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Me Before You / (by Jojo Moyes, 2012) -

Me Before You /     (by Jojo Moyes, 2012) -

Me Before You / (by Jojo Moyes, 2012) -

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Me Before You / (by Jojo Moyes, 2012) -
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2012
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Jojo Moyes
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Susan Lyons, Anna Bentink, Steven Crossley, Alex Tregear, Andrew Wincott, Owen Lindsay
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,
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upper-intermediate
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14:42:51
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Me Before You / :

.doc (Word) me_before_you.doc [831.5 Kb] (c: 82) .
.pdf me_before_you.pdf [11.84 Mb] (c: 291) .
audiobook (MP3) .


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PROLOGUE 2007 When he emerges from the bathroom she is awake, propped up against the pillows and flicking through the travel brochures that were beside his bed. She is wearing one of his T-shirts, and her long hair is tousled in a way that prompts reflexive thoughts of the previous night. He stands there, enjoying the brief flashback, rubbing the water from his hair with a towel. She looks up from a brochure and pouts. She is probably slightly too old to pout, but theyve been going out a short enough time for it still to be cute. Do we really have to do something that involves trekking up mountains, or hanging over ravines? Its our first proper holiday together, and there is literally not one single trip in these that doesnt involve either throwing yourself off something or she pretends to shudder wearing fleece. She throws them down on the bed, stretches her caramel-coloured arms above her head. Her voice is husky, testament to their missed hours of sleep. How about a luxury spa in Bali? We could lie around on the sand spend hours being pampered long relaxing nights I cant do those sorts of holidays. I need to be doing something. Like throwing yourself out of aeroplanes. Dont knock it till youve tried it. She pulls a face. If its all the same to you, I think Ill stick with knocking it. His shirt is faintly damp against his skin. He runs a comb through his hair and switches on his mobile phone, wincing at the list of messages that immediately pushes its way through on to the little screen. Right, he says. Got to go. Help yourself to breakfast. He leans over the bed to kiss her. She smells warm and perfumed and deeply sexy. He inhales the scent from the back of her hair, and briefly loses his train of thought as she wraps her arms around his neck, pulling him down towards the bed. Are we still going away this weekend? He extricates himself reluctantly. Depends what happens on this deal. Its all a bit up in the air at the moment. Theres still a possibility I might have to be in New York. Nice dinner somewhere Thursday, either way? Your choice of restaurant. His motorbike leathers are on the back of the door, and he reaches for them. She narrows her eyes. Dinner. With or without Mr BlackBerry? What? Mr BlackBerry makes me feel like Miss Gooseberry. The pout again. I feel like theres always a third person vying for your attention. Ill turn it on to silent. Will Traynor! she scolds. You must have some time when you can switch off. I turned it off last night, didnt I? Only under extreme duress. He grins. Is that what were calling it now? He pulls on his leathers. And Lissas hold on his imagination is finally broken. He throws his motorbike jacket over his arm, and blows her a kiss as he leaves. There are twenty-two messages on his BlackBerry, the first of which came in from New York at 3.42am. Some legal problem. He takes the lift down to the underground car park, trying to update himself with the nights events. Morning, Mr Traynor. The security guard steps out of his cubicle. Its weatherproof, even though down here there is no weather to be protected from. Will sometimes wonders what he does down here in the small hours, staring at the closed-circuit television and the glossy bumpers of ?60,000 cars that never get dirty. He shoulders his way into his leather jacket. Whats it like out there, Mick? Terrible. Raining cats and dogs. Will stops. Really? Not weather for the bike? Mick shakes his head. No, sir. Not unless youve got an inflatable attachment. Or a death wish. Will stares at his bike, then peels himself out of his leathers. No matter what Lissa thinks, he is not a man who believes in taking unnecessary risks. He unlocks the top box of his bike and places the leathers inside, locking it and throwing the keys at Mick, who catches them neatly with one hand. Stick those through my door, will you? No problem. You want me to call a taxi for you? No. No point both of us getting wet. Mick presses the button to open the automatic grille and Will steps out, lifting a hand in thanks. The early morning is dark and thunderous around him, the Central London traffic already dense and slow despite the fact that it is barely half past seven. He pulls his collar up around his neck and strides down the street towards the junction, from where he is most likely to hail a taxi. The roads are slick with water, the grey light shining on the mirrored pavement. He curses inwardly as he spies the other suited people standing on the edge of the kerb. Since when did the whole of London begin getting up so early? Everyone has had the same idea. He is wondering where best to position himself when his phone rings. It is Rupert. Im on my way in. Just trying to get a cab. He catches sight of a taxi with an orange light approaching on the other side of the road, and begins to stride towards it, hoping nobody else has seen. A bus roars past, followed by a lorry whose brakes squeal, deafening him to Ruperts words. Cant hear you, Rupe, he yells against the noise of the traffic. Youll have to say that again. Briefly marooned on the island, the traffic flowing past him like a current, he can see the orange light glowing, holds up his free hand, hoping that the driver can see him through the heavy rain. You need to call Jeff in New York. Hes still up, waiting for you. We were trying to get you last night. Whats the problem? Legal hitch. Two clauses theyre stalling on under section signature papers His voice is drowned out by a passing car, its tyres hissing in the wet. I didnt catch that. The taxi has seen him. It is slowing, sending a fine spray of water as it slows on the opposite side of the road. He spies the man further along whose brief sprint slows in disappointment as he sees Will must get there before him. He feels a sneaking sense of triumph. Look, get Cally to have the paperwork on my desk, he yells. Ill be there in ten minutes. He glances both ways then ducks his head as he runs the last few steps across the road towards the cab, the word Blackfriars already on his lips. The rain is seeping down the gap between his collar and his shirt. He will be soaked by the time he reaches the office, even walking this short distance. He may have to send his secretary out for another shirt. And we need to get this due diligence thing worked out before Martin gets in He glances up at the screeching sound, the rude blare of a horn. He sees the side of the glossy black taxi in front of him, the driver already winding down his window, and at the edge of his field of vision something he cant quite make out, something coming towards him at an impossible speed. He turns towards it, and in that split second he realizes that he is in its path, that there is no way he is going to be able to get out of its way. His hand opens in surprise, letting the BlackBerry fall to the ground. He hears a shout, which may be his own. The last thing he sees is a leather glove, a face under a helmet, the shock in the mans eyes mirroring his own. There is an explosion as everything fragments. And then there is nothing. 