Salvage

Before she was adopted by a loving family and raised in a leafy Home Counties town, Cass Montgomery was Cass Jones. Her memories of her birth family disappeared with her name. But when her adopted family starts to break down, a way out comes in the form of a message from her lost brother, Aidan. Having Aidan back in her life is both everything she needs and nothing she expected. Who is this boy who calls himself her brother? And why is he so haunted?

Aidan's a survivor. He's survived an abusive stepfather and an uncaring mother. He's survived crowded foster homes and empty bedsits.He's survived to find Cass. If only he can make her understand what it means to be part of his family. . .

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1. CASS

Pretty much everyone in town knew my name, although not because there was anything special about me. That was fine, or, at least, I was used to it.

But the day I met Will it wasn’t fine at all. It hadn’t been fine for exactly twelve days. Dad was still hanging in there as a government minister, but was better known as ‘Olly with the Dolly’. Or ‘Monty in a Muddle’. Oliver Montgomery MP was having an affair – and a baby – with his intern, and now every- one didn’t just know my name: they stared, pointed and whispered, too.

Even before Dad was on the front page of all the papers, day after day, I was always careful. I could never get away with being one of those girls who hitched up their skirts to flirt with the grammar school boys on the bus. We lived in a small town, and all the busybodies who knew my parents from the Conservative Party would certainly gossip if they saw me step out of line. It wasn’t worth rebelling. It’d be too embarrassing.

Mostly I didn’t bother with the bus, and walked instead. When I did get it (if it was raining, or I was in a hurry to get home before youth choir or county orchestra or a Conservative Future meeting or whatever), I made sure I sat at the back, kept away from the crowd, pulled out a book, plugged in my headphones and enjoyed twenty minutes of peace and quiet.

That day I was sitting near the back next to a large elderly lady, whose cat hissed and spat from a closed basket on her knee. The basket jiggled against my thigh, which was annoying. I’d have preferred to sit next to the window, tracking the raindrops as they dribbled down the glass.

I hardly noticed when Will spoke to me: he touched my shoulder to get my attention, and I jumped and squeaked.

‘What? What is it?’ My voice sounded high and panicky, and it was all his stupid fault.

‘Um, sorry,’ he said, whipping his hand away as though I’d burned it. ‘It’s just . . . you’re Cass Montgomery, aren’t you?’

I’d seen this boy around before, but I’d never spoken to him. He wasn’t in choir or orchestra, although I’d seen him once or twice at the inter-school debating competitions. He’d done a good job last time, opposing a motion about school uniform promoting discipline.

I knew about him, though. I knew his name was Will Hughes and I knew he was in the sixth form, and I knew he was incredibly popular and supposedly funny and bright. I knew all about which girls had been out with him and which girls wanted to. I knew these things the same way that people knew I was head-girl material and heading for Oxford. He had a reputation: a more interesting one than mine.

He was a local landmark, like the art deco cinema. He was massively tall, all gawky limbs, but strangely graceful – he floated like a daddy long legs. His afro sprung loud and proud around his head, and he wore ludicrous, outsized tortoiseshell-rimmed specs.

I knew he went to Bonny’s, which is short for Bonnington’s School. It’s where you go if you don’t get into the grammar schools but your parents have enough money to avoid the comprehensive.

My brother, Ben, had started at Bonny’s in September. We were all worried because Ben doesn’t do disruption very well, which Dad should have thought of before he . . . but I didn’t want to think about Dad.

‘Why do you want to know?’ I didn’t mean to sound aggressive, but I also didn’t want to encourage him. Couldn’t he respect my privacy?

‘My name’s Will. Will Hughes. I want to discuss something with you.’

The back seat was full of Bonny’s sixth formers, with Will in the middle. I knew one of them, Jordan Strachan, as he played the bassoon in the county youth orchestra. They were all in hoodies and jeans, but Will had on a tweed jacket, indigo cord trousers and a bright orange shirt. His bag was a neon pink Dora the Explorer rucksack, meant for a six-year-old girl. He was like a flamingo among pigeons – attractive, sure, but totally out of place. Except you never saw him without a huge flock of pigeons.

