A Story I Wrote About #Cyberbullying for #AntibullyingWeek

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My stepson Joe is like my husband Warrick in so many ways, both in looks, mannerisms and personality. Joe’s a little taller, but otherwise, I sometimes scare myself when I almost fling my arms around Joe instead of Rick. I feel like I know my stepson as well as I know Rick so there’s a definite possibility something is wrong.

One of the things Joe and Rick share is the uncanny ability to seem unthreatening and it’s something which makes them both popular guys. Don’t get me wrong – my husband, a former police detective, could no doubt kill a man with his bare hands if pushed – but he wouldn’t, and he doesn’t appear capable of that, either. They’re my boys – well, just two of my boys actually, because I have twin boys as well – and yes, I know my boys. So, yes, my life is pretty much a big whole lot of boydom.

God!

Anyway, it’s the shared floppy hair, you see. Since Joe shelved his football career he grew out the crew cut and now he wears his curls even longer than his dad’s. People see Joe coming a mile off. Six-two. Wide shoulders. Big, brown eyes. The widest smile you’ve ever seen. Dimples. God, those dimples. Some girl is going to fall flat on her face right in front of him one of these days.

I have to sigh.

Unfortunately the twins are looking more and more like me every day. They’ll be fairer, probably moodier (like me) and I think Charlie might be a dancer, like me, too. He prances. I never thought a toddler would prance. But he does. He bounces over any obstacle you put in front of him. So… maybe he’s meant for hurdling, not dancing. I don’t know.

Anyway. I am obviously rattling around my own head here because I am worried about Joe, my popular six-foot, sixteen year old who recently started acting different. I can’t put my finger on it. But he’s different.

I don’t like different.

Different usually means not good… or something big’s going on. I know Joe all too well, like I know Warrick, remember?

We’re all sat around the dinner table and I don’t even give a monkeys that Charlie and Harry have most of their food in their eyes. I’m watching Joe.

“Dinner okay?” I ask generally.

Rick, with his curls tied back in a low ponytail, looks up at me from beneath tired eyes. He’s still wearing his football shorts and shirt, having just played five-a-side after a day at the community centre he runs.

“It’s great, Jules,” he says, his eyes going side to side, like he’s picked up on something about my tone – and recognises I’m acting sketchy. “Your sausage and mash is the best. I’ll shower as soon as I’m done. Sorry if I stink.”

His nose wrinkles and he knows too. He bloody knows. Why won’t he address this? What the fuck is going on under my roof?

Rage simmers beneath my skin and I have to remember, my rage is not a good thing. It’s not a good thing. Get a grip Jules.

Joe is shovelling his food with his head down which he never does. He at least sometimes tries to muck about with his brothers or he might tell us about his day. He’d normally come out with some joke or recant a daft tale of teenage love gone wrong. A little bit of goss about one of my colleagues, perhaps… (I teach at the same school Joe’s at, you see.)

“Everything alright, Joe?”

He looks up and I think I almost see him shaking. He stares past me and flushes slightly. All I get is a slight nod of the head, then he looks down into his food.

The shovelling recommences and within seconds, he’s eaten a couple of sausages in just a few bites. I look at Rick who tells me with his eyes that his son will have indigestion later on.

Joe jumps up from his seat and lightning-fast, puts his empty plate in the dishwasher, grabs a yoghurt from the fridge and chases upstairs away from us – or rather me, the questioning stepmother.

Charlie and Harry are oblivious, trying to drop bits of broccoli on the floor so they won’t have to eat it. The gravy, they suck from their spoons, and the mash appears to have been used as a hairstyling product.

“Something has got into that kid, Rick.”

He sits, fork paused over his food, waiting for me to say something more. He pulls a bit of sausage skin from between his teeth and gives me the ‘it’s probably a man thing’ look.

“I won’t leave it,” I warn.

“I trust him. He’ll sort it out himself.”

“I trust him, too. It’s everyone else I don’t trust.”

“Jules, you can’t just…” He pauses, sighing, delivering me those soft, pleading eyes of his I cannot resist. “…he’s a lad and he’s almost a man. Shit’s gonna happen. Sometimes you have got to let him get on with it.”

I almost throw down my cutlery but think better of it. Charlie and Harry are finally putting sausage in their mouths and if they only have sausage, at least they’re having something. I will not distract them from eating solid foods. So I turn myself away from the twins who are sitting either side of me, alongside one another in their highchairs, and put my hand up against my face to shield them from my fury.

“There is something fucking wrong,” I mutter, or rather, try to mutter.

Rick gives me a soothing smile, one side of his mouth turned up ever so slightly.

“Jules, he’ll tell us when he’s ready.”

“Yeah, like he was gonna tell us about having underage sex. Until I caught him!”

Shaking his head, he puts his fork down, his appetite diminished now too. “Jules, please.”

“I know we are through with all that and he knows better about all that now, you know? But as you well know Rick, my instincts have proven very powerful in the past.”

“Let’s just give him a bit of time to fess up and if he doesn’t, okay… we’ll start probing him. Right now, he might just need some time before he tells us what’s wrong. It could be something as simple as heartbreak or a bad test. It’s not been easy for him this year. Going from GCSEs to A levels is a massive jump.”

I scowl. “He got seven A stars and four A’s at GCSE, are you fucking kidding me?” I just mouthed the fucking.

Rick goes silent, which he knows I hate. Help me vent the rage – or go silent and enrage it. He just doesn’t want me to go off on one about this.

“Rick,” I say between almost clenched teeth, “he’s one of the most popular boys in school and he’s not himself. This isn’t him. He’s normally full of life. He’s normally the one waking me up in the morning. He’s been late for his paper round almost every day for the past two weeks. I’ve had to answer the madwoman at the paper shop when she calls every morning.”

