Chapter 4: Aftershocks
Moments later I fell back into my body, heart thudding. My eyes snapped open. Gasping, I stared into darkness until I got myself together, then glanced at the clock. Uh? I blinked a couple of times. The green numbers blinked back, repeating 03:45, then changed to 03:46. Whoa. I thought I’d just dozed into one of those mad, vivid, half-thought, half-dreams for a minute, not slept solidly for four hours! Apart from this summer when I’d been crying into my pillow over Fi, quarter to four wasn’t a time I usually saw except on Christmas morning. (Unless I had to stumble into the MHOF for a semi-conscious cocoa pee, I slept almost from switching my lamp off at eleven to the radio alarm waking me at seven, and still didn’t want to get up when the news came on at half-past). But on this ordinary Day 2 Wednesday, I was an over-excited little kid again, wide awake and itching to play with my presents – because last night I’d had the most amazing dream ever!
I clicked on the lamp, scrabbled for my diary and pen, flicked back to the empty week after Fi left when I’d been too depressed to write anything, and started scribbling furiously before it faded and I forgot the details. Wow. Brilliant. I could really use this! Then my tum gave a great gurgly heave, and my bottom let out a nasty smell. Oops – I could also really use the loo. Glad of my new slipper-socks, I pulled them over my leggings like woolly boots, and put my dressing gown over Cecile because the heating wouldn’t kick in for ages yet and the bathroom would be freezing, then tiptoed out, (although judging by the snores, I could’ve tap-danced past Mum and Dad’s room banging a drum and they wouldn’t have woken).
I did a much bigger business than usual – all that fruit and veg yesterday – which gave me an idea. Last time I weighed myself, I’d been so horrified I’d avoided the scales ever since, but after dumping that load, I thought I could face them. So I quickly stripped, surprised to see I’d added a big red rose of my own to my new paddy-pants because it hadn’t hurt a bit, Mamalou’s tea must’ve worked. Then I took a deep breath and stepped carefully aboard, covered in goosebumps and trying not to shiver, because the scales were as old as the house, Mum and Dad found them in the bathroom cupboard and never got round to replacing them. They were marked in pounds and stones, with two black rubbery footprints to stand on, and not very accurate – if you got on too fast, or jiggled at all, the dial bounced and you could gain four pounds in a second. Weirdly, it never went the other way. So when I finally dared look, I gasped. Oh, my God! That couldn’t possibly- I got off, checked they were properly flat on the floor and tried again, even more carefully. Oh, my God. Oh. My. God. Not four pounds, just three. I’d lost three pounds. I’d lost three pounds. I’D LOST THREE POUNDS!!! That was what, about a kilo and a half? Wow! Awesome! True, my hair must’ve weighed something, and I’d just flushed at least a pound down the loo; but surely some of those ounces must be fat, lost without me noticing, melted away as if by magic-
Oh, my God. Blood-magic. It was working! I scrambled back into my clothes, (luckily still warm), feeling weak-kneed and slightly stunned but even happier and more excited now. No way was I going back to sleep! I just wanted to get on with things, so I crept downstairs and brewed a cup of Woman and changed my pad for a plain pink one from my period bag, and put the rosy one to soak in cold water like Mum did with my school shirt when I had a nosebleed down it, and took my tea and school bag upstairs and snuggled back into bed with Thomas Hardy. I liked the book, a battered old Penguin classic with a lovely painting on the front of sheep in snow, no mysterious modern art there. I read all the introductory bits we hadn’t had time for in class, and looked at the map, and read the first chapter again stopping to look up everything I didn’t understand in the notes at the end. Then I went straight on to Chapter 2, which was about the countryside and lambing and calving and not very long, so I read its notes too. Then I answered our homework questions and said Miss Everdene and Farmer Oak wouldn’t make a good couple because she was too full of herself to appreciate an ordinary, decent working man like him, but she was brave and confident as well as pretty, so she’d probably be OK if she grew up a bit. I thought I was being very fair because Bathsheba sounded just like the sort of Year 12 bitch I couldn’t stand, and I was itching to find out whether nasty things were going to happen to her but that’d take ages of reading… maybe I could watch the film this weekend! Mamalou might have it, being a fan. If not I’d ask Mum to get it for us, she likes a costume drama.
