Extract: The Dare by Lesley Kara
Even though she was with her best friend when she died, Lizzie has no memory of the accident itself. And it was an accident. Wasn’t it? Alice’s friends and relatives seem to suspect Lizzie had a part to play in Alice’s death, but Lizzie knows that can’t be true. She would never have hurt Alice.
Twelve years later, unpacking boxes in the new home she shares with her fiancé, Lizzie is finally beginning to feel like she can move on with her life. But someone has other ideas. Twelve years is a long time to wait, when you’re planning the perfect revenge…
Read on for an extract from The Dare by Lesley Kara!
Thursday, 19 July 2007
There are two reasons to celebrate today. First, it’s not raining. It’s been raining for weeks and though Mum says that rain is God’s blessing and we should be grateful for every single drop, even she’s getting fed up with it now. I heard her tell Dad yesterday that God’s blessed us quite enough lately, thank you very much.
The second reason to celebrate is that it’s the first day of the summer holidays, which means six long weeks of NO SCHOOL.
I open my bedroom window and sniff the air. Alice and I have just got to go on ‘The Walk’. It’s our favourite route and one we’ve done so many times we know each and every landmark: the kissing gate, the gap in the hedge, the little stream with the rickety footbridge, the field with the scarecrow that looks like a dead man on a stick, the line of poplars, the six stiles, and finally, the railway line, where we always wait till we hear the tracks sing, and count the seconds till the train hurtles by.
That’s the best bit, in my opinion. I think it’s Alice’s best bit too, although we’ve never admitted that. We tell each other that it’s our favourite walk because if we don’t dawdle and we don’t rush, it takes us two hours from my front door and back again. Just the right amount of time to discuss everything that needs to be discussed before our legs start to ache and our stomachs to grumble. But deep down, I think we both know that it’s our favourite walk because of the railway line and the thrill of the open crossing.
I go downstairs and dial Alice’s number on the phone in the kitchen. I’ve only got a bit of credit left on my crappy old mobile. Alice’s sister, Catherine, answers. She doesn’t even say hello, just shouts for Alice in that snotty way she has. She’s a whole nine years older than us so she really should know better. Alice says she’s got ‘issues’. She’s got something, that’s for sure. Once, she even slapped Alice round the face in front of me. All Alice had done was spray a tiny bit of her sister’s perfume on to my wrist.
Anyway, I’m not going to let Catherine Dawson’s rudeness affect me today. I’m going to put on my Teflon coat, as Mum calls it, the same one I put on at school when Melissa Davenport and the others start having a go.
‘Shall we go on The Walk?’ Alice says.
‘Dur! Why do you think I’m phoning?’
‘I’ll get the bus to yours,’ she says. ‘See you soon.’
The fifth stile is different from all the others. Higher. My foot slides clumsily on the second step and its sharp edge jabs into my calf muscle. Alice pretends not to notice. She never makes fun of me. Not ever. I’m there for Alice when her mum takes to her bed with depression. I’m there for her when she can’t do her French homework or when she has an argument with her sister. And Alice is there for me when I have a seizure, or when Melissa Davenport and Co. fall about, twitching their limbs and rolling their eyes behind my back.
But just as I’m straightening up out of the clumsy squat in which I’ve landed, I see the flicker of a smile on Alice’s lips. A strange little smile that seems to say, ‘I know something you don’t.’ She’s been doing it on and off ever since we set off this morning. She opens her mouth to say something, then bites her bottom lip and looks all worried.
‘What? What were you going to say?’
‘Oh, nothing really,’ she says. Then, after a long pause: ‘It was just something someone said.’
She blushes, and I can guess straightaway who this someone is. Dave Farley. He must have asked her out. I don’t think I’ll be able to bear it if he has.
‘You can’t not tell me.’
Alice presses her lips together.
My heart drums in my throat and neck. ‘Why are you being so mean? Why won’t you tell me?’
