Authors: Cathy Cole
Eve spun round in shock.
“Help, I'm going to fall!” Lila screamed again. “I'm GOING TO FALL!”
Unfreezing her pose, Eve ran round the corner and back into the huge central space. Ollie and Polly were gaping upwards, their mouths open in fear. Max and Rhi sat frozen together on the bench. Following their terrified gazes, Eve stared upwards. The undersides of Lila's white trainers gleamed at her in the moonlight.
“I CAN'T HOLD ON!” Lila shrieked.
She was dangling from the first storey, swinging wildly, as Ryan tried to hold on to her, his face as white as bone. A splintered ladder lay at a useless angle on the ground floor beneath them both.
Eve saw in a flash what had happened. Ryan must have climbed to the first floor, using the ladder . . . Lila had followed . . . and at the last moment, the badly anchored ladder had slipped away, breaking as it crashed on the floor. Why had they gone up a ladder when there were stairs?
“Help me!” Lila moaned.
“Call the police!” shouted Ollie in horror. “Lila, hold on. . .”
He lunged for the steps. Josh was quicker, emerging from somewhere, leaping over the gaps in the stairway. There was a squealing sound as Ryan's trainers slipped on the bare concrete above them all. Lila lurched and screamed again.
“I can't hold her,” Ryan moaned. “I'm trying. . .”
Josh was beneath Lila now, running frantically to and fro in search of something, anything to enable him to climb upwards. “Call the police!” he bellowed. “Call an ambulance!”
“We said no climbing!” Max shouted in horror. Rhi had buried her face in his shirt. “NO CLIMBING, RYAN! What have you done?”
Eve felt half dead with the horror of it. This was her fault. She shouldn't have agreed to come here. Why was this place still so dangerous? So
Lila screamed again, hopelessly. It came out as a kind of croak.
“There's another ladder,” Eve said, coming to life, remembering. “I'll fetch it. Hold on, Lila!”
And then she was running back to the corridor where she'd found Ollie and Polly in each other's arms, and lifting the ladder from among its tangle of tarpaulin and paint pots, and running through the half-built hallways with it, awkward and bulky in her arms.
“Nearly there, Eve!” Josh shouted.
“I'm going to die,” Lila wept.
, Eve thought as she clambered and slipped over the uneven floor. She felt the ladder gash a hole in the shoulder of her down jacket. Feathers drifted around her like smoke. The ladder felt heavy, so heavy. . . And then Josh was there, his hands grabbing at the metal struts, unfolding it until the top of it reached the edge of the first floor balcony.
A strange calm had descended on Eve. She knew what to do now.
“Lila, Ryan, I want you to listen to me,” she said, looking up. “Are you listening to me?”
“I'm going to die,” Lila whispered.
“I can't hold her,” Ryan moaned.
“There is a ladder,” Eve said, speaking as clearly as she could. “Josh is holding a ladder just to the left of you.”
“Yes,” Lila gasped between sobs. “Yes . . . I see it. . .”
She stretched her toes â and made contact.
“Careful!” Rhi moaned, way down below.
Lila was shaking so badly she could hardly move. She hung where she was, one toe on a step of the ladder, her hands still holding Ryan's.
“Both feet,” said Eve, steady and soothing. “Now a hand. Can you move a hand to the top of the ladder?”
“I'm letting go, Lila,” said Ryan. He sounded calmer now. “You'll be fine now. I'm counting to three, OK? One, two. . .”
Lila made a desperate grab for the ladder. Eve found herself on the ladder now, climbing up towards Lila's shaking legs. “I'm here, Lila,” she said. “It's OK.”
“Three,” Ryan finished, and let go.
Lila hugged the ladder with both hands now, weeping uncontrollably. Eve raised her hand, touched Lila's ankle. “One step at a time,” she said. “I'm here.”
Lila stepped clear of the bottom of the ladder as Josh folded her into a long, warm hug. Max, Rhi, Polly and Ollie cheered.
“Whoo!” said Ryan, lying on his back above them and laughing breathlessly. “What a ride! I thought we were both done for!”
Lila wept harder, clutching at Josh. Eve's cool deserted her completely.
