The hospital seems to retreat as I whisper goodbye, the shade from the plane trees turning all the windows to darkness. He walks over and kisses the back of my neck. His voice is the one clear thing. . I open the gate, walk up the little path. I am less than yesterday. I looked up November in Dad s Reader s Digest Book of Gardening and it suggests that this is the perfect time for conditioning the soil. Mum chuckles, and it s strange because it makes her seem more alive than Dad somehow. All right. She looks relieved. Not today. Hundreds of maggots spill onto the grass and writhe there, stunned by sunlight. Me tapping the table? She closes the bathroom door and comes down the stairs. I don t think so. They re unfamiliar shadows scattered on the floor. Silence. I thought they d be deeper than this. Maybe it s an autumn thing, Zoey says. Cal says, You OK? Neither do raindrops, or leaves, or any of the other mad things you keep going on about. There s a thin rain falling. So did you tell him to piss off? All right? Yeah. Oh, Tessa! Dad s sitting on a chair beside the bed. Rats swim in this water. The ground s hard beneath my feet. Zoey comes back out. I could only think of awful endings. Pretend you re not with me then. All over now, eh? Oh yes! I don t know if she d even hear me if I could think of anything. Of course. Just tell me. 220 I grab my clothes and follow him. Are you just going to watch? She gets quite animated describing the mural she plans for her bedroom, the tropical fish tiles she wants in the bathroom. The first edition of the novel was published in 2007, and was written by Jenny Downham. ll race about catching them. I feel a bit uncomfortable with him looking at me like that. 136 Dad lights the cigarette and blows smoke across the room. She turns to Dad. I know I won t die with a Strawberry Mivvi in my hand. Fun, fun, fun! The garden s sunk into shadow. Cal walks over to the back fence, finds a spot in the flowerbed and starts to dig. Kaleidoscopic images flicker from the video screens on the walls. Maybe we don t have to have sex. I m watching you. His arms wrap me warm. I go for a walk round the room. No, but it s going to sound stupid out loud. But today when she opens the door, Dad s so desperate to get away from me that he s already moving back across the hallway towards the lift. It crosses my mind that his shambling protectiveness towards me might be attractive to women. Drainage or bleeding, any numbness or loss of strength below the puncture site. No. Cal spreads the cards again, face-up this time. He s useless. I watch his back as he stirs the pot. I feel my spine tingle. Come on, say yes! she says, and she shakes her head as if she simply can t believe it. I don t think we ll bother. I ll bring it back with me too. Mist hovered above the surface. I can see the guilt and pity in his eyes. No, it doesn t! Adam, I want you to be real. Old people get up in the night. I ve never seen it before. All right. I mean, I know I did already, but I thought I d say it again. On it someone s written, Cheese, butter, beans, bread. I saw this woman on the telly the other day. m sorry. I put earrings in last night to try and counteract the effect, but I forgot to check my face this morning. Would you look at that, the taxi driver says. We re on a dual carriageway! One more moment. Not really. Losing yourself in a great novel is one of life’s joys. Her blood, dark as rain, pools beside her. I hate my room. You won t. What about the nurse? What about heaven? HMH Book Clubs Find great new books for your reading group! Total emptiness for ever. She lowers her voice as we get to the studio door. It s easy. Today? She was out all night. Everybody dies, she says, like it s something she s only just thought of and wouldn t mind for herself. The ashes are still hot though, bright enough to attract a moth, a stupid moth dancing towards them. The failed kidneys, the rashes, the ragged-edged moles, the lumps on the breast, the coughs that have turned nasty. m Adam. My lungs will dry up like paper fans. My bed, no longer frightening, but a place where Adam lies warm and waiting for me. Out. One night, 124 when I couldn t sleep, I saw three cockroaches scuttle for cover as I flicked on the light. His head is in shadow, his arms scooped under my legs. Tolkien 7. You shouldn ve looked. She gets it wrong, re-dials. I don t think she s going to miss this tube of Relief Body Moisturizer or this small jar of Crème de Corps Nutritif. He has a nice smile. And did he tell you it was a complete disaster? Dad says, That s enough! There s mountains of food. Perhaps she knows it isn t that cold outside today. She s warm and sweaty and smells of lavender. m not by myself. Nothing you say can make her die. I take another step, so close that we share a breath. I knew I d have to kill it, but I couldn t think how to do it without causing it more pain. Not yet. And now she s sitting there glaring at me, like it s all some terrible mistake. I find Adam s hand and hold it tight. A green one with a lacy collar. I