Bonnie watched the film to the end, and was quite tired herself. She chose a bedroom upstairs. They were both neat and tidy, but she just chose by appearance, the one she liked most. She undressed and got into bed. It was too hot, too many layers. She folded a couple of sheets and got back in. She thought about Nancy and the house and what she was going to do. What am I doing? she thought. Well, I have somewhere to stay tonight, and I haven’t spent much money. That’s a success, I suppose. She began to think ahead and was asleep before she’d made any decisions.
After two days of watching daytime TV and feeling brain dead, Natalie went for a walk. Damn, she was confused. Everything had seemed so simple in the planning, but now that she was free, she felt bewildered. Only natural, she supposed; the reality is never quite what you expect it to be. It will just take time, that’s all. She wondered if she should move, go somewhere else. Would she feel any different? She ended up at the train station, looked at all the destinations, tried to figure out where she wanted to be, had no idea. She sat on a bench and watched the teeming crowds; they all knew where they were going; they had a purpose. As much as she had hated home, at least her days were set out for her, now she had to make decisions – and she wasn’t used to it.
She couldn’t make a decision. Eventually, feeling defeated, she walked back into the town, and back to the hotel. In her room she studied herself in the mirror; need to tidy the hair up a bit. She thought she still looked fifteen, but who was taking any notice? No one; as long as you had the money, they didn’t care. She freshened up, and then made an appointment to get her hair done; still half the day to go. Her life, even in the holidays, had been fairly regimented; she spent most of it avoiding her mother and brother, perhaps a few friends here and there, nobody was close, nobody. But even when there had been nothing to do, there had been something to do. Now, with the whole country at her mercy, money in her pocket, she felt a bit lost; what did people do? She didn’t like boys, yet. She liked reading but couldn’t concentrate. She wasn’t very interested in television. She hated technology apart from its obvious uses; she’d never gone on Face Book or Twitter – she understood it all, it came naturally; she’d whizzed through Adam’s stuff, gleaned his passwords, worked out what he was up to. But all the inane chatter, the manufactured emotion and outrage, the bullying, the sex; she didn’t want anything to do with all that, had just sidestepped it. Although now, it meant she had nothing to do, nobody to contact. Slow down, you’re expecting too much. You can do this. It will come to you.
She was hungry and went to a McDonalds to eat. She had a weakness for junk food, some kind of rebellion against her mother’s health fads. She looked around her as she ate. A lot of school kids, fatties and families – same as everywhere else. What was she going to do?
Bonnie woke early the next day. She hadn’t drawn the curtains and the brightness at five o’clock woke her; she tried to go back to sleep but it wouldn’t come. She lay for an hour thinking about it, and then got up. Nancy was still asleep or at least not stirring. There was no shower, so she had a quick bath. It was an old fashioned bathroom, but it had been modernised; there was a new boiler that heated the water at certain times of the day, and there was hot water now, plenty of it. The room had been recently painted, everything was ordered and neat. She found a fresh towel, dressed and moved to the kitchen. She raided the fridge for breakfast, wondered if she should wait, but was very hungry. Perhaps it would be cheeky to make breakfast for Nancy; she made herself a small fry up, tea and explored the house.
Later she heard Nancy moving around upstairs. She was sure that Nancy would not remember her, so she made a pot of tea, not too strong, and sat at the kitchen table. Nancy came into the kitchen fully dressed; she wasn’t surprised to see Bonnie, merely said,
‘Good morning, Bonnie,’
and sat down, as though the situation was quite normal. Bonnie poured two cups and handed Nancy hers, sat down again. It was as though she’d slightly refreshed her memory through the night, absorbed what had happened and retained it. Bonnie wondered if, being sharper than she’d thought, Nancy would ask her to go, be more inquisitive, perhaps that would come. She sipped her tea. It was about eight o’clock, the sun was up, another lovely day; she was going to comment on it, but decided to wait.
‘Who are you, dear? I know your name is Bonnie, but who are you, what are you doing here?’
‘I’m just a girl on the move. I haven’t done anything wrong and I don’t mean you any harm; I don’t want to say much more than that.’
‘In that case, I’d rather you didn’t stay. I’m not completely gone, I have my moments of complete lucidity and I’m quite happy. I have good days and bad days. You can stay for a few days; perhaps you need to decide what to do. I let you stay last night because I had the feeling I could trust you, that you wouldn’t do anything horrible. Stay for a few days, my dear, I don’t really want to know why you’re here.’