“I wish you
fallen, Ryan,” she hissed. “I wish you'd fallen and smashed every bone in your body! Lila nearly
because of you. Don't you get it? She doesn't like you!
of us like you! Don't you get it? You're pathetic.”
Ryan had stopped laughing. Everyone was silent, holding their breath.
“You can forget about coming to my party,” said Eve, shaking with all the fury and fright and confusion of her evening. “You can forget about ever hanging out with us again. We want you to leave. Now. Before someone else gets hurt.”
Ryan climbed silently down the ladder, his face pale and set, his bravado gone. He touched Lila's shoulder.
“I'm sorry,” he said.
“It's . . . my fault too,” Lila gulped, wiping at her tears with shaking hands. “I shouldn't have climbed the ladder.”
“Leave,” said Eve in a voice of stone.
There was a burst of torchlight. Three security guards had appeared in the entrance of the complex, their beams sweeping the space. Eve shielded her eyes as a beam fell directly on her.
“Kids! Over there!”
“Run,” said Max swiftly.
Everyone scattered. Josh dragged Eve and Lila over the half-built floor at rocket speed. Max and Rhi raced one way; Ollie and Polly raced another. Ryan had disappeared. There was the sound of boots clattering on the marble floor, muttered oaths and the jingling of keys.
“That way,” Josh said in Eve's ear.
They bolted down the corridor where Eve had grabbed the ladder, leaping over the rubble, pushing through the tarpaulin. The shouts were getting closer. Eve crashed through a muddy puddle, feeling the chill oozing through her shoes. She fell, struggled upright again. She couldn't get caught.
“There's a gap in the fence over there,” panted Eve.
“We'll never fit through that,” Lila moaned.
Eve put on a fresh burst of speed, sploshing through the muck and trying not to think of her beautiful, ruined clothes. “We can do it,” she said, and dived head first through the hole in the mesh.
She landed on a stretch of wet pavement, scraping her hand on the tarmac. Lila piled after her, followed by Josh.
“Keep running,” Josh said, getting to his feet and doing his best to wipe the mud off his glasses.
Eve took off again like a hare, keeping pace with Lila and Josh not far behind. Part of her wanted to whoop and celebrate her freedom. The rest was still in the shopping centre, haunted by Lila's screams. A little way ahead she glimpsed Max and Rhi hurtling through the shadows, towards the beach and the sea.
Lila swung through a gate so fast Eve almost missed the turning. She stumbled over her own feet and landed in an ungainly heap on a stretch of wet grass, her breath loud in her ears. They had made it to the park. No one was following them any more.
They were safe.
Eve was finding it hard to concentrate on school on Monday. After the drama of the shopping centre, Lila's near-death experience and her own confusion about Caitlin, it was a miracle she made any notes at all during Mr Morrison's English class.
“If you're coming to my class,” Mr Morrison said into Eve's ear, “it would be good if you could be present in mind as well as body, Miss Somerstown.”
Eve jumped a mile in the air. Mr Morrison raised his eyebrows at the half-scribbled notes in her book and moved on.
Lila leaned across. “Everything OK?”
to be OK
, Eve thought in frustration.
But it's not.
She knew she should be on top of the world. She'd had a wonderful sleepover with her friends, all of whom seemed to like her again, and her island party plans continued to blossom in exciting directions. But she couldn't focus on any of it. Instead, all she could see were the crumbling foundations of everything she had thought solid and real. Her father. Who she was, who she liked. . .
She summoned a smile for Lila. It was important to appear in control.
“Stop fussing, I'm fine,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Lila looked dubious but didn't press it.
They made a crowd around the table at the canteen. Ollie and Max were full of the excitement of the shopping centre adventure, while Rhi and Polly wanted to change the subject and talk about the night at Heartwell Manor instead. Lila sat with Josh, making Eve wonder whether they'd got together at last.
That makes me the loneliest person on this table
, she thought.
Rhi and Max. Ollie and Polly â if not yet, then soon. Lila and Josh likewise.
“Everyone has their feet on the ground today, I see,” Ryan tried to joke as he stopped by their table with his tray.
“No thanks to you,” Eve said, looking up from the salad she had been prodding around her plate.
“Leave him alone, Eve,” Lila said gently. “Ryan got as much of a shock as I did.”
