In The After Life something unspeakable happens to my heroine, a fifteen-year-old girl called Paula. This is a novel about teen gang rape. But that’s not giving the plot away. This story tells the world what rape really is – murder of the mind, death of the self. Set in 2006, against a pornified culture of ladmags, mobile porn and sexting, how does a teenage rape victim survive in a world that doesn’t want to know? This book speaks for the one in three girls and women who experience male sexual violence. When they rebuild themselves and rise up they become something awesome.
‘Alright babe,’ Jake said, as Paula opened her front door about twenty minutes later. She smiled at his confidence. Smooth, she thought. It amused her. She liked it.
‘Get yourself in here, my mum’s back at five,’ Paula stood aside, holding Jake’s eye flirtatiously as he sidled past, lowering his body to meet her at eye level for a second, their chests close. He grinned, then legged it up the stairs, three at a time. Paula liked his athleticism. He wasn’t sporty but he had a fit body. Muscly legs, broad shoulders, Jake was gorgeous. Model gorgeous. She envied his poker straight, almost black hair. As soon as Jake showed up at school, everyone said he looked like he was in a band. Like the lead singer. He wore his jeans low and skinny, his tie thin, an Arctic Monkeys badge on his blazer. He just had it, you know. It was all in the walk. He was confident but not a prick, Paula thought. He didn’t love himself, he didn’t need to show off. It was like he knew who he was, and was happy with that. Paula had wanted him as soon as she saw him walk into Biology, but she wasn’t sure she’d get him. In that first week, she was gutted to see he was walking around with Mia before she’d had a chance to talk to him. But by the Thursday he was always smoking with Miles and the emos and Mia was back with Curtis. She made sure Jake noticed her pretty quick. She was confident like that, she could talk to boys. If she put her mind to it, she reckoned she could get most of the lads in her year, even some of the fit ones in the year above, but Jake felt like a challenge. She hadn’t worried about her looks so much in ages. Paula knew she was just about thin enough and she’d bagged two fit boyfriends. Her last boyfriend said she had nice brown eyes and lovely legs. Her hair was long but not as long as Rabena’s, and dark brown. It was quite thick, not quite straight enough and never looked neat or shiny like Rabena’s. And she got spots on her forehead sometimes, not like Rabena. She knew there were prettier girls, especially in the year above. She wasn’t sure if she was pretty enough for Jake. She was the first guy she envied for some reason. But Paula knew she had something that boys liked. Her breasts were kinda medium, but much smaller than Rabena’s, so she didn’t think it was them that did it. Maybe it was because she could talk to boys. She’d got talking about bands and stuff with Jake at break and he seemed to like it when she said she was a singer. Well, sort of. By the next Friday they’d had their first snog, right outside the school gates. Mr Banford had seen them, but that was the point.
Now they were on Paula’s bed and Jake was right at home. He hadn’t even bothered putting music on like the last time.
‘You wear your skirt sexy,’ Jake said, as he slid his fingers under the hem of Paula’s school skirt. ‘Are you doing it for me?’ he spoke slower now, his mouth moving onto hers. He’s so cocky, Paula thought, liking it. She found his tongue with hers and tasted the spliff he’d just had. All the girls rolled their skirts up shorter for school. Paula did hers as soon as she turned the corner after her front door. Mum would yell at her if she saw. Some girls picked on other girls if their skirts weren’t short, but Paula never picked on anyone for that. The ones that had a go at the others just had a problem. Girls can dress how they like, Paula thought. She didn’t care how anyone dressed. Well, within reason. She cared how her mum dressed. But she’d been making an effort for Jake. She’d straightened her hair every morning and put eyeliner on the top as well as the bottom. Paula pushed Jake away teasingly.
‘Think what you like,’ she said back, pulling her T-shirt over her head and unfastening her bra. Jake moved back to look at her breasts. Paula saw how her confidence didn’t faze him. She moved to straddle him and pulled him up to kiss her so that their chests were touching. She took off his tie, untucked his shirt and began to unbutton it. She looked at his chest, taut, boyish, hairless, the olive skin flawless. Beautiful, she thought. She kissed his hard, muscly shoulders, smelt the skin above his nipples. Paula was turned on, she could feel it in her knickers. Without turning away, Jake began to undo his trousers. Did he have a condom? Paula wondered. Jake pulled his dick out and she sensed he wanted to do it straight away. Paula pulled back.
‘Have you got a condom?’ she asked. Jake looked bemused, then laughed a little.
‘Don’t worry baby,’ he said. She smiled and put her tongue back in his mouth. She was gonna let him do it this time.
– – – – –
The sex had been OK. Different than with Pash. Jake didn’t have a condom and Paula had asked him to stop half way through. He’d moaned, Paula couldn’t tell if it was because he was pissed off or getting off. Then he’d quickly come on her stomach. Paula lost her virginity about six months ago, in December, with Pash, her boyfriend of three months. They’d done it three times and even though she’d been nervous, she couldn’t see what the big deal was, what was so amazing about it. But she was happy to be with someone she really liked. Then she thought she was pregnant, she’d been really scared and panicky when the doctor examined her and said yes, it looked like she was. But all Pash could say was ‘We can’t tell my dad.’ Turned out she wasn’t pregnant but when Pash moved back to Leicester, Paula wasn’t that bothered when, soon after, he stopped talking to her on Facebook and replying to her texts. Without his pretty brown face to look at, without him there to snog, she saw what a coward he was, that he hadn’t even thought about how utterly scared she’d felt. She hardly knew Jake but she fancied him like mad and just wanted to snog him, like forever. She’d given him a blow job the first time they’d met after school, to let him know she was, you know, cool with sex and experienced. It wasn’t like anyone had ever called her frigid but she wanted to prove what she could do. It was their first time after all. Paula was standing in her Snoopy knickers now and rummaging in her wardrobe for her black skinny jeans and that bright green tee with capped, puffy sleeves that came into a low V at the front. She felt happy to be alone with Jake, listening to her favourite Lily Allen track. Jake was wiping himself with the tissues she’d just handed to him, but he was looking at her.
‘You know, you’d have a body just like an FHM girl if your ass was smaller,’ he said. Paula turned around and looked at him. She was pleased that he’d complimented her body, but now, standing in just her knickers, she felt self-conscious. No-one had ever said she had a big bum before. Did she have a big bum? She didn’t want to look at it now, with Jake there. In fact, she wanted him to forget about it.
‘Lets go to the Boneyard,’ Paula said, disappointed that the happy feeling she’d felt just a moment ago had been lost somehow.