‘A few days will be fine,’ said Bonnie. ‘Thank you.’
‘Lovely, let’s have some breakfast.’
Bonnie kept her word. She stayed for four days. She mowed the lawn, did the shopping, a few chores and generally made herself useful. Nancy didn’t say much. She had no interest in why Bonnie was there; they spoke here and there but only when really necessary, chatted a little bit about nothing much. Nancy was quite sharp in the mornings. She tired as the day went on, became a little confused; she was on the way, but had a way to go yet. On the fifth day Bonnie got up early and ate breakfast. She fixed some toast and tea for Nancy, who was regular in her habits. She packed the little she had and was ready to leave when Nancy came into the kitchen.
‘Well, goodbye,’ she said.
‘Goodbye, Bonnie. It was lovely to meet you. You were so useful I’m tempted to ask you to stay, but I think it’s better that you go.’
‘It was lovely to meet you too,’ said Bonnie.
‘Good luck, dear.’
Nancy didn’t come to the door and Bonnie didn’t look back. Perhaps it was time to spend a little money; she’d been lucky, but this was far too risky.
Natalie returned to McDonalds, partly for the sake of economy, partly because she had a weakness for junk food and partly because she was becoming a creature of habit – already. The restaurant was nearly full, the window seats were taken. The place was narrow, just one long aisle, leading to the counter. It must have been converted rather than a new build; the new ones were always much larger. She walked up the aisle until she found an empty table. She ordered a cheese burger and a coffee, was feeling depressed because she was still here, still no idea where to go and no idea what to do when she got there. She’d been away for seven days, extended her stay, and she was stuck. Stuck in Birmingham.
Across the aisle a girl sat alone. She had a burger and a coffee. She didn’t look at anybody, stared at her food or gazed into the middle-distance, over everyone’s heads. She wore jeans, clean, but seen better days, and what looked like a man’s white shirt done up to the neck; a tatty fleece hung on the back of her seat, old trainers that had been cleaned up. She seemed to possess a self-assurance though. She had a purpose about her even though she was doing nothing. Natalie wanted to talk to her, but the girl finished her meal and coffee quickly and left, without making eye contact with anyone. Shame. Perhaps she’d see her again.
There were youth hostels in Birmingham, but the main ones wanted credit card booking.
Bonnie was amazed that they wouldn’t accept cash; they wanted ID too, which she didn’t have. No credit card. No ID. She eventually found somewhere that accepted her story that she was waiting for ID due to losing her credit card. They accepted her cash and asked no questions. They offered dorms, quadruples, doubles and singles. A single was thirty pounds, more than she wanted to pay. She really did not want company. She’d never had much of it, never liked it and she didn’t want to speak to anybody. She decided on a double for a few days. It was twenty pounds, still more than she wanted to pay, but then she really didn’t want to spend anything.
The double room had nobody else in it yet. Perfect. She used the communal facilities and spoke to no one unless it was essential. She didn’t like it, didn’t like the company, didn’t like the jovial ‘let’s all be friends’ atmosphere. She stowed her things but soon got depressed with her surroundings. She bought a burger and a coffee at McDonalds, tried not to interact with anybody. She did notice a dark haired girl staring at her. She was alone, young, confident looking. Bonnie ignored her, finished her food, returned to the room, read the local paper and went to bed.
She slept late; there was nothing else to do. She needed to make a plan, find a job. She should have decided all that at Nancy’s, but she’d been enjoying herself. She went for a walk, browsed in some shops until she was hungry and returned to McDonalds, trying to think, but nothing would come.
Natalie woke early, had breakfast in the lobby and went for a walk. She browsed the clothes shops, book shops and charity shops, then went for a stroll in a park. It was a bright sunny day again; the park was full of families and school kids, young and older, normal people doing normal things. She found a dead tree near the edge of the park; she liked dead trees, nothing against live ones, but there was something about the dead ones: they still changed shape and they looked good against the sky. They stayed around for ages if left alone; she liked to draw them. She found a spot in the shade and leaned on the tree: it felt good, peaceful. She tried to read the book she had bought, but she couldn’t even get to the end of a paragraph. It wasn’t the book, it was her. All that planning. She had to get free. Well, here she was: free. And she had no idea what to do. She knew where she wanted to end up, abroad eventually, but the getting there: she just hadn’t thought about it. She thought freedom would be enough, but all it had brought was this blank mind. She didn’t know what to do.
