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Authors: Keren David

Almost True (5 page)

BOOK: Almost True
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Anyway I just want to hear from you. Are you OK? Are you safe? Let me know.

And then the third message, written yesterday:

Joe, I am so worried about you it's unbearable. I am trying really hard to keep to our pledge and not hurt myself, but I feel all this panic building up. I am trying to be strong but it is hard and I need to talk to you because since you sent that email I don't even know who you are any more.

Oh Christ. My heart is pounding and I am so angry at myself for writing the email in the first place and for whatever it was I did that allowed Alistair to get shot and for screwing things up so badly that I couldn't stay where I was and be Joe and look after Claire. I hit
I start writing:

Claire I am OK and you mustn't worry about me and I can explain everything all I want is to see you—

‘I think you'll find that that's my chair and my computer,' says a dry voice from the doorway. Bugger. It's Patrick, back again, and Meg growling at his heels.

‘I'll just be a minute,' I say, and type as fast as I can,
don't hurt yrslf talk to smone, pls Claire maybe i can ring—

‘Enough!' thunders Patrick, and I press
and then log out, while he marches right up to the chair and stands over me. He's frowning so much that his eyebrows look like two hamsters huddling together in a storm.

‘It's not that I mind you using the computer
per se,'
he says, ‘but I think you should ask, not just wait until I am out and help yourself.'

What is his problem? It's only a computer for Christ's sake. You'd have thought he'd be pleased that I waited until he was out. Why does he have to be so angry and fierce and tall?

‘I didn't think you'd mind.'

‘No boundaries,' he says. ‘We need to set down some rules while you're staying here.'

I can hardly concentrate while he goes on and on at me because I'm so worried about Claire. He's talking about making an effort . . . asking permission . . . respecting privacy . . . my own safety . . . and all I can think about
is how I can find out Claire's number because I had to give up Joe's mobile when I stopped being Joe, and how can I call her?

There are these numbers you can ring which tell you phone numbers, I've heard them advertised on the radio. But I've not got a mobile.

‘So this won't happen again?' says Patrick, and I shake my head and say, ‘No . . . I'll ask. . . ' and he nods and says, ‘Good. Well, I need to use the computer now, so can you find something to do?'

I wander into the kitchen and check the laundry room to see if any ironing has magically appeared, but no, I've done everything. I load a sponge with bleach and swab the kitchen top, and then wonder if it's too soon to clean the floor again. I only did it an hour ago, but the dog's probably been in here and it must be swarming with bacteria.

And then I notice Helen's handbag sitting open on the kitchen table.

I sidle over. I can see her mobile glowing up at me, shiny blue. I want it. I need it. I stick my hand in and pull it out. She's my grandmother, after all. Gran never minded me borrowing her stuff and I've always felt free to help myself to money from my mum's handbag – I'd have starved otherwise. I'm sure it'll be fine, and she'll never know anyway because I'll just quickly call
Claire and then put it straight back. She'll never notice. Anyway it's a basic human right to have access to a phone, isn't it?

I scoot upstairs to my attic room, lock myself into the bathroom and hide behind the shower curtain. No one can find me here. I call the 118 number and give them Claire's address and surname. And then I'm breathless with excitement when they say they're putting me through and I hear the phone ringing and I imagine Claire hearing it in her dark attic – except that I know that her mum made her move bedrooms to the floor below when they found out about her cutting herself.

‘Hello?' It's Ellie who answers the phone, and just for a minute I consider telling her that it's me and getting one of her bracing pep talks. Then I think how badly she's missing Alistair, and I say, ‘Can I speak to Claire, please?'

‘Who is it?'

‘Umm . . . it's Brian. About our English homework.'

‘Oh hi, Brian, I'll get her,' says Ellie and there's a silence while I think how strange it is that a few months ago Claire had no friends at all and now it seems it's totally normal for her to get calls from boys.

In fact, Ellie took it completely for granted that Brian would be calling Claire. What if this story about Emily is all nonsense – and, let's face it, it sounds pretty unlikely – and he and Claire are actually seeing each
other but she doesn't want to tell me? What if. . . But she's here.