I really wasn’t in the mood to talk to exotic, attention-seeking strangers. ‘You haven’t picked a great location,’ I said, in my politest brush-off voice. He didn’t get the message. ‘I thought we could go for a coffee.’

‘Oh, did you?’ I was aiming for sarcastic, but realised too late that I sounded potentially interested.

‘You’re Ben’s sister, aren’t you? I mean, I know you are. I wanted to talk about Ben.’

‘You’ve done your homework.’ Surely the sarcasm was biting enough this time?

‘I’m his form’s peer buddy,’ he said. ‘We’re like a sixth-form emergency squad – there to help if kids in the lower years need individual attention, that sort of thing. I’ve been keeping an eye on Ben.’

Obviously Ben needed special attention. He always did. He struggled with some academic stuff, and he totally lacked any ability to make friends. You’d have thought he would have been used to it by the age of eleven, found coping techniques, accepted his fate as a loner, identified just one person to hang out with, but every day it was as though he’d only just realised that no one liked him. It broke my heart, so I tried not to think about it too much.


‘Oh, well, thanks for that,’ I said, looking away. Couldn’t he  see that I didn’t want to talk to him? Especially about Ben. Especially right now.

‘I just thought, perhaps we could talk about what might help him? I mean, obviously you know him better than I do.’

OK, this was too much. Talk about intrusive. He was using my brother, using my family’s situation, to ask me out. On the bus, with Jordan Strachan and all his friends listening. What an insensitive idiot.


Luckily Grace wasn’t next to me: she’d have accepted on my behalf as soon as he spoke. She was at the front of the bus, the giggling centre of a group of grammar boys. She’d been late out of school, detained by Miss Graham, head of the sixth form, for one of their ritual chats about skirt length and leggings. Grace thought I was tragic and frigid and sad, and her mission in life was to make me more like her.

I refused to fall into her trap. She might be able to turn out A* essays, do loads of extra-curricular activities and have an active love life, but I didn’t think I could. Instead, I purposely kept my make-up minimal and my clothes functional, so I wouldn’t attract unwelcome attention. It wasn’t just the fear of gossip: I didn’t want my future messed up by some stupid teenage romance.

Not that Will Hughes was even a suitable candidate for romance, with me, anyway. I’d seen him on the bus before, holding hands or more with various girls including Daisy Travers-Manning, whom I remembered from Brownies, and Ruby Thomas, who was in my year but none of the top sets. He had a type, and that was blonde and curvy and giggly. I wasn’t his type.

I didn’t have a type, but if I had, he wouldn’t be it.

‘What do you think?’ he asked, and one of his friends sniggered.

‘I’m busy.’

‘It needn’t take long. We could get off at the high street. We don’t have to go to Starbucks. It’s just that I think Ben’s not very happy right now and maybe I could help.’

How dare he even begin to discuss my family in public? I opened my mouth to tell him what I thought of him. Then I shut it again.

I didn’t want some sort of scene. Especially scenes that outsiders could construct as racism, or worse (is there worse?). It wouldn’t look good, especially when the entire British media was already running stories on my family.

‘Maybe another day,’ I told him. He grinned, much more pleased than he had any right to be.

‘Look, give me a call, or drop me a text or something,’ he said, presenting me with a business card – a business card! What sixth former has a business card? What a poser!

I shoved it into my pocket, looked back at my book. We were nearly at the high street. Usually Grace got off here, headed for Starbucks for coffee and flirting. I never bothered. I actually had no idea how she got any homework done at all.

The bus lurched to a stop, the cat basket crashed onto my knee and I went flying off my seat, cannoning into weirdo Will as he and his mates filed towards the door. For a second I clutched at his scratchy tweed jacket, breathed in his surprisingly sweet smell.

‘Oof!’ he said, clutching his stomach, as I scrambled back into my seat, hot-faced with embarrassment. His friends howled with laughter. The cat lady glared at us. I wished I could just disappear.

‘Bye, Cass!’ he yelled back at me, just as he got off the bus. How could he laugh at me in front of everyone? I crumpled his card in my pocket and tossed it onto the seat next to me, but the stupid cat woman said,‘I think you’ve dropped something,’ and handed it back to me. I was too humiliated to disagree, so I shoved it back in my pocket again. 

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