A boy tried to chat her up. He was very confident, didn’t expect to be refused and very persistent, good looking she supposed but she didn’t really know. She tried to ignore him and then several times, politely, she didn’t know any other way, told him she was not interested. She waited until about four and decided to try McDonalds again. She hoped to see the girl again. As she entered she saw her straight away. The place was almost empty and she sat by the window. Natalie took the next table, so she was facing her. She tried to make eye contact, but the girl looked everywhere but at her.
She finished her food and decided to try. She wasn’t frightened at all; she thought she’d recognised something; all the people she’d seen, they just floated by, they didn’t mean anything. She just had a feeling she might get on with this girl; it would be a first if she could. She went and sat opposite her table.
‘What are you up to?’
The girl ignored her, stared at a point above Natalie’s head or out of the window, completely blanked her. That takes a bit of nerve, thought Natalie.
‘I’m fifteen’, she said. ‘I’ve left home. I’m staying at the Hilton. I’m wondering what to do next. What are you up to?’
The girl finished her coffee, collected her stuff and left, all as though Natalie was not there. Unhurried. She didn’t look back. Natalie watched her as she disappeared along the street: the same clothes as yesterday, slim, quite tall, short hair, no particular style to it, an easy-going walk, confident, and, despite her scruffiness, very appealing, though she didn’t know why. Cool, thought Natalie. Very cool. I’ll try again. It gave her something to focus on.
When Bonnie returned she found someone had moved into the room, another girl, very friendly, very talkative. Bonnie didn’t want to talk, wasn’t interested in where the girl came from or where she was going. She tried not to be rude but the girl was thick skinned or stupid or both and no reaction or lack of it from Bonnie would dissuade her from talking. Bonnie decided she had to leave, but she wasn’t sure what to do, where to go. She didn’t want to spend much money before she found a job. But where? The north was depressed, it wasn’t much better elsewhere. Perhaps she could stay another night or two and work it out. Whatever job she took would be minimum wage; any difference between minimum wage here or in the south? Try London, maybe, she didn’t know.
She told the girl she wanted to sleep and turned away from her, face to the wall. She thought about the girl who had stared at her, and then spoke to her. She didn’t want any friends. She was full of life though, those big excited eyes, her own age, confident. And she was staying at the Hilton? How weird. Perhaps if she went back to McDonalds. What did she want? Why did she speak to me?
Natalie was in McDonalds again in the late afternoon. She figured the girl might come in at the same time every day. The restaurant was crowded. Natalie sat by the window, kept the opposite seat vacant. She was glad to see the place fill up. She saw the girl on the street, same clothes, same casual movement. She gave her a friendly wave through the window. Bonnie glared at her. She walked straight to the table and sat down without ordering.
‘What do you want?’
‘Just to talk.’
‘I don’t know.’
Bonnie stared at her. She was well-spoken. A round and very pretty face, great big, wide lively eyes, blue or grey, she wasn’t sure, they changed.
‘I’m Natalie, who are you?’
Natalie held out her hand. Bonnie ignored it. She said
‘You said you’d left home.’
‘Yes. Over a week ago. I couldn’t stand it. I have a plan.’
‘What sort of plan?’
‘A bit vague.’
Bonnie continued staring. She couldn’t think of anything to say. Staring was easy so she stared. Natalie didn’t blink, she just smiled, a lovely smile, perfect teeth, strange lips, full and wide under a little slightly turned up nose.
‘You left home didn’t you?’ said Natalie.
‘What?’ said Bonnie, she’d lost herself, had no idea what to say.
‘OK. Let me tell you about myself. I’m fifteen. I was fed up with my family. I stole loads of money from my step dad and left. I’m not going back.’
‘Poor little rich girl.’
‘I can’t help what I am. I’m quite serious. I’m not messing about. I hated every minute in that house. I got myself free and I’m not going back. Tell me what you’re doing.’
‘My parents are dead,’ said Bonnie and then wondered why she’d said it.
‘You’re poor aren’t you?’
Bonnie stared, angry, nobody had ever said that to her. Then again, she’d never met any rich people.
‘I’m sorry. I’ve offended you. But you are, aren’t you? You’re poor.’
‘I’ve got a bit of money. I need to find a job, find somewhere to stay.’
‘I’ve got loads of money.’
