Read You Against Me Online

Authors: Jenny Downham

You Against Me (4 page)

‘You don’t like it, do you?’ She spun round to her parents. ‘I told you he wouldn’t like it. Didn’t I say?’

Her father’s face darkened with annoyance. ‘Shall we let Tom decide if he likes it or not, Eleanor?’

Mum put her hand on Tom’s arm. ‘Would you rather have no fuss?’

‘You’ve gone to loads of trouble,’ Tom said. ‘But what if I hadn’t got bail?’

Mum did a sort of punctured laugh. ‘Your father refused to entertain that possibility.’

‘Never a doubt,’ Dad said breezily. ‘I booked the caterers days ago, that’s how certain I was.’ He reached over and patted Tom on the back. ‘So, what do you reckon? Pleased with it?’

‘It’s fine.’ Tom took another look around. ‘You never know, it may even be fun.’

‘Good, well done.’ Dad beamed at him. ‘We’ve invited everyone who matters. We need to show the world you’ve got nothing to hide.’ He gestured to the suitcase. ‘I’ll take this upstairs, then I’ve got a few calls to make. You relax, Tom. You’re home and safe now.’

Mum laid her hand flat against Tom’s cheek. ‘I’ll take your jacket in, and check how things are going with the caterers.’

It was weird how they kept explaining themselves – they’d been doing it since Tom got arrested.
I’m just popping into the office. I’m going upstairs to see if I can grab some sleep. We’ll be with the lawyer for a while
. It was as if they thought they’d disappear if they didn’t say where they were.

‘What are you two going to do?’ Mum said.

Tom smiled. ‘We’ll find something.’


The spare room was pink with flocked wallpaper. Ellie and her mum hadn’t been able to do anything about that, but they’d got Tom a new mattress and changed the curtains. They’d put the portable TV up on a wall bracket and spread DVDs and books along the shelf.

Tom stood in the doorway and shook his head at it. ‘I feel like a guest.’

It was gloomy inside and Ellie snapped on the light. ‘Didn’t Dad tell you?’

‘Probably.’ Tom crossed to the bed and sat down, smoothed the duvet with his hands. ‘I don’t listen to half the stuff he says.’

‘Well, he tried to get the police to take the lock off your bedroom door, but everything seems to take so long. It’s all new though, the duvet and everything. Me and Mum went shopping.’

‘I always think of Gran when I see this room,’ he said. ‘All those pills she had and how crazy she was.’ He looked about, wrinkled his nose. ‘It still smells of her in here.’

‘We put the commode in the loft, so it shouldn’t. Open the window.’

‘Does she know about me?’ He shot Ellie a glance. ‘Or is it too shameful?’

‘She barely knows her own name. I think they’re waiting to see the outcome before they tell her anything.’

‘The outcome? Christ, you sound like Dad.’ He reached into his pocket and found his cigarettes, walked to the window and opened it.

Ellie watched him light a cigarette and pull smoke hard into his lungs. It was like fingers down chalkboards or forks over plates. The desperation of it. She wanted to cover her ears, look away. But instead, she sat and watched him inhale and exhale three more times. Finally, he turned to her.

‘I’m sorry, Ellie. I shouldn’t take it out on you.’

‘It’s OK.’

‘Dad’s driving me nuts. He fired the lawyer who mucked up my first bail application and got some top-notch bloke instead. He doesn’t trust him though, talks to him as if he’s a kid fresh out of law school.’

‘He wants the best for you.’

Tom smiled grimly at her. ‘It’s embarrassing.’

‘It’ll be over soon.’

‘You think? According to the top-notch guy, it’s only just begun.’

He blew the last smoke out into the garden, then tossed the butt after it. ‘You want to do something exciting?’


‘Good. Wait there.’

He wasn’t gone long, came back with the hair clippers and planted them in her hand. ‘Cut it all off.’

She was stunned. ‘All of it?’

‘Short back and sides. I don’t want it long any more.’

‘I don’t know how to use them. I’ve never done it before.’

‘It’s easy, like cutting grass.’

He set up a chair in the corner of the room by the mirror, then spread newspaper on the floor.

‘Will you be angry if I get it wrong?’

Tom ripped off his T-shirt. ‘Promise I won’t. Anyway, I’ve got no choice. The nearest barber is in the high street, and my bail conditions don’t let me anywhere near it.’

