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Cross Your Heart, Connie Pickles - Sabine Durrant

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Cross Your Heart, Connie Pickles - Sabine Durrant

PUFFIN BOOKS

    Welcome to the very private notebook of Constance de Bellechasse. Also known as Connie Pickles.Please, please don’t read this without the permission of its owner. Especially if you are itsowner’s mother, little brother or sister, or if you are William. Or Jack. Or Mr Spence.Constance de Bellechasse accepts NO responsibility for any embarrassment, blushing or crossnessresulting from reading this notebook!

    Signed: Connie Pickles

    Books by Sabine Durrant

    CROSS YOUR HEART, CONNIE PICKLES

    For adults

    THE GREAT INDOORS

    HAVING IT AND EATING IT

PUFFIN

    PUFFIN BOOKS

    Published by the Penguin GroupPenguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL , England

    Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USAPenguin Group(Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

    Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)

    Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee

Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

    Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

    www.penguin.com

First published 20053

Copyright ? Sabine Durrant, 2005All rights reserved

    The moral right of the author has been asserted

    Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that itshall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulatedwithout the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in whichit is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on thesubsequent purchaser

    British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

    A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

    ISBN: 978-0-14-192176-1

    For my friend Hilary

    Sunday 9 February

    The roof, midnight

    I’ve just written my name on the outside of this book and I wish I hadn’t. It’s midnight andI was feeling all romantic and blustery, and now I feel cross. Connie Pickles is NOT how I seemyself. Constance de Bellechasse is how I see myself. It’s a good thing I’m writing this inthe open air, and very high up, or I’d feel quite cast down.

    I’m on the roof, you see. It’s freezing and I should be in bed, but I couldn’t sleep and Ihate wasting time. I’m wearing my striped men’s pyjamas, two jumpers, my dressing gown and apair of socks, so I’m quite warm. There are clouds wisping across the dark sky, tangerine fromthe street lights. The moon is right above my head – it’s a sort of semicircle, but it’stipped on its side and if it wasn’t for the wind and the weird orange clouds blowing againstit, you might think it would lose its balance altogether.

    I’m not going to lose my balance. Or throw myself off. Don’t worry. I’m always on the roof,so I’m used to it. It’s my favourite place in the whole world. You can see all the gardens ofthe houses in our street laid out in little rows, and the gardens of the street that backs onto ours. You can even see my friend William’s window if you crane. I’m always telling him he

    should climb out too, but his roof hasn’t got a flat bit and he says he’s not breaking hisneck just to wave to me, thank you very much. It’s not dangerous my end, but you have to becareful. The only tricky thing is getting here. You have to climb on the bed and then bend andjump up at the same time. You can’t overshoot, but sometimes I scrape my back on the windowframe. In summer too, it can get really hot because it’s asphalt. Tonight it’s cool and softlike the skin of an apple.

    Oh, there you go. I’m doing it again. I’m trying to be all poetic. And I’ve vowed not to;this delicious new diary is to have none of that. The thing is I’m not poetic. Or romantic.Or, much as I’d like to be, French. De Bellechasse is only my mother’s maiden name. AndConnie is what everybody calls me. Not Constance. Just plain, dowdy, clumsy Connie. As forFrance, I’ve only ever been there once, on the school trip to Boulogne. And that was only fora day.

    I’m Connie Pickles and that’s that.

    Or is it?

    Because something BIG hit me this evening. I’ve been reading this book called The Blessing by

    Nancy Mitford and there’s this small boy in it who decides to take his mother’s life in hand.Well, it set me thinking, and when I went down for supper – cheese on toast (again) – andMarie and Cyril wouldn’t go to bed, charging around like bulls in a… well, in a small rentedhouse, and there was Mother in her threadbare black suit, flicking through a six-month-oldFrench Vogue someone left on the Tube, looking vague and fragile and tired, it made me think.Just because I’m only fourteen, it doesn’t mean I can’t make things happen.

    My dream used to be to reunite her with her parents, my grandparents, les de Bellechasses.They’re French and very grand. But they cut her off when she met my father, who was apenniless actor/pizza delivery man. He died and now she won’t speak to them. She never openstheir letters. And she gets so cross when I ask her about them… So no, I think it will have tobe something else. I think it will have to be a New Man.