1 2009 There are 158 footsteps between the bus stop and home, but it can stretch to 180 if you arent in a hurry, like maybe if youre wearing platform shoes. Or shoes you bought from a charity shop that have butterflies on the toes but never quite grip the heel at the back, thereby explaining why they were a knock-down ?1.99. I turned the corner into our street (68 steps), and could just see the house a four-bedroomed semi in a row of other three- and four-bedroomed semis. Dads car was outside, which meant he had not yet left for work. Behind me, the sun was setting behind Stortfold Castle, its dark shadow sliding down the hill like melting wax to overtake me. When I was a child we used to make our elongated shadows have gun battles, our street the O. K. Corral. On a different sort of day, I could have told you all the things that had happened to me on this route: where Dad taught me to ride a bike without stabilizers; where Mrs Doherty with the lopsided wig used to make us Welsh cakes; where Treena stuck her hand into a hedge when she was eleven and disturbed a wasps nest and we ran screaming all the way back to the castle. Thomass tricycle was upturned on the path and, closing the gate behind me, I dragged it under the porch and opened the door. The warmth hit me with the force of an air bag; Mum is a martyr to the cold and keeps the heating on all year round. Dad is always opening windows, complaining that shed bankrupt the lot of us. He says our heating bills are larger than the GDP of a small African country. That you, love? Yup. I hung my jacket on the peg, where it fought for space amongst the others. Which you? Lou? Treena? Lou. I peered round the living-room door. Dad was face down on the sofa, his arm thrust deep between the cushions, as if they had swallowed his limb whole. Thomas, my five-year-old nephew, was on his haunches, watching him intently. Lego. Dad turned his face towards me, puce from exertion. Why they have to make the damned pieces so small I dont know. Have you seen Obi-Wan Kenobis left arm? It was on top of the DVD player. I think he swapped Obis arms with Indiana Joness. Well, apparently now Obi cant possibly have beige arms. We have to have the black arms. I wouldnt worry. Doesnt Darth Vader chop his arm off in episode two? I pointed at my cheek so that Thomas would kiss it. Wheres Mum? Upstairs. How about that? A two-pound piece! I looked up, just able to hear the familiar creak of the ironing board. Josie Clark, my mother, never sat down. It was a point of honour. She had been known to stand on an outside ladder painting the windows, occasionally pausing to wave, while the rest of us ate a roast dinner. Will you have a go at finding this bloody arm for me? Hes had me looking for half an hour and Ive got to get ready for work. Are you on nights? Yeah. Its half five. I glanced at the clock. Actually, its half four. He extracted his arm from the cushions and squinted at his watch. Then what are you doing home so early? I shook my head vaguely, as if I might have misunderstood the question, and walked into the kitchen. Granddad was sitting in his chair by the kitchen window, studying a sudoku. The health visitor had told us it would be good for his concentration, help his focus after the strokes. I suspected I was the only one to notice he simply filled out all the boxes with whatever number came to mind. Hey, Granddad. He looked up and smiled. You want a cup of tea? He shook his head, and partially opened his mouth. Cold drink? He nodded. I opened the fridge door. Theres no apple juice. Apple juice, I remembered now, was too expensive. Ribena? He shook his head. Water? He nodded, murmured something that could have been a thank you as I handed him the glass. My mother walked into the room, bearing a huge basket of neatly folded laundry. Are these yours? She brandished a pair of socks. Treenas, I think. I thought so. Odd colour. I think they must have got in with Daddys plum pyjamas. Youre back early. Are you going somewhere? No. I filled a glass with tap water and drank it. Is Patrick coming round later? He rang here earlier. Did you have your mobile off? Mm. He said hes after booking your holiday. Your father says he saw something on the television about it. Where is it you liked? Ipsos? Kalypsos? Skiathos. Thats the one. You want to check your hotel very carefully. Do it on the internet. He and Daddy watched something on the news at lunchtime. Apparently theyre building sites, half of those budget deals, and you wouldnt know until you got there. Daddy, would you like a cup of tea? Did Lou not offer you one? She put the kettle on then glanced up at me. Its possible she had finally noticed I wasnt saying anything. Are you all right, love? You look awfully pale. She reached out a hand and felt my forehead, as if I were much younger than twenty-six. I dont think were going on holiday. My mothers hand stilled. Her gaze had that X-ray thing that it had held since I was a kid. Are you and Pat having some problems? Mum, I Im not trying to interfere. Its just, youve been together an awful long time. Its only natural if things get a bit sticky every now and then. I mean, me and your father we I lost my job. My voice cut into the silence. The words hung there, searing themselves on the little room long after the sound had died away. You what? Franks shutting down the cafe. From tomorrow. I held out a hand with the slightly damp envelope I had gripped in shock the entire journey home. All 180 steps from the bus stop. Hes given me my three months money. The day had started like any other day. Everyone I knew hated Monday mornings, but I never minded them. I liked arriving early at The Buttered Bun, firing up the huge tea urn in the corner, bringing in the crates of milk and bread from the backyard and chatting to Frank as we prepared to open. I liked the fuggy bacon-scented warmth of the cafe, the little bursts of cool air as the door opened and closed, the low murmur of conversation and, when quiet, Franks radio singing tinnily to itself in the corner. It wasnt a fashionable place its walls were covered in scenes from the castle up on the hill, the tables still sported Formica tops, and the menu hadnt altered since I started, apart from a few changes to the chocolate bar selection and the addition of chocolate brownies and muffins to the iced bun tray. But most of all I liked the customers. I liked Kev and Angelo, the plumbers, who came in most mornings and teased Frank about where his meat might have come from. I liked the Dandelion Lady, nicknamed for her shock of white hair, who ate one egg and chips from Monday to Thursday and sat reading the complimentary newspapers and drinking her way through two cups of tea. I always made an effort to chat with her. I suspected it might be the only conversation the old woman got all day. I liked the tourists, who stopped on their walk up and down from the castle, the shrieking schoolchildren, who stopped by after school, the regulars from the offices across the road, and Nina and Cherie, the hairdressers, who knew the calorie count of every single item The Buttered Bun had to offer. Even the annoying customers, like the red-haired woman who ran the toyshop and disputed her change at least once a week, didnt trouble me. I watched relationships begin and end across those tables, children transferred between divorcees, the guilty relief of those parents who couldnt face cooking, and the secret pleasure of pensioners at a fried breakfast. All human life came through, and most of them shared a few words with me, trading jokes or comments over the mugs of steaming tea. Dad always said he never knew what was going to come out of my mouth next, but in the cafe it didnt matter. Frank liked me. He was quiet by nature, and said having me there kept the place lively. It was a bit like being a barmaid, but without the hassle of drunks. And then that afternoon, after the lunchtime rush had ended, and with the place briefly empty, Frank, wiping his hands on his