Beautiful Broken Things(Beautiful Broken Things #1)

Beautiful Broken Things(Beautiful Broken Things #1)

Sara Barnard


I thought it was the start to a love story.


The boy, who looked to be around my age or slightly older, had skidded to a stop in front of me. He gave me a quick, obvious once-over and then switched on a wide, flirtatious grin. His friend, better looking but very much not grinning flirtatiously at me, rolled his eyes.

‘Heeeey,’ the boy said, just like that. Heeeey.

‘Hi,’ I said, sending up a quick prayer that my bus wouldn’t arrive before the conversation ended. I tried to flick my hair casually – difficult to do when it’s a touch on the bushy side – and lifted my chin, like my sister once showed me when she was trying to teach me how to act confident.

‘What flavour have you got?’


He gestured to the ShakeAway cup in my hand. ‘Oh,’ I said, stupidly. ‘Toblerone.’ I’d only had a few sips of the milkshake. I liked to let it melt a little before I started drinking it properly, and the cup was heavy in my hand.

‘Nice.’ The boy carried on grinning at me. ‘I’ve never tried that one. Can I have a sip?’

Here is what I was thinking as I handed over my milkshake: He likes ShakeAways! I like ShakeAways! This is a MOMENT. This is the START.

And then his back was to me and he and his friend were running away, their laughter lingering after them. When they were a few feet away, the boy turned, waving my cup triumphantly at me. ‘Thanks, love!’ he bellowed, either not realizing or not caring that he was not old enough – not to mention suave enough – to pull off ‘love’.

I just stood there with my hand holding nothing but air. The other people at the bus stop were all staring at me, some hiding smirks, others clearly pained with second-hand embarrassment. I adjusted my bag strap as nonchalantly as I could, avoiding anyone’s gaze, seriously considering stepping in front of a passing bus.

Three days ago I had turned sixteen – the first of my friends to hit this particular milestone, thanks to my early-September birthday – and my parents had rented out a hall for my birthday party. ‘You can invite boys!’ my mother had told me, looking more excited by this prospect than anyone. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t want boys (definitely not), the problem was that I went to a girls’ school, and I could count the number of boys I knew well enough to speak to on one hand. Despite the efforts of my best friend, Rosie, who went to the mixed comprehensive and had plenty of boy/friends, the gender mix at the party was hopelessly unbalanced. I spent most of the night eating cake and talking with my friends rather than flirting wildly and dancing with what Rosie called potentials, like sixteen-year-olds are supposed to do. It wasn’t a bad way to see in a new age, but it wasn’t exactly spectacular either.

I mention this so my OK-have-my-milkshake-stranger idiocy has some context. I was sixteen, and I honestly believed that I was due a love story. Nothing epic (I’m not greedy), but something worth talking about. Someone to hold hands with (etc.). The milkshake meet-cute should have led to that. But instead I was just me, standing empty-handed, and the boy was just a boy.

When the bus pulled up just a couple of minutes later and I retreated to the anonymity of the top deck, I made a mental list of milestones I would have reached by the time my next birthday rolled around.

1) I would get a boyfriend. A real one.

2) I would lose my virginity.

3) I would experience a Significant Life Event.

In the following year I achieved just one of these goals. And it wasn’t the one I expected.

‘So he just took your milkshake?’ Rosie’s voice was sceptical. It was nearly 9 p.m., and she’d called me for our traditional last-night-before-school-starts chat.

‘Yeah. Right out of my hand.’

‘He just snatched it?’

‘Um. Yes?’

There was a pause, followed by the sound of Rosie’s laughter tickling down the line. Aside from my grandparents, Rosie was the only person I spoke to using the landline. ‘Oh my God, Caddy, did you give it to him?’

‘Not deliberately,’ I said, already wishing I hadn’t brought up the milkshake story. But it was always hard to stop myself telling Rosie everything. It was just second nature.

‘I wish I’d been there.’

‘Me too – you could have chased after him for me.’

Rosie and I had spent the day together, another before-school-starts tradition, and had actually bought a milkshake each before going our separate ways. She would definitely have chased after him, had she been there. When we were four, not long after we’d first met at a ballet class we both hated, an older boy had snatched my bow (I was the kind of kid who wore bows in her hair) and Rosie had sprinted after him, taken back the bow and stamped on his foot. Our friendship had followed a similar pattern ever since.

‘Why didn’t you chase him?’

‘I was surprised!’

‘You’d think after all this time in separate schools you’d have learned to chase your own bullies,’ Rosie said, her voice light and teasing.

‘Maybe Year 11 will be the year.’

‘Maybe. Do they even have bullies in private school?’

‘Yes.’ She knew very well that they did. She was the one I’d cried to for several straight months in Year 8 when I’d been the target. My school, Esther Herring’s High School for Girls, had more than its fair share of bullies.

‘Oh yeah. Sorry. I mean boy bullies. Obviously you don’t get those at Esther’s. Those are the ones I chase for you.’

I let her tease me about teenage boy thieves for a few minutes more until we hung up. I headed back upstairs in the direction of my bedroom, walking past my mother, who was ironing in front of the TV.

‘I’ve got your uniform here,’ she called after me. ‘Do you want to come and get it?’

I trudged reluctantly back towards her. My uniform was hanging on the cupboard door, the pleats on the skirt perfect, the blazer practically shining. I’d avoided looking at my uniform all summer. It was even greener than I remembered.

‘All freshly ironed,’ Mum said, looking pleased and proud. No one was happier that I was at Esther’s than her. When she found out I’d got in, she cried. Actually we both cried, but mine were not happy tears.

‘Thanks,’ I said, taking the hangers.

‘Are you excited about tomorrow?’ She was smiling, and I wondered if she was being oblivious on purpose.

‘Not really,’ I said, but I injected a note of humour into my voice, to avoid a long ‘don’t disparage your opportunities’ speech.

‘It’s a big year,’ Mum said. The iron made a loud, squelching hissing noise, and she lifted it up. I suddenly realized she was ironing my father’s pants.

‘Mmmm,’ I said, edging towards the door.

‘It’ll be a great one,’ Mum continued happily, not even looking at me. ‘I can already tell. Maybe they’ll make you a prefect.’

This was unlikely. Being well behaved and getting good grades was not enough to set you apart at Esther’s. The two prefects likely to be selected from my form were Tanisha, who’d started a feminist society in Year 9 and wanted to be prime minister, and Violet, who headed up the debating team and had campaigned successfully to get the school to go Fairtrade. Esther’s was made for people like Tanisha and Violet. They didn’t just achieve, which was expected to be a given for everyone, they thrived.

‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘Don’t be disappointed if I’m not though, OK?’

‘I’ll be disappointed at them, not you,’ Mum replied, like this was any better.

Great, I thought. Another thing to worry about.

‘I really hope you’ll be focusing on your goals this year,’ Mum said, looking up at me just as I tried to make my escape from the room. She was always big on goals.

I thought of the milestone list I’d mentally penned earlier on the bus. Boyfriend. Virginity. Significant Life Events.

‘I am,’ I said. ‘Completely focused. Goodnight.’

Here’s my theory on Significant Life Events: everyone has them, but some have more than others, and how many you have affects how interesting you are, how many stories you have to tell, that kind of thing. I was still waiting for my first one.

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