Jaxxon, age fourteen
“Oh stop snivelling, Jaxxon,” snapped Leah as she zipped up her tatty old duffel bag. “You should be happy for me; I’m finally getting out of here. I’m going to have my own place.”
Jaxxon Carter, who was curled up on her bed, watched as her older sister stretched her long, lean body, looking much like a contented cat. “But -”
“Oi, what did I just say? Stop with the snivelling!”
Jaxxon took a deep breath and wiped her tear-stained cheeks with her sleeve. But she could feel more tears brewing. “Will you come see me sometimes?”
Leah snorted. “How can you even ask that? You know I’ll be busy going for auditions and stuff.” A self-satisfied smile surfaced on her face. “Hey, just think, you might see me on T.V soon, singing and doing concerts.”
As usual, Leah’s squinty hazel eyes – so very different from Jaxxon’s own huge, brown ones – shone with confidence. That was one thing that Leah had in abundance, though sometimes Jaxxon thought it bordered on vanity.
“Won’t that make all the Foster Plonkers sorry for passing us off from house to house.”
“But you’ll stay in touch, yeah?” Jaxxon could hear the uncertainty in her own voice and didn’t like this feeling she suddenly had that she was losing her sister for good. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if Leah would just tell her the address of her flat, but she was refusing to tell her and had even asked their Social Worker and the Glennons not to reveal it. Leah could be strange like that sometimes. If she thought you desperately wanted something from her, she would refuse to give it to you purely for that reason.
Leah shrugged. “What are you panicking for? In two years you’ll be out of here yourself.”
That was true enough. But two years would feel like a long time to someone who was all alone. Once Leah, all she had left in the world, was gone that was exactly what Jaxxon would be. Alone.
For the past six years Jaxxon had watched the only people she came to care about disappear from her life. First went Mum. Suicide by heroin overdose. Jaxxon – the one who had found her mother’s lifeless body on the sofa – had been eight, Leah ten. There was no dad or other family to care whether they lived or died, so into the social system they went.
It wasn’t until eighteen months ago, after pit-stopping in a series of foster homes all over London, that they had come to live with the Glennon family. They weren’t all that bad. Compared to some of the other foster parents, these people were eligible for sainthood. Although they were – in a word – slobs and not all that interested in what their foster children did, they didn’t hit, they didn’t grope, and they didn’t decide to suddenly starve you for a short while for their own entertainment like the last lot had. Where the Glennons were concerned, as long as you didn’t raid Gloria Glennon’s stash of chocolate or help yourself to one of Eric Glennon’s beloved beers, they’d practise the principal of ‘live and let live’.
Still, Jaxxon knew that Leah would have, as she always did wherever they were, played up and set out to annoy them if it hadn’t been for the other foster kids. The gorgeous Connor McKenzie and the geeky Roland Thompson had made the situation bearable. Both Jaxxon and Leah had had a little thing for Connor. In fact, Jaxxon had become infatuated with him and his cocky grin as only a teenage girl could. Not just because of how gorgeous he was, but because Jaxxon soon found that underneath his temper and broodiness was intelligence and even kindness. He had always looked out for Jaxxon, always protected her, always chased off any boy within a one mile radius of her. Everyone had feared him – probably because he somehow had the look of a predator – but Jaxxon had never felt threatened by him. In fact, strangely enough, this menacing person had been the only one to ever make her feel safe, even when he was zooming her around town at top speed in a car he had ‘borrowed’ for the night – which he had done regularly but had never been prosecuted as he had never been caught.
Then six months ago, shortly after Connor had turned sixteen, he had moved into a flat of his own just like Leah was doing now. Jaxxon vividly remembered when he had kissed her the night before he left – something which had shocked the hell out of her. He had promised that he would visit sometimes and even take her to see his flat when it was fixed up, but so far he hadn’t been in touch. Then three months after he had left, Roland’s mother had finally sorted her situation out and taken her son back to live with her. And now Jaxxon’s very own sister was leaving too. Sure, she’d have the newest foster addition, Rhona, but the girl was far from friendly and kept everyone at a distance.
“If you do get famous and stuff how will I get in touch with you when I get out?”
