By Lizzie Hexter

Young adult, Action & adventure, Women's fiction


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14 mins

Chapter One

All you need is luck—that’s what my dad says. So I must be lucky. Luckiest girl in the world.
“Give us a twirl, love,” the paparazzi call.
“Show us your frock.”
Flashbulbs dazzle as I trot down the red carpet, arm in arm with a boy who is every girl’s dream. Polka dot pink taffeta pinches my waist and my shoes slip at the heel. I blow a kiss to the crowd.
Luckiest girl in the world, that’s me.

Nine weeks earlier…
A new beginning, dad said, but that’s what he says every time.
“It’ll be a new beginning, love, we can start over, make new people of ourselves.” I’ve never understood what he means by that, we always end up the same—more gambling, more debts, more running from the loan sharks. But maybe this time we’ll make it. Maybe this time we’ll settle down and be a family like other people get to do.
So here I am, on a wet October morning, sitting on the curb, breathing in car fumes, mud splashed up my last pair of Bebaroque tights, wondering why I’m outside the school so early the gates are still closed.
I don’t make a habit of sitting on pavements. I’m not a complete freak, but the benches are ripped at the bus stop, and I have to sit down. My legs are killing me. I kick box, and last night I took my frustrations out on a bag of washing dad strung up for me. I’m out of practice because of us moving, and don’t my muscles know it.
So that’s why I’m down here on a cracked paving slab watching the world go by. Some trolley-bag granny crosses the road to avoid me. Like I care. The way I see it, if I start in the gutter things can only go up. If I make it through the first day at this school without major trauma I’m a winner.
Removing my left trainer, I root out the bit of grit that’s been jabbing into my toe. I’m mulling over the tiny piece of silicate, (that’s the shiny bits in rock if you don’t know already), holding it up and watching it glisten, when this lad turns up with a camera and takes a snap at me. Plush camera, mind, none of your rubbish.
“Oi,” I say, “what’s the idea,” but he’s scarpered before I can throw my shoe at him.
“That’s Owen,” says this girl, crossing the road towards me, all red and black over-the-knee socks and purple feathers in her turquoise hair. Bit too Vivienne Westwood for my tastes.
I give her my look to say, WTF, but she keeps coming then plonks her not so small bottom next to mine on the curb. “He likes taking pictures.”
You don’t say.
“Never takes them of me though.” Her eyes follow him down the street as she gets a little jar out of her bag and dabs some red on her lips. “He’s harmless enough, unless he takes a fancy to you. Then he can be a bit…”—there is a definite pause for effect while she screws the lid back on—“persistent.”
“Great,” I say, wondering what’s got me landed with Little Miss Feathers. I’m cold, I’m wet, my hair is having a frizz frenzy. I am not in a good mood. But then I lighten up. New beginning, after all.