“Nothing scares me,” said Ryan with a shrug.
“Then you won't mind sitting by yourself today,” said Eve pointedly.
“Ha ha,” said Ryan. “Joke. Right?”
The others moved up, letting Ryan settle himself next to Lila. Max clapped him on the shoulder. Sharing the weekend's drama seemed to have convinced everyone that Ryan was one of the crew now. It wasn't an opinion Eve shared.
After school, Eve decided she would go and visit her dad. She wanted to ask him about the shopping centre. Her finger hovered over her dad's number. After a moment, she put her phone away again. Now wasn't the right time, she realized. There was something she had to do first.
“Hey,” said Rhi, passing with Lila and Polly. “Coming to the Heartbeat later?”
Eve shook her head. “Too much to do,” she lied. “There's a problem with the caterers for the party, typical! See you tomorrow.”
She waited until her friends had gone. Then she squared her shoulders and walked back the way she had just come.
The corridor outside Ms Andrews' classroom was quiet. Eve rapped at the door.
The history teacher looked up from her computer. “Eve!” she said in surprise. “What brings you to my classroom this afternoon?”
Eve bit her lip. “Are you free?”
Ms Andrews nodded. She switched off her computer and perched on the edge of her desk. “How can I help?”
Eve remembered vividly the last time she'd spoken to Ms Andrews. When the scandal had broken about the history teacher being in a relationship with Polly's mother, Eve had found herself taking a special interest. She had worked hard to get Ms Andrews' job back when the school principal decided she should take a leave of absence. Ms Andrews had always been kind to Eve. Most importantly, she had listened when Eve had asked a question that had been troubling her for a while. Listened and not judged.
Ms Andrews, do you think it's normal to dream about kissing girls?
“Do you remember our last conversation?” Eve began a little nervously.
Ms Andrews nodded. “Of course. I was pleased you felt you could talk to me about it. Do you have another question?”
Eve sat down at a desk. “It's not a dream this time,” she muttered. “I actually did kiss a girl. And . . . it was good.”
There. She'd said it. She had liked the feeling of Caitlin's mouth on hers. The spark that she had been looking for in all the boys she had ever dated, the mythical electricity between two people that she had read about so often â it seemed that it was maybe real after all.
“Lucky you,” said Ms Andrews. “I've had some awful kisses in my time.”
Feeling a little shocked at her teacher's confession, Eve giggled.
“When you get a good one,” Ms Andrews laughed back, “my advice would be to enjoy every moment!”
“But it wasn't
to be good,” Eve blurted. She stopped, worried that she'd caused offence. “I'm sorry, I didn't meanâ”
“I understand,” Ms Andrews interrupted gently. “I was uncomfortable about it at your age too.”
Eve couldn't imagine the self-possessed woman in front of her doubting herself for a moment. “When did you know?” she asked. “About . . . liking girls?”
“I think I always knew,” said Ms Andrews. “But I pretended it wasn't true. I dated a few boys, but never very successfully. It wasn't until I went to university that I met my first girlfriend. She was called Clara. And suddenly . . . everything clicked into place.”
“Were you with Clara for a long time?” Eve asked shyly.
“Not long,” said Ms Andrews. She smiled. “But long enough to understand that I wasn't an alien from outer space.”
Eve felt the tears wobbling behind her eyelids. She knew that feeling.
“Don't be afraid to be yourself,” the teacher continued. “We only have one life. It's much too short to waste on worrying about what other people think.”
Eve couldn't imagine ever
worrying about what other people thought.
She felt more scared than ever.
Eve waited, the phone pressed to her ear.
This is the voicemail of Henry Somerstown. Please leaveâ
She hung up, feeling lower than ever. Despite her best efforts, she hadn't managed to talk to her father all week. She'd almost managed a conversation that morning over breakfast, but a call had come through and her dad had left the house at speed, pausing only to pull on his cashmere overcoat and shout that he'd be out all day at a meeting in London. She'd tried him three times today, and reached voicemail each time. It was so
“Heartbeat CafÃ©?” asked Rhi at the end of school.
“Not tonight,” said Eve, pulling her coat from her locker. “Busy.”
