It’s half two in the morning and I’m back here where it started.
Yes, of course it’s cold. It’s half two in the morning, mid February, and I’m not dressed properly. I just bunged my coat on over my pyjamas and ran here in my slippers. I’m sat on this bench, shivering violently under the useless faux fur of my coat and I’m not sure why.
You see, I was in bed, doing my usual not-sleeping and trying-to-figure-out-what-the-hell-happened and thinking-it’s-all-my-fault and huddling-into-a-ball-and-disintegrating, and then, tonight – half an hour ago, to be precise – it became clear.
I needed to come here.
My breath escapes in short puffs of crystallized fog that float down to the dormant railway tracks. It’s so quiet in this alleyway. It feels like the whole world is asleep. Apart from me and my broken heart.
I’ve used up so many tears on you already and it’s not helping me get over this any better. So I’m sat here in the freezing cold, my jaw shaking, and I’m trying to connect the dots.
This bench may not look like much. It’s got a plank missing, a grey mossy finish from years of weather, and it’s plastered in offensive graffiti. But this nondescript bench is significant, because this bench is where I first cried.
Not my first ever cry, but the first cry I can link back to you. To the story of us. Though you and I were more of a scribble than a story.
If I can untangle the messy line of biro, if I can trace back the scribble, it might finally make sense.
Here’s the starting point. I’m sat right on it.
I pull my coat tighter around myself. I close my eyes, and I remember.
“Don’t worry,” Mum said, watching me not eat my cornflakes. “Everyone will be new.”
She gave me that smile. The one that begged me not to make her feel guilty about it all.
“Everyone will know at least someone, whereas I know literally no one.”
“You will, by the end of the day.”
I didn’t finish my cereal, so I had to fish the orange pulp out with my fingers before I could pour the leftover milk down the sink. “I hope so,” I said, before going back to the bedroom that didn’t feel remotely like mine yet. I’d not finished unpacking, which didn’t help. Boxes of my life were still piled around the space, waiting for me to admit this was my life now and actually open them. I’d only removed my clothes, record player and vinyl, and, most importantly, my guitar.
I didn’t have time to play it but I picked it up anyway, shrugging the strap over my shoulder and perching on the end of my bed. I strummed a chord, feeling instantly calmer. I sang softly.
“Come on, Amelie, or we’ll be late,” Mum called down the hallway. I still couldn’t get used to us not having stairs.
I unwrapped my guitar from around myself and reluctantly put it down. “I’m coming.”
I piled into the front seat of our hot car and it was like climbing into an uncomfortable hug. My legs smudged sweat onto
the leather. Summer was reluctantly holding on, apparently missing the memo that it was now September. We pulled out of the communal car park and I turned the radio up.
Mum turned it down again. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay walking home? Call me if you get lost.”
“Mum, there are these things called phones. They have maps on them now and everything.”
“Well, you can still call.”
We drove along streets I didn’t know, rounded corners I didn’t know, drove past students I didn’t know, who were on the way to the same college as me that I didn’t know. They walked in clumps, while I shrank into my seat. We got stuck in traffic as cars struggled to find parking spaces. Exhaust smoke fugged its way through the car’s air conditioning, making it smell of pollution.
“I may have to spit you out here,” Mum said. “Are you going to be okay?”
I nodded, even though it wasn’t the truth. It wasn’t her fault any of this was happening. It wasn’t Dad’s either, not really. Having no one to blame for being ripped out of my old life almost made it worse.
“Hang on.” She indicated and yanked the car into a space. I opened the door, readying myself for the big unknown, when Mum reached over and put her hand on my shoulder. “Are you really going to be okay?” she asked for the third time, in her posh accent that wasn’t an accent since we’d moved down here. “I’m sorry, Amelie. I know you didn’t want this.”
I smiled for her and nodded for her. “I’ll be fine.”
She left me on the pavement in a cloud of fumes, and I watched her weave away through the thrumming cars. I wasn’t entirely sure where to go so I followed the scatterings of people my age, all walking in the same direction. My skin prickled as my shyness rash erupted across my chest. Great, just what I needed on my first day in a brand-new college in a brand-new part of the country – to be Blotchy Shy Girl.I fell into step behind two other girls and, despite the heat, did up my denim jacket to hide the worst of my red chest.
My skin got itchier as I imagined the potential hell awaiting me that day.
• Having to nervously stand around, begging people to come and talk to me with my eyes.
