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Monday, 7 January 2013

The Ghostly Grammar Boy

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The Ghostly Grammar Boy 
By Sandra Thompson


Carly Taylor’s perky ponytail was blocking my view.
Not that I wanted to see the whiteboard anyway. It was way too hot for the first day back at school. No one, including me, was paying attention to Mrs Murphy’s drone. The slippery stains of her colossal sweat patches were just too distracting.
My friend Lara fidgeted next to me. Like me, she was dying to get out of this blistering classroom and into the refreshing water of the local pool where we were working as swimming instructors this afternoon. The summer break had been rough. Canberra’s relentless heat wave had robbed us of any chance to enjoy our emancipation from school. In an attempt to spare ourselves the demeaning task of begging our parents to drive us three hours to the closest beach, Lara and I had decided to trade our services. We were teaching screaming kids to swim for some extra pocket money and cool water.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat as Mrs Murphy’s bulging eyes glared at me, before she turned her sweaty self back to the whiteboard.
Gross. And ouch! My thighs were currently stuck to my chair.
That’s the thing about living in Canberra. Stinking hot summers and bushfires are followed by icy winters. Canberra’s quiet, crime-free streets are lined with government offices and businesses, family homes, and beautiful parks. Parents considered it a safe place to raise children. Most of us teenagers couldn’t wait for the day when we could escape and get a life.
I wasn’t one of them, though. There was one thing I really liked about Canberra. Something that I wouldn’t trade for the best nightlife in the world.
Canberra doesn’t have many ghosts.
Don’t get me wrong, Canberra has some ghosts—far too many of them—but compared to older cities like Sydney, there are far fewer of the menaces around.
Unfortunately, most people don’t appreciate this like I do. Mainly because I’m the only one I know who can see and talk to ghosts.
Ghosts have plagued me my whole life. As long as I can remember, they’ve been wanting to chat with me in the middle of a maths exam. Or play charades when I’m trying to shoot the tie-breaking goal at netball.
And just so you know, I totally blame my sister Ella.
Ella is my twin. She’s six minutes younger than me, and often, six times more annoying. Mum said that as babies we shared a special bond. We would talk to each other in baby language and cry if we were separated. We always wanted to play with the same toys, and we followed each other everywhere. Unfortunately for me, this special twin bond must have been extremely strong because when Ella mysteriously died in her sleep when we were two years old, our bond continued on a spiritual plane. So years later, while my parents were still grieving for Ella, I was playing hide and seek with her. My parents thought I had an imaginary friend.
Now, thanks to our connection, I have to play hide and seek with all the other ghosts around—not a fair game when you’re playing with ghosts.
For example, what chance did I have right now of hiding from Ella when she’d suddenly decided to appear and sit on my desk?
‘Get off! I can’t see the whiteboard!’ I hissed at Ella.
‘Oh come on, Fiona, don’t pretend you’re trying to listen to this!’ Ella laughed. ‘We haven’t talked for ages. I want to tell you about my new boyfriend.’
‘Yeah, sure, great,’ I mumbled into my hand. After years of practice, I’m getting pretty good at making my talk sound like I’m clearing my throat. I was still getting weird looks from my classmates though. Carly Taylor had even turned around to glare at me.
‘Uh oh, I think you’re interrupting Carly’s daydreams about what she’s going to do with Shane at her pool party this weekend,’ Ella snorted.
Pool party? It annoyed me that even my dead sister was more down with the social calendar than I was.
Determined to avoid starting off this year as the throat-clearing class weirdo, I scribbled a note to Ella. ‘Haunt me tonight. Love to hear all your goss. Now get lost or you can do my trig homework for me!’
‘Okay, okay, keep your pants on. I’ll leave you to your precious trig. See you tonight.’ As Ella faded, she couldn’t resist annoying me a bit more. She ruffled my straight, dark brown hair. Instinctively. I tried to bat her hand away from my head.
Incidentally, that’s another special gift I have. I can not only see ghosts, but can touch them as if they were alive. To me they feel like normal people with deathly cold skin. Most people tend to pass straight through ghosts without realising it. Or, occasionally, they’ll feel a cold sensation. This means that if a bunch of ghosts passed through our classroom right now, my classmates would probably appreciate the cool breeze, whereas I would have to make sure I moved so I didn’t get trampled on. And that would look really weird—jumping up in the middle of class for no apparent reason. I would definitely earn another glare from Carly.
