The heat of summer soaking through her uniform, Morgan waited on the school steps, tiredly scraping a stick into the pavement cracks. The beige colour reminded her of sand and holidays at the beach years ago, of sticky ice cream and small rocks that scratched her feet and her mother’s smiling face. She jammed the stick in-between the slabs forcefully.
A body heaved itself down to the steps beside her. Blinking, Morgan looked over.
“Bit hot, don’t you think?” asked the rotund girl, her cheeks pink and her mousy brown hair pulled into a ponytail, gleaming with sweat.
“It’s June,” Morgan replied tonelessly.
“But still,” the girl insisted, “It’s hot, isn’t it?”
Morgan shrugged. “I suppose.”
The girl leant forward, resting her elbows on her bare knees. She’d arrived at Harigate Primary school a few months ago, but Morgan only once recalled speaking with her in P.E. class as they dutifully tossed floppy beanbags to one another.
Morgan dug the stick in deeper, pushing up little heaps of mud. She wondered if there’d been anything alive in that ground, if she’d killed it; a ladybug, maybe, or something similar.
“And that’s Chester’s mum…oh, and there’s your dad.”
Morgan’s head snapped up.
She followed Sophie’s line of sight, peering through the crowd of suddenly faceless people, and then she saw him too. He was just like she remembered: balding brown hair the hue of her own, his cheeks oddly grey from a shave. Morgan felt her heartbeat slow as he neared.
For weeks and weeks she hadn’t seen him, nor heard a word. He hadn’t sent her a letter or rung her up on the phone. But, Morgan thought, it must be because he’s been so busy.
Sophie’s voice was suddenly loud in her ear. “They make such a nice couple, don’t you think?”
Distracted, Morgan gazed at the girl in bafflement, shaking her head as she turned back to her father. But then she saw what Sophie had meant.
Her father was not alone.
Chester’s mother, small and blond and beautiful, was at his side. Chester was talking to him, animatedly gesturing about something that Morgan couldn’t understand but which made him laugh. Chester, who’d once been her best friend, who’d lived in the flat above Morgan since the time they were small, toddling around in rainy puddles together and chasing imaginary creatures in the dewy grass of Morgan’s garden.
Still, Morgan waited for him. Surely he would glance around – searching for her, certainly – and see her. Then he would rush to her and hug her and he would be so happy he’d tell her how much he loved her.
But he didn’t turn around. She desperately wanted to go up to him, to force him to face her, but she was scared, for he was like a stranger to her now, someone she’d had once but had since lost, who’d gone away and never came back for her, a foreigner with a familiar face. It seemed improper to approach him now, rude even, as unwelcome as if she was thinking about someone else’s father.
Morgan watched as they walked away. He’d known that she was there, known that they attended school together, and he hadn’t looked for her.
Morgan focused on Chester’s golden head.
It was her fault, Morgan knew. She’d always shown Morgan up, ever the perfect daughter, the pretty, sporty, sunny Chester White over the plain, boring, quiet Morgan Evans. If only she hadn’t existed, Morgan knew things would be different.
When her mother finally arrived to pick her up, Morgan was alone on the steps. She didn’t say a word. It was only when she rose to her feet that she realised her stick had snapped.
She laid in wait in her dark bedroom, the light switch flipped off and her curtains partially drawn. The darker it was, mused Morgan, the easier it would be the see her father’s car lights as he dropped Chester off back home.
When the light came, glowing through her glass window and shifting shadows on her walls, Morgan remained still. She listened for the slam of the car doors, the soft mumble of words. Anger coiled in Morgan’s stomach, burning like acid, but she soothed it with conjured images of what the night would bring.
She waited half an hour to be sure that Chester was in her room and her father gone. Crawling out from under the comforting embrace of her covers, Morgan opened the bottom drawer of her bedside table, pulling out the thick sock and tying the end in a knot. Slowly, she opened her door and manoeuvred her way down the darkened hallway. She unlatched the lock of the outside door, stepping down into her garden, relishing the cold tickle of the grass on her bare feet.
Pacing half the garden back, Morgan turned and stared up at Chester’s window. The light wasn’t on anymore. Curling her fingers around the small stone she’d hidden in her skirt pocket, Morgan drew it out and flung it at Chester’s window.
Soon enough, as she’d expected, Chester’s pale face appeared on the other side of the glass. Her frowning features cleared as she spotted Morgan.
Morgan pointed to the shed behind her, at the garden’s edge.
Biting her lip, Chester nodded once and then disappeared from sight. Morgan headed towards the shed, patting her other pocket in reassurance.
The shed was old, but had spent many years under tender care. Morgan and Chester had loved this shed once, in awe of its bright pink shade and white shutter-windows. They’d spent other summers bunking in it over night, telling secrets in the dark, of Chester’s crushes and Morgan’s fears, their shared dreams, certain of these secrets’ safety in the immortality of their friendship.
