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Libby in the Middle
 

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Libby in the Middle


  Hi there,

  I just wanted to say hello and tell you a bit about myself.

  I live on the very outside of London near the River Thames, with my husband (who is Dutch and makes great pancakes!) and our two young daughters. We also have a Siamese cat called Hamish who came to us as a very timid rescue cat and spent the first few weeks hiding up the chimney! Now he is a real family cat and loves sitting on my lap (and trying to sit on my keyboard!) when I’m at my desk writing.

  I’m half Welsh and half English but I grew up in Scotland. Before I became a writer I worked as a doctor, mainly with children and teenagers. From as far back as I can remember I’ve always loved stories in any form – reading books, watching films, playing make-believe games. As a child I always had one fantasy world or another on the go and as I grew older that changed to actual ongoing sagas that I wrote down in exercise books and worked on for weeks at a time.

  I really hope you enjoy reading this – and that you’ll write to me at [email protected] to let me know what you think. I’d love it if you told me a bit about yourself too!

  Best wishes,

  For Philippa Lawrence-Chan

  Books by

  GWYNETH REES

  Cherry Blossom Dreams

  The Honeymoon Sisters

  Earth to Daniel

  The Mum Hunt

  For younger readers:

  The Fairy Dust series

  Cosmo and the Magic Sneeze

  The Magic Princess Dress

  My Super Sister

  My Super Sister and the Birthday Party

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter One

  ‘Well, I don’t see any dead bodies lying around, Dad,’ I joked as we drove away from our old house for the final time.

  Dad acted like he hadn’t heard. Either he was too stressed to bother even trying to get my joke or he honestly didn’t remember saying, ‘Over my dead body!’ when the idea of moving to live near Aunt Thecla had first come up. Aunt Thecla is Dad’s totally interfering older sister. She’s always lived in the same village where the two of them grew up, and she and Dad have never got on. Dad has always said he couldn’t wait to get away from that village, though Mum says she’s sure he exaggerates when he tells us stories about how awful it was to grow up there.

  After a lot of persuasion Mum had finally talked him round, and for the last couple of weeks he had tried to be positive about it, at least in front of my sisters and me. We all knew that having Aunt Thecla living on our doorstep wasn’t going to be easy. She’s such a busybody, always sticking her nose in and dishing out her opinions on everything and everybody. Mum says our aunt’s own life can’t be that fulfilling if she has to take such a huge interest in other people’s, but Dad says that’s no excuse. Plus he says she’s rich enough to take up loads of hobbies and go on lots of exciting holidays whenever she gets bored.

  ‘She’s bribing us to get what she wants,’ Dad had warned Mum when Aunt Thecla had first made her unbelievable offer.

  ‘So what if she is?’ Mum said. ‘She’s clearly doing this because she’s lonely after losing Hughie, but in any case she’s doing us a huge favour. I mean, I know she’s loaded, but three sets of private school fees is no mean offering.’ (Hughie was our aunt’s dog, and she was devastated when he escaped from her garden recently and got run over.)

  ‘I’m telling you, Nina,’ Dad persisted, ‘you don’t know my family like I do. She might not be like my father and make us repay her in blood and spit, but she’ll have her own agenda, you can be sure about that! This is all about her being in charge of us.’

  ‘Oh, Paul! If this is about what happened when you were a boy, then quite frankly I think it’s time you forgave her.’

  ‘I have forgiven her!’

  ‘Consciously maybe.’

  ‘I thought you were a dentist, not a psychiatrist,’ Dad snapped.

  ‘Forgiven Aunt Thecla for what?’ I’d interrupted, but that just made them both cross with me for listening in. I have to admit that I do listen in to other people’s discussions quite a bit. Mum says that I’m far and away the most curious one in our family, and I guess that’s true.

  I’d forgotten all about that conversation while we prepared to leave. I was far too busy saying my last goodbyes to various friends and to our old house and neighbourhood. I found myself feeling unexpectedly sentimental about things I’d hardly noticed on a daily basis – the blue garden gate I’d help Dad paint one summer, the park at the bottom of our road where I’d learnt to ride a bike, the big oak tree I always passed on the way to school, and our corner shop, which was the first shop I’d been allowed to walk to all on my own back when I was seven. Then there was Luke, our friendly window-cleaner, and Jovanka, our cleaning lady, who cried and gave us sweets on the day she said goodbye. I’d already said goodbye to most people I knew from school when we’d all broken up for the summer holiday.

  It had been weird how suddenly lots of people at school who I’d never thought particularly liked me came up to give me hugs on the last day. I suppose I’ve always been one of the quiet ones at school, and since my best friend, Sarah, moved away I’d always felt a little bit of an outsider there. It was strange to receive all this positive attention from people who I thought barely noticed me, and to suddenly feel like a part of my school just as I was leaving. Even though I’d only been there for a year (I was just finishing Year Seven), a lot of teachers said they’d miss me and made a point of wishing me well. I had a feeling some of them felt sorry for me being uprooted, especially as I’m not exactly the sort of person to burst confidently into a new school and effortlessly make new friends.

