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Authors: Jean Ure

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BOOK: Star Crazy Me
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To the
opera
? She had to be kidding!

“Don't worry, it's nothing frightening. As a matter of fact, it's
your
opera –
Carmen
. Very tuneful! Up in town, so we wouldn't be back until late… eleven, eleven fifteen. But that's all right – I'll send you home in a cab, or you can stay the night here, whichever you prefer.”

In a weird sort of way – I mean, considering I didn't like opera – it was actually quite tempting. The thought of going up to town, to a real theatre. A posh one, probably, if it was opera. Then coming back late and getting cabs… that was what rich people did! But how could I explain to Mum? I couldn't! I'd have to tell so many lies. It would just get too complicated.

“What's the matter?” She turned to look at me. “Cat actually bitten your tongue right out?”

I pulled a face. The childish sort of face you pull in
Reception when a teacher tells you you've been naughty. I said, “What would I want to go and see an opera for?”

“Well…” She smiled sweetly at me. “Since you manifestly don't have enough backbone to pursue your real ambition, you should maybe cast your net a bit wider and try something different… find something new to aim for. A new ambition!”

“I don't want a new ambition!”

“So what do you actually intend to do with your life?”

“Not sing in opera!”

“No…” She nodded, slowly. “Upon reflection, you are probably right. I doubt you'd get very far in that world, either. It's a cut-throat business – you have to be prepared to take a lot of knocks. It probably wouldn't suit you.”

“I don't want it to suit me! I don't want to be an
opera
singer.”

“No, you don't,” she said, “you want to be a rock
star. You have the voice to be a rock star. You have the voice, you have the talent – all you lack is the determination. How was it your song went?
This crazy
gal will reach the top
? I'm sorry, but I don't think so! Not with that attitude. It seems a shame to waste the gifts you've been given, but unless you're prepared to stand up and fight you might as well stop dreaming right here and now and admit that you're going to end up as just another nobody.”

Furiously, I retorted, “There's nothing wrong with being a nobody!”

“You're right, there isn't – if you have no other ambition. But I think you have! Haven't you? Oh, now, for heaven's sake, if you're going to sulk you'd better go. Go home and think about things. You can come and see me again tomorrow, but only if you feel like talking.”

I snarled, “I
can't
come tomorrow, I'm
doing
things!”

“Well, whenever you've had a chance to stiffen that backbone… you know where to find me.”

I went off in a huff, banging the front door as I did so. Arrogant, ugly old bag! Telling me I hadn't any backbone! I had backbone. I could stand up for myself! I'd told Marigold Johnson a thing or two. How dare she? How
dare
she?

I hurtled down the steps and out into the square so blinded with rage that I went barging straight into someone walking past. As we bounced off each other, I realised it was Stacey Kingsley, from my class at school. She seemed as surprised to see me as I was to see her. She said, “What're you doing here?”

I said, “What're you?”

She told me she had come to visit her nan.

I said, “What, she lives in the flats?”

“Nah!” She shook her head. “She's in the old people's home. D'you actually know someone who lives in this block?”

“My singing teacher,” I said.

“Your
singing
teacher?”

“Mrs P. That's what I call her. She used to be
famous in opera. She's got this huge flat – that one there.” I pointed. “It's all full of precious antiques and stuff.”

“Wow.” I could tell Stacey was impressed. So she should be! “You gotta be rolling in it to live there.”

“Yes, she's stinking rich,” I said.

“And she teaches you singing?”

“Every day, she gives me these lessons. She's taking me to the opera tomorrow.
Carmen
. That's my opera.” I couldn't resist a bit of boasting. “What my mum called me after.”

“You're called after an
opera
?”

“Yup. Spanish, cos that's what my dad was.”

“D'you
like
opera?”

“'S all right. The best bit's going up to town. We'll probably have a meal somewhere, some posh restaurant, cos we're going to be really late back… eleven o'clock, maybe later. She'll get a cab to take me home. Cab's nothing to her.”

