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Authors: Keren David

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BOOK: Almost True
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‘Ty, my love,' she says, ‘this isn't going to be easy, but Louise knows what's she's about. She's rock-solid that girl, always made the right choices. She'll know what's best for you.'

‘I want to stay with you,' I say. ‘I only just got you back.'

Gran's always been more like a mother to me than my own mum. I nearly fell apart without her these last few months. I can't believe I'm going to be taken away from her again. I cling on to her like I'm a baby monkey, not someone who's going to be fifteen in just over a month.

She kisses my forehead and says, ‘I'm always with you darling, I always love you. But Nicki needs me more than you do right now.'

And that's it. Doug comes back with my bag, and puts it into Lou's car. I have a final hug with Gran and Emma. My mum is throwing up in the Ladies, so we wait for her, and I give her a hug too, even though she smells of vomit. She can't stop crying and I'm not even sure
she understands that I might not see her for . . . for weeks? For months? For ever?

‘Take care,' she says, ‘Take care. Lou, take care of him.'

Louise says, ‘Don't worry, Nicki, I'll do what's best.'

My mum stops crying, mid-sob. She does an enormous sniff, which doesn't even begin to retrieve the snot on her face, looks Louise straight in the eye and says, ‘He's
son, Louise, don't you forget that.'

And my auntie says, ‘No one's ever in danger of forgetting that, Nicki. I'll be seeing you soon. Take care of yourselves.'

Then she puts her arm on my back and leads me away underground, where her car is waiting.

Buckingham Palace

I'm lying on the back seat of Louise's car wondering where on earth she's going to take me. Louise is driving like a maniac and I'm incredibly sick and drowsy. I'm going to fall asleep or throw up, it's just a question of which one first.

I asked her where we were going and she said, ‘Shut up, Ty, I'm thinking,' so fiercely that I didn't bother asking again. I've been running through all her friends in my mind and deciding which one I'd least hate to stay with. Most of them are teachers and they're all a bit serious – the boring brigade, my mum calls them. But they all live in London. She can't be taking me there.

We stopped for about ten minutes, and I thought she'd buy me some food as I haven't even had breakfast, but she just whizzed me into a Snappy Snaps and got my
photo taken, then chucked a Mars Bar at me and said, ‘That'll have to be lunch. I want to get on with it.' Louise is a health freak. I didn't think she even knew about Mars Bars. I ate it lying down in the car, bumping along some country roads, which wasn't a great experience.

‘Why did you get my picture taken? Am I getting a passport?' I ask her, and she says, ‘Shhh, I'm still thinking,' so I start imagining flying off to somewhere like Spain and maybe she'd have to let me stay in a hotel by myself, and maybe I could get Claire to somehow meet me there. . .

‘Can I get changed?' I ask, because I'm still in my sweaty running gear and even though I've thrown a hoodie on top, I'm smelly and damp and uncomfortable. But she says, ‘Ty, there are more important things right now than how you look.' Louise is generally a bit snappy, but this is an excessively bad mood.

Eventually she starts talking to me. I'm straining to hear her voice, but the engine's noisy and her voice is soft and I'm too sleepy to follow what she's saying. I just try and make appropriate replies so she doesn't get cross with me again.

‘Teacher-training . . . parents . . . you understand?' she says, and I say, ‘Yeah. . .'

And then, ‘. . . strange . . . very nice . . . long time . . . little. . .'

‘Mmmm,' I say, and then I must have dropped off completely because I only wake up when she stops the car and says, ‘We're here.'

‘Urgh. Where's here?'

‘We've arrived. At their house.'

I'm hot and sweaty all over again, and my teeth are furry with Mars Bar. I didn't quite finish it and it's melted all over my hands and my hoodie.

‘Oh, um, right.' I expect she'd be annoyed if I ask for a recap. She was droning on for ages in the car.

We're parked in a gravel driveway which leads up to a huge red-brick house. It's got a big front garden, with lavender bushes and tubs of flowers, and a leafy red vine covering the front wall. The massive dark green front door is probably the biggest I've ever seen. Louise must know some seriously rich people.