Next, I got stuck into Shakespeare. The line ‘I saw young Harry with his beaver on’ made me laugh because I imagined a big fat brown one sitting on his head. Then I remembered Raven pronouncing it ‘bevva,’ and looked out the drawing of a knight in armour in Baldy’s glossary with all the pieces labelled and saw straight away that estriches weren’t a type of partridge, they were ostriches, because of the feathers on his helmet. Then I had to smile at ‘Bevor or beaver, from the French ‘bavoir,’ a bib,’ because it was worn under his chin to protect his jaw, where it’d catch the spit too if he dribbled. Or bled. And then I could imagine Prince Hal properly, with his face (a bit like Josh Brown’s) cupped in shiny steel, armour on his legs, and a page standing by holding his helmet with the three Prince of Wales plumes on top, and when I read the line again as ‘bevor’ I rushed all over with goosebumps and got a lump in my throat. I had to learn this speech! Then I’d be able to say it to myself whenever I wanted, like Raven. Hmm. Maybe… maybe I could even play the character who says it, (although it might give Baldy a heart attack if I asked for a speaking part). Maybe it’d feel so good saying those words to an audience I wouldn’t even blush.
Meanwhile it was easy to write up my answers because I already knew what I wanted to say. I thought RelStuds would be easy too because the minute Deefor gave us our homework I’d decided to do St Luke’s Nativity. I know it by heart, Nana and my Grandpop I hardly remember gave me a cartoon version for my third Christmas and it turned into an all-time favourite bedtime story, especially in December. I’d also read the whole thing lots of times in my godparents’ christening present, a little white leather-bound St James Bible. But then I remembered what I’d been thinking about last night, about Raven and Mamalou trying so hard to be normal, and how I wouldn’t want to be a famous rock star or a queen or a world leader for a gazillion pounds, and I knew for certain the Devil could never tempt me like that. So I did St Luke’s Temptation instead – it felt more personal and I could totally get where Jesus was coming from. Not that I was being religious or spiritual, I just wouldn’t want all the hassle and stress. (I thought Mamalou probably was though, giving stuff away and trying to make herself less rich so she’d be able to squeeze through the eye of a needle into Heaven, or however that bit goes).
It wasn’t worth doing any more for history until after the weekend when I’d gone through the rest of the Gardiners’ stuff and talked to Mr Granger. That only left French, which Mamalou had checked for me, but I quickly went through again just in case. Parfait. Then I put everything neatly in my folders to show Mum, and was about to tell myself, ‘Très bien, Eloise,’ when I clapped a hand over my mouth. My third wish! Had it been granted? I felt my heart speed up as I thought about all the ways the Joob had tried teaching me, and how hard I’d tried, and Mamalou saying I shouldn’t try too hard. Then I put my tongue softly behind my front teeth, and somehow instead of blowing a raspberry or whistling through my braces, I got it to vibrate and make a sort of droning sound. Oh, my God. I tried again. And again. No fluke. It wasn’t exactly right, but it was coming from the right place, and a lot better than I’d ever managed before. I tried a ‘trrr.’ Whoa. Then I tried the whole thing.
‘Très bien, Eloise. Trrrès bien. Trrrrrrrrès bien!’ I danced around, punching the air. ‘Drrrr. Trrrr. Grrreat! Brrriliiant! In-crrredible!’
Flopping down on my stool, (creamy-white antique-effect with spindly legs, decorated with leafy garlands which used to be gold but now it’s mostly worn off), I grinned a huge metal grin into the mirror on the matching dressing-table. The original owners had left them behind too in their original place in front of the window, which gives a good light for squeezing spots but looks ugly from the back garden, as Dad always moans. I rolled some more Rs at my reflection, blew myself a raspberry to celebrate, then stuck out my clever tongue and waggled it – and next thing I knew, it was curling at the edges and rolling itself into a little pink tube.
Whoa! What the-? Impossible! You either could or you couldn’t, it was genetics, like my boring hair and eyes – I wasn’t going to wake up one morning and find myself a green-eyed blonde like Mum. Then I remembered I had had fair, wavy hair as a baby, it didn’t go mouse until primary school. So I must’ve been a tongue-roller all along – like I could’ve rolled my Rs all along, obviously. I just didn’t have the knack… but now blood-magic had helped me find it.