pick up the TV guide and casually flip through the pages. There s a fine line between the quality of the life you have left and the medical intervention necessary to maintain it. What s happening to us? There they are. I sat outside. I sit down on the chair opposite him. It sounds very loud. Don t you ever slide away from him, move back to Scotland or think that any man is more important. The fact that things always happen when she s around. Because I m ignoring the road signs. Zoey s baby is here. I tell her. Perhaps Sally s medication allows her to touch alternative realities, because it s really obvious how Cal s making the napkin move, but she looks at him in awe. It s the only time I ve been in an aeroplane and it was so long ago, it might not even be true. Then I hide under the duvet. I want to be famous for being amazing. Well? Mum? Zoey says, It s another five months, Tess. Please. Cheap chocolate and the rush of sugar to my brain. 200 She thinks about this for a second, then rushes off again, returning with a packet of sweetcorn. ll look after her, Zoey says. Today if you like. How are you feeling? Zoey ll be back in a minute. A peacock opened its tail for me, emerald and aquamarine. The nurse laughs at this and Mum smiles. She heaves herself out of the window again, blowing kisses at every passing stranger. Philippa s here. Zoey frowns at me. he says. Do you want me? He rushes off. I say. No! The main characters of this young adult, fiction story are Ted Burger, Mark & Nikki. That sounds like your father. she says. His eyes are green and full of shadows. A cure? You re not supposed to say things like that. She talks to us as she dresses my back with gauze, then comes round the side of the bed and smiles down at me. Two hundred and nine, to marry Adam. I don t bloody know! I know I m making a complete fool of myself. Then he pulls out the needle. Have you even asked her? I m going to miss ice. What? She s not. Mum s on her way, she ll just be a minute. I look down at the carpet and hope he gets this over with quickly. But I can t hold onto anything. He sends a text back, quickly receives one in return. When she finally speaks, her voice is heavy and dull. There are two doctors and a nurse in the room, although I can t see them because they re behind me. The chink of spoon reminds me of bed time, when Dad makes me and Cal cocoa; there s the same thoroughness in the stirring. ll be back before you know it. Like a baby, I tell him. I wish I d never met him! He gathers spit in his mouth and gobs it out hard. Every time you cough you ll think of me. Are you all right? Zoey inhales, regards me curiously, exhales. He sinks onto the bed and puts his head in his hands and just weeps. He must ve forgotten I m not allowed sugar or dairy. Tessa, he says. Adam plucks bits of grass and sieves them between his fingers. I ask. You can go now. That was lovely. He shows him how to spin the clubs; he teaches him a new coin trick. I want to see inside planes too. I ve never been naked in front of a guy before. And then it hits me – I m dead. And what would you talk about? An illustration of an audio speaker. And don t come back. I ll smile coyly and look at the floor. Mum s here. I watch snatches of other people s lives through the window. I look at her properly for the first time. I think I am. I reach out my finger for a touch of those flimsy wings. It s the kind of room you get in police dramas on TV – small and airless, with a table and two chairs, lit by a fluorescent strip that flickers from the ceiling. I ask. That s it. Why are you crying? I dare to look at him. Ah, Mum says. I ve never had a spot in my life. And can t he see how difficult it is to ask for? The garden spins. I can t seem to find ours though. Why? I ve got keys because I visit you so often, and one day I let myself in as usual, but the curtains aren t open and the post is on the mat. I haven t seen you for ten days! We had lunch in a café and Adam bought me a fruit platter with black grapes and vivid slices of mango. Cal groans from behind his Beano annual. He leaps up, laughing, and dashes across the room to Dad. If I have sex with a boy I don t even know, what does that make me? He smiles his tilted smile. I sound like those women on the telly when their entire family gets wiped out. I ask. Shush. Come on, he says. Keep your voice down. I nod, can barely speak, left my breath behind on the road somewhere. Mum gets her a chair and some tissues. Sad? Not yet. Dad walks down the path filming us with his video camera. I watch my words fall into her. No, I tell him. Yeah. I wonder if she feels as far away as I do, as dazed by her own reflection. Adam sits on the arm of the chair opposite and watches me open the card. I want to live somewhere uncluttered. I look at my watch – three thirty and the day is almost ending. He breathes it in with a gasp. If I keep dancing, the dark corners of the room won t creep any nearer, and the silence between tracks won t get any louder. The baby crying up at him, understanding the brevity and hopelessness of it all. But she s crying now. m not sure. He tells us they re legal, that you can buy them dried in certain shops. 