“Hey Jules, people have bad times in life,” he says, reaching across the table to use the twins’ bibs to mop their chops slightly.

“Don’t divert, Rick. You know something’s wrong.”

He turns his deep brown, almost black, eyes onto mine and gives me a deadly serious look. “I acknowledge that. The thing is, we still need to give him time.”

Fuming, I toss what’s left of my half-eaten dinner in the bin and leave the room, heading upstairs for the study. I have a ton of books to mark and they might be the only thing that will take my mind off this.

 

Rick crawls into bed with me at about eleven, freshly showered, his hair slightly damp. After bathing and reading the twins their bedtime story, he got called out to an incident at the community centre, where a real fight broke out during one of the evening’s mixed martial arts classes. Something about a man and his girlfriend’s ex having fisticuffs. He’s only just had chance for that shower and looks exhausted.

Out of the corner of my eye, I sense him look across at me. I’m reading a book by the light of my bedside lamp.

“Have you calmed down a bit?”

“Yes.”

“But you won’t let it go?”

“No.”

“Well, I never expected you would. That’s not you.”

I look across at him, beyond weary, his eyes full of love. I toss my book onto the nightstand and switch off the lamp. Shifting across to his side, I roll into him, resting my cheek on his chest. All my worries and fears fade away the moment I’m in his arms.

“I love you, baby,” he whispers.

“I love you, so much.”

Sleep finds us too easily.

 

***

 

“So he finally acknowledged something is wrong, but he didn’t suggest you should do anything about it?” My colleague Ruby is stood with me in the English office the morning after, scanning me for telltale signs of rage.

“He flat out said we should leave it until Joe is ready to tell us what’s going on.”

“Oh dear.” She reads my exasperation. “Listen… Jules. Joe is his son.”

I flash her my eyes. Has she forgotten about the things Joe and me have been through together? He’s as much my son as my twins are. I care about Joe just the same.

“Ruby.” I turn myself fully towards her, putting my cup of tea on the worktop, my hands free to make sweeping movements to enforce my passion on this. “It’s something in my gut, telling me there’s something wrong. I don’t know, but when it comes to kids, I just–”

She steps forward and holds my hand. “I know. You’re right back there, to the day you got battered and left all alone, in the dark. I know you want to protect him from the same things that happened to you.”

I focus on her eyes, which are watering. She feels my pain, even though she’s never had to deal with the same pain herself.

“Jules,” she whispers, softly stroking the back of my hand, “Joe is different. He’s Warrick’s son for a start and he’s definitely tougher than you imagine. I think Warrick’s right. I think he’ll tell you when the time’s right. He knows you’re there for him.”

“This is the thing,” I say fast, “he knows we’re here for him, and he’s still not telling us. He knows we’re not judgy, he knows that.”

“Give it another week, maybe?”

I throw my head back, groaning. “Torture.”

“One week.”

I smile wryly. “Rubes, you know how many cheesecakes I can eat in a week, right?”

“Unfortunately I do, and I also know that while you’ll maybe put on a pound, I’d put on a couple of stone comfort eating in the same manner as you.”

I pick my teacup off the counter, anticipating the bell for the first lesson, which I’m taking today.

“You and Rick had better have cheesecake for me at every fucking stop this week,” I grumble, and walk away.

As I take the corridor, I try to wriggle the anxiety out of my heavy shoulders and neck, but it’s not working.

Deep, deep, deep breaths, I remind myself, sucking in vital oxygen, trying to remember my breathing exercises of old.

Walking into a classroom full of kids, there’s suddenly nothing else to think about other than controlling thirty teenagers for the next two hours.

 

Dinnertime is no different today. Joe’s being quiet over his pasta and salad. Warrick’s knackered. The twins are lobbing pasta shells at one another and I’m focusing on the baked, New York-style cheesecake waiting for me in the fridge.

“Frrrr–” A sort of grumble erupts from me and the boys all look at me. I was going to say something mad like flipping tell me what is wrong Joe! but I guess, I stopped myself.

“Jules?”

“Something stuck in my throat,” I excuse myself, reaching for a glass of water.

Joe finishes his meal and excuses himself from the table before I can even think of another way to broach this. Once his son’s locked himself away upstairs, Warrick gives me a look and I say nothing. What is there to say?

I promised Ruby I would give this a week…

 

It’s the next day – my day off – and I’m twiddling my thumbs. The house is empty. Warrick’s dad came round half an hour ago to collect the twins so he and Wendy can take them to the park for an hour. They do this for me every week which is kind of them. Usually when I’ve got this time free, I go get my hair done or my nails or I sit and eat a full cheesecake while I watch Dancing with the Stars on ITV2.

Today, I can’t concentrate on anything. It took balls for me to tell Warrick that I think something is wrong – but he shot me down. I feel like I’m coping with the weight of this all alone. How can he be so cool about everything?

“Fuck it,” I mutter to myself, heading upstairs.

I stand on the threshold of Joe’s bedroom, knowing full well I am about to invade his private territory, but I do so anyway. I’m desperate for answers.

His room, like a habitat of its own, seems like a growth on our otherwise spotless house. He keeps the blackout blinds shut at all times, maybe fearing the neighbours will see how filthy he keeps the place and start to judge him – which is silly, because our neighbours haven’t got any windows facing this side of our property. A detached house, we’re very private here. Maybe he’s a nocturnal creature then, someone who needs the submergence of this dank pit whenever he gets home, absorbing the dark so he can re-mutate or something.

(I’ve definitely been watching far too many of Rick’s sci-fi movies lately.)

