“Wait, what?” I exclaim, Thomas’ rapidly-fired demand a word search. “Who’s “they”?” I don’t know which part to concentrate my concern onto: Luca being gone or that someone else is involved in his vanishing.
“The Social!” Thomas shouts, ire mingled with genuine distress. “They turned up at about 8:30 this morning and told me that I’m not fit to look after him! I’m 17!” He spits on the ground and it’s all I can do not to shuffle my feet in disgust.
“But -” I start. “That arrangement was only temporary, right? Your mum won’t be in hospital forever.” I am amazingly calm in my surety of the situation’s eventual resolution. Perhaps I am missing something; my psyche is sluggish from minimal rest.
Thomas suddenly draws back from his assault of my personal space. He grips a frontal tuft of blond and tells me quietly: “Mum’s dead.”
My stomach plummets as though I have just descended from the climax of a rollercoaster, then is stabbed with a pang of panic. “What?” I utter hoarsely. “And – and you – you haven’t told Luca that?” My head and chest are smouldering so fiercely that I wish I could take off my coat.
“Are you insane? That kid’s already fucked up. But never mind that. I want to know who called them.” His tone is scarily bitter. “Luca says he’s going out with you for the day to work on whatever crackpot project you’re doing, and the next thing I know, the S-workers come knocking!”
I now realise where he’s going with this – but he’s wrong. I didn’t call them. It must have been Sam or Ms Stapleton – no, not Sam: he’s too innocent. Stapleton though, she’s a teacher… I don’t quite manage to defend myself at this moment in time; I am still caught up in the concept of Ms Amello’s death. “When did she die?” I put forward bluntly.
“Look. Don’t bullshit me.” He scowls. “You called them, didn’t you?”
“No. No. There were others. More people with us. “
“Like who?” Thomas taps his feet impatiently.
“Uh, a boy, Samuel. And – and Ms Stapleton.”
“Ms Stapleton? The teacher?” He pales.
I nod. He must have friends at Rosenham High.
“Well. She probably did it then.” He squeezes out, toothpaste from a near-empty tube. “What did you say to her?”
Now recovered from my initial internal paralysis, I am overcome with irritation at Thomas’ recurring accusations. “Who said I said anything?” I say indignantly, although I wrack my brains in the pause that Thomas uses to raise his well-shaped eyebrows, awaiting a conclusive explanation. “If you must know,” I come up with, “your oh-so-victimised “alien” brother happened to mention that you were his 17-year-old guardian.”
He looks somewhat sulky at my retort and manages to suppress any shock that he might be experiencing with expertise. “I don’t see why she would have snaked us out based on just that.”
“Nope, neither do I.” I snap, thoroughly ruffled. “Where have they taken Luca?”
He tells me the address of the children’s home, a couple of miles up north somewhere. “Bye then.” He says, shrugging helplessly.
“Still can’t believe you lied to your little brother.” I provoke hotly as his shoulders slant to leave. “Was she ever actually in hospital?”
He stares at me – hard. “Fuck off.” He commands, briskly completing the turn. But by the time he reaches the end of the road he yells something else. “They switched her off the day before yesterday.”
Oh. My heart plummets like an arrow that’s missed its target. What have I done? I think, switching with amazing speed from incredulity to self-disgust. The candle in my throat is only an invisible reminder that I cannot be held fully accountable.