Read You Against Me Online

Authors: Jenny Downham

You Against Me (37 page)

He took a step back towards her. ‘Come for a walk.’

She shook her head, wouldn’t look at him. ‘I can’t.’

‘Listen, I know you think we hurt everyone by being together, but we fixed things too.’

‘What did we fix?’

‘Karyn’s not stuck in the flat any more.’

‘She wouldn’t’ve been there in the first place if I’d said something sooner.’

That was it, that was what was making him mad. It was like she was caught in some groove of punishing herself. It was exactly what Karyn had done when she locked herself away. Ellie had taken some of the load from Karyn’s shoulders, but now she was carrying it around instead. And it didn’t belong to either of them – it belonged to Tom bloody Parker.

He held out his hand. ‘Come with me. I’m taking you to see Karyn.’

‘What? No!’

‘You did something really difficult to help her and she knows that. You’re so certain she hates you? Ask her yourself.’

She looked horrified. ‘I can’t do that.’

‘Why not? What do you think she’ll do?’

‘I don’t think she’ll
anything, but it’ll make her feel crap. It took me weeks to tell the truth. I deleted her best evidence!’

‘Because you weren’t sure what the truth was and you didn’t want the pictures on the internet.’ He was surprised how reasonable he sounded, but he was sure of this. ‘Karyn’s getting help – from cops, victim support – she’s not on her own. You have to stand in court and grass your brother up and no one’s going to help you. Even now you could change your mind, but you’re not. In my book, that’s brave.’ He moved a step closer, ‘Come on, let’s go and ask Karyn what she thinks.’

She took a step back. ‘My mum’s calling.’

‘I didn’t hear anything.’

‘Or maybe it was my dad.’

‘Stop it, Ellie. This is me, and I can see exactly what you’re doing. Punishing yourself won’t help.’

‘I’m not doing it on purpose!’ He watched a blush creep like dye across her cheeks. ‘I feel so ashamed.’

‘Karyn doesn’t see it like that.’

‘How does she see it?’

‘I guess she realizes she might have done the same thing as you, if it was the other way round.’

Ellie sighed. The door and the bricks of the house were glazed with sunlight. She was bathed in it.

‘I wrote her a letter,’ she said, ‘but I never sent it. Tom’s still pleading not guilty, you know that, don’t you? Karyn’s going to have to lay down her soul, and all that will happen is everyone will know her private life. It’ll be horrible and actually, nothing will change.’

‘That’s not your fault. Karyn knows the score. She’s always quoting statistics at me.’ He took a step nearer. ‘I know you think I’m a bad influence, and maybe I am, but can’t we at least spend some time together?’ He leaned closer, wanted her to understand that Karyn didn’t mind as much as she thought. Only this morning, Karyn had sussed he was coming here and given him that mocking half-smile she was so good at.
Tell her I’ll come to the wedding
, she’d said,
but I’m not being bridesmaid. And if that brother of hers is there, I can’t guarantee his safety
. He couldn’t tell Ellie that though, it’d freak her out – make her think he was seriously about to propose.

‘Listen,’ he said, ‘Karyn’s out of the flat loads, she has tons of support, and yes, I know your brother’s pleading not guilty, and yes, the court case will be a nightmare, and yes, your dad’s a tosser, and yes, my mum still drinks sherry for breakfast and hides it in the airing cupboard and hopes none of us notice. Miracles don’t happen overnight, Ellie, and we don’t have to fling it in Karyn’s face, but maybe we can grab something good out of this while we can?’

‘Well,’ she said, tilting her head to one side, ‘that’s one way of putting it.’

He laughed. ‘Come for a walk. Get changed out of those pyjamas and let’s go somewhere.’

A bird cried and flapped from one tree to another. They both watched it and it changed something. She softened.

‘Look,’ she said, ‘the sky is gold.’

It was true. The sun had risen over the rim of the gate. Pink and gold bled together; the tops of the trees washed with light.

‘Come on, Ellie, just a walk. No harm done. We’re on the same team, you and me.’

She frowned at him, puzzled. Light collided with the wall behind her. ‘Team McKenzie?’

He smiled. ‘Something like that.’

These were the things she left at home – pyjamas, slippers, dressing gown, revision, parents.

‘I’m off,’ she said from the doorway.

Mum and Dad turned from the breakfast table to look at her. They took her all in, from the red lips to the summer dress, from the length of exposed leg, to the new sandals.

She gave her mum a kiss on the cheek. ‘See you later.’

She smiled. ‘You look lovely, Ellie. Off you go.’

Dad said, ‘So, it’s just a walk you’re going on, is it?’

‘Yep. It’s a beautiful day out there.’

‘And how does the weather explain the lipstick?’

‘Just expressing myself.’

‘That’s not an explanation.’

He kept on frowning. Ellie felt sad about the look that passed between her parents – strained, polite, held-in. Mum might suffer for this walk; she certainly would if Dad found out who Ellie was going with. But, later, maybe Ellie would dare to tell him, and maybe, just maybe, her mum would support her while she did it. Event by event, she’d try and whittle her dad down.

