فصل 11

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فصل 11

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Alex Faye - Children’s Writer

‘Alex?’

Suddenly I realise that Christopher is standing next to me.

‘Hi!’ I say, doing my best to smile, despite feeling worried about Brad. ‘What are you doing up?’

‘The telephone woke me up.’

‘It was your Auntie Tania,’ I tell him and he pulls a face.

‘Typical!’ he says, and I make a guess that he’s heard his mother say something similar about his Auntie Tania before. ‘Anyway,’ he continues, ‘she isn’t my real auntie. Brad and her aren’t married yet. I hope they don’t get married.’

So do I! Oh, so do I!

‘Come on,’ I say, ‘let’s get you back to bed. It’s very late.’

‘Can I have a drink of milk first?’ he asks, and I smile.

‘Of course you can. Wait in the sitting-room where it’s warm and I’ll bring it to you.’

When I go into the sitting-room, he’s looking at the only piece of paper I didn’t tear up when I was writing my terrible story.

‘What’s this, Alex?’

I take the paper from him. ‘It’s the story I was telling you,’ I say. ‘At least, it was supposed to be the story I was telling you. I didn’t do it very well.’

‘Will you read it to me?’ he asks, drinking his milk.

‘Oh no, Christopher. It’s no good!’

‘Pleased

I sigh. ‘Oh, all right then.’ So I read it to him exactly as I’ve written it on the page.

Afterwards he looks at me.

‘That’s a different story,’ he says.

‘No,’ I say, frowning, ‘it’s the same one. Honestly, it is.’

‘Well,’ he says, ‘it’s got the same people in it but it sounds funny.’

‘Does it?’

Christopher nods, finishing off his milk, and after I’ve taken him back up to bed I come downstairs and read the story again. And he’s right. Suddenly I know just what he means. It sounds too formal, and it’s certainly very different to the way I told it to Christopher. And that makes my story sound cold and distant and even a bit… boring.

Oh, thank you, thank you, Christopher! Thank you! I’m so delighted I do a little dance around the room holding the piece of paper. But not for long. I haven’t got time. I’ve got a story to write.

So, I start again, from the beginning. And this time I try to write it down exactly as I told it to Christopher. I’m so involved in it, I don’t notice the sounds from outside any more. I don’t even think about Brad! Amazing.

By the time I write ‘The End’ at the bottom of the last sheet of paper, dawn is breaking outside. I feel stiff from sitting for so long, and I stand up and stretch, yawning. You can imagine how tired I feel, yet somehow I don’t feel like going to bed. It’s too late to go to bed really. Christopher will be up soon.

And Brad still isn’t back.

But as I open the front door to look at the sky, suddenly there he is, driving up in his expensive black car.

‘Did you wait up for me?’ he asks tiredly as he gets out, and I’m about to answer when I notice there’s something wrong with his face. His left eye’s all bruised and black. He looks as if he’s been in a fight!

‘What happened?’ I ask, running forward and reaching out to touch his face.

‘Ow!’ he says. ‘Careful, it hurts!’

‘Sorry. But what happened? Tell me!’

Brad’s face is moody. ‘Yes, all right, just let me get into the house, would you? I need a drink.’

‘I’ll get you a drink,’ I say, running inside. ‘What do you want? A cup of tea?’

‘No,’ he says, ‘I do not want a cup of tea. I want whisky. A very large glass of whisky. And when I’ve finished that one, I might just have another one. OK?’

‘Yes,’ I say, ‘of course. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get it for you?’

‘Stop fussing, Alex,’ he tells me, but in the sitting-room he sits down in an armchair just as I suggested. When I bring him his drink, his eyes are closed.

‘Thanks.’ He drinks the whisky in one go and holds the glass out to me. I fill it up again and he drinks half of it, then lies back in the chair, closing his eyes. His face looks very pale next to the dark bruise on his eye, but he’s still handsome. If I had a black eye and I drank that much whisky at once I would not be looking desirable. Also, I’d be unconscious on the floor, not sitting in a chair.

‘Tell me what’s happened, Brad,’ I say before he can fall asleep, and he sighs and looks at me.

‘I’ve made a complete fool of myself, that’s what’s happened.’

I look at him, surprised. It just doesn’t seem like Brad to admit to feeling foolish. ‘How?’ I ask.

He drinks some more of the whisky before he continues. ‘I went for a drink. You know, that new pub on the seafront. I thought some of my friends would be in there, but they weren’t. So I sat and waited in case they came in later, and suddenly I saw him’ ‘Him?’

‘Yes, him, the monster who sold me those fake Ralph Blackmans.’

‘Goodness!’ I say, staring at him. ‘So you went over and hit him?’