Stacey said, “We got a cab all the way to the airport one time.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Mrs P gets them all over the place.”

“Is she old?” said Stacey.

“Pretty ancient. She's got pots of money, though. She was a really big star, way back.”

“So how d'you get to meet her?”

I was about to say that she'd heard me singing, but then it suddenly struck me: Stacey's nan could have been one of the old people who'd put money in my doggy bowl. I wouldn't want Stacey finding out about that.

I said, “I didn't exactly meet her, I—” And then I glanced at my watch and gave an exaggerated yelp. “Omigod, look at the time! I gotta go!”

“OK,” said Stacey. “See ya.”

“Yeah!” I galloped off across the square. “See ya!”

It wasn't until I went to bed that night that I realised: I had left my guitar behind…

I couldn't have gone round to Mrs P's next day even if I'd wanted, which I didn't, except that some time I was going to have to face her, just to get my guitar back. But Friday was Mum's day off, and she'd already made arrangements for us to go and visit my Auntie Angela. She insisted that I had to go with her.

“We hardly ever do anything together! Of course you have to come.”

Mum could never understand why I didn't want to, and there wasn't any way I could explain to her. Auntie Anje is Mum's sister; she's slim and gorgeous-looking, just like Mum. She has two daughters called Tiffany and Bethan, and they are slim and gorgeous-looking, too. I would like to be able to say that they are also mean and vain and spiteful, but in fact they are none of those things. They are quite good-natured and friendly, which just makes it all the worse as it means I have no excuse for not wanting to see them. It's entirely my own fault if I always end up feeling totally inadequate and dissatisfied with myself. No one ever
says
that compared to Tiffy and Beth I am gross and fat and lumpy. No one even hints at it; they are too kind. But I know that is what they are thinking, and I know that Mum is envious of Auntie Anje for having produced two such teensy tiny delicate little creatures while all she has got for her trouble is a great sack of lard.

Auntie Anje said she was pleased we'd come over as Tiffy wanted to ask Mum something. She wanted to know, next year when she had work experience, whether she could do it in Mum's salon.

“I really, really,
really
want to be a beautician!”

Mum, needless to say, was delighted. I could see that for her it would be an opportunity to do a little bit of showing off, for a change. She might have a great ungainly lump of a daughter, but at least she could lay claim to a beautiful niece. I didn't blame Mum, not one little bit, but it's no use pretending that it didn't hurt, cos it did.

Bethan piped up to say that she was going to be an air hostess. Mum cried, “Yes! You certainly have the looks for it.”

I didn't know air hostesses needed looks, but I guess it's something to distract the passengers and stop them thinking about crash landings and hijackers. They are really just waitresses, though; I wouldn't want to be one. When Auntie Anje turned to me and asked, “What about you, Carmen? What are you planning to
do?” the words came bursting out of my mouth before I could stop them: “I certainly wouldn't want to be an air hostess!”

There was then a long, awkward silence, which Mum finally broke by pointing out they weren't called air hostesses, these days. “They're flight attendants.”

I could see everyone thinking,
Yes, and they don't
have fat ones
. This is what I mean about it being my own fault. Auntie Anje did her best to patch things up. She said, “What about your singing? Nan did so love it! She used to tell everyone about her granddaughter… going to be a second Judy Garland.”

I said, “That was when I was young and didn't know any better.”

“Any better than what?” said Mum.

“Being a second Judy Garland. I don't want to be a second
anybody
! I want to be me.”

“Well, hoity toity!” said Mum. “There's gratitude for you! Your poor old nan thought she was paying you a compliment.”

“She was always so proud of you,” said Auntie Anje. “It used to make my two quite jealous, didn't it, girls?”

They nodded solemnly.

“Anyway” – Mum said it in the no-nonsense voice she uses when she reckons I'm getting above myself – “being you isn't exactly what I'd call a career move. You'll need to think of something a bit more practical than that!”