He straddled the chair and Ellie stood behind him, wielding the clippers. Their eyes met in the mirror.

She said, ‘This is the most dangerous thing anyone’s ever asked me to do.’

He laughed. ‘Then you’ve led a very sheltered life.’

But it had taken Tom ages to grow his hair. It was what defined him, how people described him.
Tom – you know, the boy with all that blond hair
. That he wanted it gone was scary. That he’d chosen her to do it, that the bedroom door was shut, that it was private – these were the things that made it feel dangerous.

‘Honestly, Tom, I don’t think I can. What if I take off too much and you end up a skinhead?’

‘Please, Ellie, before I change my mind.’

She held up a long strand of hair, but hesitated with the clippers. ‘You might change your mind? What if you do?’

‘I’m kidding. Just do it.’

Handful after handful fell to the floor and onto her bare feet. It drifted beyond the newspaper, driven by the breeze from the window, and piled up in the corner like a nest. His face changed as the hair fell. His eyes looked bigger, his ears appeared, the back of his neck became vulnerable. It was as if she was exposing him.

‘You look younger,’ was all she said when he asked why she looked sad. And when he wanted to know what was sad about being young, she told him that actually she was glad to be cutting his hair because she’d always been jealous of how good he looked with it long …

‘I want your metabolism too,’ she said. ‘You get to eat whatever you want and look like a stick, but I eat one chocolate and I turn to pudge. How come you get all the luck?’

He shook his head. ‘You don’t even know, do you?’

‘Know what?’

‘How pretty you are. Everyone says so.’


‘You know what my mate Freddie calls you?’

She shook her head, slightly afraid.

‘Mermaid, that’s what.’

‘That’s not even a compliment. Mermaids just sit about on rocks all day.’

He laughed. ‘They’re not easy, that’s the point. No one gets to shag a mermaid because they don’t let you.’

Ellie thought it was more to do with the fact that they had nothing below the waist but a tail, but maybe she was wrong about that, so she didn’t say anything. Instead, she turned the attention back to him, because despite everything, she loved him and he needed to know that. As she clipped the hair round his ears, she quietly recited a list of all the nice things he’d ever done for her.

It included everything, from drawing pictures for her to colour in (which was years ago), through starting school (when he let her hang out with him in the playground, even though she was two years younger
a girl). Right up to the holiday in Kenya when the dog tried to bite her a second time and he stood in the way (which was the most heroic thing anyone had ever done for her).

‘Before we moved house,’ she said, ‘whenever my friends came round, you’d always hang out for a bit and talk to us. If we ever saw you in town, you’d wave or come over and chat, like you were genuinely interested. No one else’s brother ever bothered. I’ve always been proud of you for that.’

He smiled up at her. ‘You say the sweetest things.’

‘Well, you
the sweetest things. You made that speech at my sixteenth birthday saying how I was the best sister in the world, remember? And when I did that stupid leaving concert at school, you clapped loudest even though I was total rubbish and forgot all my words.’

Tom laughed as she reminded him of these things. It was great. Everything pulled together. He told the story of the summer they’d gone camping in southern France and the site was dull, dull, dull. The swimming pool was shut and the entertainment was rubbish and the only good things were the pâtisserie and the kites they’d bought from the shop.

‘We found that hill,’ he said, ‘you know the one? We flew the kites from the top and when we got bored we rolled all the way down and ran back up again.’

Ellie was amazed he remembered. She could have cut his hair for hours then. She loved how cosy it was together in the spare room, how she could hear the vague sounds of people setting up the party, their voices low and far away. It gave her courage. ‘Can we talk about what happened that night?’

He swung round on the chair to look at her. ‘Really? Can’t I just have a break?’

Ellie lowered her eyes. ‘There are things I don’t understand.’

He frowned at her. ‘Have you been talking to anyone?’

‘Not really.’ Ellie had a drifting sensation, as if this conversation was surrounded by smoke. ‘I haven’t been back to school yet.’

There was silence as they looked at each other. ‘If I go down, Ellie, it’ll be the end of everything for me.’

‘I know.’

‘There are guys in there …’ His voice trailed off and he shook his head as if he’d seen the most unspeakable things. ‘It was the longest two weeks of my life.’

