Leaving is the story of two girls, Natalie and Bonnie, who leave home at more or less the same time. They are fifteen and from very different backgrounds. Too young to leave home (officially), they have both had enough of their respective home lives.
Natalie is highly intelligent, has no obvious reason to leave but senses there is something that she wants outside of her present existence. She is highly intelligent but also impulsive, in ways she doesn’t yet understand. Bonnie has hardly formed a personality. Circumstances force her away from home. She has only a determination to endure and knows little about herself – apart from the fact that she is a survivor.
“The story had probably been percolating within me for a long time when it suddenly came to me whole. I wrote the complete first draft in three months. I was interested in two girls who didn’t like the world they were in and decided to do something about it. They reject the surrounding world completely and create their own.
I will send the novel to my agent and various other outlets shortly. Here are the first few chapters . I am doing this, of course, to see if people like the story. I am very confident though, that it’s a good tale. I hope you like it.”
Lard Boy sat eating and hitting keys on his computer. He rarely moved, except to reach for a cake and stuff it whole into his mouth. Perhaps he would swivel his chair from his iPad, to his Xbox, to his computer, to his TV, and sometime, who knew what time, he would fall into bed. He rarely spoke, just grunted, demanded food or, if nobody was around to serve him, he would raid the fridge. His fat buttocks hung over the edge of his stool. His lanky, greasy hair hung unevenly – mummy cut it, badly – otherwise he just wouldn’t bother. Natalie wondered if he had ever spoken to her; really spoken to her. He’d grunted, swore, repeated inane witticisms from the TV and the Internet, but never actually said anything. He’d never really spoken at all. He was thirteen years old and he’d never said anything; never had a thought about anything either. He was just a lump of lard.
She watched him from the door. He was quite unaware of her. She tried to summon up affectionate feelings for him, but they wouldn’t come. His bedroom was twice the size of hers with a mass of equipment; OK, she didn’t want all the gear that he had, but if she did, she’d have needed to ask for it. He was given everything, mummy’s boy. Would she miss him? Not for a second. He was going with his mother tomorrow. Her mother! Although she much preferred not to believe that – somewhere there had been a mistake, a terrible mistake. Somehow she’d been transplanted into this useless family – somewhere, there had been a terrible mistake.
Tomorrow, mother would take him to Greece, some island, where miraculously their fat would disappear. Fat mother would ‘find herself’ and Lard Boy would return wiry, toned and dynamic. They would go together because he needed constant supervision; he couldn’t take a dump without supervision. She said goodbye; he ignored her. She shouted another goodbye – he’d be leaving early – and he grunted. She knew that was it. She moved along the corridor to her mother’s room, knocked and put her head round the door. ‘Have fun in Greece,’ she said, a stupid cliché but nothing else would be understood. Her mother looked up briefly from her magazine, said ‘Thanks, darling’, and went back to her furniture or fashion or celebrities. Would she miss her mother? Not for a second.
She was fifteen, but she thought she could make herself look eighteen. She’d miss her piano.
She watched them leave in the morning. The taxi stood there for half-an-hour while they messed around, forgetting this and that, checking everything over and over, until finally, they were gone. Stage One.
Father, not really her father, sat at his computer making money. That’s what he did. He was very good at it. Well, she thought he made money. Money certainly became available through his efforts, though she was never really sure if it was real money, if he really had it, but he seemed to be getting away with it, for now, and that’s all that mattered. The two fat people were gone. She was to spend the next three months with him. She quite liked him, in a shallow sort of way, because he was shallow, but he was alright; in a shallow sort of way. And she knew she could manipulate him. She knew rather a lot about him. He had no idea, but he was about to find out.
He sat at his computer, two large screens with multi-coloured columns and figures, constantly changing; she understood none of it, she didn’t need to, she just understood the results. He had over four million in numerous accounts. His office was spacious; it was a spacious house, white carpeted, everything modern, stuff replaced as soon as something new appeared; her mother had money, tons of it, and he had used it to make more. He must be with her for the money, what else could he see in her? She couldn’t bear to think of them together. Ugh. But he seemed happy. She thought he would lose the money again, perhaps he didn’t even have it – who knew? – but millions passed through his little world every day. He sat in a corner, his back to the windows, the position where he believed he worked best. The rest of the room was determinedly minimalist; everything was done, dusted and recorded on those two screens.