Bonnie looked into her face. She wasn’t boasting. She was just stating a fact. You’re poor, I’m not. She didn’t seem snobby, just jumpy and excited, staring with those big, now blue, eyes and waiting for a reply. Her foot was tap, tap, tapping under the table.
‘So?’ said Bonnie.
‘Where are you staying?’
‘Come and stay with me. I have a room at the Hilton. You won’t have to worry about money.’
‘I don’t want your money.’
‘Okay, I’m not offering it. But Hilton, Youth Hostel, hmm, what would you prefer?’
Her tone, for the first time, had riled Bonnie.
‘Why would you offer that to me? If you have money and a plan, why would you offer help to a complete stranger?’
Natalie didn’t notice the change in tone. She forged ahead.
‘Because my plan was just getting myself free. I’ve done that and now I don’t know what to do. And there’s something about you. I just feel like I can trust you. You can’t do me any harm, can you? You’re not going to bang me over the head or anything. Why not work together? I really don’t know what to do. Perhaps we could work something out. What have you got to lose?’
Bonnie thought about it, or gave the appearance of thinking about it. Was there any choice? She was sure Natalie was playing, would go home when whatever money she had ran out, but everything was proving more difficult than she’d imagined. She didn’t really want to go back to her room. She didn’t want to deal with Miss Motormouth. Here was someone doing the same stuff, not really sure what she was doing. She didn’t really know what she was doing either, but no point in telling Natalie that, although she suspected Natalie wouldn’t care. Was there anything to lose?
‘What do you think?’ said Natalie.
Those big blue eyes. Or were they grey? They were dancing, sparkling. She was smiling nervously, afraid of the answer. Why did a girl like this leave home? Bonnie’s logical mind was a bit flustered. She was staring and not thinking any more. Natalie moved a hand over the table and laid it on Bonnie’s. It was an unconscious gesture and normally Bonnie would have flinched, but she didn’t.
‘What do you think?’ said Natalie again.
‘Let’s have a drink,’ said Natalie. ‘We’ll stop on the way. The hotel is a bit stuffy. I don’t normally drink, well, hardly had a chance, but I feel like it now. This is exciting.’
They stopped at a bar along the way, a wine bar, half full, where it was possible to sit and talk. Their age was not questioned and Natalie ordered a bottle of white wine, house white; they sat in a booth as far away from others as possible. It was still early and fairly quiet.
‘I didn’t really want to do this,’ said Bonnie.
‘I just didn’t. I wanted to do this on my own. I got scared, and meeting you, it seemed too good to be true. But I don’t want your money. I’m not sure why I’m here.’
‘Oh, don’t worry about the money. I’ve got loads. This is fate, it must be. Two girls leave home at the same time and meet up like this, it’s got to be fate. Two heads are better than one. I’ve got money, you haven’t. So what? Now we can work out what to do.’
‘Let’s see how it goes.’
‘Right. Well, tell me about yourself. You’re on your own. How did you come to be here? What are you doing ? Where are you going?’
Bonnie was silent for a few seconds. Then she said,
‘My parents died. There’s nobody else. I left, a week ago. I’ve got a bit of money, not much. Since then I’ve just been wandering.’
‘But where are you from? How did your parents die?’
‘I’m from Bradford. They were junkies.’
‘Oh, I see. Well, okay, but what are your plans? What are you going to do next?
‘I really don’t know. I knew I had to get away. Now I’m away, I’m not sure what to do.’
Jesus, one glass of wine and she was telling Natalie everything. She tried to slow down.
‘I know exactly what you mean. I planned this for ages. I had everything worked out. I got free, got a hotel, sat down, and thought: What am I going to now? And you know what? I don’t know what to do.’
‘So, you stole some money?’
‘Yes. I took it from my step dad. My mum’s away, and my brother, Lard Boy. Adam plays the stock market, does loads of stuff on the Internet. I just watched him for a year and blackmailed him. He needs mum and he’s got women on the side. He’s into porn and kids. It was really quite easy. Mum’s away until school starts, it might change a bit then, but they won’t find me. I’m not going back, seriously.’
‘Are you sure? And the money, surely it won’t last forever. I don’t want to know how much you’ve got, but when it runs out: What do you do?’
‘It’s not running out for a long time. I know what you mean, you think I’m just playing. I’m not. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’ll do something, and I’m not going to worry about that yet. It’s a long, long way off.’
They finished off a bottle quickly. Neither of them was used to alcohol and they were really quite tipsy, but they ordered another.
