As I come down to breakfast, they’re at it again.
“For the millionth time, it’s not a computer,” Frank is saying calmly. “It’s an Atari console. You said no computers. I classify a computer as a machine which can process information in a number of ways, including word processing, email and Internet browsing. The Atari does none of these, therefore it’s not a computer, therefore it wasn’t a basic breach of trust.” He shovels Shreddies into his mouth. “You need to tighten up your definitions. That’s the problem. Not my Atari console.”
I think Frank should be a lawyer one day. I mean, he’s totally nailed the argument, not that Mum appreciates it.
“Do you hear this?” Mum is appealing to Dad, who looks like he wants to hide behind his newspaper. “The point is, Frank, we had an agreement. You do not play any kind of video games, end of. Do you know how damaging they are?”
“Jesus.” Frank holds his head in his hands. “Mum, you’re the one with a problem with computer games. You’re becoming fixated.”
“I’m not fixated!” She gives a scoffing laugh.
“You are! You can’t think about anything else! Do you even know that I got ninety-five in my chemistry?”
“Ninety-five?” Mum is stopped in her tracks. “Really?”
“I told you yesterday, but you didn’t even listen. You were all, Atari! Evil! Get it out of the house!”
Mum looks a bit chastened.
“Oh,” she says at last. “Well…ninety-five! That’s great! Well done!”
“Out of a thousand,” says Frank, then adds, “Joke. Joke.”
He grins at me, and I try to smile back, though my stomach is churning. All I can think is: Three o’clock. Three o’clock.
We’ve stuck to the meeting place in Starbucks, even though the Lawtons have been constantly texting, wanting to change it to a “more conducive location” and offering their own house or a hotel suite or a room at Izzy’s counsellor’s office. Yeah, right.
Frank has been in charge of all the correspondence. He’s brilliant. He’s batted away all their suggestions in a way that could totally be Dad, and refused to give them an alternative email address, which they keep asking for, and texted in exactly Dad’s style.
It’s actually quite funny. I mean, they have no idea it’s just us, two kids. They think Dad and Mum are coming. They think this is a big family meeting. They hope it will be “cathartic for all,” according to their last text.
As for me, I can’t believe I’m going to see Izzy again. It’s going to happen. The big showdown. I feel like I’m a spring that is slowly coiling up and up, tensing, waiting…
Only seven hours to go.
And then suddenly it’s seven minutes to go and I truly feel sick. My head is pounding, not with a headache, but with a kind of impending, heightened sense of reality. The street seems brighter than normal, somehow. Noisier. Rawer.
Frank’s bunked off school early, which is OK because exams are over, so all they do in lessons is watch “educational” DVDs. He’s walking along with me, chatting about what happened in assembly this morning when someone brought their pet rat in and let it go. I half want to snap, “Shut up! Let me think!” and I’m half grateful for the distraction.
I’m wearing jeans and a black T-shirt and black trainers. Serious clothes. I have no idea what Izzy will wear. She was never a particularly cool dresser; that was Tasha. I even half wonder if I’ll recognize her. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago, but it feels a whole lifetime.
But of course I do recognize her, instantly. I see them through the glass before they see us. The mother, the father, both looking anxious, but doing that fake smile thing. And her. Izzy. She’s in some childlike T-shirt with pink ribbon edging, and a pretty skirt. What’s that all about? I want to laugh. But…I can’t.
I can’t smile either. It’s like all my powers are slipping away, one by one.
As I step inside the coffee shop, I know I can’t speak. My insides have turned hollow. Just like that, in an instant. All the inner strength I’ve been building up, the tensed-up spring, the fighting talk…it’s all disappeared.
I feel small and vulnerable.
No, not small. I’m taller than her. I still have that. I’m tall.
But vulnerable. And speechless. And now they’re all looking our way. I squeeze Frank’s hand in silent desperation and he seems to get the message.
“Hello,” he says briskly, heading towards their table. “Let me introduce myself. Frank Turner. You must be the Lawtons.”