Like what? There s a moment. Suddenly, what s important seems very obvious. I don t want to spoil the moment, but does anyone fancy a ride? 41 Yes, but I m ignoring you. He sweeps his hand in circles on my back, whispers Shush into my ear, eventually eases me away so he can see me. We used to come every day until she got so fat her entire lap disappeared. I know he watches me leave. Just try it! Zoey adds rum to hers from the hip flask she keeps in her bag. We walk along to the harbour. I realize that I m hungry, really, dangerously hungry. We both act as if he can t help it, like it s a nosebleed that has nothing to do with how he might be feeling. Do you play it a lot? I don t want to be drawn into time scales with you, Tessa. The breath that escapes from me is dazzled. Very. 84 That doesn t look like enough. He has some slides with him to prove the point, passes them round like holiday snaps, pointing out little splashes of darkness, lesions, sticky blasts floating loose. I can t stay here, I ve got college tomorrow. Swimming under a calm blue evening sky. And if it isn t, then what? I shiver again. I m not being dragged along. We opened our stockings and presents on their bedroom floor while they gazed sleepily down on us. At his funeral, all the sandwiches curled at the edges. Is this OK, me stroking you like this? Mum bought smoke bombs. But where are you? Why didn t you say so? Behind his shoulder, in the painting, smoke innocently rises from a farmhouse chimney and a woman runs – her face tilted upwards in terror. When you re dead, you re dead. She lowers her voice as we get to the studio door. Don t tell me that s on your list. She finds some mascara and tells me to look right at her. I hate it how sorry she can be for me. He looks alarmed. The ground is wet. If Zoey needs a condom, she ll just have to come and get it. Do you need sugar? I make it. I curl myself tighter. He stinks of fags. I thought my body was numb, immune to touch. But a flicker of fear crosses his face. I know. I try to savour the moment. Not ever. Maybe you should say goodbye, Cal. A blackbird flies low over the fence. You know, like a parent. Dad edges his chair closer to me and presses his knee against mine. Which is dangerous, because obviously I ll have to say yes to him if he asks to go back home. I think of the bird, of Cal s rabbit. Then he helps me to stand up. I tell her that I used to come here as a child, that we had the family room every summer for two weeks. I slide the tray back in Dad s direction with a smile. Can we have the same one? I haven t been loved this way for long enough. I knew he d understand. I weep for a dog, hit by a car and buried. I ve got mine down, but Adam s got his up; he did it very deliberately. I ask. he yells as he races down the stairs. They can t stop. Other cars have put their lights on, even though it s daytime. Arguably Dickens’ best novel, this title follows a humble orphan called Pip who one day, finds himself in possession of… Tessa, you ve got quite a bit of bruising on your arms. Everything s got to go. He nods. Dad told him I m finished with the hospital. He says, If I m over-optimistic, you ll be disappointed. A truck for the car. That s it. Pull in there, or I m going to throw myself out the door. They snake up her arm and jingle as she walks over and gives me a hug. You had such an intense look about you. How noisy can it be at a bowling alley? It s all right. I know. Birds joust on the lawn. Get back in the bloody car! Cal stuffs the gum in his mouth, chews it thoughtfully, then says, When Tessa dies, can we go on holiday? They shoot up with a soft phut, burst into clusters of stars, then drift slowly down. I bet you don t get anything like this on the NHS. What are you doing? I just want to go home. Good girl, he says. She pulls me with her towards the dance floor. I d like an oak, but I don t mind a sweet chestnut or even a willow. How do we know they re right? and he goes to stand up, but Mum stops him. Zoey shoves her baby into my arms. There are thirteen stairs. We might fly. Then he tells me I m crazy. We sit for a bit, talking about rubbish. Which hadn t actually crossed my mind, but suddenly sounds like a wonderful idea. . She sounds like she s underwater. I put my arm round him and he leans his head on my shoulder. We need to pack her nose. 186 We all shush each other. If she needs to rest, why did you phone me? Get in with him, Zoey says. He smiles down at me, and I do want to, don t I? . Brief stinging sensation coming up, the doctor says. I really won t ever go back to school. They take up all the room in my head and sit there echoing back at me. My finger marks smeared across the glass make me feel young. I take off my pyjamas, step into my best knickers and ease myself into the silk dress I bought on my shopping spree with Cal. Will you manage the stairs? But still it sounds too big for this little room. I feel ever so slightly sorry for him as he scuffs his shoes on the floor under his chair like a schoolboy. Please, Zoey, I m tired. You don t know us. Go away, I tell her without even turning round. I stomp upstairs to my room and slam the door. ll do that. Doesn t he understand that he really shouldn t be seeing me like this? Like the sparks from the fire, which drift down onto my hair and clothes, the law of gravity