Chapter 1

Andrea Steel was probably the only one in the Rugby Club not enjoying herself. She hadn't wanted to be here at seven and she wanted to be here even less four hours later. Tony Collins was twenty seven and this was his birthday party. Tony was in The Crew therefore every other Crew and their girls were there too. Andrea was Crew property on a few levels.

Firstly she was Stevie Steel's kid sister and Stevie was The Crew's top dog. Stevie was thirty one and ten years older than Andrea, they being from two of their father's three marriages. Wife one, Stevie's mother, had took off with an oil rig worker. Wife two, moved in when Stevie was eight and Andrea appeared two years later. Andrea's mother had left five years ago when Andrea was seventeen and wife three was installed only months later. Andrea moved out as soon as she could get a council flat, Stevie was still living with their dad where it was cheaper.

Andrea was also supposed to be Tony's girl even though she never, ever had any say in the creation of that relationship. Tony had gone to Stevie and Stevie had told Andrea that Tony was taking her out. Andrea hadn't liked Tony Collins then, and she hated him now. He was a nasty drunk and a bully. Stevie thought Andrea was whining and exaggerating because Tony told him that Andrea was whining and exaggerating.

All in all Andrea was pretty miserable with her life and found the whole gang thing pathetic and childish. Tony was now absolutely blotto, shirtless, senseless, and lurching around the dance floor with Gaz and Terry. He spied Andrea and reeled over.

"Where's my pint?" He shouted, staggering to one side.

"You drank half of it and spilled the rest down Stacy." Andrea told him.

"Don't tell me how much to drink!" Tony yelled in Andrea's face, even though she hadn't.

"Andrea!" Stevie held up a note. "Go get them in." Andrea took Stevie's money and stamped over to the bar. Stevie's girl, Heather, followed to help carry the glasses.

"Cheer up Andrea for god's sake." Heather tutted.

"Cheer up? Look at the rotten state of him." Andrea snapped. "I think I'll bugger off through the fire exit and leave them all to it."

"Oh stop your moaning." Heather got the barman's attention by rattling an empty can on the bar. "It's his birthday Andrea! What do you expect?"

"I know what to expect." Andrea said angrily. "So what's his excuse any other time? I can't bloody well stick him Heather. He makes me sick."

"Look, kid, blokes go out on the piss. End of story. Get used to it." Heather said sagely.

"My arse I will. It's OK for you, our Stevie's always good with you no matter what state he's in." Andrea argued.

"Trust me, big brother is no saint. We fight like hell at times, just like everybugger else." Heather grabbed two drinks and pranced off. Andrea seriously considered leaving the other two and just walking out. Get used to it? Was she for real? There again, she probably was for real. Heather was as thick as two short planks and her claim to fame was graduating to Stevie from Lee Monk. Andrea snatched the pints off the bar and turned round just in time to see Tony puking his guts up, missing Stevie by inches.

"Oi! You dirty bastard!" Stevie bellowed. "Ugh! Andrea!"

"No chance." Andrea put the drinks on another table. "I'm not cleaning that up." Tony was just lolling on the seat.

"He'd better get home." Stevie looked at Tony in mild disgust.

"His home, not mine." Andrea said flatly and Stevie snarled at her. "No Stevie, I don't want him in my flat in that state."

"He can't go to his Old Man's like this. He'll kick the shit into him." Stevie glared at Andrea.

"I can't help that. Stevie I can't manage him like that and it is my flat."

"For shit's sake you'd think you were the only person with a bloody flat! Give Gaz your keys." Stevie ordered.

"I'd rather not. Just send him home!" Andrea objected.

"Gaz and Terry will take him in a taxi and chuck him through the door. I'll get Gaz to hang around and wait for you in the next taxi. OK? Pretty Princess Andrea gets a nice fairy taxi all to herself?" Stevie snatched Andrea's keys from her and Andrea flung herself onto the chair next to Heather. They watched Gaz, Terry, Scott and Liam drag Tony across the club and towards the door. Stevie was growling orders down his mobile phone at the taxi firm.

"Looks like you pissed Stevie off too. Cheers." Heather said nastily to Andrea.

"I'm not barfing all over the place, Tony is. Just don't, Heather. I've enough crap with Tony, don't you start too." Andrea stood up as Stevie barged towards her.

"Don't you ever do that again." He pointed at Andrea. "I trust Gaz with your keys so you trust Gaz with your keys. Got that?"

"Stevie it wasn't Gaz, or the keys." Andrea said desperately. "I do not like Tony full of drink. Why won't you listen to me?"

"You've had a few pints yourself sis." Stevie clapped his arm round her and almost knocked her over. "He'll be comatose by the time you get home. Just let him sleep it off, Andrea. OK?"

"Can you say something to him, Stevie? He broke those dragons mum bought me. I really think me and Tony have run the course."

"He broke your dragons by accident, sis. He told me. Knocked them off the shelf carrying that coffee table didn't he?"

"No but what does it matter." Andrea said miserably and Stevie grimaced.