‘Because I can’t. I just can’t.’
Something horrible happens to my insides when she says that. Best friends shouldn’t have secrets. At least, not from each other. Best friends tell each other everything. Like we always have.
Suddenly, I hate Alice Dawson. I hate her because she isn’t telling me something. I hate her because she’s pretty and doesn’t wear glasses or have frizzy red hair or epilepsy. I hate her so much I can barely breathe.
I accuse her of being two-faced – the ultimate insult – and we start screaming at each other. Alice marches off towards the next stile and it’s as much as I can do to keep up with her. We’re arguing the whole time: me hurling insults at Alice’s back, Alice stopping every so often to glare at me over her shoulder and lobbing them straight back. By the time we reach the crossing, we’re running out of horrible things to say to each other.
We’ve had rows before, where one or other of us has stormed off – usually me, to be honest – but we’ve always made up in the end. Even after the really bad one we had last month. This time seems different. More final.
And that’s when everything starts to shimmer. When the clear blue of the sky and the vivid greens of the grass and trees collide in a messy blur and the only sound in my ears is the vibration of the track. The crescendo of that long metallic note filling my head with unbearable noise.
The next thing I know, I’m sitting in a puddle of wee by the side of the track and a train has stopped. But trains never stop here. It’s the middle of a field.
I’m feeling all groggy. Where’s Alice? What’s happened?
Then I see one of the sleeves of her denim jacket, caught up in the branches of a bush. Only… only it’s not just a sleeve.
Hot bile rushes out of my mouth and everything goes black.
Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Something in the room has changed. Maybe it’s the news presenter’s tone of voice. That serious one they use when something awful has happened. Or maybe it’s the words themselves that force their way through whatever filters have been working in my head.
My shoulders stiffen. A fatal accident on a level crossing. A young girl.
Her face flashes up in the corner of the screen before I have a chance to look away. A cheeky little smile. Dimples in her cheeks. She was only eleven. Two years younger than Alice. Her name is Elodie. Was Elodie. Such a pretty name.
I grab the remote control and turn the TV off, but the picture is still there, the words echoing in my head. Except it isn’t the picture I’ve just seen on the screen, the one of the cordoned-off level crossing, the police cars, the solemn-faced journalist delivering the news. It’s the picture that’s always there, behind my eyes, waiting to catch me off guard, to materialize in front of me and suck me back in.
Ross looks up, surprised.
‘It’s too much,’ I tell him. ‘All this bad news.’
He scrapes the last of his boiled egg with a teaspoon. ‘She wouldn’t have known a thing about it. I guess that’s the only consolation for her parents. Even at relatively low speeds, a train has so much mass and energy, the body’s usually destroyed pretty much straightaway.’
I take my empty mug to the kitchen and rinse it out. My chest feels tight, as if my lungs are constricted. I want to ask him if he really believes that, if knowing their daughter has been smashed to pieces pretty much straightaway is a consolation for her parents, but I let the comment pass, unchallenged, because I don’t want to have a conversation about it. Not right now. Not ever.
I try not to think, but it’s impossible. Another life wiped out in seconds. Another bereaved family.
Ross follows me out and gives me a sheepish grin. ‘Sorry, it’s just the way my brain works.’
I shake my head at him. ‘Tell me about it.’
What Ross doesn’t realize is that I know exactly what happens to a body when it’s hit by a train. I looked it up once, a long time ago. Couldn’t stop myself. It depends how fast the train is travelling, and whether the body is upright or lying on the ground at the time of impact, but basically all the vital organs are smashed, the major blood vessels broken. Sometimes the body is flung into the air; sometimes it gets rolled up under the wheels and ground into little pieces. Broken bones. Mangled flesh. Severed limbs.
I had to know. I just had to. And then I filed the information away and didn’t access it again. Buried it deep. But it’s always there, ready to infiltrate my conscious mind whenever a train-related tragedy occurs. Especially when children are involved. Especially when it’s a young girl. Like Alice.