Leah shrugged carelessly. “Maybe I’ll phone here on your sixteenth birthday. Maybe I’ll even come get you in a limo. Can you imagine the look on everyone’s faces if I turned up here in a limo!” Another squeal.
Her sixteenth birthday. It seemed so far away right now. Without thinking about it, Jaxxon reached under her mattress and pulled out the photograph that Gloria had let her have. Jaxxon was stood smiling in front of the wonky Christmas tree with Roland on her right side looking absolutely bored and with Connor on her left side wearing that cocky grin she loved so much with his arm flung over her shoulder. Leah was in the background combing her long blonde hair, glaring hard at them. She almost looked angry. This was all Jaxxon had left of them all.
“Oh when are you going to stop pining for him?” groaned Leah. “He isn’t coming back. Why would he? What’s he got to come back for?”
A pang struck Jaxxon in her chest at the impact of Leah’s words and that condescending glare she had that could decrease a person’s own self-worth by 90% just like that.
“Don’t worry,” continued Leah, “I’ll tell him you said ‘hi’.”
It took a few seconds for those last words to register. “What do you mean?”
She gave Jaxxon a sympathetic smile but didn’t even try to conceal the insincerity of it. “Oh come on, Jaxxon, you didn’t honestly think that he had any real interest in you, did you? Oh my God, you did. How cute. Or stupid, whichever.”
Jaxxon felt as though she’d been slapped.
“He told me he only thought of you as a little sister, that it was me he loved. We did it lots of times, you know. He made me promise to come find him when I got out.” She sighed wistfully. “Soon me and him will be living in L.A., our faces all over the magazines, I’ll be recording album after album…Maybe we’ll even get married. Leah McKenzie…I like the sound of it. It’s a lot better than Leah Carter anyway.”
In that one instant, Jaxxon almost hated her. Her and him. The tears gathering in her eyes were ones of anger and despair now, no longer of the fear of being alone. Why would he have kissed her that night before leaving and then told her he had always cared about her if it was Leah he loved? Leah who he had been sleeping with all this time? “He kissed me,” she blurted out.
“Well of course he did. He felt sorry for you – you were getting all teary-eyed. I was the one who told him to kiss you. He hadn’t wanted to, but I thought it might stop you from snivelling. Something you’re doing again now.”
Jaxxon squeezed her eyes shut against the pictures her mind was tormenting her with of Leah and Connor together – kissing, touching, sleeping together. And then them laughing at poor little infatuated Jaxxon.
“Well that’s me all packed.” She squealed again with excitement. After casting one last look and at the plain, musty smelling, mostly bare room, Leah threw her bag over her shoulder. “Gotta go.”
Jaxxon tried to get up from the bed. Maybe to hug her sister. Maybe to slap her. Or maybe to follow her downstairs and wave at the front door. But it was as though her body was depleted. As though her body was downright sick of her mind ignoring Leah’s hurtful behaviour so had decided to intervene before she ran after Leah like a little lost puppy. She did feel lost, though. Jaxxon was a person who always looked on the bright side but right now there didn’t seem to be one, and Jaxxon didn’t know how to function without it.
So she sat there immobile as Leah’s singing gradually faded until she could hear her no more. In that moment Jaxxon felt something change within herself; it was the same sensation she’d gotten when her mother died, and then again when Connor left. Like a piece of herself went with them, leaving gaping holes that Jaxxon suspected might be permanent.
But wasn’t that her own fault for getting too close to people? Wasn’t it her own fault that she was in such pain right now? It was stupid to have ever thought that Connor would want her and not Leah. Her sister was undeniably beautiful with her straight, sleek caramel-blonde hair and piercing hazel eyes and tall, thin, lithe body. She would have the angelic look down to a tee if it wasn’t for the fact that her smile always had a glint of deviousness to it.
The two sisters were practically polar opposites in appearance. Jaxxon sported a head of brown, untameable ringlets and a curvy body that she despised because of the attention it gained her. She was, to her utter annoyance, an early bloomer. Her generous-sized breasts and heart-shaped butt were constantly groped, even by total strangers. It hadn’t been so bad when Connor was around; boys had tended to leave her alone for fear of what he would do. Things had changed drastically since he left. And now that she was without her older sister things could only worsen.