In Harms Way
This certainly wasn't the Bernie I'd last seen in October and even exchanged emails with at Chrimbo. So this had all gone off in the last few weeks.
“So like what happened?”
“Well I know I never said anything but I met this lad last summer, he lives, lived in Edwinstowe and he had a car and stuff. Its not like we were boyfriend / girlfriend or anything but him and his mates were a good laugh and I'd go out with them maybe once a week. They do some weed and stuff, I wasn't keen myself but I started to do a bit too.”
“After what you used to say about drugs?”
“I know, look I'm not making excuses Drew.”
“Sorry, go on.”
“Okay. Well after we went to see you in Germany, maybe a week later we did some real heavy pot and I ended up doing it with about five or six of Sean's mates in the back of his car.”
“I guess it was technically rape, I didn't want to but Sean kept egging them on. After that I'd get smashed more and more often, I'd end up having sex with pretty much anyone when I was stoned. Mum confronted me just after Christmas so I took off and ended at Sean's place. His parents weren't bothered and I just moved in to his room.”
“So why did you…?”
“Want to burn the school down? Sean hit some really mean shit and like after one spliff we were soo out of it. All I can remember is chucking a bottle then taking off in Sean's car. The CCTV was clear enough to identify us – the police arrested us two days later. I got bail and a 24hour curfew, I can't leave the house without mum or dad.”
“You don't do things by half do you?”
“Sorry Drew.” She started to sniff again.
“What's that on your arm?”
“What?” she made to hide her arm from me.
“You've been cutting too.” I accused. Hey I know it's a bit insensitive but I was in shock.
“Oh Drew! I dunno what to do!” this time the tears came in buckets.
I didn't either; one of my best friends has just told me she was a druggie, free with her charms and wannabe arsonist. Oh and somewhere along the line gotten pregnant too. By comparison my problems were nothing.
I tried to work out what my feelings towards her were, one things for sure I would never have dreamt that I would know anyone in Bern's position. She was always the mature one of the gang, the responsible one; it just didn't compute that the broken individual crying over me could be the same person. I couldn't hate her, and I found I couldn't judge her either – ok so I don't exactly condone or even understand what she's done but to me she's still Bernie.
What could I do? I couldn't say that it'll be alright; it clearly won't be, not for Bern or anyone who knows her.
“You know I'm here for you.”
“Th-th-thanks Drew, y-you don't know how mu-much that means to me.”
“Hey no probs.” I squeezed her shoulder.
“You want to stay for lunch Drew?” Mrs R enquired.
“Sure why not, I'd better let Aunt Carol know where I am though.”
“You can use the phone in the kitchen.”
I extricated myself from the still sobbing Bernadette and went through to the kitchen.
“Hi its Drew…yeah I know, I'm gonna have lunch at Bernie's…yeah I'll tell her…ok see you later, byeee!”
“Yeah, Aunt Carol said to give her a call later.”
“I will. Look thanks Drew.”
“Well for coming over – and for staying. The last few weeks have been – difficult to say the least. Bernie isn't stupid, she knows everything has consequences but I must admit I was surprised how her ‘friends' have treated her. None of them have been to visit, just a couple of short phone calls, it's really broken the girl. You know she's self harming too?”
“Yeah I saw her arm. We had a girl at my school last year.”
“I don't know what's gonna happen to my girl – or the baby.”
“She's keeping it?”
“She says so but I really fear for the poor mite. What happens if she ends up in prison? And this self harming business….” Mrs R was nearly as bad as Bernie; it must've been hard for both her parents.
I was bewildered, what do you say?
“I'll er just go back through.”
“…So you had to wear it all week?”
“Yeah, talk about a nightmare!”
Bernie giggled, “I hope you've got pictures?”
“Unfortunately.” I sighed. “Did I send you the pics from Christmas?”
“You might have, I wasn't exactly with it thereabouts.”
“Well I'll send you a link when I get to Aunt C's.”
She clearly meant more by that than what she said.
“Speak to ya soon!”
“Byeee!” I waved then set off to meet Mad at school chucking out time. Somehow I'd ended up staying not just for lunch but for most of the afternoon too.
The walk back through Warsop to the school was very contemplative. I really was struggling to see how my sensible friend had spiralled so out of control. In just a few weeks she'd pretty much lost everything – friends, self esteem, her reputation and even her school prospects. Nothing will be the same for her again, I vowed to do what I could to help, not that I knew what that would be.
I took station on the wall opposite the back gate and waited for the kicking out bell. There was five minutes yet; I scanned the buildings trying to recall the various rooms within. And there was the shuffling, brown-coated figure of Willis, the caretaker. My mind went back to that stupid escapade with Mad to rescue my phone, what if we'd been caught, would we have ended up like Bernie?
“Penny for ‘em?”
In my day dreaming I'd missed the bell and the first surge of glad to escape inmates, Mad had managed a stealth approach!
“Nothing much really.”
“Come on then dozy, I wanna get out of this uniform.”
We set off along the lane, Mad threading her arm through mine, which was rather nice.
“What about her?”
“I went to see her, I've been there nearly all day.”
“Whoopee for you.”
“Why are you guys being so mean to her? We've all been friends for like ever. You know she's cutting herself too.”
“Going for the full set then.”
“As if getting up the duff wasn't enough, the slag!”
I stopped and looked at Mad aghast.
“I can't believe you just said that! I never thought you'd be like that Madeline Peters. What has she ever done to you?”
“You don't know what its like.” She spat.
“What what's like? Its Bernie who's in trouble not you.”
“People talk you know.”
“And Bernie needs friends, I guess you guys are just as shallow as the gossipers.”
“That's not fair!”
“I'll tell you what's not fair. Its not fair that you dumped your friend, its not fair that Bernie is having to cope alone, its not fair that you didn't even bother to tell me!”
“We thought Bern would tell you herself.”
“Reality check! She was raped for heavens sake and you guys just turn your backs on her. So okay she was doing drugs but just maybe if you guys had been there she wouldn't've run off, wouldn't've started cutting, wouldn't be expelled. So what if some ignoramus's pointed fingers she was, is still your mate.”
Mad was quiet the rest of the way back to Schloss Peters.
“Hi kids” Aunt C greeted us as we made our entrance.
“I'm going to change.” Mad advised.
“You two fallen out?” Aunt Carol asked as her daughter disappeared from view.
“Yeah.” I replied sadly.
“You know they don't mean to be mean.”
“Well that's not how it seems, especially not to Bern.”
“I know Drew. I've tried talking to Mad about it but its like she's pretending its not happening.”
“But it is!”
“Well I think Bernie's really lucky to have a friend like you, I'm sure the girls will come round.”
“I hope so, I hate to think she'll be on her own after I go home. Oh yeah, Helen's invited us over for tea tomorrow, is that alright?”
“Can I borrow your computer for a few minutes, I need to mail a link to Bernie.”
“Go ahead, you know where it is.”
The atmosphere over tea was strained to say the least. My cousin quickly excused herself afterwards leaving me to spend the evening with her olds. I'd forgotten what British telly was like, at home in Germany telly is pretty dire, weird documentaries and what Mum calls ‘eighties soaps'. Not that I watch much – except Tatort round at Connie's every Sunday!
I went up to ‘my' room still quite upset with Mad and the girls and of course concerned for Bernie. The day had turned into quite a roller coaster, it was fun chatting with Fran and seeing Ally and Hel but finding out what was happening with Bernie was a real downer. I couldn't even try to imagine what it was like for her, I dropped off and dreamt some horrible stuff during a fitful night.
Maddy Bell 21.11.08 © 2008
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