Lyrical: Chapter 25


Pen

Lena grins, throwing her arms around my shoulders and squeezing me tightly. “Pen, I’ve missed you!”

“I’ve missed you too,” I laugh, guiding her to the booth and away from all the prying eyes.

This is our favourite café in Hackney and most of the locals come here too. Pietro, the owner, makes the most amazing cakes and the best hot chocolate in London. We don’t often get to come here, but now that I’ve got enough food to last me until my first payday, I figured I could spend my remaining tenner on a couple of hot chocolates and a slice of chocolate cake to share between us. I’ve still not quite recovered from the killer hangover from Friday night with Clancy and River, and I need a sugar hit, stat. I spent most of Saturday in bed avoiding everyone, but feel considerably better today. I seem to be good at burying my head in the sand when the need arises. Not that I needed to hide, given I haven’t seen any of the Breakers since Friday. I’ve tried not to think too much about what they were meeting Jeb for or what they’ve been up to since. I figure if shit went down, I would’ve found out about it by now.

“I’ve loads to tell you about the school trip. Who knew the Isle of Wight could be so much fun! I thought only old people lived there.”

I laugh, capturing the attention of Pietro with a wave and a smile. He comes over to take our order. Once he’s returned to the counter, I turn my attention back to Lena. “So, you enjoyed yourself then?”

“It was so good! I shared a room with Simone and Laura. We snuck some booze into our suitcases and got pissed every night. It was such a laugh.”

“Lena, you could’ve gotten caught!”

“Yeah, but we didn’t. Besides, we weren’t the only ones who did it. What’s the headteacher gonna do, suspend all the students for doing the same thing? They’d have no one left in the year.” She giggles, rolling her eyes.

“It was supposed to be an informative trip. You were supposed to be learning shit, Lena, not getting drunk every night.”

“I was learning shit. I learnt that local boys are all pussies and don’t like being dared. I also learnt that Teddy Smith in our year has a nine inch cock, and that he likes his balls being tickled when he’s getting sucked off.”

“What?! You’re fourteen, Lena!” I hiss, shocked at the thought. “Who the fuck is Teddy Smith?”

Her grin blows wide and she starts laughing. When she’s finally calmed down, she swipes at the tears falling from her eyes and shakes her head. “Seriously, Pen, your face! Oh my god! I didn’t give him a blowjob, that was Simone. Besides, I’m almost fifteen.”

I blow out a breath, shaking my head at her. “I’m not even sure that’s any better. She’s your best friend and also fourteen.”

“Seriously, don’t tell me you were any better behaved at our age. You hung out with the Breakers and everyone knows they’re manwhores. Come on, you must’ve gotten up to shit with them.”

“They were my friends, Lena. It wasn’t like that between us.” At least not at fourteen, but she doesn’t need to know that.

She gives me a ‘yeah right,’ look and shakes her head. She’s way sassier than I ever was at her age. I’m not sure that’s a good thing either. Sassy can get you into a whole heap of shit.

“Want my advice?” I ask.

“Nope, but I know you’ll give it to me anyway,” she says, waving her hand in the air as Pietro comes back with our order. We both thank him and wait for him to return to his other customers before picking up our conversation.

“You should keep away from boys; they’re nothing but trouble and no giving blowjobs until you’re at least twenty-five.”

Lena pulls a face. “Why do I have to be the good one? You didn’t keep away from the Breakers, and you’re seriously telling me you’ve never given a man a blowy.”

My cheeks flush with the memory of me on my knees in the shower with York. Thankfully, Lena’s way too interested in devouring the slice of chocolate cake to notice.

“I did keep away from the Breakers… eventually,” I say, batting away her comment. “Besides, you need to learn from my mistakes and make better choices than I did. Just because Simone is happy to give someone a blowy, doesn’t mean you should. You need to be good,” I say sternly.

“Being good is boring, I’d rather be like you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know, I want to be cool. Hanging out with the bad boys, getting up to stuff I shouldn’t. I want to have fun, Pen. Like you did when you hung out with the Breakers.”

“Firstly, being cool doesn’t equal getting up to no good, and the Breakers weren’t bad boys just misunderstood. Plus, I’d rather you not blow some kid, and get an education. I want you to make something of yourself, okay?”

