If this was a proper story, like the kind you’d read for fun, it would have such a great beginning. Probably they’d want to make it into a film, it’d be that good. It would start in Mission Control – or maybe deep in space, where a massive hunk of rock, an asteroid, is whizzing through the stars on a collision course with planet Earth.
We cut to Earth: all over the world, everyone is terrified; they crowd around their TVs, weeping and praying. Probably there’s also a lot of hugging and kissing and hand-holding, that kind of thing. Lots of deep and meaningful conversations – but not too many; we don’t want to spoil the action.
The final countdown starts and back in Mission Control some old duffer in a uniform stands aside to let some hot young dude – a misunderstood rebel genius who’s masterminded the operation – press the button. His girlfriend is there – or maybe she’s at home, watching on TV, whispering, ‘I love you, Brad,’ as he launches the super-rocket that’s the Earth’s only hope.
Now all everyone can do is wait and hope and pray.
You’d have to speed up the next bit. Apparently in real life it took hours and hours, days, for the missile to reach the asteroid; in the film of the book it’d take just enough time to let the buff dude and his girl find each other, so they can be kissing when:
The asteroid is blown to smithereens. (It looks really pretty, too: a shimmering starburst in the sky. Everyone on Earth goes ooh and ahh and does some more hugging and kissing.)
The buff dude has saved the planet! The hot guy triumphed! Hurrah!
See?! What a great story!
Except, as I said, this is just the beginning . . . and in any case I was too young to remember the asteroid and all that. Me and my friends, we’d seen the stuff about it on the internet and, honestly, it was boring.
Simon, my stepdad, heard me say that once, and he went mental.
‘Are you telling me,’ he said. ‘Are you telling me –’
Here we go. You knew, you just knew, when he repeated stuff like that he was going to repeat a whole load of other stuff. On and on and on and –
‘– that you find the near-destruction of the planet Earth, on which you live, boring?’
I’ve got to say that when he got on his high horse like that, I couldn’t help it: I saddled up my own. Yee-haa!
‘Well, yeah,’ I said.
I was telling the truth. I hate it when you get into trouble for stuff like that, for just saying what’s true. It’s like THEY – the parental types and about 99.999 per cent of all known teachers – want you to lie about what you think. You get into trouble for lying about everything else – who you were with, what you were doing, whether you’ve done your homework or not – but they don’t care when you lie about what you think. They actually want you to do it. It’s called agreeing with them, and that’s what they want, all the time, even if they’re totally wrong. ‘Unbelievable. Did you hear that, Becky? Are you listening to this?’
That was another thing he did; he tried to drag my mum into everything.
‘Simon,’ she said. ‘Let it go. She’s just trying to wind you up.’
The truth about that was I didn’t know myself half the time whether I was trying to wind him up. I couldn’t help myself. He annoyed me. My mum said we were two peas in a pod, which made me really angry because he wasn’t even my dad. Like I would ever share a pod with Simon; being forced to share a house was bad enough.
‘I’m not,’ I said. ‘It is boring. Something really bad nearly happened. It’s, like, so what? There’s a lot of really bad things that are actually really happening.’
‘Ruby,’ said Simon, borderline total rage-out, ‘what you are failing to understand is that –’
I forget what else he said, what it was I was failing to understand. Same old, I expect – with same old results. He’d get madder and madder, I’d get madder and madder, and my mum would get drowned out. Or else we’d both end up having a go at her. It probably ended up with me getting grounded – that happened a lot – or made to go and tidy my room, or do the dishes even though we had a dishwasher, or clean out the stupid guinea pigs.
The thing is, I would give anything to be back there, in the kitchen, having that row. I would just agree with him, or say sorry or something . . . but there will never be another row in the kitchen. There will never be another row anywhere in this house. Pretty much everyone is dead – except, perhaps, the stupid guinea pigs.
My name is Ruby Morris, and this is my story. If you are reading it, you are very, very lucky to be alive . . . but you already know that, right?
