Pearson Education Limited                             Edinburgh Gate, Harlow,                                             ...
Introduction                                                                                           Chapter 1       A M...
bath, tidying his flat, going to the shops, watching Countdown.              Im fine, thanks.Countdown was an afternoon TV...
youre a very serious and responsible person.                         More happened, and that was a good thing.   Oh, no, s...
Bob Marley and Joni Mitchell. And why it was more important             and a lot of men didnt like other peoples children...
But just when Will was thinking about ending the relationship,       did it, and because he didnt understand, he couldnt h...
finish. But when they finished, they started another game; they        before we knew you, and now we have problems every ...
the most depressing place for a party that Will had ever seen.           Oh . . . hes a good little boy, said Will. Very b...
His mum turned over on her stomach and looked at him.                              Chapter 3         The Dead Duck DayHow ...
Michael Jackson makes £60 million an hour, said the weird           They could see the SPAT crowd of mothers and childrenk...
One of your ducks has died, said Will. He made it sound like           He couldnt speak. He didnt know what to say. He did...
said. This isnt about you. You k n o w that, dont you? I mean,            kitchen, as Suzie had told h i m to do, w h e n ...
Are you angry with me?                                           Not too bad, I think. She hasnt gone back to work, but   ...
where we live. Flat 2, 31 Craysfield Road, Islington, London                 Will looked shocked, but she just laughed. Ma...
teacher and they talked about his dads song. But later Fiona sat          I followed you here once.down at the piano and s...
could make him do something else. He started going round to          glasses. And my singing. Sometimes . . . I sing witho...
A bit, when I think about it.                                                                               Marcus, does t...
asked them in a very boring way. She just repeated the last thing        I know hes taking some time to get used to his ne...
Ive been thinking for myself, he said,and I want to go round   sleep with her. But conversations with her were never dull....
They sat in silence for a time, then Marcus thought hed try to      Maybe you havent tried hard enough. talk to Ellie. His...
What, in school?                                                noticed that he had been absent the afternoon before, so h...
Marcus hadnt thought of that. I dont want to go out with          Marcus felt very proud as he walked through the school h...
About a boy
About a boy
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About a boy

  1. 1. Pearson Education Limited Edinburgh Gate, Harlow, Contents Essex CM20 2JE, England and Associated Companies throughout the world. ISBN-13: 978-0-582-77962-4 page ISBN-10: 0-582-77962-6 Introduction iv First published in Great Britain by Victor Gollancz 1998 Chapter 1 A Man and a Boy 1 This edition first published by Penguin Books 2003 Chapter 2 SPAT 6 7 9 10 8 Chapter 3 The Dead Duck Day 15 Original copyright © Nick Hornby 1998 Text copyright © Penguin Books 2003 Chapter 4 Marcuss Plan 20 Chapter 5 New Trainers 27 Typeset by Ferdinand Pageworks, Surrey Set in ll/14pt Bembo Chapter 6 Ellie 34 Printed in China SWTC/07 Chapter 7 Christmas at Fionas 41 Chapter 8 Falling in Love 45 All rights reserved; no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, Chapter 9 Depressions 50 electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the Publishers. Chapter 10 A Trip to Cambridge 56 Chapter 11 Growing Up 63 Published by Pearson Education Limited in association with Penguin Books Ltd, both companies being subsidiaries of Pearson Plc Activities 71For a complete list of titles available in the Penguin Readers series, please write to your local Pearson Education office or to: Penguin Readers Marketing Department, Pearson Education, Edinburgh Gate, Harlow, Essex CM20 2JE.
  2. 2. Introduction Chapter 1 A M a n and a B o yThey were all staring so hard at the scene of the crime that they didntnotice the park-keeper standing next to them. Marcus felt very frightened. Will Freeman was thirty-six years old and he had never had a jobHe would be in big trouble now. in his life. Sometimes he thought about working. He looked One of your ducks has died, said Will. He made it sound like the through the job advertisements in newspapers and wrotesaddest thing hed ever seen. Marcus looked up at him. Maybe Will occasional letters to employers, but he was never invited towasn t such a bad guy. interviews. He didnt mind. He was OK as he was. He was a cool guyAbout a Boy is the story of the growing relationship between with a cool lifestyle. He read quite a lot; he saw films in theMarcus, a twelve-year-old boy, and Will, a 36-year-old man. Marcus afternoons; he went running; he cooked nice meals for himselfis having problems at home and at school. Will wants a life without and his friends. When he got bored, he went to Rome or Newresponsibilities; he isnt interested in children, marriage or work. York or Barcelona for a few days.But Will is interested in attractive single mothers, and he invents a Will didnt need to work for money because in 1938 his fathertwo-year-old son so that he can join a single parents group. When had written a very successful Christmas song. Many famoushe meets Marcus and his mother, his life begins to change. singers had made recordings of this song, and each time Wills About a Boy is very funny and enjoyable, but it also has a much father had received royalties. Since his death the royalties hadmore serious side. come to Will.The writer, Nick Hornby, was born in 1957 and grew up in So Will had become rich without having to work at all. Henorth London. He studied English at Cambridge University, then was happy with his life. He lived in a nice flat in London andworked for the Korean company Samsung. Later, he worked as a drove a fast car. He liked women and had lots of girlfriends, butteacher and journalist before starting to write fiction. he never got too involved with them. He preferred to look at Nick Hornby has written four books: Fever Pitch (1992); High other peoples lives from the outside, like watching TV. If aFidelity (1995); About a Boy (1998) and How to be Good (2001). relationship with a woman became complicated, he ended it. HeThe stories all take place in north London, and are mainly about wanted to keep his life simple.relationships. The first three books have been made into In the evenings Will usually went out with friends. Thesesuccessful films. In About a Boy, the popular British actor Hugh were guys who worked in music shops or belonged to the sameGrant plays the character of Will. The end of the story was sports clubs as Will, or who were part of the same pub-quizchanged for the film. Which ending do you prefer? team. They werent close friends - but they were good enough for a drink or a meal. The evenings were fine, but Will had a lot of free time during the day because all his friends were at work. So he filled the time IV 1
  3. 3. bath, tidying his flat, going to the shops, watching Countdown. Im fine, thanks.Countdown was an afternoon TV quiz show and it was his favourite Dont you want your own family?programme. Sometimes he wondered how his friends had time to I cant think of anything worse, thought Will. Not yet, hework. How could a person work and have a bath on the same day? said. Will didnt like children. He wasnt interested in them, and he Were worried about you, said Christine.didnt want any responsibility for them. But his friends, John and Im OK as I am, thanks, said Will.Christine, had two. The second was a baby girl, born just the Maybe, said Christine, and smiled.week before, and Will had been invited to see her. Will was beginning to feel very uncomfortable. Why did they When he arrived at John and Christines flat, there were want him to have children? Children would make him verychildrens toys everywhere. Pieces of brightly coloured plastic unhappy. If John and Christine wanted children, and to bewere spread all over the floor, videos lay out of their cases near unhappy, that was fine. (Will was sure that John and Christinethe TV, a white cloth over the sofa was covered with dirty brown were very unhappy, even if they didnt realize it.) But why shouldmarks . . . How could people live like this? they want him to be unhappy too? Christine came in holding the new baby while John was in Will could see only one reason for having children. When youthe kitchen making tea. This is Imogen, she said. were old and poor, then they could look after you. But Will