There was something in his eyes. Their dark shine reminded her of the autumn he broke his arm, how he sat on the football field and howled with fury, because he had to miss the whole season and he’d only just made the team. She looked away.

‘There,’ she said. ‘I’ve finished.’ She stroked her hands over his hair, smoothing flyaway strands. ‘It’s cute.’

‘Cute?’ He rubbed his own hand over his head. ‘That wasn’t quite what I had in mind.’

‘What did you want to look like?’

‘Innocent.’ He smiled at her in the mirror. ‘Inoffensive and above suspicion.’

She sat on his bed and watched him dust the hair from his shoulders with his T-shirt. He sprayed deodorant under his arms, splashed aftershave onto his hands, rubbed them together then smoothed his palms across his face.

‘Will I have to go to court and answer questions?’ she asked. ‘Or will they just read out my statement?’

He ignored her, pulled on his new stripy T-shirt. She’d chosen it for him with Mum last week and it still had the label on. He ripped it off and passed it to her. ‘Recycling,’ he said.

She put it in her pocket. ‘Did you hear me?’

He fiddled with his shirt, straightening it in the mirror. ‘You were the only other person here the whole time, which makes you the primary witness. You’ll definitely have to go to court.’

Her stomach gripped. ‘They can’t make me say anything.’

‘They can’t make you say anything if you didn’t

She nodded. She felt a mixture of pity and fear as she looked at him, because the thought of what she should or shouldn’t say made her feel scared. She’d been worrying about it for two weeks. It had been so bad one day that she’d fantasized that a nuclear bomb had gone off and she was the only person left alive. In the fantasy, she’d wandered about opening and closing doors, stirring up dust, picking things up and putting them down. It had been so peaceful.

She gnawed at her lip again. ‘When the police interviewed me, I told them I went straight upstairs to bed when you brought everyone back.’

‘Well, that’s fine then.’

She blushed at the memory of scrambling up from the sofa in her slippers and pyjamas. Karyn and her mate Stacey glittered, surrounded by boys, fresh from the pub. They smiled down at her, told her she should stay and talk to them. But she knew by the look on her brother’s face that he wanted her safe upstairs, and she felt such an idiot making an excuse about having a headache.

‘The other thing I told them,’ Ellie said, ‘was I looked out of my window later and saw everyone outside.’

Tom turned from the mirror and blinked at her. ‘I didn’t know that.’

‘I just said everyone looked like they were having a good time and you and Karyn had your arms round each other.’

‘What did you say that for?’

‘Because the police need to know she fancied you. Was that wrong?’

‘It’s OK,’ he said. ‘There’s no need to get upset. It’s me they’re going to grill, not you.’

‘She was flirting with you all night though.’ Ellie curled her fists tight and pinched her thumbnails into her palms. ‘I bet when you went into the bedroom to get the sleeping bag, she just pulled you down on top of her, didn’t she?’

Tom winced. ‘It’s not something I’m proud of, Ellie, but yeah, that’s pretty much what happened.’

She nodded. ‘I thought so.’

He pushed the chair back under the desk. ‘You reckon we can stop talking about this now? A sad little shag with a crazy girl is a bit humiliating to discuss with my sister. Maybe we should go downstairs and see if they need any help.’

He wrapped the newspaper into a parcel and put it in the bin. Ellie picked up the handful of hair from the corner and did the same. She was an idiot. It was horrible for him to be reminded of that night when he was supposed to be feeling safe with his family.

‘Are you going to dress up?’ he said. ‘Team Parker and all that? Best foot forward.’

He was trying to make her laugh. This was how their father would speak.

‘All hands on deck,’ she said, because she wanted to give him something back.

He patted her quickly on the head. ‘Don’t forget.’

Another expression from their father.
Don’t forget who you are

Don’t forget whose side you’re on.


They parked the car by the river and walked up the lane to the house, Jacko still feeding Mikey last-minute bits of information from Tom Parker’s Facebook page. Jacko had checked it out on the computer at work and now they both knew the bastard liked golf and sleeping and that all the friends on his page were girls.

‘His favourite celebrity’s Vin Diesel,’ Jacko said, ‘though I don’t think we need to let that worry us, because he also likes
Where’s Wally?
’ He snapped his fingers, laughing. ‘We’re gonna take him easy!’

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