‘Come on,' she says, getting my bag out of the boot, ‘I don't want the car to be here for long, just in case.'

‘But Louise . . . wait. . .' I say, trailing after her as she marches to the front door and rings the bell. She looks like she always does – clean and smart and tidy. I smell of stale sweat and I'm covered with chocolate. I spit on my hands and transfer some melted Mars Bar onto my trackie trousers. Lou puts her arm around me and says, ‘Don't worry, they are very nice.'

The door opens. Two old people. They must be the
parents of one of her friends. The grey-haired woman is wearing a pale blue jumper and dark blue skirt and she's smiling – a really weird smile, kind of twisted. There's something a bit familiar about her, and I try and think which one of Lou's teacher mates she reminds me of. The old man is hugely tall and has dark bushy eyebrows and there's a frown on his face. He's got a tweed jacket on.

Louise can't possibly expect me to stay here – can she?

‘Come in, come in,' says the woman, in a super-posh voice, and she gives Lou a big hug. I'm wondering when Louise will explain who they are. But she obviously thinks she's done that already. I'll just have to work it out as I go along.

She releases Lou, and they all turn to look at me, and I stare at my trainers which are still sandy from the beach.

‘Tyler, welcome,' says the lady in her Radio Four voice. ‘We're so very happy to have you here.'

I mumble something and Lou says, ‘Ty's had a terribly traumatic day, Helen, I don't think he's up to much at the moment.'

‘Of course,' she says. ‘Come and sit down. I'll make tea.'

She shows us into a living room which is – I swear –
bigger than our entire flat in London. There's a huge piano in the corner, and the floor is made of wood and there are soft patterned rugs and a blue velvety sofa and armchairs and blue curtains that look like they are made of silk. It's so tidy that it feels like a museum, not someone's home. And I can't see a television anywhere.

There's a big mirror over the mantelpiece and I catch sight of myself in it. My face is pale and grubby, and there's a huge shit-brown smear on my chin. My hair, heavy with dried sweat, hangs in strings over my eyes. Oh, and my mouth is wide open.

‘I'm Patrick,' says the old guy, frowning at me like he's really regretting allowing Lou to bring me within fifty miles of his house. ‘Do you want a drink? Louise?' I shake my head and manage to close the gaping mouth and she says no, she'd better not, because she's driving. That means she's really going to be leaving me here. He pours himself a whisky.

‘So . . . this is Tyler, eh?' he says to me in his deep gruff voice. ‘Let's get a look at you, boy.'

He sounds like a sergeant major in the army. I duck my head, but Louise tugs my hood down.

He looks me up and down like he's deciding whether to buy me. I don't like it. I don't like him either. I pull the hood up again and slouch back against my chair, arms crossed. I stretch out my legs in front of
me so my trainers are on the cream-coloured rug. Louise frowns at me, then starts talking to Patrick about the house. Do they get many visitors? Will it be possible for me to stay there without anyone realising?

Helen brings the tea in on a tray. There's a flowery teapot and little teacups and a milk jug and a sugar bowl and a plate of biscuits that I think come from Marks and Spencer. It's like having tea at Buckingham Palace. In our flat you'd have got mugs, tea bags and Lidl economy custard creams. But it reminds me of Gran's best china which she only used on special occasions. I wonder if it's still in her old flat in London.

I drink my tea in about a minute and eat two biscuits – I'm starving. I was right, they
from Marks and Spencer, Gran used to get them every six months or so as a very special treat, but I bet these people shop there every day. I lick my finger to pick up the last crumbs from my plate. Then I realise that everyone is watching me, and I start nibbling my fingernail instead.

Louise is updating them on the last few months in my life. How I witnessed a boy being stabbed, and how one of the people standing trial for the killing is my best friend Arron. How another one of the accused – Jukes White – comes from a family of gangsters who want me silenced. How I'd been given a new identity and sent to a new school but had to be moved on – ‘Ty can tell you
the details another time,' she says. Yeah, right, that's really going to happen. And then she starts to tell them about how Alistair got shot.

