Uneasy Creatures

story about friendship

He sounded different in the confines of the car. The rain on the windshield threatened to drown out his voice, a sound like the tapping of a thousand fingers.


Ellen shoved her schoolbag down between her legs. It didn’t have any of her school things in it. Instead it had changes of clothes and underwear, spare tampons, her chargers, things like that. She felt her phone buzz in her jeans pocket; Ciara probably, wondering where Ellen just disappeared to.

‘You missed your train,’ he said.


‘How’d you manage that?’

‘We were running late for the train – like, literally running – and the girls just got ahead of me and got on it.’ Ellen had really let the girls get ahead of her on purpose. ‘I dropped my phone,’ she added. ‘And the girls didn’t notice I wasn’t with them. And then the doors closed and I couldn’t get on the train.’

‘Right, so.’ He started the car but didn’t reverse out of the spot. They sat, engine rumbling, rain pelting, in the carpark outside the Hazelhatch-Celbridge train station. ‘Let’s just go straight on, I’m a bit stuck for time.’

‘Back home? Can’t we go to yours for a bit?’

‘No, I…’ He looked down at himself. He’d clearly rushed to come collect her from the station. He wore gym shorts, a checked shirt and sandals, no socks. ‘Right, let’s stop by mine so I can get dressed.’ He put the car into reverse. ‘Your phone alright?’


‘Your phone, did it break when you dropped it? The screen?’

‘Oh. No, it’s grand.’

He drove out of the train station and turned towards Celbridge, back the direction Ellen had just come from. It was Ciara’s fifteenth birthday yesterday and Ellen had been at a sleepover for it. Ellen risked a look at Conor now that he was focused on the road. He didn’t look much like Mam, even though they were brother and sister. He was blonde and good-looking. He looked way younger than Mam, too. Ellen tried to test him against her memories of the last time she saw him, more than three years ago on her eleventh birthday. But she couldn’t really picture the way he used to look back then.

Ellen found the silence unnerving. When she got off the phone with Conor a little while ago, the first time she’d spoken to him in those years, she’d been delighted with herself, floating on a sense of her own power. Now her confidence started to ebb. ‘I can’t believe I missed the train,’ she said with a quivering laugh.

‘Shit happens,’ said Conor. ‘Sorry for swearing.’

He turned in through gates that led to a trio of new five-storey apartment buildings with lots of glass and balconies. The windows were starting to glow yellow as the dull rainy day turned towards evening. They went down into an underground carpark. Ellen peeled herself out of the leather seat, only then realising how warm it was, the hot pulse beating in her cheeks.

Conor glanced at her. ‘It’s boiling.’


‘Hot and rainy, like monsoon season or something. The weather’s fucked.’ He grimaced and said sorry for swearing again. ‘I’m not really used to being around…’

‘Kids? I’m nearly fifteen.’

They took the elevator up to the third floor. Ellen tried to avoid seeing herself in the scuffed mirror, her red face, how awkward they looked together.

Conor’s flat consisted of one big kitchen-living room with four doors going off it. The kitchen was modern and shiny with black marble countertops and devices Ellen didn’t know the name of. The living room had a glass coffee table in front of a cream-coloured couch and armchair, with shelves all along the wall behind made of what looked like thin metal bars painted bright orange. Best of all, he had the air conditioning on. The cool air calmed her – feeling more self-possessed, Ellen strode over to the shelves, dropping her schoolbag on the couch, settling in, digging her heels. Conor frowned slightly, perhaps seeing she would not be easy to get rid of.

‘Cool stuff.’ She picked up a statue of a little elephant standing on its hind legs with something like a halo around its head. It gazed back at her with serene eyes unlike any animal she knew. She put it back, picked up a tribal mask. ‘This from Africa?’

‘I bought in on Amazon.’

Ellen put the mask back on its stand. ‘You travelled a lot, right?’ This was the one thing she knew for sure about him. He spent most of his life abroad, and visited every few years. Mam would spend the days and weeks before his visits worrying about every detail but then when he arrived would act as if he had always been there. Ellen had forgotten most of her childhood, but she remembered Conor’s visits like islands of light in a sea of dark.

‘Yeah, but I never bought anything. I thought it would just weigh me down. Now I wish I had some stuff that was actually authentic.’

‘Your flat’s nice.’

‘You must have been dying to see it, the way you showed up. Coffee?’