Whoa. Wow. ‘Thank you, Lady,’ I whispered, covered in goosebumps again and feeling more than a little freaked out, to be perfectly honest. I took a deep breath. Come on, Ellie, I told myself. Chill. Think about it. I’d lost three pounds, big deal. Yesterday I’d had no breakfast, half a lunch, only veggies and fruit for dinner, and no sweets except a single candied chestnut. And I’d done all that sweating and running around instead of sitting with Fi drinking milk and eating chocolate HobNobs. And maybe I’d just been bloaty, not fat as such, because I’d had a period coming, (Mum can gain five pounds in her PMT week if she drinks caffeine and eats too much white stuff), and now it was going away. And I hadn’t weighed myself in ages. Maybe I hadn’t been as heavy as I thought. Whatever, it wasn’t that weird. Neither was finally cracking my French Rs. It was about time, God knows I’d practised enough. Maybe the Lady had helped, maybe she hadn’t. Maybe Raven had tricked me into it, like she’d got me to run down Maidenhowe… I could tell she loved mind-games, playing with words, making people do what she wanted, like she’d made Mum agree to let me visit pretty much whenever… and so what? It was OK, wasn’t it? More than OK. Maybe this is how all wishes get granted – you decide what you want, then start making it happen. Or maybe I’d done it for myself, decided without realising – new term, new friend, new start, get a grip, Ellie… grow up.
And now here I was, tra-la! Three pounds lighter, split ends gone, properly menstruating- oh, my God. My reflection goldfished at me. Oh, come on, I thought. Don’t be silly. The Lady’s not sucking it out of you, it’s just coincidence- but the same thing had happened to Raven! She told me so, last time she wished! I gulped. Blood Magic. Virgin blood magic. Oh, my God. What had she got me into? What had I done?
Taking a deep breath, I looked myself straight in the eye. ‘My homework. That’s what I’ve done,’ I said firmly. ‘All of it – and some. Really well. And it’s still only half six- oh, my God! But I’ve not charged my phone yet! Fi must be going frantic.’
I dug it out of my bag, hurried down to the kitchen, and plugged it into the charger we keep on the fridge. Then I had an idea. Mum and Dad’s daily argument starts at quarter to seven when their alarm goes off and neither wants to get up and make breakfast. (Dad usually loses, I hear him stumping downstairs around five past and rattling back up with the tray ten minutes later). But today I was already up, wide awake and starving hungry after studying for hours, so I put the kettle on and made their single-pot-a-day-indulgence fresh coffee, and Mum’s sugar-free wholegrain muesli with skimmed milk (she’s on a permanent diet, trying not to go bloaty) while Dad’s toast was toasting, (to be slathered with peanut butter and strawberry jam, he never diets if he can help it), and put it all on their bed-tray with two glasses of OJ and the milk jug.
The alarm had just started beeping when I elbowed their door open and took it in. ‘Hi, folks. Happy Wednesday! Wake up and smell the coffee.’
‘Uh? Good God.’ Dad nudged Mum. ‘Pinch me, love. I’m dreaming that Eloise has just brought us breakfast in bed.’
‘What?’ Mum untangled herself from the duvet. ‘Really? Well, what a lovely surprise! Thanks, darling. What’s the occasion?’
I unfolded the tray legs and set it carefully between them. ‘Nothing, I just woke up early. I think it was all the excitement. And I felt like finishing my homework, so I did- oh, and listen to this! Drrrrr. Trrrrr. Trrrès bien. I’ve finally sussed my French Rs, more or less.’
‘Bravo! Well done, love,’ said Dad. ‘They’d been a thorn in your side since Year 7, hadn’t they?’
‘Yeah. Maybe it was spending so much time talking French to French people last night that did it,’ I said, trying to convince myself. ‘Anyway, enjoy. I’m off to get my own now.’
