I took a deep breath and banged the side of my head hard against the wall.
It hurt like hell.
‘Now just go away!’ I hissed.
‘What are you doing, Joseph?’ my dad called from the hallway. ‘Did you fall out of bed?’
‘No, just trying to kill something.’
He appeared in the doorway. It was early but he was already dressed and smelling of mint.
‘Hmm, a horsefly was it? There was one in the kitchen last night. Nasty little blighters. Anyway, I’ve done you an egg, sunny side up, and two slices of granary. We should be OK if we leave by half past. The appointment’s not till ten.’
‘The optician. I reminded you yesterday.’
I groaned. I’d planned to see Rocky. ‘Does it have to be today?’
My dad grew a few more wrinkles as he thought, which is pretty nice for an adult. Most of them just expect you to do the old they-say-jump-you-ask-how-high.
I grabbed my dressing gown and headed down the creaking cottage stairs. Dad followed and pulled up a chair, waiting until I’d nearly finished eating before he started on about it again.
‘Well, I could cancel your test, I expect. But I’d like to go for mine.’
He touched the strip of Elastoplast that had held his glasses together for ages. I thought he hadn’t bought new ones because he doesn’t like changing things. Things like his 1987 canary-yellow Ford Capri (‘She’s a classic, Joseph’), or his ageing-rock-star haircut (‘People have mistaken me for Jon Bon Jovi’). Or the relationship status on his Facebook page (‘She might just walk back in one day. You never know’).
‘I have to get back to work next week, and no one’ll want me to fix their plumbing looking like this,’ he said. ‘The thing is I was hoping you’d help me choose—they might not do this style any more.’ He took the glasses off, held them close to his face, and squinted. ‘Your mum chose these; she seemed to know what suited my face. I haven’t got a clue. And don’t say a paper bag.’
While he talked, my eyes settled on the last postcard, propped up on the bookshelf behind him. It had arrived a couple of years ago, the day before I turned eleven. But it didn’t say happy birthday son, or sorry for not sending a present. It said she’d be back in the summer.
My dad was waiting for an answer. Of course I should go. He’d taken the whole school holidays off work to be with me. But it was the end of August and the gluey back-to-school feeling in my stomach was getting harder to ignore. A day of mindless fun was just what I needed, and Rocky was the master of mindless.
Besides, Klaris usually left me alone when I was with him.
‘Sorry, Dad. I said I’d hang out next door today. Can’t you ask someone who works there to help you choose?’
He smiled at me, but it was the sort of smile he does to stop me feeling bad, which made it even worse. In the background Klaris was trying to say something. I would’ve put my hands over my ears but I knew it didn’t help, so I pressed my teeth together hard to stop myself from shouting at her. My dad must’ve noticed my strange expression because he put his strong- skinny arm around me and pulled me close.
‘It’s all right, Joseph, no need to get upset. You’re thirteen now. I understand you’ve got your own plans. I’m big and ugly enough to go to town by myself.’
I finished up the last crust. ‘Thanks, Dad, that was great. I’d better get dressed.’
He took the plate from me and plunged it into the washing-up bowl, then stared through the window into the back garden. ‘That bindweed’s getting hold again.’ I followed his gaze and saw a trail of white flowers, like bells, smothering a bush. ‘I told your mum to dig it up from the roots when it first appeared, but she wouldn’t listen. She said it was pretty.’
He rinsed the plate and put it on the drainer before turning to me. ‘You would tell me, Joseph, wouldn’t you, if something was wrong?’
I shrugged. ‘Nothing’s wrong.’
‘It’s just that the teenage years can be confusing.’ He looked thoughtful. ‘So can your early forties come to that. Anyway, I just wanted to say that you can talk to me about anything.’
I looked up.
Was this it?
Was this the moment I’d been waiting for, when I could finally tell him about Klaris? I wanted to, or I thought I did. But how could I say it without making him as scared as I was?
Dad turned to face me, grinning. ‘Anything at all: girl trouble, body changes, bad taste in music, all that teenage stuff. Whatever it is, Joseph, I bet I’ve been through it too.’
Bet you haven’t, I thought.
Out loud I said. ‘Don’t worry, Dad. There’s nothing wrong. But if you’ve got anything you want to talk to me about: ear hair, forgetfulness, dodgy fashion sense. Y’know, all that middle-aged stuff.’
He smiled, but I think he knew I was bluffing him. ‘No. I’m fine too.’
And I wondered how much longer I could keep her hidden.