had Oh, said Will. Right. He paused. What did people usually plenty of money, so he didnt need toys on the floor or dirtysay about babies? Shes . . . he began, but stopped again. It was no sofas.good. He decided to ask Christine about herself instead. How John and Christine used to be OK, he thought. Will and aare you, Chris? he asked. girlfriend had gone out to nightclubs with them once or twice a Well, you know. Im rather tired. week, and they had all had a lot of fun. But since John and Why? A lot of parties? Christine had had children, everything had changed. Will didnt No. Ive just had a baby. want to meet Imogen, or hear how Barney was. He didnt want Oh. Right. to hear about Christines tiredness. He decided not to visit them John came into the room, carrying three cups of tea. Barneys again.gone to his grandmothers today, he said, for no reason that Will We were wondering, said John, whether youd like to becould understand. Imogens godfather? The two of them looked at Will, smiling Hows Barney? Barney was two, and interesting only to his and waiting for his reply.parents, but Will knew he should ask John something. Will laughed nervously. Godfather? he said. You mean . . . Hes fine, thanks, said John. Hes still getting used to Imogen, church and things? Birthday presents? If you two are killed in anbut hes lovely air crash, Ill have to look after her? Will had met Barney before and knew that he wasnt lovely, Yes.but he decided not to say anything. Youre joking, arent you? 2 3
  4. 4. youre a very serious and responsible person. More happened, and that was a good thing. Oh, no, said Will quickly. No, Im not. Im really a very But now Marcus was very worried about his mum. She hadshallow kind of person. Thank you very much for asking me, but started crying a lot in London - much more than in Cambridge.I cant think of anything worse. He didnt know why she cried. He wondered if it was about He didnt stay much longer. boyfriends. Marcus didnt mind if his mum had a boyfriend. She was pretty, he thought, and nice, and funny sometimes. He • wanted his mum to meet someone who would make her happy. Not far away, in the Holloway area of London, a twelve-year-old He couldnt help his mum with her problems, and sheboy called Marcus was lying in bed, unable to sleep. He was couldnt help him with his other big problem - school. His firstworrying about his mum and his new school. day at his new London school had been a disaster. Marcuss mum was called Fiona, and she and Marcus had only Marcus knew that he was different from most other kids of hisbeen in London for a few weeks. They had moved there on the age. He wasnt right for schools. Not big secondary schools likefirst day of the summer holidays because Fiona had got a new the one in London. His school in Cambridge hadnt been so bad.job. Before moving to London, they had lived in Cambridge, The children there were younger, and there were lots of weirdwhere Marcuss father, Clive, still lived. Fiona and Clive had kids there, so Marcus hadnt felt uncomfortable.separated four years ago. It was OK not to be right for some things, he thought. He Marcus thought London was quite boring. He and Fiona knew that he wasnt right for parties because he was very shy.hadnt done much in the holidays. Theyd been to see Home That wasnt a problem because he didnt have to go to parties.Alone 2, which wasnt as good as Home Alone 1. Theyd been to But he had to go to school.have a look at his new school, which was big and horrible. And Marcus couldnt talk to his mum about his problems at school,theyd had lots of talks about London and the changes in their because she couldnt help. She couldnt move him to anotherlives. But really they were sitting around waiting for their school. Even if she did move him, it wouldnt make anyLondon lives to begin. difference. Hed still be himself, and that, it seemed to Marcus, Marcus had had two kinds of life. The first, which had ended was his real problem. The other kids laughed at him because hewhen he was eight, was the normal, boring kind, with school and was weird. They laughed because he had the wrong trousers, theholidays and homework and weekend visits to grandparents. The wrong shoes and the wrong haircut.second kind was more confused because there were more people Marcus knew that he was weird partly because his mum wasand places in it: his mothers boyfriends and his dads girlfriends; weird. She was always telling him that clothes and hair werentflats and houses; Cambridge and London. It was surprising how important. She didnt want him to watch rubbish TV or listen tomany things had changed when Fiona and Clives relationship rubbish music or play rubbish computer games. All the otherended. kids spent their time doing these things, but Marcus had to argue But Marcus didnt mind. Sometimes, he thought, he even with his mother for hours and he usually lost. She could explain 4 5
  5. 5. Bob Marley and Joni Mitchell. And why it was more important and a lot of men didnt like other peoples read books than to play on the Gameboy that his dad had Will wanted to push the table over and run out of thegiven him. restaurant, but Angie was a very beautiful woman. He was quite happy at home, listening to Joni Mitchell or Really, its no problem. Ive never been out with a mumreading books, but it didnt do him any good at school. It made before, and Ive always wanted to. I think Id be good at it.him different, and because he was different the other kids made Good at what?him feel uncomfortable. Right. Good at what? What was he good at? That was the big It wasnt all his mums fault. Sometimes Marcus just did weird question which he had never been able to answer. Maybe hethings. Like the singing. He always sang songs to himself inside would be good at children, although he hated them. Maybe hehis head but sometimes, when he was nervous, the song just should give John and Christine and baby Imogen anothercame out of his mouth. It had happened in his English lesson on chance. Maybe he was going to become Uncle Will!the first day of his new school. The teacher was reading and all I dont know. Doing things that kids like.the other students in the room were quiet. Suddenly, for no For the next few weeks, he was Will the Good Guy, and hereason at all, Marcus had started to sing, and all the other kids had loved it. It wasnt even very difficult. He played with Angieslaughed at him. children, and took them to McDonalds and to parks and for a boat trip on the river. It was a very good arrangement, he thought. He had never wanted to be a father, but this was Chapter 2 SPAT different. He could walk hand-in-hand with a beautiful woman while the children played in front of them. Everybody could seeWill first saw Angie in a music shop off the Holloway Road. She him doing it. And at the end of the afternoon, he could go homehad lots of thick blonde hair, big blue eyes and a lovely sexy again if he wanted to.voice. She reminded him of Julie Christie, a beautiful film star. Angie made Will feel very good about himself. Suddenly heTwo days later, he saw her again in a cafe and started a became better-looking, a better lover, a better person. And sheconversation. By the time they had finished their coffee, he had especially loved him because he wasnt her ex-husband, who hadher phone number. problems with drink and work, and who was sleeping with his Will was rather surprised that Angie wanted to go out with secretary.him. He had never been out with a woman who looked like Julie Will went out with Angie for six weeks, but there were someChristie before. Women like her didnt go out with men like things that he was beginning to find difficult. Once he bookedWill. They went out with other film stars, or lords, or racing tickets for the opening night of a new film, but Angie was half andrivers. hour late because she couldnt get a babysitter. And when they He learnt the reason over dinner on their first evening out, spent the night together, it always had to be at her place and shewhen Angie told him that she was a single mother with two didnt have a video machine or many CDs. 6 7