Ellen nodded, although she didn’t drink coffee. Conor had an espresso machine. He put mugs under the spout and pressed a complicated combination of buttons to make it whir to life. Ellen sat on the couch and waited for him to bring the coffees over, then tried to act like someone who liked coffee, stopping herself from grimacing as she took small sips.

Conor turned on the TV. He seemed almost afraid to look at her. He fidgeted with the remote and drank his coffee quickly. A documentary came on, about the ocean. The presenter interviewed a Marine Biologist about her deep-sea research. She had sent a subaquatic drone down to the deepest parts of the ocean, where she found an empty plastic bottle and a pair of jeans.

‘Jesus, that’s a bit depressing.’ Conor changed the channel.

The news came on. A report on a heatwave, wildfires and shots of beaches full of clams cooked alive in their shells. Ellen’s heart no longer ached at sights like this, the creatures hurt and dying, not at ease in the world that had been left to them.

‘That’s even worse,’ he said, but he didn’t change it. He looked into his empty mug, his leg jittering.

‘Are you mad at me?’ asked Ellen.

He met her eyes and smiled. ‘No, of course not. I’m just… never mind.’ He checked the time on his phone. ‘My girlfriend’s supposed to come over for dinner in a bit.’

‘Oh, I’ll get to meet her, then,’ said Ellen, effecting a casual shrug. She knew he had a life of his own, but she hadn’t really thought much about what his life consisted of. ‘I didn’t know you had a girlfriend.’

‘Sure, you wouldn’t, would you?’

‘Why don’t you come and see us anymore?’

‘Just one of those things.’ He clapped his hands on his knees and stood. ‘I may call Sinead. Just a sec.’

He opened the door to one of the rooms. Ellen caught a glimpse of his bedroom, the creamy-brown duvet cover, before he closed it behind him. Alone, Ellen took out her phone and read the message from Ciara: ur not on the train??

Ellen responded: i missed it, i called my uncle so im at his rn

Almost right away, two blue ticks appeared next to her message. Then three dots dancing, and Ciara’s reply: since when do u have an uncle

since always

u never talked about him before?! anyway were home now

was my mam or dad at the station for me

prob yes but i didnt see them

Ellen closed out of the app, feeling something cool and hollow in her chest. She stared at her home screen as if in expectation: a call or even a text from Mam. By now her absence would have been noted. Wouldn’t they be worried?

Mam hadn’t spoken to her for five days. It wasn’t the first time she’d given Ellen the silent treatment. The last time it happened was when Dad moved out for a few days after a massive row and it looked like they might separate. That lasted three days until Dad came home. Five days ago, Ellen came down to the kitchen before school on a normal Monday morning to find all the breakfast things laid out on the table. Mam stood by the window over the sink looking out at the garden where the dogs were running around in circles after just getting fed. Ellen said good morning and started eating her cereal. It took her a moment to realise Mam hadn’t responded, had in fact left the room, and Ellen’s stomach twisted up all in a knot. This again. Ellen had stewed in a numb sadness and anger. Remembering that Conor lived in Celbridge where the sleepover would be, she had cooked up her plan. A test for Mam, a kind of revenge. She had been imagining what it would be like to tell Mam where she was, to hear Mam stutter and to feel her shock. To know that she, Ellen, had won.

Conor reappeared, dressed in jeans and a white shirt. He tapped the screen on his phone and slipped it into his pocket. ‘Sinead’s already on her way. Her daughter’s coming too, she’s your age.’ He added: ‘Looks like you’re staying for dinner. I’ll drive you back after.’

‘Okay, thanks.’ Ellen faced the truth: Mam just didn’t care. Nothing Ellen did would force her to talk to her again. Now she had to spend the evening with strangers, her uncle she barely knew.

Conor cooked, singing to himself over the noise of the fan percolating. The scent of his cooking carried a spicy tang that made her nose tingle and her stomach rumble. Ellen hadn’t eaten since some toast at breakfast.

‘Was your sleepover fun?’

‘Yeah. It was my friend Ciara’s fifteenth.’


‘Her parents are divorced. Her Dad lives up here but she lives in Portlaoise with her Mam.’

‘Damn. You been friends for a long time?’

‘A couple of years.’

She blushed. He had touched on an area of her shame: Julia. Julia, new at school, forever looking at her feet and casting hopeful glances upwards, searching for someone to be nice to her. Ellen used to be the new one with no friends and to see Julia pained her. Ellen had attached herself to Ciara and Niamh and the others, knowing her presence to be barely tolerated. Ciara and Niamh would whisper to each other, laugh at private jokes. Ellen sensed a prior loyalty that she would have to break if she wanted to belong. One day their English teacher did a spontaneous reshuffle of seats and Ellen found herself sitting next to Julia, sharing one of the narrow, creaky little desks. Ellen tried not to commit herself but afterwards Julia started to follow Ellen around. Ellen and the girls had to go out of their way to avoid her.