She was never really sure what to call him; father wouldn’t do, but neither would Adam, his name, as far as they knew. So she had never called him anything. Quite surprising really; that you could talk to someone for so long, without actually referring to them in any way, but it had worked. You had to find a way into a conversation, but once it started – well, you were away. She didn’t have to use his name, and he didn’t seem to care, didn’t even notice.
‘How’s business today?’
‘One second, darling, while I finish this. One second.’
He called her darling. And ‘my lovely’ and ‘babe’ and ‘sweetness’ and ‘sugar babe’ – he had an inexhaustible supply of names for her. She wasn’t really sure if he had any idea who she was; she was quite sure he didn’t, but that was better anyway, and she responded to whatever he called her. Perhaps it was best to get straight to the point. She waited until he was finished.
‘I’m leaving tomorrow.’
He just stared for a few moments, not taking it in. She was fifteen. He probably knew that. She was part of the furniture. She’d be here until she went to university or whatever. She hadn’t even finished school.
‘You what, babe?’
‘I’m leaving tomorrow.’
‘What do you mean, leaving?’
‘I’m leaving. I hate it here. I’m not staying another day. I’m leaving. I’ll stay in touch, perhaps. You’re going to help me, in quite a big way.’
He smiled. He had a nice smile. She could see why mother had fallen for him, after father had gone. They hadn’t heard from him since. She understood that too.
This would take a bit of time. It was a shock. She understood that. Give him some leeway. Explain everything slowly, maybe more than once – she did have all day. But by the end he would understand. No reason at all why that shouldn’t be so. But, give him some time for this to sink in. She had been planning this for two years, since she was thirteen.
‘You can’t leave,’ he said.
‘I can and I am.’
He looked at her anew, seemed to be sensing something. She’d tied her hair back; tomorrow she’d shave most of it off and dye it. She was already beginning to play the part, and he sensed it. He was nowhere near there yet, but he wasn’t stupid, he would understand.
‘You can’t,’ he said.
‘But I will,’ she said. ‘Listen, you have over a dozen accounts, some of them in different names and countries. Perhaps you intend to leave some day, I wouldn’t blame you. I think I know all of them. I know your passwords, your secret codes and ways in. You have three passports to cover your identities. You have loads of credit and debit cards. I want a debit card. Credit will be unreliable. A debit card you’ve never used. There’s twenty five thousand in the account I want. You’ve never used it. I want it. You will give me the card.’
He stared at her. He doesn’t know what to say, she thought. I’ll continue.
‘You don’t have that many passwords. It was very easy to get them all. Not just for your financial stuff, but all the other stuff you’ve been up to. The women you keep on the side, the porn, you’ve even been into the underage sites; only looking of course. You only need to look nowadays for the police to be interested. And then you’re finished. Even if it was innocent, nobody will believe you. I don’t blame you for just looking, but you wouldn’t want anybody to know that, would you?’
His shoulders had slumped. He continued to stare.
Then nothing more came.
‘I know what I’m doing. You can tell mother I’m gone, or you can wait. You may as well let her enjoy her holiday. You can say I left just before she got back. We’ve just finished school, so you don’t have to worry about anything for seven weeks, just tell school that I’m with mother, or something. I don’t mind. You won’t find me. I’ll only come back if I want to, and I won’t. Mother will probably pretend that she cares. I suppose she’ll have to make a fuss, bring in the police and stuff. But you won’t find me. I hate it here. I can’t stand Lard Boy. My mother has never spoken to me, seriously, not once. I hate it all beyond belief. I know I’m young and I’m supposed to wait, do what everybody else does at the right time, but I don’t want to. I can’t wait. It’s too horrible. You’ve helped. With your little games and our little chats, but that was only a bit of relief. I’m much smarter than you. Sit and think for a while. Someday your racket will fall apart and you’re going to need mother’s money. That’s the only reason you’re here, really. She thought you were rich, but you weren’t. You’re rich now because you used her money. Maybe you’ll stay rich for a while. I hope so. But I won’t be here. I’ll be gone. You don’t care. Think what you can get up to in the time she’s away. No need to tell her until she gets back. There’ll be a bit of a fuss, a bit of a panic. There’s no chance you’ll ever find me. Before you know it, I’ll be eighteen, and nobody will have to worry. So give me that debit card. Leave the account alone. That’s all I want from you. Give it to me now.’