There’s really no point going on about how things used to be. For one, I can’t bear to think about it – even though I do, a lot, and it makes me want to throw up with sadness. For two, it kind of doesn’t matter, does it? It’s over. And, for three, I’m not writing this because of how things used to be – I’m writing this because of what happened . . . so I’ll start right there. This is what happened:
I was sitting in a hot tub in my underwear snogging Caspar McCloud.
Ha! That also sounds like a great beginning, perhaps from some kind of kiss-fest romance, or maybe Caspar turns out to be a sexy vampire . . . but the truth is – and this is the one thing I will do, for sure: I will try to tell the truth, even if it hurts me to say it, even if it shocks you to hear it (and I doubt it will, because if you’re reading this you’ve probably had about a gazillion shocks already) – it wouldn’t be right to make out that snogging in a hot tub was the kind of thing I usually did on a Saturday night, because it wasn’t.
It soooooooooooooooooooooo wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong: I’d kissed boys before (two); I’d been to parties before (like, since I was five years old or something); I’d even sat in that hot tub in my underwear before (with Lee; that’s Lee as in Leonie, my best friend) . . . but that night, that party . . . it was the best, the most brilliant – scarily brilliant – time I had ever had in my life up until that point. (Not difficult.)
That night, that one, glorious, hot Saturday night, I was becoming a new me, one that was going to have a boyfriend called Caspar and do stuff like snog in hot tubs at wild parties all the time. Yes, from the nagging jaws of the THEY I was about to snatch complete amazing greatness and total brilliance. And a boyfriend.
What can I say? It happened. It really happened! Zak, who lived in this massively cool rambling old farmhouse, and whose parents were so laid back you could basically do whatever you liked, pulled the speakers outside the barn where we – that’s me and all my lovely friends (exception to be named shortly) – had been hanging out necking LETHAL cider punch, and a bunch of us stripped off – to our underwear – and climbed into their hot tub.
We sort of danced where we sat, doing so-slick-yeah- check-it mini arm moves. It was a total giggle but it was also totally cramped . . . until people started getting out again, moaning that the hot tub was too hot.
It was like some dreadful slow-motion countdown to LURVE; with every person that got out, the water in that tub got stiller and stiller. I kept wishing it was one of those jacuzzi tubs, with bubbles, but it wasn’t; unless you kept trailing your hands about on the surface you could see everything. So I sat there, casually fanning my hands around . . . because across that pool of steaming water sat Caspar-Swoon-McCloud.
And in between us sat Saskia, who wasn’t fanning her hands about at all.
I do just want to say that, even before that night, I wasn’t really sure how much I actually liked Saskia. Not that I really knew her; she’d just started hanging out with us lately – even more lately than Caspar, who’d been transferred to our school from the arty hippy school, and was cool and wild – and was in a band, and I’d told Simon and my mum I was babysitting with Lee so’s I could go see Caspar’s band play at The George. And it was there, while Caspar was onstage doing his guitar thing, that he’d looked up and looked at me and I’d looked at him and –
KA-CASPAR- BOOM! (PART ONE)
I realised I was in love with Caspar McCloud.
And this is too much information, isn’t it? This is exactly what I said I wouldn’t do, which is go on about how things were. I can’t stand it. I’ll shut up.
Back in the hot tub, Lee came to my rescue – or tried to. She came up and asked Saskia where the gin had gone (I told you that punch was lethal) and Saskia said she didn’t know and Lee said she thought she’d seen her with it and Saskia said she hadn’t had it and Lee said maybe she could just come and help her look for it and Saskia, who SO knew all along what Lee was trying to do, sighed this enormous bored sigh and stood up and climbed out of the tub with her chest practically in Caspar’s face and then turned to me and said –
‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.’
Then there really was nothing but a steaming hot tub of water between me and Caspar McCloud.
I was so shy. I nearly died of shyness. Also I was slightly worried that I was going to cook to death or perish from an exploding bladder because I really, really needed to pee. I tried not to think about that and it wasn’t difficult not to think about that because I was in a state of pre-kiss terror. For sure, any second now, there was going to be a kiss. There HAD to be a kiss.
‘Hey, Rubybaby,’ said Caspar.