    It would be OK if I could trust her to find someone for herself, but she can’t. She works in alingerie shop to make ends meet – which they don’t quite – and a bra shop, no matter how

    royally appointed, is not the best venue for meeting men. Also she has terrible taste. Myfather was very handsome. And Mother assures me he was a brilliant actor. But I can’t helpwondering – if he was such a brilliant actor, what was he doing delivering pizzas on the nighthe died? As for her second husband, Jack, sweetie that he is – and I know Marie and Cyriladore him – he’s just not reliable.

    The moon has gone behind a cloud. And I just yawned, which is a giveaway. I’m going to climbinto bed now. The thing is not to worry about how things are, but to bring about change.That’s why I’ve started this notebook, this beautiful notebook with its crisp pages anddelicious smell – I bought it on that trip to Boulogne (I love stationery) – although thereare still some pages left in the old one. This notebook is a book with a purpose. With seriousintent. It is a campaign diary. I hereby declare my resolution to put our lives in order, tofind Mother a man. Requirements: 1) Money. 2) Experience of small children. 3) Frenchconnections.

    Constance de Bellechasse… oh, all right, Connie Pickles is on the case.

    Sunday 9 February

    The roof, midnight

    I’ve just written my name on the outside of this book and I wish I hadn’t. It’s midnight andI was feeling all romantic and blustery, and now I feel cross. Connie Pickles is NOT how I seemyself. Constance de Bellechasse is how I see myself. It’s a good thing I’m writing this inthe open air, and very high up, or I’d feel quite cast down.

    I’m on the roof, you see. It’s freezing and I should be in bed, but I couldn’t sleep and Ihate wasting time. I’m wearing my striped men’s pyjamas, two jumpers, my dressing gown and apair of socks, so I’m quite warm. There are clouds wisping across the dark sky, tangerine fromthe street lights. The moon is right above my head – it’s a sort of semicircle, but it’stipped on its side and if it wasn’t for the wind and the weird orange clouds blowing againstit, you might think it would lose its balance altogether.

    I’m not going to lose my balance. Or throw myself off. Don’t worry. I’m always on the roof,so I’m used to it. It’s my favourite place in the whole world. You can see all the gardens ofthe houses in our street laid out in little rows, and the gardens of the street that backs onto ours. You can even see my friend William’s window if you crane. I’m always telling him he

    should climb out too, but his roof hasn’t got a flat bit and he says he’s not breaking hisneck just to wave to me, thank you very much. It’s not dangerous my end, but you have to becareful. The only tricky thing is getting here. You have to climb on the bed and then bend andjump up at the same time. You can’t overshoot, but sometimes I scrape my back on the windowframe. In summer too, it can get really hot because it’s asphalt. Tonight it’s cool and softlike the skin of an apple.

    Oh, there you go. I’m doing it again. I’m trying to be all poetic. And I’ve vowed not to;this delicious new diary is to have none of that. The thing is I’m not poetic. Or romantic.Or, much as I’d like to be, French. De Bellechasse is only my mother’s maiden name. AndConnie is what everybody calls me. Not Constance. Just plain, dowdy, clumsy Connie. As forFrance, I’ve only ever been there once, on the school trip to Boulogne. And that was only fora day.

    I’m Connie Pickles and that’s that.

    Or is it?

    Because something BIG hit me this evening. I’ve been reading this book called The Blessing by

    Nancy Mitford and there’s this small boy in it who decides to take his mother’s life in hand.Well, it set me thinking, and when I went down for supper – cheese on toast (again) – andMarie and Cyril wouldn’t go to bed, charging around like bulls in a… well, in a small rentedhouse, and there was Mother in her threadbare black suit, flicking through a six-month-oldFrench Vogue someone left on the Tube, looking vague and fragile and tired, it made me think.Just because I’m only fourteen, it doesn’t mean I can’t make things happen.

    My dream used to be to reunite her with her parents, my grandparents, les de Bellechasses.They’re French and very grand. But they cut her off when she met my father, who was apenniless actor/pizza delivery man. He died and now she won’t speak to them. She never openstheir letters. And she gets so cross when I ask her about them… So no, I think it will have tobe something else. I think it will have to be a New Man.

    It would be OK if I could trust her to find someone for herself, but she can’t. She works in alingerie shop to make ends meet – which they don’t quite – and a bra shop, no matter how

    royally appointed, is not the best venue for meeting men. Also she has terrible taste. Myfather was very handsome. And Mother assures me he was a brilliant actor. But I can’t helpwondering – if he was such a brilliant actor, what was he doing delivering pizzas on the nighthe died? As for her second husband, Jack, sweetie that he is – and I know Marie and Cyriladore him – he’s just not reliable.