“And you’re not making something of yourself? Come on, Pen. You’re, like, living your dream. You’re a dancer. All my friends want to be like you.”

“I’ve managed to get into the Academy, yes, but that’s no guarantee of a future in dance. I’m fully aware of that fact.”

“Urgh, have a little faith in yourself. Jeez, mum really did a number on you, didn’t she?”

“That’s not what this is about. I’m realistic. I’ve got nothing to fall back on should my whole dream go to shit, Lena. I went to school, but I didn’t really try. Don’t be me. Don’t make the same mistake. Have a back-up plan.”

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” she replies, doing a good job at eating all of the chocolate cake. I don’t mind, the hot chocolate is enough of a sugar hit for me anyway.

“So, how’s mum?” I ask, feeling like it’s something I have to say because truthfully, I really don’t care how she is, I only care in relation to how she’s looking after Lena.

“She’s mum,” Lena responds, shrugging.

“What does that mean?”

Lena pulls a face.

“Lena!” I warn. “What are you hiding?”

“She forgot to come pick me up Friday afternoon when I got back from my trip. It was so embarrassing waiting for her long after everyone else went home. Eventually Miss Spratt felt sorry for me and offered to drop me home. I had to make an excuse about her being caught up at work. She was passed out on the sofa when I got in. I think she had one glass too many.”

“That irresponsible bitch!” I growl. “Why didn’t you call me? I would’ve come got you.”

“It was cool, honestly. Besides, I didn’t want you to get into trouble having to leave a lesson to come get me. I don’t want to get in the way of your dream.”

“Lena,” I say, leaning over the table to grab her hand in mine. “You’re my top priority. Always. No matter what.”

Lena gives me a half smile, the little dimple in her left cheek showing. “Yeah, but I shouldn’t be. That’s mum’s job. You’re not my mum, Pen. She is.”

“I’m well aware of that and I don’t care. I’m here for you. Next time something goes wrong, you call me, okay?”

“But—”

“You call me,” I insist.

Lena nods, and I see the weight she’s been carrying lift from her shoulders. Guilt attacks me. I hate leaving her alone with our mum. I’d always been the buffer between Lena and my mum’s addiction and nasty behaviour. Now Lena has to face it on her own, and it guts me.

“I can deal with it. You had to.”

“But that’s the whole point. No one should have to deal with that shit.”

“Yeah, I know,” she sighs. “But I swear, Pen. I can handle Mum. I just give her some painkillers and put her to bed if she’s semi-sober. Otherwise, I let her sleep it off. It’s no big deal.”

Anger boils inside my chest. Lena’s a kid. She shouldn’t have to deal with this. I can’t stand it. “Maybe I can find a flat or something. You could move in with me…” I voice out loud, trying to find a solution to the problem

“Pen, I know you don’t have the money for that.”

“I’m starting a new job in a couple of weeks—”

“Wait, what? You didn’t say! So you’re not working at Rocks anymore?”

“Nope, and my new employer pays better too. If I can save for a couple of months, I could get a deposit together for a cheap rental somewhere. Like a studio flat or something. If mum’s getting worse I can’t risk leaving you with her. It’s not safe.”

“No, Pen. I know you see me as a kid, but I’m not a baby. I swear I can handle it. Save your money and then maybe when you’ve finished the scholarship at the Academy and have an amazing job in a West End show we can talk about this again.”

“Lena—”

“I can handle Mum.” She gives me a determined look. It’s the look of a kid who’s had to grow up too fast. It’s the look of a kid who’s already jaded by the world, and I fucking hate it.

“I don’t like this, not one bit, Lena,” I say, swiping a hand over my face. “Promise me you’ll call the second anything goes wrong. I mean it. If you need me, I don’t care what time of day or night it is. You call, understand?”

“I understand. Besides, I spend most of my time at Laura’s or Simone’s house so it’s cool.”

“Don’t their parents mind?”

“Nah, believe it or not teenage girls are always in each other’s houses. It’s totally normal. Not everyone was bestfriends with a bunch of boys like you.”

“Okay, well good. As long as they don’t start sniffing about. The last thing we need is social services asking questions.”