I blink to dispel the image that’s just landed in my head and scrutinize Ross as he stands at the kitchen door, gazing out at the garden and the crop of daffodils that have sprung up through the grass. He’s still wearing his tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt, and the early-morning sunlight illuminates his fair skin. There’s a malleable quality about him this morning, as if he could quite easily be a student, a sales assistant, a lad behind a bar. But in less than half an hour he will have transformed himself into a GP, his mind already fixed on the day ahead. He will have solidified into a ‘pillar of the community’, as I jokily call him.
I keep meaning to tell him about Alice – he is my fiancé, after all – but somehow it never seems like the right time. Besides, if I tell him, he might ask me questions I can’t answer.
‘Take your time and tell us exactly what happened.’ That’s what the police said. But it didn’t matter how many times they asked me, my answer was always the same.
‘I don’t know. I can’t remember.’
Various neurologists have tried to explain it to me over the years, how there isn’t always time for what happens immediately before a seizure to be fully incorporated into the memory system. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if all my lost memories came back. Like missing pieces of a jigsaw, slotting into place. Making me whole again.
Other times, I wonder if it’s better I don’t remember.
Ross drains his coffee. ‘By the way, I’ve spoken to our practice manager about that part-time job on reception. She said to give her a ring if you’re interested.’
I clear the rest of our breakfast things away, relieved he’s changed the subject. ‘I’ve been thinking about that,’ I tell him. ‘Maybe I should look for something full-time instead. Something a bit more interesting.’
Ross frowns. ‘Are you sure that’s wise? You don’t want to push yourself.’
‘But that’s just it. I do. If I hang about here all day, I’ll go mad.’
If only I’d gone to university and got a degree, I might have had a proper career by now. I missed so much schooling because of my epilepsy, ended up taking my GCSEs and A levels two years later than everyone else. The last thing I wanted to do after all that was more studying. Now, though, I’m beginning to wish I had. The only jobs I’ve had since leaving school have been tedious admin or reception posts. I’m not sure I can bear the thought of another one and yet I have to do something. I think of that advert I saw in the local paper recently, for an open day at Greenwich University. Maybe I ought to go and investigate.
Ross puts his arms round me from behind while I’m washing up and kisses the back of my neck. His hands start creeping up from my waist and I flick soapy water over my shoulder at him with the washing-up brush.
‘Spoilsport!’ he says, wiping bubbles from his eye. ‘Anyway, you wouldn’t be hanging about here all day if you got the job at the surgery. And you’d be able to catch tantalizing glimpses of the gorgeous Dr Ross Murray when he comes into the waiting room.’
I snort with laughter. ‘Is that one of the perks of the job, then?’
‘But seriously,’ I say. ‘The pay’s rubbish. You said so yourself.’
‘It’s not about the pay, though, is it? It’s about your health. We can manage perfectly well on my salary.’
I sigh. Not this again. ‘My health is good now, Ross. It’s the best it’s ever been. I haven’t had a major seizure in almost two years.’
I don’t usually say that out loud because I don’t want to tempt fate, especially now I’m finally getting a life. Not that I believe in fate. Not really. Even so, I tap the wooden countertop just to be on the safe side.
I still get partials from time to time – brief, absence seizures. Fleeting moments of absence that don’t really bother me, to be honest. It’s other people who tend to notice them, not me. My eyelids flutter and I zone out for a few seconds. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.
‘It’s the best it’s ever been because you’re relaxed and looking after yourself properly,’ Ross says. ‘You mustn’t overdo things.’
I scrub the eggy plates with the brush, just a little too hard. He’s right. Of course he is. That last job I did was a mistake. I was still at home with Mum and Dad then and commuting into the city every day. I should have listened to them. It was too much for me – I was exhausted. But now that I’m living in London with Ross it’ll be so much easier. I’m on exactly the right combination of drugs, too, just enough to stop the really big seizures, the ones where I fall down and make a spectacle of myself, but not so much that my brain is continually foggy.