My attention wanders. On top of the piano are hundreds of photographs, all in silver frames. I can see weddings and christenings, children in school uniform and happy family portraits. I count one, two, three weddings. There are loads of children; they must have a big family, but I stare at one – a little boy with dark, tangled hair and three older sisters. He must have a hard life, that boy. The girls look pretty bossy.

I've lost the thread of Lou's story. I'm trying to tune out the recent stuff, Alistair . . . shooting . . . police. The words float in the air around me. But then I hear her say, ‘So that's when I rang you. I don't trust the police to keep him safe any more, and Mum needs to concentrate on Nicki, now that she's expecting.'

I jump forward. My teacup clatters to the floor and rolls on to the rug. She couldn't really have said . . . have meant. . .

‘Nicki's what? What are you talking about?' My voice is hoarse and croaky.

Louise's hand is over her mouth. Helen is biting her lower lip. Lou shakes her head and says, ‘Ty, I'm sorry. Ty, darling – I thought you knew. Didn't she tell you?'

‘No one told me anything. What's going on?'

‘That's why she contacted Alistair again. To tell him she was having his baby.'

‘But . . . they hardly even knew each other . . . it was only the one night. . .' I'm so shocked, that I've forgotten that these friends of hers are listening. I'm just trying to work it out.

Patrick snorts, ‘Typical,' he says. I'd know that tone anywhere.

Helen tuts at him, and Lou says, ‘Steady, Ty,' but I leap to my feet. Teacups fly in all directions. The days are over when I let people disrespect my mum. My hands turn to fists and my arms tense up.

I step towards him, breathing hard. He's frowning at me. I yell, ‘Shut up! Or I'll make you!'

The Wolf

I don't
I would actually have hit him, but no one ever finds out because an enormous wolf-like creature flies at me, snarling and howling. It jumps at my chest, sending me crashing backwards onto the floor, and its huge jaw is right in my face, with a deafening noise and toxic smell. Flying gobs of saliva blind me, as its razor-sharp yellow teeth tear at my throat.

The next thing I know the wolf-monster is gone. I'm sitting on the floor with my back against the sofa and Helen's handing me a cup. I take a big gulp and almost choke. I was expecting water, but it's burning my throat and judging by the smell it's the stuff that the old tramps drink in the park . . . meths, that's it.

‘Urgh . . . what the hell?' I say, tears streaming down my face, and she says, ‘It's brandy, for shock.'

I'm touching my neck and face to check everything's still there. Miraculously there's no gushing blood or tattered flesh. ‘Has the wolf gone?' I ask, looking nervously around the room.

Louise is on the sofa next to me, hand on my shoulder, and I think she's trying not to laugh.

‘It was a dog, Ty darling. Wolves live in the zoo, not people's houses.'

My face is hot. I knew that it was a dog, obviously. It's just that the wrong word came out. Where I come from, a dog is a weapon, just like a knife. I've been a bit wary of dogs since a bad experience with a runaway Rottweiler when I was seven. Helen must think I'm a retard because she says, ‘Anyone could make the same mistake.'

Then I glance out of the window and see Patrick with the galloping wolf-monster on a lead, and it turns out to be a collie-sheepdog-Lassie-lookalike. I gulp down some more of the brandy.

Louise says, ‘Helen, can I just have a minute to talk to Ty, please?' and Helen says, ‘Of course,' and stops picking up bits of china from the floor, and leaves the room. I bet she's standing just outside, listening.

I lean against my auntie hoping she's going to say that she's changed her mind and this is obviously never going to work and she's thought of some dog-free
place to take me.

But she starts telling me off. ‘Jesus, Ty, what are you like? Helen and Patrick offer you a refuge and the first thing you do is threaten to attack them.'

‘They set their dog on me.'

‘No they didn't. Don't be ridiculous. She reacted to your aggression.'

‘He was disrespecting my mum.'

‘He's seventy-five years old. You can't shout at him like he's one of your gangster friends.'

‘I don't have gangsta friends.' I don't have any friends right now.

‘While you're staying here, for Christ's sake, try and behave and give a good impression,' she says. ‘Otherwise you're letting Nicki down.'

I don't care, because I'm so angry with my mum for not telling me that she was pregnant that I never ever want to see her again, anyway.

BOOK: Almost True
3.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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