Two weeks. Two whole weeks and all she had to show for Christmas, besides what her friends had given her, was one measly Christmas card half wishing her a Merry Christmas and half asking her for money. She snorted. Out of her four immediate family members, Kingsley of all people had been the one to remember her existence, if only to practically beg for a couple of tenners. That was sad, even by DG standards.
Jody looked down at her mobile phone, her finger hovering over her other brother's contact number. Luke. She hadn't heard from him since her fourteenth birthday, the one that her mother had completely forgotten. Kingsley forgetting was no surprise but her mother's neglect of her - her so-called little girl - struck her deep in the heart, much deeper than she'd ever expected. Still, she had Luke, or so she'd thought. Although Luke had been the one constant link to her family throughout the last six years, even he no longer had no time for her.
Sighing, Jody threw her mobile aside and watched it land on her bed with a soft thud. She wouldn't call Luke. She wouldn't go out of her way for yet another brother who didn't love her. Her nose tingled, signalling the oncoming onslaught of tears that threatened to overwhelm her, and it took all she had not to scream. She had to stop being so pathetic. Why was she surprised? This was all down to bad blood, that bad Jackson blood that ran through all of their veins, courtesy of their mother. It was only a matter of time before Luke proved that he was of that blood. Sometimes, even she succumbed to the pull of that blood.
Something was amiss, though. Luke wasn't that bad. Even though he was Denise Jackson's son, like Kingsley, and had participated in both the assault on their former neighbours and her abandonment back when she was eight, Jody just couldn't believe that he'd stop talking to her for no reason. He'd kept in contact with her throughout his college years and his first two years at uni so why cut her off now? No... Mum was to blame for this. She had to be. She'd said something to Luke, perhaps ordered him to ignore his little sister on pain of disownment.
There was only one way to know for sure...
.:. QK .:.
Swimming. That was her brilliant excuse for borrowing Tyler's money for the bus to her mother's current residence, a house she'd never visited before; after Luke moved out, Mum had decided to downsize to a two-bedroom house and had never cared to invite Jody round. In fact, Jody only knew where her mother lived because Kingsley had told her just before he was released from his first stint in jail, mere months before he returned to jail for burgling the very same house. If there was one thing their mother had learnt since Jody and Luke testified against Kingsley, it was that her eldest son had to pay for his crimes; she testified against him herself this time around.
Getting off the bus at the stop nearest to the house, Jody carefully scoped her surroundings before walking towards the correct door - number twenty-three. One could never be too careful, especially when they lived with a creepy spy like Ryan. For all she knew, he could've been hiding behind a bush, filming her meeting her mother outside of contact so that he could use it to blackmail her later. She couldn't even recall her last contact meeting. It was as if Mum had given her up for closed adoption to Mike and May-Li.
Just as she was about to push open the small red gate blocking the path to the door, the front door of the house opened and out stepped an old man. Jody backed away, quickly hiding behind the bushes next to the gate as the man called out a few indistinct words behind him before opening the gate. She heard her mother call something back and had no time to hide as the man walked past her to get to his car, smiling warmly at her as he did so. She couldn't help but stare at him for a bit before looking away. This man wasn't only old but he was ancient, about the same age as Mum.
Mum. Jody peered around the bush to see her mother leaning against the doorway, waving coyly at the man as he drove past the house. Her initial confusion gave way to irritation as she realised what was going on here. Clearly, her mother didn't need her anymore now that she had a new man. How long had this been going on for? A year? Two years? After Mum got out of jail? Or... before? She'd never seen Mum with a man before, especially not this one, and had never known her to be in a relationship with anyone other than the loser who'd walked out on them before Jody could even walk. When Mum couldn't even look after her own daughter, why was she dating? Suddenly, Jody didn't want to see her mother anymore.
Clenching her fists, she was just about ready to storm off when her mother spotted her. The older woman's smile vanished within a split second, leaving her looking like a deer caught in headlights, and Jody had to wonder if her mother appeared as such because she'd just remembered that she had a daughter. She shook her head, walking off in the direction her mother's new (?) man had gone.
"Jody! Jody, come back!"
Her mother's pleas fell on deaf ears.
.:. QK .:.
"Aren't you going to get that?"
Jody looked up at Ryan as her phone rang for what felt like the millionth time. "No," she answered, scowling as she failed to pot the pink snooker ball. Ryan smirked at her, forcing her to step out of the way as he prepared to take the next shot.