“What’s going on with you Joe?”

I step gingerly through the mess on the floor. Shirts and trousers, shorts and socks, splattered everywhere. It’s not like he’s ever been clean, but…

I decide to do the usual checks. I look under the pillow, mattress, bed; back of the wardrobe; sock drawer, pants drawer… nothing.

Checking his desk drawers… nothing. No drugs, no vast amounts of drug-dealing cash. No contraband anything. Not even a jammy can of Carling, saved for a later date.

Looking at his desktop, I spot his laptop, left slightly open – the lid like he closed it in a hurry and didn’t press it all the way down.

Opening the laptop, an artful Windows screensaver lights up the gloomy room and the screen asks for a password.

Password!

We should have banned passwords altogether when we let him move in with us.

“Oh god,” I mutter, seating myself behind his desk. “Think Jules, think.”

I try a few things, like his ex-girlfriend’s name, his brothers’, his mum’s name… his granddad. His favourite football team.

It could be anything!

He wouldn’t write it down, I don’t think. So, what would he do? He’s a teenager – brain like a sieve when it comes to small details – he would definitely pick something simple. A band name. I don’t know.

I try a few more hits before the computer asks me if I need help.

Scared, I now don’t know if Joe’s going to realise I’ve been trying to break into his computer.

Sweating, and feeling guilty as sin, I know I have the house to myself for the next hour or two but I still can’t help feeling SO GUILTY. He would be mortified if he found out about me doing this. I’m already mortified.

Taking some deep breaths, I tell the computer I don’t need any help and I shut it all down, closing the lid – leaving it slightly ajar, the same as he had it.

Hopefully the room looks exactly as it did before I entered, and I leave it all behind, knowing the only way I’m going to find out what’s wrong is if I can gain access to that computer.

Downstairs I open my Chromebook on the kitchen counter and with a cup of tea brewing by my side, I go to Facebook, which I don’t use. Rick uses it for the community centre but we don’t have personal accounts on there because, well, basically… we’re grown-ups.

It tells me I need a username and password. Going to Google, I type in: “Joe Jones” and “Hull” and “Facebook” and it doesn’t take many looks through the search results for me to find our Joe Jones.

“God, this world ain’t safe,” I say to no-one.

I click on his profile but because I’m not logged in, I can only see a few images and a small amount of information.

Clicking through some of the images shown, I see a girl called Reema has been tagged in a couple of the more recent images. She’s a stunning Asian girl with eyes bigger than my head, flawless skin and a bone structure to die for. I wonder…

He hasn’t said anything to Rick lately, but maybe he has got a new girlfriend…

Reema, eh… my thoughts trail off.

I take the bag out of my brewed cup of tea and dash back upstairs.

Screen lit up again, I type in:

Reema.

Reemaisgorgeous.

Reemaissexy.

IloveReema…

Jackpot! Ding. Ding. Ding.

I’m in.

Firstly, I check Facebook.

I go through his messages and find nothing except a couple of exchanges between him and Reema, discussing their crap psychology teacher.

“Come on, Joe.”

I check his search history and roll my eyes. Just like his dad. There’s nothing much more there than websites about healthy shakes, building muscle density, the odd Tumblr search for pages with loads of boobs and a couple of hits on websites about psychology. He wants to be a psychologist to help people like his mother, who’s a manic depressive.

I’m about to give up hope that there’s nothing much more than a painful teenage crush going on here when I notice he has a number of unread messages in Outlook.

Should I? Should I?

God, this is bad. I am bad. I am really bad.

My imagination has been running wild… when this could be just a matter of Joe having the hots for a super-hot girl called Reema.

IloveReema.

Maybe they’ve been exchanging hot emails… email sex. But why? He has a phone. He could sext if he wanted to. God… sext. Is that even a word? Bloody hell. I have twin boys. What will I be like when they’re Joe’s age? Probably worse…

“Fuck it.”

I double click on the Outlook icon and his emails open. Scanning the unread emails, I am surprised by both the sender details and the subject headings. I’m even more surprised by my reaction when I open the emails and read them…

 

***

 

“What have you done?” Ruby peers at me, suspicious.

I stir my tea, avoiding her eyes. I decide I haven’t done anything wrong and therefore, I muster all my might to reply innocently, “Nothing. I am doing what you said. I’m giving it a week. Two cheesecakes suffered fatal collisions with my fork in the process, but we’re good, as the kids say. I’m giving Joe time to come clean.”

“I can read you a mile off. You’ve been up to something.”

“I honestly haven’t.” I turn and act my arse off, keeping eye contact without a blip of guilt or shame or admission in my eyes.

Yeah right…

“As long as you know what you’re doing,” she mumbles, leaving the room.

I watch her back as she walks away and give myself a moment or two to think about that. Do I know what I’m doing?

Hell, no.

Since sneaking a look at his emails, I haven’t figured out how to cut off the cyber bully Joe’s been on the receiving end of ­– without Joe realising that I hacked into his emails.

I also don’t want the cyber bully to know that I know. Because if they know that I know – they know that I know what they think of me.

Yes – the content of the emails was all about me.

I am apparently Joe’s fit stepmother, a MILF, and apparently I’m going to get raped on my way home one night. Kids think they’re being cute, don’t they? They don’t realise they could actually face jail for this shit.

So… no, I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do.

 

Teatime again. Joe’s already dashed off to his room.

“I need to contact my aunt, Kim.”

Warrick turns from loading the dishwasher to stare at me as I mop the twins’ heads and try to feign innocence.

“Why?”

“Family thing.”

“Family thing?” He briefly shakes his head in confusion.

“Yep.”

“You know, people don’t contact Kim. She contacts them.”