Morgan had stopped coming to the shed since last year, since her father had decided he liked the mother and her daughters upstairs better than he did his own. In the glow of the moon, she saw that some of the paint had chipped away, that some of the shutters were missing pieces, and that the muck of the ground had risen up and tainted the lower portions of the shed.
Hearing the jingle of the door, Morgan twisted to watch Chester as she drew nearer, dressed in her white and purple pyjamas.
“Yes?” she whispered, ushering Chester into the shed. Morgan followed and closed the door firmly behind her.
“What are we doing out here? I mean,” she said, laughing nervously, “why did you get me out here? It’s the middle of the night.”
“No, it’s not. It’s not even ten yet,” said Morgan. She’d made sure of the timing of it, after all.
Chester rolled her eyes. “I know that, silly, I just meant… it’s a bit odd.”
“Why? It’s not like you talk to me at school anymore,” replied Morgan bitterly.
“I can’t. What, would you like people to spread more rumours about everything?”
“I’d like you to act as though you were my friend.”
Chester’s face crumbled. “I am your friend,” she said timidly.
“Well, a right sort of job you’re doing of it, then,” said Morgan, her tone mocking, “What with stealing my dad and all.”
“I didn’t steal your dad!” Chester said through gritted teeth, her eyes flashing angrily.
Morgan glared at her coldly. “Don’t lie.”
Chester huffed, shaking her head as she sunk down to sit on the lower bunk bed. She fingered the moth-eaten fabric, curling it around her long-nailed fingers.
“I don’t see why you got me out here if all you’re going to do is shout at me,” she muttered.
Titling her head, Morgan asked, “Aren’t you even the least bit guilty?”
“About what? The fact that my mum is prettier than yours and your dad likes pretty women? How is that my fault?”
Morgan stepped closer to Chester, discreetly pushing her hand into her other pocket.
“Don’t you ever talk about my mum,” she warned.
“I don’t see why not. Everyone in school is talking about her.”
Chester stared at her. “You’re so ridiculous, Morgan,” she said finally, disgust coating her tone. “You think this all about you, as usual, so you blame everyone else just because your dad doesn’t love you.”
Morgan tightened her lips. “That’s not true.”
“It is true,” said Chester, turning her head to look at one of the abandoned colouring pictures still tacked to the shed’s wall. “You’re just too stupid—”
Grasping the sock tightly in her pocket, Morgan quickly pulled it out and smacked it against Chester’s head. The heavy load of the pebbles inside, pebbles that she and Chester had collected years ago at the seaside, cracked loudly as they made their target at her former friend’s skull. The blood rushed out faster than Morgan expected; in the movies, the death scenes always took so long, but Morgan thought Chester might be dead already.
A low moan interrupted her thoughts.
Morgan watched as Chester attempted to move, her limbs flailing as they sought purchase on some solid surface. She reached for the bedpost, but Morgan pushed her to the floor. A gasping cry broke through the quiet air as she smacked against the hard ground, small pitiful sobs jerking the girl’s body.
Chester turned her head slightly, her pale eyes seeking out something.
Bending down, Morgan once again aimed the pebble-filled sock at Chester’s head. Blood spilled out slower this time as Chester stopped her movements entirely, lying there limply, as floppy as those beanbags in P.E. class. Ruby red liquid trickled from her skull, vivid against the stark white of her neck. It darkened her golden hair, the strands clotting together, staining the wooden floor as it dripped to the ground.
For a while, Morgan felt frozen, unable to move as the body before her passed into rigormortis. She sank down on the floor next to it, drawing her knees to her chest and curling her bloodied arms around them tightly. Rocking back and forth, Morgan stared out ahead, unseeing.
Feeling something slide down her face, she raised her hand to wipe it off, expecting a splatter of blood but instead finding the clear liquid of tears. Her rocking increased then, as a howl of misery sought to tear itself from her throat, which seemed to close tighter and tighter as she tried to breathe—
But Chester would never breathe again. Morgan had taken that from her.
She sobbed then, the racking kind that seemed fit to bludgeon the heart, until her cries rose to screams but she couldn’t hear it because the pounding in her ears was too loud and the last echo of Chester’s plead ran through her head like a siren that just kept bleating—
Her throat still tightening in a scream, Morgan looked up to see her father silhouetted in the shed’s doorframe. His horrified gaze shifted between the two girls, both equally bloodied, though one was dead and the other alive. Morgan stared at him blankly, as though for the first time, realising that he must have been here the whole time. Morgan barely resisted the insane urge to laugh, for it was all too much, suddenly.
Because Chester was right.
Morgan knew it as she watched her father’s face crease in repulsion, knew that there was no point mourning the loss of her father’s love because she had never had it in the first place.
Soon there were more people than her father around her and at some point someone came and took Chester’s body. There was screaming and shouting and sirens but Morgan couldn’t understand any of it.
Eventually, though, someone came for her too.
Tears clouded her vision once more as she was thrown over one of the people’s – a man’s, she thought absently – shoulder.
They took her outside, leading her away to somewhere she knew not, but to Morgan’s eyes, everything was blurry except for the broken shed.