“… and then, the blonde woman says, ‘treehouse? what treehouse?!'”

Rachel finished her joke and watched as the subtle double meaning dawned on her expectant family and the entire breakfast table began to laugh and smile appreciatively.

“That’s the one” her mum nodded.

“Definitely” agreed her dad, tousling her hair affectionately as he wandered over to the sink with his breakfast dishes. “Those judges wont know what hit them.”

Rachel had been working on her ‘Original Joke’ for what felt like forever. First prize for her category, 11-14 girls was her joke being published in a writers magazine, and a week away at performing arts camp. She was being judged on content as well as delivery, and her family had patiently listened to her recite countless new material day after day for the past few weeks. It meant the world to her.

Her mum saw the worried look cross her face and stopped what she was doing to turn to her middle child.

“Dont worry sweetheart, you’re going to do so well. We are so very proud of you already.”

“yeah sis” her younger brother chimed in, “you have nothing to worry about, you’re the funniest girl I know”

“A compliment indeed” murmured Rachel

“Well” he added, “Girls arent funny.”

Rachel laughed at his comment and started clearing the table with her family, watching while her brothers scraped and stacked the remains of their cooked breakfast, pancakes, eggs, french toast. Her parents stood at the sink, washing and drying as a team, sharing secret pride with their eyes as they watched their children tease and laugh playfully. Home was her safe place, she loved it here.

Five minutes later Rachel shrugged her backpack onto her shoulders and left the house. Her mother, waving goodbye from the door, would never know that her face was creased with worry, her hands clenched in tight fists by her side as she walked towards school.

Becky was running late. She crept past her parents bedroom so as not to wake her sleeping dad. Her mum must have left already, or perhaps she never came home. Either way, no one had woken Becky up, and now she had about ten minutes before she had to leave for school. She got dressed quickly and quietly, went downstairs and looked around for something to eat. A quick glance at her watch told her she had no time to make something proper. She grabbed some crisps and an apple for lunch and ignored the hunger pangs starting up low in her stomach.

She suddenly noticed her bag was open on the table, and the previously ordered papers inside were in disarray.

“Where is it?” she muttered to herself, searching quickly through the sheets of paper and exercise books

“Looking for your stupid joke?” Came a voice from the doorway.

“Cut it out Ollie” Becky looked wearily at her older brother. “Give it back.”

“No point. You werent gonna win anyway, you need to be clever to win these things. I did you a favour and binned it for you”

 Becky swallowed hard and concentrated on getting her bag ready. He’s right, she thought. Who was I kidding? She thought briefly about waking her dad and asking for some help or support. The thought was dismissed before it had even crossed her mind fully. He wouldnt help. He’d tell them to sort it out on their own and leave him in peace, like always. She’d never felt so lonely.

As Becky left the house, shrugging her backpack onto her shoulders, no one was there to see how much happier her face became, and how light her step was as she walked towards school.

Rachel was waiting round the corner from the main entrance for the bell to ring. No need to be inside for a moment more than neccesary, she thought sadly. She watched as a group of happy popular girls walked past, laughing at a private joke from the weekend.

“Move” said an angry voice, as two or three older girls pushed past her to get to the stairs. ‘One.’ Becky counted quietly to herself. It had become a habit, counting how many words were spoken to her from when she left her house in the morning to when she got back. Teachers didnt count, last week she even made it to fifteen.

No doubt about it, she had never felt so lonely.

Becky bounced into the school yard, waving and laughing at aquaintances and older girls as she scanned the area for her friends. She could breathe easier here, school was her safe place, she loved it here.

The two twelve year old girls walked seperately into the building, looking for all the world like the polar opposites they were.


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