apron, had come out from behind the hotplate and turned the little Closed sign to face the street. Now now, Frank, Ive told you before. Extras are not included in the minimum wage. Frank was, as Dad put it, as queer as a blue gnu. I looked up. He wasnt smiling. Uh-oh. I didnt put salt in the sugar cellars again, did I? He was twisting a tea towel between his two hands and looked more uncomfortable than I had ever seen him. I wondered, briefly, whether someone had complained about me. And then he motioned to me to sit down. Sorry, Louisa, he said, after he had told me. But Im going back to Australia. My Dads not too good, and it looks like the castle is definitely going to start doing its own refreshments. The writings on the wall. I think I sat there with my mouth actually hanging open. And then Frank had handed me the envelope, and answered my next question before it left my lips. I know we never had, you know, a formal contract or anything, but I wanted to look after you. Theres three months money in there. We close tomorrow. Three months! Dad exploded, as my mother thrust a cup of sweet tea into my hands. Well, thats big of him, given shes worked like a ruddy Trojan in that place for the last six years. Bernard. Mum shot him a warning look, nodding towards Thomas. My parents minded him after school every day until Treena finished work. What the hell is she supposed to do now? He could have given her more than a days bloody notice. Well shell just have to get another job. There are no bloody jobs, Josie. You know that as well as I do. Were in the middle of a bloody recession. Mum shut her eyes for a moment, as if composing herself before she spoke. Shes a bright girl. Shell find herself something. Shes got a solid employment record, hasnt she? Frank will give her a good reference. Oh, fecking marvellous Louisa Clark is very good at buttering toast, and a dab hand with the old teapot. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dad. Im just saying. I knew the real reason for Dads anxiety. They relied on my wages. Treena earned next to nothing at the flower shop. Mum couldnt work, as she had to look after Granddad, and Granddads pension amounted to almost nothing. Dad lived in a constant state of anxiety about his job at the furniture factory. His boss had been muttering about possible redundancies for months. There were murmurings at home about debts and the juggling of credit cards. Dad had had his car written off by an uninsured driver two years previously, and somehow this had been enough for the whole teetering edifice that was my parents finances to finally collapse. My modest wages had been a little bedrock of housekeeping money, enough to help see the family through from week to week. Lets not get ahead of ourselves. She can head down to the Job Centre tomorrow and see whats on offer. Shes got enough to get by for now. They spoke as if I werent there. And shes smart. Youre smart, arent you, love? Perhaps she could do a typing course. Go into office work. I sat there, as my parents discussed what other jobs my limited qualifications might entitle me to. Factory work, machinist, roll butterer. For the first time that afternoon I wanted to cry. Thomas watched me with big, round eyes, and silently handed me half a soggy biscuit. Thanks, Tommo, I mouthed silently, and ate it. He was down at the athletics club, as I had known he would be. Mondays to Thursdays, regular as a station timetable, Patrick was there in the gym or running in circles around the floodlit track. I made my way down the steps, hugging myself against the cold, and walked slowly out on to the track, waving as he came close enough to see who it was. Run with me, he puffed, as he got closer. His breath came in pale clouds. Ive got four laps to go. I hesitated just a moment, and then began to run alongside him. It was the only way I was going to get any kind of conversation out of him. I was wearing my pink trainers with the turquoise laces, the only shoes I could possibly run in. I had spent the day at home, trying to be useful. Im guessing it was about an hour before I started to get under my mothers feet. Mum and Granddad had their routines, and having me there interrupted them. Dad was asleep, as he was on nights this month, and not to be disturbed. I tidied my room, then sat and watched television with the sound down and when I remembered, periodically, why I was at home in the middle of the day I had felt an actual brief pain in my chest. I wasnt expecting you. I got fed up at home. I thought maybe we could do something. He looked sideways at me. There was a fine film of sweat on his face. The sooner you get another job, babe, the better. Its all of twenty-four hours since I lost the last one. Am I allowed to just be a bit miserable and floppy? You know, just for today? But youve got to look at the positive side. You knew you couldnt stay at that place forever. You want to move upwards, onwards. Patrick had been named Stortfold Young Entrepreneur of the Year two years previously, and had not yet quite recovered from the honour. He had since acquired a business partner, Ginger Pete, offering personal training to clients over a 40-mile area, and two liveried vans on the HP. He also had a whiteboard in his office, on which he liked to scrawl his projected turnover with thick black markers, working and reworking the figures until they met with his satisfaction. I was never entirely sure that they bore any resemblance to real life. Being made redundant can change peoples lives, Lou. He glanced at his watch, checking his lap time. What do you want to do? You could retrain. Im sure they do a grant for people like you. People like me? People looking for a new opportunity. What do you want to be? You could be a beautician. Youre pretty enough. He nudged me as we ran, as if I should be grateful for the compliment. You know my beauty routine. Soap, water, the odd paper bag. Patrick was beginning to look exasperated. I was starting to lag behind. I hate running. I hated him for not slowing down. Look shop assistant. Secretary. Estate agent. I dont know there must be something you want to do. But there wasnt. I had liked it in the cafe. I liked knowing everything there was to know about The Buttered Bun, and hearing about the lives of the people who came through it. I had felt comfortable there. You cant mope around, babe. Got to get over it. All the best entrepreneurs fight their way back from rock bottom. Jeffrey Archer did it. So did Richard Branson. He tapped my arm, trying to get me to keep up. I doubt if Jeffrey Archer ever got made redundant from toasting teacakes. I was out of breath. And I was wearing the wrong bra. I slowed, dropped my hands down on to my knees. He turned, running backwards, his voice carrying on the still, cold air. But if he had Im just saying. Sleep on it, put on a smart suit and head down to the Job Centre. Or Ill train you up to work with me, if you like. You know theres money in it. And dont worry about the holiday. Ill pay. I smiled at him. He blew a kiss and his voice echoed across the empty stadium. You can pay me back when youre back on your feet. I made my first claim for Jobseekers Allowance. I attended a 45-minute interview, and a group interview, where I sat with a group of twenty or so mismatched men and women, half of whom wore the same slightly stunned expression I suspected I did, and the other half the blank, uninterested faces of people who had been here too many times before. I wore what my Dad deemed my civilian clothes. As a result of these efforts, I had endured a brief stint filling in on a night shift at a chicken processing factory (it had given me nightmares for weeks), and two days at a training session as a Home Energy Adviser. I had realized pretty quickly that I was essentially being instructed to befuddle old people into switching energy suppliers, and told Syed, my personal adviser that I couldnt do it. He had been insistent that I continue, so I had listed some of the practices