Music – Blackbird by the Beatles. No. The team tries to provide continuity, Philippa says, but it s not always possible. I want to climb inside him. I can see her now in the garage, innocently buying sweets and fags. Tess! Have you never heard of stopping distances? I wish it was still October. Cal groans from behind his Beano annual. What? It is if I tell her. Does Scott know? I quite fancy starting a revolution. It was well-received and she has started documenting info. The helmets have plastic visors. I often forget he s just a kid, that there s a bit of him that still likes swings and roundabouts and all that stuff. Autumn invading. The novel follows the shortly ending life of Tessa, from her perspective. Cal turns up in his school uniform with his rucksack and bike. It s OK. He sighs. I say your name over and over, but you can t hear me and you don t open your eyes. I didn t think that walking up the stairs behind a guy would remind me of hospital corridors. I press myself closer, but it s not close enough. It s the first time I ve ever called his name. It s easy. Dad comes up the path, still clutching his pineapple. Dad s a hero. I m watching you. When I leave the cubicle, Zoey s waiting by the hand dryer. I used to come here on holiday every summer, I tell her. He s wearing jeans, boots, a leather jacket. Tell Mum I want presents – expensive juice, loads of magazines and new make-up. It s covered in old towels, as if it s been hibernating. on June 28, 2012. The tops of his wellies slap against each other as he runs. It looks like gravy! He seems to understand that I can t quite talk yet and doesn t wait for an answer. He hasn t had his coffee or tidied up. All matter is comprised of particles. Adam stays with Cal. Poppies blooming at my feet. But you won t know about it. But it s not the cab, it s Adam, all dressed up for our date. 227 It s the hormones. Zoey smiles reluctantly. He prepares my skin with antiseptic solution. She knows who you are. I bend down to lick the coldness from him. m beginning to get to her now: she s looking flustered. It s her turn to taste some reality. Dad! No. They re hired for their cheeriness and the thickness of their hair. If you let them think they re great at it, somehow it turns out all right. He frowns. When I open my eyes again, she s clutching armfuls of towels and tugging at my coat. It s really going to happen. Zoey looks at me long and hard. I hate all of you! Except for the flowers by the chair, it s as if he s never been here at all. One of them makes a joke about stuffing it. Out of town, onto the dual carriageway. The garden s sunk into shadow. Tessa Scott. Zoey says she needs to pee, and she goes down the steps onto the beach and crouches there. She says we should top up the morphine with Oramorph. I hold them in my hand. I m wrecked. Stick your tongue out at that man. Riddled with it. Goodbye, little brother, I think. He s useless. It seems astonishing to me that m here, that the world opened up from the back of a bike, that the sky looked like silk, that I saw the afternoon arrive, not white, not grey, not quite silver, but a combination of all three. Their pages flap like exotic birds, rip and flutter. ve discovered something! The first edition of the novel was published in 2007, and was written by Jenny Downham. You better lie down. Zoey shouldn t really have alcohol, but maybe the butter doesn t count. Another blanket. My heart hurts. But he can t, he s just a man. We both pretend it s not because of me. Upstairs, I tell him with my eyes. Will I still be a brother? So that we can look at the medical options together. Yeah. No. In the painting, it s late afternoon in some English field and the sun is low in the sky. I think maybe she s gone to throw up, but she comes back with a tea towel and thrusts it at me. Fame, Dad says. I want you to stop, Dad. m good at this! She sucks her teeth at me and tells me not to tempt fate. U? It was too hot to do anything but sleep. It smells of leaf mould, worm breath. There are two doctors and a nurse in the room, although I can t see them because they re behind me. She s on a special diet. She bites her bottom lip in concentration. There are no consequences for someone like you! The kettle whistles. But where are you? In Mum s bedroom, I hitch my T-shirt up in front of the wardrobe mirror. Go back down, Cal! It s utterly delicious. That s my parallel life, I think. It just felt so unfair, like how come I get to have a life? I thought they d give me a pill and it would just fall out. I ll be OK. 132 I give him the things I collected and he runs off. I want you, I tell him. The doctor keeps talking and Dad keeps listening, but I stop hearing any of it. But as we glide down the driveway and out 89 of the gate, the houses and gardens in our street slide by, and I m glad. She looks exasperated. What re you hoping for? I asked the consultant. If I don t listen, then I won t know what he s going to say, and maybe then it won t be true. Shit, he says. I wonder if she feels as far away as I do, as dazed by her own reflection. Fame? When I get back home. I want to ask for rice and prawns and treacle pudding, but I d be lying. We