180 Twenty-six Dad sweeps a feather duster across the coffee table, over the mantelpiece and then across all four window ledges. Beneath his hands. 111 Another point for the bus exploding as it brakes at the lights. I hear the kiss, then the sigh – a great wave of despair washing over the house. All right? He sighs, pulls the duvet close under his chin and shakes his head at me. We pull into a disabled bay. I dunked the mouse in and held it down with a wooden spoon. What re you hoping for? I need more memories. Even Cal seems surprised. They want to hurt the living. Why are you bringing this up now? I love it. Zoey looks at me suspiciously. Neither are you! OK, I say. Of course he s interested. The 40 best books to read during lockdown. But he doesn t seem to hear that either. I slide the tray back in Dad s direction with a smile. You re doing my head in looking for signs all the time. The red dress seems smaller than ever; I pull it down, trying to cover my knees. It ll hurt, he says. I watch them understand. Adam looks up and smiles at me. m not sick any more. ll wear this, she says. m at the market. And that s when Adam walks across the lawn. All the get-well cards I ever received curl at the edges, crisp right up and flake to nothing. She gets gauze and antiseptic spray from her medical case, puts on sterile gloves and holds my arm up so she can clean around the portacath. 42 Eight The boy looks surprised when I stick my head over the fence and call him. m on the bus, they say as their mobiles chirrup. Most people don t talk that way. I keep waiting for something to happen, for something to alter. I dreamed Lauren was born. I m here. I must say yes to everything for one whole day. He seems smaller and suddenly far away. Tess, I love you! Air rushes at me. Tessa, are you planning on killing anyone? Does he want people to phone up and pledge money for organic vegetables? I m a laughing skeleton. Arguably Dickens’ best novel, this title follows a humble orphan called Pip who one day, finds himself in possession of… he says. It was the hottest May on record. Tessa, I thought you understood the rules! A bowl of redcurrants. When Dad turns up, he crouches next to my chair, cups my chin in his hands and makes me look right at him. Is that where you got the idea? Bloody idiot. Even my hair looks good, dramatically shaved rather than only just growing. 20 OK. His hand is hot as he laces our fingers together and leads me through the lounge to the stairs. What shall I do? I ve got mine down, but Adam s got his up; he did it very deliberately. I bet he s thinking the same as me – that I m different, that my body reacts differently, that maybe this was a mistake. Dad! You think? The first edition of the novel was published in January 1st 2004, and was written by Daniel Ehrenhaft. Strangely, his knock at my door is early today. And ducks. I actually feel it land on my cheek. He looks startled. The windows have darkened glass in them so that you can t see the street. Let s go on everything else! 5 Two Zoey doesn t even knock, just comes in and plonks herself down on the end of the bed. We cycle our legs to keep warm. I want to be buried in my butterfly dress, my lilac bra and knicker set and my black zip boots (all still in the suitcase that I packed for Sicily). Not until the clocks change. But you can t drive! Nobody knows. I see the shock of it in Adam s eyes. This was my idea. It makes their job easier. He rolls his eyes, as if there s no winning with me. Really, I mean it – lunch is on me. the doctor asks. I have to cover my ears. Fiona says. It s difficult to see the sunny room I used to wake up in every summer. In the supermarket. She dials his number quickly. Not really. So you don t care about your body now? I smell different now I m practically naked – musky and hot. They ll have something for him to do, a PlayStation or something. It doesn t matter. Look at her. Without her, I guess I ll just stand here on the step and watch the clouds gather and burst. I scramble into my clothes. My spit looks slimy, is pulled so slowly towards the plug-hole that I have to chase it down with more water from the tap. Pull over! Adam? And the earth. 260 Don t be afraid of me, Adam. But just as he helps me zip into the jacket, just as he tells me his bike is capable of ninety miles per hour and the wind will be cold, the back door opens and a woman steps into the garden. 50 Books to Read Before You Die show list info. He gets smaller and smaller as we drive away. 151 Here we go, she says as she opens the door. I d like to want that. I go into the hallway and look up the stairs. But all that is warm will go cold. he shouts. I want to dance so fast that my hair grows long enough to trample on. m not sure I believe her, but I write it down on my napkin anyway. Riddled with it. 286 Forty-five Adam gets into his camp bed. He has a gash on his head and fresh blood oozes from his hairline towards his eyes. You brushed my hair like a mother should. m concentrating. He puts his arm around me and pins me there. 