Authors: Kelly McKain
Abbie's life feels like one big rain cloud since her parents split up. Now she lives with her mum and sisters in a grotty flat. Only new friends, Ben, Summer, and gorgeous, guitar-playing Marco, offer Abbie a silver lining.
But then Abbie has a bright idea to turn her family's fortunes around. She's always loved making her own luscious beauty products. Could opening a new business â the Rainbow Beauty parlour â bring her family a pot of gold
heal their hearts too?
“So, like, where's the rest of it?”
Sapphire opened a door off the kitchen, looking for more rooms, or perhaps stairs to another floor, and found a cupboard with a high window instead. Inside was an ancient vacuum cleaner, which, judging by the state of the flat, hadn't been used for at least fifteen years.
“I know it's compactâ” Mum began, but Grace, who was peering round another doorway, cut in: “There are beds in the sitting room. How weird.”
“Well, we'll probably have to do without a lounge for now,” Mum muttered. “I thought you and Saff could have that roomâ”
My two older sisters stared at each other, then at Mum, in horror. “What â share?!” they both cried at once.
“But I can't have all her clothes and shoes and stuff in MY room! You know how messy she is!” (That was Grace.)
“I can't relax with her in MY room, wanting to study all the time. I can't creep around in silence, I need to express myself!” (Saff that time.)
“What about Abbie?” Grace said then. “It's not fair she's getting her own room â I'm the one with GCSEs next year!”
I looked at Mum. “Yeah, what
me?” I asked. I didn't think I'd seen a third bedroom, and it would have been hard to miss in a place this small.
Mum gave me a strained smile. “Well, I thought
Not joking, my mouth actually dropped open. “No way!” I gasped. “I'm fourteen, not four! I can't share a room with my MUM! I'd rather sleep in that cupboard!”
“Okay, I'll go in with Saff,” Grace said quickly.
“No way!” Saff cried. “I'd rather have Abbie.”
My gaze skipped across all three of them, trying to work out who would be the least hideous option. But I couldn't think straight. Grace and Saff were shouting at each other by then, and at Mum, and she was shouting back, telling them to calm downâ¦and then I saw it. It just ran across the hall in front of me. “RAT!” I screeched.
We all absolutely screamed our heads off, and jumped up on the peeling plastic chairs.
“Oh my gosh, where's it gone?” Mum shrieked.
“It ran down the hall!” I cried.
“Someone get a broom!” yelled Saff.
“I am NOT leaving this chair!” Mum squealed.
“Don't be ridiculous, it's only a rat,” Grace snapped. “Behaving like this is what gives women a bad name.”
Just then there was a flash of fur and tail as the rat ran back across the doorway. We all screamed again, and Grace clambered onto the wobbly sticky-topped kitchen table. Thenâ¦
“Dad! Help!” I yelled.
Honestly, it just came flying out of my mouth on its own. We were all plunged into shocked silence. You could feel the pain, buzzing and pulsing between us like electricity. Snapping and sparking and sizzling. I glanced quickly at Mum, hoping I hadn't made her cry. But she just looked ragged and defeated and numb, which was worse somehow.
I suppose I should say what happened, why Dad's
here. I mean, even though I don't really want to talk about it. Okay, so, deep breathâ¦
Mum and Dad have split up. Dad had an affair, Mum found out, and our whole world just seemed to explode. He ended it straight away, but that didn't seem to make things any better. At first they tried to talk about it â in fact we
did once, sitting down together round our big chunky kitchen table (Mum's idea). Yes, it
the most embarrassing half hour of my life, in case you're wondering. But the talking didn't work â instead it always seemed to turn into shouting, then crying, then door-slamming and silence.
And then we woke up that morning three weeks ago to find Dad gone. Well, I did. Grace and Saff were still in bed. So was Mum, I saw, as I crept across her and Dad's room to nab some of her re-shine hair serum. As soon as I walked into their en suite, I knew something was wrong, although it took me a while to work out what.
