Let's begin with a happy ending.
I sit here in the warm, waiting. I can't eat anything. My mouth is too dry to swallow properly. I try sipping water. The glass clanks against my teeth. My hand is trembling. I put the glass down carefully and then clasp my hands tight. I squeeze until my nails dig in. I need to feel it. I need to know that this is real.
I think people are staring at me, wondering why I'm all on my own. But not for much longer.
Please come now.
I look out the window, seeing my own pale reflection. And then there's a shadow. Someone stares back at me. And then smiles.
I smile too, though the tears are welling in my eyes. Why do I always have to cry? I mop at my face fiercely with a napkin. When I look back the window is empty.
I jump. I look up.
`April, is it really you?
I nod, still crying. I get clumsily to my feet. We look at each other and then our arms go out. We embrace, hugging each other close, even though we are strangers.
`This is the best birthday ever,' I whisper.
It's nearly over — and yet it's just beginning.
I always hate my birthdays. I don't tell anyone that. Cathy and Hannah would think me seriously weird. I try so hard to fit in with them so they'll stay friends with me. Sometimes I try too hard and I find myself copying them.
It's OK if I just yell `Yay!' like Cathy or dance hunched-up Hannah-style. Ordinary friends catch habits from each other easily enough. But every now and then I overstep this mark in my eagerness. I started reading exactly the same books as Cathy until she spotted what I was doing.
`Can't you choose for yourself, April?' she said. `Why do you always have to copy me?'
`I'm sorry, Cathy.'
Hannah got irritated too when I started styling my hair exactly like hers, even buying the same little slides and bands and beads.
`This is my hairstyle, April,' she said, giving one of my tiny beaded plaits a tug.
`I'm sorry, Hannah.'
They've both started sighing whenever I say sorry.
`It's kind of creepy,' said Cathy. `You don't have to keep saying sorry to us.'
`We're your friends,' said Hannah.
They are my friends and I badly want them to stay my friends. They're the first nice normal friends I've ever had. They think I'm nice and normal too, give or take a few slightly strange ways. I'm going to do my best to keep it like that. I'm never going to tell them about me. I'd die if they found out.
I've got so good at pretending I hardly know I'm doing it. I'm like an actress. I've had to play lots and lots of parts. Sometimes I'm not sure if there's any real me left. No, the real me is this me, funny little April Showers, fourteen years old. Today.
I don't know how I'm going to handle it. It's the one day when it's hard to pretend.
Marion asked me last week if I wanted to do anything special. I just shook my head, but so emphatically that my face was hidden by my hair.
Cathy had a sleepover for her fourteenth birthday. We watched spooky videos and one hilarious rude one that gave us the most terrible giggles and put us off having sex for life.
Hannah had a proper party, a disco in a church hall decked out with fairy lights and candles to try to give it atmosphere. There were boys too, but only Hannah's brother and his friends and a few totally sad guys in our year. Still, it was great fun.
I loved Cathy's birthday. I loved Hannah's birthday. It's mine that is the problem. I just want to get it over and done with.
`Are you sure you don't want a party?' Marion asked.
I can just imagine the sort of party Marion would organize. Charades and Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey and sausages on sticks and fruit punch, like way back when she was young.
Maybe that's not fair.
I'm sick of being fair.
I'm sick of her.
`That's so mean. She's trying so hard.
`Perhaps you and I could go out for a meal somewhere?' she suggested, like it would be a big treat.
`No, honestly, I don't want to make a big deal of my birthday,' I said, yawning, as if the whole subject simply bored me.
Marion's no fool. `I know birthdays must be difficult for you,' she said softly.
`No, they're OK. I'm OK,' I insisted. `I just don't want you to make a fuss about it.'
She swallowed. Then she looked at me sideways. `I take it presents aren't making too much of a fuss?' she said.
`I like the sound of presents,' I said, snapping out of my sulks.
I looked at her hopefully. I'd hinted enough times. `What are you giving me?'