    The moon has gone behind a cloud. And I just yawned, which is a giveaway. I’m going to climbinto bed now. The thing is not to worry about how things are, but to bring about change.That’s why I’ve started this notebook, this beautiful notebook with its crisp pages anddelicious smell – I bought it on that trip to Boulogne (I love stationery) – although thereare still some pages left in the old one. This notebook is a book with a purpose. With seriousintent. It is a campaign diary. I hereby declare my resolution to put our lives in order, tofind Mother a man. Requirements: 1) Money. 2) Experience of small children. 3) Frenchconnections.

    Constance de Bellechasse… oh, all right, Connie Pickles is on the case.

    Monday 10 February

    8.30 a.m.

    Usual chaos at breakfast. Quick scribble to repeat intentions before school.

    Cyril and Marie are fighting over the Beano Jack brought round the other day. Breakfast is fromthe Tupperware where Mother collects the stuff no one will eat from the bottom of the cerealbox: muesli dust and cornflake pap. It saves a lot on wastage, but it does tend to lower thespirits. Cyril has spilt milk on his trousers. We’ve run out of cat food and Dave, our tabby,is winding round everyone’s legs hopefully. The sofa bed, where Mother sleeps, is still out inthe sitting room. The radio’s on. There is talk of a war and a ‘long shadow over theeconomy’. (That’s just what I need.) And Mr Spence, our landlord, has dropped in.

    I opened the door and physically barred his entry. ‘Hello?’ I said suspiciously. Mariescrawled felt-tip on the radiator the other day; I thought it might be best if he didn’t seethat. Also he was wearing a T-shirt made out of blue string and the smallest pair of satinshorts you’ve ever seen, so I didn’t really want him in the house. His face glowed sweatilyand there was a little drip on the end of his nose. He was jogging up and down on the spot asif he didn’t intend to hang around.

    But then Mother bustled up behind me and said, ‘Mr Spence, enter, enter, enter.’ (She oftensays things in threes.) She put her lipstick on the moment she heard the door. She is all womanwhere all men are concerned.

    He stopped jogging and said, ‘John, please. As I’m always saying,’ and she almost simpered.

    She was wearing her cheap brown suit, with a little pink T-shirt underneath. (She is always,always elegant, unlike me. She has a knack with colour.) Marie had been fiddling with her hair– putting in those sparkle things you twist in – and Mother had just been tickling Cyril tocheer him on with his breakfast, so there was a flush to her cheeks and she really lookedlovely. And there was Mr Spence with his pale hairless thighs and his hopeful droopy expressionand his damp satin shorts (frankly, I had to avert my eyes).

    William will be calling for me any minute – we cycle to school together – and I’m not happy.Mr Spence is inspecting the leaking kitchen roof and Mother’s out in the garden hoveringprettily by his bare legs. I don’t know what she’s playing at. It’s time she took the

    children to school. They’re going to be late. Marie gets in a tizz if she misses register, andCyril’s got his SATs this year and everything. But she’s still out there flirting with him.

    Honestly, if anything is going to galvanize me into action, this is.

    Same day

    Geography, period five

    Push and Pull Factors. We’ve got a supply teacher, so no one’s paying any attention. Karenand Josie – aka The Shazzers – are in the corner fiddling with their gold jewellery. TheGrungers are all buried in their headphones. And Joseph Milton, who’s said to be the scariestboy in our class (though not by me: he was at Our Lady of Victories, so I’ve known him sincehe had to keep a spare pair of pants on his peg), is kissing his teeth at the teachersuggestively. And Julie, my best friend, has got her head down as if she is working hard. OnlyI know she isn’t.

    I found her at break and we sat on the bench near the concrete pit where some of the boys dotheir skateboarding. Her in her cool parka with the fake-fur collar, me in my pink pack-a-mac(bargain at Cancer Research). Recently the skateboarding seems to have been a bit more show-offy when Julie is on the bench. It’s not that she’s pretty exactly. She’s got largefeatures – a huge nose and a jutting chin and big lips which she licks a lot. But she’swomanly, if you know what I mean. She wears a proper bra, not just a support-vest like me. Andshe doesn’t care what people think. She says I don’t either or I wouldn’t wear wellies andpink pack-a-macs to school. But I wear wellies and pink pack-a-macs to school because I do care

    what people think. There’s not enough money for me to buy trendy stuff, so I’d rather opt outaltogether. I’d rather be wacky than boring. Charity-shop chic, I call it. Anyway, back toJulie. Not caring is why I think she’s so popular. William says it has more to do with certainother Large Features. That boy can be so childish.