don t say anything for ages, just blow smoke at the town below. Hush, he says. Upstairs, I hear Mum say goodnight to Cal. I buy Cal a talking moneybox robot next. The community team offer a lot of support that you might not be aware of, Tessa. She smiles wearily. Last night I woke up at two in the morning. I have bad dreams, I say. An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers But that s not what happens. I m snuffling all over him like a baby, and I can t stop, it s horrible. We do not sell or trade your information with anyone. We sound like dinner party guests, like we came to a ball. I feel very happy suddenly. I rummage around in it, aware of everyone s eyes on me, the slow grin on Stoner s face. Right now we’re getting over 1.5 million daily unique visitors and storing more than 70 petabytes of data. Yes. She gets smaller and smaller until she disappears. A hot-water bottle. Everyone s looking! Not tonight. Its roots will reach into the soft mess of my body and suck me dry. Are you with her? He took me to our hill on his bike. Being real. I pause to inhale, stupidly stand still a second too long, forgetting to move. ll haunt you, I tell him. Your eyes! m taking you to the hospital, he says again, as if perhaps I didn t hear him the first time, or maybe the blood has made me stupid. I take two pieces of cheese and an olive, realize I m starving, so help myself to a handful of cherries at the fruit bar. Invite Philippa and her husband Andy (if he wants to come), also James from the hospital (though he might be busy). I stroke his hair. The wood rasps my tongue. He talks about the flu-like illness which lasted for weeks and didn t ever seem to go away. For you. 280 Forty-two All qualities are the same – the light through the curtains, the faraway hum of traffic, the boiler rush of water. I want a big dark room you can barely move in, with bodies grinding close together. Give that to me, Mum says. My foot s touching his under the table. Our eyes lock as he unbuckles his jeans. Apart from his name and the dirt under his fingernails, I barely know him at all. He leans towards me and I know. Why are you being so horrible? So you thought you d wreck the place? An illustration of an audio speaker. Did he actually say that? It s such a relief to be with someone who doesn t know me at all. I ve read all the magazines, the ones that tell you about nose bumping and excess saliva and where to put your hands. m waiting for James. And pear trees. I can t see Adam, but I can hear him. I can t help it. m as big as a bear. She looks tired, as if she s been travelling for days. He kneels up. m always confused, I tell him. It was easy at first. Watch very carefully. I really think I do. For a moment I think of leaving without her, but before I can think about it properly, she stomps back again and opens my door. m in a bit of a hurry actually. 114 Do you think stones have names, Zoey? We cut through the back streets. White blossom from a spinning blue sky. She heaves herself out of the chair and looks down at me solemnly. He sobs into my shoulder, his tears melt through my pyjamas. She nods forlornly, begins to walk up the path, then stops as if she remembered something, and turns and looks at me for the first time, a stranger in her garden. Were you expecting to see Scott? She sinks back inside, hooting with laughter. She s looking at me so seriously that I grab her face and kiss it, because I want her to smile again. Uploaded by Good! Because I saw this man once who juggled with an apple and three knives. m sorry. Shut up, Tessa! I wipe my eyes with the duvet. Cal looks rather scared and small. I was eight, the school fair was the next day, and Mum had promised to buy me a jewellery box. Where are we going? Tomorrow we fly. We need petrol. Zoey stands in her underwear and helps me put on the red dress. This dress is very short. Will he even be awake? Her job is to administer to the dying, but if she gets too close, she might fall into the abyss. They both look at me expectantly. There s also a slight risk of infection, bleeding, or damage to the cartilage. I feel so awake. I thought a filbert might be nice. She launches into a story about her spoiled sister Sarah and a pony called Tango. We make patterns, we share moments. I need more memories. What is it? I open one of the boxes and tip it upside down. Adam. Well, I m going now. I mean, I know I did already, but I thought I d say it again. I rifled through the pockets of Adam s motorbike jacket on the way down the hill, but all I found was a cigarette lighter and a bent old rollie, so I couldn t have paid for the bus anyway. Five s too late. the doctor asks. A whole room dizzy with Saturday night is exactly what I wanted. Not Zoey s. Mine. I see different people all the time and they never introduce themselves properly. And it s all right. He touches my hand. He wants you, Zoey mouths at me at one point. I saw a film once about the dead – how they never really go away, but live silently amongst us. Please shut up. I tell her that I used to come here as a child, that we had the family room every summer for two weeks. What I want? Whatever it is and whoever