‘I’m just sick of everything always being about my epilepsy. I’m not an invalid!’
Ross spins me round by the shoulders and looks deep into my eyes. ‘Quite true. You are a gorgeous, sexy woman, who’s also as stubborn as a mule.’
We kiss for so long, by the time we’ve finished we’ve forgotten what we were arguing about. Or rather, we’ve pretended to forget.
We met in a café, in the small seaside town of Dovercourt, near Harwich, where my parents and I moved after Alice’s death. He bumped into me and slopped his coffee on my suede boots, apologized about five times and ended up buying me a Coke and a flapjack, which I regretted as soon as I bit into it because crumbs spattered all over the table and made him laugh. I’d thought he was the same age as me, so when he turned out to be in his thirties, and about to become a fully qualified GP, I was gobsmacked.
Right from that very first moment he made me feel special, as if I were the only person he wanted to be with. He was all my daydreams rolled into one. Love at first sight might be a romantic myth – in fact, knowing Ross, he’d probably say it’s just a cocktail of sex hormones and neurotransmitters – but that’s what it felt like, as though meeting each other was all part of some predestined plan. He made my heart beat faster. Still does.
‘What time are your parents due?’ he says now.
I look at my watch. ‘They’re probably getting ready to leave now. Said they’d be here by eleven.’
Ross nods. ‘Why don’t you take them to that new restaurant in Blackheath? Mario’s, I think it’s called. Our new practice nurse said it’s really good.’
I check his face. That’s the second time he’s mentioned her in the past week. An image of a pretty nurse in a navy uniform pops into my mind. I picture her as a petite blonde, hair scraped into a high, tight ponytail, and imagine him bantering with her in between patients. His last girlfriend was a nurse and I’m under no illusion that there haven’t been others, especially when he was at medical school. Going out with nurses is an occupational hazard, he once joked.
But not any more. We’re getting married next year. We’ve agreed on a fairly long engagement to give us plenty of time to think about the sort of wedding we’d both like, and to plan ahead. I know my parents would have preferred us to get married before living together – especially Mum; she’s a bit old-fashioned in that respect – but when I met Ross he was already in the process of buying this place, thanks to a small inheritance from his late aunt, and it seems much more sensible to focus our energies on getting the house sorted out before all the stress of arranging a wedding.
It’s a little two-up two-down in a quiet street, just off the A201 between Woolwich and Charlton. Five minutes in the car to the Plumtree Lodge Surgery, where Ross works, and easy enough for me to walk or get the bus to wherever I need to go. And it’s got a little garden. Okay, so it’s basically a narrow strip of weed-infested grass, bordered on either side by fence panels that have seen better days, but at least we have a garden. Most people my age live in rented accommodation, or with their parents still.
I watch from the living room window as Ross climbs into his car and drives off. Then I turn my attention to the boxes still stacked against the wall. Maybe I’ve got time to unpack a few more before Mum and Dad arrive.
I switch the telly back on, but they’re still talking about the death on the level crossing. Or rather, they’re talking about it again. That’s the trouble with Breakfast TV, everything gets repeated on a loop and, if it’s something tragic, even more so. I turn it over to a different channel, but little Elodie’s face won’t leave my mind. It’s churned everything up again. I hate it when that happens.
The phone rings, but when I pick up and say hello, there’s no reply. Just a weird muffled noise in the background. The line goes dead. A minute later, it rings again.
‘Hi, Lizzie, we’re just out of the Blackwall Tunnel. See you in a few minutes.’ It’s Mum.
‘Was that you just now?’ I ask her, but the line starts breaking up so we say goodbye. It must have been her.
