Chapter 20: Leave Out All The Rest

At some point I fall back to sleep and when I wake again the venomous feeling of the night has fragmented. Mum is standing over me.

“What have you been doing in here?” she wants to know.

I wonder what she means and then I see her looking at the floor beside me and I remember the glass of water. She leans down and picks up the glass as well as my copy of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It’s a school book. We’ve been reading it in class but now its pages are all mushy and glued together. I groan.

“Are you okay?”

“Mrs Hill’s going to kill me,” I whine, even though I know that my English teacher won’t kill me at all; she will understand that it was an accident.

“It will be fine,” Mum says, looking at the novel dubiously.

I catch her eye and we both laugh. The book is unreadable and we both know it. The sound of our laughter breaks the spell of the night completely and I’m back in the real world.

“I’ll put it on the radiator,” she says.

When I get downstairs, Josh is already dressed. I raise my eyebrows. He sees me.

“What?”

I shake my head in reply. If the cartoons were on the TV or the football, he’d have never even noticed my presence but it’s the news and stuff that’s actually important. If something’s of consequence, I can guarantee it won’t hold my brother’s attention for long. Just as I can usually guarantee that he’ll normally still be slobbing around by the time I’m on the verge of leaving for school. Today, though, he looks ready and as I eat my breakfast it dawns on me that maybe Josh’s car has broken down. It happens sometimes. The last thing I need is to have Josh on the bus. He’ll join the boys that sit at the back and Amber and I will have to listen to whatever drivel comes out of their mouths for the whole trip to school. Normally I can block the noise of their swearing and burping out but there’s something about my brother’s voice that has the ability to penetrate any kind of forcefield I might usually be able to rely on. I watch him suspiciously until he puts his cereal bowl in the dishwasher. He notices my attention on him.

“What?” he asks again and once more I shake my head.

We have such sophisticated methods of communicating.

I finish my breakfast, brush my teeth and grab my bag. It’s heavy so I empty its contents on my bed. I chuck the stuff I’ll need back in and leave out all the rest. Then I pick up my copy of Jekyll and Hyde and consider what to do with it. It’s still soaking. I can’t read it; the pages will tear if I try to separate them. I put it back and hope I can borrow a spare copy when I get to school.

As I take my coat from its peg, Mum and Josh crowd into the same small space around the front door. It’s rare that we all leave at the same time.

“I’ve got a meeting,” Mum explains even though no one’s asked.

Josh waits while I do battle with the zip on my coat, but I can feel his impatience. I should get ahead of him, otherwise we’ll end up in the awkward position of having to walk to the bus stop side by side. Either that or one of us will have to make the conscious decision to stride ahead or fall behind. It’s best I get going and save us that problem. Mum opens the front door and stands aside so I can exit.

“Have a nice day, sweetheart, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

I smile.

“Cross my heart,” I say, and I draw the shape of a cross over my heart with my finger.

I turn and walk quickly in the direction of the bus stop. As I reach the end of our road, I hear Josh coming. His car’s fine. I recognise the sound of it. I glance at him through the windscreen, his body squeezed in behind the steering wheel. The March sun makes it difficult to see more than his outline, but I’m sure he doesn’t even look my way. What a loser.

Go back to chapter 1 of Faint December.