Not that I care what Carly thinks of me. Carly is one of the ring leaders of the popular group that make everyone else’s life at high school hell. Unfortunately, our last names both begin with the letter T, so we always end up stuck near each other when our grade is organised into alphabetical order. Think about it. That means she’s next to me in the line for school portraits. She’s always in my roll call, maths and English classes. She always sits next to me in exams. And we’re always in the same group on school camp. However, unlike other people in our year, I don’t live in awe of Carly. I don’t go crazy at the sight of her perfectly layered blonde hair, big brown eyes, and long, slim legs, like everyone else seems to. It’s one of the reasons she doesn’t like me. But that’s okay because the feeling is mutual.
Which is why last week it was so weird when she was nice to me.
I’d managed to convince my older brother Brett to drive me to the shops for the January sales by bribing him with the promise of a sundae at the new ice cream shop. I desperately needed a new bikini. The swimming carnival was coming up in term one, and I was not going to be the only year-ten girl in a one-piece, like last year. Mainly, we both wanted to get out of the heat and into the air-con. After two minutes of looking at the bikinis in a trendy swimwear shop, I realised there was no way I could afford any of them. I was either doomed to a one-piece or I would have to buy a cheap bikini from the family department store. It was time to give up and get ice cream. As we walked into the popular new ice cream shop, I realised too late that Carly was working behind the counter. Trust her to not only get a job in air-conditioning but to get the only job in Canberra that involves unlimited access to free ice cream.
‘Hey, Carly. Two cups of triple chocolate chunk, please,’ I ordered as I passed her my money and tried to pretend I was indifferent to the whole situation.
Carly looked at my face. In a deliberate manner, she lowered her eyes as she checked out my clothes. I’d seen her do this to others before. It was a subtle move designed to leave you feeling self-conscious. I refused to let her make me feel bad. I was wearing short shorts that were great for the heat but exposed my freckled legs and uneven tan. I was also wearing one of Brett’s baggy t-shirts for good air flow. I’d roughly tied my straight brown hair back in a ponytail to keep my neck cool. Carly, on the other hand, looked like she’d stepped straight out of a fashion magazine, with her summery dress showing off her long, tanned limbs. Her blonde hair was pulled up in a ponytail artfully designed to look messy and casual, but from the faint smell of hair spray, I knew it had been carefully styled.
I pretended not to notice Carly’s inspection. Her large brown eyes returned to my face to deliver the final part of her routine—her trademark look of disdain mixed with pity. The disdain made girls feel self-conscious, whilst the element of pity delivered hope that maybe they could one day be her friend. This subtle balancing act allowed Carly to maintain her posse of followers wherever she went.
Carly was just about to give me her trademark look when she noticed my brother. Instantly her face lit up. Brett tends to have that effect on girls. Personally, I can’t see the attraction.
‘Fiona! Hey! Great to see you again! Is this your brother? Brett, right? I’m Carly,’ Carly giggled as she extended her hand to Brett. She then fidgeted with her hair in a fake display of nervousness designed to make her seem approachable.
I had to give her credit. The girl was a master of flirtation. She hadn’t counted on my oblivious brother though.
‘I’ve seen you around school. You’re in year twelve, right?’ she continued.
‘That’s right. So you’re at Canberra High too? Are you in the same year as Fiona?’ Brett replied.
Brett’s the type of easy going guy who is happy to have a chat with anyone. This, along with his dark hair, grey-green eyes, and apparently hot, rugby-toned body has made him very popular. It also means that I have to watch shameless flirts like Carly work their moves on him. Luckily for me, Brett is totally clueless about all the attention he gets—living in a dream world of music and rugby union.
Carly leaned into the counter and allowed her hands to brush Brett’s as she passed him his cup of ice cream. Sickening.
‘Yeah, Fiona and I are roll-call buddies. We go way back. Had some good times.’ Carly proceeded to prove this false claim to friendship by jovially slapping me on the arm with a paper napkin. She continued on, despite my incredulous look.
‘Hey, aren’t you friends with Shane Harris?’ she asked Brett.
‘Shane? Yeah. Fun bloke. He’s on my union team. How do you know him?’ Brett asked as he took his first mouthful of chocolatey goodness. Well, I could only imagine it was good, since Carly seemed to have completely forgotten my order.
‘Oh, you know, hung out with him through friends a bit over summer. Say hi to him from me,’ Carly replied as she handed Brett my change, her fingers brushing against Brett’s again.