‘So’ said Natalie, ‘what are your plans?’
‘Beyond getting free, I didn’t really have any. I had to find somewhere to stay, but everywhere is really expensive, and then find a job. What else can I do?’
‘Hmm, I see. You’re in a different position to me, much harder. I’ll help you. We’ll stick together and work something out.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘What do you mean you don’t know? What else are you going to do?’
‘You’re dead keen now, but you might change tomorrow or next week. Maybe I should just stick to what I was doing.’
‘Which was what?’
‘I was doing alright. It’s quite weird to come across someone with lots of money who just wants to share it. Maybe I should stay as I am. I’m strong. I’ll get myself together and work this out.’
‘Right. I see what you mean. We’ve only known each other ten minutes. Well, you’re coming back to the hotel. We’ll sleep on it. We’ll go somewhere else tomorrow. If you don’t believe in me, you can leave, but let’s give it a week or two. You think I’m soft. Well, I’m not. Can’t expect you to realise that yet though. It’s early. Let’s see how it goes.’
Bonnie was befuddled, Natalie could see that. She’d hit her too hard with stuff, and made an offer that was very difficult to refuse. But she had to get it all out quickly to try and make her stay. Bonnie didn’t want it though. Natalie admired that. Bonnie was alone with not much going for her. There was loads going on behind the front, but she was still here. Such a severe face, no smile, not even a hint of it. That thin serious face, a permanent frown. Her skin was white, translucent almost; high cheekbones tapering to a thin pretty lips. She couldn’t hide the prettiness, not with the frown, not with anything. Her hair was dark and short, like maybe she’d cut it herself, a fringe combed right to left and hanging just above her eyebrows, the eyebrows trimmed but not sculpted; there was a gap in one of the eyebrows, a tiny bald piece of skin that was a scar on closer inspection, just on the right of the left eyebrow. The nose was straight and normal, if a nose could be normal, not turned up like hers. She hadn’t seen any teeth yet. The shirt buttoned to the neck, a medium bust, the old fleece, the scruffy hair. She’s be a mess if she wasn’t so…if she wasn’t so…
Bonnie thought about it. Very hard to argue with the logic. Everything she felt said one thing: get away, but Jesus, where was the harm in giving it a try? And it would solve her money problems for now, while she figured things out.
‘Okay,’ she said.
‘Splendid,’ said Natalie.
They woke next day with mild hangovers, but not enough to conceal their excitement, well, Natalie was excited. Bonnie was a little bit into herself. Natalie assumed that was normal and ignored it.
‘Where shall we go,’ said Natalie, ‘anywhere you like, in this country.’
‘I’m not sure I want to go anywhere.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake stop it. We’re giving this a try. I don’t want to know anything about you and just for now what’s mine is yours, or for now use your own money. I don’t care. Can we just get on with it?’
Bonnie stared and nodded, very slightly.
‘I don’t know, south I suppose. I’ve never been anywhere.’
‘No. Leeds once, that’s it. I’m from a different world.’
‘Well, we’re in the same world now. South it is. How about London? We have money, it might be fun.’
‘I don’t want to go to London yet. I’m not sure why. Natalie, even though you’ve got plenty of money, you need to think about the future. Maybe you won’t always have it. How much is this place costing you?’
‘I know. But for now I’m not going to worry about it. Not for a few weeks. I’m free, you’re free. I want to enjoy it. Shall we make a plan or buy some clothes,’ said Natalie.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Well, you’re useless,’ said Natalie. ‘I know it’s different for you and all that, but here you are. We have money, you’re free. Wake up. Start enjoying yourself.’
They left the hotel and found a place to have breakfast.
‘So, tell me about you. You’re parents are gone, you’re from Bradford and you haven’t been anywhere. What else is there?’
‘Nothing,’ said Bonnie.
‘Of course there is. What do you want to do? Any boyfriends? What was it like when your parents were alive? Where did you go to school?’
‘There’s nothing to tell. Survive. No boyfriends. Horrible. School. I don’t talk much, unless I have something to say.’
‘Right. I can see we’re going to get along splendidly. You don’t have any opinions on anything? Nothing makes you angry, sad or miserable?’
‘Hmm, opposite personalities. Interesting.’
‘Opposite backgrounds, perhaps.’
Natalie was silent. She studied Bonnie carefully for a few seconds.
‘Maybe. Never mind. Things will work themselves out. Right, what shall we do?’
