‘I don’t want to explain it again!’ Shelley squeals.
‘Well you might have to,’ Shelley’s aunt, Christabel, responds.
Shelley huffs and crosses her arms in protest. She loves living with Aunt Christabel, but she is extremely strict. Shelley was moved to Christabel’s home by the department, after months of living on the streets and couch surfing. Shelley’s social worker arranged foster care with her maternal aunt, who she’d met only once or twice in her fourteen years. The last time was Christmas, the year Shelley turned eleven. Christabel was kind, though, Shelley remembered clearly. She was nothing like Gretta, Shelley’s mum.
‘Honey, I know you’re not used to boundaries, but if you live under my roof, then you have to live by my rules,’ Christabel continues. Her voice is soft and kind, with none of the sharp bites favoured by Gretta. Strange how sisters can be so different. ‘Now, one more time, please, explain it for me.’
Christabel sits on the end of Shelley’s bed and smiles, inviting her to expand.
Shelley obliges. She repeats everything that has happened in her first week at the new secondary college. All the taunts, the loneliness, and feeling like a square peg in a round hole.
‘No one wants to be my friend, Aunt Christabel. No one!’ Shelley blurts. She throws her head into the pillow and sobs.
Christabel rubs her niece’s back and lets her cry. She hears Shelley mumble something. Her heart leaps; perhaps she misheard.
‘What was that, honey?’
‘Someone put a turd in my locker!’
Christ, it’s worse than she first thought. All her research prior to enrolling Shelley at the school showed empirical evidence to suggest it had good structures, teaching support and that students thrived there. Once she slipped the papers over the reception desk though, the real truths came out. Neighbours who’d had kids attend there in years gone by stopped at her front fence to natter while she was gardening. Past students trashed talked the school on social media. Still, Christabel assumed there was good and bad in any school, and she figured Shelley was a survivor. She’d tough it out.
She still thought that. But shit? In a locker? Who does that?
‘Alright. You can stay home today. I’ll contact the principal to get to the bottom of it.’
Christabel stifles a giggle; she didn’t mean to make that pun. Shelley’s head pops up from the pillow with a light in her eyes that Christabel has never seen before.
‘Urgh, that was terrible,’ Shelley says, laughing. ‘Did you mean that?’
‘It was bad, wasn’t it?’ Christabel kisses her niece on the forehead. ‘Snuggle under the covers. Take a nap. I’ll bring you brunch in an hour or so.’
Shelley nods. She draws breath, and continues, ‘Aunt Christabel?’
Christabel pauses at the door to Shelley’s bedroom. ‘Yes, honey?’
‘Thank you. For everything.’