that they had asked me to employ, at which point he had gone a bit quiet and suggested we (it was always we even though it was pretty obvious that one of us had a job) try something else. I did two weeks at a fast food chain. The hours were okay, I could cope with the fact that the uniform made my hair static, but I found it impossible to stick to the appropriate responses script, with its How can I help you today? and its Would you like large fries with that? I had been let go after one of the doughnut girls caught me debating the varying merits of the free toys with a four-year-old. What can I say? She was a smart four-year-old. I also thought the Sleeping Beauties were sappy. Now I sat at my fourth interview as Syed scanned through the touch screen for further employment opportunities. Even Syed, who wore the grimly cheerful demeanour of someone who had shoehorned the most unlikely candidates into a job, was starting to sound a little weary. Um Have you ever considered joining the entertainment industry? What, as in pantomime dame? Actually, no. But there is an opening for a pole dancer. Several, in fact. I raised an eyebrow. Please tell me you are kidding. Its thirty hours a week on a self-employed basis. I believe the tips are good. Please, please tell me you have not just advised me to get a job that involves parading around in front of strangers in my underwear. You said you were good with people. And you seem to like theatrical clothing. He glanced at my tights, which were green and glittery. I had thought they would cheer me up. Thomas had hummed the theme tune from The Little Mermaid at me for almost the whole of breakfast. Syed tapped something into his keyboard. How about adult chat line supervisor? I stared at him. He shrugged. You said you liked talking to people. No. And no to semi-nude bar staff. Or masseuse. Or webcam operator. Come on, Syed. There must be something I can do that wouldnt actually give my dad a heart attack. This appeared to stump him. Theres not much left outside flexi-hour retail opportunities. Night-time shelf stacking? I had been here enough times now to speak their language. Theres a waiting list. Parents tend to go for it, because it suits the school hours, he said apologetically. He studied the screen again. So were really left with care assistant. Wiping old peoples bottoms. Im afraid, Louisa, youre not qualified for much else. If you wanted to retrain, Id be happy to point you in the right direction. There are plenty of courses at the adult education centre. But weve been through this, Syed. If I do that, I lose my Jobseeker money, right? If youre not available for work, yes. We sat there in silence for a moment. I gazed at the doors, where two burly security men stood. I wondered if they had got the job through the Job Centre. Im not good with old people, Syed. My granddad lives at home since he had his strokes, and I cant cope with him. Ah. So you have some experience of caring. Not really. My mum does everything for him. Would your mum like a job? Funny. Im not being funny. And leave me looking after my granddad? No thanks. Thats from him, as well as me, by the way. Havent you got anything in any cafes? I dont think there are enough cafes left to guarantee you employment, Louisa. We could try Kentucky Fried Chicken. You might get on better there. Because Id get so much more out of offering a Bargain Bucket than a Chicken McNugget? I dont think so. Well, then perhaps well have to look further afield. There are only four buses to and from our town. You know that. And I know you said I should look into the tourist bus, but I rang the station and it stops at 5pm. Plus its twice as expensive as the normal bus. Syed sat back in his seat. At this point in proceedings, Louisa, I really need to make the point that as a fit and able person, in order to continue qualifying for your allowance, you need to show that Im trying to get a job. I know. How could I explain to this man how much I wanted to work? Did he have the slightest idea how much I missed my old job? Unemployment had been a concept, something droningly referred to on the news in relation to shipyards or car factories. I had never considered that you might miss a job like you missed a limb a constant, reflexive thing. I hadnt thought that as well as the obvious fears about money, and your future, losing your job would make you feel inadequate, and a bit useless. That it would be harder to get up in the morning than when you were rudely shocked into consciousness by the alarm. That you might miss the people you worked with, no matter how little you had in common with them. Or even that you might find yourself searching for familiar faces as you walked the high street. The first time I had seen the Dandelion Lady wandering past the shops, looking as aimless as I felt, I had fought the urge to go and give her a hug. Syeds voice broke into my reverie. Aha. Now this might work. I tried to peer round at the screen. Just come in. This very minute. Care assistant position. I told you I was no good with Its not old people. Its a a private position. To help in someones house, and the address is less than two miles from your home. Care and companionship for a disabled man. Can you drive? Yes. But would I have to wipe his No bottom wiping required, as far as I can tell. He scanned the screen. Hes a a quadriplegic. He needs someone in the daylight hours to help feed and assist. Often in these jobs its a case of being there when they want to go out somewhere, helping with basic stuff that they cant do themselves. Oh. Its good money. Quite a lot more than the minimum wage. Thats probably because it involves bottom wiping. Ill ring them to confirm the absence of bottom wiping. But if thats the case, youll go along for the interview? He said it like it was a question. But we both knew the answer. I sighed, and gathered up my bag ready for the trip home. Jesus Christ, said my father. Can you imagine? If it wasnt punishment enough ending up in a ruddy wheelchair, then you get our Lou turning up to keep you company. Bernard! my mother scolded. Behind me, Granddad was laughing into his mug of tea. 2 I am not thick. Id just like to get that out of the way at this point. But its quite hard not to feel a bit deficient in the Department of Brain Cells, growing up next to a younger sister who was not just moved up a year into my class, but then to the year above. Everything that is sensible, or smart, Katrina did first, despite being eighteen months younger than me. Every book I ever read she had read first, every fact I mentioned at the dinner table she already knew. She is the only person I know who actually likes exams. Sometimes I think I dress the way I do because the one thing Treena cant do is put clothes together. Shes a pullover and jeans kind of a girl. Her idea of smart is ironing the jeans first. My father calls me a character, because I tend to say the first thing that pops into my head. He says Im like my Aunt Lily, who I never knew. Its a bit weird, constantly being compared to someone youve never met. I would come downstairs in purple boots, and Dad would nod at Mum and say, Dyou remember Aunt Lily and her purple boots, eh? and Mum would cluck and start laughing as if at some secret joke. My mother calls me individual, which is her polite way of not quite understanding the way I dress. But apart from a brief period in my teens, I never wanted to look like Treena, or any of the girls at school; I preferred boys clothes till I was about fourteen, and now tend to please myself depending on what mood I am in on the day. Theres no point me trying to look conventional. I am small, dark-haired and, according to my dad, have the face of an elf. Thats not as in elfin beauty. I am not plain, but I dont think anyone is ever going to call me beautiful. I dont have that graceful thing going on. Patrick calls me gorgeous when he wants to get his leg over, but hes fairly transparent like that. Weve known each other for coming