Dad comes over more often now. I can’t relax. Will he be back again today? I don’t know. I’m not even sure how long it’s been since he stormed out. It was dark outside when he left and it’s dark outside now. This winter is the blackest I can remember. I guess that’s what they call pathetic fallacy.

They didn’t teach me that at school.

I learnt it on my own.

The way I’ve learnt everything.

Mum’s back. I can hear the dogs. I guess that’s why she doesn’t even know Dad’s been here. She’s been looking for Bog and Carlos. I don’t know what type of dog Bog is, but he’s tiny. If he wanted to disappear for good, he could do it easily. Carlos is the one that always gives them away. He’s a cross between a Great Dane and some kind of mastiff. So, yeah, massive. And he stinks. It doesn’t matter how often he gets washed, he still stinks.

Mum loves those misfit animals, though.

Or maybe she just needs them.

Whatever the case, she’s always out searching for them, then dragging their sorry arses back here whether they like it or not.

A few hours later and they’ll be gone again.

Where do they go?

Back to the caravans probably. Maybe Mum’s glad of the reason to go back herself. Not that our old home is lying empty. Diggers and Katie moved in the moment our backs were turned. Not that I blame them. I’d have done the same. And it’s not as if I can complain.

I’m living the dream.

My phone buzzes.

It’s my boyfriend.

I look at his message. Four words. One in a million.

I smile. The way I always do.

I’ve been getting the same message for years, almost since we first met.

We’d looked up my name. What it meant. How popular it was. Two in every million girls are called Ayley. So said the internet. Whatever that’s worth.

I pretended to be annoyed. Or maybe I really had been annoyed. I mean, one in a million is special. That’s what people say. Two in a million. What’s that about?

“You’re definitely one in a million,” my boyfriend had said.

Back then, though, he hadn’t tagged himself my boyfriend.

And he hadn’t made up his own label for me either.

Fuck it. That was a long time ago

Things are different now. I can’t spend too much time thinking about my boyfriend. I need to focus on me. I need to make sure I stay in shape. If only to prove to Dad that I’m not going to get fat. Or maybe I should actually eat until I’m twice my usual size. That would really piss him off.

I start to prod at the keys on my piano. I play the melody to ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ and hum the tune. Then I put the frenetic Bright Star version on the stereo.

I get off my stool and start to dance. Gently at first. Then harder. And harder. And harder.

I’m not dancing to keep from putting on weight. I’m dancing because I can’t not.

And I know Dad’s right. I can’t stay locked in here forever. What he doesn’t know is that I don’t plan to.

I’ll come out when I’m ready.

And when I do, well, he won’t know what’s hit him.

Find out how Ayley got here. Start N-N-N-N-Nineteen from the beginning.

Chapter image by Arthur Brognoli.