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Freestyle: Chapter 5

Six years ago

Wet through and with my backpack slung over my shoulder, I stand on the pavement on the opposite side of the road and look up at the front door of number fifteen Jackson Street. Rain pours over my skin, plastering my hair to my head and my clothes to my body. My jaw chatters uncontrollably and without looking in a mirror, I know that my lips are blue. It’s taken me thirty minutes to walk here in the pouring rain. Most of that time I spent avoiding any of the hotspots in our estate and kept to the shadows. I’m not a complete idiot. A girl my age out on her own at one in the morning is a prime target for arseholes and predators.

Running away without a plan isn’t easy, or sensible, but I had no choice.

Music pumps out between the gaps in the wooden boards covering every window of the building. Light filters through those same gaps and despite its derelict appearance, there’s plenty of life inside. The Skins don’t bother trying to hide the fact that this is their headquarters. As far as they’re concerned they’re above the law. No one around here fucks with them. Not even the posh nobs who live down the same street. I bet they hate having the Skins as neighbours. Two million-pound houses sit either side, huge iron fences and electric gates a pathetic attempt at blocking the Skins out.

It won’t work.

Rumour has it that Jeb has several of these rich pricks, and the local police chief, in his pocket anyway. If anyone dares to complain about the noise, they’re quickly silenced with violence or the threat of it. Neighbourhood Watch ain’t gonna work around here.

Which really makes me question why, of all places, I’ve found myself here tonight? Maybe I should try the homeless shelter in central Hackney. It might be another thirty-minute walk in this shitty weather, but it’s got to be better than a squat filled with criminals. Then again, a fourteen-year old kid turning up with two black eyes and bruises on her body is going to raise alarm bells, so perhaps not. Lena and I don’t need social services knocking on our door and digging too deep.

I hate my mum and my brother, but I can’t risk being separated from my sister. Sometimes it’s better the devil you know. I’ll just give it a few days to let the dust settle and then I’ll go back home. Mum won’t send anyone looking for me anyway, and she loves Lena, so there won’t be any issues there.

It’s not like she’ll let anyone hurt her…

Pushing down my rage and ignoring the pang inside my chest at the injustice of it all, I sniff loudly and wipe my nose on the sleeve of my soggy jumper.

I’m strong. I can do this.

But instead of heading over to the house, I lean against the trunk of a large Oak tree and study the building under the cover of its huge branches and thick canopy of leaves that protect me from the rain. Shame it can’t do the same about the cold, though. I’m freezing.

Apart from the boarded-up windows and thick metal door designed to keep squatters out, the house itself is a huge three-story Victorian townhouse with half a dozen steps that lead up to the front door. It’s run down, with tiles missing on the roof, and weeds growing up through the cracks in the driveway, but I can see how beautiful it must have been once. A little love and care, and the place could be as stunning as the other houses on the road. Even in its dilapidated state, you can still see its beauty. I kind of like that. Not everything that glitters is gold, and not everything broken is worthless or without beauty. I don’t know when I got so deep, and I laugh a little at myself.

“Are you just gonna stand there all night, or are you going in?”

I almost jump out of my skin as a guy steps out of the shadowy archway of an alleyway that I hadn’t noticed before now. Fuck, my street smarts are outta whack tonight. Rookie mistake. Though it’s not surprising given what I’ve just been through.

Curling my fist around the strap of my rucksack, I narrow my eyes, ready to swing my bag at him if the need arises. He notices but instead of approaching me like I expect him to do, he pulls back his hoodie and gives me a once over. White blond hair springs out in all directions and he appears ghostly in the bright streetlight that illuminates his skin. Actually he looks like he could’ve stepped out of one of those Twilight movies. I swear his eyes are the lightest blue I’ve ever seen. Even in the dark, they’re shockingly bright.

Definitely a vampire.

I hug myself tighter. He could totally suck me dry and no one would come to my rescue.

