4. My First Whatever

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It was two months before I was the other side of the door again, however hard Mum tried to bribe me to 'go out and play for a while' when she brought Carl back with her. I hated that guy, but that's for another story, so after eight solid weeks of being cooped up in my room with only my tape player for company, leaving the flat was terrifying, but oddly welcomed.

I didn't tell anyone I was scared though. I had this horrible nightmare time and time again about being stalked in endless corridors where I could only go forward, knowing somebody was behind me and I couldn't turn around. So when I stepped foot outside the flat door into floor 9's corridor, the blood drained from my face. I could hardly even bring myself to close the door behind me, as if to do so was to seal my fate.

But today was Tisha's birthday, and I'd made her a birthday card.

I'd asked Mum to do it on her way to Trinity's, but she coyly told me that if I wanted Tisha to like me (as a friend!), I had to do it myself.

I crept around every corner, remembering what Darren had said about the shadowy ones. I tiptoed into the stairwell, silently descending four floors. Every step seemed to echo louder than the last and my nerves were getting the better of me. Any moment I expected the loud chomping of chewing gum in my ear, or the next shadow to be Darren's. Floor 7's window was boarded. I swear I nearly turned back at that point.

But with one hand clutched white-knuckled around the railing and the other clamped around the birthday card, I made it to door 513; approximately one million miles away from home.

I knocked.

And waited.

And wanted to throw up.

There was this creeping feeling of dread taking up residence in my stomach that Darren knew it was Tisha's birthday and knew I would be here. It wasn't impossible. Tisha had never made any indication she knew Darren, but then, Darren himself knew everyone.

When the door opened and her mother, Trinity, answered, I mumbled something and thrust the birthday card in its paper bag envelope towards her. I didn't want Tisha to see me looking so disgusting lately, but I wanted to see her, and so I had mixed feelings when Trinity called her daughter from her room.

I found fascination in a small nick in the door as soon as Tisha appeared. She smiled so easily, like she'd been practicing it all her life, and I didn't like to think how awkward and wonky my smile looked when I returned it. Tisha lit up a room when she walked into it; that's the only way I can describe it. It was almost hard to look at her, because I'd always tense up and become conscious of whatever it was I was doing.

She no less made me feel the same when she arrived at her front door. She was already half-dressed for her birthday party that afternoon despite it being only 11am, with her striped crop top under a denim jacket and her afro parted into two adorably effortless buns. She looked cu—nice.

"Hiya, Rain!" she said. Her smile burned bright and my fears melted. "Haven't seen you for a while. Jonty Wickens said that you'd been moved schools, but I didn't believe him."

"I..." I gave the card in my hand a wave and held it out for her. "I... um... just remembered it was your birthday."

"Oh, cool! Thanks!"

I checked over my shoulder. "Don't open it here. I-it's really lame. I mean, I can't really draw or anything, but... I thought... Well, you said you liked Centre Parcs when you went on holiday there, so..."

I sighed as she peeled back the paper bag envelope anyway.

"I-it's meant to be a forest, a-and that's a deer, but it kinda looks like a fat moose from this direction..."

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