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Chapter One: If that’s what love looks like
Sam and I sat on my bed. The tarot pack lay like a loaded gun on the duvet between us.
‘Okay, if it’s the same cards again, I’m calling in the exorcist,’ said Sam, her eyes wide.
‘You don’t know any exorcists, you bozo. Anyhow, they won’t be the same. I’ve shuffled them really well.’
Sam was my best friend and we read the tarot obsessively. We’d lay out the cards again and again until they gave us the right answers; until they told us what we wanted to hear. In Sam’s case it was dead simple: did Ben Lomax love her? Did he really really love her? Would they be together forever?
In my case it was a little more complex. Should I do science or art? Where was my life going? Would I ever meet my soul-mate? Then again, there were the questions I never even admitted to Sam. Did heaven and hell exist? What happened on the other side of infinity? Would I ever feel truly safe? Was I finally going mad?
I laid the cards out once more in the Celtic Cross pattern I’d learned from my mother, way back when I still had a mother. One by one I turned them over.
‘Oh. My. God.’
Sam grabbed my arm as almost exactly the same cards came out once again. Okay, so three were different but even so. I shivered. My mother always said that the cards weren’t a parlour game or a magic trick; they really could foretell the future. But more than that, she said, they could read your soul. Did I believe that? My scientific side, the side that liked facts and proof, rolled its eyes and said no way. My artistic side wasn’t so sure.
‘Well, looks like you’ll be alright,’ said Sam, her voice a little higher than usual. ‘Look at that. The Knight of Pentacles and the Knight of Wands. Spoilt for choice. Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool....’ She sang the last sentence. Sam loved the cheesy old songs, and the lyric made me smile. I didn’t like this though; what were the odds? The same seven cards out of a possible 78? I was doing physics and maths A-level; I knew that was seriously stretching probability.
‘Yeah, great,’ I said. ‘But what about those?’
I poked the card with the tower struck by lightning. People tumbled through the air, as flames flickered from the building’s windows.
Sam tailed off. We both knew what it meant: disruption and unforeseen catastrophe. Just as we knew that The Devil stood for violence, illness and black magic. And The Moon signified unforeseen perils, deception and secret foes.
Three really horrible cards. People freaked out about Death but that wasn’t the one they needed to worry about. It meant change and maybe total change – but not necessarily death.
‘Hey, The High Priestess is pretty cool. And you’ve got The Lovers – that’s got to be good, right?’
Sam gave me a nudge in the ribs, and I turned away. I was so darn pale that even the thought of a blush turned me puce. I blamed my mother. I’d inherited her alabaster skin along with the wild red hair, green eyes and willowy frame. She had said that all the women in our family looked pretty similar, though I’d have to take that on trust – she hadn’t left us any photos of them.
‘You’re too damn fussy, Gen.’
‘I’m not fussy hon,’ I said, wistfully. ‘It’s just that all the boys we meet are so, well, boys. I think I want someone more mature, not a silly schoolboy.’
‘Ben’s not a silly schoolboy.’
‘I didn’t say he was.’
‘You implied it. He’s nearly nineteen. And he’s going to law college – you can’t get much more mature than that.’ She swung her legs off the bed. ‘I’m outta here. I’ve still got prep to finish.’
‘I didn’t mean Ben. Honestly.’ I could have hit myself. Why did I always say the wrong thing?
‘Sam, don’t be cross. Please. I didn’t mean anything about Ben.’
She gave me a hug. ‘It’s okay hon. Just sometimes it feels like you don’t know what you want. As if there isn’t a boy alive who’s going to be good enough for you. But we’re cool, we’re always cool.’
I squeezed her tight. ‘Don’t go, not yet. Stay and have some supper? Please? I expect Maddy’ll be here and I don’t want to feel like a flipping wallflower again.’
She patted my back gently. ‘I can’t, hon. I’m going out for an Indian with my mum and dad. I’ll see you tomorrow for the gig, alright?’
She paused to blow me a kiss from the door and I smiled fondly at her. She was just so sunny, all light and brightness with her soft blonde hair, neat trim figure and trademark girly t-shirt, teeny skirt and an armload of friendship bracelets. Sam was lovely, the best friend you could ask for. But she didn’t get why I had to make life so difficult for myself; why I couldn’t just go out with Nathan Lockwood. Sure, Nathan was a nice guy. But nice was a problem for me. I didn’t want some safe, good-looking, smart enough guy. I wanted the kind of love that makes your heart bleed; the kind of love that consumes you so totally you feel like every limb is being torn from your body. For all that Nathan thought he was rebelling by wearing a tongue stud, I knew what the future held for him and it involved a suburban detached house, a BMW, two children, a Labrador and a time-share in
I stuck my iPod on and stretched out on my ridiculous bed. I’d been in a full-on brat princess phase when I’d demanded the heart-shaped creation with the padded fuchsia headboard. Now I was channelling a darker vibe. I stared up at the crucifixes pinned to the headboard – just a few of the religious icons and knick-knacks I picked up all over the place. I don’t know why I did it. It wasn’t like I was some goth or emo type. I certainly wasn’t religious. They just called to me; had some meaning I couldn’t quite grasp. A huge gilt-framed mirror leaned against one wall and a crystal-drop chandelier spun rainbows round the room when the sun shone through the red velvet curtains that hung at the floor to ceiling windows.
Posters and pin-ups weren’t my thing. I wasn’t interested in pop stars or actors. The bare brick walls were covered with my own paintings. I painted big and I painted bold. Often they were self-portraits – me lost and bleak, caught up in whirlwinds of colour, trapped by thorns, tumbling through deep green water. More often they were of him. The face I kept painting obsessively, over and over. His eyes looked haunted; they bored into me from the paper. His cheekbones were high and wide, his nose sharp, his lips firm. The face rarely smiled but if it did, it became cruel. I had no control over what I painted – it felt as if the paints were controlling me.
