Read All This Could End Online

Authors: Steph Bowe

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction

All This Could End (12 page)

‘You need to follow the signs to the highway. We’re going to a town that’s a bit over an hour south. You can drive at the speed limit, you know. Driving too slowly is also dangerous.’

‘And you’re
concerned with living safely!’

‘I would calm down a bit if I were you, Nina. I would hate you to say something you’ll regret. I know this is a normal teenage phase. I went through it too. Okay? If you were aware that this is all going to pass, you’d behave differently. Now why do you want to stay? Please explain this to me.’

‘I can’t. You wouldn’t understand.’

‘You wouldn’t understand... Oh, how I love those words. It’s so condescending but people don’t seem to realise that. It implies you have total knowledge of another person’s lived experience and capacity for empathy, which you can never actually have. You can only see inside your own head. How do you know I wouldn’t understand?’

‘I don’t. I just feel like I belong here.’ Nina tries to concentrate on driving.

Sophia considers this for a moment. ‘It’s all perception, Nina. You think you belong, and so you think it’s true. I think popular culture is to blame for people feeling the imperative to find a place where they belong. And advertising. Buy this car, buy these clothes, and you will fit in. Like magic. The reality is that your family are the only people you truly belong with.’

They’re silent for the next half an hour. Tom keeps listening to his iPod; it’s turned up so loud they can hear the bass in the front. Sophia is the first to speak again.

‘You know when you think about something so much that it doesn’t make any sense?’ she says. ‘Like when you say a word a dozen times. Like, “dozen”. It stops meaning anything. It’s just a bunch of letters, a bunch of lines. Like, if you really think about money, it’s meaningless. Giving people little bits of paper in return for some
, or a card that has a certain number attached to it, that’s even stranger. But no matter how much you think about the concept of family, no matter how much you break it down, it always, always makes sense. Your blood, that’s forever. That’s all you’ve got.’

Nina stays quiet. She’s heard variations of this speech a million times before. Usually she just agrees, doesn’t contest a thing. Not this time.

‘What about love?’ asks Nina. She wants desperately to challenge her mother on this, but she also has to focus on driving. She doesn’t want to get pulled over; who knows what weapons or cash her mother has stashed away in the car. ‘Isn’t that even more important than family? More meaningful?’

‘Love is transitory, like money,’ Sophia says. ‘It’s subjective and fleeting. You can’t prove it. People love cake and shoes and boy bands. It’s all about circumstance and
.’ She says ‘feeling’ like it’s a dirty word. She leans back and props her feet up on the dash. Nina wishes she wouldn’t do that. ‘Love is not about truth. You could love everyone in the world if you really wanted to. But it wouldn’t last. The bond you have with your family is a permanent one. Romantic love is incredibly overrated. I think we have poets and musicians to blame for that. You know, I could have been a motivational speaker.’

‘You still could be. You’re not even forty yet. Plenty of people change careers.’ She wants to say: Plenty of people settle down and give up illegal activities when they realise it endangers their children, but she’s not sure how true it is.

‘You’re wrong, Nina. They say—psychologists say—that who you are at the age of six is who you’ll be your whole life. Your personality’s set. I never went to university, I barely finished high school, so I’m not really in a position to disagree with psychologists, am I? I was robbing people when I was six. I’m set. You’re set. Tom’s set.’

‘Why are you telling me this?’

‘We have to share things with each other, you know?’

They’re quiet again. Sophia’s obviously shared her portion of philosophical musings for the day already. After forty minutes on the highway, she tells Nina to take the next turn off. They enter a big country town. She slows down. The town is all wide roads and old but well-maintained buildings. They pass vast parks and a lake, and a number of bed and breakfasts and a winery, before they reach the centre of town. It is a clear and beautiful day.

‘Okay, let’s stop here,’ says Sophia. She points to a space on the side of the road just ahead.

Nina parallel parks. Across the road on the corner, there’s a quaint-looking brownstone building with a high roof and frosted-glass double doors. It seems busy, people bustling in and out. It could be a pub or a post office or some other establishment, but it’s not. It’s a bank.

Nina is not surprised.

‘I like it,’ says her mother. ‘Do you like it?’

‘It’s just like the other ones,’ says Tom. He winds down his window. He’s always been involved in casing the banks, even though he has never participated in a robbery. He sounds unimpressed. This is not what Sophia was aiming for.

