فصل 02

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فصل 02

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CHAPTER TWO

A Bit about My Peculiar Family

I hate June Weatherby. She reminds me of a girl who used to be in my class at school: Helen Peters. We children used to call her Saint Helen because she was so perfect at everything. The teachers all loved her, and somehow I know June Weatherby’s school teachers loved her too.

I also know that neither June Weatherby nor Saint Helen would ever leave the house wearing different coloured shoes.

By now it’s eleven o’clock. I pay for the coffee and leave the cafe. Brad’s nowhere to be seen, and for a moment I wait on the pavement, wondering what to do with my unexpected day off work.

I don’t actually want a day off, you see. Yes, I know that sounds crazy. Most people would be celebrating. But all it means to me is a whole day of not being with Brad. Even Brad laughing at my mistakes is better than no Brad at all.

A cold December wind’s blowing straight off the sea. It’s not a day to be standing around, so finally I start to walk towards home along the seafront. All the big old hotels are in this part of the town. They were built almost a hundred and fifty years ago, when Brighton first became a popular place for holidays, and they still look good today, especially with all their Christmas decorations up. I suppose the Grand Hotel’s a bit ridiculous, but I do like it. Actually, I’ve always thought it looks a bit like a big white cake. A big white wedding cake.

Oh, how I wish I was the sort of girl who wakes up on time every morning. The sort of girl who always has a tidy flat and cupboards full of clean clothes. Someone who can cook delicious meals and organise perfect parties. That type of girl would be really useful at the Courtney Art Gallery, so useful in fact that Brad Courtney wouldn’t be able to imagine life without her.

‘Alex, hi!’

I’m so full of miserable thoughts that I don’t see my friend Diana until I’ve almost walked into her. She’s standing outside the Grand Hotel holding a huge bunch of flowers. That’s her job, you see, delivering flowers. Her delivery van’s parked on the road. It has a picture on the side of a man and a woman kissing. ‘Kiss Flowers,’ it says. ‘For that perfect someone in your life.’

‘Happy birthday!’

I try to smile. ‘Thanks, Diana. Are those flowers for me?’

‘Only if your name’s Kitten.’ She smiles.

‘Kitten?’ I ask.

‘That’s what it says on the card. To Kitten from Puppy,’ Diana tells me.

I can tell what Diana thinks. She hates Kiss Flowers and is embarrassed to drive the van around. She’s only doing the flower delivery job to save some money so she can travel to Africa to study rare animals.

‘I think it’s lovely,’ I say, and she frowns at me.

‘Don’t tell me,’ she says. ‘You’re thinking about that Brad Courtney, aren’t you? You’re wishing he would send you some Kiss Flowers. I bet you’d like him to call you Kitten.’

‘If you met him, you’d understand,’ I tell her. ‘He’s so -‘

‘So perfect, so fantastic. Yes, I know, you’ve told me several times before. Anyway, why aren’t you at work?’

I frown, remembering the mystery of the locked gallery. ‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Brad gave me the day off. The gallery’s closed.’

Diana doesn’t think this is anything to worry about. ‘Wonderful!’ she says. ‘You can do something really special on your birthday!’

‘What?’ I ask miserably, feeling sorry for myself. ‘Everyone else is at work.’

‘Go shopping,’ Diana suggests.

‘No money.’

‘Well, go swimming then.’ She tries again.

‘No energy.’

‘No money and no energy, OK.’ Diana thinks for a while. ‘I know, I could give you a lift to Rottingdean. That’s where my next flower delivery is. You could visit your mother.’

I think about it for a while, wondering if this is really how I want to spend my birthday, and then I sigh. ‘All right then, thanks.’

‘OK. Just let me deliver these flowers to Kitten and I’ll be right with you. Here, you can wait in the van.’ Diana hands me the van keys and disappears inside the hotel. -“At this point I think I’d better tell you something about my parents. You see, I love them both very much, but they’re not exactly relaxing people. In fact, they’re both a bit crazy - crazy and unusual. They don’t live their lives the way other people live their lives. They don’t even think the way other people think.

Actually, it’s probably a good idea for you to meet them, because then you’ll understand why I sometimes find life so difficult myself.

One of my first memories ever is of a school sports day when I was about six years old. There was a school sports day every summer. We children ran in races, and our parents came to watch. All the mothers wore nice summer dresses with flower patterns on them and summer shoes.

My mother wore a flower-patterned dress too, but unfortunately she also wore flowers in her hair. Lots of them. And she didn’t wear any shoes. None at all. Actually, when I was six years old I thought she looked very pretty, but I do still remember the other mothers looking at her and laughing. That’s when I first realised she was different to other mothers.

Oh, by the way, Mum’s name is Willow. (A willow is a type of tree that often grows close to rivers.) Dad’s name is Moon. Moon is… well, you know what the moon is. These are my parents’ ‘earth’ names. Their real names are Betty (Mum) and Jeff (Dad). They chose their earth names two years ago because they said they ‘wanted to feel closer to nature’.

I’ve made it very clear to Mum and Dad that I don’t want to have an earth name myself, but I still see Mum looking at me sometimes and I know she’s thinking about names. When I’m not there, they probably call me Star or… Wood! But I’m quite happy with Alex, thank you! I don’t even like Alexandra, which is my full name. My brother, Rob, lets Mum and Dad call him Tree, but then he lives hundreds of kilometres away in Scotland, so he doesn’t see them very often. Besides, there aren’t any trees on the Isle of Skye where he lives, so perhaps he feels his earth name is useful.

