14-year-old Holly is lonely. Her parents are never around after Gran’s Crisis and best friend Amy to Canada, loved-up with her new boyfriend, Gabe. Holly has no-one to hang out with at school apart from moody Ellen and misfit Tim.
Home alone in Brighton with no-one to talk to, Holly is at rock bottom. That is, until she finds Jay. Caring, funny and with so much in common, Jay is the perfect guy. They chat online, but Holly knows to be careful, she’s heard the horror stories. As they grow closer and closer, chatting with Jay is all that makes Holly happy. Mum and Dad’s rows get more intense and Amy’s radio silence continues; the only one who understands is Jay. As Holly lets her guard down, is Jay all he seems? Is Holly in too deep? And is it too late?
Holly woke with a start. The doorbell was ringing and ringing; an impatient ding dong echoing through the house.
Mum’ll answer, she told herself, her eyes heavy with sleep.
But there was no sound of Mum’s heels tapping down the hallway to the front door, or Dad’s cheery voice calling from the kitchen.
Two loud bangs, as if someone was slamming the door with the flat of their hand and more impatient ringing.
Holly rolled over, waiting for the person to give up and go away.
Silence strained up the stairs and around the bedroom door.
No-one’s home, she thought. The house is empty.
Between half open curtains Holly could see dense clouds spreading across a grey February sky. It was another gloomy Saturday morning and probably freezing cold on the beach. The waves would be pounding on the pebbles by now and crashing up against the girders of the pier. The red digits on her bedside clock winked 10:16… 10:17… 10:18… Her ears felt deadened with the silence.
I could lie here all day alone, Holly thought, with a shiver.
That made her throw back the covers, slip into pumps and a hoody and go downstairs.
Their house was the only detached one in a street of old houses looming up on either side. Tall dense trees framed the back garden, blocking light from the kitchen. There was only sun at the front of the house and only in the mornings. Holly hadn’t really noticed in the past how dark their house was but now she was always peering into shadowy corners.
At the bottom of the stairs, she padded to the front door and peered through the square glass panel. There was no-one outside so she opened the door. Propped up against the potted fern on the step was an Amazon parcel.
Just a delivery man, she told herself, flicking her hair back.
Holly picked up the parcel. It looked like Mum’s book for her book group meeting this month.
Going back inside, she closed the front door and went down the hall to the kitchen. The big window was streaming with rain and she could hardly see the garden. It made her feel even more lonely.
If Amy was still in the house opposite she could run over in her shorts and hoody. Amy would still be in bed and she could climb in with her. They’d lie there giggling and listen to music, sharing Amy’s earphones.
Amy’s Mum would bring up tea and toast and they’d sit up in bed and straighten each other’s hair, Holly’s shoulder length and dark brown, Amy’s blonde and longer. Amy had asked for straighteners when they were twelve and taught Holly how to use them, her green eyes serious as she quoted their favourite YouTube
stylist, eighteen-year-old Sandi.
“Sandi says you don’t have to spend all day to look good,” Amy would say. “Straighteners take no time. Sandi says hair’s everything.”
Holly had nodded and asked for straighteners for her twelfth birthday, two months later. Ever since she made sure her hair was always straight and gleaming.
Amy was a few centimetres taller than Holly and could run faster on her long thin legs but they both hated sports, especially swimming.
“Messes up your hair,” said Amy.
Fortunately, their High School didn’t offer swimming.
But they both loved collecting old stuff. Amy’s speciality was china and Holly’s was small pretty objects. Most of her collection was stored in a large shoe box. She had a load of different teaspoons – too many Amy said, rolling her eyes – bits of dolls’ tea sets, especially a dinky teapot with a cracked spout; all sorts of rings and those little tin boxes which might have held sweeteners or maybe snuff – whatever that was.
“At least your stuff doesn’t take up too much room,” Amy would say, tossing back her hair so that it fell down her back.
“Not like all your jugs and teacups,” Holly would say, her grey eyes crinkled in a grin.
Somehow, Amy always managed to look older than Holly, even when they both followed Sandi’s advice together. Holly’s cheeks were still chubby like in Primary School; she didn’t have that clearly defined chin and profile like Amy.
It doesn’t really matter, Holly told herself. We’ll always be best friends.
But then, last December, Amy and her family had moved to Canada, leaving Holly all alone in school and in the past few weeks, since Gran’s Crisis, more and more often alone in the house.
“Now you’re fourteen, its OK, isn’t it?” Mum had said, the first time Gran locked herself out of the house. It was a dark January evening, already gone six and Dad wouldn’t be home for at least an hour. “Finish your essay and I’ll be back before you know it.”
Holly had nodded and shrugged as if she didn’t care. That was what Mum expected. But the silence which folded around her worried her more than she wanted to admit.
Who’s scared to be left alone for a couple of hours at fourteen? she asked herself.
Amy, came the answer. Only if Amy was here, it’d be OK.
But Amy was gone.
Now as Holly walked across the kitchen she saw the usual note propped up against the kettle.
Dad at the office. I’m taking Gran to do a big shop. Back this afternoon. Takeaway tonight. You choose xx Mum
Dad headed up a busy accountancy firm and was often tied up with clients late into the evening and sometimes on Saturdays. Mum worked part-time as a receptionist at a doctor’s surgery but more and more often she was at Gran’s house these days, coping with the latest crisis.
Or in this case, the weekly shopping, thought Holly.
She stared at the takeaway menus on the counter. As if my whole Saturday is about food, she thought.
There was a loud creak behind her and she swivelled.
Someone’s there, she thought, heart pumping away. There was a second creak.
Is it Mum?
Feeling a bit wobbly, she crept out of the kitchen into the hall. A draught caught her bare legs and two loud creaks made her jump. Then she saw the living room door swing.
