Finding Audrey(7)

By: Sophie Kinsella



Next moment, Mum is back in the kitchen, pouring herself a glass of wine.

‘There!’ she says. ‘They just need a little guidance. A little parental control. I simply opened their minds. They’re not addicted to computers. They just need to be reminded what else is out there.’

She’s not talking to me. She’s talking to the Imaginary Daily Mail Judge who constantly watches her life and gives it marks out of ten.

‘I don’t think Rummikub is a very good game for two,’ I say. ‘I mean, it would take ages to get rid of all your tiles.’

I can see Mum’s thoughts snagging on this. I’m sure she has the same image I do: Frank and Linus sitting grimly across from each other at the Rummikub table, hating it and deciding that all board games are rubbish and total pants.

‘You’re right,’ she says at last. ‘Maybe I’ll go and play with them. Make it more fun.’

She doesn’t ask me if I want to play too, for which I’m grateful.

‘Well, have a good time,’ I say, and take out the Oreo packet. I scoot through the kitchen, into the den, and it’s only as I’m zapping on the telly that I hear Mum’s voice resounding through the house from the playroom.

‘I DIDN’T MEAN ONLINE RUMMIKUB!’

Our house is like a weather system. It ebbs and flows, flares up and subsides. It has times of radiant blue bliss, days of grey dismalness and thunderstorms that flare up out of nowhere. Right now the storm’s coming my way. Thunder-lightning-thunder-lightning, Frank-Mum-Frank-Mum.

‘What difference does it make?’

‘It makes every difference! I told you not to go on those computers any more!’

‘Mum, it’s the same bloody game!’

‘It’s not! I want you off that screen! I want you playing a game with your friend! IN REAL LIFE!’

‘It’s no fun with two players. We might as well play, I don’t know, bloody Snap.’

‘I know!’ Mum is almost shrieking. ‘That’s why I was coming to play with you!’

‘Well, I didn’t bloody KNOW THAT, DID I?’

‘Stop swearing! If you swear at me, young man . . .’

Young man.

I hear Frank make his Angry Frank noise. It’s a kind of rhinoceros bellow slash scream of frustration.

‘Bloody is not swearing,’ he says, breathing hard as though to rein in his impatience.

‘It is!’

‘It’s in the Harry Potter films, OK? Harry Potter. How can it be swearing?’

‘What?’ Mum sounds wrong-footed.

‘Harry Potter. I rest my case.’

‘Don’t you walk away from me, young man!’

Young man. That makes three. Poor Dad. He will so get an earful when he arrives home—

‘Hi.’ Linus’s voice takes me by surprise, and I jump round in shock. Like, I literally jump. I have pretty sharpened reflexes. Over-sensitive. Like the rest of me.

He’s at the doorway. Atticus Finch shoots through my brain. A lanky, brown-haired teenager with wide cheekbones and floppy hair and one of those smiles like an orange segment. Not that his teeth are orange. But his mouth makes that segment shape when he smiles. Which he’s doing now. None of Frank’s other friends ever smile.

He comes into the den and instinctively my fists clench in fear. He must have wandered off while Mum and Frank were fighting. But no one comes in this room. This is my space. Didn’t Frank tell him?

Didn’t Frank say?

My chest is starting to rise in panic. Tears have already started to my eyes. My throat feels frozen. I need to escape. I need – I can’t—

No one comes in here. No one is allowed to come in here.

I can hear Dr Sarah’s voice in my head. Random snippets from our sessions.

Breathe in for four counts, out for seven.

Your body believes the threat is real, Audrey. But the threat isn’t real.

‘Hi,’ he tries again. ‘I’m Linus. You’re Audrey, right?’

The threat isn’t real. I try to press the words into my mind, but they’re drowned out by the panic. It’s engulfing. It’s like a nuclear cloud.

‘Do you always wear those?’ He nods at my dark glasses.

My chest is pumping with terror. Somehow I manage to edge past him.

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