‘Hi? Brian?' she says, and I open my mouth, but I'm choked with jealousy and love.

‘Brian?' she says again and I manage to croak, ‘It's me. Joe.'

‘Oh!' she squeaks, and I wonder if she's shocked that I've found out that she's cheating on me.

‘I just thought . . . your email. . . '

‘We need to talk.' she says. ‘I need to see you.'

We need to talk
. Wasn't that what Ashley said when she chucked me?

‘I can't . . . I'm not allowed to go anywhere.'

‘Oh Joe . . . I'm just totally shocked to hear your voice. Are you OK? I've been so worried about you.'

There's a lump in my throat like I've swallowed Sonic the Hedgehog.

‘I'm OK. You don't have to worry about me.'

‘I'm going to send you a list of all Ellie's races. I can easily come along to any of them. Maybe one of them will be near where you are and you can meet me somewhere.'

I don't think that's very likely as I have no idea where I am and I'm not allowed out.

‘OK. I'll try.'

‘Oh, I miss you so much,' she says, and I'm just
starting to relax and feel happy and remember how it feels to look in her blue eyes and feel completely loved, when I become aware of noise. Feet thundering up my attic stairs. Shouting. And then someone . . . or something . . . rattling my bathroom door. Damn. Who the hell is it? It doesn't sound like Patrick. Or Alistair.

‘I've got to go,' I whisper and she says, ‘Try and do this again.'

‘OK.' Then the rattling turns into banging and I end the call before we can say goodbye properly. I shove the phone in my back pocket and nervously slide the lock open.

The door bursts open. It's not Patrick. It's not Alistair. It's a boy. He must be about thirteen.

And he looks so much like me that we could be twins.

Goldilocks and Baby Bear

‘You've been sleeping in my bed,' he says accusingly, like I'm Goldilocks and he's Baby Bear. A very posh Baby Bear, who probably goes to the bears' version of Eton and is planning to serve Goldilocks with an ASBO.

‘Umm . . . err. . . ' I reply. This must be a cousin. Unless – bloody hell – my dad had another baby really soon after me and this is my half-brother. Surely not. Christ. He must have learned how to avoid getting girls pregnant after I was born. I certainly would've made sure I was a world expert on the subject. Although my mum's thirty-one and she obviously hasn't mastered the basics.

‘Who are you?' he demands.

‘Umm . . . no one,' I say, feebly. ‘I'm . . . ummm . . . here to help out with the cleaning.'

‘Oh.' He loses interest in me, just like that. You can see his eyes kind of switch off. He's filed me under Domestic Help and decided that I'm not worth knowing. Fine by me.

‘Well I'm going to sleep in here. I always do. You'll have to move your stuff. Grandma will change the bed for me.'

No spoilt brat is telling me what to do, even if he might be my brother. He doesn't even look that much like me, now I've had time to get used to him. His eyes are blue, not green –
must be the alien with the toy horse in Helen's picture – and his hair is dark brown, somewhere between Joe's black hair and Ty's dirty blond.

‘I don't think so,' I say, flat and uninterested. And I sit down on my bed and plug in my iPod.

He looks completely outraged and then charges down the stairs again. I wait until he's nearly downstairs and then I follow him as far as the landing, so I can hear what's going on.

‘Grandma!' he's shouting, ‘There's a cleaner in my room and he's been sleeping in my bed.'

I peek down the stairs and I can see into the living room where Helen and Patrick are standing, talking to a lady who's tall and lanky with bushy brown hair and glasses. She must be Mummy Bear, I think, although
there's no sign of Daddy Bear anywhere. Patrick's face is great – his eyebrows shoot upwards like two hamsters on a trampoline, and his mouth twists like he's eating pickled lemons. I start shaking with laughter, and have to slap my hands over my mouth.

Helen looks incredibly flustered and says, ‘Archie darling, we're just talking to your mother. I'm glad you've met Tyler, but there's a lot to explain. . .'

Archie's mum's head jerks up and she says, ‘Tyler? Tyler's here? How on earth? Does Danny know?'

‘Not yet,' says Patrick, which is pretty interesting news to me.