They took a table in the far corner of the large canteen. Ellen sat against the back wall and faced the crowded room, so she was the only one who saw Julia wandering around, cradling her red-lidded lunchbox against her body like precious cargo. Ellen tried to shrink, vanish into the unadorned brick at her back, but as if drawn by Ellen’s gaze Julia spotted her. Ellen had to turn away from the happiness that flashed across Julia’s face and tried to warn the other girls about Julia’s approach with just a look.

Ciara glanced back to see for herself, then rolled her eyes theatrically at Ellen. Julia got to their table and said hi. A pause. Then Ciara said hi back and Julia sat. The conversation continued but took on a new note, one that mocked and excluded Julia who sat and ate in slow, silent bites of her sandwich as if she felt her manner of eating itself was under scrutiny. Ellen wanted to scream and push her away, tell her to cop herself on and stop annoying people who clearly didn’t want to be her friends.

‘I like your hairband,’ said Ciara.

Julia brightened. ‘Thanks. I got it in Zara.’

Ciara’s mouth quivered. Ellen also had to suppress a laugh. Julia quickly packed her food away and said a few words about getting books out of her locker before Double English. She stood and squeezed her way out of the chair to go.

‘Thank God,’ said Niamh in a stage whisper.

‘She’s so annoying,’ said Ciara.

The bell rang, a long metallic screech. As they cleaned the remains of their lunch away, Ellen’s jumper pulled back and revealed her bracelet, a string of silver charms.

‘That’s nice,’ said Ciara idly.

‘Thanks,’ said Ellen. A pause to consider. ‘I got it in Zara.’

Giggles all around. This became their new joke, and something in their group shifted. Ellen was on the inside now, and it was Julia who clung to the edges like a drowning man to the side of a boat.

‘Can you set the table for me?’ Conor’s voice brought her back to the present.

‘Sure.’ She went to the kitchen. ‘Where’s the knives and forks?’

‘This drawer here.’ Conor opened it. It had a section just for chopsticks, all in different colours and painted with Chinese words. ‘If you want to eat with those, you can try. I’m making noodles.’

‘No thanks.’

It would have taken Conor less time to set the table himself. Ellen had to keep asking him where he kept everything. He inspected the table when she finished, making a joke of it. ‘Respectable effort.’

A buzzer rang. Conor went to the door and pressed a button, then returned to the kitchen. ‘That’s them,’ he said.

Ellen felt a flare of nerves, anticipation. The people in her uncle’s life could be anyone. There was a knock on the door.

‘Can you let them in?’ Conor was occupied cleaning a wok in the sink.

Ellen went to open the door, and stepped back to let in a tall, thin woman with shining red hair. She was middle-aged like Mam but younger-looking somehow, fresher and happier.

‘Well,’ she said. ‘Here’s the famous Ellen.’ She leaned in and kissed Ellen on the cheek. ‘Lovely to meet you.’ Ellen mumbled something similar in return, in shock at Sinead’s sweet scent, her sudden kiss.

‘Dinner’s nearly done,’ said Conor. ‘Go take a seat.’

‘Grand. Where’s that daughter of mine got to?’ Sinead poked her head back out the door. ‘Julia?’

A voice called back: ‘Coming.’

It couldn’t be. Ellen stood paralysed.

The voice said, at the door now, ‘I nearly dropped the dessert.’

Ellen’s fears proved true. Julia walked in, stopping short when she saw Ellen. Julia was dressed as if to eat at a nice restaurant and wore a tote bag with a couple of large items in it. ‘Oh.’

Ellen managed to say hi.

Conor, hands still submerged, looked back and forth. ‘Do you guys know each other?’

Sinead shrugged at him.

‘Yeah,’ said Ellen, adopting her air of studied casualness. ‘We’re in school together.’

Sinead clasped her hands together in delight. ‘Oh, you’re friends?’

‘Huh, that’s a funny coincidence,’ said Conor, laughing.

‘Yeah,’ said Julia. ‘Random.’

Ellen and Julia hadn’t yet displayed any signs of friendship. Conor and Sinead gave no sign of noticing. Julia took out a bottle of red wine and a cake lathered with cream. ‘It’s tiramisu,’ she said.

