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Authors: Cj Flood

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BOOK: Infinite Sky
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The back door was open, and a bright line of sequin- and diamanté-studded flip-flops waited beside it: glamorous boats at the pontoon. Matty dropped ice and slices of lime into a jug,
filled it with ginger beer, and I listened to the fizz rising. She got three glasses and put everything onto a tray.

‘Carry that out for me?’ she said, stepping into her flip-flops, and before I thought to ask why
didn’t take it, I was following her with the loaded tray into the

Donna was sunbathing. ‘I-
!’ she called. ‘Perfect timing with the fizz!’

I set it down on the white patio table.

‘Come here,
,’ she said, like I was her long-lost daughter. Her body smelled of orchids and was smothered in oil, and I tried not to feel uncomfortable in the heat
radiating from it as I leaned down to kiss her cheek.

you got on?’ she said. ‘Matty, go and find Iris something decent – she’ll swelter like that.’

‘Oh, I’m fine,’ I said. ‘I only burn anyway.’

‘No. Off you go. I can’t bear looking at you!’

I thought of Trick waiting in the field, and how it would only take ten minutes to get there if I ran, but I followed Matty up to her bedroom. It was like a wasp spilling pheromones to an ant;
as soon as I was anywhere near her I lost all initiative.

‘Sorry,’ Matty said, as she rifled through drawer after drawer. ‘She just worries about you.’

‘I’m fine.’

Matty passed me a pair of sunset-covered Bermuda shorts. They slouched on my hips, ending below my knees.

‘My uncle brought them back from Florida,’ she told me. ‘They look good.’

I raised my eyebrows at her. ‘I look like a beach towel.’

She laughed. ‘Everything else still has the tags in.’

In the last few months Matty had shot up six inches – an average willy size, as Donna liked to say – so Donna had bought her a whole new wardrobe.

‘Take those home with you,’ Matty said.

don’t want them?’

Back in the garden, Donna lay on her sunbed doing a crossword. She put her pen down, and frowned at my shorts.

‘You are a measly host, Mats,’ she said, laughing. ‘At least let Iris have your lounger.’

Matty shifted to the grass between us. The floral padding was damp from her sweat.

‘So . . .’ Donna prompted, her brown eyes full of mischief.

Up close, her liquid eyeliner was wonky. Black crumbs were scattered in the creases under her eyes. I lay back, remembering what Mum had said about not having to answer people’s

Noises came from the gardens that surrounded us: a lawnmower, a metal bin lid crashing shut, cutlery scraping a plate. A bunch of kids somewhere shrieked.

Trick would be in the cornfields now, or swimming in the lake. He’d have given up waiting for me. I imagined introducing him to Matty, bumping into her as the two of us wandered through
the village, chatting away like we had since we first met. Trick would be friendly but detached, perking up whenever he spoke to me . . .

Matty prodded one of my sunsets. ‘
. Donna’s talking to you.’

‘I said, how are
?’ Donna repeated. ‘Dad all right?’

‘Yeah, he’s fine, thanks.’

‘Still drinking at The Stag?’


‘And he’s all right, is he?’

‘Yeah, fine. Thanks.’

‘And he’s got enough work on?’

‘Yeah, he’s got a big job on at the minute. A load of dying elms, somewhere out by the Peaks.’

‘Oh wonderful!’ she said. ‘One less thing to worry about. And how about your bro?’

She watched me over her glass as she sipped.

‘I love his hair long,’ Matty gushed. ‘D’you think he’ll keep growing it?’

I took a swig of ginger beer and shrugged.

‘Saw him a few nights ago. With that awful big lad, he was,’ Donna said. ‘That one whose mum’s in the madhouse. You know. The one with the daft name.’

She squinted, trying to remember, and I thought
Punky, Punky, Punky
. She gave up.

‘Sam’s not in with him, is he?’ Donna said.

I shook my head so they’d both stop examining me.

‘Bad lad, that one. Does your dad know?’

I nodded automatically. I hated the way Donna acted like my dad was the only parent in the world who didn’t know everything his kids got up to. As soon as Matty got a boyfriend she planned
to have sex with him so she could be the first girl in our form to do it. Did Donna know about that?

She got up and refilled our glasses, and she obviously couldn’t read minds because she said, ‘Mats’s got a new boyfriend, haven’t you, doll?’

Matty sat up, enthusiastic suddenly. ‘Oh Iris! It’s that boy from the pet shop. I told him I loved fish!’

I pulled a face at her.

‘I know! I panicked. You’ve
to help me. I said I loved the little freaks. He works in the aquarium section.
He’s sixteen!
’ She whispered the last two
words in case they blew my mind.

We lay there like this until all the ginger beer had vanished, and when Donna brought out tuna sandwiches I felt a familiar pang because she’d cut the crusts off, and shaken crisps onto
each plate, and I had to tense my stomach for a few seconds to make the ache go away. I focused on Trick jumping into Ashbourne Lake, and his tanned body drying off on the bank beside me, and the
cornfield stretching out blondly for miles all around.

When the plates were washed and dried and put away, and the sides wiped down and the tea towels hung on the rail to dry, me and Matty went upstairs. She experimented with
bright blue eye make-up and went on about how fit the pet-shop boy was, and all the things he had done that made her think he really liked her, and I lay on her bed, staring at the leftover
Blu-Tack on the ceiling. I remembered the day we’d stuck neon plastic stars there, last December. Matty had bossed me about, rearranging each one I touched.