Brad doesn’t answer for a while, just looks down into his glass at what’s left of his whisky. ‘Not exactly, no. I … well, I sat and looked at him.’

‘You looked at him?’

‘Please stop repeating everything I say, Alex. It’s very annoying.’

‘Sorry. I’m just trying to understand, that’s all. And at the moment, I don’t understand. How did you get a black eye from looking at someone?’

‘He noticed me looking,’ Brad says at last, but he says it so quietly I can’t hear him.

‘What?’

‘I said he noticed me looking!’ he shouts. ‘He saw me looking and he came over and asked me why I was staring at him. He said, “I don’t like the way you’re staring at me,” and then… well, then he hit me.’

‘Just for looking at him?’

‘Yes! The next thing I know the police are there, but he’s gone - left with his friends. And I have to spend the rest of the night at the police station looking at photographs to try to identify him.’

‘How exciting!’ I say without thinking and Brad frowns at me.

‘Alex, sitting in a cold police station with a black eye in the middle of the night looking at photographs of ugly people is not exciting, believe me. You should try it some time.’

‘No,’ I say, ‘I don’t suppose it is. Sorry. Anyway, did you find his photograph?’

‘No, I did not. I’ve got to go back later to look at another five hundred photographs. If you think it’s so exciting, perhaps you’d like to come with me!’

Of course, I don’t have to tell you I definitely would like to go with him, but actually, in the end, things don’t turn out like that. Because at that moment Christopher comes downstairs in his nightclothes. Brad takes one look at him and seems to become even more tired than ever.

‘I’m going to bed,’ he says, and off he goes.

Christopher seems fed up. ‘Uncle Brad doesn’t like me,’ he says.

‘Of course he does, Christopher!’ I tell him, but he shakes his head.

‘No, he doesn’t. He wouldn’t even look at me!’

I remember Brad’s black eye. ‘Ah, well, I think that’s because he’s hurt his face a bit. I don’t think he wanted you to see it.’

Christopher’s eyes light up with interest. ‘Really? Is he all covered in blood?’ he asks. ‘Does he look really horrible?’

Boys! ‘No, of course not. He’ll be better soon. He just needs to rest now.’ I need to rest too after my night of story writing, but obviously I’m not going to get the chance.

Christopher’s looking miserable again. ‘It’s boring here,’ he says. ‘It doesn’t even feel like it’s nearly Christmas!’

He’s right. It doesn’t feel as if it’s nearly Christmas.

‘OK then,’ I say, ‘let’s make it feel like Christmas. Let’s buy a Christmas tree and make some decorations for it.’

‘Yes’ Christopher is happy once more, running straight upstairs to get dressed, and within half an hour we’re walking up the lane in the direction of the farm shop.

Christopher’s running on ahead, singing to himself, something that sounds like a carol, a Christmas song, and suddenly I feel happy. I also feel strange, because I’m so tired. It’s almost as if my feet aren’t quite touching the ground. But I do feel happy. Diana was right. I do feel better now I’ve started to write. If Earth Children still seems all right when I read it again, I’ll type it up on Dad’s computer and post it off to a publisher. I’m a writer! Suddenly I see a car coming towards us. ‘Careful, Christopher!’ I warn him. ‘Move to the side of the road.’

‘OK, Alex,’ he says happily, doing as I asked straight away. I’m smiling at him, thinking what a good boy he is, when suddenly I recognise the car coming down the lane towards us. It’s Barry’s car.

‘What are you doing here, Barry?’ I ask him when he stops. He lifts his eyebrows, pretending to feel hurt.

‘That’s not a very nice way to welcome me when I’ve taken a day off work specially to see you.’ He smiles, and I can feel my face going red. Which is amazing, actually, because in all the time I’ve known Barry, I don’t think I can remember that happening to me before. Mind you, I’m not sure he’s ever looked at me in quite the way he’s looking at me now. Anyone would think we’d been away from each other for weeks, not for just thirty hours or so.

‘I didn’t mean it like that,’ I say. ‘It’s good to see you. Of course it is. I was just… surprised, that’s all.’

‘I wanted to surprise you.’ He smiles at me, and then Christopher joins us, so Barry smiles at Christopher too. ‘Now you must be Christopher,’ he says.

‘Who are you?’ asks Christopher.

‘I’m Barry, Alex’s boyfriend,’ Barry says confidently. Well, why wouldn’t he be confident about it? I haven’t told him he isn’t my boyfriend yet.

‘Good!’ Christopher says. ‘I didn’t really want Uncle Brad to be her boyfriend. We’re going to buy a Christmas tree. You can come with us and put it in your car!’

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