Conor looked impressed. ‘Thanks, love.’

Sinead sat and poured herself a glass of water. ‘I’m dead in this heat. And it’s lashing.’

‘It’s like monsoon season,’ said Julia, stepping past Ellen to sit.

‘It reminds me of Vietnam or somewhere like that,’ said Conor.

Ellen followed them to the table. Conor had never called her love. How long had he and Sinead been together? He probably knew Julia better than Ellen. Conor brought the wok over and doled the food out, some kind of spicy stir-fry. The steam alone made Ellen’s eyes water. Julia ate with ease; she even asked for chopsticks instead of a fork.

‘It’s so nice to meet you, Ellen,’ said Sinead. ‘Conor didn’t say you’d be with us.’

Conor responded: ‘Ellen was at a sleepover last night and missed her train. So it just worked out that way.’

‘Yeah,’ said Ellen, not looking at Julia, ‘it was my friend’s birthday.’

‘Ciara’s?’ asked Julia. Ellen nodded.

‘It’s Julia’s birthday in a couple of weeks, isn’t it, pet?’

Julia nodded but gave the appearance of being focused on her food.

‘We’re going to Berlin to visit your Dad, aren’t we?’

‘Sounds nice,’ said Conor. ‘Berlin’s always good craic.’

‘I miss having sleepovers with my girlfriends,’ said Sinead. ‘It was so much fun.’

‘That was like a million years ago,’ said Julia.

‘Now I have sleepovers with my boyfriends instead.’

‘Mum, that is literally disgusting.’

Conor laughed. ‘Oh, boyfriends, plural? Is that how it is?’

Julia responded before her mother could. ‘Don’t worry, you’re the only one who can put up with her.’ But she put an affectionate hand on her mother’s arm as she spoke.

With each exchange Ellen felt more alienated; she could not imagine joking around with Mam this way.

Dessert came next, the tiramisu refreshing and cold. Then Sinead and Conor cleaned up while the girls sat in front of the TV, tense and silent. Julia started watching something on her phone with just one airpod in as if putting in both would be rude.

She seemed to sense Ellen looking. ‘Do you like Bobby Lee?’

Ellen’s heart gave a little flip. She had posters of Bobby Lee on her wall, she joined streaming parties when his albums came out, her Instagram feed was all him. ‘I love him,’ she said. ‘Like, literally in love with him.’

‘His concert’s on tonight, I’m so annoyed I have to watch it on my phone.’

‘You got a license for it?’ Ellen had known better than to ask her parents to pay for a license for the livestream.

Julia showed Ellen her phone, the empty stage surrounded by screens showing pictures of Bobby, his videos, his vlogs.

‘Can you cast it to the TV?’

‘Would your uncle mind?’

‘No. Maybe. Let’s do it anyway.’

A few moments later, Bobby was on TV, onstage dancing and singing, flanked on either side by black-clad backup singers in military formation. Conor didn’t comment. Sinead ambled over with a glass of red wine in one hand. With the other she squeezed Julia’s shoulder affectionately.

‘All you girls are obsessed with him,’ she said. ‘I don’t see what’s so special, he’s so skinny.’

Julia squirmed away. ‘Mum, I’m trying to pay attention.’

During the concert, Conor brought over a bowl of popcorn and they put it between them to share. They watched Bobby Lee together in convivial silence. When the show ended, they waited for the livestream to cut out. Ellen did not want to look at Julia. She did not want to confront her.

Sinead rescued her, tapping Julia on the shoulder and saying it was time to go. Then came goodbyes, another peck from Sinead, the silence after the clicking shut of the door. It was late. Too late for the drive home.

Conor came to lean against the couch where she sat, steadying himself as he swayed: he’d had a few glasses of wine after dinner. His eyes looked glassy and a little unfocused. He confirmed what they already knew: ‘Looks like you’re staying the night.’

‘I suppose,’ said Ellen.

‘That’s funny about you guys knowing each other.’


‘You’re friends?’

‘Not really.’

‘Oh. Sinead’s been kind of worried about her. Like, if she’s settling in okay, getting to know people.’

‘I don’t know. I think she has other friends.’

‘Maybe you could be nice to her sometimes.’

I am nice to her, she wanted to say. But she had lied enough for one day.

Conor had a strange look in his eyes, swaying on his feet. He was drunker than she’d thought. ‘Why’d you call me?’

‘Because I missed the train.’

‘I know, but why’d you call me?’

‘Are you angry with me?’