“My name’s Kat,” I say. “Want some gum?” I pull the last piece from my jacket pocket.
She takes it and smiles. “I’m Aledwen.”
Aledwen? Well that’s what happens if you pull up sticks and land yourself in Wales. I blame my dad.
“But people call me Ally.” You can almost see the blush through the layers of foundation.
I’m warming to Feathers. You have to feel sorry for the girl.
So that’s how me and Feathers palled up; my first day at school, 42 days into term. She was a star when it came to sorting out the where and when for me. Me not being the most organised of people. When it comes to information, if it’s not on Wikipedia, you can forget it. I’m a bit of a wiki-chick, because you have to get your education somewhere and the usual system certainly isn’t working. Seventeen schools in eight years has to be some kind of a record. Starting at yet another one, half a term into year eleven, isn’t the easiest. Particularly if you lost your coursework when you were hitching over the fence at midnight to avoid the big men with dogs who were asking your daddy for their money back.
My dad’s a bit of a gambler. He can’t help it. It’s an illness, like flu. Only flu lasts two weeks and doesn’t destroy your daughter’s life. He’s a sweetie though and I won’t have a word said against him.
So, as I said, here’s me and Feathers sitting in media class, counting dead wasps in the fluorescent light covers, waiting for the teacher to arrive, when in trips Paparazzi Boy, camera so close to his face he can’t see where he’s walking, clicking away like his life depends on it. Me, noticing the lens is turned my way, accidentally like puts my foot out and he goes tumbling. He’s all legs and arms sprawled across the floor. Good job the camera has a leather strap round his neck or it would have gone flying. The class cracks up laughing.
He picks himself off the floor and glances up at me. His eyes are shiny, face coloured pink and there’s a half-chewed sweet stuck to his elbow, I feel dead mean.
“The desk behind Ally is free,” I say and Feathers kicks me in the shins.
“S’all right, better light by the window,” he stammers and bends down to scramble his bag off the floor. He’s got a nice bum, I’ll give him that.
“I’m warning you, don’t encourage him. He drove Madeline Wilson mad last year. Wouldn’t lay off her. Obsessed I call it. Even tried to take a picture of her on the loo.”
But I’m not listening to Feathers. No, I’m looking towards the door. Because the most divine creature I ever set eyes on has just wafted into the room and he’s heading straight for me. This one could wear your kid brother’s cast offs and make them look like Armani. He’s drop dead, you know. Hundred dollar haircut and genuine Costa del sunshine tan. Sits himself down behind Feathers, doesn’t he, all Dolce & Gabbana leather bracelet and ‘I’m too cool to notice you’ attitude. I turn round to look at him, because I’ve never been one you’d call shy, and our eyes meet, and I know, right down in my gut like a pain, I just know he’s going to be mine.

