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Authors: Suki Fleet

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BOOK: The Glass House
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Thomas, however, hadn’t found his place in the hierarchy of things and didn’t know when to shut up.

“Why’d you eat so much when you know it’s just going to make you fat?” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.

The realization I’d hit a nerve was akin to receiving an electric shock.

Thomas stared at me for a second, a hurt expression on his face, and then he looked away, his shoulders sagging.

The irony was he wasn’t actually fat. He just had a round face. If he worked out a bit, the muscle he would gain would suit him. Being skinny like me wouldn’t.

Huffing out a breath, I lay down and closed my eyes, trying not to notice when Thomas left. I’d found my place in the hierarchy of things a long time ago.



around a bit after the farce of sports day was over. Everyone disappeared quicker than daylight, and I let the weird little part of my brain consider following Luke Jones home just to see where he lived. But a Mercedes 500 picked him up outside the school gates, and I made two circuits of the estate looking for pieces of yellow glass instead.

Until I remembered I wouldn’t be needing any more yellow glass.

I never liked being home much before six in the evening. Two hours stuck in that grim top-floor flat before Corinne got home at around eight was more than enough. Any longer and I might have found myself giving into the dark whisper of the balcony.

For someone who couldn’t stand heights or enclosed spaces like lifts, the thirty-second floor of a tower block was just about perfect. Perfectly ironic, anyway. Not that I had much choice of where to live. It was either there, or it was nowhere. Dad had left long ago, and now that Mum had fucked off too, Corinne was the only family I had left.

Four hundred and fifteen concrete steps and not a single other soul all the way up. I could have sworn everyone else in this block lived on the first two floors.

I opened the door to the flat and reached in to turn on the hall light, waiting until the damp electrics stopped flickering, before I stepped inside to be greeted by the cold moldy smell that was becoming all too familiar. I’d worked out that the greenish carpet covering the kitchen floor stank the worst, although my room was probably the dampest overall. It faced out to the northeast, and the noise of the wind buffeting the building kept me awake some nights.

Even though I promised myself I wouldn’t, I plugged in the power-dead laptop in the living room. I left it loading up while I went to make a sandwich. Corinne was on some new wonder diet, so all we had in the fridge was reduced fat cottage cheese and cucumbers. I yanked open the freezer drawer instead and put a box of frozen chips in the microwave. They always ended up soggy cooked like that, but on the plus side, they only took three minutes.

When the laptop was loaded, I sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of the small coffee table and signed into Tumblr. The machine whirred away unhappily. Every screen took a minute to pull up. Mindlessly I put chip after chip into my mouth, chewing and swallowing without really tasting them. I could hear this weird high-pitched whine. I wasn’t sure if it was just in my head.

Jessica Cassidy. She updated her page a lot. Mine was empty. No photographs, no messages. The only links on my page were to the usernames of half a dozen people I’d added before I got bored with the whole pointless exercise in popularity.

I found a link to all her art projects and clicked on it. Two seconds later I slammed the laptop shut. The whine in my head was like nails scraped across a blackboard. My chest felt squeezed tight. At least Jeff Deal hadn’t plastered me cock and balls all over the fucking Internet. Even if I couldn’t bear to think about the pictures he had taken, I didn’t have to see them!

I got up, spit the food out of my mouth, and then put everything left on my plate in the bin before locking myself in the bathroom, where I brushed my teeth so fiercely my gums started to bleed. I sank down behind the bathroom door, my hands over my ears, waiting for the noise in my head to pass.

Sometime later my phone rang. I’d left it next to the laptop. I ran my hands quickly over my face and got up off the bathroom floor. It was nearly seven o’clock.

The caller ID was unknown. I stared at it for a few seconds and then answered it. I didn’t know why. I think I just needed to hear another human voice.

“Hey.” It was Thomas.

I frowned. I didn’t remember giving him my number. Briefly I wondered how he got it.