Bonnie was so used to being on her own, she couldn’t make decisions now, or she couldn’t make decisions for both of them. She shrugged.
‘Let’s have a wander, see what happens.’
‘The money,’ said Bonnie, ‘I don’t want to know how much you’ve got, but how do you know it will last? When will it run out, do you know what you will do then?’
‘Why on earth are you thinking about that now? Look, I’ve got plenty, even if it stopped tomorrow, I’ve got plenty. I am not going to think about that yet. We’ll start planning later. Let’s just enjoy ourselves for a while.’
They were both dressed in jeans and t-shirts, looking younger than eighteen, but nobody had worried them with that yet. They could both look older, but were also able to look younger, and today they did. Natalie was a dark haired blonde; Bonnie was dark anyway; their hair was short, they were both very good looking in different ways. They wandered to the town centre, browsed clothe stores, drank coffee. Natalie bought Bonnie a new bag, a couple of new t-shirts, jeans, a jacket, something warmer in case it got cooler. Neither of them had a phone or anything else technical; they left it that way. Towards evening they went back to the hotel, changed into smarter clothes and went out again. They were asked for ID for the first time in the first pub, but were alright in the second. They ordered a bottle of wine and sat in a quiet pub without a television, the sort of rare place now where people might just want to talk. It was early and would get busy later.
‘You’re really rather good-looking, you know,’ said Natalie.
‘A good bone-structure, high cheek bones, you’re quite striking.’
‘So are you.’
‘I’m fairly ordinary. I have nightmares about ending up like my mother. She’s enormous, which is her own fault, but she’s no oil painting anyway. My real dad was okay, what I can remember of him. I just have to hope I take after him.’
‘You’re not ordinary.’
‘No, I’m not. I’m ordinary looking though, just reasonable. There are hundreds, thousands like me. I don’t have an ordinary personality. I very much grant you that.’
‘I don’t think there are many like you.’
‘Maybe. Was your mother eastern European? Those cheek bones.’
‘Not as far as I know, certainly not directly. I don’t know about her history.’
‘So, what do you know about your parents?’
‘They were junkies.’
‘Or you’re just not saying any more.’
Bonnie was silent.
‘What about you? You didn’t get on with your parents.’
A large crowd entered the bar. It looked like a party, young people, probably students. They were boisterous and happy, made a lot of noise taking two tables. They waited for them to settle down.
‘I hardly knew my dad. He left quite early when I was eight or nine. Step dad moved in four years ago. Mum thought he was rich, but he wasn’t, it wasn’t real money. But mum had some money, she was already wealthy and dad left her with more. Step dad, Adam, used that and he’s quite rich at the moment. Millions. It may not last, but it won’t end overnight. He’s slowed down a bit, he’s not going anywhere unless he finds a richer woman and that’s unlikely. After dad left and Adam arrived mum just ate and pretended to be busy with charities and stuff, but she doesn’t do anything but get fat. She must have put on three or four stone since Adam arrived. I suppose he does stuff to her, perhaps he likes it, I don’t know. My younger brother’s just a dickhead. He’s got every technological thing going: computer, I-phone, I-pad, everything, but he doesn’t know anything, he’s completely spoiled, mummy’s favourite. I hate him.’
‘And your mum’s away?’
‘Yes, till September. She probably doesn’t even know I’m gone. I’m sure she doesn’t. She’ll probably cause a fuss when she gets back. But she ignored me for fifteen years, I don’t see why she should. I’ll deal with that when it happens.’
‘Are you sure? She may have ignored you, probably took you for granted. But she’s still a mum, you’re her daughter, she’s expecting you to be around. Her feelings will change, and you’ll make her look bad. She can’t let it go. Even if she wanted to, she can’t. There are all sorts of pressures, school, the neighbours, she will make a fuss. She’ll get the police involved, and social services. Have you thought about that?’
Natalie shrugged. She had thought about it, but she’d underestimated it. And now she just wasn’t thinking about it at all.
‘You know, I had this vague idea that the whole world would be after me.’
‘Nobody cares,’ said Bonnie, ‘I was the media’s tragic story for two weeks. I bet not one of the people who read about me, felt concerned for me, even remembers my name. That’s just fine. But how will you deal with your mother?’
‘I’ll deal with that when it happens. You were a media story?’
Changing the subject.
‘I told you. My parents were junkies. They died. I was the tragic child for a time. Then they forgot.’
‘That’s good, isn’t it?’
