CLOSED DOORS

All Alice King wants, is to be alone. That way nobody else can hurt her.
Silently struggling with the death of her brother, Alice’s oh-so-perfect family is slowly falling apart and her ‘friends’ are drifting out of her reach. However, she is still smiling her way through – she’s ‘fine’ – but a smile can hide so much. It’s only when she meets Connor, the school bully, that she starts thinking about how appearances can deceive. She can tell that underneath this layer of cool and his badass reputation, this boy is just as hopeless as she is and Alice is determined to make him speak. Can Alice realise that life isn’t all about giving – but taking too? Because life doesn’t stop when someone disappears – and even though she’s lost so much, can Alice see what she has to gain?

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1. CHAPTER ONE

King Homes, which was started by my father, already had a reputation as a respectable building company when he met my mother. She was a creative sort of person, worked as an interior designer, but when her business didn’t take off as she'd hoped during the first month of running it she gave up, so when my dad came along and offered her a job as Head of Design of course she agreed and took up her new position. My mum and dad had always seen eye to eye and this became obvious as they started working together. My mum would work on all the creative stuff, like advertising, colour schemes and materials, while my dad cracked on with the sums and the finances. Together they were an unstoppable team and somewhere in the midst of all this they managed to fall in love.

Their biggest break was when my mum had an idea, a vision. A huge, modern neighbourhood. This is what they were aiming for. At first, my father didn’t seem so convinced but he went along with it and a month later they got to work, starting with the very first house in Sunnyhurst Ridge: Ours.

It was perfect. Exactly what my mother had pictured. It was made totally out of glass, that's right, glass. I didn't know it was possible either but that's the thing about my mum; to her there was no such thing as impossible. Everything could be done, everything should be done and everything would be done. It was the model home to die for, that’s why they would always bring potential clients here. Which place was better at showing off their talents than our very own show home?

You couldn’t step a foot into our house without seeing a flier or a poster advertising the company: ‘King Homes - Let us build your castle.’ That was their cheesy slogan and there was never a day where I didn’t hear this coming from one of their mouths. They were both workaholics – there was no such thing as a break or a holiday for them. Even over the dinner table, having spent the whole day talking business, they still managed to find some topic to squabble over. But I’d grown up with it, I was used to it. Not even their weekly cocktail parties, inviting complete strangers into our house, seemed out of the ordinary to me. By the time I got back from school every Friday, their events would usually be in full swing and they would both be in absolute schmooze mode, offering a permanent smile and a plan of action to every possible client that looked their way.

My three brothers and I would be the ones in charge of greeting and dismissing people as they would constantly be coming and going. Our parents had turned the four of us into their mini clones. They were the Gods and we were their disciples, trying to replicate their every move. We were an asset to them. That’s what everyone would tell us as we were dotted about in our dinner suits and evening dresses by the door and on the steps outside. We received compliments as people came and smiles and waves, sometimes even handshakes, as they left.

Of course, everything had changed now. Joel, my youngest brother, was the only sibling who would still attend the parties, and that was only because he craved attention from anyone and everyone. I would just sit in my room, trapped in one corner where no one could see me through the glass walls of the building, waiting for it all to be over - and even then I still wouldn't advance out until at least an hour afterwards, just in case. I would sit there quite often, doing absolutely nothing, not even thinking. I would listen to the shrieks of laughter coming from down stairs and the bombardment of compliments that my father was awarded over and over again. He’d heard them all so many times before but, still, he never tired of hearing how beautiful the garden was or how incredible the furnishings were.

Straight after my brother’s death, I did wonder what was going to happen to the business, whether it was going to collapse and crumble like the rest of us had. My mother didn’t partake there anymore. As far as she was concerned, King Homes was no longer her business. But, if anything, my dad worked even harder. Even though he wouldn’t admit it, I knew that it was just his way of keeping himself occupied and trying to forget that he’d ever even had a fourth child. We’d all had very different approaches to Declan’s death. My father busied himself while my mother mourned openly. She cried for days and days without stopping. I knew she blamed herself for his death, we all felt responsible; that it was our own fault. I thought I should’ve been there. She thought she should’ve listened to him.

It was only recently that I really wish that I’d done the same as my mum had; wailed for days on end. But no, I decided to be the rock of the family and try to comfort everyone else before we all fell apart for good. One of my many faults was the fact that I put other people before I put myself but it was also one of my strengths. They all figured that I was fine, they had no idea how much the tragedy had affected me, but that was my little secret, one that they couldn’t have. I wish I’d opened up to them at the time, but I was too late now.