  6. 6. But just when Will was thinking about ending the relationship, did it, and because he didnt understand, he couldnt help. So heAngie decided to finish it. stood there staring at her with his mouth open. Will, Im so sorry, but Im not sure this is working. Its not Do you want some tea? she asked him in a sad little voice.your fault. Youve been great. Its me. Well, my situation anyway. Yes. Please. He made some toast, drank his tea and picked upIve met you at the wrong time of my life and Im not ready for a his bag. Then he gave his mother a kiss and went out. Neither ofserious new relationship. them said a word. What else could he do? It really was very strange, Will thought. Angie had believed he On his way to school, he tried to work out what was wrongwas serious about her, and he hadnt been serious at all. Now she with her. What could be wrong that he didnt know about? Hewas starting to cry. He had never before watched a woman cry didnt think it was money problems. She had a job - she was awithout feeling responsible, and he was rather enjoying the music teacher - so they werent poor, although they werent richexperience. either. But they had enough money for the flat, and for food, and You dont have to be sorry for anything. Really. for holidays once a year, and even for occasional computer games. Of all the evenings he had spent with Angie, he loved the last What else made you cry? Death? But hed know if anybodyone the best. The relationship had been perfect, and had finished important had died. Hed seen all his relatives - his grandparents,in a perfect way too. Usually when his relationships with women his uncle Tom and uncle Toms family - at a party the weekended, he felt guilty, but this time he had nothing to feel guilty before, and theyd all been fine. Was it about men? He knew hisabout. mum wanted a boyfriend because she joked about it sometimes. Will knew then that there would be other women like Angie But if she joked about it, why should she suddenly start crying- bright, attractive single mothers, thousands of them all over about it?London - and he knew he had a lot to offer them. He could So what else was there? He tried to remember the othersleep with them, make them feel better about themselves, be a things that people cried about on TV programmes. Prison? Anparent for a limited time, and walk away without feeling guilty. unwanted baby?What more could a man want? But Marcus had forgotten about his mums problems by the time he was inside the school gates. He had his own problems to • think about. A group of kids usually bullied him on his wayOne Monday morning Marcuss mum started crying before across the playground. Today, though, they were at the other end,breakfast, and it frightened him. Morning crying was something so he reached his classroom without, and it was a bad, bad sign. It meant that it could now start at His friends Nicky and Mark were already there, playing aany time of the day without warning. game on Marks Gameboy. He went over to them. When he went into the kitchen, she was sitting at the kitchen All right?table in her night clothes, a half-eaten piece of toast on her plate, Nicky said hello, but Mark was too busy to notice him.her eyes red from crying. Marcus never said anything when she Marcus tried to watch the game, but he couldnt see thecried. He didnt know what to say. He didnt understand why she Gameboy very well, so he sat on a desk, waiting for them to 8 9
  7. 7. finish. But when they finished, they started another game; they before we knew you, and now we have problems every day. didnt offer him a game or put the Gameboy away. Marcus felt he Marcus understood. They would be better without him. But was being shut out, and he didnt know what hed done wrong. he had nowhere else to go. Are you going to the computer room at lunchtime? he asked. • That was how he knew Nicky and Mark - through the computer club. It was a stupid question because they always went Will was looking for ways to meet single mums like Angie, but to the computer room. It was the only place where they would he didnt know where to find them. Where did single mums gobe safe from the other kids. and how could he get their phone numbers? Then he had a Dont know, replied Nicky after a time. What do you think, wonderful idea. He would pretend to be a single father and join aMark? single parents group. So he invented a two-year-old son called Dont know, said Mark. Probably. Ned. They werent real friends - not like the friends hed had in Im a single father. I have a two-year-old son. Im a singleCambridge — but he could talk to them because they were all father. I have a two-year-old son, he told himself.different from the other kids in the class. All three of them wore But he couldnt actually believe it. He didnt feel like a parent.glasses, none of them was interested in clothes and they all liked He was too young, too old, too stupid, too intelligent, too cool,computer games. too impatient, too selfish, too careless, too careful. When he Two older boys came and stood in the doorway. Give us a looked in the mirror, he couldnt see a dad, especially a singlesong, they said to Marcus. dad. Marcus didnt know these boys, but theyd probably heard He telephoned a single parents group called SPAT (Singleabout him singing in the English class. Mark and Nicky started to Parents - Alone Together) and spoke to a woman called Frances.move away, leaving him alone. Then the older boys started SPAT met on the first Thursday of each month in a local adultinsulting Mark and Nicky, and making jokes about girls and sex. learning centre, and Frances invited Will to the next meeting. HeMark turned the Gameboy off, and all three of them stood was very worried that hed get something wrong, like the namewaiting for the boys to get bored and go away. Marcus tried to of his imaginary son - he couldnt stop thinking of him as Ted,play a game inside his head, listing different kinds of chocolate. not Ned. At last the two older boys left. The three of them didnt say The centre was a depressing place with lots of classrooms. Willanything for a time. Then Nicky looked at Mark, and Mark listened for the sounds of a party but he couldnt hear anything.looked at Nicky, and finally Mark spoke. Finally he noticed a small piece of paper on a classroom door Marcus, we dont want you with us. with the word SPAT! on it. Oh, said Marcus. Why not? There was only one woman in the room. She was taking Because of them. bottles - of white wine, beer and water - out of a box and Theyre not my problem. Putting them on a table in the centre of the room. All the other Yes, they are, said Mark. We never got into trouble with anyone tables and chairs had been pushed to the back of the room. It was 10 11
  8. 8. the most depressing place for a party that Will had ever seen. Oh . . . hes a good little boy, said Will. Very brave. Have I come to the right place? he asked the woman. She To his surprise, he was beginning to feel quite upset. Suzie put had a sharp nose and a bright red face. a hand on his arm. SPAT? Come in. Are you Will? Im Frances. She likes me, Will thought. Great! Will smiled and shook her hand. • Im sorry theres nobody else here yet, she said. A lot of people are late because of problems with babysitters. Some parts of Marcuss life continued normally. He went to his Of course, said Will. He was wrong to come on time, he dads in Cambridge for the weekend and watched a lot of TV. thought. He should pretend to have babysitting problems too. But On the Sunday he and his dad, and Lindsey, his dads girlfriend, then the other members of SPAT began to arrive, all women in went to Lindseys mums house. Lindseys mum lived by the sea, their thirties, and Frances introduced him to each of them. The and they went for a long walk on the beach. most attractive was a tall, blonde, nervous-looking woman. After Marcus liked Lindseys mum. He liked Lindsey too. Even his she came into the room, he stopped looking at anybody else. mum liked Lindsey. Marcus felt better after the weekend in Hello, he said. Im Will. Im new and I dont know anybody. Cambridge. He had a good time with everybody and nobody Hello, Will. Im Suzie. Im old and I know everybody. seemed to think he was weird. He laughed. She laughed. He spent most of the evening with But the day after he got back, he came home from school and her. She talked a lot and he listened. He was very happy to listen found his mum lying on the floor with a coat over her. because he didnt want to talk about Ned. Suzie had been Didnt you go to work today? married to a man called Dan, who had left her the day before she This morning. I was sick this afternoon. gave birth to her daughter Megan. What kind of sick? asked Marcus. Suzie told him about the other women in the room. It was the She didnt reply, and Marcus felt angry. He was only a kid and same story - their husbands had all left them with children to things couldnt continue like this. He was having an awful time at look after. Will began to feel very depressed about being a man. school and an awful time at home, and school and home were How could men behave so badly? almost the only places he knew. So someone was going to have Im sorry, said Suzie at last. I havent asked you anything to help him, and that person had to be his mum. She had to do about yourself. Did your wife leave you? something about it. He was only a kid, and she was his mum, and Well . . . er . . . yes. if he felt bad it was her job to stop him feeling bad. And does she see Ned? What kind of sick? he asked again in a rough voice. Sometimes. Shes not very interested in him. He was She began to cry and Marcus felt frightened. beginning to feel better; he could show her that women could Youve got to stop this. behave badly too. He was acting, yes, but he was doing it well, I cant.just like Robert De Niro. Youve got to. If you cant look after me, then youll have to How does Ned feel about that? asked Suzie. find someone who can. 12 13