‘But surely. . .' she says, and Patrick says, ‘Look, Penelope, it's a sensitive situation. The last thing we need is Danny pitching up here and making a scene.'

‘What on earth is going on?' she asks and Patrick glances towards Archie – who's now making a huge fuss of Meg in the corner, and getting dog slobber all over his face – and says, ‘You'd better come into the study and I'll tell you the whole story.'

They disappear, and I can hear Helen talking to Archie and explaining to him that I'm not a cleaner but his long-lost cousin – phew – and won't it be nice when we all get to know each other. She comes to the stairs and calls me down, and so I have no choice but to be introduced properly.

‘Archie's possibly come to stay for a while,' says Helen. ‘Won't that be nice?'

‘Oh. Umm. Is that OK?' I ask. Louise isn't going to like this at all.

‘And you've got to move beds,' says Archie, ‘because that's where I sleep.'

I give him an evil, menacing look that's meant to crush any hope that he's going to be allowed to boss me around. It doesn't work at all.

‘Grandma, tell him he's got to do what I say,' he says, and Helen says, ‘Oh dear, would you mind, Ty? The bunk bed's very comfortable and Archie does always sleep in that iron bed.'

Unbelievable. She's going to let him get away with chucking me out of my bed, without even saying please or thank you.

‘Whatever,' I shrug, and I swear that I'm going to teach young Archie about respect. And then I realise what this means. She's expecting us to share a room.

‘How long is Archie staying?' I ask. He's obviously at some posh private school. Maybe he'll just be here for a bit of half term and then he'll be off.

‘Well. . .' says Helen, and Archie sticks his chin in the air and says, ‘I got expelled, actually, and Ma has to find me a new boarding school.'

‘You got expelled? Why?' This is worrying – he could
be here for ages – but also quite funny. Although not for Helen, who's looking a bit upset.

‘Oh, this and that,' says Archie, making me think it's something completely pathetic which only a stupid boarding school would worry about. He probably organised a midnight feast, or refused to make the Head Boy's toast, or skipped 5 pm curfew to go and buy wine gums at the village shop.

He can see that I'm unimpressed. ‘Actually I arranged a strippergram for the housemaster's birthday,' he says, full of pride, and Helen says, ‘That's quite enough. You're in disgrace and you shouldn't be boasting about it. Now go upstairs and sort yourselves out. Are you sure you don't mind about the bed, Ty?'

The conversation in the study is getting noisy. We both pause on the stairs going past, and then we both stop at the top of the stairs and lean on the banister and listen. We're trying to ignore each other. Luckily, Helen knocks on the study door with a tray of tea, and she doesn't quite close the door when she goes in.

‘So it's not really safe for Archie to be here,' Patrick is saying, ‘let alone the work involved in having two of them here. And I'm not sure we can trust either of them to behave.'

‘Oh, nonsense, they'll keep each other company,' says Helen. ‘It'll be good for Ty to have another boy
here. He's absolutely no trouble, anyway. Spends all his time cleaning and ironing.'

Archie looks at me when she says this and I'm sure he's silently laughing.

‘I'm certain you're exaggerating any danger,' says Archie's mum. ‘There's no proof, is there, that the shooting incident had anything to do with poor Tyler? If the man was Nicki's boyfriend – well, we know from Louise that she's hooked up with some bad boys in her time, don't we?'

My mouth is wide open. Bloody hell. What is she on about? What's Louise been saying? It takes massive self control, but I manage to stop myself running down the stairs to shout at her.

‘Anyway,' she goes on, ‘I have no choice. I've got a meeting in Chicago next week, then I'm off to Brazil and David's tied up with a major acquisition in Dubai until mid-December. Marina's au pair says she's got her hands full with the twins, so I can't leave him there, and Elizabeth's not got room. I'm getting my secretary to ring round schools, and I'm sure we'll find somewhere that'll take him.'

‘Somewhere with a bit more discipline,' says Patrick, and she answers, ‘The thing is, Daddy, he's so bright that he runs rings round most school teachers.'

I glance at Archie. He's looking incredibly smug.

BOOK: Almost True
11.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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