Having suddenly lost my appetite for ice cream, I dragged an oblivious Brett out of the store by the arm. As we left, Carly called out to me in a friendly voice that would have had me fooled if I hadn’t been hardened over the years to her tactics.
‘Great seeing you again, Fiona! We’ll have to catch up in roll call!’
Things felt much less surreal now that we were in maths class and Carly was back to glaring at me again.


Teaching kids to swim was hardly the cool relief I’d been hoping for.
‘Brian! Do you want to sit out?’ The little punk had splashed me in the face yet again. I understood that the kids were excited to be in the water, but it would really help my job if they’d apply their excess energy to their strokes rather than to splashing me. I didn’t remember being this hyperactive when I was in primary school.
I looked over at Lara. Her deceptively strong yet slim arm muscles flexed as she helped a child push off from the wall. Lara was a natural-born athlete, with long limbs, a powerful frame, and boundless energy. Her curly, chestnut brown hair clung in stringy wet ringlets to the sides of her heart-shaped face as her hazel eyes intently watched her class. Lara’s students were obediently practising their tumble turns.
No surprise there. Lara is one of those girls who commands respect. Her calm demeanour seems to inhabit a five-metre radius around her. Unlike me. Somehow I generate a war zone wherever I go.
I grabbed hold of a freckled arm that flew past my face in an awkward attempt at freestyle and offered some helpful coaching. Unfortunately, the squirming eight-year-old attached to the freckled arm had little interest in my wise advice. I hoped her parents weren’t witnessing my unsuccessful attempt to teach their daughter. It was hard enough meeting my own parents’ expectations without having to answer to other kids’ parents as well.
I don’t know why I’d ever thought this was going to be an easy, fun job over summer. My stress seemed to heat up my body more than the water cooled me down. I wished my parents would just give me decent pocket money like my friend Brooke’s parents do. I could be in the air-conditioned shopping centre right now, spending it on a double chocolate fudge brownie.
I almost threw up. Something was wrong.
Yeah, I haven’t mentioned the other side effect that comes with my ghost curse. Sometimes when people are in grave danger and I’m close by, I can feel their pain. I have a theory that it’s because their spirits are on the brink of leaving the world of the living and crossing over into the spirit plane where I regularly deal with them.
And just so you know, I don’t appreciate this gift either.
It’s a hideous feeling when there’s a car crash in your suburb and suddenly you feel queasy until the ambulance arrives. It’s also quite awkward trying to explain to the emergency services how you know there’s an accident five blocks away if you haven’t seen it yourself—which is one of the reasons that I’m a huge safety freak. I don’t want to have to put up with any more nausea than I have to.
I clutched my stomach. The feeling was really strong. Much stronger than usual. Whatever was happening was happening nearby. My head was going foggy. I felt like I was about to pass out.
I had to focus. I willed myself to straighten up and tried to take in the external environment.
No car noises. No burning smell. No cries of pain. Everything seemed fine except for the pain in my head that was growing stronger.
I can’t breathe. My lungs are burning.
Someone in the pool! Someone was drowning. Frantically I scanned the pool area.
Then I noticed the water-polo pool. A boy was floating. Face down.
‘Lara!’ I yelled. ‘Watch my kids for me!’ I jumped out of the lap pool and ran towards the boy. It was only fifteen metres away, and I made it in seconds. My whole body felt like it was tearing up on the inside.
‘Lifeguards! Help!’ I yelled as I ran forward.
The boy was floating not far from the edge. I could reach him if I stretched. There was no way I was getting in the water, feeling as sick as I did. I did not want to be face down on the bottom of the pool myself.
I kneeled down beside the pool and stretched out to reach him.
Help me! My lungs are burning, I heard in my mind.
I couldn’t reach him. My head was throbbing now. I couldn’t go on. I was about to pass out.
I can’t hold on much longer. Please hurry! The voice in my mind pleaded again.
Determinedly ignoring the pain in my head, I reached forward and tried to grab the boy again. My fingertips brushed his hair.
‘Here, let me in.’ I felt a strong arm pull me up.
Thank goodness. The lifeguards were there. The tall, sun-browned lifeguard easily reached the boy with his hands and dragged him towards the edge, then the second lifeguard helped to hoist him out of the water. It was definitely a sign of how close this boy was to dying that I didn’t even have the energy to admire the lifeguards’ bodies.
I crouched on the concrete, barely able to raise my head to watch what was happening.
The lifeguards were checking to see if the boy was breathing. They were blowing into his mouth. Suddenly the boy was coughing and sitting up.
