Authors: Nikki McWatters
Tags: #Fiction, #Psychological, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thrillers
‘Corey? Hello there!’ she bubbled.
‘Casey,’ I corrected her. ‘How are you Sally? I wondered if I could have a talk with you. It’s serious.’
‘Oh dear, that doesn’t sound good. Is it about the girls?’ she asked, trying, but not succeeding, to frown.
She let me in and I was not surprised to see she’d redecorated after the last husband had left. It was now some kind of surreal Barbie-Wonderland. All white. With pink velvet quilted sofas and frilly, lamps. A huge cinematic television screen dominated the living room.
‘Come into the kitchen and Tina can make us coffees,’ she said, waving a pink talon at me, beckoning me down the sterile white corridor toward the back of the house.
In the kitchen I learned that Tina was the uniformed maid. I personally have issues with hired help. I work for a leading publishing house…long hours and Tom is flat-out with his responsibilities at the University and we manage to keep our own house tidy and cook our own meals. I doubt very much that Sally Proudfoot does more for a living than troll up-market bars looking for a new sugar daddy. Bitchy perhaps, but true.
Tina was a short, squat woman with a white zippered uniform trying to hold her into shape.
‘A latte or cappuccino?’ Sally asked me.
‘Latte would be great,’ I smiled and nodded and took a see-through Perspex seat at the white-washed timber table while Sally held up two fingers to her maid.
I looked nervously at Tina. I didn’t want my conversation to become housemaid gossip. It cheapened my little girl’s harrowing situation. I gave a nervous nod toward the woman fussing at the coffee machine, steam hissing around her.
‘Oh, don’t mind Tina. She’s profoundly deaf.’
As if she didn’t think I’d believed her she called out loudly to Tina who did not turn around.
‘See? So go ahead. You’ve got me worried now.’
I took a deep breath.
‘Okay. Remember the girls went to that rock concert at the Entertainment Centre last month…well…it’s more like seven weeks ago now?’
Sally nodded, tapping her pink nail on the table.
‘To see that band
Drop Dead Gorgeous
? Yes. I was going to go with them but got a better offer at the last minute,’ she raised her eyebrows suggestively. ‘But that singer, Chris Bergin…now he’s a dish don’t you think? I like all the young people’s music today…’
‘What time did you pick them up after the show and were they alone…did they have other friends with them?’ I interrupted impatiently.
She looked quizzical and rolled her eyes toward her well-ironed forehead.
‘Well, no…you see. I think you’ve got this mixed up. That night the girls were staying at your place and you were picking them. I remember that very clearly.’
The penny dropped and we both looked at one another with a growing realisation that our girls had pulled a swifty on us. How terribly clandestine of Elizabeth.
‘Okay…’ I said slowly. ‘Well, I would really like to know where they actually spent the night. I know that I picked Elizabeth up from the bottom of your driveway at nine in the morning.’
‘Yes,’ Sally said, her mind trying to piece it together. ‘They did come in early. I was asleep….a bit of a tragic mess really…and I yelled at them to be quiet. I figured you’d dropped them off here.’
‘I did not drop them here. They must have cabbed or gotten a lift from someone else,’ I said feeling the growing anger and hurt that my daughter had so wilfully betrayed me and it had clearly been premeditated.
‘Don’t be too hard on your daughter, Casey. Teenage girls will be teenage girls. Didn’t you sneak around sometimes in your youth?’
I really hate it when someone says that. The whole
remember when you were young
routine is a parental cop-out. My parents were strict with me and sure I rebelled occasionally but children need boundaries and I had the feeling that Libby was pushing hers and trying to take on the Proudfoot laxness of discipline. Abigail was a bad influence.
‘Not at their age,’ I frowned and pushed on.. ‘….but did Abigail tell you anything about that night? You see, I am devastated to tell you, but Elizabeth is pregnant and she’s not saying much. I’ve worked out that it had to have happened around that weekend.’
It was clear that Abigail had not told her mother this news. Sally looked rightfully horrified. I shrivelled inside at her silent shock, feeling it as a form of indignant disgust.
‘Oh shit,’ she finally whispered. ‘Oh…that’s terrible. Did you know she was sexually active? That’s such a worry. I’m going to haul Abigail in this afternoon and get to the bottom of this.’