Kim is my late mother’s sister, a detective of detectives turned rogue, on the run for taking matters into her own hands. She would know exactly how to deal with a cyber bully.

“How do I make her contact me, then?”

He thinks for a moment, lips pursed, eyes crossed. God, I love him.

“You can’t. Although… maybe I know something.”

“What? What?”

He folds his arms. “What am I gonna get for this something?”

Looking cocky, he needn’t even ask, I’m already planning on jumping him later.

“That thing you like with the thing, if you want?”

He raises his eyebrows, smirking. “That thing I like with the thing, eh?”

“God, are you two talking code for sex, again?” Joe walks in, stroppy. “Bleugh. Cold bucket of water! Yuck! Off to Rupert’s house. Back before curfew.”

The whirlwind he is, he leaves without giving us chance to say a word. We hear his bike rattling outside the backdoor and the side gate shut as he leaves. I suppose he has his mobile if anything happens.

God, I hope he isn’t planning on confronting the bully… not that he could. They used weird email addresses without real names. I checked Joe’s list of blocked accounts and it was already 30+ long meaning he keeps blocking that twerp and they keep sending with different accounts. Maybe he’s asked around, but…

“So, are we talking the thing where you do the thing and I do the thing, and then we get thingy?” Warrick guffaws.

“We’re pretty much gonna do all the things, yeah. If you slip me a bit of info, darling. Or maybe that’ll be later.”

He sets the dishwasher running and kisses the boys’ heads before kissing mine. His eyes sparkling, he says, “She visits your mother’s grave, every year, on the anniversary. She said if I ever needed to… that’s how I’d find her.”

I frown. I never visit the grave. It’s too hard.

The funeral was a day of pain, deeper than six-feet under, deeper than the sea. The skies crowded me with their darkness, their heavy cumulonimbus sitting heavier on my shoulders than seemed possible. A walking brick viewed her coffin that day, a child carrying the weight of the world. I can never go back to that day.

The thought of it all already giving me palpitations, I reach for my water and stroke at the back of my neck, taking deep breaths. Warrick’s by my side instantly, holding my hand, caressing my face.

Through scratchy breaths, I manage, “I hacked his laptop and he’s receiving horrible emails and I want Kim to find out who sent the mails. There. I’m a bad person. I’m horrible! I hate myself!”

Tears fall. My togetherness ruptures. I’m hardly held by a thread most days, but Warrick stitches me up constantly. He’s my utter, utter rock – my solace.

“I know what’s going on… he told me weeks ago.”

I glare. “What?”

“We’re just trying to protect you.”

“But–but–”

He nods slowly, holding my hand. “We were afraid you would see through us. We’re crap at lying to you, evidently.”

I take some more water and a few more deep breaths.

Looking down at my lap, I manage to say through a throat full of frogs, “It’s next month, the anniversary. Will you go find her for me? Please.”

“There’s really no need. We could just go to the police with this. The threats are of an aggressive nature. If you want, that’s what we could do. We just didn’t want you to see the content.”

I smile. “It’s just some absolute ne’er-do-well who can’t get to me any other way, so they’re using Joe to get to me.”

“It doesn’t matter who it is, it’s wrong. It could be anyone sending him those emails. He’s changed his address a dozen times. The idiot always finds out about his change of address.”

“It must be someone from the school, yeah? Some friend of friend who knows his email address? He probably gives out his address to people he works on projects and presentations with or whatever.” I shake my head. “I can’t believe you’ve both been sitting on this without me.”

“Jules, this is a hate crime. Everything about it is hateful. It’s just plain nasty. We didn’t know what to do–”

Warrick scratches the back of his head, which is usually code for, I’m sorry or I just don’t want to get into this.

I take a deep breath, feeling like it’s my fault, and it’s not fair… and we shouldn’t be going through this.

Reluctantly, I mumble, “Call the police.”

 

***

 

Detective Wainwright sits in front of us a week later, a cup of tea in front of him. He’s sat in his own armchair while Warrick and I share the sofa and Joe stands by the door lintel behind us, arms folded, a demeanour of ‘get me out of here’ written all over his face.

“First off,” the cop says, taking a sip and putting his cup back down again, “we’re really grateful you came forward. Often the culprit gives up and moves onto someone else and the process repeats, so in telling us what’s been happening,” the copper looks at Joe, “you’re not only helping your family, but your community too. You have no idea how many people come to us with petty quibbles about bad words said on Facebook… wasting our time. This was obviously of the malicious variety. Given that some of the emails contained porn and made sexually aggressive threats… we acted as quickly as we could.”

“So, what have you found out anyway?” Warrick asks, tense alongside me, his hands held tight together.

“One of the email providers the wrongdoer was using told us where the offender had logged in from.” The copper opens his notepad. “It’s an address in Hull. We have the suspect in custody and a statement is being taken. They will be shown some of the evidence we’ve gathered. In my experience, once someone like this gets found out so to speak, the reality sets in and they usually confess. It’s really a brave thing you did in coming forward, Joe. This sort of thing carries on otherwise. They will be released but I expect a court date.”

“Who was it?” I say, in a sort of outburst, my nerves frayed by all this.

Who the hell thinks they can hurt our Joe?

Who?

“I can’t say just yet.” The copper gives Rick the eye, as if he thinks I’m not coping with all of this. I just want to know who’s been trying to hurt our family.

“It’s her life that got threatened,” Warrick gently tells Detective Wainwright.

“Okay. The household we’re investigating does happen to be the home of a pupil in Joe’s year.”

“We guessed that,” Joe mumbles, “I mean, who else could get my email address? I changed it bloody fifty times.”

I roll my shoulders, trying to sound brave. “I really don’t know who I upset this badly.”