up to seven years. I was twenty-six years old and I wasnt really sure what I was. Up until I lost my job I hadnt even given it any thought. I supposed I would probably marry Patrick, knock out a few kids, live a few streets away from where I had always lived. Apart from an exotic taste in clothes, and the fact that Im a bit short, theres not a lot separating me from anyone you might pass in the street. You probably wouldnt look at me twice. An ordinary girl, leading an ordinary life. It actually suited me fine. You must wear a suit to an interview, Mum had insisted. Everyones far too casual these days. Because wearing pinstripes will be vital if Im spoon-feeding a geriatric. Dont be smart. I cant afford to buy a suit. What if I dont get the job? You can wear mine, and Ill iron you a nice blouse, and just for once dont wear your hair up in those she gestured to my hair, which was normally twisted into two dark knots on each side of my head Princess Leia things. Just try to look like a normal person. I knew better than to argue with my mother. And I could tell Dad had been instructed not to comment on my outfit as I walked out of the house, my gait awkward in the too-tight skirt. Bye love, he said, the corners of his mouth twitching. Good luck now. You look very businesslike. The embarrassing thing was not that I was wearing my mothers suit, or that it was in a cut last fashionable in the late 1980s, but that it was actually a tiny bit small for me. I felt the waistband cutting into my midriff, and pulled the double-breasted jacket across. As Dad says of Mum, theres more fat on a kirby grip. I sat through the short bus journey feeling faintly sick. I had never had a proper job interview. I had joined The Buttered Bun after Treena bet me that I couldnt get a job in a day. I had walked in and simply asked Frank if he needed a spare pair of hands. It had been his first day open and he had looked almost blinded by gratitude. Now, looking back, I couldnt even remember having a discussion with him about money. He suggested a weekly wage, I agreed, and once a year he told me hed upped it a bit, usually by a little more than I would have asked for. What did people ask in interviews anyway? And what if they asked me to do something practical with this old man, to feed him or bath him or something? Syed had said there was a male carer who covered his intimate needs (I shuddered at the phrase). The secondary carers job was, he said, a little unclear at this point. I pictured myself wiping drool from the old mans mouth, maybe asking loudly, DID HE WANT A CUP OF TEA? When Granddad had first begun his recovery from his strokes he hadnt been able to do anything for himself. Mum had done it all. Your mother is a saint, Dad said, which I took to mean that she wiped his bum without running screaming from the house. I was pretty sure nobody had ever described me as such. I cut Granddads food up for him and made him cups of tea but as for anything else, I wasnt sure I was made of the right ingredients. Granta House was on the other side of Stortfold Castle, close to the medieval walls, on the long unpavemented stretch that comprised only four houses and the National Trust shop, bang in the middle of the tourist area. I had passed this house a million times in my life without ever actually properly seeing it. Now, walking past the car park and the miniature railway, both of which were empty and as bleak as only a summer attraction can look in February, I saw it was bigger than I had imagined, red brick with a double front, the kind of house you saw in old copies of Country Life while waiting at the doctors. I walked up the long drive, trying not to think about whether anybody was watching out of the window. Walking up a long drive puts you at a disadvantage; it automatically makes you feel inferior. I was just contemplating whether to actually tug at my forelock, when the door opened and I jumped. A woman, not much older than me, stepped out into the porch. She was wearing white slacks and a medical-looking tunic and carried a coat and a folder under her arm. As she passed me she gave a polite smile. And thank you so much for coming, a voice said, from inside. Well be in touch. Ah. A womans face appeared, middle-aged but beautiful, under expensive precision-cut hair. She was wearing a trouser suit that I guessed cost more than my dad earned in a month. You must be Miss Clark. Louisa. I shot out a hand, as my mother had impressed upon me to do. The young people never offered up a hand these days, my parents had agreed. In the old days you wouldnt have dreamt of a hiya or, worse, an air kiss. This woman did not look like she would have welcomed an air kiss. Right. Yes. Do come in. She withdrew her hand from mine as soon as humanly possible, but I felt her eyes linger upon me, as if she were already assessing me. Would you like to come through? Well talk in the drawing room. My name is Camilla Traynor. She seemed weary, as if she had uttered the same words many times that day already. I followed her through to a huge room with floor to ceiling French windows. Heavy curtains draped elegantly from fat mahogany curtain poles, and the floors were carpeted with intricately decorated Persian rugs. It smelt of beeswax and antique furniture. There were little elegant side tables everywhere, their burnished surfaces covered with ornamental boxes. I wondered briefly where on earth the Traynors put their cups of tea. So you have come via the Job Centre advertisement, is that right? Do sit down. While she flicked through her folder of papers, I gazed surreptitiously around the room. I had thought the house might be a bit like a care home, all hoists and wipe-clean surfaces. But this was like one of those scarily expensive hotels, steeped in old money, with well-loved things that looked valuable in their own right. There were silver-framed photographs on a sideboard, but they were too far away for me to make out the faces. As she scanned her pages, I shifted in my seat, to try to get a better look. And it was then that I heard it the unmistakable sound of stitches ripping. I glanced down to see the two pieces of material that joined at the side of my right leg had torn apart, sending frayed pieces of silk thread shooting upwards in an ungainly fringe. I felt my face flood with colour. So Miss Clark do you have any experience with quadriplegia? I turned to face Mrs Traynor, wriggling so that my jacket covered as much of the skirt as possible. No. Have you been a carer for long? Um Ive never actually done it, I said, adding, as if I could hear Syeds voice in my ear, but Im sure I could learn. Do you know what a quadriplegic is? I faltered. When youre stuck in a wheelchair? I suppose thats one way of putting it. There are varying degrees, but in this case we are talking about complete loss of use of the legs, and very limited use of the hands and arms. Would that bother you? Well, not as much as it would bother him, obviously. I raised a smile, but Mrs Traynors face was expressionless. Sorry I didnt mean Can you drive, Miss Clark? Yes. Clean licence? I nodded. Camilla Traynor ticked something on her list. The rip was growing. I could see it creeping inexorably up my thigh. At this rate, by the time I stood up I would look like a Vegas showgirl. Are you all right? Mrs Traynor was gazing at me. Im just a little warm. Do you mind if I take my jacket off? Before she could say anything, I wrenched the jacket off in one fluid motion and tied it around my waist, obscuring the split in the skirt. So hot, I said, smiling at her, coming in from outside. You know. There was the faintest pause, and then Mrs Traynor looked back at her folder. How old are you? Im twenty-six. And you were in your previous job for six years. Yes. You should have a copy of my reference. Mm Mrs Traynor held it up and squinted. Your previous employer says you are a warm, chatty and life-enhancing presence. Yes, I paid him. That poker face again. Oh hell, I thought. It was as if