Did I know Elizabeth was sexually active? Was she kidding? Elizabeth was a fifteen year old child. A school-girl. I’m not the biggest prude. I’ve lived. I’ve met some very colourful characters in my time. But in no man’s language should a fifteen year old girl be having sex! She’s a child. A child. I hadn’t wanted her to go to that concert. I only agreed because I thought the Proudfoot woman was chaperoning them. I should have double checked.
‘Elizabeth wants to have the baby,’ I sighed and gave a silent nod of thanks to the round woman who placed the latte on the table in front of me. ‘And I had no inkling at all that she had …had been with a boy.’
‘That’s a huge responsibility,’ Sally Proudfoot mused. ‘I had Abigail very young and it is hard. Very hard.’
I looked at her. She was forty if a day. Which would have put her in her early to mid twenties when she had Abigail. I could hardly see how she could justify such a comparison. If she was insinuating that she was in her thirties now, she was rewriting the narrative because even with the cosmetic enhancements, she wasn’t pulling that off. Perhaps she was rudely referring to the fact that she was clearly somewhat younger than me.
‘She’s only fifteen,’ I reminded her sharply. ‘ And I really need to know who did this to my daughter. Has Abigail mentioned any boys that Elizabeth might have had a crush on?’
Sally shook her head and then stopped and drew in a sharp breath.
‘She did say that the girls had gone backstage and met the band. To be honest, I didn’t really believe her at first, but she posted a photo of her and Libby with the lead singer, on Facebook. She showed me and it looked real.’
‘I want to see that photo,’ I said, a prickle of dread running down over my very straight spine.
‘Are you friends with your daughter on Facebook?’ she asked me and I snorted a
back at her.
‘I’m not either. Girls! When did they grow up? So fast. It’s scary,’ she sighed. ‘But we can probably see any photos they took on Abbie’s laptop. It’s in her room. She’s paranoid about taking it to school in case she loses it…But…maybe we should wait and get the girl’s together and question them.’
‘No. I want to see any photos of that night, now, before the girls know we are on to them.’ I was firm and insistent.
Bugger Abigail’s privacy. This was my potential grandchild and I had a right to know what sort of genetic swimming pool it was floating in.
Abigail’s room was unnaturally spotless for a teenager. Elizabeth’s isn’t too bad but it stays tolerable only because of my constant nagging. The laptop, predictably pink, sat on the desk by the window. It was open. I looked around the room. There were old teddy bears on the bed and a poster of a band on wardrobe door. Just your average teenage girl’s innocent-looking bedroom.
‘I really don’t like snooping but this is pretty serious,’ Sally said, fussing with the keyboard.
‘Well, that’s an understatement,’ I mumbled.
The screen saver came on and I gasped. There was a full-screen-sized photograph of a very bedraggled looking man with Abigail on one side and Elizabeth on the other. His hands were around their shoulders and appeared to hanging, resting just over their barely concealed breasts. The girls both had running mascara, and hair all over the place. Elizabeth was holding a glass of champagne and grinning from lips the colour of blood pudding. I felt sick, the bottom of my stomach stewing and acidic.
‘That’s Chris Bergin. Christ.
Chris Bergin.’ Sally said and I detected a hint of awe.
‘Is this the photo you saw? They’re drinking!’ I demanded.
‘No, no. The one I saw was very tame. Just a happy shot of a singer with two of his fans…this is…more…’ she was lost for words.
‘Sinister,’ I suggested for her. ‘Look,’ I said peering closer. ‘They are sitting on a bed. A bed! Oh my god, I think my daughter must have gone back to the band party at their hotel.’
I sat on the edge of Abigail’s bed and tried to steady my breathing. My heart was threatening to derail me. I was dizzy and wondered if I might actually be having a heart attack. Sally was clicking through other photos but looked frustrated.
‘Nah,’ she murmured. ‘That’s all I’m coming up with. Hang on. Here’s another one. This is the one she showed me.’
I looked and saw that it was my Elizabeth and Abigail with the same man. A more sensible shot. Backstage perhaps. I lay back down on the bed and looked across at the wardrobe. The faces became instantly recognisable. The words on the poster read
Drop Dead Gorgeous.
I stared into their piercing eyes. Each one. And wondered which one of these ratbags had impregnated my daughter. Or was it a roadie or another fan?
‘There’s a video here, but I can’t open it…no…it’s not working…’ she mumbled from across the room.