At the funeral I was the one who sat next to my mother, gripping her hand tightly as she wept through the whole service. I couldn’t do the same; I was the one who had to look after her, who had to tell her that it would all be ok, even though I, myself, wasn’t sure that it would be. Whenever I felt my eyes watering, I would just stare at the scuffs on my shoes, fighting back the tears and hoping that no one saw when the occasional drop of salty solution rolled down my cheek.

The funeral was the first place where I witnessed ‘The Face’. That slight tilt of the head, softening of the eyes and loosening of all of the facial features - ‘you poor thing’. Since then The Face followed me everywhere I went, especially school. I wasn’t known as Alice King, daughter of David and Angela - who built the most stunning constructions you’d ever find in the whole of Britain. I wasn’t even Alice King, the sister of Bradley - the best goalkeeper that Tarleton Grammar School has seen in decades. No. I was Alice King, sister of Declan - the boy who died from an asthma attack during that football match six months ago. That was who I was now.

 

Friday 23rd June: that was the day it all happened. My mum and dad were, of course, not able to attend the football match due to an event which they ‘simply couldn’t miss.’ I think it was probably another one of their cocktail/boost the profile of King Homes parties.

"Are you positive that you won’t be able to get there?” Declan had asked my mum for the fifth time on the way to school that morning. She glanced at him in the wing mirror, shaking her head. As she began to part her thin lips and open her mouth, Bradley – who knew what she was going to say – gave one last attempt at convincing her, “Please mum! It’s the semi-finals. The furthest that we’ve ever got and probably the furthest that we ever will get!”

It was true what Bradley had said, although I wasn’t going to say it out loud, their team had never got so far in the English School’s Under 17s league and would probably never do it again. They were only there because of Declan’s hat-trick in the previous game which shocked us all to be quite honest. I’ve always known that he’s a good player but I never would have predicted the 4-1 win that they finished the game off with.

“You know I want to,” my mother slowly said as Declan and Bradley both gazed at her hopefully, “but you also know why I can’t,” she continued sternly. The boys both dropped their heads and sighed. They were both in the football team. Bradley was the team’s goalkeeper - he had the fastest reactions that I'd ever observed - and Declan was one of the best strikers the school had seen. He was on a role this season, having scored 11 goals in the past three matches, which must have been some sort of record.

 

I used to do lots of extra-curriculum stuff at the time, so I was in an after school art class when I realised that I was late for the game. I hated the fact that it was 4:45pm, and not 4:40pm, when I noticed the time. I hated the fact that I'd decided to go back to my locker to get my phone, which I later realised was in my pocket. I hated the fact that I'd merely walked, and not ran, to the football pitch when I saw that crowd stood around a body, a stranger pumping away at his chest in a last attempt to revive him. I hated the fact that he was gone before I even got to him, that I couldn't tell him everything that I wanted to before he gave up and exhaled his last breath.

As I got closer to the crowd, I saw people turn away, their faces absolutely distressed. I’d never seen a look like it in my life. Some had their hands over their open mouths, some were starting to weep and shaking their heads. Some people looked up as my casual shadow approached them, saw that it was me, and started crying even harder than they already were. That's when I knew that my world had just been turned upside down; into a living hell. I pushed through the rows of depressed faces and saw what I was half-expecting.

Declan was splayed out across the grass. I saw Brad kneeling by his side. He wasn’t crying, for the same reason that I wasn’t; because it was Declan. We both thought that any second now, he was going to sit up and start laughing about the whole thing and maybe even tell us that it was all a joke. I went and sat by Bradley, but he didn’t even notice me. All he could see was what I dream about every night to this day. That pair of deep blue eyes, they were like windows to another world. He looked possessed, demon like. That was the first time that my brother was almost.. scaring me. I couldn’t stop staring, Declan’s face had gone so pale, like milk. Everything passed so quickly and even as Declan was stretchered off the pitch, to an ambulance with an oxygen mask strapped to his face, I didn’t realise how serious it was.

It was only when I was sat in the hospital that night, my weeping mother on one side and a concerned Bradley, who hadn’t lifted his head out of his shaking hands for about an hour and a half, on the other, that I knew that he’d really gone and even then I was finding it hard to take in. I’d known from the minute that we’d been lead into that room. I knew that this was the room where they took the people who they have to tell the really bad news to. I’d just seen it happen to another family. A woman approached them and told them the revelation, that their person had passed away and I literally saw their worlds collapse in front of my very eyes. Their body languages immediately changed from hopeful to hopeless. I knew that that was soon going to be me and my family, that it was our turn to face the truth that none of us wanted to hear

None of us spoke, at all, for the next few days. We all sat up in our rooms, doing nothing except thinking and crying. Only when I was certain that I was alone, would I allow myself to even shed a tear and only a tear. I didn’t wail or weep. I couldn’t let myself. I wouldn’t let myself, and that’s how I’ve been ever since.

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