‘Huh? No, no. I’m really not. I’m surprised. First of all that you even had my number. But also that you remembered me. I can’t believe you remembered me.’ His voice quivered, striking Ellen with fear. If he cried, or got emotional, she wouldn’t know how to react. ‘You were a little girl the last time I saw you, or you seemed like one. Now you’re all grown up. Growing up, anyway.’

‘Mam must have given me your number,’ Ellen mumbled. Mam’s phone didn’t have a PIN, so getting his number was easy. ‘It’s not that long since you saw me.’ But to Ellen three, almost four, years ago felt a very long time.

‘Things can change fast, though. Does Katie ever talk about me? Your Mam?’

Ellen had to say no.

‘Can’t say I’m surprised. She’s good at holding grudges.’ He laughed, maybe at himself.

‘Grudges? Do you not like each other?’

‘It’s complicated. I guess Katie resents me or something. You know, after our mother died, Katie basically raised me.’ He explained: ‘Your grandmother, she died when we were kids.’

Ellen knew this element of the family history. A distant and cold fact, not anything that could still matter.

‘When I went away, she had to take care of our father too, so she never got to do anything she wanted to do. I moved back to Ireland and we had an argument about something stupid. I shouldn’t be telling you all this.’

‘Mam doesn’t even talk to me.’ Ellen told Conor about the silent treatment.

His eyes widened. ‘Wow.’ He shook his head, slowly from side to side, relishing the movement. ‘Wow. That’s bad, even for her.’

Ellen felt herself flare up at the insult. She still didn’t want to hear him say bad things about Mam. ‘I’m tired,’ she said.

‘Yeah, it’s late.’ He showed her to the guest bedroom, and as he said goodnight gave her a clumsy, too-tight hug. ‘Night, love. I missed you. We’ll sort it all out in the morning.’

The morning sky showed no sign of the hot, sodden rain of the day before. It was blue and clear and cool. For a few brief seconds after waking, Ellen could almost believe that none of yesterday’s events had happened. Blissful seconds. The illusion deserted her: there she lay in the guest bedroom of Uncle Conor’s apartment. She found him already up. He made her scrambled eggs and toast, and just black coffee for himself. He seemed distracted, biting his nails and sighing.

‘Thanks for breakfast,’ said Ellen.

He nodded. ‘Let’s get going, yeah? No point hanging around.’

They stayed silent in the car until they got on to the M7 at Naas, heading home. The motorway continued flat and featureless. On an ordinary day the monotony would have put Ellen to sleep. ‘You can just drop me outside,’ she said. ‘You don’t have to come in.’

‘Oh, I’ll come inside.’ His words carried an air of threat. ‘I know Katie’s your mother, but she was my sister first.’ He was talking too fast, driving too fast. ‘I’m so nervous. Christ. She always gets the better of me.’

Ellen sat frozen in the passenger seat, seized by dread. The house when it appeared looked the same, but Ellen saw it as if through new eyes. A semi-detached, pale and discoloured yellow walls, almost aggressively ordinary. Conor grew up here too, before she was even born. How strange, as if the house had been here for centuries, gathering people and their lives to it like dust.

They went inside. Sounds came from the kitchen, Mam talking to herself the way she did around the house. Then she went quiet, hearing their approach. She stood leaning against the counter, waiting.

‘Look who finally came to see me.’

Conor stood in the doorway, his nervous and angry energy gone. ‘Yes, hi,’ he said.

‘I’ll make tea,’ said Mam.

‘I don’t want anything.’

‘Ah, you’ll have something. Sit.’

He sat, obediently. Ellen sat too, both fearing and anticipating a confrontation.

‘Thank you for bringing back my prodigal daughter.’

‘It’s grand. Not a problem.’

‘She must have changed a lot since the last time you saw her.’

Conor agreed that Ellen looked different. Tea and biscuits and slices of chocolate roulade appeared on the table.

‘The last time Uncle Conor saw me,’ said Ellen, ‘was right after he moved back to Ireland.’

‘I remember,’ said Mam.

‘You didn’t want him to move back, did you?’

Mam tutted and smiled. ‘Sure what do you know about all of that? It’s ancient history.’

Conor looked back and forth between them; his expression suggested that it wasn’t ancient history to him. ‘Ellen,’ he warned.

‘What? I’m not saying anything you didn’t say first.’

‘Let’s not argue.’

‘You’re the one who wanted to start a fight,’ said Ellen, although she knew this to not be quite the truth.

