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It was nearer forty minutes, but at least the view was nice. At last I heard crashing and banging from outside; I assumed from the huge room I had woken up in the night before. I waited another fifteen minutes with bated breath when I heard her voice from the speakers. “Mmm, nice coffee and first cig of the day. Feel better now—fuck, that case of yours was a weight! How you doing in there?”

I assumed she’d hear me wherever I was, so I spoke quietly. “I’ve felt better but thanks for asking. What was that stuff?”

“Oh, just some nasty chemicals I came by fortuitously a while ago. Always carry them in case I need a quick get-out, but last night I found a proper use for them. Came in very handy. I’m going to come in and talk in a moment, but I need you to be restrained again – just in case you try anything, you understand. Once I got my life sorted out, I decided I wasn’t going to be bullied again so I took Taekwondo lessons. I’m bloody good at it and I could probably put you through the window before you could blink – but I ain’t taking the risk. So be a darling and dig down to the left of the mattress. There’s a padlock on a chain under there about a third of the way down. Just close it over one of the rings on your left wristband, make yourself comfy and I’ll be in to see you in two shakes of a lamb’s tail!”

It was pointless to argue. I found the padlock and the chain was long enough to allow me free movement around the bed. Something told me I was going to have to get used to being in that situation. I lay down and waited a moment. I heard a key in the lock and the outer door opened. Bree came in carrying a wooden chair in one hand, a coffee mug in the other, a cigarette dangling from her lips. She set the chair down backwards at the foot of the bed and sat down on it, legs wide apart. She was wearing a white silky robe and she must have showered on her return with my gear. She pulled on her cig and took a long sip of coffee. The smell made my stomach lurch, but this time for the right reasons.

She smiled and looked at me. “Same rules, Chloe. Speak when I tell you to, ok? Who is in control here?

I looked at her levelly. “You are Bree.”

“Good start. Sorry to smoke in your room, but it’s really your fault. I just wanted to be like you and the others back then. Be one of your gang. Saw you doing it and started myself. Looks like you managed to quit, but I wasn’t that lucky. Add that to the abuse and bullying and see the lasting damage you’ve done to me?”

Assuming it was my turn to speak, I sighed. “Sorry, Sab… Bree. I hated it, but I wanted to be part of it all too. I did it to fit in with them and I wish I had never-”

She shook her head and ran her fingers across her lips. “Zip it, Chloe. If you try to apologise once more, I’ll stub this fucking thing out on your hand. Got it?”

I nodded in acquiescence. “Got it.”

“Good girl. I hated it too, but I thought it might make a difference. But the ugly, spotty, half-blind kid with buck teeth was never going to make your little toxic foursome, was she? By the time I realised that, I was hooked and I was stubbing them out on my arms and carving patterns with a rusty knife because I hated myself and it hurt a damned side less than being called ‘The Teenage Bitch’ or ‘Join the Dots’.”

She took a final drag and moved towards the bed and held the stub over my left foot. Though panicking inside, I held her gaze. “Do it, Bree. I deserve it.”

She let out a small laugh. “Good response, but no. That would be too easy.” She moved to the window and opened it a crack. She flicked the butt out into the Saturday morning sky and sat back down. “Far too easy. I take it from your reaction to me last night, you’ve never fucked a woman, have you?”

I shook my head slightly, surprised by this sudden change of tack.

“Ever wanted to?”

I repeated my action. It had never even occurred to me.

Bree let out a small laugh. “Nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve never fucked a bloke. Just think of the education I am going to give you over the next few days. When I finally let you go from here and someone asks you that question in future, you’ll be able to say, ‘Yes, I have actually—quite a few in fact!’” As my heart sank, she went on. “I’m going to humiliate you, Chloe. Like you did to me. And when I’m done with you, I’m going to forget you like you forgot me and let you come to terms with all the shit that goes with that. Just like you and the other three left me in bits back at school. Maybe it will be easier to come to terms with at twenty-five than sixteen, but I fucking hope not.”

She stood and walked towards the door, letting out a long, racking sigh. “I knew my sexuality back then, Chloe. I was confused and lonely and I knew no-one would look at me with anything but revulsion, either male or female. I hated you all, but at the same time I wanted to be part of your gang. In fact, I wanted to be you, Chloe. I wanted to be the pretty little blonde one with the rosebud lips, clear blue eyes and perfect complexion. Not the overweight girl with zits like beehives and glasses like the headlights of an oncoming hearse.”

As she closed the door, I felt I had to say something. I was utterly numb. “Bree – you’ve changed so much. You’re a beautiful woman now.”

She nodded, her dark hair falling over her left eye. “Oh, I’ve changed, Chloe. I’ve fucking changed, believe me. I’ll bring you something to eat in a few minutes, then someone is coming to see me. Someone who pays a lot of money to be here. That TV over there will let you see what I’ve become. People pay me a small fortune for my talents. You’ll get it all for free. Well, unless we call it payback for years ago you will; but then you’ll still be deep in debt to me.” Her smile was rueful. “Watch, learn and prepare for later, Chloe. What you see this afternoon is coming your way soon. Enjoy and try not to touch yourself too much in the naughty area.”

She closed the door and I lay there, shackled to a bed by my wrist in a luxury apartment, about to become the plaything of a girl I had bullied in my teens. She came back a few minutes later and without a word, placed a sandwich and fruit juice on the dresser. She released my restraint and walked out without looking back.

I shivered and felt a tear trickle down my cheek. I put a hand over my face and bit my lip to stop myself from crying like a baby. It was a long time before I ate the sandwich and by then I knew what the new Sabrina ‘Bree’ Longley was capable of.