    I knew I could tell her about my plan to find Mother a boyfriend and that she would take it inhand. She’s really good at things like that. She’s more clued up than me romantically. She’shad two boyfriends herself, one of them, Phil from the sixth-form college, quite serious. I sawthem in the high street at Christmas outside HMV. He had his hand up her jumper. I had to runhome and eat chocolate to get over the shock.

    ‘Hm,’ she said when I explained and ran through my requirements (quick recap – money,interest in France, ability to handle small children). ‘Int-er-est-ing.’ She rolled the wordout in a sort of French manner, and took a drag of her cigarette. I don’t smoke by the way.Julie does. It is one of the many differences between us. We met on the very first day ofsecondary school after she stood up for me when some girls in Year Eight started throwing mytartan beret around and calling me names. ‘Freak yourself!’ she said over her shoulder as shetook my arm. We’ve been friends ever since.

    At break she gave me a long look. Her eyes under the black eyeliner were very pale green, likethe Wedgwood ashtray Mother and Jack got for a wedding present. She’s a bit funny aboutparents and their other halves. She puts on a voice when she talks about her stepmother. Like,‘Ali-son thinks Dad should take us out to TGI Friday’s tomorrow night,’ and although I knowshe loves TGI Friday’s there’s something in the way she leaves the sentence hanging as ifeven she doesn’t know what she wants from it that makes you wonder. So I didn’t know whethershe might be about to tell me not to be stupid or something. But then she grinned. ‘I think wecan have fun with this,’ she said. ‘Leave it with me. Double geog. Supply teacher. I needsomething to keep me busy’

    She’s just passed me a note. ‘Walk me to the bus stop after school. I’ve made a list.’

    Same day

Kitchen, 5 p.m.

    Blissful hour to myself before Jack’s mother, Granny Enid, who looks after Marie and Cyrilstraight from school, drops them back. It’s v peaceful if I close my eyes to the loose felt-tips and abandoned socks, to the damp spot on the kitchen ceiling. Bit hungry, though.There’s not much in the cupboard, but I found a packet of rice cakes. Some people think ricecakes are just card-board, but if you concentrate on them, you can persuade yourself they’requite delicious. It’s important not to compare them to other things, like chocolatedigestives, that’s all.

    I have stuff to record. Operation New Man is under way.

    Julie and I met at the sheds and we walked down the hill together – or rather, she walked; Irolled alongside her with my hand on and off the brakes. It wasn’t until the bus stop that shegot out her list. This is what it said:

    1. ‘Monsieur

    ’ BakerDon’t! Wait a moment before you move on. I know a teacher is a weird suggestion, butlook beyond the hair (lack of) and the peculiar walk. Put the ‘Non, non, non, Mademoiselle

    out of your head. Think: culture. Think: connections. Think: already-speaks-the-lingo. He’sthe right age – forty, d’ya reck? – he’s single and he’s got a mobile home in theDordogne. Don’t puke; I’m thinking of you here, babe.

    2. My Uncle Bert

    Soo rich, sooo cool, soooo going out with someone else. She’s ghastly. We can fix it. Justimagine yourself living it up in his Chelsea penthouse. He says he can get me two comps for theElectric B’stards at the Palais on Friday. Any point me asking if you want to come? His onlyfault: an over-dependency on cKone aftershave.

    3. New Chemist Guy

    The hunky one in the old Levi’s who’s always up a ladder. Either he owns the shop (i.e.financial security, long-term prospects), or he’s just passing through

    (traveller/artist/possibly recovering drug addict, in which case bin him). Good bum, though(got to count for something).

    4. Any exes?

    Over to you here, Con. Is there anyone that may have slipped the net? We mustn’t overlook theobvious, e.g. wasn’t there some lush bloke she met on the Tube last year?

    Julie was watching me as I read the list, with her head cocked on one side like an expectantdog. I looked at her. Then I said, ‘Monsieur Baker. No way’

    Julie said she knew I was going to say that.