I were being studied. Not necessarily in a good way. My mothers shirt felt suddenly cheap, the synthetic threads shining in the thin light. I should just have worn my plainest trousers and a shirt. Anything but this suit. So why are you leaving this job, where you are clearly so well regarded? Frank the owner sold the cafe. Its the one at the bottom of the castle. The Buttered Bun. Was, I corrected myself. I would have been happy to stay. Mrs Traynor nodded, either because she didnt feel the need to say anything further about it, or because she too would have been happy for me to stay there. And what exactly do you want to do with your life? Im sorry? Do you have aspirations for a career? Would this be a stepping stone to something else? Do you have a professional dream that you wish to pursue? I looked at her blankly. Was this some kind of trick question? I I havent really thought that far. Since I lost my job. I just I swallowed. I just want to work again. It sounded feeble. What kind of person came to an interview without even knowing what she wanted to do? Mrs Traynors expression suggested she thought the same thing. She put down her pen. So, Miss Clark, why should I employ you instead of, say, the previous candidate, who has several years experience with quadriplegics? I looked at her. Um honestly? I dont know. This met with silence, so I added, I guess that would be your call. You cant give me a single reason why I should employ you? My mothers face suddenly swam into view. The thought of going home with a ruined suit and another interview failure was beyond me. And this job paid more than ?9 an hour. I sat up a bit. Well Im a fast learner, Im never ill, I only live on the other side of the castle, and Im stronger than I look probably strong enough to help move your husband around My husband? Its not my husband youd be working with. Its my son. Your son? I blinked. Um Im not afraid of hard work. Im good at dealing with all sorts of people and and I make a mean cup of tea. I began to blather into the silence. The thought of it being her son had thrown me. I mean, my dad seems to think thats not the greatest reference. But in my experience theres not much that cant be fixed by a decent cup of tea There was something a bit strange about the way Mrs Traynor was looking at me. Sorry, I spluttered, as I realized what I had said. Im not suggesting the thing the paraplegia quadriplegia with your son could be solved by a cup of tea. I should tell you, Miss Clark, that this is not a permanent contract. It would be for a maximum of six months. That is why the salary is commensurate. We wanted to attract the right person. Believe me, when youve done shifts at a chicken processing factory, working in Guant?namo Bay for six months looks attractive. Oh, shut up, Louisa. I bit my lip. But Mrs Traynor seemed oblivious. She closed her file. My son Will was injured in a road accident almost two years ago. He requires twenty-four-hour care, the majority of which is provided by a trained nurse. I have recently returned to work, and the carer would be required to be here throughout the day to keep him company, help him with food and drink, generally provide an extra pair of hands, and make sure that he comes to no harm. Camilla Traynor looked down at her lap. It is of the utmost importance that Will has someone here who understands that responsibility. Everything she said, even the way she emphasized her words, seemed to hint at some stupidity on my part. I can see that. I began to gather up my bag. So would you like the job? It was so unexpected that at first I thought I had heard her wrong. Sorry? We would need you to start as soon as possible. Payment will be weekly. I was briefly lost for words. Youd rather have me instead of I began. The hours are quite lengthy 8am till 5pm, sometimes later. There is no lunch break as such, although when Nathan, his daily nurse, comes in at lunchtime to attend to him, there should be a free half an hour. You wouldnt need anything medical? Will has all the medical care we can offer him. What we want for him is somebody robust and upbeat. His life is complicated, and it is important that he is encouraged to She broke off, her gaze fixed on something outside the French windows. Finally, she turned back to me. Well, lets just say that his mental welfare is as important to us as his physical welfare. Do you understand? I think so. Would I wear a uniform? No. Definitely no uniform. She glanced at my legs. Although you might want to wear something a bit less revealing. I glanced down to where my jacket had shifted, revealing a generous expanse of bare thigh. It Im sorry. It ripped. Its not actually mine. But Mrs Traynor no longer appeared to be listening. Ill explain what needs doing when you start. Will is not the easiest person to be around at the moment, Miss Clark. This job is going to be about mental attitude as much as any professional skills you might have. So. We will see you tomorrow? Tomorrow? You dont want you dont want me to meet him? Will is not having a good day. I think its best that we start afresh then. I stood up, realizing Mrs Traynor was already waiting to see me out. Yes, I said, tugging Mums jacket across me. Um. Thank you. Ill see you at eight oclock tomorrow. Mum was spooning potatoes on to Dads plate. She put two on, he parried, lifting a third and fourth from the serving dish. She blocked him, steering them back on to the serving dish, finally rapping him on the knuckles with the serving spoon when he made for them again. Around the little table sat my parents, my sister and Thomas, my granddad, and Patrick who always came for dinner on Wednesdays. Daddy, Mum said to Granddad. Would you like someone to cut your meat? Treena, will you cut Daddys meat? Treena leant across and began slicing at Granddads plate with deft strokes. On the other side she had already done the same for Thomas. So how messed up is this man, Lou? Cant be up to much if theyre willing to let our daughter loose on him, Bernard remarked. Behind me, the television was on so that Dad and Patrick could watch the football. Every now and then they would stop, peering round me, their mouths stopping mid-chew as they watched some pass or near miss. I think its a great opportunity. Shell be working in one of the big houses. For a good family. Are they posh, love? In our street posh could mean anyone who hadnt got a family member in possession of an ASBO. I suppose so. Hope youve practised your curtsy. Dad grinned. Did you actually meet him? Treena leant across to stop Thomas elbowing his juice on to the floor. The crippled man? What was he like? I meet him tomorrow. Weird, though. Youll be spending all day every day with him. Nine hours. Youll see him more than you see Patrick. Thats not hard, I said. Patrick, across the table, pretended he couldnt hear me. Still, you wont have to worry about the old sexual harassment, eh? Dad said. Bernard! said my mother, sharply. Im only saying what everyones thinking. Probably the best boss you could find for your girlfriend, eh, Patrick? Across the table, Patrick smiled. He was busy refusing potatoes, despite Mums best efforts. He was having a non-carb month, ready for a marathon in early March. You know, I was thinking, will you have to learn sign language? I mean, if he cant communicate, how will you know what he wants? She didnt say he couldnt talk, Mum. I couldnt actually remember what Mrs Traynor had said. I was still vaguely in shock at actually having been given a job. Maybe he talks through one of those devices. Like that scientist bloke. The one on The Simpsons. Bugger, said Thomas. Nope, said Bernard. Stephen Hawking, said Patrick. Thats you, that is, Mum said, looking accusingly from Thomas to Dad. She could cut steak with that look. Teaching him bad language. It is not. I dont know where hes getting it from. Bugger, said Thomas, looking directly at his grandfather. Treena made a face. I think it would freak me out, if he talked through one of those