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Authors: Cathy Hopkins

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Zodiac Girls: Brat Princess (12 page)

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Marilyn came and threatened me. “If you don’t
come out of this circle this minute and ’elp us
decorate, I will cut off your arm with my penknife and
beat you with the soggy end.”

“Oh
très amusant
Marilyn. Is that all?” I said, then I
yawned and turned away from her. “Be quiet when you
go hey? I think I might have a little sleep.”

Cut off my arm with her penknife. She was so
pathetic. I also suspected that she put the tough accent
on. She needn’t threaten me or worry. None of them
should. I was sure that they’d get their special supper.
They hadn’t done anything. It was me who was to be
be excluded. A special treat for Zodiac Girl. Mario and
his crew wouldn’t deny the others because I was being
stubborn. Not on Christmas Eve. No-one would be
that mean.

I lay on the floor and curled up like a cat to try to
keep warm as there was a serious draught blasting in
from under the front door, and there I fell into a fitful
sleep. I was awoken by four chimes from the clock
down the hall. It was dark and cold and I felt cramped
and uncomfortable.

For a moment, I wished that Mr O had been
around a bit more. Okay, so he was a bit of a luvviedahling,
kiss-kiss actor type but he was a lot more fun
than the others and although I would never let him
know it, not in a million squillion years, I recognized a
kindred spirit in him. He was clearly used to being the
star of the show, just as I was, which is probably why
he took it so personally when I was rude to him.

As I lay there, I wondered what might have
happened if I hadn’t stomped on my zodiac phone and
had taken more of an interest in his obscure little
notes. Maybe they were coded with clues as to how to
get out of here. He had said that he was my guardian
so maybe he had been trying to help me in some
peculiar way.
Maybe I’ve been playing it all wrong,
I
wondered.
Hadn’t Mr O said something about what you resist,
persists? Maybe I shouldn’t have resisted being a Zodiac Girl or
a team player. Maybe I should have welcomed it and seen where
it could have led
.

I sat up and rubbed my arms to try to get warm
again and a couple of seconds later Dr Cronus
appeared.

“And have you learned your lesson?” he asked.

“Only thing I’ve learned is that this floor sure is hard.
So can I get up now?”

He nodded. I took that as a sign that I could go and
have supper. I couldn’t wait. I was starving. I’d been
dreaming about all the gorgeous food that had
appeared earlier in the day, so I raced to the kitchen
where I expected to find the others munching away. I
prayed that they’d saved a piece of something for me.

However, the scene in the kitchen had changed since
this morning. The fire had gone out. The only smell in
the air was the usual one of boiled onions and bleach.
And there were no more Christmas carols playing. Four
teenagers sat slumped at the table under a glaring
overhead light. In front of them was a large pan.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Potato soup,” growled Lynn.

“Potato soup! But… but where’s all the yummy
food?”

Four faces turned to look accusingly at me.

“They took it back, thanks to you,” said Marilyn
through clenched teeth.

“No!” I gasped.

“And we had to eat this disgusting stuff that tastes like
puréed flour,” Jake added. “All because of you.”

“You’re the most selfish person we have ever met,”
said Mark.

“And we all
hate
you,” said Lynn.

A wave of disappointment flooded through me. No
Christmas supper. Not a morsel. Not a crumb. I was
going to fade away altogether if this carried on. Forget
size zero. I was going to be size minus zero and a half.

Vibrations of loathing were flying through the air
towards me, so real I could almost see them, like snakes
writhing towards me, with tiny tongues poking venom in
my direction. For the second time in my life, I, Queen
of I Can Stare You Back, couldn’t meet someone’s
angry gaze. I looked away then ran to the dorm, where
I flung myself on my narrow bed and pulled the duvet
over my head.

It wasn’t
fair
. Okay. Maybe I ought to say I’m sorry
to them, but I didn’t think they’d really be punished for
my behaviour. Not really.
Nobody understands,
I thought as
I brought the back of my right hand up to my forehead
à la tragic heroine.
No-one can ever understand
.

“Leonora, LeONo…r…a…” called a soft voice.