“I was, um….” He paused and then spoke really fast, like a kid drowning in a room full of helium. “Thinking about your art exam, and I mentioned it to someone and they said you can still enter independently—you don’t need to do it through the school. You just need to have all your coursework and stuff.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“I just thought you might want to know as you worked so hard on your sculpture, and art is, like, your thing and all….” He trailed off. I could hear him breathing, heavy and tired-like.

“Thanks,” I said before the silence grew too large to fill with words.

I was strangely touched, but it sort of hurt too that someone had thought about me, making it hard to speak. He must have heard it in my voice or sensed it somehow through the phone signal translating itself around us.

“Is everything okay?” he asked.

I could imagine him frowning at his feet in that way that he did when he was thinking hard about something. I couldn’t remember anyone ever showing this much concern about me before.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t…?” I croaked, unable to finish.

“I mean, I know I would feel pretty bad if… if it was me. Do… do you want to come over?” His voice wavered even more than mine just had.

“Okay,” I answered, wincing, hardly able to believe I’d just agreed to that.

I did not go over to people’s houses.

I didn’t have friends whose houses I could go over to. I wasn’t a friendly person. That required feelings, caring…
. Thomas must be even more of a masochist than I first thought.

But I needed to get out of the flat for a while.

With quick enthusiasm he reeled off his address and directions on how to get there.

I grabbed my bag and headed out the door.



a nice neighborhood—all the houses were semidetached with a patch of bright mown grass at the front, as though each house was wearing a neat green uniform. I stood in the garden awhile before I rang the doorbell, no longer sure what I was doing there.

When I heard Thomas tumble down the stairs, I couldn’t help the anxiety that crept up on me, like a shadow stalking me across the grass. My hand closed round the smooth bits of glass I carried in my pocket, the pieces I couldn’t bring myself to use, warming them with my touch. I could see the color of each piece in my mind without having to look.

“Come in,” Thomas said, smiling and a little breathless as he swung the door wide.

Thomas lived with his gran. His mum and dad worked for Médicins Sans Frontières and were away for months at a time. He’d told me this at school. Maybe he saw a reflection of his loneliness in me. I don’t know. Why else would he try to be my friend?

He seemed more nervous than usual as he took me through to the kitchen. He had this annoying shaking thing going on with his hands that made me want to grab them and squeeze them until he stopped.

“Gran, this is Sasha,” he said to the dark-haired woman who sat at the table doing something interesting with an X-Acto knife and a large sheet of black paper. She didn’t appear old enough to be anyone’s gran.

She looked up, directly at me, her blue eyes narrowed and piercing in her unwrinkled face. “Thomas says you are an amazing glass sculptor.”

Um, should I nod?
I wondered. But she didn’t give me a chance to respond anyway.

“I prefer paper—more forgiving.”

She smiled, quick and brilliant, and went back to cutting.

Thomas definitely had a weirder family than I’d given him credit for.

The house was a lot more interesting than the outside of it had suggested. For one it was full of art—mostly these slightly deranged sculptures of headless figures made of melted vinyl records. I liked them a lot. Glancing at Thomas to make sure it wasn’t a huge no-no, I picked one up—a horse. It had ears but no face.

“Made that when I was thirteen.” Thomas shrugged, glowing with a strange sort of self-conscious pride.

I opened my mouth to say something incredulous, because I didn’t believe him—these sculptures were amazing, and if he was doing these at thirteen, the stuff he would be doing now at fifteen must be fucking awesome. But then it occurred to me I had no idea about Thomas’s art, what he did in class with me at school, because he was the one who always came over to talk to me, not the other way around, so I closed my mouth again.

I peered at the lurid record label on the horse’s belly.

“The Bee Gees?” I said with raised eyebrows, unable to squeeze out anything nice about the sculpture even though I was impressed.

“Car boot sales, most of them. Loads of sixties ones, and I’ve got some really obscure rave ones in beautiful colors upstairs,” he replied, unfazed.

“Do you listen to them?”

“Of course.” Thomas looked at me and frowned. The expression made three deep lines appear on his forehead, and I had the strangest desire to run my finger along them. “That’s how I got the idea of what each one wanted to be. I listened, and I visualized the record spinning in space, changing shape.”

