1. Cynthia

The radio pumps out the same old song. It makes me want to kill myself. Then again, everything makes me want to kill myself. Little Jo sees the look on my face.

“I like it,” she shrugs.

“You always say that,” Ella points out, purposefully crossing her eyes in a way that makes it clear – to me at least – that she knows why I want to cover my ears and scream until the song goes away.

“Turn the radio off,” Big Joe suggests – in that way he has of sounding like our father or something. “It’s 2019, we do have other ways of listening to music.”

I stick my tongue out and sigh.

“It’ll be over soon.”

The others carry on with the conversations they were having before that disease of a tune infected the room. I can’t help but listen to every word of it.

We’ve got dolls in our rooms.

The lyrics make my skin crawl.

Kris holds a record up. I can’t help but smile and he knows that of course I’ve given in. I’m that easy. Only with him. Despite what everyone else might say. Kris flicks the ancient radio off and carefully places the needle onto the old black vinyl. I close my eyes as the sound of music we all love fills up the room. I feel the weight in me fragmenting. Then Kris’ fingers prodding at me. I’m stretched out on the battered sofa, he’s on the floor, and when I open my eyes he’s looking up at me and lip-synching the words to Five Years.

Music that means something.

These are the best nights. Me, love-of-my-life Kris and our best friends. We’ve grown up together. Well, maybe not ‘grown up’. We still act like we’re sixteen instead of on our way to twenty, hiding out in the same basement we’ve made our own since Little Jo’s mum threw up her hands, said, ‘well, at least I know where you are,’ and let us turn it into our den. That was years ago. Posters of all the musicians we love paper the walls.

Lady Gaga.

David Bowie.

Elton John.

“Do you want a drink?” Big Joe asks.

He’s always looking out for us, making sure we’re alright. He does it without thinking.

“No thanks, Dad.”

Big Joe raises his eyebrows like he always does when I mess with him. Which is pretty much all the time. Kris is still miming. I lean down and kiss him on the head, ruffle his hair like he’s a dog. He smiles and calls after Big Joe.

“Hey, what about me?”

Big Joe’s already on his way back from the fridge. He’s carrying a whole heap of beers and he throws one at Kris.

“Would I ever forget you?”

I shut my eyes again and soak in the feeling of sharing this space with these people. When I leave this room, I know my life will spin back out of control. The way it always does when I’m not right here. The basement may be small but it’s the only place I’m truly happy.

Out there, everything’s a mess.

Out there, nothing’s the way it should be.

Out there, I see myself the way everyone else sees me and it makes me sick.

Down here, there are no mirrors. Not even in the bathroom. Down here, I can pretend I’m somebody else.