When my brother Simon went to university he left me his old fishing rod, a dog-eared copy of Wind in the Willows, and seven pounds fifty in change. At least he left them in his unlocked bedroom, which was pretty much the same thing. They all proved useful enough in their own way, but I was more interested in what – or rather who – he brought back with him the following summer. Sally. Even her name was pretty: a bright, sunny name that slipped smooth and easy off the tongue, no matter how many times you said it. Sally, Sally, Sally. Mind you, anything sounded good compared to Veronica. It didn’t even shorten well: Ronnie, Ron, Rono... ugly toady boy names for the toadiest girl in town. I’m sure there were plenty of beautiful Veronicas out there, who wore their names like dazzling spiked diamonds, but on me it sat squat and ugly like the body I found myself inhabiting. I’d read enough of Mum’s glossy magazines to know what the female body was capable of. Mine not only failed to make it across the winning line, it didn’t even get off the starting blocks.
#The rain was bouncing off the windows the morning she arrived, putting paid to my fishing plans for the third day in a row. Not that I actually wanted to catch any fish – it was my latest scheme to try and hook myself a boyfriend. I was upstairs, watching, when Simon’s battered old Ford drew up. Mum ran clucking from the house to greet them, freshly arranged hair hammered flat against the wetness of her scalp before she even reached the car. It was a big occasion in our family, Simon bringing a girl back. It had only happened once before. Girlfriend number one had been a stuck-up stick insect with blonde hair and braces. She ditched him for his best friend the first week back after Christmas, leaving Mum’s dreams of a big white wedding and a houseful of little blonde Simons, in tatters. She clearly wasn’t taking any chances this time round. ‘Verrr-onn-ica!’ Mum yodelled up at me. Her posh yodel. ‘Come and meet Sally!’ I shuffled downstairs to find them waiting in the hall, rainwater still dripping off the end of Mum’s nose. ‘Alright Rono?’ Simon said, cuffing me across the top of the head. ‘Still as ugly as ever!’ ‘Oh Simon,’ scolded Mum, ‘you are awful. Whatever will poor Sally think? Sally, this is Simon’s little sister, Veronica.’ Sally smiled and my insides melted like a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. ‘Hi there,’ she said, in a soft velvety voice. ‘I’ve heard so much about you.’ Simon snorted. Bet he never mentioned me once. ‘You can tell a lot about a man,’ said Sally with a sly wink, ‘by the way he treats his family.’ Mum gave a little sigh of happiness, and Simon flung a possessive wet arm around my neck. ‘I’ve missed you, kiddo.’ ‘Is there somewhere I could change?’ asked Sally, turning her beautiful blue eyes on Mum. ‘Yes of course. What were we thinking? You’ll catch your death in those wet clothes. Simon, show Sally to her room. You’ll be on the top floor, dear, next to Veronica. Nice sea views on a clear day,’ Sally gave a polite sigh of bliss. ‘Sounds heavenly,’ she said. ‘I can’t wait.’ #I heard them, that night. Footsteps on the stairs, the sound of a door opening and closing. I lay listening in the darkness, bracing myself for every stifled giggle, every murmur, every sigh. Yuck. What was a girl like Sally doing with a boy like my brother anyway? I barely knew where to look when they came down for breakfast next morning. Mum was all smiles and sunshine, humming as she filled the kettle. The table groaned under towering stacks of pancakes, great platters of bacon, sausage, and scrambled eggs, not to mention the freshly-squeezed juice and warm blueberry muffins. There was enough to feed the entire town. ‘All right Veronica?’ said Sally, slipping into the empty chair beside me. She smelt of ripe peach and peppermint. ‘Mmmhhmm.’ It was the best I could manage. ‘And how did you sleep, Sally dear?’ Mum loomed across the table at her with a giant tumbler of juice. ‘Fine thank you, Mrs Rivers. Like a log.’ Simon smirked, weasel-like, into his cup of coffee. Much as I loved my brother, much as I genuinely wanted him to be happy, I couldn’t quite shake my desire to kick him. Hard. #It was the same whenever I saw them together. It was the same when I didn’t, come to that. I don’t know what it was about Sally. She was like an itch under my skin. Like a computer bug, corrupting all my files. A viral upload straight into my brain. Into my heart. She was like the gypsy caravan in Wind in the Willows, the glossy gleaming motorcar to my Mr Toad. I never knew how desperately I needed a Sally until she drove into my life that summer. Poop, poop. