What That Does To A Girl
On the bus, Rose Tyler sobbed openly. She was only seventeen, after all, and it felt like her life was ending. Why not give them a show, she thought, why not be a horrible warning? All them other girls here, they've not had their hearts broken. Let them see what it feels like!
So she cried. Most of the Londoners -young kids like her- getting on or off the bus paid her no heed. An old woman clucked sympathically at her and said, "'E ain't worth your tears, love," but for the most part she was left alone.
Her mobile phone beeped only twice: one text was from Jimmy himself and read only i new it wonud't werk out. The other was from Jackie and was incomprehensible: Rose's mother hadn't got the hang of her phone yet.
Rose stared out of the window, aware of the mascara drying on her cheeks, aware of the looks she was getting. In her head she constructed elaborate revenge scenarios, as many a woman scorned had done before her. Jimmy was currently on his way to Amsterdam- on his way he'd get in an accident and be paralysed for life. He'd return to her, newly humbled, begging for help and sympathy, and she would give neither. Or he would be rejected by his new girlfriend, and (here she felt a twinge of guilt) commit suicide- no, no, too harsh, attempt suicide- and she would play the role of unlikely martyr, for she would never throw her life away for love, no, she would soldier on, harsh as it was-
"You alright?" said a voice.
Rose turned around in her seat to see a girl about her age, black with braided hair. "Yeah," she answered. "I'm alright."
"You're bloody not!" said the girl, a spark of enthusiam in her voice. "You look a total mess."
"Thanks," Rose said sarcastically, and turned away. Seconds later, a tissue was waved in front of her face- and, surprised, she took it.
"Thanks," she said again, this time sincerely. The bus crawled slowly on to its destination- they were reaching the Powell Estate, where Jackie was no doubt waiting with a cup of tea and a hug. Rose was now seeing familiar sights, sights she hadn't seen for a while: Henriks department store, the corner shop, Mickey's gran's old place-
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sight of Rob Delaney.
"Oh shit, it's Rob Delaney," she said out loud. The girl behind her looked on curiously as Rob Delaney boarded the bus and- glee in his eyes- sat down next to Rose. He actually put his arm around her, and Rose wriggled away.
"D'n't work out, eh?" Rob said to Rose. "Yer mum's been talking to my mum, over at the laundry- what a bleedin' twat that Jimmy is, eh?"
"Go away, Rob."
"Have to be a twat to let you go. So- single again, huh?"
Rose could smell alcohol on his breath. "Seriously, go away!"
"C'mon, Rose." He put his arm around her again. "What say we go fer a drink or something, right now? I'll help ya take yer mind off him-"
Just then something unexpected happened: the girl sitting behind them whacked Rob around the head. She barely moved from her seat- she just swang her arm and it connected, almost casually, with Rob's skull. He had a bald patch he was very sensitive about and it was this spot that she caught exactly. Rob gave a yelp of shock and whirled around-
"You deaf?" the girl demanded. "She told you to fuck off."
"How is this your fucking business, you cow?" Rob shouted. A couple of old ladies at the front of the bus tutted loudly. "She used to be my girlfriend, I can do what I want with her."
"No you can't," Rose said, blazing with anger. She leapt from her seat, hitting the stop button as she did so, and running to the front. "Leave me alone, Rob, yeah? Don't come near me ever again, you got that?" She noticed that the girl who'd come to her aid was now standing right behind her. "You got that?"
The bus driver stopped the bus and glared at her, at both of them. "You bloody kids," he said. "Always shouting and effing and blinding all up in my bus-"
Rose stepped off before he could continue. In a cloud of exhaust the bus raced away, but the girl- the girl was still there.
"What a prick!" she said brightly.
Rose didn't know what to say to her. "Thanks," she eventually said. "For helpin' me like that."
"That's alright," the girl said. "You looked like you could use it."
Rose considered that. "I can take care of myself," she said, as displeased as she dared, "I just...you know, yeah?"