Diana is coming back out of the hotel now. To my surprise, she’s still holding Kitten’s flowers. ‘Happy Birthday,’ she says, getting into the van and giving the flowers to me.

‘Didn’t Kitten want them?’ I ask, and she laughs.

‘No, she didn’t,’ she says, starting the van. ‘In fact, she told me she thought Puppy was a dog. She says she’s given up men completely.’

‘Poor Puppy!’ I say, burying my nose in the flowers to smell them, but Diana doesn’t seem to care.

‘He probably only gave her flowers because he felt guilty about something,’ she says.

I look at her as she turns the van round and we drive along the seafront towards the Palace Pier. ‘Have you always hated men, Di?’ I ask, and she seems quite surprised.

‘Who says I hate men? I don’t hate them. I just… well, pity them, I suppose. They’re so weak compared to us women.’

I laugh. ‘You just haven’t met the right men, Di, that’s all,’ I tell her. ‘Brad isn’t weak at all.’

Diana smiles at me. ‘Of course not. I was forgetting all about the wonderful, perfect, strong Mr Courtney!’

‘Ha ha!’ I know she’s joking, but I don’t mind. I like Diana. She’s good for me because she’s so confident. I’ve never known her to have any doubts about anything. She decided three years ago she wanted to study rare animals, and she’s been working hard to save the money ever since. I’ll really miss her when she leaves next year.

‘Come on,’ she says now. ‘Tell me exactly what makes Brad Courtney so perfect. And don’t just go on about his looks. You know they don’t count for me. Some of the most interesting animals are the most ugly.’

‘Well… Brad is rare, like one of your rare animals. There aren’t many men like him around.’

‘Come on, Alex. Try to tell me exactly what makes him so rare.’

I sigh. ‘It’s so difficult to put into words, Di. And there’s no use saying that looks don’t come into it, because they do. I don’t know; when Brad enters a room it’s suddenly different. I’d know he was there even if I was looking the other way. It’s chemical.’

Diana still looks doubtful. ‘You’re talking about lust, not love, Alex. You just want to take him to bed and make love to him.’

I don’t deny this, because it’s true. I do want Brad to make love to me. But it isn’t all I want.

‘But those feelings of lust just don’t last for long, do they?’ she continues. ‘Which is fine if you can accept that if you got involved with Brad it would just last for a few weeks. But I know you, you’ve probably got your wedding planned already.’

You see how well my friends know me?

‘You’ve probably even thought of names for the children you’re going to have with him.’

‘People do meet, fall in love and get married!’ I object, and she nods.

‘Of course they do. And maybe I’m wrong about Brad, but I don’t think so.’

‘You haven’t seen the way he looks at me sometimes, Di,’

I try to explain. ‘It’s as if… as if he sees right inside me and knows everything about me.’ My face feels suddenly hot. ‘It’s as if he can… see through my clothes’

Diana sighs again. ‘OK,’ she says, ‘I give up. I tried to make you see sense, but-1 can see I’m wasting my time. Let’s talk about something else. Your book. Have you started writing your book yet?’

I pull a face. You’ll remember item number two on List Number One: the bestselling book. Diana’s always asking me if I’ve started to write it. You see, if writing a bestselling book was something Diana wanted to do she would just sit down and do it. She wouldn’t just think about it for years as I’ve done.

‘No, not yet,’ I reply.

‘You should do,’ she says. ‘I bet you’d feel really good if you actually started to write it.’

The van has now left the houses of Brighton behind. Out of view far below us is the marina with its shops and boats, and next to us are green fields. In the holiday season people play games here, but today the grass is empty. Rottingdean is six kilometres from Brighton, and in the summer this road is busy with tourists and open-top buses. It’s fun to sit at the top of the bus with the wind blowing through your hair from the sea. But I won’t be catching an open-top bus home today. It’s far too cold.

I sit quietly and think about what Diana said about my book. She might be wrong about Brad, but she is right about this. I would feel good if I started to write it. Yes. I’ll make a start as soon as I get home from visiting Mum and Dad.

Perhaps I’ll write an adventure story. Something really exciting that could be turned into a film. About hidden gold in the jungle. There could be robbers and maybe a girl getting kidnapped. I could base the girl on me, only make her more beautiful and muds braver. And the hero, the man who would fight the robbers and save the girl, well, the hero could be just like Brad…

Brad. It’s useless. I can’t think about anything but him. I sigh. Diana looks at me.

‘Brad?’ she asks, and I nod.

Diana shakes her head. ‘Oh dear. Well, perhaps you should ask your mother for advice about Mr Courtney if you won’t listen to me,’ she suggests.

I look at her. ‘Diana,’ I say, ‘you have met my mother, haven’t you?’

She laughs. ‘Oh yes,’ she says. ‘I was forgetting.’

Soon after this we arrive in Rottingdean and Diana stops outside my parents’ house.

‘By the way, Alex,’ she says as I get out of the van, ‘you do know you’re wearing different coloured shoes, don’t you?’

‘It’s the latest fashion,’ I say. ‘Didn’t you know?’

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