“Who did that to you?” he asks, pointing to my black eyes.

“None of your business,” I retort through the chattering of my teeth.

“Was it someone in there?” He points to the house across the road and frowns.

“No.” I shake my head violently, then wince as my eye sockets start to ache.

“Okay. So are you waiting on someone? Shouldn’t a little girl like you be in bed?”

This time he steps closer and I pull my rucksack off my shoulder, readying myself.

“You fucking touch me, and I’ll swing for you!” I warn, gritting my teeth. He might be a good foot taller than me, but I will fight back despite the bruises I wear and the pain in my side when I breathe.

“Hey, I ain’t gonna hurt you. I was just about to head over to the house and noticed you standing here like a drowned rat…. No offense,” he adds hastily.

“That’s a new one,” I retort dryly at the insult.

“I didn’t mean it like that, but there’s no denying you look like shit.”

“Thanks.” I can’t seem to hold back the sarcasm. I’m so over tonight already.

“Look, why don’t you come in. My friends all hang out in the basement. They’re cool. Jeb leaves us alone for the most part, so you’ve nothing to fear from him or the Skins.” He seems to spit the word out like it’s poison. “We keep out of his way.”

“So you know Zayn then?”

The kid smiles, because he’s definitely a boy and not a man despite his height and build. “Yeah, I know Zayn well. I’m one of the Breakers,” he says proudly.

“The Breakers?” I ask, swinging my bag back over my shoulder and wincing with the pain.

“We’re the Breakers crew. Me, Zayn, Dax and Xeno.”

“You’re one of Zayn’s crew?” I ask stupidly, given he’s already told me that.

“Well, strictly speaking it’s Xeno’s crew. Zayn’s just a cocky bastard and talks shit because he’s the best dancer. Xeno humours him.”

“Oh,” I respond, not really knowing what else to say.

He grins, holding his hand out. I stare at it hovering between us. “My name’s York and I don’t know about you, but it’s fucking freezing and I could use a drink. Coming?” he asks, stepping forward, still offering his hand.

For some reason only known to the old man in the sky, I throw caution to the wind and slide my trembling hand into his, totally under his spell. He squeezes my fingers and pulls me gently across the road towards number fifteen Jackson Street.


Laughter sounds as we enter the basement through a side door rather than the front one. It opens onto a darkened hallway that makes me squeak with fear. York grins, pointing to the stairs that descend into more darkness. “Don’t be scared. I swear no one here will hurt you. Just watch your step.”

I don’t know why I trust him, but I do. Perhaps the double punch to my face has knocked the sense out of me? “You don’t want to drink my blood then?” I mumble between full on body shakes as I allow him to lead me downwards, my free hand running along the wall to keep me steady. It feels cold to the touch and gritty, like plaster is coming away in fine grains all over my fingers.

York barks out a laugh, and if it wasn’t the middle of the night and pitch black in this poxy staircase I’d bet he’d start sparkling like Edward fucking Cullen. “You’re kind of weird, do you know that?”

“And you look like a bloodsucking vampire,” I retort.

He chuckles and guides me down the stairs. “Yo, dickheads! I’m here. The party can begin,” York says as he releases my hand and pushes open a door before looping his arm over my shoulder. I yelp when his hand lands on a bruise on my upper arm, drawing the attention of the three boys inside the room.

Pen?” Zayn shoots to his feet, his eyes wide with shock. His gaze flicks from me to York and back again. “What the fuck happened to you?”

“I…”

“York?” Zayn accuses, getting the wrong end of the stick completely.

“Fuck you, man, don’t look at me like that! I don’t hit girls. I just found her outside. She said she knew you, so I invited her in.”

Zayn turns his attention back to me. “Why are you here?”

I swallow hard, forcing my body to stop shaking whilst simultaneously trying really hard not to lean into the warmth of York’s body. I’ve no idea how he’s stayed so dry. Must be his vampiric skills, dashing through the raindrops or some shit.

