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Authors: Keren David

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BOOK: Almost True
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‘Get up, for Christ's sake, boy.'

‘I can't . . . my ankle. . .' I say. ‘I think it's broken.'

Patrick and Archie haul me upright and I try and hold onto both of them, but it's harder than it should be because Patrick's too tall. I'm looking around all the time
for Alistair and Rio, although Patrick keeps telling me to concentrate on walking and stop twisting and turning.

‘What the hell's the matter?' he barks impatiently.

‘They . . . they were trying to hurt Meg. . .' I say, ‘They had a knife. . .'

‘Who?'

‘They . . . they were there, they'll come back, they were there. . .' I hardly know what I'm saying now.

‘Ty,' roars Patrick. ‘Calm down. Concentrate. No one's going to get hurt. I want to get to the car before it gets completely dark.' There's a silence, and all I can hear is my own gasping breath. And then he adds, ‘Everything's all right, you know. You're completely safe.'

That's the point when my ankle gives out completely and my legs shoot out in front of me, and I slide back down to the ground. Archie almost falls down with me.

‘Christ,' says Patrick again. ‘I don't think we can carry him. Come on boy, you were doing OK there. What's the problem?'

‘It's my ankle . . . I think it's broken.'

‘You're going to have to try. Come on now. Up again.' And they manage it so I've got my arms round their shoulders and they haul me along. Patrick's bent almost double, which can't be great for a really old guy.

It seems to take years to get back to the car. It's parked at the edge of the wood and Patrick says,
‘Thank God for that,' as he opens the door and they carefully sit me down on the back seat. But I yell and throw myself backwards on to the stony ground. Meg barks and jumps up and down, and Patrick shouts, ‘Bloody hell . . . what's going on now?'

I can't get in the car. Alistair and Rio are sitting there waiting for me.

I point. I grab hold of Meg so they can't hurt her. And Archie crouches down next to me and says, ‘What is it? What is it, Ty? What's going on? Why won't you get in the car?'

‘Can't you see them?' I ask.

‘There's no one there. Come on Ty . . . it's freezing. . .'

‘Get in this car and you're dead,' says Alistair.

‘I can't . . . I can't . . . he'll kill me. . .' I whisper.

Patrick's crouched down too. ‘Ty, you're going to listen to me and only to me, understand? There is no one in the car. You need to let us get you into the car. You are hallucinating. That means that the things you are seeing and hearing are not real. Trust me. Now, let us get you up.'

‘He means you're going bonkers,' adds Archie helpfully, ‘but you'll probably be OK when the drugs wear off. I'll sit in the back if you want and you can sit in the front.'

So they pull me into the front of the car and Archie
and Meg climb into the back and when I dare to glimpse behind me, they are all that I see. No Alistair, no Rio. It's just us.

We drive in silence all the way back to the house, which only takes about ten minutes. When we get there Patrick says, ‘Archie, you take Meg inside and tell Helen that all is well. I just want to have a few words with Ty, we'll be there in a minute.'

Once we're alone I look away from him, hoping that Alistair and Rio won't make a sudden reappearance now that the back seat is empty. I'm not sure that Patrick is up to fighting them off. He looked pretty tired once we got back to the car. He looks even more tired now.

‘Tyler,' he says, ‘Tell me what you've been taking. What drugs . . . maybe you've been drinking?'

‘I never . . . I never took anything.' My voice sounds like I'm back at primary school.

‘Do you really expect me to believe that? You were hallucinating . . . completely out of control. . .' He sighs. ‘If you tell me, I can get help for you. Don't be scared to tell the truth.'

‘I didn't, I really didn't. There were ghosts, really ghosts. I've seen one of them before.' My ankle is throbbing and my head is killing me. I wish he'd get on with it.

‘You see and hear things regularly? Have you ever
talked to anyone about this?'

He thinks I'm mad. He thinks I'm like Gran's friend's neighbour who heard voices in his head telling him to throw his telly out of the window, which was a particularly bad idea because he lived above the dry-cleaner's.

‘Not regularly. Just since I was here. I don't do drugs. Honest.'

‘I wish I could believe you,' he says, and he doesn't sound angry, just sad. And I feel sad too, because it really matters that Patrick believes me.