I wander from room to room, trying to picture the house through my parents’ eyes. They’re going to love it, I know they are. Having spent the last twenty-odd years arranging their lives around my epilepsy, traipsing from one hospital appointment to another, endlessly waiting for test results and listening to the differing opinions of neurologists and epileptologists, it’s been hard for them to let go. It was hard for me, too, no matter how ready I was to strike out on my own. But they liked Ross as soon as they met him. His profession helped, of course. I’ve lost count of the number of times one or other of them has said how pleased they are that I’m in ‘safe hands’.
Ross and I always laugh about that phrase. He’ll hold his hands out in front of him, palms up, and wriggle his fingers in a lewd gesture, as if he’s feeling me up. ‘Oh yes,’ he says. ‘You’re definitely in safe hands with me.’ But sometimes their use of it annoys me. It’s as if they think I’m a fragile parcel being handed from one owner to another. Maybe that’s another reason I don’t want to get married straightaway.
The sound of a car pulling up outside has me racing to the front door like a little girl. I’m surprised they managed to find a parking space so close to the house. Ross sometimes has to park all the way down the street. I watch them climb out of the car. They look as if they’re coming for a fortnight. Mum is festooned with an assortment of carrier bags and Dad’s opening the boot to bring out yet more stuff.
I walk down the path to greet them, glad that their visit coincides ith this mild and sunny spring day, when everything looks so much brighter and nicer.
‘What on earth is all this you’ve brought?’
Dad shakes his head as if none of it was his idea, and to be fair, it probably wasn’t. ‘Your mum sent me up the loft to see if there were any more of your things up there. And guess what?’
He leans into the boot and lifts out an enormous, slightly battered-looking box. My heart sinks. As if there aren’t enough boxes in our house already.
‘I told her you probably wouldn’t want all this junk,’ he says, ‘but you know what she’s like.’
Mum clears her throat. ‘Who’s she? The cat’s mother?’
I kiss her cheeks. They’re soft and velvety beneath my lips and I can smell her face powder. It’s only been a few weeks since I left home and already Mum seems older somehow, smaller.
‘It’s all your old schoolwork, love,’ she says. Her eyes momentarily darken and my heart skips a beat. I try not to think about my schooldays if I can help it. The memories always unsettle me and, for the second time this morning, I have the feeling that something bad is coming. A looming, indiscriminate threat.
Now she’s back to her chatty self and I chide myself for being melodramatic. ‘It’s mainly project files, school reports, that sort of thing,’ she says. ‘Your dad was all for throwing it away, but I said you’d be cross if we did that.’
As we step inside, Mum stops and gasps in delight. ‘Oh, Lizzie, the hallway is lovely.’
‘Apparently, it’s called Mindful Grey.’
‘Hark at you! Already a DIY expert,’ Dad says. He’s finally managed to manoeuvre the box through the front door and lower it on to the floor. He straightens up and rubs the small of his back. At first glance he looks the same as ever – tall and rangy in his smart casual slacks and long-sleeved, brushed-cotton shirt. His usual uniform. But now I notice an air of fragility hovering just below the surface.
I’ve always thought it an advantage, having older parents. They seemed so much kinder and calmer than other people’s, so much more generous with their time. Mum was almost forty-four when she had me – they’d been trying for ages. But the awful truth is that I’ll lose them sooner.
‘Right then,’ Dad says, clapping his hands together. The sharp noise brings me out of my gloomy reverie. ‘Give us a kiss, Pumpkin, and then we’ll have the grand tour.’
His stubbly face grazes my chin as he leans in to peck me on the cheek. He’s called me Pumpkin for as long as I can remember. I don’t mind it like I used to, when I was a bolshie teenager. Bolshier than most, probably, because I couldn’t rebel like I wanted to. Couldn’t stay out late and get drunk in case I had a seizure and put myself at risk. Some of the friends I’ve met in online support groups tell me they did all sorts of things at that age. Refused to listen to their parents and their doctors. But I was never courageous enough for all that.
‘By the way,’ Dad says, ‘did Ross sort that dripping tap out? Only I’ve brought my tools just in case.’
