Holding her arm up to the cold electric light, she admired the liquid as it dripped and pooled onto the enamel of the washbasin, making bright circles of surprise on the white. A sly smile crept across her lips as she thought of what would go through her mum’s mind when she spotted the bloody splashes that she would ‘accidentally-on purpose’ miss.
Gripping the barber’s razor in her hand felt good - grown-up, powerful, in control, even glamourous. She was the romantic lead in her own movie, and surely the tragic heroine would get the attention of some tortured prince out there. Wouldn’t she?
The flow was starting to dry up, so she clutched the blade in her fingers and slashed lightly across the cut to revive it. She held the razor’s elegant V-shape like she’d seen in the movies, but a just little too tightly. Its sharp edge bit into the pad of her thumb, forcing her to drop it with a clatter into the sink, wincing in pain, trying to suck away the ache. She tracked the new trickle as it ran down, holding up her hand and twisting it to make the blood work its way around her wrist like a ruby amulet.
An angry banging on the door roused her. Her sister. Always her sister.
“Get out of there - I haven’t even cleaned my teeth yet.”
“All right, I’m coming!” She wrapped her bleeding forearm tissues, wiped down the porcelain and hid the blade in the back of the cupboard, for later. The door burst impatiently open the moment she turned the key, before she could pull the sleeve of her school shirt over the blood. Her sister rolled her eyes in exasperation and muttered “Idiot” as she grabbed her toothbrush.
“It doesn’t make you any more interesting,” she said, toothpaste frothing in her mouth making her look like a rabid doll. “It’s not clever, and it’s not cool. It’s just stupid.”
The younger girl sneered and tossed her hair in what she imagined was exactly the same move as the tortured heroine in her favourite teen vampire series.
Throughout the day, she obsessively examined the reddened welts, stroking them, picking at their edges, enjoying the frisson of pain when she prodded them. She relished the part she’d given herself to play. Her sleeves were left casually rolled up, but no-one noticed – until Annie grabbed her arm in the playground, stared intently at the skin and looked up with glittering eyes and a vulpine grin.
“We’re blood sisters now,” she whispered. “Your pain is my pain. We’re connected, and I’ll always know when you’re hurting. Next time, we do it together.”
At the dinner table, she waved off her mother’s enquiries about the spots of blood in the bathroom, saying she’d cut her legs shaving them in a hurry before school. Her sister’s muttered “Yeah, right” went unnoticed or ignored.
“Mum, can Annie come round this evening? I’ve done all my homework."
Her mother nodded as she loaded the dishwasher. It was a Friday, after all, and she had a week’s worth of housework to get through before Monday - having a friend over would keep her attention-hungry youngest out from under her feet.
Two hours later, behind the locked bathroom door, the game continued. Annie held the blade and slashed her own palm, then swiped at her friend’s before fiercely clasping their hands together until their mingled blood oozed out and trickled down their wrists.
“Do you trust me?” she demanded, looking intensely at her friend. A mute nod. “Hold out your other arm.”
Anna drew a long line from inner elbow to wrist, admiring the flowering scarlet that followed the blade’s progress. The girl winced, panic flashed in her eyes. It bit deeper than before, flashing hot fear through her as she saw the flow well up from the cut. Fat shining globules fell to the floor like hailstones in summer.
This wasn’t a game anymore. She didn’t want to play anymore.
Was it too late to stop?