Read Loose Connections Online

Authors: Rosemary Hayes

Loose Connections


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen


About the Author

Dedication and Copyright

Chapter One

‘What is THAT?’ Tom made a gagging sound and poked at the soggy grey heap. ‘What IS it? It’s all slimey.’

Jake shrugged. He peered inside his lunch box. ‘It’s Gran,’ he said.

‘It is
. Your gran doesn’t look like that.’

‘Oh yeah – ha ha. . .’

Jake looked closer. ‘What d’you think? One of her specials?’ Once it had been a sandwich. He lifted off the top layer. ‘This one’s new,’ he muttered.

Looks well past it,’ said Tom.

Jake scooped some of the mess into his mouth. ‘Hmm.’

Tom snorted. ‘What is it? Honey and marmalade? Lettuce and chocolate? Mustard and jam? Hey, p’raps it’s cheese and beetroot – you had one of them last week.’

Jake swallowed noisily, then screwed up his face and shook his head from side to side.

‘YUK!’ he spluttered. He punched the air with his fist. ‘Tarararara! A great new flavour. I give you . . . banana and Marmite!’

Tom rolled on the ground, hugging his chest. ‘Banana and Marmite. Gross!’

Jake snapped shut his lunch box. ‘C’mon, you’ve had your laugh. Give.’ He held out his hand.

Tom tossed him a muesli bar and an apple. Tom’s mum was a health nut.

Jake rubbed the apple on his trousers and took a large bite. His own mum used to pack stuff like that in his lunch box – healthy stuff. He’d always moaned at her, begged her for
crisps and chocolate and Coke, but now . . . now he’d eat salad every day, if only she was at home to make it for him.

He jumped up. ‘Let’s have a kick-about.’ They ran across the schoolyard towards a group of boys.

Tom glanced at Jake, then he punched him on the arm. ‘Hey,’ he said. ‘Your gran’s great. Honest. I love her. She’s a real laugh.’

‘Mm,’ said Jake.

She was once. She used to be the best gran in the world. But now. . .

Jake was a devil with the ball that day. He couldn’t make a wrong move. He dribbled and feinted, passed and counterpassed, darted every which way all over the yard. He was too fast for
them, too quick on the turn. He drove himself on even when his breath was coming in great heaving gasps.

When the bell went, he stopped and stood bent over with his hands on his knees, struggling to get his breathing under control again.

Tom came up beside him. He was red in the face, his hair plastered down with sweat.

‘Hey,’ he panted, clutching his side, ‘you were awesome!’

Jake shrugged and looked away.

Later, on the way home, Jake was quiet. He didn’t join in the shouting on the school bus and when he reached his stop, he heaved his backpack over his shoulders, pushed his way through to
the front of the bus and got off.

‘Bye, Jake. See you Monday.’

He raised his hand but didn’t look back. Slowly he walked up Church Street, past the familiar houses and round the bend. He stopped at the park and shrugged off his backpack onto the
ground. He took out his lunchbox and tossed the contents over the railings and into the bushes; then he stood for a bit, watching some magpies quarrel over Gran’s soggy grey sandwiches.

What’s waiting for me at home?

He stared towards the sun and narrowed his eyes so that his sight became blurred; sometimes, when he did this, the images in his head were more real than what surrounded him – more real
than the trees waving in the breeze and the solid pavement beneath his feet. Sometimes, if he imagined something hard enough, he could see it, feel it, hear it, almost touch it, even though he knew
it wasn’t there. And it had been happening more often since Gran. . .

But this time it didn’t happen. He couldn’t conjure up anything unusual; the trees and the pavement went on being solid and real, and the only sounds he heard were the noise of the
squabbling birds and the distant rumble of traffic from the motorway. He opened his eyes wide, shook his head, picked up his backpack and walked on.

Just before he reached his house, he stopped again and flattened himself behind a tree.

Yes, there she was: sticky-beak Irene-next-door, waiting for him like some beady-eyed vulture. She was pretending to weed her garden – as if it needed it. No weed would dare grow there!
Jake watched her. Every few seconds she popped her head up and stared down the street.

Interfering old bag! Lurking in her front garden so she could pounce on him.

Jake waited. He’d wait all night if he had to. But then he heard a voice calling her and he saw her straighten up and stretch, give a deep sigh, take off her gardening gloves and disappear

Kenny must want her.

‘Thanks, Kenny,’ muttered Jake as he sprinted across the street. He fished the key from his pocket and glanced quickly round the tangled front garden as he unlocked the door.

How had things got like this? It had all happened so fast. He’d hardly had time to blink, and everything had gone wrong.

He must keep it together – for Dad’s sake. For Mum’s, too.

They’d all wanted Dad to go; he’d been out of work so long and suddenly this great job had come up.

‘They want me to go to America for six weeks training, but it’s just when. . .’

Mum had interrupted him. ‘I’ll be fine. I’ll be in the hospital. Go on. You
take it.’