7.30 a.m. It should have still smelled of shaving soap, but the shaving soap wasn't even
, or the razor, or the strip of disposable contact lenses and the pair of cufflinks that sat beside them. I felt a sudden knot in my stomach. I sneaked out again and tiptoed down the stairs, my heart pounding.
Dad should have been making fresh coffee from the built-in Italian machine, grinding beans and frothing milk in the special little jug. But there was no coffee smell. No hiss and bubble of the milk steamer. No Dad.
I'd stared at our kitchen table, the place where we'd had so many fun Friday takeaway nights and lazed about on Sunday mornings, peeling vegetables or painting our nails. There was always chatter, with everyone coming and going, sitting down for a quick cuppa and a flick through a mag, or spreading out homework for long afternoons. That table had been covered with birthday cakes and Christmas turkeys, and sometimes late-night tears and hot chocolate, when Sapphire's latest crush had turned into yet another disaster, or when Grace had got less than top marks on some test or other.
Now it was empty, except for a note in Dad's scribbly handwriting, on the back of an envelope. One word.
“Sorry,” I murmured then, looking anxiously at Mum again. That seemed to bring us all out of our trance.
Her eyes filled with tears as she leaned across and hugged me. “There is
for you to be sorry about,” she said, her voice going as wobbly as the chair I was standing on.
“I'll make some tea,” Grace mumbled, as we climbed down.
Just then, a knock at the door made us all jump. We were on the first floor, the only flat up this stairway, and the shop unit below was empty. “That'll be the landlord,” said Mum. “Mr. Vulmer.”
“Perfect timing,” Saff said haughtily. “Now you can tell him it's all been a horrible mistake and that we're leaving â pronto.”
“Shush!” Mum hissed.
We stood in the kitchen doorway and had a quick row over who was going to walk past the “rat bit” to get to the front door, and finally Mum went, springing across the carpet on tiptoes to touch it as little as possible, even though she had her shoes on.
She smoothed down her hair and adjusted her jumper and skirt before opening the door, as she always did. There stood Mr. Vulmer, wheezing from the effort of climbing one flight of stairs, his huge belly spilling out from under a polyester top that released this horrible smell of sweat, stale bacon fat and cigarettes. I actually had to stop myself from wrinkling up my nose, and I tried to smile politely as he waddled past us into the kitchen. We all looked at Mum, waiting for her to break the news that we were leaving.
But instead she started chatting on pretend-brightly about how convenient it was to be near the shops (we were right above a parade of them â not that I'd call the wool shop, chippy and laundrette I'd seen exactly
). Then she offered him a cup of tea. But he just snorted, like something was funny. “No thanks, Mrs. Green,” he wheezed. “I'm not the welcoming committee. I've just come for my money. A month's rent and the same as a deposit, as we agreed on the phone.”
Mum turned around, kettle in hand, looking astonished. “What â now?” she stuttered.
Mr. Vulmer frowned. “Yeah. You're here, aren't you?”
“Yes, but, wellâ¦I hadn't realized. I thoughtâ¦there are still contracts to be signed, and I was going to organize the direct debit tomorrow, when the bank's open, andâ¦” She pulled herself up, looked him in the eye and added bravely, “Also, there are a few things we're not happy with. We've just seen a
. And the mattresses are in a terrible state. We'll need these things remedied before I'm willing to pay the full amount.”
Mr. Vulmer let out a wheezy laugh, which ended in a minor choking fit. “You're not from round here, are you, love?” he spluttered. “I don't
Mum looked helpless, but Saff had had enough by then. “It's irrelevant, because we're not staying in this dive anyway,” she said snottily.
Mr. Vulmer wasn't laughing then.