voice boxes. Can you imagine? Get-me-a-drink-of-water, she mimicked. Bright but not bright enough not to get herself up the duff, as Dad occasionally muttered. She had been the first member of our family to go to university, until Thomass arrival had caused her to drop out during her final year. Mum and Dad still held out hopes that one day she would bring the family a fortune. Or possibly work in a place with a reception desk that didnt have a security screen around it. Either would do. Why would being in a wheelchair mean he had to speak like a Dalek? I said. But youre going to have to get up close and personal to him. At the very least youll have to wipe his mouth and give him drinks and stuff. So? Its hardly rocket science. Says the woman who used to put Thomass nappy on inside out. That was once. Twice. And you only changed him three times. I helped myself to green beans, trying to look more sanguine than I felt. But even as I had ridden the bus home, the same thoughts had already started buzzing around my head. What would we talk about? What if he just stared at me, head lolling, all day? Would I be freaked out? What if I couldnt understand what it was he wanted? I was legendarily bad at caring for things; we no longer had houseplants at home, or pets, after the disasters that were the hamster, the stick insects and Randolph the goldfish. And how often was that stiff mother of his going to be around? I didnt like the thought of being watched all the time. Mrs Traynor seemed like the kind of woman whose gaze turned capable hands into fingers and thumbs. Patrick, what do you think of it all, then? Patrick took a long slug of water, and shrugged. Outside, the rain beat on the windowpanes, just audible over the clatter of plates and cutlery. Its good money, Bernard. Better than working nights at the chicken factory, anyway. There was a general murmur of agreement around the table. Well, it comes to something when the best you can all say about my new career is that its better than hauling chicken carcasses around the inside of an aircraft hangar, I said. Well, you could always get fit in the meantime and go and do some of your personal training stuff with Patrick here. Get fit. Thanks, Dad. I had been about to reach for another potato, and now changed my mind. Well, why not? Mum looked as if she might actually sit down everyone paused briefly, but no, she was up again, helping Granddad to some gravy. It might be worth bearing in mind for the future. Youve certainly got the gift of the gab. She has the gift of the flab. Dad snorted. Ive just got myself a job, I said. Paying more than the last one too, if you dont mind. But it is only temporary, Patrick interjected. Your Dads right. You might want to start getting in shape while you do it. You could be a good personal trainer, if you put in a bit of effort. I dont want to be a personal trainer. I dont fancy all that bouncing. I mouthed an insult at Patrick, who grinned. What Lou wants is a job where she can put her feet up and watch daytime telly while feeding old Ironside there through a straw, said Treena. Yes. Because rearranging limp dahlias into buckets of water requires so much physical and mental effort, doesnt it, Treen? Were teasing you, love. Dad raised his mug of tea. Its great that youve got a job. Were proud of you already. And I bet you, once you slide those feet of yours under the table at the big house those buggers wont want to get rid of you. Bugger, said Thomas. Not me, said Dad, chewing, before Mum could say a thing. 3 This is the annexe. It used to be stables, but we realized it would suit Will rather better than the house as its all on one floor. This is the spare room so that Nathan can stay over if necessary. We needed someone quite often in the early days. Mrs Traynor walked briskly down the corridor, gesturing from one doorway to the other, without looking back, her high heels clacking on the flagstones. There seemed to be an expectation that I would keep up. The keys to the car are here. Ive put you on our insurance. Im trusting the details you gave me were correct. Nathan should be able to show you how the ramp works. All you have to do is help Will position properly and the vehicle will do the rest. Although hes not desperately keen to go anywhere at the moment. It is a bit chilly out, I said. Mrs Traynor didnt seem to hear me. You can make yourself tea and coffee in the kitchen. I keep the cupboards stocked. The bathroom is through here She opened the door and I stared at the white metal and plastic hoist that crouched over the bath. There was an open wet area under the shower, with a folded wheelchair beside it. In the corner a glass-fronted cabinet revealed neat stacks of shrink-wrapped bales. I couldnt see what they were from here, but it all gave off a faint scent of disinfectant. Mrs Traynor closed the door, and turned briefly to face me. I should reiterate, it is very important that Will has someone with him all the time. A previous carer disappeared for several hours once to get her car fixed, and Will injured himself in her absence. She swallowed, as if still traumatized by the memory. I wont go anywhere. Of course you will need comfort breaks. I just want to make it clear that he cant be left for periods longer than, say, ten or fifteen minutes. If something unavoidable comes up either ring the intercom, as my husband, Steven, may be home, or call my mobile number. If you do need to take any time off, I would appreciate as much notice as possible. It is not always easy finding cover. No. Mrs Traynor opened the hall cupboard. She spoke like someone reciting a well-rehearsed speech. I wondered briefly how many carers there had been before me. If Will is occupied, then it would be helpful if you could do some basic housekeeping. Wash bedding, run a vacuum cleaner around, that sort of thing. The cleaning equipment is under the sink. He may not want you around him all the time. You and he will have to work out your level of interaction for yourselves. Mrs Traynor looked at my clothes, as if for the first time. I was wearing the very shaggy waistcoat thing that Dad says makes me look like an emu. I tried to smile. It seemed like an effort. Obviously I would hope that you could get on with each other. It would be nice if he could think of you as a friend rather than a paid professional. Right. What does he um like to do? He watches films. Sometimes he listens to the radio, or to music. He has one of those digital things. If you position it near his hand, he can usually manipulate it himself. He has some movement in his fingers, although he finds it hard to grip. I felt myself brightening. If he liked music and films, surely we could find some common ground? I had a sudden picture of myself and this man laughing at some Hollywood comedy, me running the Hoover around the bedroom while he listened to his music. Perhaps this was going to be okay. Perhaps we might end up as friends. I had never had a disabled friend before only Treens friend David, who was deaf, but would put you in a headlock if you suggested that meant disabled. Do you have any questions? No. Then lets go and introduce you. She glanced at her watch. Nathan should have finished dressing him now. We hesitated outside the door and Mrs Traynor knocked. Are you in there? I have Miss Clark to meet you, Will. There was no answer. Will? Nathan? A broad New Zealand accent. Hes decent, Mrs T. She pushed open the door. The annexes living room was deceptively large, and one wall consisted entirely of glass doors that looked out over open countryside. A wood burner glowed quietly in the corner, and a low beige sofa faced a huge flat-screen television, its seats covered by a wool throw. The mood of the room was tasteful, and peaceful a Scandinavian bachelor pad. In the centre of the room stood a black wheelchair, its seat and back cushioned by sheepskin. A solidly built man in white collarless scrubs was crouching down, adjusting a mans feet on the footrests of the wheelchair. As