Bonnie stared at her parents. Well, her mother, she was pretty sure of that; the man, just another man, her father, whoever he was, was long gone. She sat at the kitchen bar. Sort of a bar: a stool and space for two people, three at a tight squeeze, the rest of the kitchen before her, not much: a small work top, fridge, cooker, sink, microwave and the floor. Not much space there either, enough for two or three people. And there they were, side by side, sort of poetic really, the way they lay, touching each other. And dead.
She wondered when she should call the police. It was five o’clock. She’d give it an hour.
The police sat her in another room with a female officer. She’d got up in the night and found them, exactly like that. The drugs were on the side, the work top, and the syringes and some blood. Obvious, really.
She knew they would put her in care. She knew where she’d go. She was quite prepared for it. She was fifteen. There was nobody else.
Natalie decided to take the train. She was sure that Adam would not do anything, but she had planned this meticulously, and would follow her own rules. As if the whole world was after her. She spent the first night at an empty house. She knew it would be empty because the house belonged to friends and they were on holiday. She’d had some keys cut several months before. The house was not overlooked by any others; she was quite safe. She took precautions anyway, keeping to two back rooms and the bathroom.
She cut off most of her hair, which had been below her shoulders when she let it down, blonde with a slight curl to it; it was lovely, she knew that. She cut it up to the ears, as neat as she could make it, and then dyed it black. And she practiced making up her face, whatever made her look older. That’s all she wanted to do, look older. Appearance didn’t matter for now. She knew she was beautiful, was very comfortable with it, and she was slim and would be beautiful for a long time and she didn’t think ahead anywhere near any stage that she might not be, there was no need.
She tried Adam’s debit card. She was confident he would go along with everything, but she wanted to be sure. She drew five hundred pounds with it. No problems. She had five thousand in cash anyway, but she needed that card if she was to fulfill all her plans. Beyond staying free, she didn’t have that much in the way of plans – that was the point – but the early days were very important. Times would become difficult again when her mother got home and when school started, but that was quite a way off – she wouldn’t worry about that yet. Unless Adam panicked and told her mother. She was sure he wouldn’t, but she was prepared either way.
The second morning she took a train to London. She sent Adam a text while on the train and left the phone wedged down the seat. She took the tube to Euston and caught a train to Birmingham, the most boring place she could think of; nobody would look for her there. The train was a nice way to see the country in the spring. She adjusted her hair, tested make-up combinations, ordered lunch, read her book, looked out of the window, slept and spoke occasionally to the people opposite her.
The verdict was misadventure. Bonnie was put into a home that suffered, like most places, from the cuts. Most of the men were gone, and those whom remained were hardly allowed near any of the ‘service users’. She behaved herself for a while, was gradually mostly ignored. She could have left at any time, but there had been some publicity about her; she had been a story for a while. She was very pretty. The evil parents, the lone child. But she didn’t want to talk to anybody and, very quickly, she wasn’t news.
One day they had a trip into town, Bradford; that’s where she lived. They were supervised, sort of, but it was easy to sneak back to the house, boarded up, desolate, grass and weeds three feet high. She walked to the back garden, just an overgrown tiny square with the remains of a shed in the corner and removed a paving stone behind the shed; she dug down about a foot and removed a plastic bag. Inside was three thousand pounds. She had been saving it for four years, stealing bits and pieces from her parents. The cash was all she had. She was leaving and it would have to last her until she found a job and beyond. She didn’t care; she wasn’t worried, anything was better than her life up to now.
She didn’t really care where she went, although it would have to be south, where the work was. She didn’t want to go to London, too easy to get dragged into the wrong stuff, so she chose Birmingham; she hoped to find work there. She deposited some of the money in her pockets and tucked the rest, in fifty pound notes, into her underwear. Then she went to the station and caught a train.
Natalie had no luggage at all. She needed some clothes. She bought a suit in John Lewis and some casual clothes. She had her hair tidied, adjusted her make-up. Did she look eighteen, or more? Not really. Confidence would have to do that. And honestly, who cared? She paid cash at the Hilton Metropole in the National Exhibition Centre; the receptionist didn’t even blink, took a top floor Junior Suite with a view, paid for a week in advance. It was £280 per night; she didn’t care. She would work everything else out from there.
