I was having one of those bad feelings that sometimes sneak up on me out of nowhere, making my heart trip out and my vision turn tunnel white. I glanced up at the girl driving, her bright blue dreadlocks bathed in late afternoon sun light. Of course, squashed up next to Lee in her 4×4 heading out of London, I didn’t want to dwell on it. Not after the previous two months of trying to persuade Mum to finally throw away the metaphorical diaper she was still trying to make me wear and Dad to chill the heck out and realise I am no longer his little girl. I hadn’t seen Lee in so long, I had forgotten how excruciatingly dull my life could be when I was stuck at home and he was at Uni. I wasn’t about to let some stuck up goth-bitch called Annabelle swipe all my joy and stuff it into her scarf laden, fringed leather death bag she carried everywhere with her. This was my time. Our time.
I could feel Lee’s thigh radiating delicious electric warmth through my summer jeans and I could smell his fresh ‘after’ shower skin scent which comforted me as Annabelle’s horrifying erratic driving threw him against me relentlessly in the back seat. His hand was clutching my shoulder ready to pull me into him at just the right second before he squished me against the side door. I didn’t mind his body being thrown into mine at all, but Lee being Lee didn’t want the side pockets of the SUV to break my ribs. Lost in the simultaneous revving and screeching of brakes, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers blaring out of the stereo, was Joel’s voice, cursing Annabelle and her obviously distorted sense of immortality. He was lounged out in the front passenger seat, looking chilled out as usual despite yelling at Annabelle every 30 seconds. I had met Joel a few times as he was seeing Lee’s sister Lisa, and we had hung out together back home. He was a funny guy who didn’t take life too seriously and didn’t let his friends wallow in any self- pity shit. I found it weird that he wanted to be with us as the atmosphere since leaving London had been heavy to say the least. As far as I was concerned, it was all because of her and the hissy fit she had had packing all our stuff. We were taking too much, and couldn’t me and Lee double up with our bags and look, the food boxes aren’t sealed properly and are gonna ruin the upholstery. She made me feel like I was intruding on their party, either looking through me or glaring at me. It made me really pissed that a) she was the only one who had a car and therefore had the power to decide our destiny of death at any point before arriving at our destination, b) she was monopolizing the mood by playing one hell of a boring album over and over again on her stereo, and one which no one else liked judging by Joel’s (futile) attempts to eject it and c) she kept glancing in the front mirror, or whatever the correct name for it is, and checking out Lee. My boyfriend Lee. I tried to sneer at her but she seemed not to notice anything else going on around her. Including the fact that we were hurtling down country lanes at that point, almost overturning into ditches and hedgerows alongside us.
”Anna, my balls are on fire, man!” blurted Joel in the front seat. He then leaned right across towards her, despite the rest of us being thrown the opposite way, grabbed the steering wheel attempting to turn it, but resulting in a pile of groping hands and black nails as Annabelle stuck her ground and revved up, lurching the SUV and almost stalling it.
”Joeeeeeeeeeeel Mackie!” she wailed and suddenly we were at a stand- still and silence pervaded. Well, except the stupid Chili Peppers singing about ‘Californication’. I bloody hate that song.
Lee started laughing and mumbled something about Joel being a dickweed and Joel ejected the CD and launched it behind him. It hit Simon on the side of the head and he cursed before winding the window right down and hurling it out into the field. ”At least it settled in a final location!” He mocked the Californication lyrics as it arched into the corn field haze, one last glint on its shiny edge before it disappeared forever.
”You’re both twats. Joel get out and Simon… you owe me a CD. Unless you feel like going and fetching it?” Annabelle twisted round in her seat and glared at Simon, her catlike eyelinered eyes catching the sunlight, making her look demonic. Maybe she was. I was certainly starting to think so.
Joel remained seated, laughing. He was doing one of those silent laughs that you can’t hear but his shoulders were shaking and occasionally he snorted, unable to contain it. Simon stared out the window, biting the skin around his fingers defiantly. Annabelle made us all jolt by bringing her bracelet clad fist down on the beeper and pushing Joel by his shoulder so hard that he thumped against the side door and a hollow sound of his head contacting glass was heard. Lee was snorting with laughter by then and I couldn’t help it either. Annabelle looked at us through the mirror and glared right at me. Lee didn’t notice, he was leaning over to Simon and trying to flick his ear. Simon put his hand up and told Lee where to go in a ‘making love’ kind of way. Lee winked at me and Annabelle started the engine.
No one spoke for ages. Annabelle drove, slightly slower than before, while Lee kept whispering in my ear and telling me stuff about his friends, like how Simon was always serious and a touch morbid and that Annabelle and him (Simon) had a love-hate relationship. Today they were all about the hate, clearly.
Joel started rustling around in his backpack that was down by his feet, throwing out all sorts of crap before he found what he was looking for. Grinning mischievously he held up a green CD case and triumphantly started flicking through it. Simon tutted, stuck his forefingers in his ears and shouted ”Jesus no!” and Lee whispered to me, ”90s Indie every time. Just humour him.”
