In Or Out

Entry by: Briergate

23rd February 2016
Jax took a deep breath as she walked over to the group. Tonight had been preying on her mind for a while, and she'd run through the possible scenarios again and again, even while she slept, rehearsing what she would need to do. She'd practiced holding on to her courage, and pushing fear down in to a locked box somewhere in her abdomen.

It had been a long time coming. From first meeting them, hovering on the periphery yearning to be a part of what they were, she'd worked steadily in by whatever means necessary. Stealing, first, because her elfin frame lent itself to small windows and inconspicuous snatching. A few grapples with kids off the estate, emerging victorious because terror had fuelled a frenzy of scrappy kicks and bites that pummelled her opponents down. The heaving, unwanted sex with Spike's brother, closed eyes, held breath and crumpled face beneath his bulk, that bought the gang gear and booze for three solid nights. She'd done it all, without complaint. But this, she was afraid of.

They'd all been through it, of course. The older members had the tattoo to prove they'd gone through initiation and done the dare. Some of the stories had become legendary. Spike had murdered a bloke, for touching up her little sister. Maz had learned how to cook up Meth, and set up a portable lab. No-one would say what Else had done, but her brand of victory, a cruel streak of puckered skin, was a bright vivid testament to the brutality of it.

Jax hoped it would be drugs, or nicking. She wasn't in to violence, no matter how enthusiastically she'd engaged in it to be accepted. She knew she had it in her, a way of accessing years of pent-up anger and frustration from being bullied, taunted and tormented through school. The skinny lass, the lass in outdated clobber, the one with no Dad. The one with a funny accent, and crappy haircut. Over the years, it had caused white steam coiled in her heart, that she could let out with a hiss of pressure if she poked about in her memories. She had to be accepted, here. She had to pass the test, no matter what it took.

She was ready.

Spike looked up as Jax approached, her angled face becoming sharper as she smiled, eyes appraising and a twist of satisfaction making her features more pronounced. The other girls fell back as Jax walked to the centre of the group, silently waiting for Spike to go through the routine. Jax tilted her chin higher, staring at Spike.

"Tonight's the night, Whacko Jacko," Spike said and Jax nodded slightly, holding her gaze. She tried to slow her breathing, not wanting the older girl to know the level of fear that was holding her immobile. The girls around the circle started a slow, sardonic clap, which Jax had heard when others did the initiation, and yet it still ignited a flare of resentment in her. Maz turned to the girl beside her and whispered something, and the two laughed. Jax felt herself becoming uncomfortably hot, and hoped her pale skin wasn't betraying her by flushing. She glanced down at Spike's tattoo, envying the belonging it brought with it.

"So, we've come up with your trial. We want you to break into a house, when the owner's in, and nick some shit. We're gonna be there, but out of sight. You need to show some balls, Jacko, and prove you’re up for being part of the gang. Got it?"

Spike grinned, pointed teeth showing in the dusk. Jax swallowed, held her chin a little higher, and nodded once. She could do this. She could go in to someone's home, and be threatening, right? She didn’t need to hurt them. She just needed to pretend that she could if she had to. Her breathing slowed a little. This was OK. This was possible. She felt her legs tremble in relief. Her initiation was going to work. She was going to be a part of the group, inviolable and belonging. The group drew closer together as Spike walked ahead, Jacks in tow. Silently, they walked to the most affluent part of town. Jacks listened half-heartedly as Spike spewed antagonism and vitriol with every step.

"These people? They need to be taught a lesson. All that money, and still they behave like bloody takers… they don’t pay tax, but they sneer at us lot from the Estate, like we're animals. They fuck me off, Jacko. You could go in to one of these houses and strip the crap out of it, but you know what? they wouldn’t give a shit. By the day after, insurance would sort it. So, you need to go in while they're home, right? And that way, they might learn what real life is about. You get me?"

Jax nodded, stopping herself from rolling her eyes. Spike, born and bred on the estate, hated anyone who looked as if they had wealth. She spent half her time wandering affluent areas of town with her baseball bat, smashing plant pots and keying cars. Jax didn’t have the anger that fuelled Spike. She just wanted to belong.

As they walked, Jax started to feel more anxious. The neighbourhood was familiar, and she wondered briefly how Spike had chosen the right house for the initiation. Even as she cursed herself for showing weakness, she started to ask questions.

"How do you know they'll be in?"
"We've been watching, Whacko-Jacko."
"Whose house am I doing?"
"Some sad-sack old bitch. Lives with her daughter. Rich, rich rich. You'll want to be grabbing a bit of that for us, right?"
"Course. Where are we going?"
"We are going to be lurking outside, watching. You are going in to Acorn House, with this-" Spike revealed a baseball bat with a flourish, smothering a laugh at Jax's horrified expression. "What's up, Jaxie? Not fancying being one of us after all?"

Jax cleared her throat, which felt strangled, and looked down. Her stomach clenched in fear, and she was furious to feel the hot rush of tears brim to the surface. Dashing a hand across her face, she shrugged, and grabbed the bat. It swung in her hand like a pendulum, and she imagined raising it high and bringing it smashing down in to Spike's supercilious face.

"'Course I do. I'm up for it."

Spike grinned, then pushed her forward, away from the group and towards the large detached house with ostentatious stone carvings leering down from pedestals, guarding a wrought-iron gate. Jax hesitated, looking up at the building, trying to raise saliva in her parched mouth.

"You better get a shift on, Jacko - you don’t want the daughter coming back until you've roughed up the old hag and brought out plenty of wonga, do ya? You'll need to smash the door in, we've staked it out and it looks like there's a spy chain."

Jax turned once, and looked at the girls behind her, who were all staring back. She swung the bat, and then walked boldly up to the gate, opening it wide and heading on towards the house. Her skin prickled with perspiration and her breath rasped in her throat as she walked, growing louder as she stepped up to the front door.

Closing her eyes for a second, she took the bat and hesitated, before jabbing it with all her strength in to the patterned glass. It took two more hits before it finally shattered, letting her reach through and unhook the chain, then push the door open. She could hear the smothered sniggers of the gang as they made their way behind her, spreading out to get the best viewpoints through the ground-floor windows.

Jax's hands were shaking as she stepped through the door. She readjusted the grip on the bat as she ran through the hallway. She opened the first door she came to, finding a large, homely living room with a roaring fire, as the woman was rising from an armchair, alerted to the intruder from the sound of smashing glass. Jax lifted the bat high, coming upon the woman quickly so she didn’t have time to change her mind. The woman looked at her in confusion, her eyes widening as she saw the weapon in Jax's hand.

"Jacqueline? Are you OK? What on Earth are you doing, love? I think someone's broken a window, would you -"

Jax bit down on cracked lips until hot salt flooded through her mouth. She let her arm swing downwards.

"I'm sorry, Mum. I'm sorry," she whispered.

Outside, she could hear catcalls and whistles as her mother fell to the floor. She stepped to the armchair by the fire, picked up the handbag lying there, and made her way back to the group.