"Is it Tyler?" Candi-Rose singsonged in her highly annoying voice. Although she had no proof, Jody was fairly certain that Candi-Rose was teasing her. Damn that stupid magazine quiz! It'd been almost a year since she'd taken it but she hadn't forgotten the result and, evidently, neither had her pink-clad housemate.
"No," Jody repeated, watching as Ryan potted the ball she'd had her eye on earlier. She didn't have to check her phone to know who it was and not just because she had specific ringtones set for certain people. Her mother had been calling her again and again for days and though she was initially uninterested, her resolve was starting to break; her mother's desperation gave her a somewhat sick sense of self-validation. Was this how Ryan felt when he bullied and manipulated others? If so, she could see the appeal even though she knew it was totally wrong.
"It's not the right ringtone," Ryan told his sister's best friend.
"How- why do you even know that?" Jody asked, leaning against the snooker stick she was using, her voice dripping with disgust.
"I've noticed," Ryan replied, shrugging nonchalantly. Typical. Ryan was a right creep.
"Hasn't Tyler gone to see his friend?" Chloe questioned from behind Jody, watching some sort of Youtube tutorial on the computer with Candi-Rose.
"Yep," Jody responded, popping the 'p'.
Tyler was out seeing Ricardo Barber who was back in town for the weekend. Both guys had asked Jody to come along - Rick had been like a big brother to her (and Tyler) during her first few years in care - but she'd declined, saying she'd see Rick next time. Truth was, she didn't want them to realise something was up; for some reason, she hadn't told Tyler about her encounter with her mother and she wasn't planning to. She literally couldn't bring herself to tell him, and she didn't know why.
Her phone rang again and, this time, she took it out of her pocket and put it on silent.
.:. QK .:.
Some things could only be discussed face to face and the only way Jody could go face to face with her mother was if she went to her. While she would've preferred to see her mother at Ashdene Ridge, under the watchful eyes of Mike and May-Li, it seemed obvious to her that her mother wasn't going to call her social worker without being prodded by her first. That was how she found herself standing in front of her mother's house once again, though this time her mother smiled at her from the doorway instead of at that random man. Jody, still incensed due to the earlier incident, didn't return the smile, choosing to maintain a somewhat neutral expression as she entered the house.
"Why don't you have a seat, babes?" Mum suggested with a kind smile on her face. Rather than feeling more at ease, Jody narrowed her eyes at her mother's warm tone. Mum only ever used terms of endearment when she wanted something from Jody, like that time she tried to get her to stay with her and their family instead of returning to Elm Tree House with her friends and Gina.
Jody stayed rooted to her spot, ignoring her mother's offer. "What have you said to Luke?"
"Luke?" Mum repeated, her smile turning into a frown. "Don't talk to me about that traitor. He thinks he's too good for us now."
"Too good for us?"
"He told me that he blames me for Kingsley," Mum snarled, crossing her arms. "As if I'd be stupid enough to ask Kingsley to burgle my own house!" She scoffed. "This is all down to those mates of his from uni. Swanky idiots, the lot of them!"
Jody's world came crashing down on her. Luke was ignoring her not because their mother had said something to him but because he was ashamed to have an ex-convict mother, a jailbird brother, and a care kid sister. While their mother may not have said anything, the bad Jackson blood they all got from her was ultimately responsible and, by extension, so was she. Jody couldn't take the anger boiling within her out on Luke - she didn't have the time or money to go to his place in London - but she could take it out on the root cause of all this trouble: their stupid mother.
"It's your fault that Luke hates us all, Mum!" she shouted, visibly startling her mother. "Not his friends' or Kingsley's but yours!"
Instead of yelling back like Jody expected, her mother dropped down onto the white leather sofa she'd asked Jody to sit on earlier.
"We don't need Luke," she said softly, taking her mobile phone out of her pocket. It was one of the latest models out there and Jody hoped to God that it wasn't stolen because her mother's benefits couldn't possibly have covered the cost of the phone, not even one on contract. "Come here, love. Look at this."
She didn't want to comply, she really didn't, but it was as if her legs had a mind of their own as they dragged her over to her mother. Unfortunately for her, the phone screen displayed a picture of the last man she wanted to see right now.
"I'm so not interested in your boyfriend, Mum," she grumbled, sitting down next to her mother.
"But you should be," Mum quickly said, swiping to a picture of herself and the man in some coffee shop. "We could be a family one day."