“She just means that unfortunately there's been a mistake,” said Grace, cutting in quickly to smooth things over. “Regrettably, this flat isn't suitable for our needs. Tomorrow morning we'll go straight into town and find something moreâ¦
Saff looked horrified. “Tomorrow morning?” she squealed. “You're having a laugh! I'm not staying one second longer!” She turned to Mr. Vulmer and flicked her long chestnut hair imperiously. “We'll book into that spa hotel I saw on the edge of town for tonight. If you could just help us with our suitcasesâ”
Mr. Vulmer stared at her, his eyes bulging slightly. We all held our breath â we didn't know if he was going to do his wheezy laugh again or shout in her face. It was the laugh luckily â he probably didn't have enough breath for shouting. But his voice had a nasty edge all the same. “Well, I'm sorry the accommodation isn't up to Madame's standards. Fine, go then â I'm well shot of you. But be warned â if you're still here tomorrow, I'll want at least a week's rent on the spot, otherwise you'll be out on the street.”
He lurched back up the hallway, squeezing past our stacked pile of stuff, and opened the door. He lumbered through, turned and said, “Oh and there's a box of rat poison under the sink. That usually does the trick.” Then he slammed the door behind him.
“Urgh!” cried Saff, shuddering dramatically. “What a horrible man! Anyway, let's get going. I think that nice hotel was called the Royal Devon or something. I'll ring for a cab to take us there.” She pulled out her slim pink mobile and stabbed in 118 118 with a perfectly-manicured purple fingernail.
“There's no money,” Mum mumbled.
“That's okay,” said Grace, “I can pay for the taxi with my last bit of cash and then what money do we need? Everything else can go on your Amex.”
“Too right â let Dad pick up the tab,” Saff grumbled. Then she frowned at her phone. “Hey, that's weird, I'm not getting through â there's just this
.” She held it up to the ceiling and waved it around. “Typical if there's no signal in this hellhole.”
“Abs, if it's a spa hotel it's bound to have a pool, so when we get there we can go for a swim if you like,” said Grace. “I forgot my cozzie but these sort of places always have a little shop. We can get new ones.”
That cheered me up a lot. I love swimming. It's one of the things Mum promised we'd be able to do more of if we came down here.
The move had only been decided after school the day before. Mum had said it would just be for a few weeks, a couple of months at the most, to get some country air and clear our heads. Saff had finished her GCSEs a couple of weeks earlier and there was only a month of the summer term left for me and Grace. Mum doesn't usually let us have a day off unless we're on death's doorstep, but she said she'd found this fab summer school down here that we could go to for a few weeks, with art and cookery and crafts for me, and a top maths tutor for Grace. And amazing grounds with a swimming pool. She'd made it sound like just the change of scene we needed.
We hadn't had time to say goodbye to our friends â I'd texted Em and Zo on the way down, letting them know I wouldn't be back till September, and inviting them to stay sometime. But no way was I bringing them
. Mum had come down to Devon on a yoga retreat last year, and she'd made Totnes sound like an amazing, magical place. Well, there was nothing amazing or magical about it so far.
Suddenly I felt really uneasy. “What are we doing here, Mum?” I asked. “In this flat, I mean. It
just a mistake, isn't it?”
Mum sighed. Then she said, “I'm so sorry, girls, it's not a mistake. There's
money. As in, no Amex. No credit cards at all. And Saff, it's not the signal. Your phone's been cut off.”
“WHAT?! How DARE he do this to us!” Saff shrieked, obviously meaning Dad. “How could he be so spiteful? He's the one in the wrong!” She glared at Mum. “Right, well done for trying to be independent and everything, but I'm taking charge here â someone's got to. I'm ringing Dad this minute to come and take us home â it's his duty, this is his mess after all. And it's totally out of order that he's cut off our money. I'm not having it, I'm just not.”
Grace tutted loudly. “I'm not going anywhere with
. The money situation will have to be sorted out â it's his duty to support us. And he can at least pay our deposit for another flat until things are sorted out officially. I suppose we'll have to camp out here tonight after all and then get down to the letting agents' first thing in the morning.”
“With no job?” Mum asked wearily. “With no references and no income? No one will even consider renting me anywhere. I had to go with this place, it was our only choice. And I haven't even got the money for
. I didn't realize he'd want it up front.”