I poked my head out of the duvet to see that Dr
Cronus was standing in the doorway. He looked weird.
Shimmery. I looked closer and realized that he was
holding a torch under his chin, which made him look
like a spook. Poppy and I used to do that to scare each
other under the bed sheets on Halloween, then we’d tell
ghost stories.

Hah!
I thought.
New tactic. So now they’re going to try to
scare me into submission
. “Cut the bogeyman act, Doc. I’m
not falling for it.”

Dr Cronus sighed then turned off the torch. “Worth
a try,” he said. He beckoned me to follow him out the
door.

“Why out the door?” I asked. “Why not fly right out
the window like in Peter Pan and Wendy, eh? Come on,
Crustyboots. Show me what you got.”

Dr Cronus sighed again. “I do
so
hate you spoilt
brats. I always get assigned you lot. It’s because I’m the
Great Taskmaster you know. He who teaches life’s
important lessons and it does get oh so tiresome
sometimes when people resist, which they always do in
the beginning. Some days I wish I could be one of the
others. Like Joe. He’s Jupiter you know. Everybody
loves him. Or Hermie. He’s my grandson and very
popular.”

“Oh, drop the poor-me act. If you don’t like what
you’re doing, get lost. I never asked you to teach me
lessons or whatever.”

“I have no choice,” said the doctor. “You are Zodiac
Girl so I can’t get lost no matter how much I want to.
You have been chosen and I must do what I have been
bidden. So get up.”

“Or else?”

Mr O suddenly appeared behind him. “Or else the
others won’t get their Christmas breakfast or dinner
either,” he said.

“Christmas breakfast? There’s to be a Christmas
breakfast?
And a Christmas dinner?”

“Well, that all depends on you, Leonora,” said Mr
O. “You have been one of the most resistant Zodiac
Girls we have ever had and now, enough’s enough. It
was up to you what you did with your month here and
so far, quite frankly, it’s been a waste of everyone’s
time. But it needn’t be if you’ll just let us in a little. You
have so much going for you if you would just let down
the wall you’ve put up to push the world away. Okay, so
yes, Leos can want their own way, yes they can be
stubborn. But they can also be strong and generous
and affectionate and the best of fun. Why not be the best
you can be instead of always choosing to be the worst?”

I was about to say something cheeky back but there
was some truth in what Mr O had said. I knew that I
was demanding and I did always push people away and
where had it got me? This miserable lodge on
Christmas Eve and everyone here hated me.

“Let us help you,” said Mr O, “and your time here
needn’t be so bad.”

I nodded. “Okay. Lead the way,” I said with a sigh.
Mr O smiled at me then left me alone with the doctor,
who beckoned me to follow him out of the dorm and
down through the maze of corridors until we got to a
staircase at the back of the lodge. It led down to
another floor that I hadn’t noticed before.

“What’s down there?” I asked.

“Come with me and you’ll see.”

The staircase had dark wooden banisters and went
down one flight to a door that was carved with
intricate figures. On closer inspection, I made out the
twelve signs of the zodiac.

“A zodiac door,” I said as I read the words under the
carvings. “Aries the ram, Taurus the bull, Gemini the
twins, Cancer the crab, Leo the lion, that’s me, Virgo
the virgin, Libra, scales, Scorpio the scorpion,
Sagittarius the archer, Capricorn the goat, Aquarius the
water bearer and Pisces the fish. Hey, this is really
beautiful. Is it Indian? It looks Eastern.”

Dr Cronus smiled. “It’s from Atlantis. The only one
like it in existence.”

“Cool. Atlantis. Yeah. I think I know someone who
went there on a holiday.”

Dr Cronus almost laughed. “I very much doubt
that. Atlantis is an ancient civilization.”

“Yeah, so? Greece and Italy are ancient too. I’m not
totally stupid. People go there on holiday.”

Dr Cronus tutted. “I sincerely doubt that they have
been to Atlantis,” he said. “Not unless they can time-travel.”
He got out a huge brass key and opened the
door. “You’re very chatty all of a sudden.”

“Just glad to be out of that stone circle,” I said. “It
was very dull.”

Dr Cronus turned on a light and a room with floor-to-ceiling
shelves appeared. They were weighed down
with ancient-looking books, videos, DVDs. I looked at
a couple of the labels.
Polarities and Elements
. Hmm.
That sounds complicated
, I thought.
The Quadrupicities.
Ditto. Progressions. Transits. Synastry in Action
.