says that all falling bodies must fall to the ground. There are too many people on the bus now. If you do. Midnight s OK, I tell her. He ll survive. Christmas spirit! I could watch. Haemoglobin and platelets coming right up, she said as they hooked me up. You still there? I lick the ice-cream stick, trying to get all the flavour from it. Remember what? And garlic – well, Dad read somewhere that the properties of garlic are not yet properly understood. He presses his hand against my forehead, brushes my cheek, feels the back of my neck. 4 Breathe, Tessa, he whispered. Let me drive! Toytown? The joint goes round again. I think he should be dealing with Cal, who s yelling up the stairs about the aerial 134 coming out of the back of the TV. Every time I close my eyes, I fall. I get the same slim-legged pre-washed pair Zoey has. The TV is heavy as a car. It makes me laugh. Dad walks up the path. Now you re telling me to go back to school. He sits down beside her. No. He makes me sound like one of those sad little girls who put an advert in the local paper because they want to be a bridesmaid at someone s wedding, but don t know any brides. Where is he? I think about asking Zoey to go and get my coat from next door, but when I try to speak, my throat constricts, as if little hands are strangling me from inside. Dad sips tea by the bed. In the commotion, I dodge the fare and find myself a seat at the back. I tell her how big and clever she is. I saw this film once, I tell her, about a girl who died. She laughs, pushes her long hair back over one shoulder. If a bear turns up, I ll wrestle it to the ground and bite off its head. I shred my jumpers. I m surrounded. She nods. Where s he gone? What? You think? She wasn t supposed to be here until tea time, and her parents were meant to be coming with her. She shrugs, goes over to the window and looks down at the garden. Ten pork chops, three packs of smoked bacon and a boiling chicken, she whispers. Then what are you going to do? How did you know I wanted them? No one told me that would happen. But it didn t feel real, more like something arranged for the tourists. He keeps saying, Oh yeah, oh yeah, but I don t think he s saying it to me. Oh, her m beginning to wish I hadn t said anything. Getting into bed with you. I think that a safe place to be would be under the bed, or with my head on my mother s lap. Dad turns in his plastic chair to see what I m looking at, lets go of my hand and gets up to inspect the picture. I tell her. The streetlights blaze in his eyes. My name is scrawled across them all. Will space travel ever be accessible? I m half robot, with plastic and metal embedded under my skin. Zoey s baby is here. It s Adam. the doctor asks. There s the rustle of paper, the shift of the elastic band. I don t think I ve ever seen her without make-up before. 51 Ten Dad says, Hey, you re up! Shall I go right to the top? I just do. How easy they are with each other as they flip the clubs between them. A runner from the café would have been more exciting. The wood rasps my tongue. Adam mostly talks to Cal. We re still kissing – throats, necks, mouths. Hey, you! Nothing. I m a much better driver with her watching. I hate it that it s OK for her. That one s yours. He reached over and stroked my head, his fingers gently massaging my scalp. I don t want it. Ever seen a scared policeman? Why do you think? What? That s Orion s Belt, he says. As he gets closer, the noise vibrates the air, so that the trees seem to dance. It s sharp. Every few years we disappear. If he was interested, he d have contacted me. Dad adjusts his trousers. I d like the whole world to stop what it s doing and personally come and say goodbye to me when I die. Cal asks as we walk to the bus stop. All I know is that I have two choices – stay wrapped in blankets and get on with dying, or get the list back together and get on with living. Which service do you require? Cal looks rather scared and small. He smiles at me. Perhaps living things don t count. I wanted to break as many laws as I could in a day. I press myself against him. 70 Dad smiles down at me. Do what? Poor bird, he says. We said we d be friends. It s like being in Beirut! I mean it. All gathering towards this one. Several people are looking. I hate that. My mum s going to find out now. I undo my zip. The only bit of it that wasn t glued to the cardboard was one of its back legs, which it used like a paddle to try and get away from me. m not sure where here is. He brings out bowls of sweets and nuts. Wake me up if you need me. 44 I say, Next time you have a fire, can I come round again? . Cal enjoys steering it, but it crosses my mind that if we 67 buy more stuff, we ll have to buy a car to carry the suitcase. I have to go and find him, she says. And what about you? Light bounces off walls and faces and comes in at me bright and close. This man s wearing a denim jacket and has close-cropped hair. In the hospital it wasn t. Not at first. She s got terminal cancer and she s just done a triathlon. She was in the year above us. He s close, his face reduced to just the light behind his eyes. What shall I tell him? Do you have any questions, Tessa? Scott. Zoey used to live her life as if the human race was about to become extinct, like nothing really mattered. 