‘Oh, is that why you’re here?’ asked Mam, infuriatingly calm and amused. ‘To start a fight with me?’

‘No. It’s true though, you tried to talk me out of moving home. Please stop acting like you don’t remember.’ His voice sounded strained, frustrated.

‘You’re always welcome to come and see me. You know that.’ She turned to Ellen. ‘How was your visit? I’ve never been invited to his apartment so I wouldn’t know what it’s like.’

‘It was nice,’ said Ellen, sullen.

‘Just nice?’

‘I met his girlfriend.’

Mam raised her eyebrows. ‘Girlfriend? See, I don’t know anything about my own brother anymore.’

‘You’ve been ignoring me for four years.’

‘What’s her name?’


‘Been together long?’

He hesitated. ‘Like, a year and a half, maybe?’

‘I’ll have to meet her sometime.’

Ellen listened, aching for something bigger to happen: for a dam to break, for a real fight to start. But even that would probably disappoint her. It would be a stream of half-shouted accusations from Conor which Mam would respond to in the low measured tone that meant she too was furious and determined not to show it. Every accusation thrown out by one would be returned by the other, years of history being dragged up from the depths: inheritances, Mam taking care of Grandad while Conor stayed safely on the other side of the world, things Ellen didn’t know about. But Mam would turn things her own way in the end. She would work her magic. Maybe it was that air of unshakeable calm she had. She made you feel unreasonable. She made you want to apologise. Which Conor would do. He’d say he didn’t mean it, not in a bad way. Ellen felt let down. She’d brought Conor here to have it out with her mother, but it wasn’t going to happen. She wouldn’t get her final satisfaction.

Mam twisted to look at the clock over the counter. ‘You probably have things you need to be doing.’

‘Right.’ Dismissed, Conor turned to Ellen, unsure of what to say.

‘You’ll see each other soon,’ said Mam. ‘Why don’t you come for dinner next weekend? Wouldn’t that be nice, Ellen?’

Ellen croaked out a yes, that would be nice. As Conor left, her disappointment turned to regret. Please come back again, she thought.

Then they were alone.

Mam cleared the table. ‘I hope you liked your little adventure.’

‘I missed the train.’

‘So Conor told me.’


‘He called me yesterday, after he picked you up at the station.’

Ellen remembered when Conor went into his room to call Sinead. ‘I thought you didn’t care where I was.’

Mam dried her hands on a tea towel, looking out the window again for a quiet moment. Ellen felt something stir, shift. She looked at Mam and saw Katie Daly, once Katie Carroll. Walk down the street and you met a dozen of her: a woman whose scope had to fit into the small space her life provided, her mother who created problems to make that life more interesting. But she couldn’t quite grasp this insight, take hold of it before it slipped away. She forgot, and saw Mam again, putting the tea towel down on the kitchen counter and turning to her. ‘How could you say a thing like that? My own daughter…’

Mam buried her face in her hands and her shoulders started to shake. Ellen scrambled up from her seat and embraced her with desperate strength. ‘I’m sorry, Mammy, I didn’t mean to upset you.’

‘Don’t mind me, I’m just being silly. As usual.’

‘I’m sorry, really.’

‘Seeing him again after so long, it’s got me all upset. He’s seven years younger than me, you know. That’s a big difference, especially when you’re children. After our mother died, I was the one who took care of him. Did you know that?’ She sniffed. ‘He’s still my best friend, even after all these years. Out of everyone in the world, I think I love my brother the most.’ She patted Ellen’s hand. ‘Except for you, pet.’


When Ellen got to school, the girls asked her a million questions. Where was she? How did she miss the train? Ellen told them but left out the part about Julia. She went to her locker and got her books, and then Julia appeared, running late, and didn’t notice Ellen looking. Ellen would find her later. Or tomorrow.

Julia gave up trying to make friends with Ellen and the other girls. They gave up on teasing her, moving on from their joke. Ellen saw Julia all the time at school, scurrying from her locker to the classroom, friendless and alone.

One morning she made her approach. ‘Hi, Julia.’

Julia threw her a suspicious look. ‘Are you trying to make fun of me again?’

‘No, I just thought we could – eat lunch together maybe.’

Julia grabbed her books and walked away without responding and Ellen stood watching her and waiting for Julia to glance back and give her some hope. How could Julia, so meek and hidden away at school, be the same girl who’d talked back to her mother, joked around, held her own? Maybe everyone had two or three different people inside them. And so did Ellen. She could befriend Julia, become a nicer and better person. The temptation was there.




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