Dad’s toast smelt so good I decided to have some instead of my last two chocolate Pop-Tarts; and remembering what Raven had said, I read the ingredients on the packet while two thick wholemeal slices toasted just long enough to be toast but still squishy in the middle. And the calorie content. Hmm. Then I hid them under some other rubbish in the bin so Mum wouldn’t tell me off for waste and recycled the box. I’d tell her not to bother buying any more, I guess I could live without them. Because what I really fancied was something not sweet- Marmite? Peanut butter? Can’t decide. One of each, then. Mm-mm. I sat in silence for once, happily munching, washing the toast down with honeyed Woman, and thinking about my day. Day 2. Double Geography first, which I liked, then double Games, which I hated; my least favourite subject next to Maths, and always timetabled to end with a break, lunch or home-time to give us longer to shower afterwards. Which I also hated, obviously – but today I had the period excuse, so I’d be let off with a wash in the sink. Brilliant. Must remember my sports bag, currently stuffed at the back of the wardrobe, like it had been since Mum washed and packed my kit away at the end of summer term.
Suddenly remembering Fi, (who was better at Games than me, but hated it just as much), I switched my phone on and fidgeted until it came alive and started pinging with texts and missed calls from Mum, and- one text from her? Soz El mad busy OK tho hope U R 2 C U Sun Fi xoxox. Huh. Still, I couldn’t moan, I hadn’t texted her either. I replied, Same here! C U then. El xoxox. Then I looked on her social media. Not many words (typical Fi) but loads of pictures. An ice-hockey team, big fit lads in red-and-white kit standing or kneeling on the ice with their helmets tucked under their arms. Jamie buried in one of their shirts, grinning through the bars of an outsize helmet and waving an ice-hockey stick. Fi in a red-and-white blouson, flirty red skirt and black leggings, flat on her bum on the ice, head thrown back, howling with laughter (or cold). Jamie pelting round speed-skating, (he was always a whizz on his roller skates and skateboard, so I suppose ice-skating’s not much different). Fi being towed between Jamie and one of the team, pony-tail streaming behind, eyes and mouth wide, probably screaming her head off. Fi hand in hand with the hockey player, tall, dark, and drop-dead gorgeous without his helmet, looking like a lamb taking its first wobbly steps on her big white skating boots. Fi in a selfie, sandwiched between him and a gorgeous dark girl about our age, enough alike to be bro and little sis, all three making silly trout-pouts. And a short video of Fi and the lad skating slowly towards the camera holding hands, then he lets go and she keeps coming by herself until she thwacks into the barrier because she hasn’t learnt to stop – whoever’s filming steps back just in time, and you see the girl catch Fi to stop her taking a header out of the rink, and they cling to each other laughing for a second. Then it starts over. I watched it again, Fi grinning like crazy, either watching her feet or the camera, while he watches her like most lads watch Fi, only slightly less gormless. I wondered if she fancied him. She’d be mad not to – but she always says she can’t stand boys, Jamie’s put her off for life, and she only ever falls in love with much older people, like Baldy and Vin Diesel and our newsagent who she thinks looks like Ryan Reynolds, although I can’t see it myself.
At first, I felt sick – until I thought how much sicker I’d be if it wasn’t for Raven, and all the great stuff happening here. Then I felt mainly relieved, like I’d been given permission to make new friends too and be as happy as I could without feeling guilty because Fi was miserable and homesick. And glad for us both, although I couldn’t help being a bit jealous because it all looked so cool, especially the lad, plus it was really weird to see Fi and Jamie doing anything together, let alone sport, let alone something that could get you cold and wet or break your ankle. So it was good she was having some fun – she might as well make the most of Montreal until she came home, like Mamalou and Raven in London – and we’d have loads to talk about over the Christmas hols, and I was going to be so busy with my project and everything, term would probably fly by and she’d be back before I knew it. I hoped she’d like Raven. It’d be nice if we could all chillax at Hidden House and visit the Lady together, maybe make some New Year wishes…
Meanwhile it was nice to feel so light, as if I’d just put a heavy bag of books down. I hadn’t realised till then how much sadder Fi’s texts usually made me, or how much worse I felt seeing her cry every Facetime, (which always got me crying too), even though it was sort of nice to know she missed me and thought about me and home all the time. But we’d been moaning non-stop about Canada for two months now, and it suddenly felt pretty old. Maybe we should suck it up and get on with things, try to have a laugh again like we used to. I was sick to death of crying, to be honest, and quite excited instead. I must remember to call Fi from Raven’s on Sunday, I was dying to know who these people were – and what was going on with Him especially.