Sure, I’ve dealt with aggravated parents in the past. Kids name-calling, as kids do. I’ve dealt with a few nastier things, like Hetty ­– a former star pupil of mine – confessing she’d been abused by her mother. I’ve dealt with a parent asking for a retest when their kid didn’t get an A in a course paper – but a second examiner from another school gave the kid the exact same grade. It’s difficult when parents want their kid to do well, but they can’t face the fact that nobody’s perfect. My mind’s wandering because I do teach a lot of the gifted set… and…

“Boy or girl?” I ask the man.

“Girl.”

“Oh.”

It could really be anyone. I couldn’t guess.

“I’ll be in touch. Thanks once again.” Warrick shows Wainwright out, a few words exchanged about the state of the Force at the moment – and then the man’s gone.

Warrick returns to the room. “I wonder who the bloody hell it is.”

“Couldn’t give a fuck.” I smile, leaving the room to head upstairs and check on the twins.

 

As I watch the twins sleeping, their chubby arms outstretched, their little nostrils flaring with heavy breaths, tummies fluttering up and down, I think about the bullies who hurt me when I was young. I’d just lost my mother and I was vulnerable and people knew it. Nasty people knew it. Ever since, I’ve protected myself from harm by being untouchable. Even now in my thirties, after all I’ve been through in life, and even with Warrick’s resounding love – I still try to keep myself from harm by not really putting myself out there. I don’t need to be popular, I don’t need to tell everyone my sob story, I don’t need to roll into work everyday with a hangover to be liked or for people to find me funny. I just turn up, do my job well, love my kids and my husband. I don’t want pity. I’m happy, but the person messaging Joe obviously doesn’t like it that beneath my stern demeanour, I’m obviously happy. I like to dress nicely. I fancy I’m attractive. I wear big statement pieces of jewellery because they’re colourful and life needs a bit of colour. I fancy I’m tall and have a body my husband likes. I fancy I don’t care what other people think – and certain people don’t like that. Immature people. Silly people. Lonely people. Unhappy people.

“You okay?” Warrick asks in a whisper, tiptoeing over to me. He joins me on the thick cream carpet of the nursery, sitting beside me.

“It’s about control,” I murmur, resting my head on his shoulder. “When you can’t control an immovable object, this is sometimes what happens, unfortunately.”

“There’s no point in putting any logic to this. Whichever little bitch did this, she’s going to get what’s coming to her.”

I turn to look into the fiery eyes of my possessive, protective husband. “Wanna do some stuff tonight?”

“Hell yeah.”

He helps me up and we stand, facing each other.

I can’t help but wonder about my childhood bullies, occasionally. Did karma get them eventually? Who knows? I expect they never had to pay for what they did to me.

I also expect they’ve never known what it’s like to look into the eyes of another person and know – absolutely and completely – that you were their true beginning and you will be theirs until the end. Bullies probably don’t have the capacity to really give themselves to one person; to let their guard down with just one person, who’s as sensitive as you are, beneath.

“I love your mind,” I tell him, “and I love your thingy.”

We laugh, heading out of the room.

“Joe’s just gone out,” he mutters, and we’re running to our bedroom together in no time.

*END*

**The story of how Jules and Warrick met can be read in Angel AvenueJules isn’t always a likeable character but her story is one I see all too often. BULLYING AFFECTS PEOPLE FOR YEARS AFTERWARDS.**

The short story you’ve just read features in an anthology of anti-bullying themed short stories called BREAK THE CYCLE which is available to purchase on AMAZON US and AMAZON UK and is a non-profit book.

Released Today! BREAK THE CYCLE: An Anti-Bullying Anthology

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Featuring short stories by new and established authors:

Andrew Lynch

Anna-Maria Athanasiou

 Blake Rivers

 Cameron Lincoln

Carrie Elks

Charlotte E Hart

Cliona Woods

David E Gordon

Eleanor Lloyd-Jones

H. A. Robinson

LJ Stock

Muriel Garcia

Sarah Michelle Lynch

Victoria L. James

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***

BLURB

break_the_cycle_an__cover_for_kindleTo coincide with National Anti-Bullying Week in the UK, 14 writers have come together to write about bullying from a variety of perspectives. We think this is still an issue that needs more of a spotlight – now more than ever unfortunately. Forget what you read in the media, these stories will tell you what is really going on in schools, behind closed doors and in places you never thought to look. The pressures our social workers face when it comes to bullying and abuse are immense but it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes bullying gets brought to the attention of head teachers, or the police, then the parents (of both the bully and bullied). Maybe a friend steps in. Maybe a stranger steps in. Or even a family pet. So many people are affected by the malicious acts of one or more instigators and the cycle threatens to repeat.

Perhaps, bullying doesn’t stop though. Ever. Maybe it ends in death. Maybe we can’t break the cycle, or can we? Perhaps bullying isn’t straightforward; maybe it’s sometimes mistaken for jest. You really need to read on… because bullying isn’t an issue limited to childhood. It’s all around us and sometimes escalates into devastating abuse. Sometimes it’s verbal, sometimes physical, maybe even both, but whichever form it comes in, it always has an impact. These stories might make you reach out to a certain person in your life you’ve never really questioned until now – because most victims are still suffering in silence. This is for them.

elj

http://mybook.to/BTC

An Excerpt from Break the Cycle… 3 days to go!

cameronExcerpt:-

I don’t believe in ghosts, but I believe in hauntings, in the lingering insidious presence of something malignant. Spectres of endless doubt, old thoughts as oppressive as any vengeful wraith. I believe in parasites, prodding, cold and primal, stirring distant failures and shames that strike when the mind relaxes, or into nightmares that will wake you, febrile and slick with sweat.