He snuck into my dreams too. Sometimes he just stood, staring into the distance, his blond hair whipping round his face, as if he were standing in the face of a storm. Sometimes he stared straight at me, a deep frown on his forehead, but he looked through me; he couldn’t see me. So why did I get the feeling he was looking for me? I could smell him though: amber and wood-smoke. I could hear the wind and the far-off sound of a wild fiddle. I could hear him breathe.
I woke feeling bereft, as if part of my soul had been snatched. I cranked up the volume on my iPod. Soulsavers. Broken. It suited my mood. My friends didn’t remotely understand my music tastes – they called me a ‘saddo rocker’ and blamed my Dad. Yet he rolled his eyes at my music too. ‘Morbid weird shit’ he called it. He could talk. He was the one who called himself ‘Wraith’ rather than Rick; who sang lullabies to dark gods on stage; who rapped the Bible backwards; who’d made a living out of the macabre. Let’s be honest, the daft twerp was jealous.
The front door slammed. Talk of the devil. He could never come into a room quietly, always had to make an entrance. He was just like an overgrown naughty schoolboy, trying to shock, to create a reaction. His boots thudded over the polished concrete floors downstairs. We lived in the top floors of what had once been an old warehouse near the river Thames. When Dad and Mum had bought it, years back, it had been a wreck in a run-down part of London. Now the area had been smartened up and all the old warehouses turned into smart offices. Dad still called it The Warehouse – everyone else called it a ‘loft’ as if it had caught the habit from New York.
‘Gen? You up there?’ he yelled in his gravelling too-many-fags and too-much tequila voice.
I pulled myself off the bed.
‘Get your ass down here.’
‘Rick.’ A soft melodious voice but with a hint of steely disapproval. The latest girlfriend. Maddy. She was a good twenty years younger than him, not that much older than me really, but she seemed kind. After the cavalcade of brittle groupies I’d seen clip-clop through the loft, with their spray-tans and fake boobs, Maddy felt like a breath of fresh air. I was pleased for him. I was.
I slid down the stairs and padded into the open-plan living area.
From the back Dad looked pretty good – all tall and lean with his faded jeans, biker boots and the old black leather jacket with the labyrinth symbol and ANUBIS RAT curling above it. But when he turned round he made Mick Jagger look positively baby-faced. Talk about beauty and the beast. Maddy barely reached his shoulder: she looked like some war-time waif in a faded floral tea dress and Birkenstocks.
‘Hey, Dad. Hey, Maddy. You okay?
‘Hi Blossom. Come here.’ Dad pulled me into a bear hug. ‘How’s you?’
‘Yeah, I’m good.’
Maddy gave me one of her little waist-high waves.
‘You guys want some coffee?’
‘Not for me, thanks,’ said Maddy. ‘I’m picking up some stuff and heading back to my place. I’ve got to do some work for a breakfast meeting.’
She reached up and pecked Dad on the lips. He snatched at her hand.
‘Aww, babe. Don’t go.’
She stroked his rubbery face. ‘I have to. I’m not a rock star; I’m a PR. I need to get my presentation sorted and I need my beauty sleep.’
He looked bereft, like a kid that’s had its favourite toy taken away.
‘Will you call me when you’re done? Can I take you to lunch?’
I moved into the kitchen area and fussed with the heavy duty coffee maker. I seriously didn’t want to witness a smooch-fest.
I heard footsteps; a rather long pause and then the heavy front door shutting with a thud. Dad came back, edged himself onto a stool and slumped his elbows onto the breakfast bar.
‘Yeah, Bloss. That’d be good.’
I pushed his cup over to him, knocking the tatty old straw fruit basket. Oranges spilled over the surface.
‘Whoah,’ said Dad, trying to catch them before they reached the edges.
‘We should get a decent bowl, Dad. That thing seriously isn’t up to the job.’
Dad looked wistful. ‘Ah, but see, we got it in
, your mum and me. We were going to some temple – feck knows which one – and a couple of kids were running alongside the jeep with these damn baskets. I was going to send ‘em packing but your mum bought the lot. This is the last one standing.’ Egypt
I glanced at him. A million thoughts cascaded through my head but I didn’t say a word. Just sipped my coffee.
‘She’s not a bad person, Bloss. Honestly.’
I pulled at the neckline of my sweatshirt. ‘Yeah, well...’
‘She loved you. I mean she loves you...’ He tailed off. He wasn’t an idiot by any means but his synapses didn’t always fire in the right order, they really didn’t.
‘Yeah, right,’ I muttered. ‘I haven’t seen her for, what? Five years? If that’s what love looks like, I’m not sure I want any of it.’
His shoulders slumped. ‘You should see her; you really should. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I’ll talk to her; see if you can’t go and stay for a while over the summer.’
‘Oh no, Dad. Really.’ I shook my head firmly. ‘If she wanted to see me...well...she knows where I am.’
He frowned, looking for all the world like a Shar-Pei puppy.
‘I dunno, Bloss. It’s not right. You’re seventeen. You should be talking to your mother about...well...’
I held up my hands in the universal ‘back off’ gesture. ‘About what, Dad? Sex? Drugs? The evils of booze?’ I laughed. ‘Er, hello. It may have escaped your attention but backstage at your gigs isn’t exactly a toddler’s ball pit.’
‘Aw shit, Gen. I know.’ He reached out for my hand. ‘I’m a crap father, I really am.’
I grasped his and squeezed it firmly, blinking away a tear. ‘No. Absolutely not. You’re a great father. The best.’
I paused and gave him what I hoped looked like a bright smile.
‘I just wish you’d picked someone else to be my mother.’