That’s what he called me: ‘Rubybaby’. From the lips of anyone other than a divine being, it would have sounded cringe-making and vomit-worthy. From the lips of Caspar McCloud it was utterly thrilling, as if an electric-lipped angel was kissing your soul. You know: hot and crackly.
‘Hey, Caspar,’ I said, crackling.
‘Why don’t you swim on around here and keep me company?’ he said.
I fixed him with this sultry model’s stare (deadpan, but pouty) that I’d been practising at home. ‘Well, why don’t you swim on around here?’ I said.
It was the pre-kiss terror that made me say that. Basically I would have swum the Atlantic to get to him. Genius, Ruby; all I’d done was prolong the agony.
Slowly and sexily, we both scooted towards each other. Actually, I’m not sure if you can scoot slowly and sexily, but that’s what it felt like. Also it felt like it took an eternity, when really it was probably about ten seconds or something.
I looked into his eyes. Then I had to look away because it was just too, too intense. I could see all my friends, dancing and messing around like loonies; behind them, this gorgeous red sunset blazing in the sky.
If I’d looked the other way, I would have seen something else. I would have seen clouds gobbling up the sky. Maybe I would even have seen that reflected in Caspar’s eyes, but when I got a grip enough to stare into them again I wasn’t there to admire the view.
BOMF! I practically head-butted him as my lips mashed into his. His lips sort of opened a bit and I kind of pushed my tongue into his mouth. I thought that was what you were supposed to do, to show how passionate you felt or something. Like I said, I’d kissed boys before, and that’s what we had done. It had been fairly disgusting. Kissing Caspar like that wasn’t disgusting; it was scary, and it felt all wrong. Until . . . I dunno: it just changed. One minute it was tongue-on-tongue combat, the next minute . . .
If this was my blockbuster movie, we would pause here. It would be worth a whole scene all by itself, that kiss. We would linger on it for as long as possible. That kiss. Those kisses. Where does one kiss end and another begin? We just kind of melted into one another. I do know that’s the kind of stupid thing they say in cheesy romances, but we did. That’s what happened! One minute I was my own clumsy me being, freaking out, and I could feel this divine Caspar being (was he freaking out too?), this Caspar being’s tongue, and the next minute . . . I dunno . . . it was total –
KA-CASPAR-BOOM! (PART TWO)
We didn’t hear the yelling.
Fingers dug into my arm. My lips disconnected from Caspar’s. I turned and –
‘GET OUT!’ Zak’s dad shouted into my face, hauling me from the tub.
And that is when it all began.
Like most people in the country, Zak’s parents had gone to a barbecue that night. That’s the thing about Britain, isn’t it? First glimmer of sunshine, first lick of heat and everyone goes nuts, strips off and has a barbecue. Doesn’t matter if it looks like rain; we go out and we stay out until the first drop falls. No – it’s worse than that: it actually has to start chucking it down before people give up and go inside. You add to that a bank-holiday weekend – a whole extra day for sunburnt people to lie around wishing they hadn’t drunk 10 zillion cans of lager and/or that they had cooked the sausages properly, in an oven – and you get . . . well, you get what happened, don’t you?
Zak’s parents weren’t supposed to be coming home, so it was obvious right away that something was wrong because they were back, but it was even more obvious that something was wrong because they were freaking out. Normally, they wouldn’t have been even slightly bothered about whatever it was we were doing. That was what was so cool about Zak’s; OK, he had the hot tub and the barn and woods and fields and everything to mess about in, but the really cool thing was that his parents were completely chilled. They smoked joints in front of us – hey, they even gave Zak weed! – that’s how chilled they were.
Tonight, they were not chilled. They basically went all Simon on us. They herded us all into the kitchen. The only thing that was most un-Simon was that Zak’s dad, Barnaby, kept swearing.
OK, so this is going to be the only other rule about this story: I will try to be honest; I will try to tell everything as it was, but I will not swear. My mum hated me swearing – the word ‘God’ included, despite the fact that 1) she said it herself all the time (but denied it) and 2) as far as I can tell everyone else on the planet says it all the time too. There’s no need for swearing, she’d tell me. Even with the whole world in the grip of a death-fest mega-crisis, she’d say, Ruby, there is absolutely no need to swear.
