Winter: Ella

It’s cold. I’m walking down the road, and my jacket is zipped up over my lips, but the chill still freezes my throat and ices me up from inside.

I look over my shoulder to make sure no one is following, before stepping off the pavement and heading behind the trees. There is a path here that will take me into the woods and to the old train station—long overgrown and covered in graffiti. It’s our meeting place. Mine and Jake’s. Sometimes we let other people come here, and we have parties after school, but no one comes unless we say they can. It will be empty today.

Something burns my face, and I wipe at it with my glove. There’s no point in tears. I’m not a baby. I’m not scared.

Jake is waiting for me, and he holds out a cigarette. I take it.

“Are you crying?” he says, after staring at me for a while. He has the blackest eyelashes I have seen. I would kill for eyes like his. I drop my head.

“No,” I say. “Did you bring it?”

He pulls out the knife, and I look over my shoulder again. No one is here.

I think about how this little station will look surrounded by flashing police lights and yellow tape. I picture an officer holding his hat, telling my mum what I’ve done. She won’t be sober enough to understand. I hope someone looks after Katie. She’s only four. Mum can’t even remember to feed herself, let alone a kid. Maybe they’ll put Katie in care.

A noise comes out of my throat, and I pretend I’m coughing.

“So how do we do it?” I say.

Jake puts the blade against my throat, and I hold my breath.

“Like this,” he says. “I do you, and then I do my wrists.” He catches my expression, and moves it away. “It won’t hurt, El,” he says. “I’ll be real quick, and you won’t feel a thing.” He sniffs, and wipes his nose in the crook of his arm.

“Are you crying?” I say.

“Fuck off,” he says. He pulls a bottle out of the inside of his jacket. “Want a drink first?”

“Yeah.” I take it, and let the vodka burn its way down my throat. I glance up at the old clock, forever stopped at 3pm. School’s out.

“I don’t want to do it.” The words leave my lips before I can stop them. I stare hard at Jake, daring him to laugh at me. He doesn’t.

“We’ve got no choice,” he says. We both sit on the hard bench and stare at our feet. My Doc Martens have a hole in the side. I’ve stuck a bit of duct tape over it, but when it rains the water still comes in. Jake’s boots look new. His parents can afford all kinds of stuff.

“What about your mum and dad?” I say.

“I don’t fucking care.” Jake sniffs. “They don’t give a shit. They just work all the time anyway. They’ll probably be glad. It’ll save them from the embarrassment of their son going to jail.”

His eyes are red. He has been crying.

“What if we talk to someone? Tell a teacher?” I grab his arm. “They might not send us to jail. They might know it was just an accident.”

Jake shakes me off, and pushes me back.

“If you don’t want to do it then get out of here. But don’t bother trying to stop me. We’ve talked about this. No one cares about us. Shit, I bet fucking Nelly Banks is laughing at us right now. Stupid bitch.”

“Jake—”

“Forget it.” He stands up, holding the knife in front of him. “You’re obviously too much of a pussy. Get out of here. Go home to your druggie mum and cry-baby sister. Like that’s some kind of great life.”

“Fuck you, Jake!” I ignore the knife, and stand so close to him I can see the damp shine on the ends of his lashes. His breath smells like smoke and vodka. I kiss him.

With Jake I feel like the world fades away—softens. He pulls me close, and kisses me until we can’t breathe.

“Remember when we went to that park, back in spring,” I say, “and there were all those pink trees?”

“I remember what we did.” He cracks a smile.

“And that woman came over, and I had all that blossom stuck in my hair?” We laugh.

“You looked like a bride,” he said. We fall silent.

“I don’t want to live without you,” I say, and this time I can’t hold the tears in.

“I don’t want to go to jail,” Jake says.

“We might not.”

Jake pulls back, and this time there is silence for a really long time.

“Everyone hates us.” He sits back down, knife at his feet. “We can’t go back to school.”

“What if we can?” I kneel in front of him, elbows on his knees. “What if we just said we were sorry? What if we talked to Mrs Richards, and explained things? We could even move away—just you and me, and go somewhere far away where no one knows us.” I feel a pang when I think about Katie, left alone with mum. “We could just talk to them and try?”

Jake takes another big swig of vodka.

“You proposing to me down there?” He nudges the knife with his foot.

“Fuck off,” I say.

He smiles at me.

“I love you,” he says. I am mouthing it back at him before he even finishes.

He kicks the knife away.

“Fuck that.” He spits on the ground.

We start walking back towards the street. I link my arm in his. The world is softer and blurrier when I’m with Jake. It makes me feel as if things can be okay again. I think of Nelly Banks.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“What?” Jakes glances over.

“Nothing.”