Annabelle rudely gestured him one of her black nail-polished fingers as he inserted it in the player. Joel’s head started bopping as the first track began and he sang along:
A girl consumed by fire
We all know her desire
From the plans that she has made
I have her on a promise
Immerse me in your splendour
All the plans that i have made. YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEH!!! *
We trundled deeper into the countryside, the sun making its descent down, tickling the tips of the trees and casting shadows across the fields. Birds flocked and dispersed off in different directions like flecks of black ink spreading across ancient yellowing paper. Peace seemed to settle around us as we all sat in silence, Annabelle sitting statue-like at the wheel, sucking on a very thin roll-up that wafted into my nasal passage almost like it was seeking me out to torture me. The setting sun was spilling an orange glow through the driver’s window, catching the metallic engravings in her bracelets which glowed like tiny lasers. Joel had his knees hooked up on the dashboard, slumped down in the deep passenger seat, a light hum escaping his lips as his blonde mop of bedraggled hair nodded in time to the music. Simon’s face was still turned away, his skinny frame pressed against the door, his cheek resting on his bony knee that was exposed through ripped grey jeans. He was smoking, the aroma that snuck in through the slightly open window joined Annabelle’s giving me crazy cravings. Lee didn’t like that I smoked, but he knew he couldn’t stop me. He worried about my health. That was Lee, though, worrying about everyone. I couldn’t wait to get there and have one even though I was thoroughly enjoying my close proximity to Lee as we hurtled further and further into rural remoteness, closer and closer to the abandoned building.
”What time does Chlo finish work?” Lee asked no-one in particular. Simon shrugged his shoulders and Joel twisted round, grinning and then sticking his bottom lip out at me. I had to laugh just because his reaction was totally bizarre. Annabelle stirred out of her comatose state and lighting another cigarette said,
”9:30. I’m going to fetch her from the boutique. You coming with me, or…?”
Rather than wonder what Chloe was doing at work until that late, my mind went straight to that last sentence. You coming with me or…what was she on? I felt myself stiffen and I squeezed Lee’s hand a bit too tight. He flinched and I felt terrible, almost as if my inflicting a nano second of pain on him would make him leave with her later after all. Her dark eyes were fixed on him through that mirror and she waited.
”Not. He’s not actually.”
Had I said that out loud? I side-glanced at Lee and deduced that yes, I had. He was looking at me sideways as well, a slight smirk up turning his lip, but not wanting to smile too widely as he wasn’t sure how Annabelle was about to react.
Black eyes right on me. I thought she was going to stop the car and get out to deck me, such a glare did she direct towards me. My heart was pumping but I was enjoying it. I’ve never been scared of confrontation.
Simon coughed and I heard him light another cigarette.
I could have said a lot of things right then, and none of them kind, but instead I bit my lip and fought the urge to get into a passionate blue with her. She deserved it and I wouldn’t normally have let anyone who made me feel like shit get away with it, but Lee was there beside me and I didn’t want to put him in a pool of crap in the middle of us bitching. I was on to her though and she knew it. She glanced at me in the mirror, glared and looked away, a smug smirk somehow making her eyes look even more manic.
Her driving got more aggressive I’m sure of it. She wrestled with the gears for a second and said something derogatory under her breath before almost shouting, ”Lee? Are you coming with me or not?”
”Anna…..” I sensed he felt awkward as his voice was tense and unnatural. ”Let me stay here and sort out the stuff. I can’t just leave Case on the first evening.”
Relief. Lee pulled me closer to him and I melted in. He kissed me tenderly on the forehead and rested his chin on the top of my head. I think he was staring outside at the darkening sky, trying to avoid looking in the mirror and catching her eye.
‘’Well, someone has to. I’m not a frickin’ taxi service, you know.’’
No one spoke again. Joel kept having weird outbursts of lyric crazy which I think he did to antagonize Annabelle because he would go in with a loud death metal-like roar, leaning over to almost touch her cheek with his nose before letting rip. Her fingers were tap, tap, tapping on the steering wheel and I could feel her disdain. It reeked of cigarettes, anger and bitterness in that car as we turned into the entrance of the building. The dirt track had so far been lined with trees, hiding their inner world within the cloak of the dusk clouds. Although it was getting darker, Simon must have realised where he was and suddenly sat up and directed Annabelle through the open gate, gravel chattering as it flew into the mud guards of the SUV. We crawled down a narrower track and soon a dark shape could be seen in the distance. It was a huge building.
Annabelle parked up and stopped the engine. We all piled out into the cool darkness, our shoes scratching on the gravel as we looked around blindly, trying to see something, anything. She was there, towering above me, what was she, 6ft? She leaned on the roof of the SUV her arms crossed and chin on her hands, staring out into the distant dark.
‘’Anna are you ok?’’ Lee asked gently. She turned her head and smiled. It was so fake.
‘’Yep. Just tired. Shall we just go in?’’
Lee nodded and touched her shoulder trying to reassure her I guess.
”Where’s the torch, Jo?” Simon asked as he turned and opened the door again, rummaging around on the floor of the car. ”You did put it in didn’t you?”
Joel’s round face was just visible and he looked at Simon alarmed. Suddenly, a blinding light shot across our faces and Joel giggled, making the beam dance all around us, darting onto Annabelle’s blue dreadlocks, Lee’s freckled nose and then onto Simon’s scowling face.
”Give it here you asswipe,” Simon said as he swiped it out of Joel’s hand. ”You are such a tool. Can’t you just do something without your prickness involved?’
Lee sniggered and cuddled me in the dark. Annabelle had already started walking so Simon shone the torchlight straight ahead of us. As we approached the front door, Simon directed the beam upwards and across, giving us a panorama of the building that we would be spending the next week in. To describe it as awesome would not have done it justice. I stared up at it, its Victorian splendour towering over us.
”Welcome to Crowbray School for Girls,” whispered Simon, slowly swiping the torchlight across the arched windows. ”One of the most haunted buildings in rural Essex.”