All of these dark creatures are no more complicated than old memories, and I believe in them like I believe the earth is round.

I believe because I knew a bully.

My Bully.

He singled me out for reasons that were his own. I didn’t like the things he liked, and I liked things he did not. I didn’t look like he looked; I was thin, lean and pale, where he was pug-nosed, stout and peppered with freckles. I was clever, and he was not. That’s not a brag, or an indictment. I largely saw school as a means to an end, and worked, and even enjoyed it, whereas he saw it as an unfortunate mandate. He sat at the back of the few classes we shared, those that weren’t banded by ability, and he sniggered and railed against the simplest of tasks. That was when he sat at the back at all. Often he’d be relocated, or absent, or serving a period of exclusion for wrongs that didn’t involve me. His presence wasn’t pervasive, but when it was there, it was ever a threat.

He played a slow game, and his moves were often uncoordinated, without much forethought, simple lashings-out, like the first, where he struck from behind while I stood peeing at the trough and cracked my head against the wall’s peeling paint, stumbling, exposed, breaking my fall with a hand into the gully of warm amber and weak disinfectant.  I scrubbed for five minutes before I returned to class. Then it was verbal, insults that barbed my physicality, or lack thereof: the gangling frame, the hair too curly for his tastes, a tiny hereditary kink in the shape of my right ear lobe, unnoticeable until it’s noticed, then mined for meagre gold.

It was always there during PE.

The PE changing rooms were a twice-weekly hell, a timetabled trip to ten-minutes of judgment and punishment for crimes you couldn’t control. Who had muscles, who had hair? Whose puppy fat hadn’t yet hardened? Whose nipples were too big or too small? Who wore expensive underwear and whose came from the catalogue? Pushing, shoving, tweaking and whipping. Walls lined with awkward flesh changing outfits as quickly as possible, desperate to do it without being noticed.

Before the lesson, a crucible of scrutiny. After the session, a litany of faults. Backslapping for the winners, lambasting for the losers.

“You’re too dry,” My Bully said in the changing room one day. He crossed the room to tell me, leaning in suddenly. It was loud enough for a pocket of his cronies to hear, and they sneered and cackled like well-trained vultures. I pulled down my red tee-shirt quickly, exponentially more self-aware. Did he mean my skin? Did I have flakes and lesions on my back I’d never noticed? But he peeled away quickly and lumbered into the adjoining toilet area, positioning himself at the trough.

Too many possibilities went through my head. A repeat of being pushed against the wall while I peed, stumbling clumsily into the trough. Him thundering back through with a cup of his own piss to douse me with. Him finishing up and hauling me in and pushing my face down into the steel channel flowing with yellow froth. I hopped myself into my trainers as I left the room and followed my friends to the field for football . . .

*-*-*-*-*

Break the Cycle is an anti-bullying anthology of 14 stories by 14 different authors. Each story features a different scenario.

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Pre-order the e-Book:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Pre-order the paperback direct from SML (UK ONLY):

Google Form

Paperbacks will also be available direct from Amazon nearer the time.

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An Excerpt from Break The Cycle… 14 days to go!

sml
Excerpt:

“So he finally acknowledged something is wrong, but he didn’t suggest you should do anything about it?” My colleague Ruby is stood with me in the English office the morning after, scanning me for telltale signs of rage.

“He flat out said we should leave it until Joe is ready to tell us what’s going on.”

“Oh dear.” She reads my exasperation. “Listen… Jules. Joe is his son.”

I flash her my eyes. Has she forgotten about the things Joe and me have been through together? He’s as much my son as my twins are. I care about Joe just the same.

“Ruby.” I turn myself fully towards her, putting my cup of tea on the worktop, my hands free to make sweeping movements to enforce my passion on this. “It’s something in my gut, telling me there’s something wrong. I don’t know, but when it comes to kids, I just–”

She steps forward and holds my hand. “I know. You’re right back there, to the day you got battered and left all alone, in the dark. I know you want to protect him from the same things that happened to you.”

I focus on her eyes, which are watering. She feels my pain, even though she’s never had to deal with the same pain herself.

“Jules,” she whispers, softly stroking the back of my hand, “Joe is different. He’s Warrick’s son for a start and he’s definitely tougher than you imagine. I think Warrick’s right. I think he’ll tell you when the time’s right. He knows you’re there for him.”

“This is the thing,” I say fast, “he knows we’re here for him, and he’s still not telling us. He knows we’re not judgy, he knows that.”

“Give it another week, maybe?”

I throw my head back, groaning. “Torture.”

“One week.”

I smile wryly. “Rubes, you know how many cheesecakes I can eat in a week, right?”

“Unfortunately I do, and I also know that while you’ll maybe put on a pound, I’d put on a couple of stone comfort eating in the same manner as you.”

I pick my teacup off the counter, anticipating the bell for the first lesson, which I’m taking today.

“You and Rick had better have cheesecake for me at every fucking stop this week,” I grumble, and walk away.

As I take the corridor, I try to wriggle the anxiety out of my heavy shoulders and neck, but it’s not working.

Deep, deep, deep breaths, I remind myself, sucking in vital oxygen, trying to remember my breathing exercises of old.

Walking into a classroom full of kids, there’s suddenly nothing else to think about other than controlling thirty teenagers for the next two hours.

*

Dinnertime is no different today. Joe’s being quiet over his pasta and salad. Warrick’s knackered. The twins are lobbing pasta shells at one another and I’m focusing on the baked, New York-style cheesecake waiting for me in the fridge.

“Frrrr–” A sort of grumble erupts from me and the boys all look at me. I was going to say something mad like flipping tell me what is wrong Joe! but I guess, I stopped myself.