104 Where we end up is somewhere I didn t expect – a muddy car park off the dual carriageway. I read it in the Reader s Digest. He points the keys at the car and it beeps in recognition. Dad says you should get up every morning and do something with yourself. She only got home just now. They land on the lawn. Zoey sighs and leans back in her chair. What words are there for the look that passes from me to him and back again? Why are you being so horrible? Was he any good? Over the course of the day, the water creeps back. She s even wearing his shirt. Shouldn t we tell your mum? and he goes to stand up, but Mum stops him. I knew you bloody wouldn t! Can t you drive me home? ve run out. She strokes his back, sweeping circles with her hand. 292 ll be the wild-haired girl Adam meets in his first week at university. 10 No, really. The drowsy smell of new-cut grass. My wrist aches. It s as if a child with a brush and too much enthusiasm has been set free with a tin of black paint inside me. Cal says. She hasn t made any effort; is just wearing shapeless jogging pants and a sweatshirt. It s a bit like strawberry picking. Along the pavement some pigeons peck at a takeaway chicken box. Peas, cabbage, lettuce, runner beans. I just do. Let s go, I say. She sounds so sweet and wholesome I almost believe her. He falls asleep quickly. He sighs, puts his glasses back on and goes back to his laptop. Stop it! Blood rush. Measure yourself against it. Tomorrow we fly. Then she bursts into tears. If you let them think they re great at it, somehow it turns out all right. He unbuckles my jeans. I remember looking at the leaves fall past the hospital window. You can phone up the hospital and ask them. His eyes are sad. ? Can we just go and rob a bank, or whatever it is we re supposed to be doing? Say yes, just say yes. I get it out and turn it over on my lap. My heart s racing, adrenalin surges through me. His fingers brush mine. I didn t say I wouldn t come! How long do you reckon that s going to last? He scoops mud over it, but leaves the head uncovered, as if the bird might like to take a last look around. Adam blows smoke at the town below. Wake me up if you need me. Why are you telling me this? I nod again. We walk together through snow, but we re hot and wearing swimming costumes. You used to when you were small. It s cold in the taxi, the air rarefied, like inside a church. I give myself three points for the food colouring creeping along the child s veins. Soon I won t be. Dad says, Shall I get you another one? I climb up beside her on the bed. Tessa xxx 267 Thirty-eight m going to be the only kid at school with a dead sister. The book was published in multiple languages including English, consists of 336 pages and is available in Hardcover format. he yells as he races down the stairs. He shuts the door behind him. What the hell are you doing, Tessa? she shrieks. Go on then. Zoey! He opens his hand finger by finger. But now, because of Scott, she s lost her definition. Don t you dare tell me I don t. He made me a promise. That s true, Cal says. He fumbles in his jacket and takes out a packet of cigarettes. My legs feel full up, as if my bones are swelling. How long have we been sitting here? You said it was unfair that you had to sleep by yourself. It s not a great drawing, but all the measurements are accurate – femur, abdomen, head circumference. Toytown? ll go in. 203 Mum says, That was kind of him. m not in pain. Then what are you going to do? No, Dad, it s not finished. she tells him. Loads of people know you re ill. Jake didn t mind, but now he thinks you re a complete weirdo. 37 ll sit here and read my book. Even when I was a really little kid, I recognized the signs – the butterflies that crisped up in jam jars, Cal s rabbit eating its own babies. Adam finds my boots, scarf and hat, and helps me down the step. Scott. We could go to the magic shop. Do you stand here every day spying on him? On the coffee table next to me is one of Dad s car magazines. In the kitchen, Cal squats on the floor in front of Mum and Dad and simply stares at them. It s red and silver. He looks up at her crossly, his face smeared with dirt. I didn t know that everything good that s ever happened in my life would be emptied out by it. We talk about nothing for a bit – how the plants he bought in the garden centre are coming along, how his mum is enjoying the weather now that she s outside more often. I hate that noise. m in a bit of a hurry actually. You shouldn t believe what they say, Zoey. When she says, OK, she makes it sound easy, as if I only asked her to visit me more often. If you point binoculars below Orion, you ll see a giant gas cloud where all new stars are born. We ve got a present for you too. I know. Breathe. I once asked Mum what was wrong with Dad. Loads. You can t assume everyone s free just because you are. I wake up hot and thirsty. Adam s mum comes in and sits next to me on the