I was still wondering while I got ready for school, plenty early, no rush. White regulation sports bra (yuck) on ready so I wouldn’t have to get my chest out twice in the changing room. Yesterday’s clean one (I remembered!) tucked into sports bag dug out from wardrobe. Yesterday’s clean shirt and jumper (mm, frankincense – thanks, Mamalou) over the top. Regulation black tights. Kilt- I forgot Fi in a millisecond. It was easier to fasten! No way loose, but not digging into my tum as much as yesterday. Wow! Brilliant! I twisted around in front of the mirror, smoothing it over my bulges, trying to see my rear view. Oh, poo. It didn’t look any better, but it felt a lot comfier.
Right, then. My reflection squared her shoulders and stuck her chin out at me. Suddenly, I felt determined to keep up the good work until I did look different, and my squidgy muffin-top was gone – and this time I felt I could do it. I mean, yesterday I’d been sort of dieting and exercising without even noticing, without starving or missing sweets (much), and I’d done loads and had a great time. Which meant today could be the same. I’d try harder in Games, run about more, see if I could sweat off another kilo. Yeah. Wow. Go, Ellie! Suddenly, for the first time ever, I could hardly wait for tomorrow’s weigh-in – because at this rate, my second wish might stand a chance of coming true!
In all the excitement I’d forgotten my hair, too – but now my stomach sank as I sat down, undid my plait, shook it loose, and reached for the wide-tooth comb I had to use before I could drag a regular comb through. Then I stopped. Oh, my God. It hadn’t been this short or looked this dark in years! I picked up a strand, all smooth and blunt ended, no frizz. Hmm. Peering close in the bright morning sunlight, I realised it wasn’t totally mouse. Some hairs were gold like Mum’s, some were darker like Dad’s, and odd ones looked positively ginger. Pity when you mixed it together it made boring light brown, like all the colours in a paintbox make that weird sludgy grey. At least Mamalou’s Poo had made it shinier than usual. Maybe Mum had a point. Maybe it did look better. I swung it – it did swing now, instead of clinging like a static tent round my jumper – and shook it some more. This was the only time my hair ever looked nice, freshly dried into plait-ripples, but by the time I’d combed it properly and walked to school it’d be flat and straight again. Unless- I rooted in my dressing table drawer for an ancient tub of hair gel. The top had gone solid but the middle was still soft, so I grabbed a gloop and finger-combed it through the waves, hoping it might set them.
Wow. For once my hair looked like a shampoo advert, apart from the colour (or lack of). I decided to leave it uncombed and see how long the ripples lasted, stuck a couple of hairgrips in to keep it behind my ears, then inspected my face. Oh, my God! My skin had cleared up a bit! My huge, angry chin-pimple must’ve popped in the shower last night – it had finally lost its yellow head, and shrunk to pink, and stopped throbbing – and the pores on my nose and forehead didn’t look so black, maybe the sweat had washed them out. I wiped them with Clearasil and put my cheapo moisturiser on, wondering if I dared ask Mamalou to make me some special Moi for my awkward skin, greasy in the middle and itchy, blotchy dry round the edges. In the meantime, I looked relatively good – bright and clean with something like a hairstyle, totally different from the red-eyed, spotty fat lump I’d avoided in yesterday’s mirror. As a final touch, I dabbed Clarity on my pulse spots. I wouldn’t mind going to school today at all. And I wouldn’t feel quite so ugly next to- Raven! We could walk in together! I could meet her and come into school the back way, it shouldn’t take any longer than my normal walk with Fi. I galloped downstairs, found her number on Mum’s phone and was just about to text her when ping! A message came through. C U at cottages 8.45? I grinned – great minds thinking alike again – and replied with a thumbs-up. Nothing more from Fi, though. Oh, well.
The folks were getting up now, I could hear them through the ceiling. I nipped back upstairs for my bags, spread my homework out on the kitchen table, sat down smugly with another cup of Woman, and was well stuck into Chapter 3 of Madding when Mum rattled in with the tray.
‘Thanks for breakfast, darling- good grief!’ Her jaw literally dropped. ‘What’ve you done to yourself?’
‘Just finger-combed a bit of gel through my hair,’ I said nonchalantly, tossing my wiggly mane. ‘You were right, Mum – it does look better.’ I stood up and gave her a hug. ‘Thanks for cutting it so nicely. I’m sorry I was such a witch about it last night.’