I was glad when at last we could go home. I felt so angry with myself! I always swore that
this time
I would be cool, I would be sophisticated, I wouldn't let feelings of inferiority push me into making sour and bitter remarks. When would I ever learn???

Next day was Saturday and Mum had to work, so I decided I would go and get my guitar back. I would be polite, but firm.

“I am sorry to bother you, but I have just come to pick up my guitar.”

No scales, no exercises.
No
talking
. Just the guitar. If she happened to invite me in – well! I might accept, I
might not. It would depend how she asked me. If she was in one of her barking moods, I'd say thank you, but I had somewhere to go. If, on the other hand, she looked like she was prepared to be pleasant and not start nagging at me, then maybe I would go in for just half an hour. Just to be polite. It was up to her.

There wasn't any reply when I rang at her doorbell. I rang and rang, in case she'd fallen asleep like Nan used to, but nobody came. I felt a bit cross. I'd made all this effort, and now she wasn't there! She ought to be there. It was still only ten o'clock and she'd been out late last night. Maybe she was still in bed and too deaf to hear the bell?

I was about to hammer at the door with my fist when an old lady appeared, tottering down the hall. “If you're looking for Mrs P,” she said, “she's in the hospital.”

I said, “Oh no!” It's terrible, but my first thought – well, maybe my second –was for my guitar. How was I going to get it back???

“Taken there last night,” said the old lady. “Mugged, she was. Some young thug in a hood, waiting for her as she came in. Smashed the light, didn't they? I always told her, you're asking for trouble, coming home that time of night. It's just not safe. Not these days.”

Disturbing thoughts started to whiz round my head. “Is she going to be all right?” I whispered.

“Who knows? She's no spring chicken… eighty-five last birthday. You don't bounce back so fast at that age. I'll be going to visit her later on. Can I give her a message?”

I couldn't think of anything suitable. My mind was heaving and churning.

“Shall I tell her you called? What name shall I say?”

“C-Carmen. Did they rob her?”

“Took her lovely rings that she wears, and her jewellery. And her bag, of course. Fortunately Mr Dyer from upstairs heard the rumpus and came down to investigate, or they'd have been inside, helping themselves.”

“I s'pose they didn't catch anyone?”

“Not a chance! Soon as Mr Dyer appeared, the young so-and-so made off. Ought to be strung up, if you ask me, attacking an old lady like that. Anyway, I'll tell her you were here.”

I wandered back in a daze across the square. What was I supposed to do now? My guitar was locked up in Mrs P's flat and Mrs P was in hospital and might not come out, and I was beginning to be horribly scared that I might have been responsible for putting her there. Me and my stupid boasting! Stacey Kingsley wasn't one of Marigold's particular friends but she did go round with Craig Archer, and Craig Archer just happened to be Lance Stapleton's best buddy, and everyone knew Lance Stapleton was a thug. He was exactly the type that would hang around in doorways waiting for old ladies to mug. If Stacey had told Craig about me and Mrs P going to the opera and not getting back till eleven o'clock, Craig could easily have given Lance a tip-off.
It wasn't like Craig himself was any angel;
he'd
had run-ins with the cops before now, though only for minor things. I didn't think he'd actually resort to bodily harm. But Lance would! He was known for it. He wouldn't think anything of attacking an old lady.

I began to feel a bit desperate. Mrs P had been good to me, and I'd been nothing but rude and ungracious. It was true she'd nagged me and bullied me and told me I didn't have any backbone, but even while I was getting mad at her I think I'd known, really, that she wasn't doing it to upset me. She was doing it because she believed in me. She really believed that I had a voice! And all I'd done in return was sulk. And now I'd probably gone and got her mugged, and if she died it would be my fault.

I blundered on, back to the bus stop. I kept picturing Mrs P, dressed in her finery, all happy after seeing her beloved opera, never suspecting that some horrible thug was waiting for her in the shadows. I
couldn't bear the thought of her being beaten up! She was such a frail old lady.