Who had sullied my Elizabeth? Taken advantage of her youth and naivety.
I was getting warmer. I had something to go on. And that day I decided that whoever it was, was not going to get away with it lightly! I decided that I would confront Elizabeth about the night of the concert and gauge her reaction. If she gave me a name. If she gave me the name of a man and not a school-boy, I would go straight to the police. Because that sort of thing is perverse and dangerous. One way or another the responsible male would be held accountable.
‘You take a seat, right there, right now, young lady,’ I said firmly when Abbie waltzed through the front doors, without a care in the world.
‘What’s your drama now, Ma?’ she drawled at me with a kind of smirk.
‘You, Libby O’Neil and that band,
Drop Dead Gorgeous
. How’s that for starters?’
That got her attention.
‘You will sit down and answer my questions. Now. Honestly. I want the whole truth,’ I said.
I was angry. Not as angry as that uptight O’Neil woman. But in fairness she had more to be upset about. What a stupid girl not to have known that unprotected sex leads to pregnancy which leads to babies and then it’s all down-hill after that, which is why once was enough for me. I was a wild child and was getting up to mischief at the age of sixteen. I know it’s just natural to push boundaries but I did not want my daughter’s name being dragged down with Libby’s.
‘You lied to me that night and said you were staying at the O’Neil place. I want to know where you spent the night.’
Abbie was nervous. Her eyes would not meet mine and her hands were twisting into the pockets of her school uniform.
‘Just partying. You know, just kicking back. We just didn’t want to have to get picked up and go straight home after the gig,’ Abigail said, trying to sound cool but the fidgeting gave away her nerves.
‘Partying with whom exactly?’ I stayed standing, looking down at her as she sat on the edge of the sofa.
‘Um…we got invited to a party at some hotel. I don’t remember what it was called. Somewhere in the city,’ she said sullenly, not looking me in the eye.
‘Oh…Jesus, Abbie. Don’t make this so hard. Just tell me who the hell got Libby O’Neil pregnant.’
Her face shot up toward me, surprised that I knew and then she softened again and she just shrugged. The lamest most unconvincing shrug I’ve ever seen.
‘And you? Are you running around pulling your knickers down for every Tom, Dick and Harry?’ I glared hard.
‘Nope,’ she shook her head, veiling her lies beneath a curtain of blonde curls.
‘Really? Because one would hope you were on the pill if you are. I’m not stupid, Abbie. I know what goes on.’
‘I’m sure you do, Mother,’ she seethed up at me. ‘You’re the prize whore of Vaucluse.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ I winced.
‘It’s true and you know it. Libby’s no slut. Not like you who’d done every polo team in the country before you were twenty-one. Don’t be so quick to judge. You don’t have all the facts.’
Where had this attitude come from? She was being a right bolshy little bitch.
‘Well, that’s what I’m asking for. Facts. And I am not a slut…that’s not true and anyway, I’m not condemning natural sexual urges. I’m no uptight prude, Abbie. Sex is not unhealthy, it’s just that you’ve got to be responsible about it and in Libby’s case at least, that’s clearly not happening. You’re playing with fire you girls.’
I wasn’t getting anywhere with her. I’d put her on edge and set us up as enemies. So, I altered my approach and sat down beside her, patting her on the knee.
‘You’re a beautiful young woman, Abbie honey, and boys will be falling head over heels for you but you’ve got to call the shots and you’ve got to realise that sex is power and it can be used in your favour or against you. Do you see what I’m saying? Be clever with your sexuality.’
The last thing I wanted was to confuse the girl about sex. People like the O’Neil’s strike me as being completely hung up about such things. Which is probably why the girl was stupid enough to fall pregnant. I have always been very open with Abbie, telling her anything she needed to know but I was always careful to remind her of the responsibilities that come with being sexually active.
‘Yeah, well you’ve put yours to good use,’ she snapped at me and waved her hand around. ‘Got you a nice big house and a nice Jag and wall-to-wall cosmetic slap-ups…’
‘Don’t be catty, love,’ I smiled. ‘It’s ugly and really…no one loves a bitch.’
She met my eyes and looked hard into them. I saw my scared little girl in there somewhere.
‘I can’t tell you Mum,’ she whimpered. ‘Libby’d kill me. Really. She’s my best friend.’