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Authors: Suki Fleet

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BOOK: The Glass House
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I
UNPACKED
the haphazard sandwiches I’d made, and we ate them sitting together on the stones, watching the tide go out, the waves drifting slowly farther down the beach as though the sea were being sucked away by a great watery beast.

“Do you mind if I ask what happened with your mum?” Thomas asked tentatively.

I minded his question. But I wasn’t going to say that. Instead I pulled a face and chewed my lip.

Thomas’s hands were in his lap, so I had no chance of any accidental contact. And I really wanted some accidental, or perhaps not-so-accidental, contact right now.

“She went to Spain with her boyfriend,” I said with a sigh, relenting finally.

“And left you with your sister?”

“No. She just left me.”

“Oh…. In Brighton?” His eyes went wide, and I could see it dawning on him, all bright and expansive—why I hated Brighton, why I had to stay back a year in school. But he was wrong, so wrong. Because it had all gone wrong long before that. “What about your dad?”

The questions were too much. I was close to snapping. Thomas must have noticed my expression.

“Sorry…. I’m being nosy…. I just want to know about you.” I glanced sideways at him. He knew more about me than anyone. “I like you…. I mean….” He stopped and took a deep breath, his eyes searching mine. “I really like you… more than—”

“We should go,” I interrupted quickly, scrabbling up off the stones and packing our rubbish into the small backpack I’d brought before he could get any more words out. “It’s a Sunday, and the trains are only once an hour. We should really get back to the station.” I set off up the beach, walking quickly and not daring to turn around to check if he was following me.

 

 

T
HE
PLATFORM
was lifeless. We had missed the train by about five minutes. Feeling as though my body was full of wet sand, I slumped down onto the single iron bench set at the edge of the platform. Thomas kind of stood by the side of it, staring at the ground or at his feet, or at something I couldn’t see. I was trying not to pay too much attention. It wasn’t working. The awkwardness was unbearable.

Initially I was worried he was going to finish up the conversation I’d interrupted, but as time went on and he didn’t—he didn’t say a word—I began to wish he would just open his mouth and say anything.

I wanted to tell him again that I was a coward. Emotions and feelings were not something I felt comfortable talking about. I wanted to tell him I was sorry. I was messed up. I was not the sort of person he should like or have as a friend.

“You can sit down, you know.” I shifted up to make my point, even though there was plenty of room.

Across the tracks, not quite hidden by the overgrown grass, a rabbit was nibbling whatever it is rabbits nibble at. The trees brushed leaves in the breeze, the wind blew the sound of the town away, and it felt like a tiny train station in the middle of nowhere.

“Someone hurt you pretty bad once, didn’t they?” Thomas lifted his eyebrow as he glanced at me and chewed his lip.

The question caught me off guard. I looked down.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to answer. But don’t… I don’t know… don’t run. I won’t say anything else stupid, you don’t have to worry.” Thomas sounded resigned.

I’d wanted today to be good. The best. And I’d fucked up. And now I just wanted to be at home curled up in the dip in my bed.

“I won’t hurt you,” he added, saying the words so quietly I almost didn’t hear them.

But it didn’t matter even if I believed him, because I couldn’t give myself the same promise. I would always hurt myself more than anyone else ever could.

Chapter Five
Corinne….

 

 

F
OR
MOST
of the train journey, we didn’t speak. But for the last third, Thomas stretched his hand out across the seat next to mine so the tips of our pinkie fingers were touching. I felt as full of bubbles as a glass of champagne. Even though I knew it was stupid to feel that way. That his touch probably meant nothing, and even if it did mean something, it was just our fingers touching. I don’t know why it felt so good or why it made me feel so defiant to do that, sitting with Thomas on a near empty train.

As we got off at our stop, I shivered. The air was chillier than in Southend. I tried to walk Thomas home, but he wasn’t having it.

“You walked me home last time,” he said. “I want to walk you home.” He could be stubborn when he wanted to be.

Yeah, but I’m not the one with asthma
, I thought, rolling my eyes.

The estate was a half-hour walk from the train station. Thomas was a little out of breath by the time we reached my block.