Chapter Two

“What’s his name?” I say, sitting across from Feathers in the school’s excuse for a cafeteria. A question I’ve been holding back until he wasn’t breathing behind my ears. Not that I’m not fascinated by all things media, but I’ve never known a lesson drag so bad.
Feathers can be a bit dim at times, bless her.
“Mr Gorgeous of course,” I say over the general din, waving my sausage roll in his direction. She peers across the crowded feeding frenzy, and finally twigs.
“That’s Llewellyn Kashani.”
I give her the WTF look.
“Mum’s Welsh, dad’s from Iran.”
“Bit of a Persian Prince then.”
“Persia, Iran, same place. Don’t they teach you anything in school?”
My very own prince. I glance round the cafeteria at a sea of faces I don’t know. You can get bored of always being the outsider. So pairing up with the cutest guy in school has its advantages. It plugs you in, makes you worth talking to. Takes the effort out of trying to belong. I smile. A girl’s got to do something to entertain herself.
My Prince is sitting alone so I take a chance. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, that’s what my dad says.
“Nice bracelet,” I say, hovering beside his chair.
He looks up from his red lentil and cous cous salad bowl and grins at me. Beautiful teeth. Must have cost a fortune in orthodontist bills. He smells nice too, reminds me of the spice markets in Newham.
“Want some,” he says, clocking me eyeing up his salad.
“Nah.” It’s reminding me of the last time I saw a cat being sick. Good job I didn’t bring my sausage roll over with me. I perch on the table next to his plate, breathe in and try to look like wheatgrass juice is my beverage of choice. I don’t think this surface has ever been wiped. I can feel salt grain scratches through my lycra skirt.
“You’re new here, aren’t you?” he says.
There’s nothing like a man for stating the obvious. I nod my head and smile sweetly.
“And I suppose you need someone to show you the ropes?”
My smile’s so sweet at this point, I’m getting dental decay.
“Owen over there is your man.” He points across the room to where Paparazzi Boy is fumbling in his pockets by the shiny red Coke machine.
“Very funny.” I wonder why people are always such jerks when you’re the new girl. I should flick back my blonde curls, swivel on my designer Cuban heels and make a dignified exit; only I’m wearing Reeboks and a scrunchie. Things aren’t going as well as I’d hoped, but then I spot his tattoo, a looped curve like a brush stroke, peeking out from the sleeve of his T-shirt.
“Isn’t that a Farsi mark?”
He blinks at me. He really does have the most amazing coloured eyes. Like 70% cocoa dark chocolate. They’re looking right at me.
“Wouldn’t have thought a girl like you would know about Persian calligraphy.” He picks up his plate and meanders over to the used trays trolley. I saunter after him ignoring the squeak my trainers are cursing me with on the linoleum flooring.
“Never judge a book by its cover,” I say and immediately wish I had a firewall between my brain and my mouth. I mean, how dumb can you get? “Inside this tall, leggy blonde, there’s a nerdy little brunette trying to get out.” Okay, I’m going to locate whichever neuron synapse is responsible for that and cut it out with a blunt knife.
But he’s laughing, so maybe I won’t.
“What’s your name?” He’s standing ever so slightly closer to me as he scrapes the remains of his meal into a plastic bin. The place smells like a garbage truck, but you can’t have everything.
“Katriana, but call me Kat.”
“Well, call me Kat, there’s a few of us going out tonight. Why don’t you come with?”
I love it when a plan comes together. I’ll be head cheerleader before the week is out.
“We could meet up outside The Palace,” he says.
Like I know where that is. But what’s Google maps for if not to improve my love life?
“That’d be great,” I say. “What time?” My dad always tells me; if the wheel’s spinning get your bet down before it has a chance to stop.
And then Paparazzi Boy crosses my path. He pops a flashbulb in my face so bright all I can see when I shut my eyes is an empty black space where the light should be. When I blink myself back to reality my Persian Prince has scarpered, and I don’t know what time I’m supposed to meet him. Paparazzi Boy is about to pop another flash at me and the only colour I’m seeing now is red. I smack him one across the nose. Can’t help myself. Bloody synapses.