"He deserves a kick in the balls," the girl said. She looked Rose up and down approvingly. Rose hoped she was approving of her outfit- all rock-chick pinks and blues, even some leather- rather than her. She preferred to attract only the opposite sex, and knew no-one gay or lesbian. "Yeah," she said.
"I'm Mels," the girl said. "Short for Melody."
"I'm new round here," Mels said. "This is my first time in London." She retrieved an A-Z from her bag and waved it in the air. "Maps and tour guides are rubbish. I'd love it if a real Londoner could show me round."
Rose's terrible mood was lifting- it had been ever since she saw Rob's bald patch turning red- and she was compassionate by nature. "You ain't got nowhere to stay, have you?"
"You didn't, like, run away from home?"
Rose wasn't sure what to do- she certainly hadn't anticipated this when she'd tearfully boarded the bus- but she didn't really want to leave this girl alone now. "I dunno, maybe you can stay at my house? My mum probably wouldn't mind."
"Nah," Mels said. "That's okay. We just met. Hell of a thing to ask."
Without realising it, both girls had started to walk in the direction of central London. "I'll find a hotel," Mels said. "I got some money."
"Hotels ain't cheap in the middle of London!"
"Well-" Mels said, and she opened her bag and held it out for Rose to see. Inside, wrapped up with an elastic band, were at least fifty twenty-pound notes. Beneath that was a wallet, clearly a man's wallet- a rich man's wallet- with a few more notes sticking out. And beneath that was a set of car keys-
"I crashed the car," Mels explained. "It's hard to drive with the police after you, throws you off."
"Bloody hell," Rose said.
Mels gave a little grin. "I stole it from this guy who came to inspect the home I live at, the children's home- he was a right arsehole. So I took his wallet and car." She suddenly looked a little guilty. "The rest of it is from the main office, it was like emergency money. I probably shouldn't've taken that..."
Rose shrugged. She was a little unnerved, but she was still walking. "Hey," she said. "I'm gonna call my mum. Tell her I went out." She took out her phone, and Jackie answered on the first ring.
"Babes, where are you?"
"I just went out. Met someone on the bus."
"Oh, bloody 'ell, some bloke offer to comfort you? Make sure 'e treats you right this time before you go running off with him." Jackie's voice was tinged with worry. "Rose, I do think you should come home, love."
"It's not a bloke," Rose said. "It's a girl, yeah? Rob Delaney was on the bus, just...bein' his normal self...and she whacked him. Proper whacked him! So I'm takin' her round London, so she can find a hotel."
"Oh," Jackie said. Rose suddenly pictured her, twisting the phone cord round her hand. "Alright."
"Alright," Jackie said. "Love ya."
"Love ya," Rose said, and hung up. Mels had been watching with an odd expression.
"Your mum been worried?"
"Yeah. She worries loads."
Mels was silent, and Rose said, a little uncertainly, "Children's home. You ain't got a mum, have you? Have you...?"
"Oh, I have," Mels said, quickly. "I just can't live with her...I have a dad, too."
Rose knew she oughtn't press her. "Okay,"
"They're good, though, honestly, they were good parents," Mels said. "It wasn't their fault we got...seperated."
"Sorry," Rose said. "Seriously."
They continued to walk.
"The cops ain't gonna chase you all the way to London, are they?" Rose asked. They had neared the city center now, and were passing the car shop where Mickey was occasionally employed- Rose suddenly felt both nostalgia and crippling guilt for him-
"Nah," Mels said. "Whatcha thinking about?"
"I had this bloke. He was dead nice. Bit sort of...daft, but nice. And I was still his girlfriend, kinda...but then I just ran off with someone else."
"The bleedin' twat Jimmy?"
Mels snickered. "Win some, lose some. Most guys are the same anyway."
"Not Mickey. He was really good. S'just...Jimmy was a musician, yeah, and he was going to be famous, and he was so good-looking and...he promised to take me places. Venice and New York and that. But he never did."
"I know lots of guys make promises they can't keep."