‘You can. . . It's true, really it's true.'

‘Well,' he says, ‘Let's see what they say at the hospital.' And he slams his door shut and comes around the car to get me out.

‘Lean on me . . . yes, that's it,' he says as he pulls me out. It's harder to walk with only one person supporting me, and I have to put both arms around him. We stagger along, but we have to stop for a rest before we get to the front door, which just shows how massive their driveway is.

We stand there in the dark, and I say, ‘Thank you for finding me,' and he says, ‘Meg did the hard work. We gave her one of your T-shirts and she tracked you down. It helped that Mrs Baverstock who lives down the road called to warn members of Neighbourhood Watch
that she'd seen a feral youth running past.'

‘I'm not feral. . .' I say, and his arms hold me tight and he says, ‘I know. It's OK. I'm just grateful that we found you.'

It's an amazing thing being hugged by my grandad like that. I can't remember ever being hugged by a man before. It's like I've been saved by Superman or Spiderman or Batman. Grumpy the giant has saved me.

The front door opens and Archie runs out, and grabs my other arm. He says, ‘Come on . . . come as fast as you can. . . You've got to explain to him that I'm not you.'

‘You what?' I ask, and Patrick says, ‘Damn and blast. Typical.'

And then we reach the front door and I realise what they are talking about. This scruffy guy hovering behind Helen, with holey jeans and long messy hair, can only be one person. He's tall like Patrick, he's got a pointy chin like me.

My dad has turned up at last.

CHAPTER 10
Exposure

No one ever told me much about my dad. That didn't stop me thinking what he might be like.

I knew he studied law at university, and I knew he supported Manchester United so I thought maybe he was the sort of lawyer that works in football, arranging contracts and transfers and stuff like that. That was how I got the idea of being an interpreter working for a Premiership team. I thought we might be in the same world.

When people asked me about my dad I'd say, ‘He's a sports lawyer.' Sometimes I threw in a bit more detail, like: ‘He's very busy at the moment, working on the January transfers.'

It sounded better than, ‘I've never met my dad and I have no idea what he's doing.' No one had to know
it wasn't necessarily true.

Sometimes I got a bit carried away and I'd imagine meeting him in the future. Perhaps I'd get taken along to some high-powered meeting so I could translate everything for the latest Brazilian signing and then the lawyer would come into the room and I'd realise it was my dad.

And he'd realise too, but we wouldn't say anything right away, and we'd have the meeting and he'd be really impressed with how I was simultaneously interpreting from Portuguese into English. Even really technical legal and footballing language. And we'd both look really smart in suits and ties, and after the meeting we'd shake hands and say hello and maybe we'd get to know each other a bit.

Instead I am soaking wet, covered with mud, stinking of vomit and fertiliser, unable to walk and feeling incredibly ill. At least I have an excuse. He looks like some sort of tramp, and I can't think of any reason for that at all, except that he pretty obviously isn't a top lawyer.

It's like someone's died, someone I was pretty fond of. How stupid is that, believing my own lies? I just wish I was looking better, that's all. And that he was.

‘What on earth has happened to him?' he says, and he sounds a bit upset too. He probably wasn't imagining a son dipped in cow shit.

Patrick says, ‘Hello Danny,' and manoeuvres me straight past him into the kitchen where Helen sits me down in a chair and starts bathing my face with a flannel. My dad – Danny? Dad? – follows us, and flops down at the kitchen table next to me. His hair and clothes don't look any better close up. Patrick says, ‘I'll let you get on with it,' and goes out of the room.

Helen props my leg up on a chair and wedges a giant packet of frozen peas around the ankle, which just adds another layer of pain to the massive load that's already there. ‘He's running a temperature,' she says, feeling my forehead. ‘Archie, run upstairs to the bathroom and find the thermometer.'

My dad is trying to catch my eye, but he's not succeeding because I'm looking everywhere else I possibly can. ‘Tyler, I'm your dad, I'm Danny,' he says. His voice is soft and it's hard to know what he's thinking. ‘Aren't you even going to say hello to me?'