“Jules?”

“Something stuck in my throat,” I excuse myself, reaching for a glass of water.

Joe finishes his meal and excuses himself from the table before I can even think of another way to broach this. Once his son’s locked himself away upstairs, Warrick gives me a look and I say nothing. What is there to say?

I promised Ruby I would give this a week…

*Jules and Warrick feature in two of Sarah’s earlier novels but this is brand-new material.

*-*-*-*-*

Break the Cycle is an anti-bullying anthology of 14 stories by 14 different authors. Each story features a different scenario.

btc-instagram-sized

Pre-order the e-Book:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Pre-order the paperback direct from SML (UK ONLY):

Google Form

Paperbacks will also be available direct from Amazon nearer the time.

bookcoverpreview-do

 

Cover Reveal and Pre-Order – Break the Cycle

Introducing . . .

break_the_cycle_an__cover_for_kindle

Blurb:

To coincide with National Anti-Bullying Week in the UK, 14 writers have come together to write about bullying from a variety of perspectives. We think this is still an issue that needs more of a spotlight – now more than ever unfortunately. Forget what you read in the media, these stories will tell you what is really going on in schools, behind closed doors and in places you never thought to look. The pressures our social workers face when it comes to bullying and abuse are immense but it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes bullying gets brought to the attention of head teachers, or the police, then the parents (of both the bully and bullied). Maybe a friend steps in. Maybe a stranger steps in. Or even a family pet. So many people are affected by the malicious acts of one or more instigators and the cycle threatens to repeat.

Perhaps, bullying doesn’t stop though. Ever. Maybe it ends in death. Maybe we can’t break the cycle, or can we? Perhaps bullying isn’t straightforward; maybe it’s sometimes mistaken for jest. You really need to read on… because bullying isn’t an issue limited to childhood. It’s all around us and sometimes escalates into devastating abuse. Sometimes it’s verbal, sometimes physical, maybe even both, but whichever form it comes in, it always has an impact. These stories might make you reach out to a certain person in your life you’ve never really questioned until now – because most victims are still suffering in silence. This is for them.

Word length: 70,000 words +

Universal link to pre-order: mybook.to/BTC

Release date: November 14th

Sarah’s review (the editor):

Break the Cycle: An Anti-Bullying AnthologyBreak the Cycle: An Anti-Bullying Anthology by Sarah Michelle Lynch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I read all of these stories, I was reminded how amid the hustle and bustle of life, it’s so easy to overlook those around us who are coping on their own and not telling us what’s going on in their lives. Each and every story presented here is individual, many of them set in the UK and some set in the USA.

Essentially, this is a book of hope. This is a book proving we can break the cycle. Maybe it won’t be easy, but we can do it. Some of these stories may send you into sensory overload and some may even leave you devastated. Some stories will lift you up, others might prompt you into action. Many will have you nodding your head or being taken back to a familiar scenario of the past.

The main message of “Break the Cycle”, is that children are what matters and as children, we are at our most vulnerable and most easily influenced. It’s those less fortunate than others that we really need to protect because among them are potential future leaders, policemen and women, teachers, poets, artists and icons.

Due to some adult language and upsetting situations, I would give this a recommended reading age of 12+ but parental discretion is advised.

ALL PROCEEDS WILL BE DONATED TO THE NSPCC. Visit their website: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/

This book will be available in paperback as well as e-book. Keep an eye on Sarah’s FB page for when you can order your copy direct from her: http://facebook.com/SarahMLynch

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Announcing “Break the Cycle”

I’ll let the video tell the story…

To keep up to date with me, you can follow me on all these platforms:-

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Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6518742.Sarah_Michelle_Lynch

Romance with a touch of grit – Free to download until Friday

Angel_Avenue

Synopsis:

A heart-warming contemporary romance…

Jules waits on a street corner every Saturday hoping something or someone will take the pain away. Nothing ever does.

She once loved the area she inhabits but a heartbreaking event marred its former meaning. She fell out of love and decided to focus on her career as an English teacher.

What she does not realise is that Warrick has been watching her and wants to know why she is always there, stood on that corner. She convinces herself it is the social worker in him that thinks he can save her from the loneliness and despair so evident about her person. Little does she know just what kind of life he has led.

When true love blossoms, neither of them appreciate just how their union is not only going to change their lives, but also shake up a problem at the very heart of their community.

DOWNLOAD FOR FREE: CLICK HERE

REVIEW OF ANGEL AVENUE:

This was a wonderful read & my first time reading a novel written by Sarah Michelle Lynch. I was very impressed. When I started reading I didn’t really know much about the book but it certainly isn’t your average love story. It had me on the verge of tears, holding my breath & cursing! I adored the characters & the twists & turns of the plot. At times it seemed like there were 3 or 4 stories, not just one. Extremely well written, easy to read & lose yourself in. I love how it addresses important issues such as bullying, abuse & addiction. I loved the light versus dark elements. If you like romance with a touch of grit, fast-paced with an erotic twist then you should definitely read Angel Avenue. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Angel_Avenue2

Synopsis:

Sarah Michelle Lynch’s follow-up novel to the heart-warming Angel Avenue asks: are there ghosts that chase us or are we chasing ghosts? How does the human mind overcome trauma? Even if you think you’re cured, is there any backlash?

At first, the next chapter in Warrick and Jules’ story seems picture-perfect. Marriage. Children. New home. Fresh start. If only there wasn’t a ghost still lurking from the past, a ghost so tangible they can almost touch it.

The ghost haunting Jules and Warrick throws up so many questions, including what made Warrick the man he is? Why did Jules’ father not tell her he was dying? Why did Jules ignore her compulsion to dance for so many years and why do some people end up all alone, without anyone to care for them?

