“Take your clothes off.”
“What?” I start to laugh, and then look over my shoulder in case Mum or Dad heard.
“You heard me.” Mark is staring at me through my monitor, a small smile at the edge of his lips. “Look, I’ll start.” He leans back and pulls his t-shirt off.
My palms are sweating. Please let Mum and Dad be asleep. Sarah and I used to talk about what we would do if we got boyfriends. I have a sudden urge to phone her.
He puts his hands up, and I can see muscles move across his arm and chest. He’s nothing like the boys in my year at school.
“Now I’m feeling embarrassed,” he says. “Don’t leave me hanging.”
“I’m not wearing a bra,” I blurt. I am flat-chested. I glance down. What if he’s expecting to see more there?
“Good.” He smiles quickly. “I don’t want to see your bra. I want to see you. You’re beautiful, Nelly Banks.”
I think I hear something in the background, like a muffled voice, but then there is nothing. No one has ever called me beautiful before.
I take off my top.
“Now show me the rest,” he says.
It’s midnight before we say goodbye. I lie in bed, flushed and agitated. I have a boyfriend. He thinks I’m beautiful. I sit up and look across to the mirror. The room is dark except for the glow of my monitor, but I can see that I look different somehow—older. I can’t wait for school tomorrow so I can tell Sarah.
That was the best night of my life.
Morning comes and I get to school early, but there are people here. Ella Matthews is huddled in a big group near the gates, and they are all bent over their phones, laughing and screaming. There is an older guy there too, with his arm slung around her shoulders. I normally keep my head down around that crowd, but he calls out to me: “Hi sexy.”
I stop and stare. Mark. My boyfriend from the dating site. My boyfriend who lives out of town.
Ella puts an arm around him.
“I see you’ve been sending videos of yourself to my boyfriend,” she says. She squints down at her phone. “Have you really not gone through puberty yet?” She makes a sad face, as they all laugh. “Did you like ‘Mark’, Nelly? He was quite romantic wasn’t he? I have to take credit for some of those lines.”
Her words bounce around my ears, but it is Mark—Jake—I am looking at. He doesn’t take his eyes off me—just stands there grinning, and chewing gum. I hate him.
“You’re famous,” someone calls. “Just like Kim Kardashian.”
I don’t know how they found out about the dating site—maybe they overheard me telling Sarah—but they joined it, and they pretended to be a boy. Not just any boy: Mark, my first boyfriend, was actually Ella and her boyfriend from the grade above, and God knows how many of their friends too.
I turn and run home, complaining of sickness to my mum. Then I sit at my desk and watch emails and Facebook comments roll in. They haven’t posted the video yet, but they keep saying they will, and they posted a photo—me holding my breasts, pulling what I thought I was a sexy face. They must have frozen me mid-action, as my face is contorted like I’m yawning or screaming. You can see my braces.
“Nelly, Mum wants you to come downstairs!”
My little sister is banging on my bedroom door.
“Tell her I’m resting!” I try to keep my voice normal, and I hear Gracie’s footsteps padding back downstairs.
How can I tell Mum and Dad? How can I tell them I took my clothes off for someone I didn’t even know? How will I ever get into uni? Sarah says they can be prosecuted for releasing it, as I’m under eighteen, but I don’t want this going public. They’ve ruined my life.
I wonder briefly if Mark—Jake—had any feelings for me at all. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My hair is frizzy, and my face is red. I look down at my breasts. I look like a boy. Tears come hot and fast. Jake is posting on Facebook to say he had to get drunk beforehand because I made him want to vomit. ‘Like watching my little brother dance naked,’ he comments. Fifty people like his comment. Sixty.
I curl up on my bed, arms over my head. I can’t breathe. I can’t stand it.
Their joke was the best night of my life.
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