“You’re not serious.” I almost snorted. I knew I was being rude.

Thomas regarded me uncertainly. “You make huge abstract glass sculptures—how do you come up with your ideas?”

“I don’t. I just….” What
I do? I had no idea how my sculptures came into being, where my ideas came from.

Now it was my turn to frown. When I was working on a sculpture, I was aware of nothing else. I was in this space where I hardly even existed. It was as close to happiness or peace as I ever came.

I put the horse down, and Thomas took me upstairs. He showed me his gran’s studio. The room was tiny, full of hundreds of very small, amazingly delicate and intricately cut out white paper shapes hanging from the ceiling on invisible threads. They were like beautiful suspended snow or fragments of an explosion caught and time stopped.

I looked around for a bit, transfixed by the miniscule detail of each piece.

“It’s her hobby,” Thomas said. “I keep telling her she should do an art show. She has loads of art friends, but I think she’s too scared.” He smiled, and I figured he really cared about his gran.

Thomas’s room was in the attic. His bed was in the corner under the eaves. There was a dip in the mattress, a groove he had made over the years. The mattress in my room was the same. Weirdly this comforted me.

“Do you want a drink of anything?” he asked, gesturing that I sit down somewhere.

I looked between the chair covered in clothes and the beanbag on the floor next to a pile of records. I chose the beanbag.

“No,” I answered, picking up a few records and flicking through them.

Thomas had a record player on the floor next to his bed. I didn’t ask his permission—I just reached over and put on the record I had in my hand.

“So what’s this one going to be?” I said as the initial notes of “Dream Weaver” blasted through the stereo.

Thomas frowned again, unhappily this time, and turned the record off.

“They’re my dad’s.”

I shrugged. “You don’t want to know if this one wants to be a dragon or a gorgon?” I knew I was pushing us into the realm of awkward with my question, but I couldn’t seem to stop. I didn’t even know why I was doing it.

I got like this sometimes. It was one of the reasons I avoided making friends.

Thomas looked uncomfortable. I wasn’t so insensitive I couldn’t see he missed his dad. But so what? At least he had a dad to miss. Mine was so long gone I knew he was never coming back.

“I haven’t done any vinyl sculptures for a while. It’s something I did with my dad.”

“So what
your art project for your exam, then?” I said without thinking as I leafed through the record pile.

I probably shouldn’t have let my ignorance about Thomas’s art show. All it would have taken would be for me to look around in class once in a while.

When I glanced up, I could see he was hurt. I felt a brief flash of twisted victory—I hurt everyone, and once again I’d proved myself right.

“If I didn’t come and talk to you at school, you wouldn’t even notice me, would you?” he said in a hollow voice.

Should I be honest? Sometimes people said things like that when the last thing they wanted was for you to be honest. But honesty had a brutal kind of charm that I liked, even though I could feel the edge of this conversation biting into me with the sharpness of a shard of glass.

“I don’t notice anyone,” I said.

“You noticed Jessica Cassidy.”

“She pestered me to model for her,” I replied tiredly. Just like Jeff Deal had. It was like I was stuck in some sickly repeating loop.

“If I asked you to model for me, would you?”

He had this confrontational thing going on with his tone. I didn’t much like it.

We were clashing big-time.

“Depends.” Though it didn’t really—if he asked me, I would say no. I didn’t know why.

“Model for me.” Even as he said it, his voice waivered, and I knew he was going to storm out before he did it.

“Only if you sculpt me out of vinyl.”

His bedroom door slammed shut, and I heard him descend the stairs.

I laughed even though nothing was funny.

There was something wrong with me.

Miserably I got up off the beanbag, I didn’t want to be in this room anymore. The whole house was permeated with bad feeling now. This whole day.

I left a piece of the glass from my pocket on Thomas’s desk, then crept silently downstairs and slipped out the front door before anyone saw me.

BOOK: The Glass House
9.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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