‘The thing about you, Iris, is that you haven’t got any flair,’ she’d told me, and I’d gone to sit by her window, looking out at the snow, wondering where I could
get some.

I thought of Trick’s expression when I’d shown him the azure damselfly, and I wondered what he was doing precisely this second. He would know I wasn’t coming by now.

‘Iris!’ Matty said. ‘You’re rubbish today . . .’

She swung around to face me, almost singing as she repeated whatever it was I was supposed to be listening to.

should I
if he
what I
feed my fish

I sat up. Her mouth was open as she waited for me to answer.

‘Why did you invite me round today, Matty?’


‘Why did you invite me round?’ Propped on the edge of her bed, I forced myself not to look away. One of her brown eyes was ringed with a sparkling blue, and it made her look
vulnerable somehow, like a panda dressed up for a disco.

She shook her head, laughing at me. ‘
. . .’

‘I just wonder.’

Her amusement was turning to hurt. ‘We’re friends, aren’t we?’

The sun through the window made her silky black hair shine, and she gathered it up in her hands, brought it to rest on the opposite shoulder.

‘We’ve been best friends forever . . .’ she said, sounding less certain.

‘Then why did you give me these horrible shorts?’

‘Because you were hot!’ she said.

‘And why do you always tell me what you think of my clothes? And my personality. My
, even. Why d’you think you can do that?’

She stood up. ‘
. What’s wrong with you today? You’ve been rude all morning . . .’

been rude!’ I gasped, and I was about to launch into a rant, but I stopped myself. I didn’t want to argue. I just wanted things to change.

‘Suppose it doesn’t feel much like
best friends
to me any more.’

Matty came to sit beside me on the bed. Her eyes were soft now, and I wondered if I’d made a mistake, because she could be so nice, and gentle, but then she said, in her softest talk-show
voice, ‘Is this because of your mum?’ and she looked so sympathetic I wanted to punch her in the face.

‘It’s nothing to do with my stupid mum, Matty.
That isn’t the only thing that’s ever happened to me, you know.’

She widened her eyes. ‘Soz, Iris, no need to go mental.’

got a boyfriend,’ I said. ‘Can you even imagine that?’

‘What?’ she said, and then her eyes narrowed to slits. ‘Who, that gypsy?

‘You don’t know anything about it,’ I said.

I started pulling my jeans back on. ‘And you can have your weird shorts back and all.’

‘Where’re you going?’ she called after me, but I didn’t answer because I was taking the stairs two at a time, then I was out the front door, tearing down her road,
adrenalin rushing through me.

I leaped up and grabbed a handful of sycamore leaves, disturbing a pigeon by mistake. Its grey wings beat the air as it flew into the cloudless sky, and I felt something inside me taking off
with it.


The next morning, I went out early. By the time I’d got to the corn den after Matty’s yesterday, Trick had gone and I wanted to see him. I couldn’t resist
stopping at my trusty alder to spy on his family. Across the ditch, his dad stared into the fire, finishing off a cup of something.

The sky was still pale, and his squat shadow fell onto the caravan behind him. There was a bandage on the knuckle of his right hand, and his thick neck and shoulders were sunburned, and I would
never admit it, but he scared me. What would he say if he saw me, watching him like this? I didn’t dare move.

I could hear the brook, and I willed Trick’s dad to turn his back for ten seconds so I could run. I wanted to be there and safe, in the mud and wild garlic of the bank, and the moss of the
stepping stones, feeling the cool air by the water. He tipped his cup out onto the grass and walked into the caravan, and I made a run for it.

Sunlight stabbed through ash and willow to make a spotlight on the stepping stones, and I basked there for a moment, catching my breath and warming my face. Two chub slid beneath the surface of
the brownish water. Minnows scattered. An emperor dragonfly bobbed above the surface.

I ran through the corridor to the corn den. Thick green stalks brushed my shoulders, and I crossed my fingers, nervous in case Trick was or wasn’t there.

‘Iris,’ he said, lifting himself on his elbows.

‘Eh up,’ I said, and relief tingled the back of my neck. I dropped down cross-legged, and pulled a sweating bottle of pop from my rucksack. I’d bought it on my way home from
Matty’s with the money Dad had given me for chips. It had been in the fridge all night. The bottle gasped open, and I took a big drink then passed it over.

All around us the corn made a grinding, shifting sound, and I settled on my side, temple on palm, thinking of all the insects drinking and feeding around us.

‘Where were you yesterday?’ he asked, and I apologised.

‘Had to go to my stupid friend’s house. I came here after, but you’d gone.’

He passed the pop back.

‘Ever had a friend who made you feel like a dickhead all the time?’

Trick lay back without answering.

‘You in a mood with me?’ I said, and started explaining how I hadn’t wanted to go to Matty’s in the first place, but he shook his head.

I stared beyond our feet to the corridor, and the bamboo-like maize stems, and the different shades of green, but still he didn’t say anything, and so I asked if he went to the lake, like
we’d planned.

‘Nah,’ he said. ‘Couldn’t be arsed.’

He relaxed into his usual position – flip-flops off, hands behind his head – but he seemed different, and after a while I realised why: his feet were tapping the air constantly, as
if he had itchy bones. Usually, he lay lizard-still.

I asked him if he was all right, and he nodded, but I knew he wasn’t telling the truth.

‘It’s me da . . .’ he said, finally. He sat up, wrapped his arms round his knees, and focused on a bunch of ragwort near his toes. ‘He found out that I haven’t . .

BOOK: Infinite Sky
11.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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