Helen is pulling my wet shirt off over my head so he has to wait for me to come out. I'd rather not be talking to him while I'm half naked . . . it's a bit embarrassing. He might count my chest hairs. ‘Oh. Umm. Hello.' I say, keeping my eyes on the table.

It's not that I never want to meet him, just not right now. Not like this. Not with Archie and Helen watching.

Helen wraps me in a big fluffy towel, sticks the
thermometer in my mouth and sends Archie upstairs to get new clothes for me – ‘Something easy to put on, a tracksuit maybe. Underwear too.'

She's investigating my ankle, and I'm trying not to scream out loud. ‘It's very swollen,' she says. ‘I think we're going to have to cut your trousers off.'

I can't say anything, because I have the stupid thermometer in my mouth, but I make a noise of protest because these are my best jeans, the ones that Mum and I bought with police money.

‘What's the matter, darling?' asks Helen, removing the thermometer and giving me a sip of lemon squash.

‘It's just . . . my jeans . . . these are really good ones. Abercrombie and Fitch.'

‘We can always buy you some new ones,' she says soothingly. ‘Don't worry about it.'

My dad makes a loud snorting noise and says, ‘I'm going to talk to Pa. Find out what's been going on.' He hardly looks at me as he walks out. I don't know what his problem is but I feel like I've screwed up before we even know each other. Maybe he's a kind of hippy who hates designer clothes. He thinks I'm a brand-obsessed airhead. Do I care?

Helen says, ‘Your temperature's high. You must be feeling dreadful. I'll get you some paracetemol.'

She's being so gentle and kind. I shouldn't have run
away from her. She gives me the tablets and some more to drink, and I grab her hand and say, ‘I'm sorry I got lost, I didn't mean to, I just needed to get outside all of a sudden . . . I felt a bit strange.'

She puts her arm around my shoulder. ‘Ty, all that matters is that you are safe and sound. You don't know how special you are to me . . . to us . . . and how much it means that you're here. I know we're strangers to you. But you're not a stranger to us.'

Then Archie comes in with my trackies and a black hoodie – one of the new ones from Gap – and she picks up her scissors. ‘Right. Let's see how we can get you into dry clothes.' And then she pauses. ‘Are you all right with me helping you? Or would you prefer one of the men . . . or even Archie?'

I shake my head. Absolutely not. Is she forgetting that I've been completely brought up by women? – and she tells Archie to go away, and gets on with destroying my best jeans. Eventually she decides to cut through my boxers as well, then slings a towel over me and unpeels the sopping clothes. I don't care that she has to help me get the dry stuff on. I'm so out of it that you could strip me naked and post it on YouTube and I wouldn't be that bothered.

She takes my temperature again, then shakes her head and says, ‘It's come down a little, but it's still high.
I think we need to take you to hospital, get that ankle looked at and find out why you're running a fever. Let me talk to Patrick . . . and Danny. . .'

‘No . . . I can't. . .' I say, and she looks at me, puzzled. I try and explain, but the words are getting all tangled up. ‘I can't talk to him, to Danny. I'm not ready for him . . . I can't cope right now, with him, with any of this. . .'

I'm rambling, I know, but she gets the message because she says, ‘Don't worry, darling. I'll tell Danny you're not in a fit state to cope with a big reunion.'

She leaves me alone in the kitchen and I spy her mobile sitting next to me on the table and I think about calling Claire. Just for a quick chat. Just to tell her what's going on. But then I remember the fuss that my last call caused and I decide against it. It's hard though. It's actually physically hard to let go of the phone once I've got my hand on it.

So when Patrick comes into the kitchen he jumps to the wrong conclusion.

‘Christ, boy, can't you be trusted for two minutes? What have you done with that phone?'

‘Nothing . . . I . . . nothing. . .'

‘Don't you understand how important it is that no one knows where you are? Are you stupid?'

I'm shaking. I thought he was beginning to like me.
I thought I could rely on him. Why is he angry with me?

‘I didn't . . . I never. . .'

He grabs the phone, looks at the call list. ‘I seem to have caught you just in time. Don't do it again.'

‘No . . . but. . .' It's all too much to explain and I shut up. He's looking all cross and not all that well himself.

BOOK: Almost True
11.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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