If I had been terrified before, I did not now have the words to describe my feelings as I watched her take an ordinary-looking woman of around forty-years-old apart and put her back together in a slightly different configuration.

Apparently, I was next and I was shaking so hard, I thought my fillings were going to fall out.


I had barely given what I had once unimaginatively called ‘The Gang of Four’ a second thought in years. Since my life had changed, I had become a different person. I had buried the negative thoughts and tried to live for the present and the future; not the miserable past I had endured through my school years and beyond. Those years would have been bad enough without the four bitches in the gang, but they made them utterly intolerable and drove me to self-harm and thoughts of taking the easy way out.

I couldn’t keep the thoughts buried constantly though – there were still some days when the Black Dog barked at me. On those days, it was hard to get out of bed. When the Black Dog really howled, I was glad my huge picture windows only opened a crack for safety reasons. I had a lovely balcony overlooking the Thames, but I had never dared venture out there. The key had long since been consigned to the bottom of London’s great river, lest I was tempted. It had all been plain sailing until I was fifteen. Then it all began to go wrong for me. Firstly, my eyesight, which had until then been fine, deteriorated and I needed glasses. That wouldn’t have been so bad in itself, but these glasses looked as if someone had cut the bottoms off two wine bottles and wired them together. Then my teeth went haywire and began to go off in all directions and before I knew it, my mouth was full of metal. Just as I thought things couldn’t get worse, my previously milky white complexion began to get rather blotchy. Then it began to redden, and before long there was a very impressive series of active volcanoes going off across my face and shoulders.

At that stage I thought I had the full set – but I was wrong. I was already utterly miserable, but just when I was lamenting the fact that I was damned and cursed, it became clear that I wasn’t finished yet. It was then that the Gang of Four got their talons into me and things took a further turn for the worse.

Then, probably the biggest whammy of all hit me. One night, I was lying in bed, thinking in deep despair that no boy would ever look at me with anything but disgust and loathing when I realised that didn’t matter to me in the slightest. It was an utter revelation to me that I was more concerned that no girl would look at me with anything but disgust and loathing; and the girl I was most worked up about was a tiny, blue-eyed blonde called Chloe Harper.

The problem was that she was one of my tormentors-in-chief, and while I realised I was falling head-over-heels in love with the girl, I utterly hated the way she treated me with the sneering contempt of a bully that didn’t give a shit for her victim’s thoughts and emotions. The conflict inside me raged on throughout my ordeal and I dreamed of Chloe gazing up at me from between my parted legs instead of laughing as her friends tried to draw lines between my zits.

At that time I was at my lowest ebb and if things had gone on for much longer, I was either going to slide unseen into the local canal or try to call out my tormentors. Then my Dad got a very shiny, very well-paid job down in London. It was a relief, as the former action was rapidly becoming the most likely outcome. The second would have meant further pain and humiliation in admitting to anyone how I had been tormented and abused. It gave me an easy way out and we moved from a medium-sized town in the Midlands to an affluent suburb of London. My parents were also delighted as they had moved away from London when I was young and they had hated being in the provinces.

Despite the relief that it was finally over, three weeks after we moved, I had my breakdown. My parents at last saw the thirty-two self-inflicted cigarette burns on my arms and the countless slashes from knives, forks, broken glass and anything else that would hurt me more than the self-loathing at my appearance. I never mentioned the girls that had drawn on my face and mocked me unmercifully. Typically with my aloof parents, they were more concerned that their darling daughter had taken up smoking cigarettes rather than the fact that she was partial to putting the bloody things out on her arms.

After a few rounds of counselling, I embarked on a series of measures to rectify the things going wrong with my body. My already strained relationship with my parents stretched to almost breaking point as they funded the work and considered my sullen responses as a lack of gratitude.

The laser treatment on my eyes was hideous but at least I was able to see again without recourse to glasses that made my eyes look like Dobbie the House Elf’s huge orbs from my beloved Harry Potter books. The dentistry was even worse but after a lot of pain, I was free of my braces. The acne, however, was a different animal and took a long time and a lot of radical treatment to see off.

As I managed to crawl out of my self-spun cocoon, I was still shy and introverted, but at least now people didn’t stare at me in the street or turn their heads in pity at the sight of me. My parents had become social animals now they were back in the Big City and began to see a miserable, sullen daughter as a stumbling block to their new lifestyle. Given some of the parties they attended, I suspected what may have been behind it and when I turned eighteen, I was made an offer I was unable to refuse.

My birthday present was a small flat in Camden. My father bought it as an investment and installed me as the first tenant. I tried to pay some rent as I did a series of temping jobs and the usual round of waitressing and bar work. As time progressed, I even made the occasional friend, though I still found it hard to talk to people without expecting them to mock and deride me.

Finally, when I was just short of nineteen, a scrawny pink-haired girl with a side cut, piercings and awful tattoos came on to me in a dive bar in Camden Town. I didn’t care that she was a complete skank only out for an easy lay whilst on her holidays. Someone had finally wanted to bed Sabrina Longley, and I didn’t give a flying one. We spent a week turning each other inside out in my flat and my world changed forever.

My relationship with my parents was now almost toxic. They knew of my sexuality and were unable to come to terms with it. They saw it as a betrayal of the things they had done to help me get myself back on track and we barely spoke. Things got so bad I feared they may evict me from my flat but given the menial work I was doing there was no way I could afford anywhere else. I felt a rising sense of panic that I may end up living rough if things got worse.

Then one day, I got news that my maternal grandmother had passed away. She was an eccentric old Austrian lady that I had rarely seen and had lived out her final years in a converted warehouse in Limehouse, in the Docklands area of East London. After the funeral, my father called me to one side. “The will-reading of Granny Schwartz is on Friday. It seems you need to be there. No bloody idea why.”

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