She had given up trying to ban him from Tanzie’s bedroom. When Tanzie woke up in the morning he was always stretched across three-quarters of the bed, hairy legs across her mattress, leaving her shivering under a tiny corner of duvet. Mum used to mutter about hairs and hygiene but Tanzie didn’t mind. She and Norman had a special bond. She knew that one day he would show it.
They’d got Nicky when she was two. Tanzie went to bed one night and when she woke he was in the spare room and Mum just said he would be staying and he was her brother. She didn’t know if they had a special bond, even though they were actually 50 per cent related. Tanzie had once asked him what he thought their shared genetic material was, and he’d said, ‘The weird loser gene.’ She thought he might have been joking, but she didn’t know enough about genetics to check.
She was rinsing her hands under the outside tap when she heard them talking. Nicky’s window was open and their voices floated out into the garden.
‘Did you pay that water bill?’ Nicky said.
‘No. I haven’t had a chance to get to the post office.’
‘It says it’s a final reminder.’
‘I know it’s a final reminder.’ Mum was snappy, like she always was when she talked about money. There was a pause. Norman picked up the ball and dropped it near her feet. It lay there, slimy and disgusting.
‘Sorry, Nicky. I … just need to get this conversation out of the way. I’ll sort it out tomorrow morning. I promise. You want to speak to your dad?’
Tanzie knew what the answer would be. Nicky never wanted to talk to Dad any more.
She moved right under the window and stood really still. She could hear Dad’s voice.
‘Everything all right?’ Dad sounded tense. She wondered if he thought that something bad had happened. Perhaps if he thought Tanzie had leukaemia he might come back. She had watched a TV film once where the girl’s parents divorced and then got back together because she got leukaemia. She didn’t actually want leukaemia though because needles made her pass out and she had quite nice hair.
‘Everything’s fine,’ Mum said. She didn’t tell him about Nicky getting battered.
‘What’s going on?’
‘Has your mum decorated?’ Mum asked.
Grandma’s house had new wallpaper? Tanzie felt weird. Dad and Grandma were living in a house that she might not recognize any more. It had been 348 days since she last saw Dad. It was 433 days since she’d seen Grandma.
‘I need to talk to you about Tanzie’s schooling.’
‘Why – is she playing up?’
‘Nothing like that, Marty. She’s been offered a scholarship to St Anne’s.’
‘They think her maths is off the scale.’
‘St Anne’s.’ He said it like he couldn’t believe it. ‘I mean I knew she was bright, but …’
He sounded really pleased. She pressed her back against the wall and went up on tippy-toes to hear better. Perhaps he’d come back if she was going to St Anne’s.
‘Our little girl at the posh school, eh?’ His voice had puffed up with pride. Tanzie could imagine him already working out what to tell his mates at the pub. Except he couldn’t go to the pub. Because he always told Mum he had no money to enjoy himself. ‘So what’s the problem?’
‘Well … it’s a big scholarship. But it doesn’t cover everything.’
‘Meaning we’d still have to find five hundred pounds a term. And the uniform. And the registration fee of five hundred pounds.’
The silence went on for so long Tanzie wondered if the computer had crashed.
‘They said once we’ve been there a year we can apply for a hardship fee. Some bursary or something where, if you’re a deserving case, they can give you extra. But basically we need to find the best part of two grand to get her through the first year.’
And then Dad laughed. He actually laughed. ‘You’re having me on, right?’
‘No, I am not having you on.’
‘How am I meant to find two grand, Jess?’
‘I just thought I’d –’
‘I’ve not even got a proper job yet. There’s nothing going on round here. I’m … I’m only just getting back on my feet. I’m sorry, babe, but there’s no way.’
‘Can’t your mum help? She might have some savings. Can I talk to her?’
‘No. She’s … out. And I don’t want you tapping her for money. She’s got worries enough as it is.’
‘I’m not tapping her for money, Marty. I thought she might want to help her only grandchildren.’
‘They’re not her only grandchildren any more. Elena had a little boy.’
Tanzie stood very still.
‘I didn’t even know she was pregnant.’
‘Yeah, I meant to tell you.’
Tanzie had a baby cousin. And she hadn’t even known. Norman flopped down at her feet. He looked at her with his big brown eyes, then rolled over slowly with a groan, as if it was really, really hard work just lying on the floor. He kept looking at her, waiting for her to rub his tummy, but she was trying too hard to listen.
‘Well … what if we sell the Rolls?’