  At home I was doing my best to keep clear of the frequent tantrums of my almost-sixteen-year-old sister, Bella. This move was not what she wanted either, because it meant leaving behind her boyfriend, Sam. Sam has just turned seventeen (too old for Bella, according to Dad), and a few months earlier he’d dropped out of school. The fact that he’d immediately started an apprenticeship at his uncle’s garage had stopped Dad being too scathing about that, but in any case my parents weren’t exactly heartbroken to be taking Bella away from him.

  Now that we were all crammed together in our car, I could sense my whole family was really close to meltdown. As usual, I was stuck in the middle between Bella and our six-year-old sister, Grace. Bella and Grace look like sisters, whereas I always think I look like the odd one out. They both have dainty features, pale complexions with rosy cheeks, and glossy dark-brown straight hair and large brown eyes. I’ve got grey-blue eyes, loads of freckles and thick curly reddish-brown hair that comes down to my shoulders. And there’s absolutely nothing dainty about me.

  ‘Move over, Libby,’ Bella snapped as we left
our street behind. A few years ago she wouldn’t have cared if we were squashed together with our thighs touching, or even if I’d been perched on her lap, but now she acts like any physical contact between us has to be avoided at all costs. She calls it an invasion of her personal space.

  ‘I can’t! I’ve got Grace’s seat digging into me on this side!’ I protested.

  ‘You can move your leg away from mine!’

  ‘Girls, will you please stop squabbling,’ Mum said crossly.

  ‘We’re not!’ Bella retorted. ‘We’re having a discussion about who’s taking up the most room. Which is definitely Libby!’

  I didn’t stand up for myself. I knew if I tried to challenge her she’d start spouting hard facts about the size of my bum in relation to hers. Although she’s three years older than me she’s really slight in build, like Mum and Grace. I’m the only one who takes after Dad’s side of the family in that I’m ‘a good healthy size’, as Aunt Thecla would put it. Aunt Thecla isn’t fat but she’s definitely pretty solid, and you’d probably take me for her daughter rather than Mum’s if we were all standing together.

  Aunt Thecla had been visiting us once or twice a year for as far back as I can remember, and she always made a big thing of scrutinising our appearance, commenting on all the ways my sisters and I had changed. Not only was she like most adults who’d say, ‘Look how much you’ve grown!’ she wouldn’t actually leave it at that. She always stared at us for so long it made us really uncomfortable, and then insisted on pointing out her various observations like, ‘Libby’s shoulders are so broad now – just like Mother’s …’ and ‘Bella has exceptionally big toes – she gets those from her grandfather’ and ‘You’ve got your grandfather’s legs, Libby – but hopefully there’s more they can do these days for varicose veins …’.

  Needless to say she annoyed us all no end.

  ‘I hate this stupid car, Dad!’ Bella complained loudly. ‘I don’t know why we can’t get one like Sam’s mum’s, with those pop-up seats in the back.’

  ‘Pop-up seats in the crumple zone, you mean!’ Dad said. ‘I’ve seen her car. Those seats are a deathtrap.’

  ‘What’s a deathtrap, Daddy?’ Grace asked with a frown. ‘Is it dangerous?’

  Bella sent her a withering look. ‘Well, what do you think?’

  ‘It’s nothing for you to worry about, darling,’ Mum said swiftly, ‘though I must say I can’t see why she even needs such a big car when it’s just the two of them.’

  ‘Sam’s uncle was getting rid of it,’ I told her.

  Bella, who continued to glare daggers at the back of Dad’s head, snapped, ‘I don’t think Sam’s mum would make him sit there if it was a deathtrap, Dad!’

  ‘Don’t know about that,’ Dad said. ‘If Sam was my son I might take the risk.’

  ‘PAU-AUL! You shouldn’t joke about things like that.’ Mum was glaring at him too now.

  ‘Who says I’m joking?’ Dad growled. The trouble is, Dad still blames Sam for most of Bella’s problems at school, which if you ask me is a bit unfair.

  ‘You know, believe it or not, Sam actually liked you when he first met you, Dad,’ Bella said coldly.

  ‘It’s true,’ I joined in. ‘He told Bella you’re not nearly as awful as she’s always making out!’

  I wasn’t surprised by the jab in the ribs I got from Bella. Her sense of humour has been non-existent lately. So has Dad’s, but at least he let out a snort that sounded vaguely like a laugh.

  Bella put in her earphones and turned away to stare out of the window. It seems like she never stops scowling these days. I thought about what Mum had said when I’d complained to her about Bella being so mean and bad-tempered over the last few months. Mum said it wasn’t uncommon for someone who was being bullied at school to take it out on their nearest and dearest. She said that now the bullying had stopped we just had to give Bella some time to revert to her normal self. Not that I was sure any more what Bella’s normal self actually is …

  ‘Let’s play a game!’ Grace said, giving my arm a tug. She didn’t ask Bella, who would probably have ignored her in any case. Years ago, when Grace was a baby, Bella and I had played loads of car games together on long journeys. Nowadays she prefers to retreat inside her own head whenever we’re all in the car.

  ‘OK then,’ I agreed, even though I wouldn’t have minded retreating too. But I knew that if I did I’d really disappoint Grace.

