Authors: Helen Brandom
About this Book
“Amy! Wait till you hear thisâ¦”
I hold my breath.
“What?” I say.
“Last night someone left a baby on our doorstep.”
My heart stops.
This is it, I think. Now what do I do?
Sixteen-year-old Amy is used to keeping secrets â about her mum's illness, her irresponsible sister and about Liam, her ex-boyfriend. But Amy has one secret that cannot be kept. Now she has two choices. Does she tell the truth about the abandoned baby, or keep quiet and live a lieâ¦for ever?
It would be easier if I didn't have to pretend all the time. I can only imagine what it must be like, not worrying about saying the wrong thing. Not having to tell half-truths.
I don't need to pretend to be
happy most of the time. I've got my mum, Kirsty's a brilliant friend, we live by the sea, GCSEs will soon be over, and it's nearly summertime. What's not to be happy about?
What I'd love most, though, would be to feel normal more often. Like now.
Revising GCSE Geography might sound boring. But to me, sitting in Kirsty's bedroom sharing her laptop, it's a good feeling. It's what I think of as normal â and I take a moment to let it wash over me.
Kirsty's fingers move over the keys and the screen fills with diagrams, then explanations on cyclones. But I've stopped concentrating. Screwing my eyes up, the flat yellow and blue in the diagram on screen turns into warm sand and blue sea, and though I ought not to â and only for a moment â I let myself run along a beach in Australia with Liam.
Kirsty says, “Here, this could be importantâ” She breaks off. “You're not even listening, are you?”
“Sorry.” Then I say, “It's Liam's birthday.”
She pushes the laptop away. “Today? I didn't realize.”
I sigh. “No reason why you should.”
“Does it still hurt?”
“Not like it did.”
Kirsty's fingers hover over the keys, and though I can't honestly think why he'd email on his birthday, I say, “D'you mind?”
“Seeing if there's anything for me.”
“Sure.” The diagrams disappear and she brings up my email login, keying in my password as if it's her own. We stare at the empty inbox, and she says gently, “Shall we call it a day?”
I push back my chair and stretch. “Okay.”
I'm following her downstairs when she says, “You didn't send him a card, did you?”
I shrug. “I thought about it. But we made a clean break, soâ¦” I jump down the last two stairs. “You know what it's like.”
She gives a short laugh. “I do.” She gives me a quick hug. “It'll get better, Amy. Honestly.”
The house is unusually quiet, with no sign of Kirsty's parents. I glance towards the kitchen. “I thought your mum and dad would be back by now.”
I laugh, and she says, “Plus other stuff â in the sales. New kids arriving tomorrow.”
I often wonder how it is for Kirsty, with her mum's foster kids needing such a lot of attention. Sometimes it's like the house is bursting at the seams. A complete contrast to my situation. Just me and Mum.
“How many kids?”
She looks mock-guilty. “I forgot to ask.”
I make for the front door. “Oh well, you'll soon find out.”
She puts her head on one side. “Can't you stop for coffee?”
“Better not, I left a pile of washing-up. Mum'll wonder where I am.”
where you are.”
“Yeah, but stillâ¦I'd better go.” I pull open the door. “Thanks again. Don't know what I'd do without you.”
She grins. “Any time.”
“Amy?” At Mum's voice â sleepy, from her chair â I'm back in the real world. The frying pan slips from my hand into the water â scummy and going cold.
Washing-up (whether it's lunch dishes or messy bits and pieces left over from last night's tea) is a good time for sorting my head out. Or trying to. This afternoon I'm not doing too well. My mind wanders â again â thinking about Liam and the party he's probably having on a beach somewhere. He'll have made friends in Australia. Girls from school, evenly tanned all over. I never met his mum, but obviously she'd be there. For a few moments I'm there too; I'm slim and wearing a green strappy dress (like the one in a shop window he'd said would look good on me). It's early evening. The sun's still beautifully warm and the surf is rolling in. I run down to the sea and pretend I'm surprised when he catches me up and puts his arms round me.
Mum says, “Did you hear something?” and the dream fades.
I listen. Yes, I can hear it. A whooshing sound coming through the gap at the bottom of the back door, the gap where we stuff newspapers in winter to keep out the draught.
I look across at Mum. Her hair, dark like mine but straight, is tied back with a black ribbon. She has brown eyes and skin people envy â they say it's like porcelain. The time I told her this, she said she didn't fancy being compared to a teapot. Teapot, cup or saucer, she has to accept the fact: she's beautiful.