  9. 9. His mum turned over on her stomach and looked at him. Chapter 3 The Dead Duck DayHow can you say I dont look after you? Because you dont. You make my meals and I could do that. Will wanted to go to the SPAT picnic in Regents Park becauseThe rest of the time, you just cry. Thats . . . thats no good. Thats Suzie was going. But he knew that Suzie would expect Ned tono good to me. be there too, so he had to invent a reason why Ned couldnt go. She cried even more then. Marcus went upstairs and played a He telephoned Suzie on the morning of the picnic and told hercomputer game, but when he came downstairs again, she had got that his ex-wife had taken Ned out.up and was cooking supper. But thats terrible, Will, said Suzie. You cant let her change Youre going to a picnic on Saturday, she said suddenly. your plans like that. A picnic? Where? I know, I know, he said. And shes taken my car too. Can I go In Regents Park. with you to Regents Park? Who with? Yes, of course, replied Suzie. Im bringing a twelve-year-old Suzie. kid too - Marcus, my friend Fionas son. Shes asked me to look Not that SPAT crowd. after him for the day. Yes, that SPAT crowd. All the way to the park Suzie talked about Wills ex-wife. She I hate them. When Marcus and his mum had first moved to was very angry about Paulas behaviour. Had he called her Paula?London, they had gone to a SPAT summer party in someones Will couldnt remember. Things were getting rathergarden. It had been full of horrible little kids, all about ten years complicated, he thought. How much longer could he continueyounger than Marcus. pretending? And how could he ever invite Suzie round to his Are you going? he asked. flat? There were no toys there, and he didnt even have two No. I need a rest. You told me to find someone to look after So thats what Im doing. Suzies better at it than I am. They walked through the park to the lake. Suzie was pushing Suzie was Fionas best friend; theyd known each other since her daughter, Megan, in a pushchair, and Marcus was walkingtheir schooldays. She was nice and Marcus liked her a lot. But he beside them. Will thought Marcus was a weird kid. He had a verydidnt want to go to a SPAT picnic. strange haircut and odd clothes. I can stay here. Ill keep out of your way. I can sit in my room I dont even know what you do, said Suzie.all day, playing games. Nothing. He usually invented a job, but he had told enough I want you to get out. Do something normal. Were not doing lies. He had to give Suzie something that was real.each other any good. Oh. Well, what did you do before? Marcus was shocked. What did she mean, they werent doing Nothing.each other any good? She wasnt doing him any good, but what Youve never worked?had he done to her? He couldnt think of anything. He felt like Well, only for a day or two. My dad wrote a famous song, andcrying too. I live from the royalties. 14 15
  10. 10. Michael Jackson makes £60 million an hour, said the weird They could see the SPAT crowd of mothers and childrenkid. How much do you make? sitting by the lake in front of them. The mothers were pouring Marcus! said Suzie. So whats this song, Will? juice into cups, and the children were eating sandwiches. Will told them. He hated telling people because the title Will played with the children for most of the afternoon. Hesounded so silly. kept away from the adults sitting on blankets under a tree because Really? Suzie and Marcus both started singing the same part he didnt want to have to answer difficult questions about Ned.of the song. People always did this, and he hated that too. He kept away from Marcus too. Marcus was walking round the But havent you ever wanted to work? asked Suzie. lake, throwing bits of his sandwich at the ducks. Oh, yes, sometimes, but I never seem to do anything about it. Later, Suzie came to talk to him. You miss him, dont you?It was true. Every day for the last eighteen years he had got up in Who? He meant it; he had no idea what she was talkingthe morning thinking about finding a job. But by the evening he about. But then he remembered about Ned. Ill see him later.had lost interest. Whats he like? asked Suzie. He decided to talk to Marcus. If he made friends with Marcus, Oh . . . Nice. Hes a really nice boy. Suzie would think he was a nice guy. Before Suzie could ask more questions, Marcus ran over to So, Marcus, he said, whos your favourite footballer? them. He seemed very nervous and upset. I hate football. I think Ive killed a duck, he said. Right, said Will. Well, whos your favourite singer? Will, Suzie, Marcus and Megan stood on the path by the edge Are you getting these questions out of a book? asked Marcus. of the lake, staring at the ducks dead body in the water. Suzie laughed, and Wills face turned red. What happened, Marcus? Will asked. No, he said. Im just interested. I dont know. I was just throwing a piece of my sandwich at it. OK, said Marcus. Well, its Joni Mitchell. I didnt mean to kill it. Really? said Will in surprise. Does everyone in your school Whats that in the water next to it? Is that the bread youlisten to Joni Mitchell? threw at it? Most people. Yes, said Marcus. He didnt like Will much, so he didnt want Will was confused. He read a lot of modern music magazines, to answer his questions.but none of them had said anything about Joni Mitchells new Thats not a sandwich, thats a loaf, said Will. Im notpopularity. surprised the duck was killed. Marcus turned away, so Will began to talk to Suzie. Perhaps I didnt kill it, said Marcus. Perhaps it died because it Do you often have to look after him? he asked. was ill. Not often. But Fiona, his mum, isnt feeling very well. Nobody said anything. Shes going crazy, said Marcus calmly. Cries all the time. They were all staring so hard at the scene of the crime thatDoesnt go to work. they didnt notice the park-keeper standing next to them. Marcus She isnt crazy. She just needs a rest. felt very frightened. He would be in big trouble now. 16 17
  11. 11. One of your ducks has died, said Will. He made it sound like He couldnt speak. He didnt know what to say. He didnt cry the saddest thing hed ever seen. Marcus looked up at him. Maybe either — the situation was much too serious for that, so he just Will wasnt such a bad guy. stood there. But Suzie dropped the car seat and ran over to his I was told it was your boys fault, said the park-keeper. Its a mum and started screaming at her and shaking her. Marcus was crime to kill a duck, you know. confused. Why was Suzie so angry with someone who wasnt Are you suggesting that Marcus killed this duck? Marcus loves very well? ducks, dont you, Marcus? Suzie shouted at Will to call for an ambulance, and told Yes, said Marcus. Theyre my favourite animal. I mean, my Marcus to make some black coffee. His mum was moving now favourite bird. This was rubbish, because he hated all animals, but and making a terrible noise that Marcus had never heard before he thought it helped. and never wanted to hear again. I was told he was throwing enormous loaves at it. Fiona! How could you do this? Suzie screamed. Youve got a No, said Will. He was throwing bread at the ducks body. He kid! How could you do this?wanted to sink it because the sight of a dead bird was upsetting Suddenly Marcus understood that his mum had tried to killmy friends little girl, Megan. herself. He had seen some shocking things, mostly on videos at There was a silence. At last the park-keeper spoke. other peoples houses, but they hadnt frightened him because Well, Ill have to go into the water and get it, he said. they werent real life. This situation with his mum was different Marcus felt much better. He wouldnt have to go to prison. because it was very real. There wasnt anything shocking in the They were walking back to the rest of the SPAT group when room, and he could see that his mum wasnt dead. But it was thesuddenly a strange thing happened. Marcus saw - or thought he most frightening thing hed ever seen, and he knew hed neversaw - his mum. She was standing on the path in front of them forget it.and she was smiling. But when he looked again, she wasnt there. When the ambulance arrived and Fiona was taken to hospital, • the ambulance men didnt want to take Marcus and Megan too. So Suzie went to the hospital with Fiona, and Will drove MarcusUsually when Suzie took Marcus home after a day out, she left and Megan there in Suzies car.him outside his flat and waited until he got inside. But today she When they arrived at the hospital, Fiona had already beenparked the car and lifted Megan out in her car seat. She was taken away.never able to explain why she had done this. Will wasnt invited, Whats happening? asked Will. He was finding the wholebut he followed them in. experience very interesting — almost enjoyable. Marcus put the key in the door of the flat and opened it, and a I dont know. Theyre pumping her stomach or part of his life began, without any warning at all. She was talking a little in the ambulance. She was asking about His mum was half on and half off the sofa. Her face was white, you, Marcus.and there was a pool of sick on the carpet and an empty pill Thats nice of her.bottle beside her. Suzie tried to put her arms round him. Listen, Marcus, she 18 19