Actually, there is quite a lot of need for it in this story, and a lot of swearing did happen, but out of respect for my mum I will not write those words. If, like me, you curse all the time anyway, you can go ahead and add your own swear words, but I hope you’ll understand why I can’t.
I’ll write something beautiful instead. I’ll write ‘f’.
For my mum.
‘Oh f! Oh f! Oh f!’ Barnaby kept going.
(The thing is, Zak’s parents were always into some pagan-y religious thing or another, so it’s possible that Barnaby really was calling on some specific god and wasn’t just generally ranting.)
He locked the kitchen door.
‘You’re frightening them,’ said Zak’s mum, Sarah, but Barnaby wasn’t listening; he closed every window in the kitchen – and when he’d finished doing that he started closing all the other windows.
You could hear him, banging about all over the house. We weren’t frightened at all. It was a little weird, but the hardest thing was not to get the giggles – although in my case I had nothing to laugh about, now there wasn’t even any water to cover me. I did my best with tea towels.
All our stuff, everyone’s stuff, was in the barn. ‘Mum, what’s going on?’ said Zak.
‘We’re not really sure,’ said Sarah. ‘Someone Barnaby knows called him and –’
Thump, thump, thump – bang! – thump, thump, thump, went Barnaby upstairs.
‘Mum?’ said Zak.
Bang! Thump, thump, thump; Barnaby came back down the stairs.
‘You’d better ask your dad,’ said Sarah.
See now, that was kind of weird, wasn’t it? Zak didn’t normally call his mum ‘Mum’; Sarah didn’t normally call Barnaby ‘your dad’. If I didn’t know Zak was practically immune to a whole lot of stuff that really bothered other people – like being embarrassed by your parents – I would have thought he was freaking out too . . . but his parents did nutty stuff all the time, and everyone knew they did and usually no one laughed about it much because everyone understood what Zak had to deal with . . . and also because Sarah and Barnaby were so kind to us.
This latest nutty thing, whatever it was, it was just bad timing, party-wise.
‘Turn the radio on,’ Barnaby told Zak.
‘Dad?’ said Zak, but he turned it on anyway.
They didn’t have a TV. Zak’s parents didn’t even have a digital radio; they had the old-fashioned crackly kind. Guess what was on?
Gardeners’ Question Time.
They were discussing the best methods of tackling blight on roses.
Someone lost it, and giggled. The giggling, it spread. ‘This isn’t right,’ said Barnaby quietly. ‘It should be the news.’
I laughed too; it was impossible not to crack up with Mrs Fotheringay-Flytrap describing the spotty bits on her Rambling Rector . . . but you want to know something weird? While I certainly wouldn’t in a million years have thought, Oh no! This must mean the world as we know it is about to end, I kind of knew it wasn’t right too. I didn’t know what was supposed to be on, but I knew Gardeners’ Question Time shouldn’t have been. My mum LOVED that programme and listened to it every Sunday. Every Sunday; not on a Saturday night. Never on a Saturday night. Not exactly scary, though, was it?
‘Go and put your clothes on!’ Sarah snapped at us. She never snapped at us.
I shivered; Caspar hugged me close. Leonie grabbed my hand.
‘They’re in the barn,’ said Saskia – in a really horrible way, like Sarah was stupid.
‘Take ours, then,’ said Sarah. ‘Take whatever you want. Just get dressed.’
Someone muttered something and headed for the kitchen door.
‘Don’t go outside,’ said Barnaby. Loudly, angrily. ‘You do NOT go outside.’
We shuffled out of the room, the whole herd of us . . . On the stairs, someone cracked up and we all had to make a mad dash for Zak’s parents’ bedroom so’s we could laugh our heads off in private, without hurting their feelings.
‘What the f is up with your parents, man?’ said Caspar.
‘Search me, dude,’ said Zak . . . but he didn’t sound OK; he still didn’t sound OK. ‘C’mon,’ he said to Ronnie – my techie-est friend – and they dived off to Zak’s room.
