Jennifer Anne Carruthers walked slowly up the path and kicked the gate open. She was home at last.
She was hot, tired and bad-tempered. She had been kept in after school because she was caught talking. She wasn't the only person who talked during class, but for some reason, she was the one who always got caught.
Then she discovered her back tyre had a puncture, so she had to push her bike all the way home in the heat.
"Shut the gate properly, Jenny," her mother called.
Jenny scowled and kicked the gate shut. The backyard was shaded by large trees and looked cool and restful.
Her mother folded clothes under the clothesline. Her little sister Janine splashed in the wading pool. Janine's white rabbit Fluffy nibbled at the grass on the lawn. Jackson the dog, sprawled on the path watching Fluffy.
Fluffy was Janine's pet, and Jackson belonged to Jenny's brother Brian. Jenny didn't have a pet of her own, and somehow, because she was hot and tired, it upset her.
Fluffy let Janine stroke him with her fat little hands all the time, but if Jenny tried to get near him, he twitched his ears and scurried for the safety of his hutch.
Jackson only took notice of Brian. He tolerated her patting him, but usually ignored her. Brian was the only one he obeyed.
"It's so hot," Jenny grumbled. "I'll cool off in the wading pool."
"You're not a baby to play in a wading pool," her mother snapped. "I don't want you upsetting Janine. Get under the hose if you're hot."
"Get under the hose," mimicked Jenny. "Don't upset your little sister."
But her mother had banged the door of the laundry behind her and didn't hear.
Jenny dropped her school bag on the kitchen table and left her half-eaten apple on the bench. She pulled her bathers from her bottom drawer, dropped her dress on the floor, kicked one shoe and her underclothes under the bed, and the other shoe under her wardrobe.
Once under the hose she felt better. She hosed all the heat, stickiness and bad temper away from herself. She shut her eyes and let the water run through her hair and down her face.
Janine started to howl. "Oer, Jenny hosed my Fluffy."
Jenny opened her eyes and looked around. Fluffy was behind her, and the stream of water had caught him. He was drenched!
He looked very funny with his wet fur flat against his body and his big fat indignant face. Jenny giggled.
Jenny's mother bobbed her head around the door. Her face was pink and shiny with heat, and her curly hair untidy. "Stop teasing your little sister and put that bike away before someone falls over it."
"It was an accident," Jenny called back, but her mother had shut the door.
Jenny picked up the offending bike and wheeled it against the shed and went inside. Her mother sat at the sink peeling potatoes.
"Wipe your feet when you come in, Jenny," her mother almost yelled. "Don't track wet feet over the kitchen floor."
"I've got another puncture, Mum. Will Brian be able to fix it when he comes in?"
"Again," her mother sighed. "You'll have to ask him. Now go and hang up your things properly."
"Do this, do that," Jenny muttered as she picked up her school bag and went into her bedroom.
She hung up her dress, put her shoes in the wardrobe and stuffed the dirty clothes in the bag behind the door. Her bedroom looked tidy, but she was hot and sticky again.
The side gate banged. There was the distinctive "woof woof" of Jackson welcoming Brian.
"There's my Brian," squealed Janine's shrill little voice.
"And there's my Janine," Brian called back.
Jenny looked out her window. Brian was bouncing Janine up and down in the wading pool and she squealed her delight as she splashed. Jackson danced around barking, his tail wagging, and his jaws open in a wide pink-tongued grin.
Brian was tall and thin, with freckles and a mop of curly brown hair that almost covered eyes of the same deep blue as Janine's. Jenny felt prickly and bad tempered again.
She was the odd one out in the family. She was the only one in the family with straight hair. It wasn't fair! She would have loved to have had blue eyes and curly hair, but instead she was stuck with brown eyes and black straight hair.
Brian stopped playing with Janine and came inside. "Anything to drink?"
"Like some lemon cordial?" was the reply.
Jenny flung into the kitchen and glared at her mother and brother. "I'm hot too, what about a glass for me?"
