Chapter 22: Inside Of Me

As we walk through the school gates, Amber nudges me.

“Only one week to go,” she says.

Each new day is another day closer to the Faint December concert and Amber’s like a human countdown. The thought of hearing my favourite songs played live sends tiny shivers through my body. Not that I’m allowed to savour the sensation. A beeping horn makes me jump and I leap out of the way so that Josh’s Peugeot can cruise past.

“He’s such an idiot.”

“Would you rather he run us over?” Amber asks.

She knows that if she defends my brother, it will wind me up. I bet he actually wanted to knock me down.

“He could easily have got past us without beeping.”

Amber doesn’t reply but I can sense the fact that she’s disagreeing with me. I look around. The whole driveway is clogged with students.

“I wonder where he’s been. He left the house at the same time as me. He should have been here ages ago.”

Amber shrugs.

“Your brother’s a man of mystery.”

She’s joking of course, but there’s something about the way she says it that makes me feel like she’s also kind of not. I don’t let the thought settle. Instead, I make my way to form and Amber falls into conversation with dopey Graham from her own registration group.

Amber will talk to anyone. She’s probably the nicest person in the world. If she died tomorrow, her funeral would be packed to the rafters. The sports nuts would be there, the arty-farty ones, the wasters, they all like Amber, she’s everyone’s friend. But most of all she’s my friend and it’s weird because I am not the likeable type that she is. I asked her once if she wouldn’t prefer a more popular best friend, but she just shook her head.

“I’m the jealous type,” she said, pretending to be dead serious. “I don’t want a best friend that might run off with someone else… and it’s a pretty safe bet that you won’t.”

I smile at the memory. But then the fact that I’m contemplating Amber’s death and funeral must act as a trigger because in his usual surprising fashion, Dad shuffles into my head. I see the huge grin he unleashed occasionally and the look in his eyes that always made me feel like I could do anything. Or, at least, that he thought I could. Even through his glasses, when Dad was looking at me, there was a power in his stare that could fix me to the spot. It was the way he took for granted that I was amazing enough to do all the amazing things he believed I was going to do. He always imagined I had a maturity beyond my years, a potential that outstripped my reality, and somehow his belief in those things made them real. In his presence, I acted like maybe I did have some kind of magic inside of me. Around him, I was more mature and more capable and just generally better. It was impossible not to be. He made me those things. If I hadn’t lived up to the opinions he had of me, that would have made him wrong to have those opinions in the first place, and there was something about him that made you so sure he couldn’t be wrong. It was a crazy, self-fulfilling equation. So it was I raised myself up when he was around me.

I’m broken out of my daydream by the sound of Charity’s voice. There’s a tone to it that can penetrate walls. Seriously. The way she speaks has a similar effect to those whistles that only dogs can hear. No human can possibly be near Charity and not know she’s there. She’ll leave school at the end of Year 11 – she might go to sixth-form college I guess, but whatever she does she won’t consider staying on here; five years will have been more than enough – but still, if at some distant point in the future, I happen to pass her on the street, I know I’ll recognise her voice. There’ll be no forgetting Charity, and I guess I’ve got to be impressed by anyone who can make themselves unforgettable. That’s some achievement.

Go back to chapter 1 of Faint December.