Yew Tree House, last summer
My sister doesn’t use the word disappear but that’s what she means. She squats barefooted by the side of the swimming pool and says, “Go to your room, Skye, and stay there until I say.”
“This guy’s being an idiot and I don’t want you involved. I don’t know how he found out where I live, but he’ll be here soon. Please.”
She’s had an argument with someone who’s on his way over, and she says it’ll be easier to sort out if I’m not around. I’m not impressed. Too much of the summer has been about keeping out of the way when she’s on the phone or meeting her new friends.
“Why can’t I carry on swimming?” I ask her. “You have the whole house to yourself until Mum’s back.” I place my elbows on the smooth stone that edges the pool and adjust my goggles. Through the black-tinted lenses, she looks as if she’s in an old film, her face flawless and her figure perfect in shorts and a tie-waist top. “I think you’ve forgotten this is my house too,” I say to her glossy two-colour toenails.
“Get out of the pool,” says Luisa. She grabs the towel and my clothes that I dumped on the paving slabs. “This guy’s being an idiot and I don’t want you involved. I don’t know how he found out where I live, but he’ll be here soon. Please.”
The edge in her voice makes me lever myself out of the pool without any more fuss, and pull off my goggles. “What was the argument about?” I ask as I take the towel from her, flip it round my shoulders and use the corner to wipe water from my face.
She shoves the clothes at me. “It’s more of a misunderstanding.”
We hear a car swerve on to the driveway at the front of the house, the crunch of the gravel, the slam of a car door and the faint ring of the doorbell. Luisa doesn’t move.
I stamp a perfect footprint on to the warm paving stones and watch it fade before my eyes. “Are you going to let him in?” I ask.
“Maybe I’ll pretend I’m not here,” she says.
“Is the misunderstanding something to do with Nico?” This summer would be so much better if Luisa wasn’t going out with him.
She checks her mobile. “Sort of.”
We hear footsteps on the gravel and Luisa looks at me. There’s panic her eyes. The side gate’s not locked. There used to be a combination lock on it but it broke.
“Quick,” she says. “You’ll have to go into the changing room instead.” She pushes me towards the little building next to the pool. “Don’t come out until it’s over. Promise?” She squeezes my shoulders and I nod; then I’m inside and she’s slammed the door behind me.
My eyes take a couple of seconds to adjust to the gloom, and my nose to the smell of chlorine and plug-in pine air freshener. I place my clothes and goggles on the nearer of the two wicker chairs. I could have a long shower. Spend a while letting the conditioner soak in and use up all the hot water. I could flip through the wrinkled magazine that’s been left on the little table to dry out, but I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. I want to know what’s going on.
There’s a cracking, smashing sound, closely followed by a scream. I open my eyes.
I go back towards the door and stand next to the gap where it doesn’t quite meet the door frame.
“Don’t try to intimidate me,” I hear Luisa say. She’s speaking in her I’m-the-eldest-and-I’m-in-charge voice. Very slowly, I push down on the door handle. When I can’t move it down any further, I push gently against the door and open it a crack. She’s lying on a sunlounger on the other side of the pool, tanned legs bent, doing something on her phone. “Just say what you want to say, then leave.”
I can’t see the person from this angle. I hope he’s having trouble with the gate to the pool area. His words aren’t clear; then there’s the click-clack of the gate as it closes, and he says loudly, “I’ve given you chances. I warned you. I’ve been very reasonable.”
I inch the door open further and I see him, striding towards Luisa. Black jeans, tight green T-shirt, dark glasses, older than her and Nico. He looks vaguely familiar.
What did he warn her about?
Luisa shrinks away from him, and my heart speeds up. What am I going to do if things get ugly? I don’t have a phone on me. If I run to get help at the farm, I’ll have to go past him.
“You’re pathetic,” says Luisa.
No, Lu. Please don’t wind him up.
He swears close up to her face and mutters something about respect. Luisa scrunches up her eyes, and I close mine too.
Make him go away.
There’s a cracking, smashing sound, closely followed by a scream. I open my eyes. Luisa is off the sunlounger, staring at something on the paving stones. “Look what you’ve done to my phone!” she yells.
She needs to get rid of him. Now he’s gripping the top of her arm.
“Let go of me,” Luisa shouts. Her voice is wavy. Fear flutters in my throat.
“You’re ruining everything,” he says.
She bites him, and he swears. I know as my heart thumps out of control, just know, that he’s about to do something terrible. I back away from the door, into a wall.
Time bends out of shape into slow and confusing motion as my mind tells me to do something but my body doesn’t respond. Don’t come out until it’s over, says a voice in my head. I slide down the wall on to the dusty tiles, push my face into my knees and breathe in the chlorine from my skin. There are shouts. An ear-splitting scream. A thud. A splash. A dog barking in the distance. Birds cawing.