Her mother raised her eyebrows, but got down another glass and poured her a drink. "You only had to ask, Jenny. There's no need to be rude."
The ice cubes clinked as they floated to the top of the glass, Jenny drank slowly, and started to feel better.
"Think I'll go to the pool for a swim before dinner," Brian said.
"Can I come too?" Jenny asked.
"I'm meeting my mates," Brian apologized. "I can't have a kid sister tagging along."
"Well, I'll go by myself."
"No," her mother said. "You're too young to go to the pool by yourself."
"Well, can we all go?" Jenny begged. "Please Mum, it's so hot."
"It's too hot to drag Janine along, dear," her mother explained. "It's cooler home under the shade of the trees."
Jenny slammed her glass down and breathed hard. It was very unfair! All her mother had to do was to turn off what was cooking, put everyone in the car, drive there, and just sit. There were plenty of shaded areas at the pool.
Jenny suddenly remembered her bike. "Can you fix my puncture before you go?"
"I've already mended it three times this week," Brian grumbled. "I'll do it at the weekend."
"That means I've got to walk to school for the rest of the week," Jenny yelled. "Why do you have to be such a meanie?"
"Don't be such a little creep," Brian snapped back. "Anyway, you're old enough to fix your own punctures. I always fixed mine at your age."
"If I'm too young to go to the pool by myself, I'm too young to fix my own punctures," Jenny yelled again.
"Oh, shut up, Jenn," Brian said, and stalked into his room and banged his door shut.
"Really Jenny, I don't know why you have to be so difficult," her mother said with a sigh. "Poor Brian is tired, and you shouldn't pester him."
"Poor Brian, poor Brian, what about poor me?" Jenny demanded. Her eyes prickled and there was an aching lump in her throat. "I'm too young to go to the swimming pool, and I'm too old to play in the wading pool. Everybody in this family gets a fair go except me. You spoil Janine because she's the baby, and you spoil Brian because he's the oldest. You all hate me!"
"That's enough, Jenny," her mother said.
"I hate being me, too." Jenny started to cry. "And I hate having a baby sister and a great big brother, and I hate having a nasty nagging mother. I hate everybody."
"Go to your room, Jennifer Anne," her mother ordered.
Jenny burst into noisy sobs and ran into her bedroom.
"Crybaby," Brian called from his room.
Jenny slammed the door so hard that all her ornaments rattled. She threw herself on the bed and rubbed at her eyes. She wasn't a crybaby, and she did hate everybody.
She hated being the one in between in her family. Her mother nagged her, her big brother bullied her and her little sister told tales on her.
She was never even allowed to watch her own television programs. Janine was allowed to watch all her shows because she went to bed early and Brian was allowed to pick the shows that went late because he was big enough to stay up.
Janine was too little to be expected to pick up her own toys or help with the dishes, and Brian never had to do anything because he was the oldest and had a lot of homework.
She was too old to be fussed over and spoilt like Janine, and she was too young to be allowed any freedom. She wasn't even allowed to have her own mobile phone. Everyone at school at their own phones except her. Eleven years was a dreadful age to be. It just wasn't fair!
Jenny lifted her head and glared at the red swollen face reflected in the mirror. She didn't even have her father around to stick up for her.
He had been in hospital for months and months since his accident. When she did go in to see him he always seemed too tired and sleepy to talk much. Also after each visit her mother was always more irritable and unreasonable.
She had tried to so hard to be good and help her mother, be nice to Janine and not pester Brian too much, but everybody picked on her. The lump in her throat slipped down and caused an ache in her heart.
Well, from now on, she would teach her family a lesson. If they didn't appreciate her when she was trying so hard to be good, she would see how they liked living with her when she was as nasty as they were.
"You just wait and see," Jenny told the face in the mirror. "I'll get even with all of them. I'll make them sorry they're all so nasty to me."
After saying that out loud, she immediately felt better. Her eyes stopped prickling, and the ache in her heart eased. She was going to turn over a new leaf--a bad one.