  12. 12. said. This isnt about you. You k n o w that, dont you? I mean, kitchen, as Suzie had told h i m to do, w h e n he saw a n o t e on theyoure n o t the reason she . . . youre not the reason shes here. kitchen table. He picked it up and sat d o w n . H o w do you k n o w ? He pushed Suzie away and went to get a Dear Marcus,drink from a machine. A big part of me knows that Im doing a wrong, stupid, selfish, W h a t can you tell a kid whose m o t h e r has just tried to kill unkind thing. But unfortunately thats not the part that hasherself? Will asked. He really wanted to know. control of me now. I dont know, said Suzie worriedly. But well have to think of None of this is about you. Ive loved being your mum, always,something. although Ive found it difficult sometimes. And I dont know why T h e y waited in the hospital for a long time. M e g a n went to it isnt enough for me, but it isnt. I just feel very tired, and there doesnt seem to be anything to look forward to.sleep and Marcus ate a lot of sweets and chocolate from the Things will be better for you than they were before. Really. Youmachine. N o n e of t h e m talked m u c h . At last a w o m a n came over can go to your dads, or Suzie has always said shed look after see t h e m — not a nurse or a doctor, but somebody official. Love you, Hello. D i d you c o m e in with Fiona Brewer? Mum Yes. I m her friend Suzie, and this is Will, and this is Fionasson Marcus. Marcus was still sitting at the kitchen table w h e n his m u m came R i g h t . Were keeping Fiona here for the night. Is there back from the hospital w i t h Suzie and Megan. She could seesomewhere Marcus could go? immediately w h a t hed found. H e can stay w i t h me tonight, said Suzie. I m sorry, Marcus. Id forgotten about the note. She put M e g a n back into the car seat and they made their way You forgot? You forgot you wrote a letter about killingout to the car park. yourself? Ill see you soon, said Will. Ill call you. Well, I didnt think Id ever have to r e m e m b e r it, did I? She I h o p e things are OK with N e d and Paula, Suzie said. laughed at that. She actually laughed. T h a t was his mother. W h e n For a m o m e n t Will didnt k n o w w h o she meant. N e d and she wasnt crying at breakfast, she was laughing about killingPaula, N e d and Paula . . . ? Ah, yes — his ex-wife and son. herself. O h , itll be fine. Thanks. He said goodbye and w e n t to find a It was stupid of me to leave Marcus here before I w e n t to gettaxi. It had been a very interesting experience, but he wouldnt you, said Suzie. I wasnt thinking.want to repeat it every night. Suzie, n o n e of this is your fault. But maybe Marcus and I ought to have a little talk alone. O f course, said Suzie. She gave Marcus a kiss. Shes fine, she Chapter 4 Marcuss Plan whispered, loud e n o u g h for his m u m to hear. D o n t w o r r y about her.T h e next day Suzie t o o k Marcus h o m e and left h i m while shewent to get Fiona from the hospital. He was just tidying the W h e n Suzie had gone, Fiona made tea and sat d o w n at the table with Marcus. 20 21
  13. 13. Are you angry with me? Not too bad, I think. She hasnt gone back to work, but What do you think? Marcus went to school today. Because of the letter? Listen, do you think theres any way I could help? Perhaps I Because of the letter, because of what you did, everything. could take Marcus out? I can understand that. I dont feel the same as I did on Would you like to? said Suzie. I could ask Fiona.Saturday, if thats any help. Thanks, said Will. And it would be nice to see you and So your problems have all just gone away? Megan again soon. No, but . . . at the moment I feel better. Yes, said Suzie. Im looking forward to meeting Ned. At the moments no good to me, said Marcus. I can see that Will bought Time Out, a magazine with information aboutyoure better at the moment. Youve just made tea. But what events in London. He was looking for something that a twelve-happens when I go back to school? I cant be here to watch you year-old boy might like to do on a Saturday. He tried toall the time. remember what he liked doing at Marcuss age, but he couldnt. No, I know. But weve got to look after each other. Then the telephone rang. Marcus was no longer interested in what his mum said; the Hi, Will. Its Marcus.important thing was what she did, or what she was going to do. Hi, Marcus.She wasnt going to try and kill herself again today. Shed drink Suzie said you want to take me out for the day on Saturday.her tea, and tonight theyd watch TV, and it would feel like the Ill come if my mum can come too.beginning of a different, better time. But that time wouldnt last What?for ever. Marcus knew that, for him, things would never be the Ill come if my mum can come too. And she hasnt got anysame again. money, so well either have to go somewhere cheap, or youll Two people in a family werent enough. Hed always thought have to pay for us.that two was a good number, and that hed hate to live in a family Well . . . wouldnt it be better with just you and me? Yourof three or four or five. But now he could see that if there were mum could stay at home and have a rest.lots of people in a family, and one of them died, you wouldnt be Suddenly Will remembered last Saturday. They had left Fionaleft on your own. But how could he make his family grow? He at home to rest, and she had tried to kill herself.was going to have to find a way. Im sorry, Marcus, he said quickly. I wasnt thinking. Of • course your mum can come too. That would be great. We havent got a car. Youll have to bring yours. And you canWill kept thinking about Marcus and Fiona. There wasnt much bring your little boy if you like.else happening in his life, so he had a lot of time to think about He laughed. Thanks.them. He had a strange thought: perhaps he should try and help Thats OK, said Marcus generously.them. He telephoned Suzie. Hell be with his mum again on Saturday. I was wondering how Marcus and Fiona are, he said. Fine. Come round at about half past twelve. You remember 22 23
  14. 14. where we live. Flat 2, 31 Craysfield Road, Islington, London Will looked shocked, but she just laughed. Marcus hated it N1 2SR when she made jokes to people who didnt know her well. Right, said Will. See you then. Will took them to a restaurant called Twenty-Eight. After • they had ordered their food, Marcus hoped that Will and his mum would start talking. But they seemed to be finding itMarcus wasnt really worried about leaving his mum. She was still difficult to start a conversation, so he had to help a strange, calm mood. But he wanted her to come so that she Dont just sit there, he said. Talk to each other.and Will could meet, and after that, he thought, it should be easy. Both Will and Fiona looked at him.His mum was pretty, and Will seemed quite rich. They could go What do you want us to talk about? asked Will.and live with him and his kid, and then there would be four of Anything. Politics. Films. Murders. I dont care.them, and four was twice as good as two. Then if one of them Im not sure thats how conversation happens, said hisdied, it wouldnt matter so much. mother. Marcus wasnt even sure whether he liked Will or not, but it Marcus started asking questions to make them talk, but hedidnt matter. He could see that Will wasnt bad, or drunk, or wasnt very successful.violent, so he would be OK. And Marcus knew a little about Leave us alone, Marcus. Youre making it more difficult, notWill. One day on his way home from school, he had seen Will easier, said Fiona. Well start talking soon.out shopping and had followed him home like a private Then Will asked questions about Marcuss dad, and soon theydetective. were talking about relationships. They were talking so much that He hadnt really found out much about him except where he they didnt notice when the food arrived. Marcus ate his lunchlived. But Will seemed to live alone - no girlfriend, no wife, no happily. Would they move into Wills place, he wondered, or buylittle boy. Perhaps the little boy was with his girlfriend at home? somewhere new?But if Will had a girlfriend, why was he trying to get friendlywith Suzie? • When Will arrived on Saturday, his mum was looking good, Will knew that Fiona wasnt his type of woman. She didnt look Marcus thought. She was wearing her best trousers and a hairy the way he wanted women to look. He didnt think looks werejumper, and she was wearing make-up for the first time since the important to her at all. Why didnt she get a good haircut andhospital, and a pair of brightly coloured earrings from wear nice clothes? And she was just too strange. He could seeZimbabwe. now why Marcus was so weird. She believed in things that Will Thanks for everything you did last weekend, she said. Im didnt care about, like being a vegetarian.very grateful. Will still wanted to help them. One evening he was invited to It was a pleasure. I hope youre feeling . . . I hope youve . . . supper at their flat. He didnt like the food very much - something My stomachs fine. I suppose I must still be a bit crazy though. vegetarian with peas and rice and tinned tomatoes — but he quiteThat sort of thing doesnt get better quickly, does it? enjoyed the conversation. Fiona told him about her job as a music 24 25