My head cleared. He was going to be all right.
I felt two wet hands on my shoulders. ‘Hey, are you okay?’ Lara asked.
‘Yeah I’m fine. That was just really intense,’ I replied, standing up. ‘Where’s my class?’
‘Relax, Fiona,’ Lara smiled. ‘I let them join my kids for the last five minutes of class. That was our last lesson for the day, remember? By the way, you’ve got some really good swimmers in your group.’
Trust Lara to have transformed my wild class into Olympic champions in five minutes.
I rolled my eyes. ‘Yeah they’re real athletes.’ 


No one gets homework on the first day back at school, right?
At least that’s what I told myself as I crawled into bed, exhausted. Who does Mrs Murphy think she is, with her big sweat patches and her unreasonable homework assignments? I forcibly pushed the memory of Mrs Murphy’s lecture about ‘staying on top of your maths homework’ to the back of my mind. In its place I tried to visualise the body of the lifeguard from the pool today. It was difficult without remembering the little boy drowning. That was something I didn’t want to think about for a very long time. Preferably never. On the other hand, I was willing to use the topic as an ice-breaker to start a conversation with that lifeguard. My head was still throbbing. Surely I deserved something good to come out of the afternoon.
He’d be sitting watching the pool. Then he’d notice me in the water teaching my class. He’d rush over, full of admiration and praise for how I’d helped to save a young boy’s life. He’d jump in the water and wrap his arms around me. Then he’d lean in and—
I almost jumped out of my skin.
‘Ella!’ I cried. ‘Why did you do that?’
Ella, in typical younger-sibling-brat style, had woken me by clapping her hands in my ear.
It was unreasonably late for a social visit. I glanced at my phone on the bedside table to check the time, but the screen was fuzzy. That wasn’t surprising. The spectral emissions from ghosts tend to mess up electronic devices like mobile phones and computers. Considering how often Ella is hanging around, it was amazing that any of my phone calls and text messages came through at all.
 Ella laughed. ‘You look so funny when you’re angry!’ She playfully threw a pillow at me which I not-so-playfully returned. Her dark eyes and eyebrows stood out against her pale white skin as she laughed. Ella had wide brown eyes that were almost circular when she was thinking but crinkled into a long, flat squint when she smiled. Her small, pointed nose turned up slightly so that she always looked a bit mischievous. Being my twin, she was an identical, ghostly version of me.
‘You shouldn’t be asleep anyway, Fiona. You said we’d talk tonight.’ Ella stuck out her lip in what she probably thought was a cute look of pseudo-sadness. She should have saved it for her boyfriend, because it just infuriated me more.
I rolled onto my stomach, covered my head with my pillow and groaned. I allowed myself five seconds to feel sorry for myself. It was nice that I could still talk to Ella fourteen years after she’d died, but did we have to talk when I was trying to sleep?
I sighed and rolled back over. ‘You’re right. I should have waited up for you. Tell me about your new boyfriend.’
Hopefully, he was better than some of her past horrors. I felt a bit sorry for her. I mean, it’s slim pickings out there as a young ghost. Few people our age tend to die, and the ones who do usually go straight to wherever they’re supposed to go. They don’t usually hang around Canberra as ghosts. If they do, it’s for a reason—some sort of unfinished business. Unfortunately, their unfinished business is rarely pleasant. The type of guys who hang around earth after they’re dead to get revenge on their grandma or to make sure their girlfriend stays faithful to them forever are not usually the greatest boyfriend material.
So I wasn’t expecting much of this new boy.
As if to confirm my thoughts, suddenly a boy materialised beside my bed. Instantly I scooped up my bed covers to hide my pyjamas. Even if he was a ghost, I didn’t want him to see my love-heart-patterned pyjama suit.
‘Hey! Don’t you know it’s rude to materialise in girls’ bedrooms without knocking!’ I said angrily.
The boy looked embarrassed and blushed.
‘Sorry, I didn’t realise you were here. Ella called me, so I came.’
‘It’s okay,’ I muttered and glared at Ella. ‘Have a seat,’ I grudgingly offered him a place at the end of my bed, on top of the messy folds of my bedspread. He sat down appreciatively. Ella sat uninvited at the head of my bed.
I quickly checked the boy out. He wasn’t bad looking. He had dark brown hair, intelligent-looking hazel eyes, and a spatter of freckles on his slightly large nose. His square face, solid jaw, and height gave him a sporty look.