While I was waiting at the bus stop, wondering what to do, I got a text message. From Josh! All it said was,
Hi U
. I immediately texted back, asking where he was. He said he was home.
Where U
?
I said that I was in Sheepscombe. Josh said,
Doing what
? I said,
Nothing
.

Next thing I know, he's actually calling me. We're actually speaking!

Josh said, “Wanna come over?”

I told him, Yes. Yes, yes, yes! I said that I would come straight away.

Josh said, “Good, cos I've got something to tell you.”

I said, “What?” But he said not over the phone.

I felt a bit apprehensive. I said, “Is it something nice?”

“Dunno 'bout nice.”

“It's not anything
nasty
?”

“No, it's not anything nasty! Just get over here.”

I couldn't wait to see Josh again. I did so want things to be back the way they'd always been! I'd felt so isolated, without either him or Indy. You really do need your friends, I think; it's miserable, being on your own.

I did have one moment of panic as I got to Josh's place, thinking maybe we wouldn't have anything to say to each other, but I needn't have worried. Josh was so eager to give me his news that we didn't have time for awkward pauses.

“Just thought you'd like to know,” he said, “that I finally did it.”

Bemused, I said, “Did what?”

“What you told me to do. What you said I was too cowardly to do!”

“You mean… you told them? Your mum and dad?”

He nodded, grinning. Obviously pleased with himself.

“What did they say?”

“Oh… you know! All the usual mum and dad type stuff.”

I said, “Like what?” but he seemed reluctant to go into details so I thought probably it embarrassed him. I guessed it would have been slurpy stuff along the lines of
You're still our son
and
We'll always love you
. Stuff like out of a movie.
Exactly
what I'd predicted!

“So they didn't chuck you out?” I said.

He grinned again, and shook his head. “They were pretty relaxed about it.”

“Surprise, surprise!”

“Go on, you can say it.”

“Say what?”

“I told you so.”

“Well, I did! It was obvious. You didn't seriously think they'd disown you?”

“No, but I knew they'd be a bit upset.”


Are
they?”

Josh said they had to be. He said normal parents always wanted their kids to get married and have kids of their own. “They all want to be grannies and grandpas.”

I said, “Really? I don't reckon my mum'd fancy that idea.”

“How is your mum?” said Josh. “What did she say about you not going in to school?”

I told him that Mum didn't know. Then quickly, before he could get started, I said, “So how was Malta?”

Josh said, “Hot. How was Sheepscombe?”

“Sheeps— oh! Yes.” I smiled brightly. “Hub of the universe! Same as always.”

“So what were you doing there?”

“Oh, just—” I waved a hand. “I went to visit someone. This old lady.” And that was when I told him about Mrs P. How I had been busking, and she had invited me back for peppermint tea. How once upon a time she'd been an opera singer – “She was
famous
!” How she'd been giving me singing lessons for free. How she'd invited me to go to the opera with her, and how I'd been so rude and unpleasant.

Josh said, “Why? Why were you rude and unpleasant?”

“I don't know!” I wasn't about to admit that it was because she kept nagging at me, and telling me I had no backbone. “I just was! But it's awful cos she went on her own and when she got back it was late and someone was waiting for her and they mugged her and stole all her lovely jewellery, and now she's in hospital and… I think it might be my fault!”

“What, just because you didn't go with her?”

“No! It's worse than that.”

I told him how I'd bumped into Stacey, and how I'd boasted about all the wonderful things Mrs P had in her flat. “And then I said we were going up to town on Friday evening and wouldn't be back till really late, and you know Stacey goes round with Craig Archer, and Craig goes round with Lance Stapleton, and—”

“You think Lance did it?”

“He could have. It's exactly the sort of thing he does!”

Josh sat there, frowning. I silently begged him to tell me I was talking nonsense, but he didn't. He nodded,
slowly, and said, “I guess it's possible.”

“So what should I do?” The question came wailing out of me. “D'you think I should go to the police?”

BOOK: Star Crazy Me
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