“Do you want to—” I shrugged, feeling uncomfortable. “—come up or something?” If he walked home now, I’d have to follow him to make sure he was okay. And that was probably weird
and
pointless.

“Okay.”

For the first time in my life, I walked up those stairs willing Corinne not to be home. But of course she was. I could hear the TV from out in the corridor.

I glanced at Thomas apologetically. “My sister’s home.”

“You don’t get on?”

I could see why he might be confused.

“I mess up a lot. She thinks”—
and she’s probably right
—“that there’s something wrong with me.”

Thomas’s hand squeezed my arm. “There’s nothing wrong with you,” he said, frowning and shaking his head.

Brushing him off to hide how ridiculously sick I felt about him meeting Corinne and realizing that, yes, she was indeed right, I opened the front door.

I called out a cursory greeting and tried to drag Thomas past the sitting room and to my bedroom without Corinne noticing, but she was up off the sofa and in the hallway in a flash.

“Who the hell…?” She stopped and stared at Thomas. Her hair was sticking out at all angles, and she’d obviously got home from work and shoved on the most comfortable clothing she could find, which wasn’t altogether clean.

Being the friendly,
normal
person that Thomas was, he smiled at her and said, “Hello. I’m Thomas.” I’d pulled him so close to me, I could feel him hesitate before he held out his hand. I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable, but it pleased me that I could sense that he was. It was like being privy to a secret. I was still dumbfounded that he’d gotten over his shyness to ever talk to me at school. I was so fucking glad that he had, though.

The TV was on too loud. The sound made everything as close to sensory overload as it came. I stared into the living room, trying to focus on nothing. There was a half-drunk bottle of wine on the floor next to the sofa and an empty mug. Corinne got a store discount, which increased every day she worked. It was pretty pitiful, but it was the only bonus she got working at that crappy job. When she’d saved enough, she bought wine. I slumped. Sometimes she shouted louder when she’d had wine, or worse, she cried and tried to smother me in sorrys.

“Is it drugs? Are you here for drugs?” Her gazed flicked over us. “Because if it is,
leave now
. This is my flat, and I won’t hesitate to call the police.”

Thomas moved ever so slightly closer to me, and I wondered if Corinne could smell the sea air on our skin. Hear the half-spoken conversations our bodies seemed to be having whenever they were near each other. Because I could.

Thomas shook his head, not frowning, just nonplussed. “No.”

“How do you know Sasha?”

“From school. We have art together.” Thomas’s arm brushed against mine, but it was so brief I was sure he didn’t mean to.

“At school? The class you were suspended from?” Swiveling her head, she focused her gaze on me, her eyes sharp despite the wine.

Miserably I hung my head. Since I’d been here, I’d never brought one single person back. Corinne had told me plenty of times I could have friends round as long as they didn’t trash the place or break her stuff. There just hadn’t been anyone I’d wanted to invite back before, and I could feel the weight of all that loneliness like a rock on my back.

“We’re friends,” I mumbled.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Thomas nod, all happy and enthusiastic. He was so unlike me, and yet I liked that so much. Him. I liked
him
so much.

“Oh….” Corinne swallowed, looking contrite. “I’m sorry, Thomas, you must think I’m…. It’s just, well, I’ve been worried and I’ve never met one of Sasha’s friends before,” she babbled. “Would you like a drink, something to eat?”

“No. I’m fine, thank you.”

“We’re just going to my room.” I felt as though that was something a kid would say, but I wanted to be on my own with him.

“You can… I mean, I can go to my room and you can have the living room. There’s nowhere to sit in your room, Sasha.”

I know since I’d been here she’d never meant to be all hard on me—she was just frustrated and I was frustrating—but I could deal with it. I could shut down and deal. It was when she let her kindness shine through that I couldn’t take it. My chest grew tight, as though my ribs were squeezing me smaller and smaller until I’d almost be nonexistent.

“It’s okay. I like my room.”

I pulled Thomas’s sleeve. He followed me as though we were attached.

