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Authors: Keren David

Almost True (4 page)

BOOK: Almost True
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And I want to get out of this room, in case Alistair's ghost comes back.

So I tiptoe down the stairs. The wolf-monster-Lassie-dog is snoring in a basket, and I'm thankful that it doesn't stir as I try door handles and find my way to
the kitchen. It's massive, but there doesn't seem to be a washing machine. That's odd – surely rich people don't go to the launderette – but then I see there's a little side room and it's just for laundry. There's a washing machine and a dryer, and an ironing board and a clothes rack.

The washing machine is full, so I pull out the damp clothes, then carefully hang them all up on the clothes rail. I put the sick-stained sheets and sweaty clothes on to wash. Then I notice the big pile of ironing. There are shirts and handkerchiefs and all sorts of things. I don't mind ironing, and when I was at St Saviour's I did a lot at home alone in the evenings. It helped me forget what a rubbish time I was having.

They have a really nice ironing board and a top quality steam iron too. John Lewis. I'm sure no one will mind me doing this. I'm a pretty good ironer, if I say so myself. But, as the pile gets smaller, I wonder if Alistair's ghost will think I've worked hard enough?

I finish ironing just as my washing is ready. I empty the dryer and pile my sheets and clothes in. Then I fold up all the dried stuff. I wonder if Helen actually wants me sorting out her underwear, but it seems a bit strange not to do the whole job. I've been doing my mum's laundry for years.

I'm sleepy now, but I want to wait until everything is dry so I can make up the bed again and no one need
know what happened. I turn off the light and sit down on the cool, tiled floor and I listen to the soothing sound of the dryer, and everything's just about safe for the moment. I like this room. It's warm and small and all about getting things clean and sorted.

I sleep a bit, wake up for a while, go back to sleep again. I think about going back upstairs but before I can decide it's getting light and a soft wet nose nudges my toes. I lie as still as I can. The wolf-dog has found me. It sniffs and snuffles, then starts barking its head off, paws skidding and clattering on the tiles as it rushes out of the room. I don't move, although I'm icy cold. I'm shaking, wondering how I can escape before it comes back and attacks me.

But when it comes back it doesn't rip my face off. It brings Patrick back with it. I'm not sure I wouldn't have preferred being bitten. He's wearing his dressing gown and yawning and looking completely puzzled.

‘What on earth are you doing in here, boy?' he says. ‘You'll freeze to death.'

I wish I could just go on pretending to be asleep, but I can't with the dog yapping away, so I stretch and say, ‘Sorry, I must have just dropped off. Oh, and, um, sorry I shouted at you yesterday.'

‘We'll forget about it,' he says, in a growly sort of voice. ‘Get up, lad; you'll need to warm up a bit.'

I notice he doesn't say sorry for disrespecting my mum. I can't get up because the vicious dog is still sniffing my feet, and nudging its nose against me.

‘Are you scared of her?' roars Patrick, as though it's totally bizarre to be nervous of something with razor-sharp teeth. ‘She's trying to make friends.'

I try to look brave and unfriendly, but he doesn't get the hint and remove his savage beast. ‘Have you never had anything to do with dogs before? Give her your hand to smell . . . that's it . . . now stroke her head and back. That's right, you see, she likes you now. Come for a few walks with us, and she'll be your best friend in no time.' The stupid dog is slobbering germs all over my hand, and it could easily bite off a finger with one snap of its jaw.

‘I can't go for walks. Louise says I can't go out of the house.'

‘Hmmm,' says Patrick. ‘Seems tough, all day, every day in the house. Enough to drive anyone round the bend. Go and get dressed now, we don't want to look at your body all day long, do we, Meg?'

Meg woofs in my face, which makes me jump. I get my washing out of the dryer and fold it all up neatly, trying to put off going upstairs. I'd like to iron the sheets, but it's maybe more important to get the bed made up straight away. Patrick is looking around the laundry room.

‘Bless me, lad, have you been up all night doing the ironing?' he asks, as if it's a crime to iron a few shirts. I panic and lie.

‘No. I didn't do any.'

‘Who did it then, the ironing fairy?'