Chapter Three

I’m sitting in the principal’s office. Place looks more like a therapy room than an office. This is possibly a good omen, but we’ll see how things go. It’s my first day at my 17th school, and I’m wondering what dad will say when he finally gets here. Nought to expulsion in less than three hours is a record even for me. I don’t have to wait long.
I hear his voice in the secretary’s office. Just the mildest clip of a Polish accent. He’s already got a giggle out of Miss Johnson. She seems a bit pink round the extremities when she opens the door to let him in. He’s very good looking, my dad, bit of a charmer really, always kissing the ladies’ hands and complimenting them on their outfits.
He smiles when he sees me. We have the same eyes him and me, blue as the ocean.
“She’s a spirited one, my Piekna,” he says, striding across the room to shake hands with Mr Ramberg. It didn’t take me long to figure out the principal’s nickname is Rambo. Not a tag that suits him. His hand looks pale and skinny compared to my dad’s.
“Please, Mr Walkowski, take a seat. I’m not sure “spirited” is the word you should use.”
Neither is “Piekna”, but my dad’s been calling me “beautiful” since I cut my first tooth. I suppose I do have his looks a bit but with me, they just didn’t turn out right.
Anyhow, we all sit round on green comfy chairs, like some self-help group, and I’m not happy because in a circle, there’s nowhere to hide and I was hoping for a desk to kick. The whole place stinks of gardenias. Paparazzi Boy is slouched on a seat by the window, not that you can look outside on account of the triffid-like plants lining the windowsill. I can see he’s itching to get his camera out, but the dried blood on his nose must be reminding him not to. I do feel bad about hitting him, but that doesn’t mean I’m about to pour my inner-self onto his lap.
“We’re still waiting for Owen’s mum,” says Rambo.
Paparazzi Boy shrugs his shoulders and looks apologetic. This is the first time I’ve had a good look at him without a lens between us. He’s not so bad, only he could do with meeting my friends, Mr Toni and Mr Guy, and his clothes look bargain basement. The swollen lip isn’t helping.
“Where the Devil can’t go, he’ll send a woman,” my dad says to Paparazzi with a wink. He likes the old sayings, does my dad. A traditionalist. You wouldn’t think it to look at his fashionista suits.
Paparazzi mumbles something about it being nothing and discards the bloodstained paper towel under his chair.
“Hear that,” says dad to Rambo, “no harm done.” And he’s all for getting up and whisking me out of there when the door opens.
In walks Owen’s mum, all fuss and flapping hands, and now I know why he looks like a reject from last year’s Littlewoods’ catalogue. He lets his mum buy his clothes. Somebody should tell her brown and blue is not a good combination. She’s all over her darling boy with a damp hanky and spit. He doesn’t know where to put himself. Neither do I.
“I’ll sue,” she’s blabbing. “You see if I don’t.”
Rambo’s not even off the chair by the time my dad’s on his feet and offering her his.
“A good mother, I see it in your eyes. Any boy would give his high teeth for such a mother. And the sacrifices you make. Nothing is too much for him. But children today, they don’t see the trouble they cause us.”
She stopped sobbing but more out of shock than anything. My dad isn’t one to let people get their bearings. He offers her his handkerchief. Best Thai silk.
“It’s hard to bring them up right, especially alone,” he says, making sure she’s seated comfortably.
He’s using the twinkle smile. I don’t know how he does it, but he can spot a single female at fifty paces. He’ll be in there with the hand kissing next.
Rambo’s lost the plot, babbling on about how every argument has two sides, and this isn’t the first time there’s been a problem, but Fuss Mum doesn’t give him a second glance. Paparazzi is gazing at the gardenias like he wants to be on a different planet, so I kick my feet back and settle down to enjoy the show.
“It’s the same with my Piekna, ever since her mother...”
I bolt upright. There’s no need to bring my mother into this, God rest her soul.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” says Fuss Mum, handing back the hanky. “Has it been long?” She seems to have forgotten all about her poor child’s bloody face.
“Eight years,” says dad, and I can feel the mean reds burning inside my chest. Why can’t he shut up about it?
“Well, I suppose Owen can be a bit focused on his camera at times. It did get him in a bit of difficulty last term.”
“Every error has its own excuse,” says my dad, standing up and offering Fuss Mum an outstretched hand. She rises to it. “Why don’t we let the children sort out their own affairs and us grown-ups can have a chat over coffee.” He slides Fuss Mum’s arm through his and walks her towards the door.
So that’s me off the hook. Although I’m not happy about the method.
There’s not much Rambo can do, so he gives us a time out in the office for twenty minutes, and leaves us to it. We both sit there, me staring at the walls, Paparazzi staring at the pot plants, ’til I can’t take the silence.
“You know where The Palace is?” I say, because he’s a local boy and ought to know these things, and I’m not about to apologise for my synapses.
He nods.
“And?” I’m tapping my foot against a chair leg and it’s getting louder.
“Why do you want to know?”
“None of your business, Nosey.” Can’t a girl get directions without being interrogated?
“What, my nearly broken nose with blood all over it?”
He’s got a point there.
“Well if you must know, I’m meeting someone.”
“That would be Llewellyn, I suppose.” The way he pronounces those double Ls has him nearly spitting.
“Look, if you don’t want to tell me I’ll find out for myself.”
“No. It’s okay. I’ll draw you a map,” he says. And he does.

