Katie opens her eyes, the brightness streams in through the curtains. She burrows under the covers. Her jaw aches, her head thumps.
‘Time for school!’ yells Katie’s mum, from down the hallway. ‘Get up. Get up NOW!’
Katie groans. Today, of all days, is a day to hide. But Mum is singing or humming, her footsteps sound closer, closer. A bang on her door.
‘I said get up, hun,’ Mum says from behind the door. She knocks again, doesn’t wait for Katie to respond, and walks straight in. ‘Oh God, Katie, you need to clean this room. I’m sure there’s a colony of something nasty lurking in the corners.’
‘Muuum, it’s fine. I like it this way.’
‘Yeah, well I don’t. And this is my home, so you’ll get up now and tidy it.’
Another groan escapes from under the doona.
‘And none of that, thank you.’
The covers are thrown back, Katie cold and exposed. ‘Mum, don’t!’ she cries, curls in the foetal position instantly. She doesn’t want her mum to see.
‘What the hell!’ Mum sits on the bed, and starts to rub Katie’s back. ‘When were you going to tell me?’
‘We can stop this. It’s not acceptable. I mean, look at you.’ Mum holds one of Katie’s arms and surveys the purple and yellow skin. She sighs, as if gathering all her strength. ‘Who is doing this to you?’
‘Don’t protect them.’
Still no words form. Katie’s eyes are dark and shiny. She raises them to glance up at her mum.
‘Katie, don’t hide from this.’
The bed creaks as Katie lifts her upper body to sit; she faces Mum, stares at her.
‘It’s too big. Too much. Too everything,’ Katie mumbles through tears as she swings her legs around, her feet touch the carpet. ‘It doesn’t matter. I can take it.’
‘How long?’ Mum asks.
Katie looks, her brows creased in confusion.
‘How long has this been happening?’
Staring at the floor, Katie whispers, ‘A while. I’ve become really good at hiding the bruises. Makeup camouflages the ones on my neck and face. You know…’ Her voice trails.
Mum stands, smooths the folds in her dress. She holds out her hand to help Katie rise from the bed.
‘I’m always here for you,’ she says. ‘We can fight this together. But I need all the info, who’s doing it to you.’
Katie nods. ‘OK, Mum. OK.’
They walk to the kitchen together, arm in arm.