‘I think they’ll care about you.’
They were still in Birmingham a few days later. Bonnie tried to get Natalie to move out of the Hilton, but she wouldn’t. There had been no sign of anyone looking for Natalie. Nobody would be looking for Bonnie.
‘We’ll slow down with the money soon, but I don’t want to, yet.’
‘How does your step dad make his money?’
‘I don’t really know. He plays the markets, perhaps he does other stuff, but he makes money. I just knew what he had, in his accounts, on his cards and I knew how to access his accounts and cards. How he actually made the money, I don’t know, I don’t understand it, but it really is millions.’
‘Look, I’m not asking how much you’ve got, but what have you got on him. How are you actually getting the money?’
‘I saved five thousand. I have all that. He’s got loads of debit and credit cards. I picked one that he’s never used. It’s a debit card and he has twenty five thousand in an account that he’s never touched, minus what I’ve spent. That’s what I’ve got. I’ve got his debit card. I’ve still got twenty and a bit thousand, plus my five.’
‘But you don’t have it.’
‘’You don’t have it, do you? You’ve got a thousand or so from where you cashed it in, and your five thousand, but the rest is still on the card, over twenty thousand, and he controls that. Anything could happen, your mother could come home early, Adam might panic, change his mind, the police or social services could get involved. If he’s dodgy, the police might investigate him, discover something. If any of that happened, well, that’s that. You’ve got your five, I have my three, but that wouldn’t last very long would it?’
‘Hmm, I hadn’t considered that.’
‘You don’t have the money until you’ve taken it off the card. It’s his money until then. You’ve got to empty that card.’
‘What do I do with it?’
Bonnie stared at her in disbelief.
‘Keep it for now, very carefully. You need to find a base, somewhere you can put in safety deposit boxes. You can’t put it in a bank. It’s too much and you’re too young.’
‘Right, I’ll start tomorrow.’
‘Start today. Draw to the limit and do the same tomorrow and the next day.’
‘Right, let’s go.’
‘No wait, we have until midnight. Look, I don’t care how much money you have, and I didn’t ask for this. Remember that.’
‘You know how much I have. Twenty plus thousand and my five thousand.’
‘Okay. You actually have five thousand but never mind. Hopefully soon that will be more. But if you’re going to do this, then it’s important that you do it properly.’
‘How much money does Adam have? Wait, hang on before you tell me. Look, this is advice for you. I don’t want your money. I’m just trying to help you.’
‘Listen. We’ve been together for a week. Already I couldn’t do without you. And you like me, I can tell. Shut up. It’s just my luck that I can get this money. I don’t even think of it as mine now. It’s ours. Ours. It’s me and you. Understand? I don’t want to hear anymore about not wanting my money. It’s our money. It’s us. Shut up. I really, really don’t want to hear any more of this separate stuff. It’s me and you. Here we are. Okay?’
Bonnie stared at her for a long time.
‘Good. I’m glad that’s cleared up. Adam has loads. I mean millions. I didn’t really keep up with everything he was doing. I spotted the debit card I wanted, kept an eye on that and monitored his women, the porn, stuff like that.’
‘Right. Your mum doesn’t get home for over a month. As far as we know, he’s going along with this. He hasn’t told anybody, he must just be sitting tight, waiting for your mum to get home.’
‘Phone him. Ask him for more. Before there’s a fuss. Ask him for more and get it in your hands. Don’t depend on the card. Draw out what you have left of the twenty five thousand, and get more, get as much as you can. You’re staying in top hotels. Even if you downgrade, this country is expensive, everywhere. That money won’t last you five minutes. It’ll be gone before you know it. It seemed a lot to you because you’ve never had money like that before. But you’ll be skint by Christmas, then what will you do? Get a job?
What would you do? Minimum wage, that’s the best you could do. Phone him. Get another card or two. Get some more money. As much as you can.’
Natalie stared back.
‘You’ve thought about this, haven’t you?’
‘And I worked out what I was going to do, ways I might be able to survive. You’ve planned this, but you haven’t thought it through. You had more options. You asked me to come along. I didn’t want to but I have. Here I am. If you really want to do this you have to get as much as you can. You’ve done it now. You can go home in six months, or you can do it properly. Look at the chance you have. Get more money. Phone him tomorrow.’
‘You’re right. You’re smart, aren’t you.’
“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 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.”
Leaving will be published as a paperback and available in all e-reader formats from late Spring 2014.