Chapter Four

I hear the bell ring in the corridor outside and Rambo opens the door. He wants his office back. We shuffle out like good little children and Paparazzi’s off like a Jack rabbit. I can’t see my dad. Or Fuss Mum. Miss Johnson has a face on her like someone fed her lemons.
Feathers is outside the office holding my PE kit.
“Did you get suspended?”
“They’re hardly going to expel a pupil on her first day,” I say, although it’s not unknown for it to happen on her second day. Twice. I think I was going for a hat trick.
“I can’t believe you hit him,” she says leading me down a labyrinth of empty corridors.
“You mean no one else has?” I find that difficult to believe. There’s something about him that gets under your skin. Like an itch you can’t scratch.
“Usually people just leave. Lauren Fairchild’s dad got a job in America, so she went with him, and Madeline Wilson left school last term. I don’t think there’s been anyone else.”
We take a short cut through some fire doors, heading outside, when this scrawny-haired girl yells at me across the staff car park.
“Hey, Polish. Why don’t you piss off back where you came from? And take the freak with you.”
Feathers grabs my arm and yanks me back inside. She’s gone beetroot red.
“Don’t mind her,” she says. “Probably saw you talking to Llewellyn. She’s been after him for years.”
My synapses are blazing. It’s not like I haven’t dealt with idiots before. But do they always have to pick on me from day one?
“I’m not letting her get away with that.” I’m all for going after the girl and giving her a smack in the teeth.
“Ignore her. She gets bored and leaves you alone after a while, trust me.”
I give Feathers a look. Her hair’s plaited on one side and crimped on the other, her clothes seem to have lost a fight with a set of colouring pens, and she’s wearing pink Doc Martins. Here’s me worrying about fitting in for five minutes. Poor Feathers has to live here. If I knew what was best for me, I’d ditch her. No one wants to be friends with a member of the freak party. But then I think about it. She doesn’t have to dress the way she does. I’ve seen people dissolved from the inside because they get picked on by bullies for not fitting in, but not Feathers. She shakes it off like water from a Burberry raincoat. You have to admire that. I think she was more embarrassed for me than anything.
It gets my goat. Feathers having to put up with shit like that.
“Just one smack, right between the eyes. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t love it?” My hand rests on the door handle.
“You can’t spend the whole day in Rambo’s office,” Feathers says. “It’s not fair on the rest of us, running round a netball pitch and you swanning about getting suspended. Anyone would think you didn’t want to be here.”
That makes me smile. She’s right, of course. Don’t think Rambo would be so forgiving if I got hauled in there twice on one day.
Feathers leads me to the changing rooms. The rest of the class has already left for the netball field. We get kitted up and follow. It’s started to rain outside, a dull, overcast day. My dad’s hovering by the chain link fence standing under a huge black umbrella. There’s no sign of Fuss Mum. He waves us over.
“In case I don’t see you after school, I’ll be home late tonight,” he says.
The hairs on the back of my neck are prickling.
“Why?” I ask. I’m staring at his face, but he’s looking at Feathers.
“No reason, have to see a man about a job. You know how it is, new place, new horizons. I knew you’d be making friends already. Aren’t you going to introduce me?”
“Ally, dad. Dad, Ally.” Feathers waves hello.
“How late is late?” I ask. Rain drops are splatting against my face.
“Don’t know. After midnight, maybe. You like music, Ally?”
Feathers nods.
“I can get you and Kat tickets to the Millennium Stadium, any band you like.”
How does he do that? We’ve only been in Wales a week. I know he wants me to be happy, wants me to make friends, settle in. Like this time it’s not going to end the same way. But he can’t fool me.
“Funny sort of a job.” I say. “If it needs you to be there after midnight.”
“Security job,” he says not missing a beat. “What sort of bands do you like, Ally?”
But I’m not letting Feathers answer. I walk right up to the fence. “Look me in the eye and tell me you’re not lying,” I say to him.
He can’t. He never can. He pokes a finger through and tickles my cheek.
“It’s just one game, Piekna.”
“Don’t call me that.” I jab my toe in to the wet grass and feel the damp seep through my pumps. “You promised. No more back-room stuff.” I stab a look at Feathers and she backs away from the fence.
My dad’s main game is poker. He plays on-line for his bread and butter money, but the real wins are at the all-night tables.
“You look so like your mother when you get angry.” He flashes me a smile, but I’m not biting.
“You leave her out of this.” I hear a rumble of thunder in the distance and the rain continues to fall on my face. I can barely see for the hair dribbling over my eyes.
“Don’t speak so harsh about your mother.”
“She’s the one who didn’t want to be here.”
His smile’s gone and I’m wishing I had that firewall installed. But people don’t change. Not dad, not me, and not mum.
Feathers is half way to the field so I run after her without a backwards glance.