“Hey, this is like the kind of library a wizard would
have. In fact, you look like a wizard.”

Dr Cronus sighed. “If I had a penny for every time
I had heard that. Just because I have a long white
beard, it doesn’t make me a wizard. And anyhow, our
aim is to teach you to see the magic that there already
is in the world. Not to do tricks.”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever,” I said, then I remembered
what Mr O had just said and smiled at Dr Cronus to
show that I wasn’t totally against him. “Hey, got any
mags down here? Like
Teen Vogue
or
Elle
?
Tatler
?”

Dr Cronus turned and gave me a scathing look.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then. But what is this place?”

“My archive, and I suggest you go and sit down and
be quiet while I find your file,” said Dr Cronus. He
pointed at a TV screen at the end of the room, in front
of which was an old leather sofa with some of its
stuffing coming out. “Go and sit down there and wait
for me.”

I did as I was told and made myself comfortable on
the sofa. On the table in front were two sandwiches and
a glass of milk.

“That’s for you,” he called. “Avocado and cheese.”

“Hey, thanks, Doc,” I said and gulped the first one
back in about four bites. It was utterly yummy.

“And don’t call me ‘Doc’. I’m Dr Cronus to you. Ah,
there it is,” I heard him say and, moments later, he
appeared with what looked like a DVD in his hand. He
put it into the machine.

“Movie?” I asked. “We’re going to watch a
movie
?”

The doctor nodded. “We use all the latest
technology when we can. Now, as you know, I am also
known as Saturn…”

“The Taskmaster,” I said to show that I had listened
to
some
of what he and Mr O had been droning on
about.

Dr Cronus nodded. “Saturn rules the part of one’s
life in which one needs to learn lessons. In your case,
in order to do this, we need to go back into your past
and look at some of the fears that lie there.”

I felt a shiver of panic. My past? He was beginning
to spook me but… he couldn’t know about my past.
Could he?
I wondered as I began to eat my second
sandwich.

“Don’t be scared, Leonora,” said the doctor. “You
can overcome your past. Your chart shows many
strengths as yet untapped. Now watch the screen.”

The blank screen grew light. A door appeared. A
green door with a brass lion’s head on it. It looked
familiar. The door began to open. It
was
familiar.

A lump came into my throat and I stopped mid
munch.

“How…?” I began, but no more words came as I
continued to watch. It was our old house on the TV.
Our house in England where we lived before Poppy
died.

From the back of the house came the sound of
laughter and the camera zoomed in. I felt as if I was
there. Walking down the hall like I had done a
hundred times when I’d lived there. The door to the
living room opened and I felt as if someone had
punched me in the stomach, for there was Poppy, her
face lit up with laughter.

“How?
Where
did you get this?” I asked. I had never
seen it before. I knew that there were videos and DVDs
of Poppy, but I thought that I had seen them all. Knew
each one frame by frame. I’d memorized every second
of each of them for they were all that I had left of her.

Dr Cronus sat on a chair to my left and put a finger
up to his lips to indicate that I should be quiet. “Just
watch.”

Poppy was sitting by the fire and cutting out
patterns from a sheet of green paper in front of her.

“Leaves,” I said. “She’s making leaves for
decorations.”

For a few seconds my questions fell away. I didn’t
care how Dr Cronus had got the DVD or why. I could
see Poppy. My little sister at Christmas.

She was two years younger than I, with blonde hair
and pretty in a delicate way, with eyes that were almost
too big for her face and gave her a look of constant
surprise at the world. She was never completely well
and was thin and pale as far back as I could remember.
She suffered from asthma attacks which would come on
out of the blue and were frightening to witness as she
struggled to breathe with aid of her inhaler. She had
the wretched thing near her, on the table. I couldn’t help
but notice.

Not that she ever complained,
I thought as I watched the
screen.
She was always positive and generous to a fault. She’d
always fetch anything I wanted just so that she could be with me.
And she loved to play hairdressers and would brush my hair for
ages and not complain if I squirmed my way out of returning
the favour. I did love her. I did. In my own way. If I’d have
known what was going to happen, of course I’d have let her know
just how much a lot more often
.

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