Good old Dad. Ever the handyman. Ross might be able to diagnose a case of pleurisy or treat a urinary-tract infection, but I’ve already worked out that when it comes to asking him to fix anything on the domestic front, I might as well be asking him to fly a rocket to Mars.
Dad drives us to Blackheath Village, although it’s hardly a village. I guess it was once, a long time ago. It does have a small-town feel to it, though, with its little shops and eateries, its farmers’ market on a Sunday and the green, open space of the heath. Before moving to London, I used to think of it as one place – a huge, sprawling city – when really it’s hundreds of different neighbourhoods, all bleeding into each other but unique in their own way. Blackheath is definitely posher than Charlton or Lewisham, for instance. I might be a newcomer to the area, but that much is obvious, and not just from the prices in estate agents’ windows.
Mario’s is the perfect blend of style and informality. Crisp white tablecloths and immaculate waiting staff, but a relaxed, café-type atmosphere. Mum and I both have a small glass of white wine while Dad drinks sparkling water. I savour every sip. Alcohol can be a trigger for my seizures, along with caffeine and flashing lights, not to mention stress and tiredness, so knowing I can only have the occasional glass makes me appreciate it so much more. I’m enjoying the taste of it on my tongue, when Mum says:
‘That box we’ve brought, love, it’s bound to stir up a few memories.’
Mum glances at Dad and I’m aware of him stiffening beside me. We all know what she’s referring to, and it’s something we just don’t do. At least, not till now.
Dad lays down his knife and fork and takes a long draught of water before speaking. ‘I said we shouldn’t bring it. We can always take it home again. Or straight to the tip.’
‘No.’ My voice sounds unnaturally fierce. ‘No,’ I repeat, a little more gently this time. ‘I’m glad you’ve brought it. Funnily enough, I’ve been thinking about things recently. What with… the news…’
Once again, I see the reporter’s face and the police tape fluttering behind her. The picture of little Elodie at the top right of the screen. Then another image, monochrome and stark, superimposes itself over the first. I take another sip of wine.
Mum nods. ‘We wondered if…’
‘Dessert, anyone?’ Dad says, his eyes flaring like beacons, and suddenly Mum’s twittering away about tiramisu and affogato and the moment has passed.
Later that afternoon, as I wave at their retreating car, I think about all the other times a conversation about the past has been thwarted by something as simple as a look, a word, an imperceptible movement of the head. All those weighted silences. As I walk back into the house and see the box Dad’s left in the hall, there’s a strange sensation in my gut. The unease is building.
I drag it into the living room, unable to block the myth of Pandora’s box from swirling around in my mind. This is different, though. Pandora had no idea what was in the box Zeus gave her, whereas I know exactly what I’ll find in here. An icy shiver coils down my spine as the first thing I see is a black tassel sticking out from inside a book. It’s time I laid my ghosts to rest.
Friday, 24 August 2007
It’s warm outside, but here in the church it’s cold and dark. I’m sitting in between Mum and Dad, right at the back by the door. We can hardly see Alice’s family from here, just the backs of their bowed heads. We can hear them sniffing, though, and stifling their sobs.
I lift the Order of Service card from the slot in the back of the pew in front and draw it towards me. The cream-coloured card is stiff in my hand. It has black thread running all the way down the fold and ending in a tassel. There is a photo of Alice on the front. I focus on the knot of her school tie because it’s easier than looking at her face. I can’t look at her face.
Mr Davis, the headmaster, and several teachers from school are here, too. So are lots of girls from our class, Melissa Davenport among them. She and her parents are sitting in the same row as Mr Davis. Why are they sitting there, when we’re all the way back here? It’s not as if Melissa was even friends with Alice. They were both on the netball team, but they never hung out with each other. Not unless it was a match day. That was the thing about Alice, though – everyone seemed to like her.