• Not knowing where I was going or what I was doing, and feeling insecure about how crap I was at basic human functioning.
• As a result of my shyness, probably attracting some kind of weirdo who I don’t like, because they’re the only one who talks to me, and then spending the rest of my life being their friend out of duty.
• Freaking about where to sit at lunchtime and ending up in the corner, alone, watching everyone else be the friendly, extroverted person I wish I could be.
• Having to introduce myself and stumbling over my words and my voice going all croaky and my rash getting rashier and everyone thinking I’m a weirdo.
The girls in front chatted excitedly, wisps of their conversation floating over their shoulders.
“Did you see Laura on results day? She’s gone full-on goth. Do you think her new boyfriend knows she loves Taylor Swift? Should we tell him?” They giggled and my stomach twisted. I forgot how mean girls could be. Back in Sheffield, I had my own little bubble of nice people who I loved and trusted. It had taken sixteen years to find friends who got me and I them. I couldn’t believe I had to start again. The girls turned left and I copied, finding myself face-to-face with my new college, freshly painted for the new year. Streams of students trickled in through various entrances and everyone seemed to know at least someone. They launched themselves into hello hugs, asking one another how their summers had been. They were all laughing and chatting too loudly and excitedly – showing off on this fresh start of a new day. This was a small town. The most they could hope for was to “rebrand” slightly over the summer. Whereas I was entirely new. There was not one known face within this compound I stomped into, in my too-hot tan cowboy boots. And maybe that could be liberating – this chance to start over – except I didn’t want to start over. I wanted to be back in Sheffield with Jessa and Alfie.
I almost cried then, in broad daylight, before my first day had even started. Tears prickled the backs of my eyelids and sadness welled up in my intestines. And, because he knew me, because he knew me and loved me so well and so hard, Alfie sensed it.
My phone buzzed, right on time.
Alfie: I’m thinking of you today. Just be you – blotchy shyness rash and all. You WILL make friends.
Remember, only two years x x
I stood to one side. A smile twitched across my face, though it was a bittersweet one.
Amelie: HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT THE RASH HAD COME OUT? X
A sharp bell rang out and I checked the time on my phone – 8.55 a.m. I only had five minutes to try and find room D24 and meet my new form group. I rummaged in my satchel for my map of campus. The paper shook in my hands as I managed to locate the refectory right in front of me, and, apparently D24 was in the media block to the right of it.
There, I thought. That wasn’t so bad. You are coping.
My phone buzzed again.
Alfie: I miss that rash. You’ll be amazing today x x
I found myself closing my eyes. Standing there with the sun warm on my eyelids, the last dregs of late arrivers striding past me, I could picture every contour of Alfie’s face. The mole just next to his left eye, every tuft of his misbehaving hair. Instinctively, I typed out a reply.
Amelie: I love you
I stared at my screen, watching the cursor flash next to the “u”. Another surge of emotions ran through me and I deleted what I’d written. I watched the screen erase the truth, one letter of it vanishing at a time. The bell rang again. I was now late for my first day of whatever the hell my life was now.
Amelie: I miss you
I sent that one.
It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the whole truth.
You have 0 of these in your Basket.
Amelie loved Reese. And she thought he loved her. But she’s starting to realise love isn’t supposed to hurt like this. So now she’s retracing their story and untangling what happened by revisiting all the places he made her cry. Because if she works out what went wrong, perhaps she can finally learn to get over him.
“Smart and beautifully written, this isn’t just for YA readers. ”
“Utterly page-turning and relatable”
“Funny and sad, this book urges girls to know their own worth.”
Holly Bourne is a bestselling and critically acclaimed author. Inspired by her work with young people, and her own experiences of everyday sexism, Holly is a passionate mental health advocate and proud feminist.
Visit www.hollybourne.co.uk to find out more.
“Holly Bourne's novels are always bang on trend for our times, and this raw, disturbing portrait of a teenage girl and her descent into a coercive, controlling relationship will sadly strike a chord with many.”
“The Places I’ve Cried in Public tells the story of first love, loss, and rebuilding yourself after everything you thought made you is taken away.”
“If we could go back in time and gift this to our younger selves, we absolutely would. It’s a must-read for anybody going through heartbreak.”
“Writing with great empathy about difficult issues,[Bourne] proves, once again, to be absolutely essential reading for teenagers.”
“Bourne […] tackles abusive relationships with a compassionate and authentic voice.”
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