She kissed him on the top of his head to say goodbye. He looked stunned. ‘Don’t be all day,’ he said gruffly. ‘You’ve got plenty of revision to do.’

‘Yeah, yeah, my whole future’s at stake, I know.’

It came out worse than she meant it to. It came out like she didn’t care. But she did. It was about balances. There were many hours in a day to revise and only a few had sunshine in them.

Sometimes, if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen. If you miss someone so desperately that it wrecks your insides, you say their name over and over until you conjure them. It’s called sympathetic magic and you just have to believe in it to make it work.

Here was a whole new reality – her and Mikey, the early morning sun rising over the gate and the day becoming itself.

Her dress was circles of orange and green, bright as Ferris wheels. He wanted to whistle, but stopped himself.

Instead, he said, ‘Wow, you look amazing.’

She smiled. ‘My dad’s still capable of a bribe, even when he isn’t talking to me. The dress is a taster of what’s to come if I knuckle down and get ten A-stars in my exams.’

‘You’re going to earn yourself a whole new wardrobe.’

‘Not if I keep hanging out with you.’

She nudged him to show she didn’t mean it badly, then pressed the secret button that opened the gate. They stood side by side in the lane as it slid shut behind them.

‘That leads to town,’ she said, pointing left, ‘and that leads to somewhere else.’

They looked across the field together. The whole place was edged with trees and the sun shone on the mud and green leaves pushed their way into the air. Two crows landed as they watched, then took straight off again.

‘I’m up for it, if you are,’ he said.

They walked around the edge. It was furrowed and the mud had dried in the sun and was hard under their feet. They talked about Karyn a bit more and about the court case, but once they got through that, there were so many other things to talk about. She told him about her Art exam and how she was doing a project called ‘Red’, and she told him that now the weather was warmer she was planning on getting back to her swimming.

‘You promised me a swim in the sea,’ he said, ‘remember?’

She raised an eyebrow. He loved it when she did that. ‘Well, you promised to teach me how to cook.’

‘I will.’

‘All promises are good then.’

He told her about Dex being upset that Mikey hadn’t confided in him, how Dex had said he could do his day release at the pub if he got on the NVQ course. He shared his theory that Jacko fancied Karyn and how it was the last thing he wanted to have a theory about, and yet also how he knew it was none of his business.

As they walked, the weather chased across the field – sun, then shadow, then sun again. The trees waved in the wind, their leaves gearing up for summer.

They came to a path that led through some trees and out onto a different field. This one was bigger, stretched further. Birds reeled up from their sunbathing and twittered overhead. It was beautiful. Maybe it led to the coast. Maybe if they kept walking, they’d reach the sea.

‘I don’t know about you,’ he said, ‘but I want to keep going.’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘me too.’

He felt perfectly happy as he walked side by side with Ellie, their fingers occasionally brushing, electricity building between them. It was the first time for days, maybe the first time in all his life, that he didn’t want to change anything.


With thanks to the many people who shared their expertise, their stories, their time – especially Debbie Adler, Chris Rollings, Gonul Guney, Anne McShane, Sarah Pepper, Andrew St. John, Megan Dunn, Anna Owen, Louis Hill, Marion Scott, Bethany Scott, Viv Parker, Simona Balletti, Patrice Lawrence, Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, Cat Goscovitch, Sarah Lerner, Eva Lewin, Stef Pixner, Archie Hill, David Fickling, Bella Pearson, Hannah Featherstone and Catherine Clarke.

About the Author
Jenny Downham trained as an actor and worked in alternative theatre before starting to write. Her first novel,
Before I Die
, is an international bestseller. It won the Branford Boase Award for most promising debut, the Australian Silver Inky Award for best international novel and was shortlisted for the Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Prize. Jenny lives in London.
Also by Jenny Downham:
Before I Die
Praise for
Before I Die
‘I don’t care how old you are. This book will not leave you’
New York Times
‘A book that will make you happy to be alive’
‘This is an affecting and brave novel. Tessa is such a rich character … For everyone, it is a reminder to value the people that matter, seize the moment, wish with courage, adventure with relish’
Sunday Times
‘A sad and beautiful book’
Irish Times
Praise for
You Against Me
‘I loved it … beautifully written with a painful but penetrating awareness’ Jill Murphy,
‘A tale of love across the social divide … a triumph’
‘Blows other novels out of the water’
‘An intense and arresting love story’ Natasha Harding,
The Sun
‘A thrilling, high stakes novel of love across the barricades … gripping’ Julia Eccleshare,
‘A rich, sensitive, highly accomplished novel’ Robert Dunbar,
Books for Keeps
AN RHCB DIGITAL EBOOK 978 1 409 04820 6
Published in Great Britain by RHCB Digital,
an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
A Random House Group Company
This ebook edition published 2011
Copyright © Jenny Downham, 2010
First Published in Great Britain by David Fickling Books
The right of Jenny Downham to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorized distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
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