‘But what about Jake. . .?’

‘Gran will be here,’ said Jake. ‘We’ll have a great time.’

Dad had grinned. ‘That’s what worries me!’

Mum had taken Dad’s arm and squeezed it. ‘Please. Please say you’ll take the job.’

And so he had.

At first, everything was fine. Gran was the same as ever. Noisy, funny, always up for anything, always interested in what Jake was doing.

Then something had changed.

Angrily, Jake kicked out at a patch of stinging nettles by the door.

Before – just a few weeks ago – Gran would have kept the garden tidy. She hated gardening but she would have done it. She would have moaned and muttered and sworn – but she
would have done it.

He frowned as he took in the unmown grass and tall weeds.

Dad will be really upset when he gets back.

Jake sighed. Perhaps he’d have a go at it himself. Perhaps he could get Gran to help him.

No, she won’t. She doesn’t care any more.

He fixed a smile on his face and walked indoors.

‘Hi, Gran!’ he shouted.

Where will she be this time? What will she be up to?
A tiny lurch of dread cramped his stomach.

He walked slowly through each room, calling her softly. There were books and magazines all over the floor of the lounge and a trail of broken biscuits leading from the kitchen to the back door.
A pile of unwashed dishes was heaped in the sink. Irritation welled up in him. All she had to do was stick them in the dishwasher and turn on the machine, for God’s sake. It wasn’t
rocket science.

He opened the back door and went out into the garden. The grass was high – like a hay field.

She was standing in the far corner under the apple tree, munching biscuits and muttering to herself.


She turned round quickly. For a moment she looked confused. Then her face creased into a smile and she came towards him holding out her arms.

‘Jakey, love. Come here.’

Jake moved forward into her embrace. For a few moments, as she hugged him and he breathed in her familiar smells, nothing mattered any more. She was the gran he’d always known.

‘How was. . .’ She stopped and frowned, picking at her stained jersey.

‘School,’ finished Jake. ‘School was fine.’

‘And your lunch – did you eat your lunch?’

‘All gone.’ He thought of the magpies.
Hope the Marmite doesn’t make them thirsty!

He prised himself loose. ‘I’m starving Gran. What’s for tea?’

She followed him back into the kitchen and watched as he opened the fridge door.

‘I went to the shops,’ she said. ‘I bought some of that . . . you know, that thing you like.’

‘Burgers? Chips? Sausages?’

She didn’t answer, and Jake peered hopefully inside the fridge.

‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Milk.’ The fridge was stuffed with cartons of milk.

Jake sighed. He’d written it down for her, for heaven’s sake. This morning, he’d written a list for her, headed it THINGS TO GET FOR TEA, and underlined the heading. He wanted
to shout at her but he knew it wouldn’t do any good.

He closed the fridge and went to the cupboard. He found some eggs and a tin of beans.

‘We’ll have these, Gran,’ he said, and turned towards the cooker.

One of the rings was red hot. He swore under his breath. Had it been on all day?

He opened the tin and tipped the beans into a saucepan. She was hovering beside him, wanting to help, forgetting how. For an awful moment he thought he might blub.

‘Here,’ he said, swallowing hard. ‘You stir the beans and I’ll do the eggs.’

She smiled, took the saucepan from him and set it on the hot ring. She stirred the beans slowly with a wooden spoon, calmed by the familiar action.

As Jake beat up some eggs in a bowl, he watched her. He stretched over her and turned down the heat as the beans started to bubble. She hadn’t noticed.

‘I had a visitor,’ she said.

‘Who was that, then?’

Gran rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue. ‘That . . . that

Jake grinned. ‘What woman, Gran?’

She pointed to the wall. ‘Her. Her next door.’


Gran nodded. ‘That’s the one. Can’t stand her. Always coming in and fussing.’

‘What did she say?’

‘Can’t remember. Can’t be bothered with her.’

Jake laughed. ‘Did you boot her out the door, Gran?’

Gran abandoned the beans. ‘Yep,’ she said. ‘I showed her the door.’

‘You’re a star, Gran. We can manage fine without Irene, can’t we?’

‘Course we can. You and me. We’re fine.’

Jake took the beans off the cooker and popped a couple of slices of bread in the toaster. As the toaster warmed up, a wisp of evil-smelling smoke drifted out. He killed the power and took the
bread out. Then he turned the toaster upside down and shook it.

There was something black stuck at the bottom. He rummaged in a drawer and took out a skewer, then poked at the black stuff until he’d dislodged it. He picked up the charred lump and
examined it closely.

Wonder what that was? Another of Gran’s specials?

They sat down to eat, and suddenly Gran put her hand on Jake’s shoulder.

‘She says I’m going dotty.’


Gran jerked her thumb in the direction of the wall. ‘Her. Her-next-door.’

‘Did she say that to you?’

Gran shrugged. ‘She thinks it. I can tell.’

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