‘No worries.’ She hugged back. ‘Mm… you smell nice.’ Then she pushed me away to arm’s length and stared hard. ‘And you look beautiful, Ellie.’ To my surprise, her eyes filled with tears. ‘You’re really growing up, aren’t you? You’re a young woman… not my little girl any more.’
A bit choked myself, I pulled her close again and whispered, ‘Don’t be daft. I’ll always be your little girl, Mummy.’
‘Am I interrupting something?’ Dad breezed in, ruining the moment. ‘Whoa!’ He went to look over my homework, turning a page here and there. ‘Good job, Eloise! You’ve certainly been busy. What a great start to the term – keep it up, darling! Right then, must dash, I’ve got an early appointment.’ He grabbed his phone off the fridge, his lunchbox out of it, and smacked us both a kiss on the cheek. ‘Have a good day, ladies! See you at teatime.’
As he breezed out again, Mum and I looked at each other and burst into giggles. Typical Dad. He’s rubbish at noticing stuff like hair and clothes and make-up, and it’s pointless getting upset, or asking what he thinks, because he just shrugs. ‘Yes, of course you look nice. You always look nice. It goes without saying.’ Which is sort of a compliment, I suppose; and to be fair, he never notices spots or split ends or muffin-tops either. Then I rinsed the breakfast pots while she put her work face on, and packed what I needed in my bag and put everything else in my bedroom.
‘What are you doing for lunch?’ Mum asked when I came back.
‘Um.’ My face went hot. ‘I’m not sure.’ It was true; Raven might have forgotten, or changed her mind, or not have enough to share today. And although I couldn’t wait to tell my blood-sis about losing weight, I didn’t want to say anything to Mum because she’d want to help, buy me slimming magazines and low-cal everything, and Dad would notice, then I’d have them both trying to be supportive, asking me how it was going blah blah the whole time, and then it’d be really embarrassing if I cracked and ate a whole stuffed-crust pizza and a full tub of Rocky Road and a packet of chocolate HobNobs and regained all the weight in one go. ‘I’ll take a banana for break, though. It made a nice change yesterday.’
Mum smiled; she’s always on about five-a-day. ‘Good idea. They’re much better for you, especially at this time of the month. Take a couple of nectarines too, they need eating up.’
Great! One each. ‘Thanks, Mum.’ I put the fruit in a plastic box to stop it squashing on my files and glanced at the kitchen clock. Twenty past eight. ‘I might as well go now. I’m meeting Raven on Townsend Road, and I’m not sure how long it’ll take to walk.’
Mum positively beamed. ‘Oh, good! You know, Dad and I had been quite worried about you, darling, seeing you pine over Fi… I was rather dreading this term, wondering how you’d get on without her. But we couldn’t have hoped for you to meet a nicer new friend than Raven. You must bring her over here as well sometimes, it’s not fair on Lou otherwise – so you can tell her she’s welcome to join us for tea tonight, if she likes Spag Bol.’
‘Um. Thanks, Mum,’ I said doubtfully. ‘But I think they might be vegetarian.’
Mum shrugged. ‘No problem, I’ll just leave the mince out. Right then – if it’s OK with Lou, I’ll expect you both at the usual time.’
‘Um. Yeah. Thanks. I’ll, um, text and let you know,’ I said, secretly hoping Raven wouldn’t be able to come. Not that Mum’s Spag Bol was bad, but it usually came out of a jar, which I guessed Mamalou’s didn’t if she ever cooked it. ‘Have a good day.’
‘I’ll try.’ Mum grimaced as I pecked her cheek; she hated her current job. ‘See you later, love. Oh, and remember to take your lunch money today.’
I stuffed it in my blazer pocket on the way out, then practically skipped down the path feeling vaguely guilty, but great. Five pounds richer – if I didn’t spend it on lunch, I’d stick it in my Christmas piggy-bank – and three pounds lighter! I headed up the road, not too fast, (I didn’t want to get sweaty), but not dragging my feet like yesterday, crossed at my usual place, took a deep breath, and stared straight at Fi’s house. The front door opened as I looked and a dark-haired woman came out, younger than Mrs McD, with two little dark-haired girls who looked about five and six, dressed in little red duffel coats and tartan skirts like I used to wear for Infants. They were so cute I couldn’t help smiling, and their mum saw and smiled back, and it was really nice, and I knew I’d never mind walking past again and decided that if I saw them tomorrow, I’d say hello, maybe introduce myself sometime, explain why I kept staring at their house… and find out her name, so I wouldn’t have to keep calling it Fi’s to myself.