Rose shrugged to herself. "You got a bloke?"
"Nah. Don't need one. Got my parents, got my mates...I don't need some guy trying to keep up with me."
Rose tried to imagine what Mels' life was like, and conjured up a strange image of a line of fire. "I guess. Maybe Jimmy'll be the last one. Maybe me and Mickey can just be mates and I'll go back to school or whatever, try and actually do something."
"Yeah," said Mels. "What plans you got?"
"Nothing, really," Rose said. This was an uncomfortable realisation. "I dunno...I'd like to be something other people need. Like a doctor or a nurse or whatever."
"One of my mates is trainin' to be a nurse."
"What subjects did she take, to get into that?"
"He. He's a he. I dunno. You gotta have GCSEs and A-Levels and stuff, science and maths and English...yeah."
Rose thought of herself standing in a big hospital, people depending on her, and her imagination couldn't stretch to it. Which she hated. "I'm gonna apply for shop jobs, now I'm back. Gimme something to do, right?"
"Yeah..." Mels said. She seemed a little distracted now. And then, she linked her arm in Rose's. "We should go get a drink."
Rose considered the sudden gesture. "Yeah, all right," she said. A glance at Mels' smiling face, and she knew the truth, the girl really was gay! This was a date- an unorthadox one, but definitely a date-
-yet she didn't want to leave her. She was so bloody interesting. And the thought of doing something that would shock people- hanging out with a real lesbian!- it seemed quite thrilling to her. (The thought that there was no-one actually to shock- Jackie was a very liberal mother, and her mates didn't care- didn't occur.)
"Yeah, let's get a drink," she said.
Mels smiled and they started to walk towards the nearest bar. "Cool." She touched Rose's other arm. "I can't believe I met someone so nice, today."
Rose wasn't sure what to say. Finally, as they neared the crowded beer garden, she said, "Mels, d'ya even know my name?"
"Yeah," Mels said. "You're Rose. I heard it on the bus. What, you think I'd go off with a stranger?" She laughed.
"Oh," Rose said. "Well, it's Rose Tyler. Rose Marion Tyler," she added unnecessarily.
"Melody Pond," Mels said brightly.
They entered the bar in a cloud of smoke, people were still having fags outside before the night drew in. It was mostly blokes in the place, many of whom reminded Rose of Mickey- young men, just finished work, come to get drunk and talk about girls-
"What d'ya want to drink?" Mels asked.
"I'll have a WKD."
They took seats near the door. Mels knocked back her drink in a way Rose knew was meant to be seductive, and she wasn't sure if it was working on her or not. But she did know that she had no desire to leave.
"So where you from?" she asked.
"Leadworth," Mels said. "Near Glouchester."
"I worry about Mum a bit," Rose suddenly said. It was a thought she hadn't meant to vocalise. "I mean...I just ran off for months, proper ages, and she was left all alone. Might not even have been able to pay the rent, if she hadn't got the work one month. It's really selfish, innit?"
"I thought I really loved Jimmy Stone," Rose said glumly. "Honestly..." She stared out of the window. The sun was starting to set, but the streets were still crowded. It was magic hour. "You ever had a boyfriend?"
"Not a serious one. I've done guys, but-"
"And girls?" Rose asked quickly. She really wanted to be sure now. "I mean...are you gay?" She went to put her drink on the table and almost missed. "I mean, I don't mind, I just..."
Mels grinned. "I'm bi."
"You do both?" Rose said. She realised how red she must be turning, and how awkward she felt. "You like girls and blokes, right?"
"Yeah." Mels seemed to be enjoying Rose's discomfort, in a semi-benign sort of way. "We do exist."
"I know, I know..." Rose wondered what to do, and what to say. "Erm, me, on the bus-"
Rose nodded. "Cool. Um- so you wanted-"
"To get to know you," Mels said. "Not to snog you or shag you or whatever, yeah? Just get to know you."
Rose felt slightly guilty. "Okay. Sorry. I just- it's always been all blokes, with me."