‘I dunno. I just did my washing.' I feel like I'm in the headmaster's study and I haven't had a good record there recently. He knows I'm lying, anyway.

‘Julie always was a champion ironer,' he says, ‘No doubt she's trained you up in her footsteps, eh?'

What is he talking about? Why would my gran be doing his ironing?

I must have looked baffled, because he says, ‘You did know that Julie used to be our cleaner, nanny and bottlewasher-in-chief?'

He's lying. ‘My gran wasn't your servant!' I say, furious. My gran's been a school dinner lady for as long as I've been at school. But before that she worked in a bookie's and before that she had a really good job which she loved as . . . as . . . I'm not quite sure what that job was.

‘Long time ago now,' he says, ignoring me. ‘She was a great help when the girls were small. Danny was born just before she had Louise, so she stopped working for us then, but she always came to visit. We were in Highgate then, before we moved out here. Danny and Louise were
friends before Nicki dropped her bombshell. . . Well, anyway, your grandmother was a great ironer, and your grandfather was the best odd-job man I've ever met.'

My grandad Mick
an odd-job man. He was a master carpenter. He worked at the Houses of Parliament. And ‘Nicki's bombshell' must mean me. Bloody hell.

‘I'm going to get dressed,' I say with as much dignity as I can, considering that I'm virtually naked, I've just told a stupidly obvious lie about ironing, my legs are being licked by the daft dog, and I'm descended from sluts and slaves.

Going up the stairs, I'm grateful not to meet Helen, and there's no ghost in my room as I have another shower to warm myself up, get dressed and re-make the bed. In my jeans pocket I find my two notes from Claire. I re-read them, and wonder if there's a computer here, and feel bad because so much happened yesterday that I hardly thought about her at all.

I'm starving hungry. I wander down the stairs and back into the kitchen where Helen and Patrick are eating toast and drinking coffee. It smells fantastic.

Helen jumps up and makes me some toast and pours me a coffee. They're both looking at me a bit strangely and I immediately lose my appetite. No one says anything, and I nibble the toast and start imagining how upset they must have been when I was born. No
one wants their son to be a father before he's done his A levels, do they? I bet they wish I'd never happened. I'm desperate to get out of this house, to go for a run, but that's not allowed.

Helen breaks the silence.

‘Ty,' she says, hesitantly, ‘Patrick tells me he found you down here, asleep this morning. Was there a problem?'

‘Erm . . . I just needed to do some washing. I didn't mean to sleep down here; I must've just fallen asleep. It's a nice room, that laundry room.'

‘Is it?' She obviously thinks I'm crazy. Maybe I am.

‘If you prefer to do your own laundry, then just help yourself anytime,' she says. ‘You really don't have to worry about helping out though, you're our guest.'

‘Um . . . yeah, right . . . sometimes I like to just do it myself.'

They exchange glances. Patrick says, ‘I'll just take Meg for a walk,' and the dog's ears prick up and she rushes up to him, barking her head off, which makes me wince. She's a pretty clever animal, though, I have to admit, to understand English. I bet she'd like running with me better than walking with an old guy.

Once they've gone, Helen pours me another cup of coffee and makes me some more toast. She's still going on about the washing.

‘Look, Ty, I can show you where there are sheets and things if you need to change the bed . . . I mean, if you have problems again. . . You don't have to start doing washing in the middle of the night. I've even got a mattress-protector somewhere.'

She thinks I'm a bed-wetter. Brilliant.

‘It wasn't that sort of problem. I threw up. And the stupid policeman who packed my bag didn't put in any underwear or socks or anything, so I was a bit short of clothes for today.'

She looks worried and relieved at the same time. ‘I'm here for you if you are ill, or you need anything – you can wake me up at any time. I hate to think of you falling asleep on the cold floor. And of course we can buy you anything you need. Just make me a list.'

Of course she can, there's no shortage of money here. If I'd suddenly lost half my clothes in London, my mum and I would've had a major financial crisis. And that's because we never got one penny from her stupid son.

‘Thanks a lot,' I say, but not like I mean it, and she gives me a notepad and I write down what I need.