Playing with the idea, I imagined getting to know the family, maybe offering to babysit so I could have a nosey inside, see what they’d done with the place. It’d be weird seeing it full of someone else’s stuff – I wondered if the girls slept together in Fi’s old room – but somehow the thought didn’t make me sad today. Then when I turned onto the old main road, I started thinking about my history project and noticing gaps and footpaths between houses that must lead to the shortcut across the fields, and eventually spotted a lane overhung by trees, just wide enough to drive down. I wimped out of trying that way in case it was muddy, or I stupidly got lost and kept Raven waiting and made us both late for school. Instead, when I turned onto Townsend Road I stayed on the right and kept looking into the fields. It was hard to tell where the paths went because of all the trees and hedgerows, but there was a big gap practically opposite Ideowes Terrace leading to a sort of raised track rutted with tractor tyre-marks, and a woman with a dog on a lead pushing a baby-buggy along it towards town. I wondered if she’d come from the cottages, and as I glanced across at them, I was surprised to see Raven come round the side of my favourite one holding a watering can. She saw me at the same moment, waved with her free hand, then began watering the front tubs and window-boxes while I crossed the road to wait for her by the gate.
‘Hi, Ellie!’ she said over her shoulder, explaining before I could ask, ‘The tenant’s gone into hospital, so Mum and I are looking after his garden for the duration. There! All done.’ Putting the can down in the little wooden porch, she wiped her hands on her kilt, retrieved her school bags, and turned to face me. ‘Wow! I love your hair.’
‘Thanks. So do I, but I nearly died at first when I saw how short it was. Only Mum said I looked too grungey for company and threatened to ground me for the weekend if I didn’t let her cut the split ends off,’ I blurted as we set off down the road. Then I thought maybe I shouldn’t have because it made Mum sound like a bit of an ogre, and I didn’t want Raven thinking she was mean because she didn’t know about all the rows and Mum begging and pleading and trying to bribe me into a hairdresser’s, all because I was too embarrassed to confess I had to keep my hair long to hide my podgy face and round shoulders and the ugly squashy bra line that showed through the back of my school jumpers. So I added hastily, ‘And I’m really glad, because she’s made it look loads better.’
‘Yes, and it’s not just your hair. You look totally different today. Sort of shiny.’
My cheeks – just my cheeks, for once! – glowed, and suddenly I felt quite pretty. Next thing I was gabbling, pouring out all my amazing news about how the Lady was granting my wishes, and my plan to Be Something In History and feeling I actually could, and deciding to try harder even at Games, and about Fi settling in with her new skating friends. ‘It’s such a relief – like when you’ve had ‘flu and felt rubbish for ages, then it clears up and you don’t just fell well, OK, you feel brilliant because nothing hurts and everything works properly again.’ I grinned. ‘Well, I feel totally brilliant today.’
‘I can tell,’ Raven grinned back. ‘And I know what you mean. I haven’t felt this good since Dad was with us- before he lost the plot.’ She slipped her arm through mine. ‘It’s great to have a friend I can really talk to.’
‘Yeah, I’d forgotten what it was like to have a conversation without someone bursting into tears! And it’s really weird to think I wouldn’t be this happy if Fi was still here, because yesterday wouldn’t have happened and everything would be same-old, same old. You’d have been put somewhere else, a different class maybe, and we’d be walking our usual way moaning about Double Games and feeling like we’d been back at school forever. But today I’m sort of looking forward to it, and I can’t wait to see the Joob’s face in French this afternoon! So I feel a bit awful as well, like I’m actually glad that Fi’s gone. And I’m not, but- oh, you know what I mean.’
Raven nodded. ‘Like I’m not glad Dad’s dead, but I am glad to be here. And I can’t wait for Friday night – we’ll have such a laugh.’
That reminded me. ‘Um, well, you don’t have to. Wait, I mean. Mum says you can come to ours tonight if you like. We’re having Veggie Bolognese.’
‘Cool! I love pasta!’ Raven pulled her arm out of mine and her phone out of her pocket. ‘Tell your mum thanks,’ she started texting, ‘and I’ll tell Maman not to cook for me.’