Beautiful but frail. More than anything, I wish for her to get better.
She's been dozing, waiting for the painkillers to work their magic. We hear the whooshing noise again. I wring out the dishcloth and stand still, listening hard. Now though, the only sound is rain splashing off the gutter.
Then there it is again, a definite snuffling. We both look towards the back door. Mum's face lights up. “If you ask me, that's a dog.”
“Shall I have a look?”
She eases her position in the chair. “Go on then.”
I open the back door, and it flies in â a tornado on legs. Quite long legs. It's shaggy and wet.
It shakes its head. Droplets hit Mum in the face and she laughs â something I wish she did more often.
Perhaps it's lost. Mum and I, we must be wondering the same thing because, with difficulty, she leans forward. “Has it got a collar?”
When I say, “Come here,” it looks at me like we've known each other all our lives. It sits down for a second, head cocked to one side, then stands up again and pads over to where I'm waiting. I feel its neck. No collar.
“I wonder if it's a stray,” says Mum. “It's not much to look at.”
She's right. It's fairly ordinary. Shaggy mid-brown fur. A bare patch on its rough tail. Long claws that go
on the lino.
But its eyesâ¦ They're a deep luminous gold.
When Mum puts out a hand, it rubs the side of its face against her fingers. She scratches behind its ear and you can see how happy it is.
I stroke the dome of its head. “What d'you think it is? Boy or girl?”
Mum says, “Have a look.”
As soon as I kneel down, it rolls over. I take a quick peek. “It's a boy.” My mind rushes ahead. I've already decided he's a dog nobody wants, and wonder if we can keep him. Not that it would be exactly practical. With Mum the way she is.
She's frowning. “I wonder who he belongs to.”
“Whoever it is, they've managed to lose him.”
“We ought to notify the police,” says Mum.
When I need to, I can think at the speed of light. Now is one of those times. “I've got a better idea. Why don't we put a card in the post office window?”
“Saying what exactly?”
“Something simple, like:
Found. Brown dog. Please enquire inside.
My reasoning is that if we stick up a card, there won't be too many folk finding out about him. But if the police are notified, he could go on a database.
Mum makes sure she fondles both his ears equally. “That's not a bad idea.” She leans back, and the dog leans forward. He's making sure Mum can still get at those ears. She frowns. “He's not what you'd call small. He must cost a bit to feed.”
I say, “We'd find a way.”
“Amy â he seems really sweet, but don't get too keen; we're not in a position toâ” She breaks off as the phone rings. Irrationally, I panic that someone's already noticed their dog's gone missing and has maybe spotted it's turned up at our house. I pick up the phone. “Hello?”
Mum watches me. I listen to the caller. I'm nodding. Mum looks worried. Although of course the call isn't about the dog, I make a face at her. Then I say into the phone, “No, it's half-term â I go back Monday.” The caller asks if she can visit. I can't tell her no, so I say, “Yes, okay,” and she tells me what time she'll be here tomorrow. She has a jolly voice: “I'll expect to see the kettle on!” We say goodbye, and I put the phone down.
Mum strokes the dog's head. “The Social?”
“The new person. Mrs Wickham â eleven tomorrow.”
Mum sighs. “Sorry, love, it's going to mean a tidy-up.”
Don't I know it. It means starting upstairs and working down. It means I'll have to make it look like caring for Mum is a walk in the park. It means she'll have to try her hardest to look less disabled than she is. It means we'll have to convince this Mrs Wickham that we manage perfectly well. No way can we let her think it looks like Mum ought to be in residential care. No way can it look like I can't cope.
I think of everything I'll have to do, and wish I had more energy. I wish I didn't keep getting the sudden stomach cramps I've had yesterday and today. Which I wouldn't dream of worrying Mum about.
My spirits lift at a sudden thought. A dog in the houseâ¦ This could be a definite advantage. Maybe it would make us look less like “those poor things on Dune Terrace” and more like a family. Which wouldn't be a problem if my sister still lived at home. Lisa, she's called. She lives in town with her boyfriend. Or he lives with her. I don't know which way round, because I'm not sure who pays the rent. Occasionally she turns up, making out she wants to see how Mum's getting on, though usually it's actually because she wants something. A bit of a waste of time, because there's never much to want round here.
I can't say I'm bothered whether she comes or not, except for Mum's sake. But I wish it wasn't like this. She's the only sister I've got.