sofa. I managed three times round the block and only stalled twice, which was my best ever. Hey, listen, I say. He talks about having to give up his job as a financial adviser, of the way our lives disappeared into hospitals and treatment. I think of her baby with all its nails already in place – tiny, tiny dandelion nails. Where s your friend? The air warmer than it s been for weeks. Zoey adds rum to hers from the hip flask she keeps in her bag. He thinks about this for a moment, then kicks off his shoes. She says, If I could swap places with you, I would, you know. I hope it does, because precisely zero is going to happen otherwise. But it s the right place? They might take you as well! I got two for the price of one, she tells me. I wake to Dad, still holding my hand. I know he watches me leave. At first they had trouble getting the drugs right. We make patterns, we share moments. I just got it fixed. The assistant at the pharmacy is discussing chesty coughs with a customer. Now go and ask Adam if he s got the mushrooms. Adam asks him. I mean, I was very sorry when he told me. No, I say, and I put the phone down. He has some slides with him to prove the point, passes them round like holiday snaps, pointing out little splashes of darkness, lesions, sticky blasts floating loose. I couldn t find him that day at the supermarket and he wouldn t answer his phone all weekend, so I went round to his house yesterday and made him listen. Yellow leaves, muddy boots and a proud black bucket. We swapped numbers. He puts the tray down on the grass between us. I just do. Bodies sail through the air. The human race dies out and cockroaches rule the world. He must ve been wonderful, some kind of magical person. See you later. Maybe I m just tired. What will be left of you? Hardly ever. I read his name badge as he listens to my chest. Collecting materials for a shelter. He turns off the main light and sits back down. What do you call Batman and Robin after they ve been run over by a steamroller? Dr Ryan s secretary phoned and asked us to come. Seven times, then the right leg the same. They can t stop. m waiting for James. But we never shared a single night. My dad was killed in a road accident eighteen months ago. He pours me a glass from the jug, but I shake my head at it and he sets it back down on the table. I ll drift down in the spring like confetti and cling to my family s shoes. Tessa, she says, I want you to be there. I want to die in my own way. Of course. Twenty-two pages of hot new gadgets. His body able to yank the door open and slam it behind him. I wonder if Adam knows this. He fumbles in his jacket pocket and pulls out a fridge magnet. Into the book. For a minute I don t know who he s talking about; then I remember Zoey and my heart floods with warmth. He seems to understand that I can t quite talk yet and doesn t wait for an answer. As far as I know this is only the second time he s ever cried, so maybe he needs to. He pulls away, sweeps a hand across his eyes. I write in very small letters, like a tooth fairy might write to answer a child s letter. Come on, I just need a bit of space. You told Jake. We both were. I can feel him watching me. Six nights ago his mum stood on the doorstep and cried. I rake my hands through it, bring up my fingers to smell the earth. ll be back to having lumbar punctures every week. I shiver again. Mum says as she plonks the tea on the table. Four years of pathetic optimism burns well – look at it flare! There were no fish, and as I waded out, mud oozed between my toes. The woman says, Is there an emergency? I scurry after her and watch her hand in the ticket for my coat. 206 Bonjela or Teejel? I feel myself blush. I m still heavier than him, still his big sister, and I can slam my legs on the ground so he bounces high and screams with laughter as he falls back hard on his bum. Down the aisles, they blink and shift. I tell her how big and clever she is. In a few days you ll begin to drift in and out of consciousness, and at this stage you may not be able to respond, but you ll know people are with you and you ll be able to hear them talk to you. I notice that his shoes are on their side by the door. He tips the whole lot in and pours boiling water on them. What s it for? I haven t decided. I catch the weight of glances. But she doesn t move from the chair and she doesn t close her eyes. He ll only worry. The woman sidesteps me. It spills me, the thought of him kissing me there. Which service do you require? We ll be back in an hour. He doesn t often volunteer to hold my hand. he hisses. He nudges the bird with his shoe until its stomach splits. Can we just go now? I like May. Don t you ever imagine your own skull? Zoey stretches, blinks at the women as if wondering where they came from. 254 You monster, he whispers. Did it freak you out? m not very well, I tell her. Lights chase across breasts, arses, the ceiling. Why are you so angry? What? It s as if my heart springs up and marries my soul, as my whole body implodes. Everything s fine. My throat feels dry.