When the pall-bearers bring the coffin in, there’s a terrible wailing from Alice’s mum. It reverberates around the high, vaulted roof of the church. An alien noise that makes my insides fold over. Mum’s hands are clasped so tight on her lap, the knuckles are white. She is swaying backwards and forwards. Dad’s left arm snakes behind our backs, enclosing us both. I rest my head on his shoulder and shut my eyes, but the tears still manage to escape from under the lids.
I can’t believe Alice is dead. I mean, I know she is. That’s why we’re here, at her funeral. That’s why they’ve just brought her coffin in. The coffin is white with gold handles and there are flowers and teddies and dolls heaped on top, as if she were a little girl, not a teenager, and I can’t help thinking that Alice would be embarrassed by the teddies.
The vicar is speaking now. I straighten up and open the Order of Service that lies on my lap, let my eyes travel down the list of readings and hymns and see that Alice’s favourite is here. It’s my favourite, too. ‘Morning Has Broken’. We used to sing it in choir practice. Really belt it out.
When we get to that one, I try to sing, but my voice is all weak and trembly, so I mouth the words instead. Mum and Dad are good, strong singers and their voices ring out, like they do every Sunday at church. A couple of heads turn round and look in our direction, but somehow I don’t get the feeling they’re impressed. One of the heads belongs to Alice’s sister, Catherine, and I wish for once that Mum and Dad would pretend to sing, like I’m doing, and not draw attention to themselves.
In between the hymns and the readings are pieces of recorded music, chosen by Alice’s family. Catherine has chosen ‘Come Some Rainy Day’ by Wynonna Judd, and when that one is played, almost everyone is weeping. It’s the sort of song that makes you cry even if you’re not sad. But when you’re sad to start with, it’s heartbreaking. Even Dad’s shoulders have begun to jerk up and down.
After the service, only Alice’s immediate family go to the graveside. I’m relieved we don’t have to. No way could I watch her coffin being lowered into the ground. I keep picturing all the smashed and broken bits of her body in that cramped, dark space. I try not to think of what I saw that day, snagged in the bush.
I stand with Mum and Dad by the church gate and watch as Alice’s parents and her sister pick their way through the long grass. Catherine and her dad are either side of her mum, each linking their arm in one of hers, supporting her. She looks so tiny and frail, it’s as if Catherine and her dad are the parents and Mrs Dawson is their little girl. She’s wearing a black skirt and jacket, and a little pillbox hat with a black chiffon veil. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen her all dressed up. Usually she’s in an old baggy tracksuit, or pyjamas and a dressing gown.
When Alice’s grandparents and then her uncles, aunts and cousins approach the grave, I stare at my feet. It seems wrong, somehow, to look at them. Then again, it seems wrong not to look. Disrespectful almost.
But as I raise my head Catherine turns round and looks straight at us, like she did in the church. There’s something slow and deliberate about the movement of her neck. I tell myself I’m imagining it and that she’s going to do that thing people do with their faces when words are useless. But it isn’t us she’s looking at, it’s me. Her eyes bore into me and a chord of fear vibrates down my spine. She might as well be pointing her finger and saying, ‘How dare you still be standing there while my little sister is dead! How dare you!’
I turn my head and count to ten, wait for the horrible feeling in my chest to go away, the one that makes me ask that very same question. But when I look back, Catherine Dawson hasn’t moved. She’s still glaring at me, and I wonder if Mum and Dad have noticed, too, but they’re both studying their shoes.
Afterwards, when everyone else goes back to Alice’s house for the wake, we go home. When Dad starts up the car, I see Catherine huddled with Melissa Davenport and some of the other girls from my class. They are all holding each other’s shoulders and crying. A lump forms at the back of my throat. I should be there, too, crying with them, being supported. Alice was my best friend, not Melissa’s. As we drive past the church, Catherine lifts her eyes and fixes that same withering stare on me once more.
It’s like… it’s like she knows it’s my fault.