Flinching, Jody inched away from her mother. "Family?" she repeated dryly, recalling their last moment as a family. What with her being locked in her room by Kingsley as Mum watched Eastenders downstairs, it really wasn't a happy memory.
"Yes," her mother responded with a nod, putting her mobile down and turning to her daughter. Mum moved closer to Jody, closing the gap said girl had created mere seconds ago. "Me, you, and Grant."
"What family, Mum?" Jody asked tiredly, her short talk with her mother having emotionally drained her without her realising it until now. "We don't work as a family. The last time I got involved with our family, your son - my own brother - left me to burn to death." She choked the last few words out, almost feeling the smoke burning her lungs again.
"And I'll never forgive him for it," Mum said fiercely, gripping one of Jody's hands. "But our new family will just be us three. No Kingsley, no Luke."
Her heart grew heavy at the mention of Luke but skipped at thought of a new family. It was all she'd ever wanted albeit including her brothers but perhaps it was the closest she was going to get. Maybe Mum and Grant could give her a little brother or sister as well. Women could have babies in their late forties, couldn't they?
Wait... what was she thinking? Denise Jackson was an awful mother. She didn't deserve to have any more children and neither did any of the other Jacksons, including Jody herself. She shook her head, pulling her hand out of her mother's grip.
As if Mum could read Jody's mind, she said, "I know I've let you down before but it's different now. Kingsley's back in prison where he belongs and I won't let him back in here again. No more of him."
No more Kingsley meant no more locked doors... Maybe Mum had a point. She was a bad mother in the past because she was scared of Kingsley and let him do whatever he wanted as a consequence but he was locked up now and she was unlikely to forgive him after his burgling stint. Maybe it could work. But who was this Grant? What if he was just as bad as Kingsley or worse? She wouldn't put it past her mother to date a loser like Kingsley and their absent father.
"I don't know, Mum." It simply sounded too good to be true.
"You'll be fifteen this year. When you're sixteen, your children's home will chuck you out on the streets. You'll have to latch on to some idiot like your father just to survive and before you know it, he'll leave you with nothing but three kids to your name."
Jody looked at her mother, horrified. She wouldn't end up on the streets, she'd go into a semi-independent flat like Carmen and Tee. She definitely wouldn't have any kids, not if she could help it. She doubted she'd ever get a boyfriend - who'd want to date a tomboy care kid? Mum was wrong but the truth wasn't much better; she wouldn't be homeless or dependent on a man but she'd be alone in some flat with no one but a random roommate at best. Tyler wouldn't be around, not when he'd probably be living with his mother again just like he'd always wanted, and the DG lot would forget her in the blink of an eye.
"If you and Grant took me in, I could stay until I'm eighteen?" she implored, suddenly feeling very vulnerable. She'd never lived alone before - she didn't think she could cope, at least not until she went to uni.
"You could stay until you're ready to get your own place," Mum clarified, that kind smile returning in full force. "Think-"
The doorbell ringing cut Mum off and she literally leapt off the sofa, running her hand over her hair and running to the door. Jody watched in bewilderment, standing up when her mother let Grant in. She wrung her hands together, not knowing how to behave. In her excitement, she'd forgotten to ask her mother if Grant knew she was in care.
Grant exchanged a few words and a kiss with Mum before spotting Jody. "Hi, you must be Jody," he greeted, walking over to where said girl was standing. "I'm Grant. I passed you on the way out last week but I had no idea who you were yet."
"Yeah, I remember," Jody replied, racking her brains for something to say. What did one say to their mother's boyfriend? 'I hope you and Mum work out' or 'Welcome to the family'? Huh, what family? "Err, hi," she added as an afterthought, almost kicking herself for how dumb she sounded.
Luckily, Grant didn't seem fazed by her awkwardness. "So, are you glad to be back home?" he questioned, smiling warmly like he had the first time she saw him. "Your mum told me you were spending a week up at your friend's place. What was his name again?"
"Taylor," Mum quickly supplied.
Jody glared at her mother. Not only had her mother lied about where she was last week but she didn't even know Tyler's name. Even Kingsley knew that! It suddenly occurred to her how her mother hadn't even spoken to Tyler once whereas Jody was on a first name basis with Sally. It felt so wrong.
"Tyler," she corrected, forcing herself to smile. Her mother clearly hadn't told Grant that she was in care. This was going to be a long day...