‘Fiona, I want you to meet my new man,’ Ella giggled. ‘This is Chris.’
‘Hi, Chris. I’m Fiona. Have you been dead long?’ I asked abruptly.
Chris looked taken aback and grief flashed across his face.
‘Fiona!’ whispered Ella angrily, ‘Don’t upset him. He only passed over a few weeks ago. He’s still coming to terms with it.’
I felt a bit guilty. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. I wondered how he’d died. Most ghosts are a little sensitive about their deaths. Ella was an exception to the rule, having hardly known life before she died. If I’d taken a second to think about it, I would have known he was a newbie.
He was wearing the official tour t-shirt of a band that had performed in Australia this summer, so he must have died this season. He must also be quite well off, I thought dryly. Brett had desperately wanted to go to that show, but even the nose-bleed seats had been well outside my brother’s budget.
And, yes, the fact that Chris was wearing that t-shirt now meant it was what he’d been wearing when he’d died. Ghosts appear wearing the same clothes and the same hair style they had the moment they passed over. Bad luck if you drowned at the beach when you were having a fat day. You’d be stuck in your bikini for all of eternity. Thankfully, ghosts don’t keep their fatal wounds when they enter the spiritual plane, sparing me some gory sights.
This also means that ghosts don’t age once they’re dead. Once again, Ella is a special case. Maybe due to her connection with me, Ella’s soul has aged at the same rate as I have. When I was a toddler, Ella was a toddler. Now that I’m sixteen, Ella appears as a sixteen-year-old. A side effect of this is that she can let her clothes take whatever form she wants. Naturally, this means she chooses to wear the coolest brands, whilst I have to scrape my pocket money together to get anything half decent.
However, it wasn’t just Ella’s reprimand or Chris’ brand new clothes that made clear his relatively recent departure. Chris lacked the supernatural skills of more experienced ghosts. Newly arrived, inexperienced ghosts can’t touch anything in the physical world. No locking doors, rattling window panes, or pushing over china cabinets for them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take young ghosts long to figure out that, with a bit of focus and practice, they can master this, along with various other ghostly skills, like making things levitate and creating whirlwinds. So it’s the more experienced ghosts that you really have to worry about. On a bad day, they can cause a lot of damage.
At first glance, it looked like Chris was sitting on my bed. However, his translucent, glistening form was actually levitating over it and, in some parts, through it. The folds of my bedspread protruded into Chris’ transparent buttocks and thighs. In contrast, the pillow under Ella, was depressed slightly where her shimmering form touched it and, whilst Chris was completely see-through, Ella was a more opaque, glistening mass.
Like other ghosts, Ella had developed the ability to touch physical objects early into her ghostly career. How she touched them, I didn’t know, since ghosts were pretty exclusive about the secrets of their world, but it was almost like they could, with concentration, push themselves closer towards our realm of existence to interact with matter.
Perhaps for this reason, ghosts seemed to become less translucent and more opaque and solid-looking when they touched things. Conversely, when a ghost wanted to walk through a wall, levitate in the air, or descend into the earth, it would become more transparent again. Experienced ghosts were always switching between the various states, depending on what they wanted to do, whereas newbies tended to float transparently through things, confused by and unable to control their new state of being.
Of course I was the only one who could see their different forms. Even in their opaque state, ghosts were still invisible to other people and could not touch them. Although, whilst in their opaque state, ghosts often left traces of evidence, like a book that seemed to be reading itself, or a light going on or off of its own accord.
Despite my lack of insight into their other-worldly secrets, I had noticed one thing about ghosts. There was a definite coolness about becoming opaque. It was a demonstration of their supernatural powers and control. Wandering around translucent all the time, like Chris was doing, was like wearing a giant nappy, highlighting your immaturity. So most ghosts liked to stay in their opaque states, unless they had a need to become transparent. Chris was obviously very freshly dead, and I had been pretty tactless to remind him about his passing.
‘Sorry Chris,’ I apologised. ‘How long have you guys been going out?’ I tried to change the subject.
‘Two weeks,’ Ella replied proudly as she stroked Chris on the arm. This seemed to perk him up again. Guys are so predictable, even when they’re dead. But I was jealous that I didn’t have a guy to perk up when I touched him. The last guy I’d touched had splashed me in the face when I’d tried to correct his kicking technique this afternoon.
‘Actually, there’s a special reason I wanted you to meet Chris,’ Ella continued.
No surprise there. I haven’t yet met a ghost who isn’t needy.