    ‘No way,’ I said again. ‘No way’

    I put my head back and slunk, as if slowly dying, to the ground. I made a few choking noiseswhile I was down there. I had a momentary vision of meeting him in the bathroom doorway, himwith a towel on…

    Julie turned to Margaret Jackson, who was next in the bus queue. ‘Mushroom bake,’ she said.‘Always stick to cold food in the canteen.’

    Then she kicked me, and I stood up.

    ‘I’m not joking,’ she said. ‘I’ve thought it through. You don’t have to fancy him. Onlyyour mum does. And just think: Monsieur Baker’s life ambition is to retire to France. Nuffsaid. Think about it.’

    I nodded and said I would, but then her bus came and she got on and, as it shunted up to thelights alongside me, I did the Baker walk – a heavy marionette sort of galumph, sausages forlimbs – resting my tongue on my lower lip at the same time (which was a bit unfair because,while he does funnel-up his mouth when he speaks French, he doesn’t actually do that). Juliesat looking out of the bus window, shaking her head at me in pity.

She’s right, though, he’s worth considering. OK, I’ve considered him. No.

    We didn’t get a chance to talk about the rest of her list. She said to ring her tonight.Here’s what I think:

    Her uncle: hm. Careful: Julie adores him. Boyish body, raddled face, yoof-ful clothes. Would hefill our house with the spirit of maturity I’m after? Would he make Mother happy? Perhaps.I’ve only met him once or twice, the last time at Julie’s mum’s Christmas booze-up. He hadhis girlfriend with him – one of those karmically poised women with hair that’s a bit toolong for their face. He kept putting his hands inside her waistband at the back, which was abit yuk. A possible.

    Chemist Guy: you only ever get to see bits of him – bejeaned bum up a ladder (good spot,Jules), or a corner of his face through the little window at the back. I’ll have to get afull-frontal. Save a fortune on dental floss.

    As for exes… Mother’s a disaster on the romance front. The men she meets are either homelessor hapless or, like the man on the Tube, married. And not Jack, please. I know that would makea wonderfully happy ending, but it’s not going to happen here. They are so ill-suited. Motherneeds someone to provide order in her life, while Jack… Jack’s not just serially unfaithful.He’s always got some new mad plan – the latest one’s selling fish door to door (he pretendsit comes from Newcastle) – but he’s never got quite enough ‘at this precise moment in time’to pay the bills.

    Oh, I really ought to be able to think of a wonderful future husband for her myself. (Thereshould be a big gap here to indicate the ten minutes I have just spent staring at the ceiling.)But I can’t.

    Doorbell. I’m not allowed to open the front door if I’m alone in the house. Something hasjust rattled through the letter box. I’ll just go and see what.

    My bedroom, 10 p.m.

    Might have guessed: chocolate buttons. William and I have a thing about chocolate buttons.It’s like a private joke without the joke.

    I opened the door and he was standing on the mat, looking sheepish and irritating. He’d justgot off his bike – the skin on his face and arms was mottled red and white as if he was hotand cold at the same time. The chain with his crucifix was out of his T-shirt, skew-whiffacross his shoulder.

    He said, ‘Where were you? I waited for you at the sheds.’

    Bother. We usually cycle home together and I’d forgotten to tell him I was walking with Julie.I should have felt guilty, but I just felt cross. I said, ‘I went down with Julie.’

    ‘Oh,’ he said, looking hurt. ‘Oh, sorry.’

    He’s always apologizing, even when I’m at fault. It’s a vicious circle we’re in. I’mhoity-toity; he’s repentant. And the awful thing is, the nicer he is, the crosser I get. I’mreally not a very nice person.

    ‘Do you want to come in, then?’ I said.

    ‘Yeah, all right.’

    He wheeled his bike into the hall, leant it against mine and followed me into the kitchen. Hisjeans are so wide and baggy these days the legs seem to start down at his knees. He’s such afashion victim. Sometimes I think I’m outgrowing him.

    He sat on the stool while I filled the kettle. ‘Did you hear about the French exchange?’ hesaid.

    I stopped what I was doing. ‘No. I didn’t have French today.’

    ‘Yeah,’ he said casually. ‘Easter holidays. You have to get your form in by the end of theweek. Cheque for eighty quid. I doubt I’ll bother.’

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