  15. 15. teacher and they talked about his dads song. But later Fiona sat I followed you here once.down at the piano and started to sing. Why dont you just go home, Marcus? She wasnt a bad singer, but Will was very embarrassed. She All right. But Im going to tell my mum.sang old pop songs from the sixties, and she sang them with deep Will couldnt think of any explanation to give Marcus exceptfeeling; she even closed her eyes. Then Marcus began to sing too, the truth — that he had invented a child so he could join a singlein the same way, and they made Will sing with them. It was awful. parents group and meet women. And the truth sounded much Will could see that hed made a big mistake about Marcus and worse than he had ever intended.Fiona. He couldnt do anything to help people like them. They Listen, Will, said Marcus. I wont say anything to my mum ifwere too weird and they felt too deeply about things. Will didnt you go out with her.feel deeply about anything. He couldnt imagine wanting to kill Why do you want your mum to go out with someone like me?himself. He just wanted to live a long life without any problems. I dont think youre too bad. I mean, you told lies, but you Fiona called Will and left a message on his answer machine, seem OK. Shes sad, and I think shed like a boyfriend.but he didnt call her back. He was trying to return to his old life. Marcus, I cant go out with someone just because you wantHe went shopping for CDs and clothes, he played a bit of tennis, me to. I have to like the person too.he went to the pub and to see films with friends. Then, one Whats wrong with her?afternoon, the doorbell rang. It was Marcus. Nothings wrong with her, but . . . Ive come to see you, he said. You want to go out with Suzie, dont you? Oh. Right. Come in. I dont want to talk about this with you. Marcus marched into the sitting room, sat down on the sofa I thought so.and looked round. You havent got a kid, have you? I didnt say anything. I just said . . . Listen, I really dont want Well . . . began Will. to talk about this with you. Go home. Marcus got up and walked around the flat. Wheres your OK, said Marcus. But Ill be back.toilet? he asked. When Will had joined SPAT, hed imagined entering the Its just down the hall. world of single mothers and their sweet children. He hadnt When Marcus was gone, Will tried to think what he could say imagined Marcus, and he hadnt expected anyone to break intoabout Ned, but he couldnt think of anything. his world. He was one of lifes visitors; he didnt want to be Youve only got one bedroom, said Marcus when he got visited.back. Youve got no childrens toys in the bathroom, there are notoys in here . . . You havent even got any photos of him. Is that your business? Chapter 5 N e w Trainers No. But youve been lying to me, and my mum, and mymums friend. Marcus knew that he couldnt make Will go out with his mum if Who told you where I live? Will didnt want to. But he knew Wills secret now, so perhaps he 26 27
  16. 16. could make him do something else. He started going round to glasses. And my singing. Sometimes . . . I sing without noticing.Wills flat after school. Will laughed. Its not funny. The first time, Will wasnt very pleased to see him. He stood Im sorry. But you could do something about your hair. Youin the doorway and didnt invite Marcus in. could have it cut in the way you want it. What? This is how I want it. I just thought Id come round. What are you doing? Why do you want your hair like that? Watching Countdown! Because thats how it grows, and I hate going to the Marcus knew about Countdown — the most boring programme the history of television. But he wanted to get inside Wills I can see that. How often do you go?flat. Never. My mum cuts it. I could watch it with you if you want. I really like it. Your mum? How old are you? Twelve? Youre old enough to Will looked at him for a time. All right. Come in. get your hair cut yourself. You could get married in four years There were lots of interesting things in Wills flat — hundreds time. Will you let your mum cut your hair then?of CDs, records and cassettes. There were pictures from films on Marcus didnt think hed be married in four years time, but hethe wall, and black and white photos of people with musical understood what Will was telling him and knew that Will wasinstruments. right. But there was another way of looking at the situation. If his Who are these people? And why are they on your wall? mum was going to cut his hair in four years time, then she would Theyre musicians. And theyre on my wall because I like still be alive.their music and theyre cool. Marcus visited Will a lot that autumn, and by about the third Why are they cool? or fourth visit he felt that Will was getting used to him. They I dont know. Because they took drugs and died, probably. didnt talk about much at first, but one day Will said, Hows the Marcus thought he wouldnt want pictures on his wall of situation at home? for no reason that Marcus could understand.people who took drugs and died. Hed want to forget all about You mean my mum?that kind of thing, not look at it every day of his life. Yes. Will made tea in the kitchen. Then they went back into the Shes all right, room and sat down on the sofa. Marcus had never talked about it, and hed never said how he Do you like school? Will asked. felt. But what he felt, all the time, every day, was a horrible fear. No. I hate it. This was the main reason why he came round to Wills after Why? Do the other kids bully you? school. Every time he climbed the stairs at home he remembered Marcus looked at him. How did he know that? the Dead Duck Day. When he saw his mum watching the news Not really. Just a couple of kids. or eating or preparing work on the dining table, he wanted to What do they do to you? cry, or be sick or something. But he couldnt talk about it. Nothing really. Just, you know, say things about my hair and Are you still worried about her? 28 29
  17. 17. A bit, when I think about it. Marcus, does this happen often? How often do you think about it? Well, theyve never thrown sweets at me before. I dont know. He thought about it all the time, all the time, all Im not talking about the sweets. Im talking about older kids the time. Could he say that to Will? He didnt know. He couldnt bullying you. say it to his mum, or to his dad, or to Suzie. They would all be Oh, yes. Not those two too worried about him. He just wanted a promise from someone, No, OK, not those two. But others like them. anyone, that it wouldnt happen again, ever, and no one could do Yes. Lots. that. Right. Thats what Ive been trying to find out. Your problem Will was wishing that he hadnt asked Marcus about Fiona, is, Marcus, that you look different from other kids. Thats why because it was clear that the boy was very upset. Will wasnt used they notice you. You need to look more like them. You need the to coping with people with real-life problems. He liked watching same clothes and haircut and glasses as everyone else. You can be peoples problems on TV, but hed never had anyone with as weird as you want on the inside. Just do something about the problems on his sofa before. outside. Sometimes they managed conversations about other things, Will took Marcus shopping in Holloway Road and boughtlike Marcuss dad. him a pair of expensive Adidas trainers. Marcus thought they Do you see your dad often? were cool, and Will was pleased. He couldnt remember feeling as Quite often. Some weekends. Hes got a girlfriend called good as this before. He had made an unhappy boy