`You'll have to wait and see,' said Marion.
`Give me a clue, please!'
`Go on. Is it . . . is it . . . ?' I gestured, holding one hand up to my ear.
`You'll have to wait and see,' said Marion, but she smiled broadly.
I'm sure I've guessed right. Even though she's moaned and groaned about them enough.
Marion wakes me up with a birthday breakfast in bed. I don't actually ever want to bother with breakfast but I sit up and try to look enthusiastic. She's poured far too much milk on my cornflakes but she's added strawberries too, and she's put a little bunch of baby irises in a champagne flute to match the willow pattern china. There's a present on the tray, a neat rectangle, just the right size.
`Oh Marion!' I say, leaning forward, almost ready to hug her.
Milk splashes all over the sheets as the tray tilts. `Careful, careful!' Marion goes, snatching the present to safety.
`Hey, it's mine!' I say, taking it from her. It feels a little light. Maybe it's one of those really neat tiny ones. I undo the ribbon and rip off the paper. Marion automatically smoothes the paper and winds the ribbon neatly round and round her fingers. I take the lid off the cardboard box — and there's another smaller box. I take the lid off this box and find another even smaller box. Too small, surely.
I remember someone playing a trick on one of the kids in Sunnybank. They opened up box after box after box. There was nothing at all in the matchbox at the end and everyone laughed. I did too, though I wanted to cry.
`Go on, open the next box,' says Marion.
`Is it a joke?' I asked. Surely she wouldn't play games with me like that?
`I didn't want you to guess what it was too easily. But I think you know. Open it, April.'
So I open it. It's the last box. There's a present inside. But it's the wrong present.
`Do you like them? They're blue moonstones. I thought they'd bring out the blue of your eyes.'
I barely hear her. I feel so disappointed. I was sure she was giving me a mobile. She smiled when I gestured . . . Then I realize. She thought I was pointing at my newly-pierced ears.
The fancy earrings are a peace-offering. She made such a fuss when Cathy and Hannah egged me on one Saturday and I got my ears pierced in Claire's Accessories. You'd have thought I'd had my tongue pierced the way she was carrying on.
`What's the matter?' she asks. `Don't you like the moonstones?'
`Yes. They're lovely. It's just . . .' I can't keep it in any more. `I thought I was getting a mobile phone.'
Marion stares at me. `Oh April! You know what I think about mobiles.'
I know all right. She's gone on and on and on about all these stupid brain tumour scares and the whole big bore social nuisance factor. As if I care! I just want my own mobile like every other girl my age. Cathy got a mobile for her fourteenth birthday. Hannah got a mobile for her fourteenth birthday. Every girl everywhere gets a mobile for her fourteenth birthday, if not before. All the Year Nine girls have got mobiles. And most of Year Eight. I feel like I'm the only one anywhere without any means of communication. I can't natter or send funny text messages or take calls from my friends. I can't join in. I'm the odd one out.
I always am.
`I wanted a mobile!' I wail like a baby.
`Oh for God's sake, April,' says Marion. `You know perfectly well what I think about mobiles. I hate them.'
`They're an absolutely outrageous invention — those ridiculous little tunes tinkling everywhere, and idiots announcing ``Hello, I'm on the train'' — as if anyone cares!'
`I care. I want to keep in touch with my friends.'
`Don't be silly. You see them every day.'
`Cathy is always sending text messages to Hannah and she sends them back and they're always laughing away together and I'm always left out — because I haven't got a mobile.'
`Well, that's tough, April. You'll just have to learn to live with it. I've told you and told you-'
`Oh yeah, you've told me all right.'
`Please don't talk in that silly sulky tone, it's incredibly irritating.'
`I can't help it if you think I'm irritating. I don't see that it's so terrible to want a mobile phone when it's what every single teenager in the entire world owns without question.'
Excerpted from Dustbin Baby by Jacqueline Wilson Excerpted by permission.
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