The rest of us, we played fancy dress with Zak’s parents’ clothes. It was so funny you forgot all the weirdness. Caspar pulled on a kaftan.
‘Ohhm!’ he said, doing this prayer thing with his hands.
I laughed so hard I almost –
‘I need to pee,’ I remembered.
Lee followed me to the bathroom. I went first; I had to – I was bursting. Then Lee went while I surveyed myself in the mirror: f. So much for the model look. The big,
baggy hippy dress was the least of it. My lips, which felt puffy-bruised and tingling from the kissing, looked kind of normal, but I had mascara zombie eyes and where I’d had bright red lipstick on earlier it looked like it had sort of smeared itself all over my chin; even my nose had gone Rudolf. No hope Sarah would have make-up remover, so I wet a bit of toilet paper, dabbed it in the soap and wiped at my chin.
It wasn’t really lipstick at all; it was my first ever full- blown snogging rash and it stung. It really stung.
Nothing I could do about it, so I had a quick scrub at the mascara disaster. Their soap, which wasn’t like the soap we had at home but some organic, lentil-based, grey-green thing, was useless. It didn’t even foam up . . . so that was it, then: I was half black-eyed zombie, half human cherry. Mortifying. Seriously mortifying.
‘C’mon, get out!’ shouted Caspar through the bathroom door. ‘Molly wants to puke!’
Great. I had to face him knowing what the face I was facing him with looked like. We opened the door and Molly burst in, chundering. Under normal friendship circumstances, it would have been our duty to stay with her – but, honestly, just listening to her made my own stomach start to heave. It was bad enough looking like a mutant in front of Caspar – I definitely did not want him to witness me spewing my guts up, so I grabbed Lee’s hand and we went back downstairs.
We passed Zak’s room on the way; him and Ronnie bickering for control of the computer. (‘Why’s it so slow?! Just click there,’ Zak was saying, trying to grab hold of the mouse. ‘Just click on it!’)
In the kitchen, the radio people had moved on to discussing plants for dry shady borders – which is a serious problem, apparently, and was not nearly as funny. Barnaby looked as if he was in a trance, staring out of the kitchen window at . . . OK, so now the party had been well and truly spoilt; it was raining. None of us had noticed; why would we? We’d been too busy laughing our heads off.
‘I think you all need to sober up,’ said Sarah, handing out glass after glass of water. ‘Leonie, can you please put the kettle on?’
‘YesSarahYes,’ Lee slurred, glugging her water.
Barnaby grabbed his mobile phone and started jabbing at it, trying different numbers.
‘f. f. f,’ he said, having trouble getting through.
Then Gardeners’ Question Time stopped. It just stopped.
Then it started.
‘This is an emergency public service broadcast . . . ’
‘The rain’ – that’s all I remember hearing to begin with. ‘It’s in the rain’, and everyone staring at the radio as if it was a TV. That’s how hard we all stared at it . . . everyone except Barnaby, who dumped his mobile and went out to try the phone in the hall.
Lee shoved the kettle on the stove and came and held my hand, the one that wasn’t gripping Caspar’s.
‘Ru,’ whispered Lee. ‘Do you think we’re gonna die or something?’
‘No!’ I said.
Of course no one was gonna die!
My mum was out at the neighbours’ barbecue.
It’s in the rain.
I felt as if I was the last person to get it, what was going on. I stood in that kitchen, shivering – I leaned into Caspar’s body, but even that felt cold – and finally I sort of started to get it. See, for days there’d been stuff on the news about some new kind of epidemic. Outbreaks in Africa, in South America. Then reports from Russia. Some new kind of disease thing, deadly . . . but – well, it wasn’t here, was it? Not like the bird-flu thing when Simon (who was probably more worried about the birds) had got into a right sweat. So had a lot of people. (OK, so had I; it gave me nightmares.) But this? It was so . . . remote, that’s the word . . . we never paid it any attention. Ronnie had tried to go on about it, I remember that, and we had all rolled our eyes and told him to shut up, because it just seemed like another thing for Ronnie to go on about.