‘Okay, name it, but make it quick. I’m tired.’ I tried to roll over, but Ella had read my mind and materialised on the other side of me, blocking my way. Defeated, I sat up.
‘What do you want? Revenge? A message sent beyond the grave? You want something hidden? If you want me to kiss your grandma, it’ll cost extra,’ I joked sarcastically.
Chris smiled. ‘Thanks, but Nan’s already dead, so I can handle that one.’
When he smiled, his right eyebrow lifted just slightly. He had a really wide smile that showed off his straight teeth. He was definitely cute. I could see why Ella liked him.
Apart from the unfinished business that he was clearly harbouring, that is.
‘Oh, good. I’m not a fan of dentures,’ I replied. ‘So what’s up?’
Chris and Ella exchanged glances. Ella answered.
‘Chris doesn’t know why he died. They say that he drove his car into a tree, possibly on purpose, but he doesn’t have any memory of doing it. We think there’s more to the story.’
‘Oh.’ I tried to look sympathetic. ‘And were you contemplating committing suicide before you died? Were you feeling sad?’
Ella looked annoyed. ‘Why would he! He was good at school, he was popular, he was a rep player for the ACT rugby union team.’
Chris placed his hand gently on Ella’s thigh. ‘It’s okay, Ella.’ He turned to me, ‘I swear, I really was happy with my life. I mean, apart from having to put up with my psycho stepmum, life was great.’
‘That’s why we think he was drugged!’ Ella wailed.
I sighed. I didn’t know any of the details of Chris’ death, but it wasn’t the first time that I’d had to deal with a ghost who considered himself prematurely robbed of life. Whether he’d been drugged (which I highly doubted) or not, the fact remained that Chris was dead and no amount of investigation into the circumstances could change that. He needed to accept his death and move on.
‘Chris, I know it must be a shock to you,’ I began in the most sympathetic voice that I could muster in the middle of the night, ‘but everyone’s life ends eventually in some way. The way in which you died—’
‘…is not important,’ Chris interrupted me. ‘I know, I know, I have to accept it and move on … blah blah blah. That’s not what I’m here for.’
‘Oh,’ I said sheepishly, feeling stupid for jumping to conclusions.
‘Let us finish, Fiona!’ Ella exclaimed in annoyance. ‘Chris believes that his little brother may be in danger.’
This caught my attention. If there was even a small chance that I could prevent another death, I was willing to help. At the very least it would mean one less ghost hanging around bugging me.
‘Hang on a second,’ I said as I crawled out of bed and grabbed a notebook from my desk. I sat back on my bed, opened the notebook and poised with my pen above the page.
‘Start from the very beginning.’
‘Well since I, you know … hrumph…’ Chris coughed uncomfortably, unable to speak of his own death. ‘I’ve been watching over my little brother, Alan.’ Ella patted his leg consolingly. ‘He’s only twelve, but he’s awesome on a mountain bike. He can do all sorts of crazy stuff—ride on one wheel, jump off boulders, cycle up stairs…’ Chris’ eyes glazed over with pride as he spoke of his younger sibling. ‘But recently Alan has been messing up. The other day, he was riding to school and fell over because he couldn’t even control his bike enough to stop at the intersection.’
Note to self: don’t ever let Chris see me on a bike. Whilst I’m not totally uncoordinated, I definitely have my moments. I’ve been known to throw myself and the bike onto the ground, as a braking technique. I couldn’t believe that Chris was still hanging around earth because his brother was having trouble doing wheelies. Talk about paranoid. Maybe I’d have to have a quiet word to Ella about him. I looked at him incredulously.
‘I know it sounds lame,’ Chris defended himself, ‘but Alan never falls off his bike, even when he learns new tricks.’
I continued staring disbelievingly at Chris. I was not convinced.
‘Maybe he can’t focus on his bike riding because he’s grieving for his big brother,’ I suggested. ‘People handle their grief in different ways. He’s not going to get over your death overnight.’
Chris shook his head. ‘No way. There’s definitely something up. When Mum died, Alan became totally absorbed in his bike riding. Besides, it’s not just his bike riding. He’s lost weight, he’s always tripping over, he doesn’t sound like himself when he talks … and then there was what happened today.’
Ella reached over and hugged me. ‘Thank goodness you were there, Fiona!’ she wailed, melodramatically.
Trapped under Ella’s tight hug, I felt confused. I didn’t even know any Alans. She released me and continued.
‘The boy you saved at the pool today is Chris’ brother!’

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