"Go see if your taxi's here Andrea. I'll have a go at Tony and tell him to replace your dragons. I know you liked them. Go on, Gaz'll be waiting with your keys." Stevie nudged Andrea towards the door. She yanked her arm away from her brother and marched out of the club. Stevie had missed the point by eight furlongs! There again, Andrea hadn't told him directly that Tony had thrown the ornaments at her. Would Stevie believe her if she told him what Tony was actually like? The reason Andrea only hinted was because she'd be devestated if he didn't.

Andrea almost burst into tears when she got out of the taxi. Every light was on in her flat and loud music blared out. Tony, Gaz, Scott, Terry and Liam had stopped off somewhere for cans of beer and they'd taken over her flat. Andrea walked in and pocketed her keys first.

"Where the hell have you been?" Tony tried to stand up and fell back down again, spraying beer everywhere.

"In the taxi." Andrea was furious and she glanced at the clock to see if it was too late to call Stevie. He'd be home by now, probably at Heather's bedsit.

"Yeah I bet you have, you whore." Tony belched and waved his can around.

"I'm going to bed." Andrea managed to get to the stairs before Tony got her by the hair.

"Where you going? You bitch Andrea! We're hungry." Tony shoved her into the kitchen door.

"Hey it's OK Tony." Gaz was on his feet. "It's fine. Come on, we'll just have more beer." Tony hit Gaz first with his beer can, then turned on Andrea in an utter rage. She felt fists and slaps then an impossible pain in her head where he split her skin with the beer can. Gaz shouted and tried to grab Tony's arms and Andrea took advantage of the situation. She swung the coffee table up and round and almost decapitated Tony when it connected with the side of his head.

"You arsehole!" Andrea sobbed. "You're all arseholes!" She ran out of her flat and hoped Tony had stopped breathing. She jumped over four walls and ran through the gardens just incase anyone followed her. At last, Andrea came to the low wall that surrounded the recycling bins. Only then did she stop and cry. She could feel the blood cooling on her head and matting her blonde split ends together. She could feel the bumps and bruises aching. Despite that, Andrea's tears weren't for the pain, they were for the hopelessness and the apathy and no way out of this dead end town and her dead end life.

"Which one's for cardboard?" A voice frightened the life out of Andrea. "You OK?" Andrea nodded at the appropriate bin and wiped her nose on her sleeve. She watched the man as he tore up his cardboard boxes to fit in the bin. He was around Stevie's age but he was a bit taller, Andrea guessed around 6'2. He had floppy brown hair and round, gold framed glasses. "So do you often sit by the bins at 2am? Your head's bleeding."

"I'm fine. No of course not. Do you often bring out your rubbish at 2am?" Andrea began shivering. Her jacket was still in the flat.

"No. I followed you." The man smiled and Andrea panicked hugely.

"I ... I'm waiting for my brother. Stevie Steel's my brother. He's coming here really soon." She babbled.

"Maybe he should have come the other times you and your boyfiend got to fighting." The man looked at Andrea who was shaking with cold and fear. "I'm not going to hurt you, don't worry. James Carling." He held out his hand and Andrea just looked at it and shook her head.

"How do you know about my ... my ... the fights?" She asked through chattering teeth.

"I've just moved into the flat along the street from you. You could hear that in the town centre, let alone the next block." James took off his jacket and gave it to Andrea. She took it reluctantly and wrapped it round herself.

"Thanks. So my fights with that arsehole have embarrassed me all over the estate." Andrea said glumly. "Sorry I disturbed you. Andrea Steel." Andrea held out her hand to be shaken.

"No." James shook his head. "I saw a few of them getting out of that taxi. That's why I followed you down here to see if you were OK. Do you want me to go and see what's going on?"

"What?" Andrea said in alarm. Send this nice, polite, bespectacled man in with that pack of shits?! "Hell no! No, that's fine James, really it is."

"I don't mind. I'll come back with you."

"No you won't." Andrea smiled. "Thanks for offering, that's really good of you, but I can't let you do that. I'll be OK." She took off James' jacket and handed it back to him.

"Will he be expecting you going back?" James asked.

"No he'll be in a heap in his own puke by now. The others will have scarpered out of the way of it. I'll just give it a while to make sure he's definitely unconscious."

"Come on, wait in my flat. You can't stay out here all night." James turned round and set off home.

"James!" Andrea blurted and grabbed for him. "James I can't do that! Shit Tony will have a fit and Stevie will meltdown altogether! James!" James stopped and looked at her. "I can't go to your flat. Honestly James, I'd be putting you in line for a hiding and you don't deserve it. Thanks."

"Well I wasn't planning on telling Stevie and Tony. Were you?" James unlocked his door. "Who'll know? You're on the sofa."

"OK." Andrea darted into the warm flat. It was exactly the same layout as her own but it was cluttered with packing crates, bags, books and computer discs. The computer itself sat in a corner next to a chair with a guitar propped up on it. It was a typical nerd's bachelor den. "Don't say anything at all about this James. Please don't tell anyone. If Tony found out ..."

"Oh never mind Tony for now. I won't say anything. Get some sleep Andrea and knackers to Tony." James put a sleeping bag on the couch then smiled at Andrea before going upstairs to bed.

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