‘The rain,’ they kept saying on the radio. ‘It’s in the rain.’
‘I told you so,’ said Ronnie, stomping down the stairs into the kitchen.
He had. He had said: ‘There’s something wrong with the rain.’
And we’d all gone, ‘Yeah right! Shut up, Ronnie!’ because we knew just what kind of website he’d have read that on – probably the same one that claimed the Pope had been replaced by an alien (that’s why you never see his legs; they’re green and spindly) – and Ronnie had gone, ‘No! There is! There’s something in the rain. Look!’ and tried to show us this eye-witness video thing on the internet but it had been taken down, which Ronnie said proved it was true.
‘Shut up, Ronnie,’ someone said.
Lee stared at me. ‘Ru,’ she said. ‘I really am scared.’
She started crying. Other girls were too. I hugged her. I hugged my lovely best friend.
It’s in the rain.
Saskia swept downstairs wearing one of Barnaby’s shirts like a mini-dress. For a moment, she stared at the radio like we’d done; Sarah tried to hand her a glass of water, but Saskia shook her head.
‘I wanna go home,’ she announced.
She’s such a . . . not a drama queen, but a . . . she’s not even a spoilt brat . . . I suppose the best way to describe it is Saskia always finds a way to get what she wants. It’s not even because half the boys in school drool over her . . . OK: ALL the boys in school (because they fancy her or want to be like her), pretty much all the teachers (because she’s cunningly polite to them and makes a showy effort to understand whatever it is they’re going on about) and a seriously shocking number of the girls (because they also fancy her or want to be like her) drool over Saskia, and that should be enough to explain it, why Saskia always gets her way, but it’s not. It’s something weirder and darker. Seriously; she’s like a hypnotist or something, sending out invisible mind rays that zap her victims into doing whatever she wants. But not tonight, Sask! Seemed like no one else but me was even listening to her anyway because everyone was staring out of the windows at the rain.
It just looked like rain normally looks. You know, drippy.
You could hear Barnaby on the phone in the hall: dialling, slamming the handset down and redialling. He wasn’t calling on a god any more, he was just plain swearing his head off.
‘I said I wanna go home,’ Saskia re-announced.
‘Whatever,’ someone said.
She stormed into the hall to try to get the phone off Barnaby; Zak bounded down the stairs … Molly drifting down after him, looking sick as a dog.
‘The internet’s down!’ Zak said. ‘Like the WHOLE of the web just crashed.’
‘Told you so,’ murmured Ronnie.
‘It’s probably just a local thing,’ said Sarah.
Ronnie shook his head in that way that he had of implying he understood stuff no-one else did. Molly heaved again; Sarah looked at her in panic.
‘It’s the punch, Mum. She’s just had too much punch,’ said Zak.
People kind of nodded sheepishly, same way you would if someone else’s parents had caught us out.
‘Barnaby,’ Sarah called, rummaging in a cupboard, ‘have we got any coffee?’
Even then, even at that moment, I thought that was kind of random. Like that would solve everything. Barnaby wandered in from the hall. He looked . . . grim. That’d be the word. Grim.
‘I can’t get through,’ he said. ‘To anyone,’ he added, looking straight at Sarah like she’d know who that anyone was.
You could hear Saskia back out in the hall; she had the phone to herself then, was dialling and redialling and swearing her head off too.
‘HAVE. WE. GOT. ANY. COFFEE?’ Sarah asked Barnaby. That seemed to sort of snap him out of it – and a lot of other people too. Girls who’d been crying (because girls are allowed to under extreme circumstances) stopped; boys who’d looked like they were going to cry got a grip. For a moment, it was just all so normal. A bunch of late-night people getting late-night snacks and drinks. Barnaby found some ancient coffee beans in the freezer and was pulverising them in an electric grinder thing. Zak sawed into a loaf of their heavy-duty homemade bread. He handed the slices to Sarah, who put them into the wire thing, to toast them on the top of the stove. I got mugs out; Leonie got teaspoons; other people got other stuff . . . all the stuff you need: teapot, sugar, knives, jams, plates, butter, milk.