“What could possibly be more tempting than frappÃ©s at the Heartbeat?” said Lila on the other side. “Cocktails in Cannes? A film premiere in Leicester Square?”
Eve thought wistfully about sitting in the cosy cafÃ© laughing with her friends.
“There's a big party happening on Saturday, in case you'd forgotten,” she said out loud. “We only have a few days left and there is still so much to do.”
“I thought that's what Caitlin was for,” said Polly as she shouldered her bag.
Eve winced. She had been blocking Caitlin's calls for a couple of days now, limiting herself to answering Caitlin's questions by text. With the party only days away, the timing couldn't have been worse. But on top of everything else, she couldn't face a conversation with a girl she couldn't stop thinking about.
party,” she said coolly. “Whatever Caitlin's doing.”
The house was quiet when Eve got in. There was always a kind of deadness at this time of day that she didn't like. Hanging her bag on a hook in the hallway, she took off her shoes and slid on her slippers. Her mother went mad if anyone ever tracked mud over the cream-coloured carpets. Then she went into the huge white kitchen and flipped on the radio. Music washed through speakers set into the walls, bringing a little life with it.
Eve opened the fridge, feeling hungry. Hummus, carrots and a lot of boring green vegetables stared back at her. Her mother had been on a health kick for a week now, and thrown out all the biscuits and juice in the house.
Crunching into a carrot, she wandered back across the wide hallway to her father's study. Locked, as usual. She took out her phone and tried him again, with the same result as before.
“Do turn that racket off, Eve, it's giving me a splitting headache.”
Eve's mother had appeared in the door of the snug with a stick of celery in her hand, her highlighted blonde hair swept up on top of her head. She was swathed in white from head to foot like a designer snowman, with a soft white pashmina draped around her neck to hide the scars from her latest round of cosmetic surgery.
“OK, sorry.” Eve returned to the kitchen and switched the radio off. “Where's Chloe?”
“Your sister has tap class on Wednesdays.” Her mum paused. “Or is that Tuesdays? Perhaps it's riding today, I can never keep up. Yelitza's in charge of all that.”
Eve often wondered how her mother would cope if the stolid home-help suddenly packed her bags and headed home to Venezuela.
“And âOK' is such an irritating expression, I wish you wouldn't use it. So common and uninformative,” her mother added fussily. “You're looking dreadfully tired, darling. That boxy black blazer does you no favours.”
“I don't think they designed the Heartside High uniform with my skin tone in mind, Mother,” said Eve, feeling a little stricken.
Her mum waved her celery stick at Eve like a conductor's baton. “Take the ghastly thing off. You know how affected I am by fabric. I feel like I'm having a conversation with a black widow spider.”
Eve slid off her blazer and hung it up, glancing at her face in one of the hall mirrors.
, she thought fretfully.
I look awful
. She'd do a face pack later. Maybe deep-condition her hair.
The thought of talking to her mother about problems was laughable. Tabitha Somerstown was only interested in success stories and perfection. A top grade at school? Tick. A main part in the school play? Tick.
Mum, I think I like girls, and what's going on at Dad's shopping centre?
was a lead balloon in the making.
Eve limited herself to a more practical question.
“What's for supper?”
“Heaven only knows,” Eve's mother sighed, drifting away back into the snug. “I'm so dreadfully tired I can barely think, let alone cook.”
Probably because that celery stick is the only thing you've eaten all day
, Eve thought. She felt pretty tired herself. Munching on her carrot, she slowly climbed the stairs to her room, peeling off her hideous school uniform as she went, dreaming of the shower and her cashmere pyjamas.
Her homework took longer than normal. After three attempts, Eve decided it qualified as her best effort and pushed it aside. Her stomach was growling too loudly to be ignored.
Predictably, there wasn't much for supper. Eve poked at the remains of the gluten-free spinach lasagne Yelitza had made yesterday before taking herself back upstairs. All she had to do now was stay awake until her dad came home.
This is the voicemail of Henry Somerstownâ
Eve stepped back on to the white-carpeted landing with her phone. “When's Daddy coming back?” she shouted down the stairs.
There was no answer. Eve guessed that her mother had gone to one of her gym classes. She went back to her room and lay on the bed for a while, staring at the ceiling.