‘You know, I’ve always been such a fan of those names the media give to serial criminals. “Angel of Death”, “Postcard Bandit”, things like that,’ she says. ‘I was hoping they’d pick up on my love of small, country banks, the banks nobody robs, the neglected ones, but I think we have to be a bit more overt. I mean, the old modus operandi was working well, but we need to keep it fresh. Now, we won’t be ready by the holidays next month, but I’m thinking we can start here in the December school holidays. I’m working towards “The Holiday Bandits”.’

There’s a long silence in the car.

‘Is this a game to you?’ Nina asks her mother. The question is a genuine one.

‘Life’s a game, Nina,’ she says. ‘It would be delusional to suggest otherwise. Is “bandits” too old school?’

‘I like it,’ Tom offers weakly.

‘You mispronounced modus operandi. It’s pronounced like “die” at the end,’ Nina adds.

‘I know you’ve been talking with your father, Nina. He’s spoken to me about it. You don’t need to worry so much. Life is what you make it and, to be honest, I’m not sure why you want to make yours like everyone else’s.’

‘I just…’ Nina is sick of her mother, sick of the robberies, but she doesn’t want to alienate her. If she doesn’t have her family, she has nothing. ‘I find it stressful.’ This is a very, very watered-down version of what she’s actually feeling.

Sophia reaches over and pats Nina’s hand, still resting on the steering wheel. ‘You’ll come around. I just think the atmosphere here’s perfect. So old-fashioned. We can pretend we’re in the 1940s. You can come along this time, Tom.’

‘Awesome!’ says Tom. The moods of twelve-year-olds seem to entirely lack consistency. He hated her last week.

Nina feels ill.

‘Hey, I’ve got a game,’ Sophia says. They’re five minutes from home, passing a shopping centre. It’s been a two-hour round trip. ‘Let’s move someone’s car. Pull over.’

Nina wants to get home, sleep for a few hours, try to suppress the dread of leaving, the dread of the next robbery, but she parks at the side of the road because her mother is clearly on a mission…again. She also wants to see Spencer before she leaves. Not to say goodbye—she doesn’t think she can—but just see him. Before they go away and start planning for the robbery.

There’s a car park opposite, outside the shopping centre.

‘Go on, Nina. I’ve got a coat hanger here somewhere.’

Tom passes it from the back seat. ‘Here you are.’

This is Sophia’s disturbing idea of a game. ‘Pick a car and move it across the car park and we’ll watch for the reaction from here, yes?’

Nina looks across at the car park, thinking how stupid this task is. ‘What do you want me to prove to you?’ Nina asks.

‘Nothing, darling. This is your problem. You need to relax. Are you morally opposed to having fun? You’re not stealing the car. You’re not borrowing it, either. You’re moving it. It’ll be entertaining. The owner won’t think twice about it. After the initial confusion, of course.’

‘Then why do I have to do it?’

‘Oh, you know, keep your hand in. Tom reckons it’ll be funny, don’t you, Tom?’

‘Yeah,’ Tom mutters from the back.

‘See, if this was one of your friends asking you to do this, it’d all be a lot of fun, wouldn’t it? The reason you’re rebelling against me is because I’m your mother. You wouldn’t have a problem with it otherwise.’

‘I would have problem with it, trust me.’

‘Well, that’s good then. I don’t want you trusting some kid you go to school with over your mum.’

‘Fine,’ says Nina. ‘This is so totally unnecessary.’ She takes the coat hanger, twists it open and tucks it into her school blazer. She smiles tightly at her mother, steps out of the car and crosses the road.

She picks an older car—a dirty sedan that’s probably as old as she is—with manual locks. She doesn’t want to set off an alarm. When there’s no one walking past, she slides the coat hanger between the door and the frame on the driver’s side, trying to catch the lock.

Her heart is thrumming in her throat. She doesn’t look over to their car Her mother is like a fourteen-year-old..

Nina gets her wish of seeing Spencer again before she leaves. He walks around the corner and sees her immediately. He grins.

‘I am the unluckiest person in the whole goddamn world,’ she mutters.

‘Nina! Hey! What’s going on? I heard you left early. Are you all right?’

He’s gorgeous. His bag is looped over one shoulder, he needs a haircut, and she saw him this morning but it feels too long ago.

‘Hey. Yeah, I’m fine. Had a bit of an afternoon out with my mum.’