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’d never had a crush on anyone before. I was always falling for boys who happened to glance my way or stand next to me in the dinner queue. I’d even managed to kiss one or two of them along the way. But it felt awkward and messy and nothing like this. I still didn’t know what this was, but I hated myself for it. She was my brother’s girlfriend, for goodness sake. #The summer wore on and on and still Sally showed no sign of leaving. She and Simon were happy together. Horribly happy. I even spotted a wedding magazine peeking out of Mum’s bag, but she made me swear not to say anything. Not just yet, she added with a sly smile. We were supposed to be clothes shopping – Mum thought I needed cheering up – but I wasn’t in the mood. I couldn’t bear the thought of any more Veronicas staring back at me from the changing room mirrors. Maybe if I’d played along and let Mum spoil me for the afternoon, it would have stopped her worrying though. And maybe then she wouldn’t have sent Sally up to see me that night. Maybe things would have turned out differently. Maybe. I was hiding up in my room after a dismal dinner: There was Mum chatting away about washing powder and the neighbour’s new car, and all the while Simon kept running his foot up under Sally’s skirt. The thought of those sweaty socked toes, straight out of his stinky trainer, scratching against the peachy softness of her skin was almost too much to bear. I wanted to throw over the table and scream for him to leave her alone. I didn’t, of course. I chewed sullenly on my peas and said nothing, excusing myself at the earliest opportunity, then heading upstairs under the pretence of working on my school project. Knock, knock. ‘What?’ I shouted back, thinking it was Mum. I wasn’t in the mood for one of her corny mother-daughter talks. ‘Veronica? It’s Sally. Can I come in?’ ‘Er yeah, I guess,’ I stammered, eloquent as ever, stuffing Wind in the Willows behind my back. And there she was. Sally. Fireworks span and popped inside my stomach. ‘Are you alright?’ she asked, sitting down beside me on the bed. Weeeeeeeeeeeeee! Bang! Boom! ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘How’s the project going?’ ‘Oh that.’ No folders to be seen. No paper and pens. She must have known it was a lie. ‘I – I wasn’t really in the mood.’ She laid a smooth, tanned hand on my trembling knee. ‘Your Mum’s worried about you. We all are.’ ‘I’m OK,’ I said. I was trying my best not to breathe, not to break the spell. Stay here. Just like this. Forever. ‘You’ve been kind of quiet since I got here. Simon says it’s not like you. He says you’re usually a right…’ She stopped herself short. ‘Well, it doesn’t matter what he says. Big brothers, eh?’ She shot me a sheepish smile. She was so close now I could see the tiny blonde hairs above the beautiful curve of her mouth. I wanted to run my finger along the top of her lip, just to see what if felt like. I wanted to touch the mole in the hollow of her neck. We sat there in silence. ‘You know you can always talk to me,’ she said. ‘Like a sister. I always wanted a little sister.’ ‘I don’t want to be your little sister.’ The words had left my mouth before I’d even finished thinking them. Sally’s face crumpled, just for a moment, and then the smile was back in place like it had never left. ‘Fair enough.’ She shrugged. ‘I’d probably do a lousy job anyway.’ ‘I don’t want to be your sister,’ I said again. I couldn’t let her leave. Not like this. I lunged sideways and found her lips with mine, fresh fireworks fizzing under my skin, exploding deep inside my chest. Sally. Sally. Sally. My whole body singing her name. For a moment there was nothing but Sally. Me and Sally. Sally and me. And then she was pulling away, pushing me back, hauling herself to her feet. Her cheeks were as flushed as mine now, her beautiful blue eyes wide with shock. What had I done? And then she was laughing, thin lips splitting in a spiked cackle. I’d never noticed what an ugly laugh she had before. ‘Wow,’ she said at last, with a prissy little sneer. ‘Simon always said you were weird. Wait ‘til I tell him about this.’ ‘No,’ I begged. ‘Please don’t say anything.’ But as the door shut behind her, I knew it was too late. I picked up my brother’s abandoned Wind in the Willows and tore the pages out one by one.
About the Author
Jenny Moore is a freelance writer and children’s author from Devon. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous publications around the world, including The Guardian, Mslexia, Zizzle, The Caterpillar and Short Fiction, and she is a previous winner of both the Commonwealth Short Story Competition and the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Contest. She is the author of four funny MG books published by Maverick, numerous Early Readers, and a rhyming picture book about an animal dance show.