“You invited me, remember?” I say quietly, suddenly feeling like a first-class tit.

Zayn puffs out his cheeks, swiping a hand through his hair. Okay, so maybe he was full of shit that day in the playground. My stomach plummets. He’s about to say something more when a scowly looking kid pipes up. He’s got brown curly hair, and the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen, they’re the same shade as the grass covering Hackney Common. His skin is a few shades darker than Zayn’s olive tone, hinting at an inter-racial heritage and offsetting the tone of his eyes beautifully.

“Who’s this?” he asks, looking me up and down. That scowl turns to a sneer, making him a little less attractive. He’s friendly… not.

Urgh. I don’t like him. “Who are you?” I retort back, unable to help myself and feeling way too prickly. It’s been a long night and I could do without his unkindness. Folding my arms across my chest and ignoring York’s surprised laugh and Zayn’s grimace, I give him my best haughty look, which isn’t all that easy when my face hurts so bloody much. The curly haired arsehole is about to respond when he’s beaten to the punch by Zayn, who’s clearly on damage control.

“This is the girl I was telling you about, remember?” he explains, as York guides me into the room and kicks the door shut behind me.

“Want a drink?” York asks, ignoring everyone but me as he gives me a gentle smile. I’m not sure why he’s being so nice, given we’ve just met, but I appreciate it anyway, even though the last thing I want is alcohol. I took a swig of Mum’s cheap wine once, it was disgusting.

“I don’t drink.”

“I don’t mean alcohol, you’re like ten or something.

“Fourteen actually. I’m just small for my age.”

“Fourteen then. What’s your poison? Cola, Pepsi?”

“Cola is fine.”

“Sure thing, Titch,” he says, leaving me to stand awkwardly in front of his friends. Great, I’ve known him for five minutes and he’s already calling me names. I groan internally feeling way out of my comfort zone as Zayn and the douchebag with curly hair have a whispered argument, and another kid looks up at me from beneath the rim of his baseball cap. His grey hoodie is pulled up over his cap, casting his face in shadow. All I can see are his lips and chin. He has a pretty mouth.

“Hi,” I manage to say.

He doesn’t respond. He doesn’t even smile. He just looks at me for far longer than is comfortable, before turning his attention back to the arguing boys.

“I can go…” I say, but they don’t seem to hear me. “I’ll go,” I repeat, a little louder this time.

“Sit!” the guy with the curly hair suddenly snaps. He points to the spot on the sofa next to the quiet dude, a scowl on his face. He might be pretty, but he’s an arsehole. Figures.

“It’s fine. This was a mistake…” My gaze flicks to Zayn who is gritting his jaw in anger and looking at me with an apology in his eyes.

“Not so fast, Titch,” York says, jogging towards me. He pulls my rucksack off my shoulder before I can stop him and hands me a warm can of Cola.

“Thanks,” I mutter, shifting from foot to foot. This isn’t awkward.

“You should probably sit. Xeno can be an arsehole if you ignore his orders,” York says with a grin. So that’s Mr Scowly’s name. Xeno.

“Fuck off, York. It’s one o’clock in the fucking morning. Who turns up at that time looking like that?” Xeno growls, folding his arms over his chest.

“Someone who’s desperate and needs help?” Zayn says, hitting the nail on the head. My skin flushes crimson and Xeno gives pause, looking at me. I notice a shift in his gaze, like he’s suddenly realised he’s being an arsehole. Just when I think he’s about to redeem himself, he looks at York and snarls.

“Actually, why the fuck are you so late? You were supposed to be here at eleven.”

“Shit to do,” York responds with a shrug.

“So you decide to rock up late and bring Tiny with you.”

Great, another goddamn nickname. I wish they’d pick something other than my height to focus on. Jesus, I’m not that small.

“She’s just a kid… Leave her alone,” Mr Face-In-Shadow comments. He has a deep voice, deeper than the others. He’s built too. He can’t be the same age as the rest of them.

