Angel beads by Jane Westaway

‘She’s here!‘ calls Mum, just like every morning. ‘Your other half.’

I grab my bag and take off, and sure enough, just like every morning, Jasmine’s out there leaning on the fence. I charge up the path and she turns and grins, and I realise I know her better than I’m ever going to know anyone in the whole world. Definitely better than Mum and Dad.

‘Late again, Laura Ann McCurdy. What happened this time? Dog ate your homework? Cat threw up in your trainers? Lightning strike your cornflakes? …’

‘Shut up,’ I tell her happily. And I am happy, striding along to school beside Jasmine — my other half. That’s what Mum used to call Dad, a long time ago, when I was little. I couldn’t survive without Jasmine. Without her, the half that was me would shrivel up and die.

This morning Jasmine looks extra pretty. Her hair’s just right, and her skin is smooth and perfect. ‘What’s that?’ I ask, touching the string of beads around her neck. They’re not quite orange, not quite pink — a lovely hot colour, and very tiny, like something an angel would wear.

Jasmine flashes me a proud smile. 'Neat, eh? Dad brought them back from Tahiti for me. They’re coral. I’m going to wear them every day.’

The angel beads glow against her skin. Her dad brought them back from Tahiti - to make her even more perfect.

‘So what’s the story?’ she asks as we turn into Braeburn Way.

I shrug. ‘No story. No goss. Nothing.’

She pulls a leaf from a passing hedge. ‘Something’s up. Because — look at you.’ She examines me with a frown as she pulls her shiny leaf to pieces. ‘Did they have another fight?’

I shake my head and look away. Why did I ever tell her about Mum and Dad that time? It wasn’t as if it they hadn’t had shouting matches before — or since. Soon as it was out of my mouth that day, I regretted it. And every time she thinks I’m down, she asks if they’ve had another fight. I think of telling her right now what Mum told me last night — that there won’t be any more fights, not ever. And why. But I’m not going to. She’s Jasmine and she’s perfect and I want to keep her that way. If I told her all the horrible stuff, I’d have nothing good left.

It’s like she can read my mind. It often is. ‘We’re best friends, aren’t we?’ she says, neatly dodging a gaggle of boys.

‘You know we are.’ I can’t make it sound fervent enough.

She stops dead in front of me, blocking my way. ‘Then you should tell me stuff, what’s happening to you, what’s on your mind.’

‘I do,’ I protest, agitated now in case she thinks I don’t like her, that I don’t want to go on being best friends. ‘I tell you everything’ — I pause so we can remember all our shared giggles and worries — ‘everything. You know I do.’

She frowns again and carries on down the street. I’m two steps behind, looking at the morning sun on her neck, on the angel beads. I know she doesn’t believe me. It makes my chest hurt.

The boys have dodged around us and are giving Jasmine cheek. They’re only kids, I know she doesn’t care, but she takes a swing at the ringleader just for show, and as she does, the angel beads slip from her neck. I see them fall, and there’s the tiniest sound like a whisper as they touch the pavement. The boys hoot and run off, and Jasmine takes a few steps after them, laughing.

I swoop on the beads before they get broken or lost. They’re delicate on my palm, like a cobweb, and I imagine how they feel against Jasmine’s neck. Then I know I have to put them round my own neck so it feels like Jasmine’s. So I can be Jasmine. I slip them into my pocket as Jasmine turns back to me, grinning.

All day, the angel beads stay in my pocket, smooth and cool against my fingers. After school, I’ll tell her I found them, and she’ll be so relieved and grateful and pleased, she’ll forget about the things I don’t tell her. Like how lost and broken our family is, and how Dad’s going off to live in another city so he never has to see Mum again. Or me.

At break I lock myself in the toilet cubicle with the mirror. My fingers shake as I fasten the beads around my neck. But nothing happens. Not one little bit of me feels like Jasmine. And the beads don’t glow anymore, they look like plastic.

She’s waiting for me at the gate after school, staring at the ground, arms folded. I touch her arm and she says miserably, 'I haven’t found them. Someone must have picked them up and kept them.’

I touch the beads in my pocket. Any second I’ll pull them out and she’ll give me a huge smile, maybe a hug.

Her eyes are filled with tears. ‘Whoever picked them up and kept them is a thief,’ she says fiercely. ‘A really horrible person. Someone who doesn’t deserve to have any friends.’

The beads are whispering in my pocket. They know I can never give them back now.

© Jane Westaway

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