“Chill, okay? It’s all good. I’m gonna stay at Laura’s for a couple of nights anyhow. I’m meeting her today.” She gives me a smile then looks at her watch, wincing.

“What?”

“I gotta go…”

“Go where?”

“I told you, to Laura’s house,” Lena says slowly. “Me and the girls are doing this TikTok thing… We’ve got this whole new idea we think will get us a load of followers. I said I’d hang with them.” She screws up her nose, looking two parts cute and one part guilty.

“So long as this new idea doesn’t involve anything illegal,” I warn, giving her my best big-sister glare.

“No, I swear. It’s all good fun. Promise.”

“Fine! Go, be with your friends. Have fun, don’t get into trouble, and ring me later, ‘kay?”

She grins. “Are you sure? I could arrange to meet them in another hour or so?”

“Nah. It’s all good. I’ve got to choreograph a new routine anyway. It’s no biggie. Come on, let’s hug it out. I’ll walk you to the bus stop.”


A few hours later, I’m just putting the finishing touches on my choreography that I’ve been working on for my first performance at Grim’s club when my phone starts ringing. With sweat dripping down my spine, I pick it up.

It’s my brother.

Fuck.

Bile rises in my throat, but I swallow it down. I need to remain calm.

“David.”

“Hey, Sis, it’s so good to hear from you… Oh, wait. You’ve not bothered to call me at all. What the fuck’s up with that?”

“I’ve been busy doing what you asked,” I reply, holding my voice steady even when I’m fucking trembling.

“Is that so? Want to tell me what you’ve found out?”

Curling my fingers into my palm enough that my nails dig into my skin, I take a deep breath. The only thing I can tell him is what I overheard between Madame Tuillard and D-Neath. It’s not much, but at least I’m not betraying the Breakers. “D-Neath wants to use the Academy for something nefarious. I haven’t been able to find out exactly what just yet, but Madame Tuillard isn’t happy about it. In fact she refused—”

“And?” he demands, his voice cool.

“And that’s it. That’s all I have.”

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, PENELOPE!” he roars into the phone so loud that I have to pull it away from my ear. Anger like this would’ve earned me a punch to the face. Thank God he’s still living on the other side of the world.

“I’m trying, okay?” I plead.

“Not fucking hard enough!”

“D-Neath just got out of prison after a stint inside for drug racketeering. I think maybe he’s taken up that line of work again.”

“No fucking shit, Sherlock,” David says with a heavy dose of sarcasm. “Listen very carefully, I want to know what the fuck he’s up to, and I want to know if the Breakers and Jeb are in on it. Which, given the fact they’re conveniently at the Academy, is a no fucking brainer.”

“It’s not as easy as that—”

“No? Just use your charms, Penelope. Fuck one of them. Hell, fuck all of them at once,” he sneers. By the tone of his voice he isn’t happy with the idea, and it’s not because he’s coming from a position of brotherly concern. Nope, his unhappiness is based more in jealousy than anything else. My stomach twists. He’s sick.

“I’m trying, David. It’s complicated.”

“Fuck complicated. Do as you’re goddamn told! You do not want to test me, whore!”

I flinch at his words, my whole body shaking with fear. I hate him so fucking much.

“I need a little more time. Please, David. I’ll find out what you want to know. I promise.” Pleading has never worked before, and I don’t expect it to now, but it’s all I have. “She’s your little sister…” I whisper, unable to comprehend how he could even think about hurting her, let alone follow through on the threat.

“You think that matters to me?”

“What about Mum? You care about her, at least. I know you do. If you hurt Lena, it will kill her.”

David laughs like I’ve said the funniest thing and it makes my skin crawl. He’s evil. Pure and simple. “The only thing that woman was good for was giving birth to me. She’s a waste of fucking space.”

“David—”

“You don’t need me to remind you what’s at stake, do you, Penelope?”

“No. I understand,” I manage to bite out.

“Good. I’ll be waiting because, believe me, my patience is wearing thin. Don’t fucking disappoint me.”

“I won’t.” My voice is barely above a whisper as I try to hold onto my tears.

“You have until the end of the month, Penelope. If you don’t tell me what the fuck is going on by then, she’s dead,” he warns, ending the call with that threat ringing in my ears.

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