“I’m not a kid. I’ll be fifteen in a few months.”

He laughs, shaking his head. “Sit down, Kid.”

“Dax you’re only fifteen yourself,” York comments, rolling his eyes. “Titch here ain’t no harm. Just get over yourselves, alright?” He turns to face me. “Go sit, make yourself comfortable, yeah?”

My cheeks warm. I like York, even if he does look like a bloody vampire. “I’m soaked. Is there anywhere I can change?” I ask, looking between the boys. Even if I’m not staying, I need to get out of these wet clothes. I’m smart enough to know that much. When they stay silent, I continue. “I have a change of clothes in my bag…” My voice trails off when I realise that I’ve basically just fessed up to running away.

“Here,” York says, handing me back my rucksack.

Zayn sighs, then motions for me to follow him. When we reach the corner of the room, he pulls me into a closet that’s tucked away there. It’s dark and smells of mould. Stepping close, Zayn reaches for something behind me. I can feel his warm breath on my skin as a dim light turns on overhead, illuminating the small space that is empty apart from a wall of shelves with nothing on them.

“Fuck, someone did a number on you, didn’t they?”

I grit my teeth and nod.

“Want to talk about it?” he asks. There’s a gentleness to his voice that makes my eyes well with unwelcome tears.

“No.”

“Okay, well, if you ever do. I’m a good listener.” He steps back, giving me a bit of space.

I let out a long whoosh of breath. I don’t feel like talking about what happened to me. I don’t think I’ll ever want to talk about it. “I’m sorry if I’ve got you into trouble. I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

“I’m not in any trouble. Xeno’s just a little bit…”

“Of an arsehole?” I fill in for him.

“No, protective of what we have here. He was just caught off-guard. When you get to know him, you’ll understand that he’s a good guy under it all.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll let you get changed then,” he says, backing out of the door and shutting it gently behind him.

It’s only then that the tears come, hot and heavy. I stuff my jumper in my mouth and sob, choking on them as they wrack my body. By the time I emerge from the cupboard ten minutes later in dry clothes, my red-rimmed eyes are wiped free from tears and the boys are talking quietly. If they’d heard me crying, they don’t mention it. Instead, Mr Face-In-Shadows makes room for me on the sofa between him and Zayn. I sit down, clutching my hands together in my lap. Feeling ten times warmer and fifty times more awkward.

“You good?” Zayn asks.

“I’m good.”

“You can stay here as long as you need. Jeb never comes down here, so you don’t need to worry about him. Besides, one of us will be here with you at all times, just in case.”

“You don’t have to do that…”

“We’re doing that.” I look up at Xeno who is now watching me intently from the armchair opposite. He meets my gaze with a glare. “We’re doing that,” he repeats.

York grins, his weird sparkly eyes, shining. “Bagsy first.”

“What are you, fucking five?” Xeno snaps.

York laughs, shaking his head with mirth.

“Don’t you have school to go to?” I ask.

“Don’t you?” Xeno retorts.

“Not this week…”

“Then neither do we.”

We fall silent for a while and I know that I’ve upset the balance between this group of friends, but I can’t even seem to find the energy to feel guilty about it. Right now, I need to sleep as a sudden bone-weary tiredness washes over me. My eyelids start to droop and before I realise what I’m doing, my head drops to the side, falling onto a bony shoulder. I jerk awake, my head snapping up.

“Sorry,” I mumble.

“S’alright. Do what you need. I’m Dax by the way,” Mr Face-In-Shadow says, pulling back his hoodie and removing his cap. He has a shorn head, a wide jaw and strange coloured eyes that are a mixture between grey, green and blue.

“I’m Pen.”

“See a penny pick up, all day long you’ll have good luck,” he mutters back, before cupping my head gently and resting it back on his shoulder.

From that day on I became their Pen, and they became my Breakers.


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