We've finished eating, so I clear up the plates and look around for washing-up gloves, but she says, ‘Everything goes in the dishwasher,' so I stack them in there instead. Then I remember the clothes that I put to dry on the rack and I wander over to the nice laundry room and ask,
‘Shall I . . . would you like me to just finish off the ironing for you?'

‘Do you really want to?' she says, and I nod. And when Patrick and Meg come back and he sees what I'm doing, he looks at Helen and she shakes her head and shrugs, and I concentrate all the harder on the job in hand.


No one talks about my dad. The only time anyone even mentions him is the day I dye my hair back to black, like Louise told me to, and Helen kind of splutters into her tea and then says, ‘Well, you certainly look like Danny.' I think she's hoping I'll be thrilled and excited and ask her lots of questions, but I don't say anything.

I've been doing more and more cleaning. It keeps me out of their way. They sometimes seem a bit surprised at how I like to work – taking all the saucepans out of the cupboards for example, so I can scrub everything spotless – but no one complains. Helen even says how useful it is that I'm so helpful because she's had to ask her cleaner not to come in while I'm staying with them. I think they could do with getting a better cleaner anyway, because there's a lot of dirt hidden away under furniture and at the back of shelves if you look carefully enough.

Patrick went to Marks and Spencer and bought me boxers, socks and pyjamas and then he bought loads of clothes from Gap, which wouldn't have been my first choice, but most of them look OK. I can't quite imagine actually wearing them.

At mealtimes there's a lot of awkward silence. I eat as quickly as possible, and move over to the sink to clear up as soon as I can. Helen tries to talk to me about school and stuff, but I don't seem to have many words right now, so I nod and mumble and shrug, and eventually she gives up.

Patrick spends most of his time in his study, which is where the computer is. I haven't asked him yet if I can check my emails. I keep out of his way. I haven't quite got over our bad start, and he's always hanging around with the dog. I don't like the way it watches me, like it's planning when to attack.

Alistair only appears some nights. He stands at the bottom of my bed, staring at me in silence, and I can't sleep while he's doing that. And I can't sleep while I'm waiting to see if he'll turn up or not. So most days I feel weary and I seem to ache all over. I'm always looking for him out of the corner of my eye and sometimes I feel myself twitching with nerves.

It takes me three days to get to the computer without them noticing. Patrick's taken Meg for a walk.
Helen's on the phone to someone and I sneak into the study to see if he's left the computer on. He has. Fantastic. And I'm logging on to my email account and there are three messages waiting, which must all be from Claire.

A few weeks ago I sent a stupid, stupid email to Claire. I don't know what I was thinking. I told her that I had hurt Arron in the park, but I didn't tell her any of the details. It was a kind of truth or dare moment – a test of what she would do. How much did she love me? I spent the next week in agony, wishing I could call it back, and then she wrote and just ignored what I'd said. And then I wondered if I'd sent it to the right address, or whether this email with its dangerous words –
I'm a liar, I'm lying to the police
– is bouncing around in cyberspace.

Anyway. The first message is just chat, about school and her family and stuff. Apparently my friend Brian is going out with Emily, who he's fancied for ages and is way out of his league, so that's quite big news.

Her second message was written two days ago:

We heard about Alistair. I don't know where to start. First, are you all right? Where are you? What happened to you? I am so scared that you were hurt when they shot him . . . he was with you, wasn't he? The police told Ellie it was mistaken identity and that he'd been staying with his girlfriend and I know he was seeing your mum, wasn't he? But how come
he knew where you were? I don't understand any of it, but I am so scared that you are hurt. Please write to me.

Alistair was a nice guy, you know. He was a really good coach to Ellie and she is devastated, crying all the time. And she and her friends are just sitting together the whole time and talking about Alistair. No one can believe it.

Of course – no one else says this, but I can to you – she's also worrying about what it means for her prospects for the Paralympics, and how she will find another coach like him. It's not so easy to find someone who really understands disabled athletes, she says. Ellie's quite bitter about it and she's been moaning about how the Paralympics don't get the same status as the real Olympics.

BOOK: Almost True
5.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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