we stepped into the room, the man in the wheelchair looked up from under shaggy, unkempt hair. His eyes met mine and after a pause, he let out a bloodcurdling groan. Then his mouth twisted, and he let out another unearthly cry. I felt his mother stiffen. Will, stop it! He didnt even glance towards her. Another prehistoric sound emerged from somewhere near his chest. It was a terrible, agonizing noise. I tried not to flinch. The man was grimacing, his head tilted and sunk into his shoulders as he stared at me through contorted features. He looked grotesque, and vaguely angry. I realized that where I held my bag, my knuckles had turned white. Will! Please. There was a faint note of hysteria in his mothers voice. Please, dont do this. Oh God, I thought. Im not up to this. I swallowed, hard. The man was still staring at me. He seemed to be waiting for me to do something. I Im Lou. My voice, uncharacteristically tremulous, broke into the silence. I wondered, briefly, whether to hold out a hand and then, remembering that he wouldnt be able to take it, gave a feeble wave instead. Short for Louisa. Then to my astonishment his features cleared, and his head straightened on his shoulders. Will Traynor gazed at me steadily, the faintest of smiles flickering across his face. Good morning, Miss Clark, he said. I hear youre my latest minder. Nathan had finished adjusting the footrests. He shook his head as he stood up. You are a bad man, Mr T. Very bad. He grinned, and held out a broad hand, which I shook limply. Nathan exuded an air of unflappability. Im afraid you just got Wills best Christy Brown impression. Youll get used to him. His bark is worse than his bite. Mrs Traynor was holding the cross at her neck with slim white fingers. She moved it backwards and forwards along its thin gold chain, a nervous habit. Her face was rigid. Ill leave you all to get on. You can call through using the intercom if you need any help. Nathan will talk you through Wills routines, and his equipment. Im here, mother. You dont have to talk across me. My brain isnt paralysed. Yet. Yes, well, if youre going to be foul, Will, I think its best if Miss Clark does talk directly to Nathan. His mother wouldnt look at him as she spoke, I noticed. She kept her gaze about ten feet away on the floor. Im working from home today. So Ill pop in at lunchtime, Miss Clark. Okay. My voice emerged as a squawk. Mrs Traynor disappeared. We were silent while we listened to her clipped footsteps disappearing down the hall towards the main house. Then Nathan broke the silence. You mind if I go and talk Miss Clark through your meds, Will? You want the television? Some music? Radio Four please, Nathan. Sure thing. We walked through to the kitchen. You not had much experience with quadriplegics, Mrs T says? No. Okay. Ill keep it fairly simple for today. Theres a folder here that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Wills routines, and all his emergency numbers. Id advise you to read it, if you get a spare moment. Im guessing youll have a few. Nathan took a key from his belt and opened a locked cabinet, which was packed full of boxes and small plastic canisters of medication. Right. This lot is mostly my bag, but you do need to know where everything is in case of emergencies. Theres a timetable there on the wall so you can see what he has when on a daily basis. Any extras you give him you mark in there he pointed but youre best to clear anything through Mrs T, at least at this stage. I didnt realize I was going to have to handle drugs. Its not hard. He mostly knows what he needs. But he might need a little help getting them down. We tend to use this beaker here. Or you can crush them with this pestle and mortar and put them in a drink. I picked up one of the labels. I wasnt sure I had ever seen so many drugs outside a pharmacy. Okay. So he has two meds for blood pressure, this to lower it at bedtime, this one to raise it when he gets out of bed. These he needs fairly often to control his muscular spasms you will need to give him one mid-morning, and again at mid-afternoon. He doesnt find those too hard to swallow, because theyre the little coated ones. These are for bladder spasms, and these here are for acid reflux. He sometimes needs these after eating if he gets uncomfortable. This is his antihistamine for the morning, and these are his nasal sprays, but I mostly do those last thing before I leave, so you shouldnt have to worry. He can have paracetamol if hes in pain, and he does have the odd sleeping pill, but these tend to make him more irritable in the daytime, so we try to restrict them. These he held up another bottle are the antibiotics he has every two weeks for his catheter change. I do those unless Im away, in which case Ill leave clear instructions. Theyre pretty strong. There are the boxes of rubber gloves, if you need to clean him up at all. Theres also cream there if he gets sore, but hes been pretty good since we got the air mattress. As I stood there, he reached into his pocket and handed another key to me. This is the spare, he said. Not to be given to anyone else. Not even Will, okay? Guard it with your life. Its a lot to remember. I swallowed. Its all written down. All you need to remember for today are his anti-spasm meds. Those ones. Theres my mobile number if you need to call me. Im studying when Im not here, so Id rather not be called too often but feel free till you feel confident. I stared at the folder in front of me. It felt like I was about to sit an exam I hadnt prepared for. What if he needs to go to the loo? I thought of the hoist. Im not sure I could, you know, lift him. I tried not to let my face betray my panic. Nathan shook his head. You dont need to do any of that. His catheter takes care of that. Ill be in at lunchtime to change it all. Youre not here for the physical stuff. What am I here for? Nathan studied the floor before he looked at me. Try to cheer him up a little? Hes hes a little cranky. Understandable, given the circumstances. But youre going to have to have a fairly thick skin. That little skit this morning is his way of getting you off balance. Is this why the pay is so good? Oh yes. No such thing as a free lunch, eh? Nathan clapped me on the shoulder. I felt my body reverberate with it. Ah, hes all right. You dont have to pussyfoot around him. He hesitated. I like him. He said it like he might be the only person who did. I followed him back into the living room. Will Traynors chair had moved to the window, and he had his back to us and was staring out, listening to something on the radio. Thats me done, Will. You want anything before I go? No. Thank you, Nathan. Ill leave you in Miss Clarks capable hands, then. See you lunchtime, mate. I watched the affable helper putting on his jacket with a rising sense of panic. Have fun, you guys. Nathan winked at me, and then he was gone. I stood in the middle of the room, hands thrust in my pockets, unsure what to do. Will Traynor continued to stare out of the window as if I werent there. Would you like me to make you a cup of tea? I said, finally, when the silence became unbearable. Ah. Yes. The girl who makes tea for a living. I wondered how long it would be before you wanted to show off your skills. No. No, thank you. Coffee, then? No hot beverages for me, just now, Miss Clark. You can call me Lou. Will it help? I blinked, my mouth opening briefly. I closed it. Dad always said it made me look more stupid than I actually was. Well can I get you anything? He turned to look at me. His jaw was covered in several weeks of stubble, and his eyes were unreadable. He turned away. Ill I cast around the room. Ill see if theres any washing, then. I walked out of the room, my heart thumping. From the safety of the kitchen I pulled out my mobile phone and thumped out a message to my sister. This is awful. He hates me. The reply came back within seconds. You have only been there an hour, you wuss! M

Cackle
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