“The plug shop’s closed,” says Mum, without missing a beat. “What a shame. We’ll do it tomorrow. But guess what? We’re going to have toast and Nutella now!”
“Toast and Nutella!” Felix’s face bursts into joyous beams. As he throws up his arms, Mum grabs the iPad from him and gives it to me. Five seconds later I’ve hidden it behind a cushion on the bed.
“Where did the Candy Crush go?” Felix suddenly notices its disappearance and screws up his face to howl.
“We’re taking it to the plug shop, remember?” says Mum at once.
“Plug shop.” I nod. “But hey, you’re going to have toast and Nutella! How many pieces are you going to have?”
Poor old Felix. He lets Mum lead him out of the room, still looking confused. Totally outmaneuvered. That’s what happens when you’re four. Bet Mum wishes she could pull that trick on Frank.
So now Mum knows what LOC is. And knowledge is power, according to Kofi Annan. Although, as Leonardo da Vinci said: “Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge,” which might apply better to our family. (Please don’t think I’m super-well-read or anything. Mum bought me a book of quotations last month and I flick through it when I’m watching telly.)
Anyway, “knowledge is power” isn’t really happening here, because Mum has no power over Frank at all. It’s Saturday evening, and he’s been playing LOC ever since lunchtime. He disappeared into the playroom straight after pudding. Then there was a ring at the doorbell and I scuttled out of the way into the den, which is my own private place.
Now it’s nearly six and I’ve crept into the kitchen for some Oreos, to find Mum striding around, all twitchy. She’s exhaling and looking at the clock and exhaling again.
“They’re all computer addicts!” she says in a sudden burst. “I’ve asked them to turn off about twenty-five times! Why can’t they do it? It’s a simple switch! On, off.”
“Maybe they’re on a level—” I begin.
“Levels!” Mum cuts me off savagely. “I’m tired of hearing about levels! I’m giving them one more minute. That’s it.”
I take out an Oreo and prise it open. “So, who’s with Frank?”
“A friend from school. I haven’t met him before. Linus, I think he’s called…”
Linus. I remember Linus. He was in that school play, To Kill a Mockingbird, and he played Atticus Finch. Frank was Crowd.
Frank goes to Cardinal Nicholls School, which is just up the road from my school, Stokeland Girls’ School, and sometimes the two schools join together for plays and concerts and stuff. Although to be truthful, Stokeland isn’t “my school” anymore. I haven’t been to school since February, because some stuff happened there. Not great stuff.
Anyway. Moving on. After that, I got ill. Now I’m going to change schools and go down a year so I won’t fall behind. The new school is called the Heath Academy and they said it would be sensible to start in September, rather than the summer term when it’s mainly exams. So, till then, I’m at home.
I mean, I don’t do nothing. They’ve sent me lots of reading suggestions and maths books and French vocab lists. Everyone’s agreed it’s vital I keep up with my schoolwork and “It will make you feel so much better, Audrey!” (It so doesn’t.) So sometimes I send in a history essay or something and they send it back with some red comments. It’s all a bit random.
Anyway. The point is, Linus was in the play and he was a really good Atticus Finch. He was noble and heroic and everyone believed him. Like, he has to shoot a rabid dog in one scene and the prop gun didn’t work on our night, but no-one in the audience laughed or even murmured. That’s how good he was.
He came round to our house once, before a rehearsal. Just for about five minutes, but I still remember it.
Actually, that’s kind of irrelevant.
I’m about to remind Mum that Linus played Atticus Finch, when I realize she’s left the kitchen. A moment later I hear her voice:
“You’ve played enough, young man!”
I dart over to the door and look through the crack. As Frank strides into the hall after Mum, his face is quivering with fury.
“We hadn’t reached the end of the level! You can’t just switch off the game! Do you understand what you did, just then, Mum? Do you even know how Land of Conquerors works?”
He sounds properly irate. He’s stopped right underneath where I am, his black hair falling over his pale forehead, his skinny arms flailing, and his big, bony hands gesticulating furiously. I hope Frank grows into his hands and feet one day. They can’t stay so comically huge, can they? The rest of him has to catch up, surely? He’s fifteen, so he could still grow a foot. Dad’s six foot, but he always says Frank will end up taller than him.