On Monday the day after she’d lost and found her phone, Rachel woke with the feeling that someone was in the apartment. Her heart leaping into a state of panic as her mind reminded her she was wrong, she was so wrong, there was no one else in the apartment because there was never anyone else in the apartment except herself and her father and she had to stop believing her stupid paranoid fears because all they were were stupid paranoid fears.

But a floorboard creaked and her body froze.

She was sleeping on the couch in the middle of the day, after staying up till dawn. The couch sat in the middle of the room, facing the television that Harley had bought home a couple of weeks ago. Someone was behind the couch, near the door. Someone was there, she could hear them breathing.

Rachel tried not to move a muscle, just her eyes. She saw the reflection of the room in the television, too abstract to make out anything else.

It was daytime. As if that made it better.

Rachel’s father was never home during the day.

But someone was in her apartment.

The floorboards creaked again and Rachel pulled her blanket up to her chin, but could not pull it further because her laptop was balanced on the couch near her legs, pinning the blanket down, and if she pulled it any harder it would fall, and give her away. She felt that if she stayed still enough then maybe she wouldn’t be found.

As the seconds ticked by she was more and more certain. She was not imagining things. There were footsteps. Someone picked up something from the bench and put it back down again. And she could smell stale cigarettes.

Rachel wondered if she could reach for her phone and text for help without making a noise, but she didn’t even know where her phone was. Again.

Zoe would have been up and threatening them with everything she had, and Cai would be reasonable and calm. If Danny was here she’s pull him close, pull the blanket over them both and hide together. But Rachel was alone.

A hand hooked large fingers over the back of the couch, and a moment later a head loomed over her as well. Rachel pressed herself back into the couch and fought down a scream.

“Arright,” said the face. It smiled. He smiled, Bad teeth. Big teeth. “Harley home?”

She should say he was home. She should say he was in the next room and would come if she screamed.

Rachel shook her head, which felt like she was signing her death warrant with her own damn stupidity.

“Well damn,” he said, but he didn’t sound too cut up about it. “You his kid? What’s your name?”

I’m going to die, thought Rachel. He is going to kill me. Badly. “Dawn,” she said.

She was going to die a liar.

“Alright, Dazza, tell him Monk dropped by,” he grinned a bit harder.

“Uh huh.”

He winked at her in a way that made her feel sick.

But he left.

Almost like he vanished.

Rachel broke herself out of her paralysed state of terror and sat up, looking over the back of the couch at the rest of the room. Nothing was disturbed. The door was closed. She was alone.

She scrambled up, knocking her laptop to the ground and leaping over it as she hunted for her keys – they had to be here somewhere or else she was fucked she was so fucked. She almost cried with relief when she found them, and jammed the key into the keyhole to lock it.

Later she couldn’t be sure if the door had been locked all along.

Later she couldn’t be sure that anyone had even been in the apartment.

Later everything she thought she knew felt like it was dissolving around her and all she knew was the monster in her stomach, her constant companion when things went bad. She felt like she wanted to take a knife and stab herself in the stomach, slide it in, right in the centre, one ice cold metal spike cutting through her.

Instead, she called her dad. My skin doesn’t fit there’s something in my stomach I am all wrong, she might have said. She wasn’t sure afterwards if she’d said it, or thought it.

This was bad. She was freaking out. Scared, and no idea if the fear came from a real place or not.

He came straight home.

She didn’t care enough to notice if he was angry. He made her sit down and take some pills: the one with the label she once hadn’t believed in but today trusted completely. Fix me she thought. I’m imagining murderers breaking into the apartment what kind of name is Monk that is not a name.

Harley gave her some sleeping tablets and she crashed on the couch, through the day, through most of the night. She woke very early morning, feeling ill. She stayed on the couch till her dad got up and made breakfast, bringing her a bowl of cereal.

“Feeling better?” he asked.

She nodded. Her head felt like it was stuffed full of fabric. She had no appetite but ate anyway, knowing that food might make her feel less of a beast. “D’you have a friend named Monk?” she asked, afraid of the answer.

“Nope,” Harley snorted. “Daft name,” he said, which mean she had imagined him.

She couldn’t help but feel she didn’t deserve to eat.

But she ate anyway.

She told her dad she would be okay now and he said good because he could not miss work.

For the rest of the day she slept, telling her un-incarcerated friends not to come over, she was too tired. Telling her incarcerated Danny she would not be in today, she was too tired, but she loved him.

That she knew for a fact. Everything else, not so much.

--

Two days later she jittered where she stood waiting in front of her building, watching the road and watching the sky. October in London was cold, and the sky hung low and threatening but she didn't want to go back inside. The jacket she'd chosen was too thin, but she didn't want to go back inside.

Shed told herself as she left she wouldn't be back till she had both her arms back. It hadn't meant to be a promise, but waiting outside in the cold, she'd decided it was. She didn't want to break this promise to herself. She wanted to stick to this small thing, even if it meant being cold.

Finally Cai's car pulled up outside and Rachel slipped in with a shiver. "Morning," said Dom cheerily.

"I thought Cai was going to take me," she said, feeling guilty. It was one thing to ask this of Cai, another entirely to ask his folks.

"Cai has school," Dom said firmly. "He wanted to, but he has school. And since you kept me company at the doctors that time, who better than me?" he smiled at her, warm.

She flickered a smile back, “Okay,” she agreed, and climbed in, just as Monk came out of her building. He saw her getting into the car and raised his hand in greeting.