43 The leaves were damp, he says. I try again, and as we kangaroo down the road, I tell her how Dad took me out driving five times and I just couldn t get it right. It comes and goes. 225 Thirty-one Spring is a powerful spell. No! I bet he thinks I ve just been chucked by my boyfriend, that these are love letters. If I say no, can I have something else? Dead. Is Dr Ryan even running a clinic today? When I hang up, I count to fifty-seven inside my head. It s raining hard now and he s put his wellies on and an anorak. It didn t help. Is that living? She sounds as if she s talking to a fouryear-old. Rain spots the windscreen. They ll have something for him to do, a PlayStation or something. But I just feel blank and uncomfortable, as if she s come to see me off at the station and we re both hoping the train hurries up so we can avoid all the ridiculous small talk. And did he tell you it was a complete disaster? A pen and paper. Up here. 37 ll sit here and read my book. Is it any business of yours? Go where? I wasn t going to tell you. He looks at his watch. I do NOT want to be cremated. Three crimes in under one minute. Nothing to look at. I can smell sausages. I asked the consultant. I ask. Your ice cream will melt. I didn t mean it. I didn t know this view was here. Dad sounds increasingly pissed off. You ll see. I don t want to die like this, not 50 before I ve even lived properly. Sun cream, sun hat and a sensible cardigan for a start! 93 It doesn t hurt at all. Who s that to? Then there s my birthday in May. We go round the side of the house and get the stuff from the shed. Can we just go now? You re all such bloody bastards! he said as light flooded the room. What are you doing? The shadows under my eyes have deepened. Adam ll be here in ten minutes and we re going dancing. Six snowmen made of cotton wool. As we edge our way through the crowd, Zoey tells me that she s seen Scott a few times since we went round to their house. Stop being so horrible! I used to come here on holiday every summer, I tell her. In. In front of you? 148 Twenty-two Four twenty and the sea is grey. It s as if goblins are about to arrive. There on the bridge. Cal asks. She looks like Rapunzel escaping, her hair snapping in the wind. m not sure how much use I was. But I still care. Cal laughs too. I m just about to text Zoey to let her know she needs to help me out when they come over. You don t remember, do you? Blood rush. I don t believe him. I feel crisp as a winter leaf. No, he says. We sail down together, catching great armfuls of air. We re both naked. I could put the bangers in, Dad says, and he winks at her. My spine is parallel to the side of the bed. I wonder, since I only have twelve pounds left, if m allowed to change the rules so that I can only say yes to things that are free. Not yet. 233 No, I want to buy bedding plants. . Do you want to know about that? Good! I won t be long. Cal, next to me, keeps really still too. He shifts on the bench. Travel the world. Zoey s pretending to be asleep, but she opens one eye as I sit down. You want them? Have you got your credit card? You take a hairpin bend really fast just as a juggernaut s coming the other way, and we ll die together – loads of blood, joint funeral, our bones entwined for eternity. I concentrate on breathing. He grins and snuggles down under the duvet. Cal s getting closer. She swings her hair about so he ll understand it s not her fault. I move my hips away from him, but he doesn t stop. You made me come here and I didn t want to. Kissing Adam replaced it. There s an advert like that on TV, Richard says. We re going to buy things and talk about periods, so you re going to be really bored. He sits up and hands me a pen. People are solid, but inside is liquid. This sun lounger is warm, as if it s been absorbing sunlight for hours. I say, ve put your baby on my list. The main characters of this young adult, romance story are Tessa Scott, Cal Scott. It s easy – in and out. She smiles wearily. He doesn t even say goodbye, just slides quietly out of the room, student in tow. I offer him a Chewit to cheer him up. Not now. I like the tang of rain in the air and the row of birds lining the wall over by the dustbins. Whispered goodnights. We lean on the bar to survey the place. He s got a hard-on, apologizes for it with a shy smile, then opens the curtains and stands at the window looking out. And doesn t that make any difference? It s like being in a tribe, all of us moving and breathing at the same pace. . All of it, Adam says. He s definitely seeing someone else. It s just I hadn t seen you around for a while, so I asked your brother if you were OK. I don t even think about it first. Maybe I m beginning to see things other people can t. Like atoms. I didn t. She blushes, and has to chuck her cigarette down and stamp it out so that she doesn t have to look at me. She doesn t have much patience for anything she has to wait for. Don t worry, it shouldn t take more than an hour. Dr Ryan has a splash of something red on his chin. I ask Dad. I know Adam s in there with you. He looks at me thoughtfully. She talks to me about pain relief, shows me packets and bottles. Adam, I want you to be real. I think he might be dead. Christmas stupid, he mumbles, and he rolls over on the carpet and stares mournfully up at her.
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