The one who got beaten up.) People she hardly realised existed knew who she was and what had happened to her.

But all these names on the card. They accepted her. Maybe that made it worse. Sometimes itís easier to be alone completely, with no questions because you understand yourself, than with people you have to explain to. Maybe there were some who accepted without explanations, but not enough.

So Susy ran away.

She couldnít cope with all her loved ones around her. Claustrophobia. Too much attention. Not enough air to be calm and alone to think.

But here, sheíd been accepted. No-one knew the precise reason for her presence, so they left her to open up by herself. She had been doing too, not about her Ďexperienceí, but in a more social way; joining in the pizza/video nights, actually allowing them to try to teach her softball. That had been fun.

But now, memories had taken her over again.

{She needs some serious cheering up,} he thought, putting everything back as he had found it. Of course, he wouldnít tell her that was what it was.

"Susy? Susanna?" he called, tapping her gently on the cheek to wake her up. "You wanna catch a movie?" he said as soon as he saw her eyes comprehend his presence. "Iím in the mood for something funny. Jim Carrey?"

"Prat," she said, smiling. "But, okay, it might be worth laughing at how bad he is."

"Thatís settled then," he replied, hauling her from her chair. "Iíll get your coat."

She smiled tiredly at his unexpected gentlemanly behaviour, and followed him out.


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