Chapter Five

It knows how to rain in Wales. I’ve been standing in it for three hours and it hasn’t let up once. You have to admire it for its persistence. And its ability to soak you to the skin. I blame Paparazzi for my being here, hovering near the wheelie bins down some back street outside a seedy looking abandoned cinema, trying to look like I’m not lost. Unfair, yes, but I refuse to blame my Persian Prince. He’s far too cute.
I’m bloody freezing, can’t feel my fingers and my face is ice. My toes are so numb it’s like someone amputated them. I’m thinking four inch red heels weren’t the best idea, but you have to make the effort. Not that you can see them, in this light. I’ve been here since six, but perhaps he got here at five thirty and couldn’t wait.
My stomach feels hollow, although that could be from lack of food. I tug my coat tighter and hop from one foot to the other in a vain attempt to feel my feet.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the cinema’s entrance wasn’t boarded up, but some bugger’s been very thorough with security. A rat couldn’t find shelter. There are a few ledges higher up on the wall, under the windows, and I’m doing my best to stay under one of them. The rain pounds against tarmac and water splatters out of the gutters. The yellow street lamps are so dim you can’t see across the road. Which is a pity because I think someone’s watching me.
Get a grip, Kat. New beginnings. Trouble is, poker’s a small world, and if dad’s playing big stakes, which I know he will be, it’s only a matter of time before Mr Big gets wind of him. Mr Big is a Russian gangster, owns half the London games and Dad owes him money big time. That’s why we keep having to do a midnight flit, to stay one step ahead. But we’ve barely been in Wales five minutes. Dad can’t have the heavies after him already. Which means it’s probably just some pervert. Remember your kick-boxing mantras. It’s better to face the tiger than run.
I’m beginning to wish I’d asked Feathers to come with. She said she had a yoga class tonight. I didn’t know people still did that.
I take off my shoes and hold them heels out, like a weapon. Then I cross the street. There’s a splash and someone swears. Whoever it is has ducked into an alley. I let out a sigh. Heavies don’t usually run into the dark, they step out of it.
Don’t ask me why, but I follow. They do say curiosity killed the Kat.
And then a flash goes off.
“Are you a complete pervert?” I shout, not sure if I’m angry or relieved.
Paparazzi Boy switches on a lantern. The world blinks into colour.
Who carries a lantern?
“Sorry,” he says, “didn’t mean to scare you.”
“You didn’t.” Like I’m going to admit to that. “What are you doing here?”
“Taking pictures,” he says without batting an eyelid.
There is a screw loose in this boy, although the rain has improved his haircut.
“No, I mean, why are you taking pictures here?” I hold on to his shoulder so I can put my shoes back on.
“Because you’re here.”
That throws me a bit. I let go of his shoulder.
“But I punched you in the face this afternoon.”
He smiles in an odd little way, like his mouth’s forgotten how to curve upwards. “I’ve had worse.”
I can believe it.
“You’re mad,” I say, turning to walk away.
“No, I’m an artist...and you’re wet.”
I swivel on my four inch heels, ready to slap him. Nobody calls me wet.
He ducks back. “I meant rain wet, soaked. You need to get dry.”
Fat chance. Dad’s got that game on tonight, and I’ll be lucky to get a lift before 3 am. I was relying on my Prince to get me home.
“You don’t know when the bus runs to the other side of town, do you?” I ask.
He nearly laughs. “This time of night, Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“That’s great, thanks, mock the afflicted,” I say. “It’s a long walk.”
Particularly in these shoes.
“Mum’ll give you the taxi fare, if you like.”
Some people don’t accept charity, but they’re usually the ones who’ve always had money.
“Okay,” I say.



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