asks it of me. Aloe vera is for general healing. I don t know what will happen next, but there s something very calm about him, which seems to be contagious. I follow Zoey into the lounge and sit on the sofa. He reaches over to the table where he left the condom. His room s the same as mine, but backwards. He says, Shall I make us some breakfast? He d whisper, Tessa, I love you. We can call your father, or we can call the police. Can I go out? Yes. Jesus! She passed me the pen and I wrote my name next to hers. You ve got that weird look on your face again. His aim s rubbish. I can see right inside her little pink mouth. Why didn t you say so? It makes me laugh. The pub. Fat old women with their shopping baskets shove past me; parents with buggies take up all the room. I give myself three points for the food colouring creeping along the child s veins. ve heard so much about you! It doesn t matter. I get out my phone and text: R U ALIVE? 82 He nods at her. He s had a cold all week. Have you had your nose cauterized before? Kaleidoscopic images flicker from the video screens on the walls. I m held by his eyes, pale green in this early light. Dad looks pleased. I lie awake and listen to lights being switched off all over the town. But you can t drive! Look, Zoey says. I try to savour the moment. She reads it over and over. Its sweet buttons in little rows make me think of that sugar house in the children s story. 188 I bet it s a boy. Number ten on my list. She scrapes her chair back, but I m not ready yet. I want to give them permission to leave, but I don t know how to. I hold onto the edge of the sink and look at my face in the mirror. This isn t a new year s resolution. Cuttlefish washed up on a beach. For me? I m very happy that my photos and diary are burned, that Zoey s dress has gone. It makes me think of the words for ever , of how there are more dead than living, of how we re surrounded by ghosts. The petrochemical factory is far away. Why is she making that noise? They can t make you tell your parents. Should we say something? You were looking at clothes for it the other day. I won t die if I m thinking of Adam s hot breath between my legs. All the things in the room are wonderful – the jug, that chair. I swallow hard, fight the impulse to get up and walk out. You fancy him. Flash. She looks at me sternly. She waves the feather duster at him. Dad turns from the sink, his hands dripping soapsuds onto the floor. Sian, I think her name was – she s aware of the medication regime. I don t want you to! 139 Twenty-one Zoey comes to the door, her hair a mess. How can you eat so much? she says. I ve always wanted to be a cat. Cal says. Have you actually had any lessons? But Richard Green is no prince. She asked why he d left her when the world was ending. No, he agrees. She shakes her head at me, stalks off across the dance floor and out to the foyer. We were asked to come, Dad tells her. I look down at Cal s hopeful face as we step out through the gate and suddenly feel a lurch of fear. In the supermarket. I thought, he says, turning on the tap and swirling water round the bowl, that you were feeling some nausea and pain yesterday. Listen to your neighbour pruning her roses as shadows lengthen across the lawn. Have you got a boyfriend? There are no kisses. They take up all the room in my head and sit there echoing back at me. He d wear white pants and he d be so gorgeous I d almost faint. He sits in the chair and studies me. I thought the adults would sit around discussing mortgages and being generally boring. he says. 162 I turn off the light and watch my family through the window. The grass is wet. Zoey inhales, regards me curiously, exhales. It s so cold it must be Scotland. I don't usually read books I think might make me cry (I bawl pretty easily) but I decided to try 'Before I die' since I had just read 'You against me' and really enjoyed that. 198 Twenty-nine Blood spills from my nose. She s not in pain. The sky s full of it. This is where I come when I need to get away, he says. I think there s a point, he says. So, if your signature s still there you ll be miraculously cured, will you? It s like you re giving the best of yourself away, Tess. I feel a surge of love for her. I bump down on my bum and crawl back up again, enjoying the squash of carpet beneath my knees. Of course. She hasn t dealt with a single transfusion or lumbar puncture. I don t see Zoey arrive. Do I have to do something outrageous to make you believe me? There s a big window behind his desk, and out of it I can see the tops of two trees. He ll go to so many places without me. You ve sucked all my energy away, and she pushes her plate to one side and rests her head on the table. But he s terrified. I think of the bird, of Cal s rabbit. Cold April air shocks my lungs. Zoey blinks at me, as if she can t quite believe anyone would know this information. Dad says I m seeing things. His hand slides to my waist to my belly to the top of my thigh. I get my coat. I can do what I like! They ll be waiting for me. He pours me a glass from the jug, but I shake my head at it and he sets it back down on the table. You need to come with me now. A love that big. You can t assume everyone s free just because you are. He s already scarpered, left some stupid note by his laptop. You really did get a crap shag, didn t you? I make Cal sit on a seat inside with all the men waiting for their wives. I feel a bit dizzy as he gets closer. Philippa says, m going downstairs now to talk to your dad. I get the same slim-legged pre-washed pair Zoey has. There was a water fight in the park against Year Ten and we won! I suppose not. Why? The council has agreed to give her a grant. Good, he says. I walk slowly after him, listen to him order two hotdogs with onion rings. 