I saw Caspar . . . edging away from us all. I saw Caspar looking, forlornly, out of the kitchen window.
I went to him.
‘It’s OK, I whispered, hoping the darkness by the kitchen door would hide the hideous mess my face was in so we could share a romantic moment.
‘No it’s not,’ he said. ‘That’s my MP3 out there.’
He pointed at his jeans; out on the grass, getting rained on.
‘f this,’ he whispered.
I was so stupid; I whispered it, so’s no one noticed.
‘Chill, Rubybaby,’ he whispered back, and kissed me.
I don’t know whether that kiss was meant to shut me up, but it did. Even with all the freaky horribleness of it all, I still had the hots for him and I still couldn’t believe that we’d actually snogged – and in front of everyone, which basically meant that as far as the glass mountain of being cool was concerned, I had now developed spider- sucker climbing powers and had effortlessly scaled to the top. Best not to blow it now by blurting, ‘Ooo! Caspar! No! Zak’s dad said we really shouldn’t!’ at the top of my voice.
He slipped the lock on the door. He grabbed a towel. He held it over his head. He dashed out. I saw him do that. I saw him go out, barefoot in the rain in Barnaby’s kaftan. He dashed back in again. Slipped the lock back shut. Dumped the towel.
No one else had noticed. And me? I dunno what I thought was going to happen, like he’d just go up in a puff of green smoke or something. He didn’t. He rummaged in his jeans, pulled out his phone and his MP3, wiped them on his kaftan and waved them at me, grinning.
I felt like an idiot.
‘Cool!’ I whispered. I didn’t know what else to say or do so I gave him this quick, casual peck on the lips and went back to the snack-making . . . so’s I’d look like I was cool (and hadn’t even thought about angsting about anything). Tea! I had to make tea! I had to make a whole lot of tea right now! But the tea was made! OK! I had to casually butter toast . . . that was good, that was better . . . casually buttering toast.
Barnaby switched the coffee grinder off. It made a racket, that thing. That was fine, because it meant you couldn’t hear the radio. It was also why no one had heard Caspar.
He was sort of groaning, but not like a Molly puky groan. It was some other kind of groan. He stepped out of the darkness by the kitchen door.
‘f,’ he said, scratching at his head . . . at his face.
He looked at his fingertips, at the blood and bits of torn-up skin that coated them. There was blood running down; not tons of it, but trickles and smears . . . from his scalp, from his face . . . where there were sores, red marks, like burns, but bleeding . . . He looked like one of those gory Jesus pictures, minus the crown of thorns. Wherever the rain had touched him, wherever it had seeped through the towel, there was blood . . . even his shoulders, even his chest. Soaking through the kaftan. His naked feet looked like he’d walked a mile on broken glass.
Saskia flounced back into the room and screamed.
Sarah rushed over to Caspar – ‘Don’t touch him! Don’t touch him!’ said Barnaby – and she hesitated.
It’s the first thing you do when someone is hurt, isn’t it? You go to help them. Even if they’re in a really disgusting mess and the sight of all that blood makes you feel like you’re going to throw up or pass out, you go to help them.
‘It might be contagious,’ said Barnaby.
So here’s the thing; I could say this later, or not say it at all. That’s how much difference it made. As I said, Barnaby and Sarah were very, very good to us: dream parents, totally chilled. (And nightmare parents, because of the being off the scale in terms of embarrassment.) Thing was, as Simon pointed out to me when I was going on about how brilliant they were one day, they could afford to be. I huffed on about it, but I knew – annoyingly – he was right. Zak’s parents never seemed to work; they never seemed to have to do anything but fiddle about in the garden or rock up to naked yoga classes (oh yes!) . . . and the reason Zak’s parents could spend all day growing weirdly-shaped organic cauliflowers and doing dog pose naked (DO NOT imagine this!) was because they were minted. They were Old Skool minted; probably they’d started stashing cash the day coins were invented. Zak’s godfather was some kind of Lord. His uncle was another kind of Lord and sat in the House of Lords. His grandma had been a Lady with a capital L, not a small one like everyone else’s grandma.