When her phone rang, Eve snatched it up. “Dad?”
“I just wanted to say that everything's been ordered, caterers are on standby, and I have the most heavenly outfit. The weather forecast is looking good for Saturday too. It's all going to be so chic, I can hardly stand it.”
Caitlin sounded so cheerful, so
. Eve hated her for it.
“Is that all?” she said abruptly.
Caitlin's voice didn't change. “Did you want to talk about something else?”
“No,” said Eve, and hung up.
There was nothing on TV. Eve watched a film on her laptop, half an ear to the front door. Chloe and Yelitza came back at about eight-thirty, followed by her mother at nine-thirty. The house gradually quietened, until nothing could be heard but the ticking of the grandfather clock by the front door.
The front door opened shortly after midnight. Eve instantly felt herself relax.
“Daddy, you're back!” she said, jumping up from the position she'd taken up halfway down the stairs. “I was worried about you.”
“What are you doing up, Eve?” her father asked as he set down his briefcase and hung up his coat.
“Waiting for you, of course,” said Eve happily.
Her father rubbed his hands through his hair. “Shouldn't you be in bed? You have school tomorrow.”
“You have work tomorrow and you're up,” Eve pointed out. “I'll make us some tea.”
He sighed. “Tea sounds great. I don't suppose there's anything to eat?”
“I could boil you an egg?” Eve suggested, glad to be useful.
Cooking wasn't Eve's strong point, but she knew how to do a perfect boiled egg. It was all in the timing. She set the egg carefully in a white china egg cup, then fanned some chopped carrots around the egg cup to look like toast soldiers. Along with the biscuits and juice, her mother had thrown out the bread as well.
“A feast,” her father remarked, chinking tea mugs with her.
Eve sat quietly and watched him eat. Questions were tumbling around in her head, but she couldn't make herself speak them out loud.
I have to talk to him
, she thought desperately.
I just have to. This might be my only chance.
Her father wasn't in a talkative mood either. He finished his egg, crunched through his carrots and drained his tea to the last dregs before he looked up at her.
Tell him about Caitlin. Tell him about the shopping centre.
“I'm having a great time organizing the party on Saturday,” said Eve brightly, trying to ignore the voice in her head. “It's all looking really fantastic.”
Eve noticed the dark shadows under her father's eyes. The shopping centre needled at her mind.
“I will always love you no matter what,” she blurted. “You know that, don't you?”
He looked weary. “That's good to know, Evie. I don't feel too lovable at the moment.”
Eve sensed that he wanted to tell her something. She wished that he would. She stacked his plate and mug in the dishwasher.
“Something's bothering you,” her father said behind her. “Isn't it?”
Biting her lip, Eve turned back to face him. Where should she start?
“I went to the shopping centre on Friday night,” she said at last, trying to quell her nerves.
He whitened. “What?”
Eve saw that she'd shaken him. “There was a group of us,” she rushed on. “We just went to have a look. Is everything OK on the construction site, Daddy?”
“Everything's fine,” he began soothingly.
“It's not fine!” Eve felt close to tears. “There are whole walls that haven't been built. Wires everywhere. I thought you said you were doing finishing touches!”
“Please don't worry, Evie,” he said, moving towards her and grasping her hands tightly. “There have been a few . . . challenges, but it's nothing I can't handle. I will do whatever it takes to make the shopping centre a success. I would never let you down. You're too precious. You do believe me, don't you?”
His eyes were intent, his hands warm in hers. Eve felt a bit better. She wiped her eyes. “Of course I believe you, Daddy,” she said, willing it to be true.
He kissed her on the top of her head. “That's my girl. Now off you go to bed. Heartside High's most beautiful princess needs her sleep.”
Eve kissed him back on the cheek gratefully. She wished she could talk to him about Caitlin as well, but she was feeling too tired and fragile for that now.
“I will always love
, no matter what,” he said unexpectedly. “Remember that.”
Eve felt exhausted as she headed up to bed, but calm. Her dad would make everything right with the shopping centre. She wondered if on some level he already knew about the struggles she was having about Caitlin.
He loves me no matter what
, she repeated to herself, yawning and climbing the stairs to her room.
The thought was like balm. It made all the difference in the world.