Bonnie didn’t know what she would do in Birmingham. She had only the clothes she wore. Hungry, she walked into a supermarket, walking around and around, not sure what to buy. Her sense of freedom was exhilarating and a little bit frightening, but she was not overly concerned. She would have to find somewhere to stay, get some charity shop clothes. She noticed a few old ladies, alone and confused, taking forever to choose what they wanted. She bought a sandwich and a drink and went and sat outside, watched people going in and out. She watched the old ladies in particular. She followed one, who looked eighty or more, and carried a stick, into the supermarket. As the old lady dithered over some fruit, Bonnie offered to help, but the woman glared at her, seemed shocked and affronted to be approached. She wandered around for a while but found no one. She bought another drink, and sat outside, watching.
Near closing time, an old lady with white hair, perhaps seventy or more, Bonnie couldn’t tell, entered the supermarket pulling a trolley behind her. She had shortish white hair that looked as though it had just been ‘done’, a kind face – she smiled at everyone, but not many people smiled back. Bonnie watched her take forever in choosing what she wanted. When she came to choose some bread, she couldn’t reach what she wanted.
‘Let me get that for you’, she said.
‘Thank you, my dear, very kind.’
She stayed with the woman as she wandered around; picking things she couldn’t reach, making suggestions. The woman was all there in the moment, she had bright blue, intelligent eyes; she knew what she wanted, but seemed to forget very quickly, referring back to a list and going to buy some things that she already had. Bonnie took her list and told her what she had got and what she needed. She read the ingredients of a few things, made sure the lady got exactly what she wanted, asked her if she wanted anything else. When she was finished, Bonnie stayed with her at the checkout, watched her pay. She used a card, remembered the number, and paid for her stuff. Bonnie helped her transfer it all to her trolley and offered to pull it for her. The old lady looked into her face for quite a long time, thinking about it; she was quite short, Bonnie was five eight or nine, and the old lady looked into the sun slightly. She turned her around, looked into her face and said,
‘Thank you, my dear, that’s very kind of you.’
Natalie didn’t bother with a phone or anything else technical. She didn’t need anything. For now she merely relaxed in her great big room. No awful fat mother moaning about everything, nagging her, thinking she’d be there forever. Mother was jealous of course. Not even forty and built like a tank. And miserable. And stultifying. And boring. What did Adam see in her? Money. But nothing was worth life with her. He was lacking something too. He wasn’t bad looking; he was younger than her, of course he had the women on the side and the Internet stuff, but nothing could compensate for a life with her. And Lard Boy. God, she hated him. She didn’t just not love him, or not like him – she hated him. Hated his flab, his stupidity, his grunting, the way mother doted on him as though he was the hope of the family. Why?
But she was free. Now she was free. Not really used to it, but that was part of the pleasure. She was used to luxury; she’d stayed in many places like this with her family. She supposed she’d have to downgrade at some stage, but for now, she really didn’t care. Why should she wait until she was eighteen? Why did everybody do that? What was so special about eighteen? Well, she wasn’t going to wait. What use were they? Her fat mother, her fat brother and Adam. She should wait and do everything that was expected of an upper-middle-class girl, the same stuff that everybody did. It looked different but it wasn’t: university, year out, job, husband, kids, and living death – no thanks. No thank you. She’d got herself free. And she wasn’t going back. Ever.
Bonnie pulled the woman’s trolley. The old lady had walked to the supermarket; there was no bus to catch, perhaps a one-and-a-half to two-mile walk. It was a lovely sunny, spring day, so at six o’clock it was bright and the world seemed full of life. They passed children in playing grounds, football matches, and people in summer clothes. The lady didn’t look around much, concentrating on her path ahead. Bonnie spoke to her occasionally, just small talk. The lady would turn her head and look into her face for a few seconds, and then continue with the effort of walking. She stopped once, pretending to look around, as if unsure which way to go, getting her breath, Bonnie thought, and then continued.