Barnaby and Sarah ‘knew people’. That’s what the other parents said, and like the whole grandma deal it didn’t mean they ‘knew people’ the same way everyone else did. It meant the kind of people they knew owned the country or ran it, or both. Someone Barnaby ‘knew’ had called him and warned him. How many other people got a warning?
But this is not a Hollywood film. The warning counted for zip.
‘Dad, they’re not saying that,’ said Zak. ‘They’re not saying it’s contagious.’
They weren’t. That word never got used.
But you know what? No one did go to help Caspar.
It’s the rain. It’s in the rain.
I’d kissed him. My lips, my chin . . . they tingled. They stung. They’d been stinging anyway. They were just stinging, normal stinging. It had to be normal stinging.
The smell of burning filled the room.
‘Oww!’ said Molly as she grabbed the wire thing to rescue the toast, dumping it onto the table. ‘Ow!’
Caspar groaned – louder and harder. It was horrible to hear.
‘I’m sorry,’ he moaned, one hand clawing the other raw; us all thinking, Don’t do that! Stop doing that! Please, stop doing that! ‘I’m so sorry,’ he said . . . and he sort of sank down, crouching against the door.
‘Right,’ said Sarah. She went into the hall to get her coat.
‘Sarah,’ Barnaby called after her – but wearily, almost, like they were having some regular kind of a row.
The effect on all of us, despite the circumstances – and apart from Caspar, who was groaning in agony – was we all sort of looked at the floor a bit, like you do when someone’s parents are having a bit of a tiff in front of you. ‘I’m taking him to the hospital,’ Sarah said, pulling on her raincoat, patting pockets for her keys; scanning the kitchen for them.
‘They say not to,’ said Barnaby.
They hadn’t said that either, actually. All they’d said was that victims should be given paracetamol. Ha.
‘I’m going,’ she said, reaching into Barnaby’s pocket for his keys.
He grabbed her wrist – and held it. ‘Sarah,’ said Barnaby. ‘There is no point.’
If he’d been Simon, the next thing he’d have said would have been, ‘Be reasonable’. But Barnaby didn’t say that; Barnaby didn’t say anything like that. Sarah extracted her hand and the keys –
‘It’s fatal,’ said Barnaby.
Whoa! There’s harsh and there’s . . . at that moment, everyone in that room hated Barnaby. You could feel it. They hadn’t said THAT on the radio. They DEFINITELY HADN’T said THAT.
Caspar groaned again. He was shaking quite a lot. I didn’t know what that was. Pain? Shock? Fear? I touched my lips; my chin . . . stinging, sore – but normal, right? Just normal. I didn’t – I couldn’t – have that thing.
For a moment, Sarah stared at Barnaby in a most un-kaftan-Mum-like way.
‘Get up!’ she said to Caspar.
Somehow Caspar stood. Everyone kind of pulled back a little.
‘Sarah!’ shouted Barnaby, sounding most un-kaftan- dad-like. ‘I am begging you!’ –but his voice had gone all wobbly, like he couldn’t choose between raging or pleading.
Or something else – that’s what I think now. Fear, probably. Maybe despair.
‘Come on,’ Sarah told Caspar, handing him the towel. They went out the back door; Sarah in front, Caspar shambling after her.
I let go of Leonie’s hand. ‘Wait,’ I said.
I ran out into the hall; I shoved my feet into any old wellies. I looked back at everyone in the kitchen. For a second, if you ignored the looks on everyone’s faces, it looked so cosy. Big pot of tea, mugs waiting. Even the burnt toast smelt good.
‘Ru! Don’t!’ sobbed Leonie.
(And I swear; if someone else had said a single other thing, I would have caved.)
‘See you later, hon,’ said Ronnie. ‘See you later, babes,’ I said.
Just like we always did.
Excerpted from The Rain by Virginia Bergin. Copyright © 2014 by Virginia Bergin.
First published 2014 by Macmillan Children’s Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world http://www.panmacmillan.com.
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