"Well, I can see you've had a lot of luck on that front," Mels said, with a slight smirk. "Really, you never wanted to try something new?"
Mels withdrew a packet of cigarettes. "Want one?"
"Nah. I quit a while back."
Mels glanced outside at the darkening street, and put the box away again. "I should probably quit. My parents hate it."
Rose was burning with curiousity about Mels' parents, but didn't want to press her. "So...what's Leadworth like?"
"Bit dull. That's why I came here. London's way more exciting."
Rose considered it. "Not to me it's not."
"You should leave then," Mels said. "You said that bloke was gonna take you to Venice and New York, well, you could always go on your own."
For a little while there was silence, apart from the banging music coming from a speaker above their heads, and then Rose asked, "You travelled much?"
"I went to New York when I was a kid. Don't remember it much. You?"
"Only on school trips. I went to France when I was like sixteen or something. Got into loads of trouble, me and my mate Shareen ran off and went to Parc Asterix."
Mels smiled. "I hate school. It's rubbish."
"Yeah," Rose said, it starting to occur to her how much they had in common. "My teachers were crap, yeah, they made everything so boring."
"Mine too! Even history and science and stuff. S'no wonder I didn't pass my exams."
Rose downed more of her drink. "Hey, you asked me what I wanted to be. What about you?"
For the first time since they'd met, a tiny dark shadow flickered in Melody's eyes. "I dunno. Something really...cool. Something not a lot of people do. Maybe...I dunno, archeology or something. Something where you'd get to travel a lot."
"Travelling a lot does sound good."
Mels finished the last of her drink. "I'll get us some more alcohol," she said. "Then, d'ya wanna go somewhere else? Don't suppose I can tempt you with a gay bar, can I?"
"That's okay," said Rose, who had never been to one. "I don't mind leaving, though. These blokes, they remind me of Mickey. A bit. An' thinking about him...it just makes me feel so bad."
Mels nodded, and the two girls went up to get more drinks. When Mels flashed her ID, Rose noticed a different surname on it...she couldn't quite see it, but it definitely wasn't 'Pond'.
They walked outside, bottles in hand, drinking. It was getting dark.
"Mickey, huh?" Mels said. "You must miss him."
"I do," Rose said, and then she went on, "We were like...we were kids together, went to the same school and everything. We were mates and then it just sort of went from there, and...I dunno if he'll forgive me. I did a really rubbish thing."
"Why, though?" Mels asked, in a tone quieter and more sympathetic than Rose had come to expect from her. "I mean- why'd you go running off with some guy? Did you love him, or did you just love what he could do for you?"
Rose was taken aback, but she answered. "I don't know."
"There's often not much of a difference." Mels said rather darkly. And they had actually started walking down the street, had gotten quite a way away from the bar, before she said, "There is a bloke in my life, besides my dad I mean. I sort of like him, but I hate him at the same time. That make any sense?"
"Why'd ya hate him?"
"He hurt my mum once. Like, messed with her head. And he, like...he's got power and status and stuff, way more than people like us will ever have, but he doesn't use it right. He could've stopped wars and famines and all sorts, but he didn't."
Rose's head spun. "What, you mean...like a celebrity?"
"Yeah," Mels said quietly, "A celebrity."
"Is it someone I'd know about?" Rose asked. "Like..." She tried to think of someone. "Like..." She couldn't think of anyone with that much power, and the thought of such a person being within easy reach rather disturbed her. "You mean a politician or someone, don't you? Someone who'd have loads of money, and could order stuff done and...stuff. You really know someone like that? Really?"
"He's not a politician. He does work for the government, though," Mels said. And then she lowered her voice. "He's gonna get it, one of these days. He's too big, someone's gonna do him in." And Rose shivered.
"If you know someone like that," she said uncertainly, "...who are you?"
Mels smiled. "I'm not any more or less important," she said, "just cos I know someone important."
Rose tried to work that out, but she was so tired all of a sudden, and slightly drunk. "Y'know..." She took a swig from her bottle. "You're so weird..."
