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Authors: Hilary Freeman

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Hilary Freeman is an experienced journalist and agony aunt, working for national newspapers, magazines and websites, as well as on TV and radio. She has been agony aunt for
CosmoGirl!
and Sky and is currently a relationship adviser for askthesite.org. Her other jobs have included being a leg model and a very bad cleaner.

Hilary loves singing karaoke and doodling (her art teacher bought her school exam painting, but she hasn’t sold anything since). Her first novel,
Loving Danny
, was shortlisted for the Lancashire Children’s Book of the Year Award. She lives in Camden Town with her musician husband and the occasional pesky rodent.

HILARY FREEMAN

This book is dedicated to my friend Claire Fry
To new beginnings

First published in Great Britain in 2010
by Piccadilly Press Ltd,
5 Castle Road, London NW1 8PR
www.piccadillypress.co.uk

Text copyright © Hilary Freeman, 2010

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner

The right of Hilary Freeman to be identified as Author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978 1 84812 068 6 (paperback)
eBook ISBN: 978 1 84812 148 5

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Printed in theUK by CPI Bookmarque Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4RD
Cover design by Simon Davis
Cover photo © Alamy

My Blog

January 19

This is a blog about shoplifting. And as it is my very first blog, the only thing I’ve ever written in the whole of the blogosphere, I’m going to come straight to the point. Yesterday, I stole something.

I was in one of those chain stores that sells everything, from underwear to cheap clothes to lamp shades, and the sort of knickknacks people buy for presents when they can’t think of anything else: notebooks and picture frames and smelly bath oils. It’s not a shop I’d usually go in, but I’d seen in a magazine that they were doing some vest tops in bright jewel colours for five quid a pair, and they were selling out fast, mainly because everyone who read that magazine (and who normally wouldn’t be caught dead in that shop either) wanted them, which, of course, had made them even more popular. I know, I’m a sheep. Baa.

I took three of the vests into the changing room in my usual size: a red one, a green one and a purple one. The red one, which I tried first, was far too big, so I popped my head through the curtains to see if I could find an assistant to help me. There was no one about. Irritated, I got
dressed again and went back out on to the shop floor to find a smaller size. There were none on the rails, or in the pile on the shelves on top, except in a horrid salmon pink colour. Again, I looked around for someone to ask. Two female assistants were standing chatting by the Please Pay Here sign, totally oblivious to what was going on in the store. I put on my best pleading face, trying to catch their eyes but, if they noticed me, which I don’t think they did, they chose to ignore me. Eventually, tutting loudly, I walked over to them and said, ‘Excuse me, but have you got any more of those vests in an extra small?’

The taller assistant glowered at me, as if I’d rudely interrupted her private conversation. ‘Dunno,’ she said.

The shorter assistant, who had really bad skin, shrugged her shoulders. ‘If there aren’t any out, then we don’t have any.’

‘Could you check in the stock room for me, please?’

She tutted. ‘Nah, they’re all out.’ And they went back to their conversation.

Now even more annoyed, I walked off without saying thank you. Not that they would have understood the words. I felt like announcing, ‘Just so you know: I would have bought one in every colour (except salmon pink), if
you could just have looked for me, or checked to see if another branch had them!’ but what was the point? They didn’t care about how many vest tops they sold, or whether a glossy magazine had written about the amazing quality of the cotton, any more than they’d care if I spontaneously combusted in the middle of the store, leaving bits of burnt flesh all over the cut price tea towels. They didn’t care. Full stop. It made me so angry, irrationally angry. Angry and small. I can’t explain why.

I walked away from them, intending to head straight for the exit, when something caught my eye. There was a pack of tights where it shouldn’t have been, discarded next to a pile of T-shirts. Three pairs of extra-large, American tan tights, in a tea-coloured packet as ugly as its contents. American tan tights, the sweaty, nylon type that are supposed to be flesh coloured but don’t match anybody’s skin tone, not anyone in the whole wide world, whatever race they are. They don’t even make fake tan that colour. Someone must have picked them up and then thought better of buying them, abandoning them to a lonely fate far away from the other tights. Unwanted tights in a store where nobody cared.

I don’t know why, but I found myself picking up the tights and examining them, passing them from one hand to the other. Something inside me made me want to take them, even though I thought they were ugly and I knew they
wouldn’t fit, and I’d never wear them, even if they did, not in a million, trillion years.

I couldn’t see any security tags on them; they were almost begging to be stolen. I began to wonder what would happen if I took them. Would anyone notice? Would they care? Were there cameras in the store? Would an alarm sound as I went out? What would happen if I got caught? Would anybody understand that I really didn’t want the tights? Would they ask me why I’d stolen them? My heart started beating very fast, my face flushed. Those tights were going to be mine, I was going to take them, I had to have them.

I picked up two T-shirts from the top of the pile and headed back into the changing room, pulling the curtain tight shut. I looked around me. The changing room was just a box, with three walls, a curtain and a bench. Nobody could see in and there weren’t any cameras – they’re illegal in changing rooms, aren’t they? Then, breathing so fast I felt I might pass out, I opened up my bag and stuffed the box of tights deep inside. Taking in a gulp of air, I pushed my way out through the curtains, marched past the jewel-coloured vests, past the ignorant shop assistants and past the security barriers that framed the exit doors. As the doors parted for me, I held my breath and waited for a piercing siren, a hand on my shoulder, a shout … But
there was only the noise of the traffic. I was out on the street again, and the hideous tights, the tights I didn’t want but I had to possess, were mine.

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Chapter 1

The boy watched the girl from his bedroom window, just as he had done many times before. She was sitting on the wall outside her house, apparently waiting for something to happen, or for someone to arrive. If she’d glanced upwards for a moment, she might have noticed him, and then he would have waved, but she didn’t look up. Not once. She kept staring at the ground, as if she found her shoes fascinating. The boy supposed that she might have been following the progress of an ant or a worm along the cracks in the pavement. He screwed up his eyes and concentrated really hard, willing her to gaze up at him and smile. Then he imagined an invisible magnet attaching itself to the top of her head and gently pulling it towards him. But his powers of concentration could not have been strong enough, because her head did not move, not even a centimetre.

The boy’s name was Noah, like the guy in the Bible who herded all the animals into the ark, two by two, and ended up on top of a mountain, while all the world drowned beneath him. Noah liked that story. He found it easy to picture himself floating in a big, empty world, with only binary creatures for company. Perhaps he’d fit better there. He was tall and stringy and gangly, uncomfortable with the length of his arms and prone to bumping into things. It wasn’t his fault. He’d grown so quickly, his limbs expanding nightly like creeping vines, that he hadn’t yet worked out how to control his body’s new form. His eldest sister had rather unkindly nicknamed him Lurch, because he stooped, in the way that very tall people often do. She said it looked like his head was too heavy for him. ‘It must be all those brains,’ she teased, ‘they must weigh a ton. And that
ridiculous
hair,’ the dense, dark hair which covered his head like a carpet of soft bristles. ‘That hair,’ she said, ‘and those long eyelashes, they’re totally wasted on a boy.’ Then she ruffled his hair with her fingers in a big sisterly way, like she always did, and Noah squirmed, like he always did, although secretly he quite liked it.

Noah wondered if the girl had noticed how much he’d grown. She always used to be taller than him, by a good head and shoulders, even though they were the same age, but it was an awfully long time since they’d stood back to back to compare heights. He remembered how she used to cheat by standing on tiptoes to make
herself taller, and how he’d pretend he hadn’t noticed. Now, when he saw her from the window, or passed her in the street, she was always wearing heels, which amounted to the same thing.

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