Rachel shrank in her seat, but couldn’t take her eyes off him. He’s not real not real not real.

“Who’s that?” Dom said, and that dragged Rachel’s attention away.

She stared at Dom and she turned and stared at Monk who was crossing the road now, hands in the pockets of his jacket.

She didn’t want to ask: Do you see him? Because that sounded mad.

But she really, really wanted to clarify that Dom had seen him.

“Some guy,” she heard herself say.

Dom said, “Hmm,” and if he’d been Zoe then maybe he would have launched into a lecture about being careful and how this place sucked and how Rachel was totally stupid to live here. Alright, Zoe had never called her totally stupid but it was implied every time Zoe came over, every time Zoe even looked at the tower, she got this look in her eyes like Rachel much be stupid to choose to live here.

“All ready?” Dom asked, instead of a lecture.

Rachel watched Monk disappear, normally this time, around the corner of the next tower block. If he was real, she thought, why had he dad let her believe he wasn’t?

She didn’t want to think about it. “Yes,” she said, buckling in. “Get this goddamn cast off me.”

“None of that language in this car,” Dom warned her, and Rachel felt the guilt monster twist in her stomach.

“Sorry,” she said. “I just, I want my arms back.”

Dom smiled at her and she was surprised to learn he wasn't angry at her. Surprised to learn that saying sorry for a mistake was apparently all it took with him. “Righty-ho,” said Dom, and drove on.

--

Thursday rolled round, uneventful. She did not see Monk. She did not see anything flickering across her vision. She did not feel like sleeping all day. Her arm was free again – her arm was whole. She kept pouring water from the sink over it, feeling the clear water against her skin, which still itched like it had itched for ever. Rachel slid Danny’s bracelet around her wrist and painted her nails but it still didn’t feel like hers.

She spent the day decorating her arm with pen. Her skin felt super sensitive.

She called Danny to ask what lyrics she should write on herself, apologised again for not coming but it was raining, raining so heavily and so cold. Also, she knew that this weekend she had to see Greg. She had to be with Danny when he saw Greg.

She kind of wanted to hide all day in her room because she had no idea how to prepare for that.

Thursday was kind of all right, and Friday was similar except better because after work her Dad took her out for a drive and let her drive around and around a carpark.

Saturday was Greg day, and her dad’s day off work. Rachel woke in dread, and knew that if she had to make her way to the hospital (another hospital, a new hospital, one full of monsters) she would have bolted. Got on the wrong train by ‘accident’ and ended up in Sheffield. Or – anything, anything to avoid it.

But she must not avoid it. She messaged Cai you have to pick me up I can’t make it there on my own. Don’t give me the option to run, Cai, because I’ll take it.

He messaged back rightyho like Dom but she still felt pathetic.

Harley banged on her door. He’d been down the street and bought McDonalds for breakfast. “Get up,” he said. “Wanna talk to you.”

Another fist of dread thumped her in the chest.

She dressed carefully, trying to work out which of her clothes wouldn’t draw a comment from Danny’s uncle. She decided against a skirt, but all her jeans were tight. Maybe, she thought uncertainly, tight denim would make her feel like she was wearing armour. She would have liked some real armour. Maybe a bow, like Danny’s mum, and Katniss. Life would have been a little easier to handle if she was allowed to carry a bow around.

The hash browns in the takeaway box were still warm. She loved hash browns, but they slid uncomfortably down her throat, and her stomach cramped in anticipation.

“One of my mates saw you getting into a car with an old man the other day,” Harley said, standing over her, his arms folded. “I thought your friend Cai was supposed to take you to the doctors.”

Rachel swallowed the hunk of hash brown. It felt cold going down. “That was his granddad, he wouldn’t let him take the day off school.”

“You should have called me. You do not get into cars with old men, Rachel. Did he touch you?”

No,” Rachel said firmly, her voice easily horrified because today was always doomed to be a day full of horror. Apparently she was just starting early. “No, he’s nice.”

“No. No, he’s not nice. Old men aren’t just nice to young girls without wanting something.”

“No, he is,” Rachel tried to explain. “He’s got foster kids – girls, he’s not a creep.”

Harley put his hand down on the table near the McDonald’s box. “You are fucking lucky you had me, Rachel, and didn’t end up in foster care where you could have found out exactly how nice foster fathers are to their kids. You know that? I don’t want you anywhere near him, you understand?”

No, thought Rachel stubbornly. Dom was good, like Cai was good. Just because Harley didn’t understand goodness. Just because all he’d seen were bad parents didn’t mean there weren’t good ones. Maybe they were rare, but they existed.

“Do you understand?” He repeated. “Or do I have to go over to that creeps house and deal with him myself?”

“No!” Rachel shook her head frantically. “No no, don’t do that. I’ll stay away from him, you’re right.” She could imagine Harley storming over to Cai’s place and shouting – she knew what his temper could be like – and she couldn’t think of anything more embarrassing. Poor Cai. God no, she had to protect Cai from that, and Dom.

“Good,” Harley said, sitting down to eat his breakfast.

Rachel finished her unsatisfying hash brown and fled back to her room. She found her heaviest boots, and changed into a shirt she’d borrowed from Zoe. She put on Cai’s cross, and Danny’s heart, and Liz’s jacket, feeling like she was dressing for a battle. And make up. Strong lipstick. The blood of her enemies. She would be prepared. She had to be tough.

Protect Danny from Greg.

Protect Cai and Dom from dad.

Protect them all, she thought, shaking hands lacing up her boots. Somehow.

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October 2014

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