In my room I flicked the light switch. Once I’d closed and locked the door, I leaned against it. I felt exhausted, and I was sure Thomas wouldn’t want to be here any longer, but he sat down on my bed, giving it an experimental bounce and smiling as he looked around.

“You like Matisse, huh?”

Frowning, I wondered what he was looking at, then saw the leaflet I’d picked up about an exhibition of Matisse’s paper cuts.

“After I saw what your gran did, I was curious.” I shrugged.

“She wants to take me to this. We could both go… if you like?”

Again that hesitancy in his voice. My hands were splayed flat out against the smooth wood veneer of the door. Blood thumped in my ears.

“Why do you like me?”

Thomas stared at me for a moment, then dropped his head and said, “There are a lot of ways I could answer that.”

“Pick one.” I pushed myself away from the door and sat down on the bed next to him.

“I’m not sure you want to hear it.”

I sighed. He was right,
and
he was wrong about that. I knew I wasn’t being exactly fair, especially after I shot him down earlier by walking off at the beach.

“Are you… gay?” I mumbled.

Sometimes even when you know the answer to a question in your head, you need to hear it out loud. You need confirmation.

Thomas nodded. He looked fucking petrified I’d asked him, though.

I swallowed. “Do you want me to unlock the door?”

“So I can run away?” He wasn’t certain how to react to me, I knew. His eyes were beautiful. They took in the whole of me, and I was lost. “I don’t want to go,” he said.

We were silent for a moment, just looking at one another.

“You’re like no one I’ve ever met,” he added when I finally looked away.

“Weird and messed up.”

“I don’t think you’re weird or not normal or anything, Sasha.”

“You should.”

“I wouldn’t want you to be any other way than the way you are.”

I rolled my eyes and nudged his shoulder.

“Can we talk about something else?”
Something that isn’t me.

The sky grew dark beyond my curtainless window as we talked some more. We talked until it was late. There were painless subjects—art and artists we liked, the best sandwiches, and the possibility that we both found certain footballers attractive.

Thomas phoned his gran to pick him up so I wouldn’t have to walk him home and then walk back through the dodgy estate on my own this late. I pointed out I had walked around this dodgy estate on my own for months, but I was secretly lit up by his concern and pleased that he’d accepted that me walking him home was the way it was going to be.

Corinne smiled as we walked past the living room.

“I hope to see you again, Thomas.”

Thomas grinned. “I’m sure you will,” he said, and I gave him a gentle shove in the back for assuming
anything
, even if it was a complete and utter certainty.

We walked downstairs, and I waited with him at the corner of the block under the street light until his gran came by in her tiny car. She gave me a knowing smile as Thomas got in and, as always, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her. Thomas sat in the passenger seat. We watched one another until the car took him out of sight. My phone buzzed almost immediately.

Thanks for today :-)

I smiled, but I didn’t reply.

I trudged back up the stairs. Corinne was waiting for me in the doorway, her arms folded across her chest. My fear that she knew whatever was between Thomas and I was more nebulous than simple friendship filled my stomach. I was afraid of anyone finding out.

“He seemed nice.”

She looked at me hopefully, as though I was going to want to talk to her about him. Instead I brushed past, headed for the shower.

“You’ve never mentioned him before.”

I’d never mentioned anyone as far as I could recall.

“Sasha.” Her foot stopped the bathroom door from closing. “Please.”

“What?”

“I just want to talk to you.”

“What about?”

“Anything!”

If she hadn’t drunk the wine, she probably wouldn’t be doing this now.

“I’ll make you a cup of tea or coffee or there’s some wine left,” she pleaded, gesturing to the kitchen.

For a moment my body wouldn’t move.

I nodded once. “Okay.”

She followed me into the kitchen. The fluorescent tube light on the ceiling flickered and flickered.

“What’ll it be? Tea…? I don’t even know what you like to drink,” she carried on, looking pained when I didn’t answer.

“Water,” I murmured, sitting down on a plastic kitchen chair.

“Do you want something to eat…? You’re so thin, Sasha. Have you been eating?”

BOOK: The Glass House
6.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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