283 Forty-four The light is heart-breaking. How do you know? As far as I know this is only the second time he s ever cried, so maybe he needs to. Give me your mobile number, he told me. Cal chucks the packaging in the bin outside the shop and makes it fly ahead of us in the street. There s a piece of paper on the counter. But it doesn t stop. The garden even smells different – moist and secretive. I could smell my own flesh burning for days. he says. Then it stops. They stop when they see me, 118 bend their heads close together and whisper. That s too much time to lose. High, isn t it? I hate his mother, the lines on her forehead and round her eyes. People chuck in tin cans and shopping trolleys and needles and dead dogs. I say all the silly things I imagine babies like to hear. I ll be back soon. My friend s going to get me some E. Ecstasy? Enchanted Garden! Why not? And can t he see how difficult it is to ask for? Zoey comes back looking agitated. His eyes are very green. On the way to the bathroom I passed Dad s open bedroom door and Mum was in there – her hair spilling across the pillow, his arm flung protectively across her. And are you looking for a room for tonight? Know that whatever happens, they are your parents. He d bought a pocket kite from the newsagent s and we flew it together. You could bring a picnic and sit with me. Please put your shirt back on. Inside the bag is a box. Vases of tulips, carnations like a wedding, gypsophila frothing over the bedside cabinet. That all? Even Sally can t help smiling as Mum tells the story of how her parents thought Dad was too working-class and banned her from seeing him. This is coming out all wrong. A club. It s a proper one, like I used to cut out of doilies and stick on the windows at primary school. Because you don t want to? I realize that I m hungry, really, dangerously hungry. Well, what a night that was! I get a packet of cheese nibbles from the kitchen cupboard and turn on the radio. He finds a muddy puddle and stamps in it. Crackers! I slow right down. The cat lapping the floor. Termites and woodlice come. Keep breathing. Is she staying at ours? I stand in front of the hall mirror and watch it pour down my chin and through my fingers until my hands are slippery with it. Come on, let s get you outside. And Adam is in the camp bed. He s dragging a clump of bramble across the grass towards the fire. It s as if my heart springs up and marries my soul, as my whole body implodes. It s like falling into darkness. Like you said, I m immune to the rules. He flips through the chart on his lap. I shove him off. m not sure I should have said this out loud. Only if you want to. They shoot up with a soft phut, burst into clusters of stars, then drift slowly down. Yours too! What do you really want? How easy they are with each other as they flip the clubs between them. It s expensive to maintain, but I firmly believe it s not the food in your life that brings health, but the life in your food that really counts. It s number five on my list. We both act as if he can t help it, like it s a nosebleed that has nothing to do with how he might be feeling. It must have started when we went upstairs. The woman who scurries up is wearing a name badge. We re still kissing – throats, necks, mouths. A door opens and shuts next door. Why? Adam sits in her place next to me on the sofa. Or you could get tattooed all over your body like a leopard. We re sitting on a bench on the sea front. We got tired, both of us. Dad tutting as he wipes Cal s school shirt with a cloth. m never going to understand love. He looks at me very seriously. I catch the weight of glances. I count as I pour water onto the tea bags. Afterwards, go to a pub for lunch. I don t want to take my hand away. A man comes out of the café waving a tea towel. I don t want you to say I forced you. I lean against her shoulder and she kisses the top of my head. It s not a great drawing, but all the measurements are accurate – femur, abdomen, head circumference. I squash Zoey s dress into a tight ball; it feels small in my fist. Don t be ridiculous! m sorry, about earlier with my mum, he says. He looks mad and breathless, as if he hasn t slept for weeks and is capable of anything. He nods. Yes. I have a diagnosis. Leg cramp woke me up. It s astounding that we both know what to do. Salty as the sea. The stupid jeans I bought with Cal never fitted anyway, so I hack the legs off at the knee. 125 How do you know she wasn t going to pay? Every morning he s outside doing something – raking or digging or fiddling about.