"I know," Mels said. "Maybe I should take you home." She looked sad suddenly. "Maybe I should go home."
"Yeah..." Rose said. "Yeah...guess your parents would be worried. If you nicked a car and that."
"They always worry, even when I'm not nicking cars," Mels said. She put a hand on Rose's shoulder. "Well...maybe we'll meet again, yeah?"
"Maybe," Rose said, realising she didn't want her to go. "You're...seriously, Mels, who are you?"
Mels shook her head. "Bit of mystery," she said softly, "you know what that does to a girl..." She reached out, slightly gingerly, and kissed Rose's cheek. And then she moved away- and then Rose pulled her back, and kissed her on the lips-
"Thanks," Mels said, although Rose suspected she hadn't meant to say thanks, she'd meant to say something else entirely and it just hadn't come out... "That was pretty cool." She kissed Rose in return, and Rose thought dizzily that she was a much better kisser than Jimmy or Rob or even Mickey. And then it was over, and Mels squeezed her hand-
"I really gotta go, now. 'Side from anything else, the cops might still turn up, and you'd be in trouble then."
"I don't care about that-" Rose stared down the street, at the road that led to the estate and her mother and Mickey and her whole life. Not any more or less important... "You could come home with me."
"Nah," Mels said lightly, too lightly, "things might get serious, and then where would we be." She started to walk away. Rose actually grabbed her hand...
"Can't I have your number, or anything? We could just be mates. Yeah?"
"Sorry," Mels said, and she looked really sad. "There's too much stuff going on. Shouldn't have met you, really...I mean, I'm glad I did, but...my life is really screwed, yeah?"
"Cos of that bloke? Forget it! You could just..." But she didn't really know how to finish that sentence, and a car was pulling up. As Mels squeezed Rose's hand and let go, Jackie clambered out of the driver's seat.
"I have been looking everywhere for you!" She slammed the car door, hard. "You weren't answering your phone, you daft little cow! And you in such a state! I thought you'd thrown yourself off a roof, I even called that Jimmy, you bloody-" She flung her arms around Rose and held her tightly. Rose held her back, almost crying, remembering how much she'd missed her.
"Sorry, Mum. I'm sorry. We were in the bar, it was loud, I didn't hear the phone-"
Jackie looked up and saw Mels. "She'd be the rest of the we, eh?" She straightened up. "Sorry, love. My Rose, she's just...I was dead scared."
"That's okay," Mels said. "My mum is the same." And her eyes, Rose noticed, were briefly far away.
"You need a lift anywhere?" Jackie asked.
"Nah. I'm okay, thanks," Mels said. "I'm just gonna get a late bus home, or a taxi. It was really nice meeting you, Rose. Have a good life, yeah?" One last smile, and then she turned away, and Rose watched her retreating back.
"Get in the car," Jackie told Rose, her tone still slightly exasperated. "It's Debbie's from down the way, she shouldn't have leant me but I was desperate. You'd better hope we don't get pulled over." They started driving, and the bright lights of London flickered past. Rose leaned her head against the window. "What was 'er name, then?" Jackie asked.
"She really after a hotel? Or more?"
"More. I didn't mind, though."
Jackie seemed uncertain. "That Jimmy went and turned you...you get her number or anything?"
"No," Rose said. "I don't think she was interested in that side of things. Proper relationships and all."
Jackie shrugged, and continued driving, but after a while she said, "You a lezza...a lesbian now? I don't care, never gonna care bout that, just wondered."
"I don't think so. I just liked her."
Jackie nodded. They drove on. Rose wished she'd taken a picture of Mels, but she hadn't. She could Google the name Melody Pond, but she was pretty sure that hadn't been her real name anyway. Nah, chances were she would never lay eyes on her again...
It had been such a long and painful day, and she was so tired. Jackie drove, and Rose slowly drifted off to sleep. The lights flickered on her face, lights and patterns of every colour, until they got out of central London and the lights started to fade.