  We played different games on and off for the next couple of hours while Bella listened to her music with her eyes closed. I could tell she wasn’t asleep because she was nodding her head slightly in time with the beat. I tried to keep as much as possible to Grace’s side of the car. At least she still likes cuddling up to me.

  We were playing yet another round of ‘Can you spot?’ when Grace suddenly let out a whimper. I looked at her face and I knew at once what was wrong.

  ‘Grace feels sick!’ I shouted, which immediately set off Operation Sick Bowl.

  ‘Can you get it for her, Libby? It’s that empty ice-cream tub … under Daddy’s seat.’

  ‘It’s not here!’

  ‘It must be!’

  ‘Wait … Nina, I think I might have put an ice-cream tub with the recycling when I cleaned out the car.’

  ‘PAU-AUL!’

  Bella had removed her earphones by this time. ‘Libby gave her a book to read, Mum. That’s probably what’s done it.’

  ‘LIBBY! You know she gets sick if she reads in the car!’

  ‘She only had to look at the pictures! We’re trying to spot a squirrel, aren’t we, Grace?’

  Grace mumbled something incomprehensible from behind the hand she’d clamped over her mouth.

  Meanwhile, Mum was removing the lid from Dad’s deluxe travel mug and peering inside saying, ‘Sorry, Paul, but I’m not giving her my handbag …’

  Chapter Two

  Dad had lowered his window to give Grace some fresh air, and by the time we reached the service station Bella’s hair, much to my delight, was sticking out in all directions. (Mine probably was too but I didn’t care.)

  As we climbed out of the car Grace said she felt better.

  ‘Better as in you’re not going to hurl now?’ Bella said sarcastically as she took out her hairbrush.

  Grace looked puzzled. ‘What’s hurl?’

  ‘It’s just a cooler way to say being sick,’ I explained.

  Bella let out a dismissive snort. ‘What do you know about being cool, Libby? You’re certainly not!’

  That comment got to me. I mean, I know I’m not cool, but I don’t need her to tell me that.

  At least I didn’t have everyone at school texting horrible stuff about me, I felt like retaliating. But I couldn’t say it – not knowing just how bad those texts had been.

  Bella’s problems at school had started six months earlier, though we hadn’t known about it at the time. She’d had a big row with Sam’s previous girlfriend, Andrea. That part was probably as much Bella’s fault as Andrea’s. But then Andrea started sending round nasty texts to all her mates, and also to Bella, accusing her of all sorts of things, including being unfaithful to Sam. The accusations and gossip became more and more vicious. Bella showed me some of the texts, but I knew there were also ones she deleted straight away because she said they were too disgusting to show anyone.

  I didn’t know what was happening when it all started. Bella didn’t tell anyone at first, and at school the Year Sevens and Year Tens stayed pretty separate. But at home she was being really loud and mouthy, much more impatient than she’d ever been before, picking arguments with all of us, but especially with me. At the same time she started wanting to stay in all the time when she wasn’t with Sam, and she never wanted me to go up and speak to anyone I knew from school if we were ever out and about together.

  She was spending loads of time with Sam, who knew a bit about what was happening. He’d been sworn to secrecy by Bella, who threatened never to confide in him ever again if he told anyone
. So he didn’t tell, but instead he went round to Andrea’s house to confront her about it and ended up getting punched by her older brother.

  The cyberbullying (because I know now that’s what it was) went on for a couple of months, until Mum saw a text one day and asked her about it. That was when Bella finally told our parents everything.

  Mum and Dad were horrified and wanted to go to the school immediately, but they couldn’t get an appointment to see the head teacher for several days. Apparently, when they did see him he wasn’t that helpful, saying that the girls needed to sort it out themselves. Mum and Dad were furious with the school’s attitude, and that’s when they made up their minds to move Bella. But Dad was also furious with Sam for knowing about the texts and not telling him. He said that if Sam couldn’t make the right decisions where Bella was concerned then he didn’t want him seeing her any more. And when Bella told Dad defiantly that she was going to see Sam regardless, Dad grounded her for a fortnight.

  Despite Bella being grounded, she and Sam were still texting all the time and facetiming each other loads. And as soon as she was free to go out again she carried on seeing Sam, though she was careful to do it behind Dad’s back this time.

  ‘Not seeing him just hurts too much,’ she told me one evening, hugging her middle tightly as she spoke. ‘But then I don’t suppose you get that, do you?’

  ‘Yes I do,’ I said, enjoying the feeling of being confided in for once. ‘It’s like when Sarah left. I still really miss her.’ Sarah had been my best friend since we’d started school together when we were five, but she moved away last year. We stayed in touch via email, but she quickly made another best friend at her new school. Not that I blamed her. I just wished that I’d been as quick to find someone else. Though now it didn’t matter, I guess. I wondered if I would make a new best friend now that I was moving away too. Mum says it’s better to have lots of different friends rather than one best one, because then if you fall out or they move away it doesn’t matter so much. I’m sure she’s right. In fact, I know from experience that she’s right. So what is it that still makes me want to replace Sarah?

 
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