‘I’d like to meet her, you know, properly,’ he says. ‘But I’d probably make the worst impression. You’re keeping me away from your parents on purpose, aren’t you? Worried I’ll be incredibly embarrassing?’ He’s making a joke, but she can feel his insecurity.

‘Nah, they’re just busy. What are you up to?’

‘I went back to Bridie’s to help her with Maths. I’m on my way home now. Whose car?’ He glances at the coat hanger, obviously baffled.

‘A friend of mine locked her keys in her car.’ She points vaguely inside. She also manages to persuade the lock open at that moment. ‘There we go.’ She smiles.

‘Anyone I know?’ He looks confused.

‘No one you know. Mate of my parents. She’s shopping.’ She’s still smiling. She opens the door, sits and fiddles around in the centre console. ‘Keys must be here somewhere.’ Nina is a good liar—well practised—but she’s feeling so guilty. She needs to get Spencer out of there. She needs to get herself out of there, in case the owner turns up. Her mother wants her to do this to prove her loyalty. She could never explain that to Spencer, or to anybody.

‘So, there’s no real-world
Grand Theft Auto
going on?’ He smiles.

It takes a lot of effort for Nina to keep smiling. ‘No.’

‘You’re coming out with Bridie and me on Friday, right?’ he asks. ‘I mean, you’re coming out with me, and Bridie’s going to abandon us for a bassist but we’re going to have a way better time anyway?’

‘Yeah, of course,’ she says. ‘I have…stuff, to sort out right now, for this friend of my mum’s—I’ll call you later.’

‘Absolutely,’ he says. He looks confused now. She wants to hug him, say goodbye. He lingers for a moment. But she stays half inside the car. ‘Okay. I have to get home. Yeah. I’ll…see you later.’ He shuffles off.

As soon as Spencer has disappeared around another corner, Nina gets out of the car, shuts the door behind her, and hurries back across the street. She doesn’t bother to lock the car—there’s nothing worth stealing, and it was easy enough to get into, anyone could have done it. Her breathing has not returned to normal. She feels terrible for how coldly she treated Spencer.

‘Oh, Nina,’ says her mother. She’s moved to the driver’s seat. She watched the encounter but she is faking ignorance. ‘What happened?’

‘Let’s just go.’ Nina gets in the passenger side.

‘You’ve left my coat hanger in their car. And you didn’t even move it. What happens if you need to start a car in an emergency? You need to practise.’

‘I can’t imagine there are many emergencies that require me to steal a car.’

‘Did they have any CDs worth nicking?’ asks Tom.

‘Shut up, Tom,’ says Nina.

‘All right,’ concedes Sophia. She starts the car. ‘By the way, I ran into young Bridie over at this very shopping centre the other day. She’s such a lovely girl. I worry about you, Nina. I so want you to feel like you can share things with me.’

‘What do you mean?’ asks Nina. ‘I do.’

‘She told me you have a
.’ There’s a humorous tone to her voice, but Nina can tell how serious she is being. How concerned she is. ‘And I did not know about this. Those sorts of things.’

‘Oh my God,’ says Tom. ‘I am going to have so much fun teasing you. This is the best thing ever.’

Bridie, I hate you
, thinks Nina. Her heart races. She continues to breathe as normally as she can. Her mother will believe her over Bridie.

‘I do not,’ says Nina, laughing it off. ‘As if. Don’t take her seriously. She always exaggerates.’

‘Oh,’ says her mother. ‘Right.’

Tom sighs as if genuinely disappointed. ‘I didn’t even get to say “Nina’s got a boyfriend” in my mocking singing voice. Or that “sitting in a tree” song.

‘I had a few boyfriends in my time,’ her mother says, her voice light. She’s moved on from the topic, just like that. Nina doesn’t trust it. ‘Of course I married your father for his surname. Although he never lets anyone call him by it. Appears to be the hip teacher, lets the students call him by his first name. Imagine if he introduced himself as Mr Pretty.’

‘Sounds like a Mr Men character,’ says Nina.

‘It’s so ridiculous! No one at school ever shuts up about it. Could’ve married someone with a normal name, couldn’t you, Mum? I’m legally changing it as soon as I’m eighteen,’ says Tom.

‘Are you now, Tom?’ says Sophia. ‘What’s the new surname going to be?’

‘I’m still thinking about it... it’s definitely going to be something awesome, though. Like “Dragon”.’

‘Dragon. Thomas Dragon,’ she says, as if seriously considering it. ‘That’s much less weird. Lucky you’ve got six years to think it over.’

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