This seasonal morality tale will do more than make you think and feel – it will leave you breathless.

Pre-order for 99cents/pence/equivalent: CLICK HERE

Contemporary romance #FREE to download – excerpt

angel avenue

**CLICK COVER TO DOWNLOAD FOR FREE!**

EXCERPT:

When I wake and realise it was a cruel dream, I ache inside. I find I am drooling on his chest and I retract my hold on him immediately. It’s early but I roll away and let myself out of bed. I look back on him and see he’s still fast asleep so I leave him there and head to the bathroom, where I look in the mirror and see my cheeks are crimson.

I douse my face in cold water but nothing is helping to rid myself of this heat all over my body. Instead, I walk to the kitchen and down a tumbler full of cold water. I still feel as hot as hell. When I walk by the bed and see his chest uncovered by the duvet, I stare at what is before me. Yes, I admit, he’s a man I want and I want him more than anything else in the entire world. He makes me feel safer than I have ever felt before in my entire life.

Phew. Getting that out there with myself is a relief.

When he rolls over and pulls the blanket up around himself, I watch the expressions he makes in his sleep. His nose twitches and he grunts. A smile falls across my lips and I don’t feel too bad then. It’s just the same old Warrick, growling and snoring. One of my secret behaviours these days is to smell his pillow when he’s not here.

I sit at my desk and do the only thing that will occupy my mind ‒ marking. I congratulate myself that if I do it now, I shall have the rest of the day to relax.

When I get bored after the first batch are done, I get up and head to the kitchen to brew a pot of tea. I fill two cups and put one by his bedside.

He hears the stamp of the mug and his eyes twitch open.

“Tea for you.”

I turn and sit at my desk and place my own cup down. I try to keep working but the mirror of my desk/dressing table is reflecting his image. He sits up and stares.

“What’s wrong?”

“Just marking. Is that a crime?”

“You seem odd.”

“All normal then.”

I hear him take a big sip and he puts the cup back down and rolls over to stretch, but the duvet shifts with him. In the mirror I see the whole length of the back of his body, on show.

He’s tight. No hair where there shouldn’t be any. Muscles in his shoulders and arse, thighs and arms. I am falling for him and his body is an added bonus. Christ! If only I can get my act together and stop being a cock tease.

Next thing I know, he leaps up to dash to the loo and I watch his body as he walks. My eyes peel wide open.

He returns and openly sups from his mug, standing there in only his boxers still. I fight every impulse to look and I end up just randomly ticking every page of the books I am marking!

“I have a thing today.”

“What thing?”

“My voluntary work. You know, the thing I dragged you to that time.”

“Ah, rule me out then.”

“I promised Joe I would drop in for Sunday lunch too. I do that about once a month.”

“Fine.”

I don’t know why he’s fishing for my approval. He pulls on his jeans and a vest he must have been wearing beneath the mustard jumper yesterday.

“I’ll just go then?” he huffs.

I turn in my chair to face him, and bite my pen.

“What’s wrong?”

He shakes his wild hair out and his eyes look manic.

“Guess I just feel a bit like I am getting the brush-off here.”

“Look, I woke early. I often do if I have had an early night.”

He hops on his feet and I stare him out, refusing to get as irate as him.

“Stay. Make yourself breakfast. Watch telly. This is just my life, you know. I mark all the time.”

He sits on the edge of the bed and drinks the rest of the tea.

“Have you had breakfast yet?”

“No,” I murmur, making random ticks still.

“What do you want then?”

“There’s eggs. I like mine poached.”

“More tea?”

“Yep.” I hand him my now empty mug.

He calls me for breakfast soon later and we eat at the tiny table, which he has laid properly and garnished with a flower from my bouquet of carnations in the kitchen.

I seat myself, though still in my nightdress and robe. I chomp through the food in my usual fashion and I see him watching me. He wants to know whether he outdid my day with Laurie.

I am not going to tell him that he most certainly did, nor in being here for breakfast and doing it all himself, he’s winning by miles.

“I have a favour to ask.”

“Yeah?” he cheers.

“We go on a half-term dash to Bruges every autumn, me and the girls. Betsy and Ruby. They’ve pulled out this year because, well, they hate me now I have implemented all the changes that Dickhead Jack imposed on us.”

“That’s sad,” he remarks.

“Ah, it doesn’t matter. I don’t work there to be liked. Look, anyway, I booked mine and can’t get a refund. My cabin was booked, you know, ages ago. It was a two for one thing, so if you want to come, you’ll go free but it’ll be with me, in a tiny cabin, for two whole nights. Otherwise I will be going alone. I mean, I don’t mind,” I swing my fork around, looking anywhere, “but I thought, well, you seem stressed from work and it would be free… for you. Seems a waste.”

“When?”

“Friday next week? Sails late afternoon.”

He chomps down on some egg and toast and consults with his memory.

“I will have to do some begging but I don’t see why not. Just means I might have to work overtime in the evenings next week.”

“Oh, don’t put yourself out. It’s not essential.”

I toss off my disappointment.

“I’ll come,” he smiles.

“You will?”

“Course,” he replies.

He stands and collects the plates. I hear him washing up while I finish my marking.

When he comes back into the bedroom, he’s dressed and ready to leave. A hand drops on my shoulder and he kisses my cheek.

“I’ll text.”

I grab his hand and halt him, “Thank you, for yesterday.”

I know I am blushing. I hate myself.

He smiles and the next thing I know, he’s out of the door and then the building. I miss him already. I’m falling heart-screamingly in love with him. That dream is going to be the undoing of me!