happy, andLindsey. Shes nice. there hadnt been any advantage in it for him at all. He didnt Would you like to see him more than you do? even want to sleep with the boys mother. No. But the next day Marcuss new trainers were stolen. He came Well, thats all right then. home from school wearing only a pair of black socks. The next week, while Will was watching Countdown as usual, Where are your shoes? Fiona screamed. She hadnt noticedhe was interrupted by a long, urgent ring on the doorbell. He got that he had been wearing new trainers.up off the sofa and opened the door. Marcus was standing on the Stolen.doorstep, and two ugly-looking boys were throwing hard sweets Stolen? Why would anyone want to steal your shoes?at him. Some sweets hit Will. Because . . . He was going to have to tell her the truth, What do you think youre doing? He couldnt remember the although he knew the truth would lead to a lot of questions.last time he had been so angry. Because they were nice ones. They were new Adidas trainers. The boys ran away and Will went back into the flat. Marcus Will bought them for me.was sitting on the sofa watching Countdown. Will who? Will, the guy who took us to lunch? Who were they? Yes. The guy from SPAT. Hes become my friend. I dont know their names, said Marcus, his eyes on the TV Hes become your friend?Theyre in the class two years above me at school. Marcus was right — his mum had lots of questions, but she 30 31
  18. 18. asked them in a very boring way. She just repeated the last thing I know hes taking some time to get used to his new school, he said, made it into a question and shouted. but . . . I go round to his flat after school. Will laughed. Oh, yes. And after a couple of weeks hell be YOU G O R O U N D T O HIS FLAT A F T E R S C H O O L ? OK? When theyve stopped stealing his shoes and following him Well, you see, he doesnt really have a kid. home from school, everything will be great. H E D O E S N T REALLY HAVE A KID? That was wrong. They were all mad. I dont think so, said When the questions had finished, he was in a lot of trouble, Marcus. Its going to take more than a couple of weeks.although probably not as much trouble as Will. Marcus put his Its OK, I know, said Will. I was joking.old shoes back on, and then he and his mother went straight to Marcus didnt think there was much to joke about in theWills flat. Will opened the door and Fiona immediately started situation. But he was very pleased that Will understood what wasshouting at him about SPAT and his imaginary son. At first Will happening to him at school. Hed only known Will for a shortlooked embarrassed — he had no answers to her questions, so he time, and hed known his mother all his life. So why could Willstood there staring at the floor. But as it continued, he started to understand, and his mother couldnt? But now his motherget angry too. understood too, because Will had told her. Why do you invite twelve-year-old boys round to tea-parties Youre not going to Wills again, Fiona said to Marcus on thein your flat after school? asked Fiona. bus on the way home. If youve got anything to say, you say it to Will looked at her. Are you suggesting what I think youre me. If you need new clothes, Ill get them.suggesting? He went red in the face and started shouting very But you dont know what I need. I dont know what I need.loudly. Your son invites himself round here. Sometimes hes Only Will knows. He knows what kids wear.followed by other kids who attack him. I could leave him We dont need that kind of person. Were doing all right ouroutside, but I let him in for his own safety. I wont do it again. way. Marcus, Ive been your mother for twelve years. I do knowNow, if youve finished, you can both get out of here. what Im doing. I havent finished yet, actually. Why did you buy him a pair of Marcus didnt think either of them was doing all right. Heexpensive trainers? wondered if his mother had a kind of plan for him. In the next Because . . . because look at him. few days he began to notice the way she talked to him. He was Whats wrong with him? interested in everything she said about what he should watch on Will looked at her. You really dont know, do you? Marcus is TV or listen to or read or eat.being eaten alive at school by the other kids. He gets bullied She had always said it was important to talk about things, andevery day. that she wanted him to think for himself. They had often Marcus is doing fine, his mother said. discussed what was bad about fashion and modern pop music Marcus couldnt believe shed said that. He wasnt doing fine; and computer games. But if she didnt like what he said, shehis mum was being blind and stupid and crazy. argued with him until he agreed with her. But he hadnt agreed, Youre joking, said Will. really; hed just lost the argument. 32 33
  19. 19. Ive been thinking for myself, he said,and I want to go round sleep with her. But conversations with her were never dull. to Wills flat after school. Ive always been worried about Marcus not having a father No. Hes a rich guy who doesnt work, who tells lies, and around, said Fiona. But hes always told me it didnt matter. who . . . Then, when I said I didnt want him to see you, he said he He understands about school. He bought me those trainers. needed a father. He knows things. He was getting annoyed. Im thinking for He said that because he wanted to win the argument. Never myself and . . . it doesnt work. You always win. trust a human male when he talks about his feelings. Marcus, its not enough to tell me youre thinking for Really? Well, maybe its best if he doesnt see you. yourself. Youve got to show me too. Give me a good reason why What do you want me to do if he rings the doorbell? you want to go round to Wills. Dont let him in. Marcus gave her a reason. It wasnt the right reason, and he felt Right. bad saying it because it made her cry. But it was a good reason Marcus was waiting for Fiona at home. He didnt like the idea and he won the argument. of his mum talking to Will because hed stopped believing that Because I need a father. he and his mum and Will and Ned were going to live together in Wills flat. Ned didnt exist, and Will and Fiona didnt like each other very much. Chapter 6 Ellie When Fiona came back, he looked at her face to see if she was angry or depressed, but she seemed OK.Will hadnt seen Marcus for a week and hadnt thought about Did you have a good time?him much. He preferred watching Countdown alone anyway. It was OK. But youre not going round there again. Hes notThen Fiona phoned. going to answer the door. He told me. Marcus seems to think he needs an adult male in his life. Like Marcus wasnt worried. He knew how loudly Wills doorbella father. He talked about you. rang inside the flat, and he knew he could ring it for a very long Listen, Fiona, I definitely dont need a son in my life. Why time.doesnt he use his own father as a father? His father lives in Cambridge. Its a long way You told me not to see Marcus again. Fine. I told you I didnt Fiona had made a complaint to the school about Marcuss newwant to see Marcus again. And now youre telling me . . . I dont trainers being stolen, so he had to go and see the head teacher,understand. Mrs Morrison. He was waiting outside her office when a girl Listen, said Fiona. Can we meet tomorrow night for a drink called Ellie McCrae came and sat down next to him. Ellie wasto discuss all this? fifteen and she was famous in the school. She wore a lot of black They met in a quiet pub. Will had never been alone with Fiona eye make-up and cut her own hair, and she was always in trouble,before. He didnt find her attractive and he certainly didnt want to usually for something serious. 34 35