Then they arrived at her house. It wasn’t an estate, just a road, rather large houses with small front gardens and, Bonnie guessed, much more at the back. The lady stopped by the front gate, getting her breath again. Bonnie didn’t make any move, didn’t offer the trolley; she just stood there. The old lady got her breath back and then looked at Bonnie’s face for what seemed like an age. Then she said,
Natalie was a little disappointed. After four days, she still felt the occasional exhilarating sense of freedom, but she was bored. She had bought some clothes, not many, because she did not want to be encumbered by luggage. She had been in Birmingham for four days; she had a smart suit and two sets of casual clothes; that would do for now. She had been to the new library, Repertory Theatre and visited the home of WH Auden, but she couldn’t really concentrate; she had tried to read but her mind was too active. She was a big reader; she loved books, but her mind would have to settle down first. Early days.
Here she was in her hotel room, with a marvelous view of the city, and she wasn’t sure what to do. She had planned her escape so meticulously, so that nothing could go wrong, and all she’d wanted was to be free. Well, she was free and she didn’t know what to do – move on perhaps? She went downstairs and ordered a drink from the bar; no reaction from the barman – there had been no reaction from anybody, not one person had given her more than a cursory glance. Strange, she’d sort of expected to be hunted, to be searched for, but nobody took any notice at all. She sipped her wine. Not a big drinker, not yet anyway, but it was quite a pleasant feeling, things were coming into perspective. She wore the suit, had an empty folder she occasionally referred to; the bar was almost empty, a man was playing with a phone and a laptop; he was middle-aged, totally absorbed in what he was doing.
At another table sat a woman, perhaps mid-twenties, dressed well; she rarely looked up from her phone. Foreign, thought Natalie, she’s waiting for someone. Dark hair, straight, good bone structure, shortish skirt, good shoes. It was about two o’clock. An older man came to her table, expensively dressed, everything was expensive here – her drink had cost eight pounds. He didn’t sit down, stood and said a few words, the woman smiled, a TV smile; the man waited. She rose, took his arm and they moved to the elevators. Gone. An escort? Interesting.
Natalie saw a map against the wall, near reception. She ordered another drink, one more, and wandered over to it. Where shall I go? What shall I do? You can do anything you want. Go anywhere you like. She studied the map: London? Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester? She didn’t know what to do.
The old lady handed Bonnie her tea and switched on the television. It was time for the news and she seemed immediately engrossed, sometimes tutting or shaking her head. It was quite a big house. Bonnie had seen the kitchen, old fashioned and large. She’d asked to use the bathroom and checked upstairs; there were three bedrooms, all neatly kept, and an empty room. The news finished and the old lady switched over to more news. She turned and looked at Bonnie, not quite sure why she was there, but offered more tea. Bonnie said she’d get it and made another. She wanted to discover her name; she didn’t want to ask.
The house was old fashioned but not ever so. There was some modern stuff, a couple of pictures looked fairly recent and some ornaments; the TV was newish too. The old lady went to the toilet. Bonnie checked the drawers for a bill; her name was Nancy. Nancy returned. She looked at Bonnie again, seemed about to say something, but just sat down, continued watching the television. There was a computer in the corner, not switched on; it wasn’t recent, but it wasn’t ancient either; she must have been sharp fairly recently, if she wasn’t now.
Bonnie made them something to eat. They sat and ate from trays, which Nancy seemed quite used to. She did stare at the food for a few seconds, as if it wasn’t quite what she’d expected, but then she ate and carried on watching the news. When the ITV news finished, she switched over to Channel 4 and watched some more.
They watched EastEnders, a documentary about fat people and started on a film, something about Dylan Thomas and the women in his life. Half-way through Nancy began to stir; she wanted to go to bed. She fussed around a little bit, looked in some drawers, tidied up though there was little to do; then she stopped and looked at Bonnie,
‘Who are you, my dear?’
‘How long have you been here?’
‘Oh, I’ve just arrived. It’s OK, I’m just going to give you a little help when you need it. It’s not compulsory; you can change your mind any time you like.’
Nancy stared. She seemed to be trying to think; it was an effort, too much in the end – she wanted to go to bed. Eventually she said,
‘Very well, dear. I suppose I’ll see you tomorrow.’
‘My name’s Bonnie, call me Bonnie.’
She looked for a few more seconds. She knew something wasn’t quite right. Instinct was taking over; did she trust this girl? She seemed to decide that she did,
‘Good-night, see you in the morning.’
(continue reading) Leaving is Chris’s first full length fiction title and will be available for general release in 2014.