“It’s nothing,” she said aloud to herself.
The living room door creaked again. She looked around for something to wedge it and spotted the flat iron. Mum liked to collect old stuff, something she and Holly used to do together when Holly was little. The flat iron was heavy, one of those irons they used to heat on an open fire or later on a gas jet.
Holly remembered when they’d bought it years ago. She was eleven and no-one would have dreamt of leaving her alone in the house then.
She and Mum had been wandering down North Laines, a warren of narrow streets in Brighton famous for vintage and junk shops, cheaper than the more touristy Lanes nearer the beach. They lived in Clifton, a few minutes’ bus ride from Brighton centre.
It was Mum who spotted the iron and called Holly over. “Look at that, I love it.”
Holly had picked it up and nearly dropped it. “Wow!
It’s so heavy.”
“Yes, solid iron, we’ll have it.”
They’d brought it home and left it on the hall table along with the clown made from Venetian glass and a silver hairbrush and mirror set Mum had inherited from her grandmother.
Now Holly pushed the annoying living room door flat against the wall and settled the iron against the wood.
Back in the kitchen the wall clock said 10:46.
Her phone was on the counter. She checked her messages. Nothing much except one from Amy sent yesterday Canadian time.
There was a snap of her friend in a closely fitted, designer snow suit and next to her was a tall blond boy wearing a dark red ski jacket. The boy had his arm around Amy’s shoulders and they were both smiling, their teeth as dazzling as the sunlit snow all around them.
gabe says hi
He’s gorgeous, thought Holly with a pang. She’d no idea what to send back. A selfie in my hoody? she wondered. In the end she snapped the kettle and messaged,
he looks nice any vintage shops in canada
Maybe remembering their shopping trips would remind Amy that once they were the very best of friends. Since nursery, thought Holly, as she stared out at the dripping garden.
I’m off to the shops, she decided with a jolt. Even in the rain it was better than hanging at home, jumping at every sound.
Twenty minutes later, showered, dressed and huddled into her old jacket she was standing at the bus stop.
Holly had lived in Brighton all her life and she and Amy loved it; the shops, the cafés, the students in term time swigging beer and running night clubs on the beach, the Mall at Churchill Square where they would hang on wet days, the pier full of kiosks and slot machines and the pebbly beaches where they sunbathed on hot days.
As she stepped off the bus the rain was even heavier and she felt water leak along the seam of her hood. Have to remind Mum I need a new jacket, she thought and set off at a rapid pace towards her favourite shops. Dodging into Harry’s Emporium and dragging her hood down, she felt herself cheer up for the first time that morning. All around her were glass cases crammed with old china and medals, shelves bulging with tempting junk and racks of hangers full of vintage clothes.
No-one knows where I am or cares, she thought. She had her headphones in, music blasting out, when the bass suddenly reminded her how her heart had thumped when she heard the living room door creak.
Wasn’t this the shop where she’d seen the torch alarm? She and Amy had dug it out of a crate of old musty stuff and passed it between them, giggling about setting it off in class. But then Amy had accidentally pressed the button and the most horrible, piercing sound filled their ears.
Grumpy Harry, the shop owner, with greasy hair and a shabby suit jacket that didn’t match his trousers, had come over and grabbed it from them, barking out, “Go on, get out you kids, scaring off my customers!”
Now Holly thought, Maybe I should get an alarm like that, keep it by the front door just in case. That would scare anyone nasty off or alert the police.
For a minute she let her imagination run wild with pictures of police cars rushing to her rescue, sirens wailing. Then the song changed to a slow one and she came back down to earth.
You’re crazy, Holly Bennett, she told herself. How would the police hear an alarm inside the house? You’d have to phone them first and they’d take ages to arrive. She pulled up her hood, walked back outside and further down the street. She was looking for a tiny shop which opened up after Amy left. Maybe they have some new stuff, she thought, but then she noticed Noah Levy across the road and he was with gorgeous Rick Gold.
Both boys were in her school.
Noah was a few centimetres shorter than Holly with skinny legs and a pale face. His hair stuck up on the top of his head. Back in Year 7 when they were only eleven, he often looked ready to burst into tears. Amy used to roll her eyes which made Holly grin back. She felt close to tears herself in those first weeks at High School.
She would never have coped without Amy. Her best friend always went first, leading the way in all their games and smoothing the path through Primary School right up to Year 9. All she’d ever needed was her one good friend. Then Amy told her about Canada. It was the worst moment of her life.
She shook herself and stared over at the boys. Noah’s mum was in the same book group as Holly’s mum and they lived a few streets away but Holly never hung out with Noah or anything.
She had a thing for Rick, however, which she hadn’t even admitted to Amy. Rick was tall with broad shoulders and short fair hair. Noah barely came up to his shoulder. But Rick had never given Holly a second glance.
What if he notices me now, she thought. What should I say?
Oh, out shopping too? (How lame). Um – hey Rick, wassup? (Too gangsta).
Noah threw a look over his shoulder, his eyes wide as though he was scared or something.
Or he’s about to cry, thought Holly. Now that is lame.
Then Rick put his hand on Noah’s shoulder and the two of them stepped into a corner shop.
Rick Gold, thought Holly, with an inward sigh. He’s easily as fit as Amy’s skiboy, Gabe.
But why’s he hanging with weepy Noah Levy?
My cycle of three Young Adult novels, HIDDEN, ILLEGAL and STUFFED are published by Albury Books and are available in both paperback and ebook. HIDDEN was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and was Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week.
I love reading fiction for all ages, biographies of poets and authors, anything about polar exploration, autobiographies, poetry, history books and anything else which catches my eye.