  20. 20. They sat in silence for a time, then Marcus thought hed try to Maybe you havent tried hard enough. talk to Ellie. His mum was always saying he should talk to people Marcus stood up to go. Hed had enough. She wasnt going to at school. be helpful because she didnt like him. Nobody at this school Hello, Ellie. liked him and he didnt understand why. How does a little boy like you know my name? Sit down, Marcus. I havent finished with you. Youre famous. He knew this was a mistake immediately. But Ive finished with you. What am I famous for? He had never been rude to a teacher before and he was very Dont know. surprised at himself. He walked out of Mrs Morrisons office, and Yes, you do. Im famous because Im always in trouble. Do out of the school. you know what Im in trouble for this time? Its this sweatshirt. Marcus was walking slowly along Upper Street when Will saw They dont want me to wear it, and I dont want to take it off, so him. Will was driving back from the supermarket, listening to theres going to be an argument. loud music in his car. What was Marcus doing out of school at Marcus looked at Ellies sweatshirt. It had a picture on it of a two oclock in the afternoon, he wondered. guy with long blond hair, big eyes and half a beard. At exactly 4.15 that afternoon, right in the middle of Whos that? he asked politely. Countdown, Marcus rang his doorbell. At first Will didnt answer, Dont you know? Its Kirk OBane. but Marcus rang and rang. Will turned off the TV and put on Oh, yes. Marcus had never heard of Kirk OBane, but that some music by the pop group Nirvana, hoping that Marcuswasnt surprising — hed never heard of anybody. What does he would go away. But Marcus didnt stop ringing the bell, so finallydo? - Will opened the door and let him in. Hes a footballer. He plays for Manchester United. You shouldnt be here. Does he? Marcus thought that the guy on Ellies sweatshirt I came to ask you something. I want you to take me and alooked more like a singer than a footballer. Footballers werent friend to a football match.sad, usually, and this man looked sad. You dont like football. Just then Mrs Morrisons door opened and two young kids I do now, said Marcus. I like Manchester United. And I like acame out. Come in, Marcus, said Mrs Morrison. player called Kirk OBane. Hes got long blond hair and a beard. Marcuss talk with Mrs Morrison didnt go very well. She Marcus, there isnt a player called OBane who plays forasked him about the boys who stole his trainers and he said he Manchester United. I know all the players and theres nobodydidnt know who they were. This wasnt true, of course, but he with long blond hair and a beard. There was a player calleddidnt want any more trouble from them. OKane who played for Nottingham about twenty-five years Marcus, if the other kids are bullying you, why dont you just ago. What lessons did you have this afternoon?keep out of their way? Marcus looked at him, trying to work out why he was asking Marcus was annoyed. Did she think he was stupid? Did she the question. History, and then . . . umm . . . think he went looking for trouble? I have tried, he said. Marcus, I saw you this afternoon. 36 37
  21. 21. What, in school? noticed that he had been absent the afternoon before, so he Well, I didnt see you in school, did I? Because you werent didnt get into trouble. In the morning break he found Ellie and a there. I drove past you on Upper Street. friend from her class, Zoe, by the drinks machine. Ellie was It was Mrs Morrisons fault. The head teacher. She told me to wearing her Kurt Cobain sweatshirt. keep out of their way — the boys who stole my trainers. Marcus Kurt Cobain doesnt play for Manchester United, he told her. began to get upset, and to speak more quickly. They followed He plays . . . he sings ... for Nirvana. A friend of mine has got me! How can I keep out of their way if they follow me? one of their CDs. Nevermind. All right, Marcus, calm down. Did you tell her that? Thanks for telling me, said Ellie and laughed. What years Of course. But she didnt take any notice. your friend in? I didnt think anyone in this school liked Nirvana. Right. So go home and tell your mum this. Its no good And what do you think of them? telling me. Hes left school. Hes quite old. And I dont know what I Im not telling her. Shes got enough problems without me. think of Nirvana. Will had played him some of their music the Why cant you go and see her? Mrs Morrison. evening before. It had been very noisy with a lot of shouting, but Youre joking. Listen, Marcus. Im not your father, or your there had been some quiet bits too. He didnt think he would uncle, or any member of your family. No head teacher is going to ever like it as much as Joni Mitchell or Mozart, but he could take any notice of what I say. Youve got to stop thinking I know understand why Ellie might like it. the answer to anything, because I dont. Its a bit noisy, said Marcus, but the picture on the cover is You know about things. You knew about the trainers. And very interesting. It was a picture of a baby, swimming after ayou know about Kirk OBane. The footballer. dollar note. Will had said something about the picture, but he Suddenly Will realized who Marcus was talking about. Its not couldnt remember what it was. I think the cover has a meaning.Kirk OBane, you fool, its Kurt Cobain. The singer with Nirvana. Something about society. I thought he must be a singer, said Marcus. I didnt know Ellie and Zoe looked at each other and laughed.about him, and my mum wouldnt either, but you did. You see, Youre very funny, said Zoe. Who are you?you know things. You can help. Marcus. It was then, for the first time, that Will understood the kind of Cool name, said Zoe, and they laughed again. See youhelp that Marcus needed. Fiona had given him the idea that around, Marcus.Marcus needed an adult male in his life, but that was wrong. It was the longest conversation hed had with anyone at schoolMarcus needed help to be a kid. And, unfortunately for Will, that for weeks. Later, he told Will about Ellie.was exactly the kind of help that he could give. Will couldnt tell Can I invite her round to your flat? he asked.Marcus how to grow up, or how to cope with a mother who Im not sure shed come, Marcus. How old is she? Fifteen? Imwanted to kill herself. But he could certainly tell him that KurtCobain wasnt a footballer. not sure fifteen-year-old girls want to go around with twelve- year-old boys. She probably has a 25-year-old boyfriend who Marcus went back to school the following day. Nobody had rides a Harley Davidson. 38 39
  22. 22. Marcus hadnt thought of that. I dont want to go out with Marcus felt very proud as he walked through the school her. She wouldnt be interested in someone like me. But we can with Ellie and Zoe. The other kids, and even the teachers, come round here and listen to your Nirvana CDs, cant we? stared at them in surprise. When they got to Ellies classroom, Shes probably heard them already. Ellie made him stand outside. He could hear her shouting to Marcus was getting annoyed with Will. Why didnt he want the other kids. him to make friends? OK, forget it then. OK, listen, everybody. I want you to meet Marcus. Hes the Im sorry, Marcus. Im glad you spoke to Ellie today. But a only other person in the whole school who likes Kurt Cobain. two-minute conversation with someone whos laughing at Come in, Marcus. you . . . Im not sure this relationship is going to last. He walked in, and everybody laughed when they saw him. Marcus wasnt listening. Ellie and her friend had said he was Ellie and Zoe stood beside him and Marcus felt great. funny, and hed made them laugh. That had made him feel good, and he knew he could make them laugh again. The next day he saw them again by the drinks machine. Chapter 7 Christmas at Fionas Ellie, how old is your boyfriend? The girls laughed andMarcus felt happy. My friend Will said hes probably about Will was feeling depressed. It was only 19 November, but hetwenty-five and rides a Harley Davidson. had heard his dads Christmas song in a supermarket that Hes a hundred and two, said Ellie. How olds your girlfriend? morning.She probably wants to kill me, doesnt she? Will hated Christmas: people knocked on his door, singing the I havent got one, said Marcus, and the girls laughed again. song he hated more than any other song in the world, andThey were laughing all the time now. expected him to give them money. His dad had hated Christmas Ellie and Zoe came looking for Marcus at lunchtime. He was too, but for a different reason: it reminded him of how badly heat his desk eating sandwiches when they came into his classroom, had failed in his life. His famous Christmas song was the onlycalling his name. Almost every kid in the room stopped what successful song he had ever written. At Christmas, Wills dad hadthey were doing and turned round. You could see what they always got depressed and angry and drunk a lot, so it had neverwere thinking: Ellie and Marcus? Even Nicky and Mark, who been a very happy time for Will.hadnt spoken to him for weeks, looked up from their Gameboy. Since his parents had died, Will had usually spent the holiday What are you all staring at? Marcus is our friend, arent you, with friends, or girlfriends families, but this year he had no plans.Marcus? Lets go to our classroom. You dont want to stay here There was no girlfriend, and so there were no girlfriends parents.with these boring little kids, do you? He decided that he would sit at home and watch old films on TV Some of the kids turned red, but nobody said anything. and get drunk, but that didnt seem very Christmassy.Nobody wanted to argue with Ellie. They watched as Marcus He thought about spending Christmas Day with a family —walked from his desk to where Ellie and Zoe were standing. not his family, because he didnt have one, but a family. HeWhen he got there, Ellie gave him a kiss. definitely didnt want to spend Christmas with Marcus and 40 41