Read All This Could End Online
Authors: Steph Bowe
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction
If only he could go back to a time when a hug from his mother was all he needed to make everything okay again.
problem?’ asks Sophia.
Nina wants to say, ‘Nothing’. Or, ‘Sorry, I forgot, obviously it wasn’t that much of an issue!’ In the vault, when she’d decided she had to tell her mother, she hadn’t known the police were here already. Now that the police are here, their arrest inevitable, what does it matter that Spencer’s here? He can’t do anything to make their situation worse.
She doesn’t know how Sophia will deal with the problem of the police. But if she has a plan to get away, then Nina has to tell her mother about Spencer.
She is not keen on the idea of prison.
She’s not keen on the idea of Spencer dead, either, but she pushes it out of her mind. Like it or not, she’s not an ordinary girl, and this isn’t an ordinary Monday, and the chance of her having an ordinary relationship with Spencer was thrown out the window a long time before she took him hostage in a bank robbery.
Nina knows you have to be careful when you’re a criminal. Not just when you’re planning to commit a crime or when you’re committing it or when you’re covering it up, but the rest of the time, too. Your whole life. You always have to look over your shoulder, obey the speed limit, be careful about a paper trail. You can never be honest. And you can’t get close to people.
She knows she has screwed up, and Spencer’s the one who’ll suffer the consequences.
She glances around at the faces of the hostages—
The hostages, bloody hell
they’re just ordinary people
. She just wants to be an ordinary person. Tom has collected their mobile phones and kicked them into a pile across the room. But it’s too late now—one of the tellers must have alerted the police. She’s astounded at how quickly they’ve arrived. Blue-eyeshadow Amanda looks hopeful. The glasses-wearing woman clutches at her husband. Nina can’t bear to look at Spencer. If the police are here, why aren’t they busting in already?
She takes a deep breath and says something she knows she’ll regret the moment it leaves her mouth: ‘I know him.’ And she nods towards Spencer. ‘His name’s Spencer Jack, and I went to school with him.’
Sophia looks over at Spencer. ‘What a wonderful surprise. That name does ring a bell,’ she says. ‘Let me know now if we’ve had the pleasure of previous acquaintance with anyone else in the bank, would you?’
Nina remains silent. Does she need to tell them about his father? Given Sophia’s mood right now, no.
Sophia starts pacing. Everyone else is still.
‘So, what are we going to do?’ asks Nina.
‘We need to attract as much attention to ourselves as possible,’ Sophia says, but she’s not speaking to Nina now. It doesn’t sound as if she’s speaking to anyone. She’s off in her own world. She continues to pace. ‘We need lots of people, emergency services, everyone.’
‘I’m sorry?’ says Nina. ‘Why? We’d be much better off getting out
now, rather than when we’re surrounded.’
‘The more people, the more distraction,’ intones Sophia. ‘It’ll be far easier to slip out unnoticed if there are people everywhere. We need people being evacuated. We need chaos.’
Nina glances at her father. He doesn’t look as if he believes Sophia this time.
‘And what do we do with Spencer?’ asks Nina. She’s hoping Sophia doesn’t say, ‘We’ll use him as a human shield’. She’s hoping the ground can open up and swallow her and Spencer into hell, because that would surely be better than this.
‘We’ll take him with us,’ says Sophia.
‘We don’t want anyone to get hurt,’ murmurs Nina.
Sophia shakes her head. ‘No one will get hurt, my love.’
‘What now then?’ asks Paul, uneasy, fidgeting on the spot.
‘We need something flammable. And something loud.’
Spencer is not sure if Nina is the same girl he knew four months ago, or a totally different one. The balaclava doesn’t help. He wants to reach out and grasp her hand and ask if she ever cared and whether she thinks about him every day like he thinks of her.
Lately, at night, when he can’t sleep, when he hears the walls of his house groan with the amount of grief held inside it, all he wants is for the pressure in his head to stop, for things to still. Sometimes, he wishes he could stop everything forever.
But now he’s here, with death a distinct possibility, he knows that as much as he wants the anguish to end, he doesn’t want dying to be the way. Now, since he’s had a gun to his head, he knows that he wants to live. He wants to go back home to Monica and sit on the couch and watch shitty TV and eat creamed rice.
Spencer Jack just wants to stay alive.
He remembers a conversation he had once with Bridie. In the time before Nina, before his mother left, before his brother-that-never-was, before everything terrible and beautiful, when life was just ordinary—just days blurring into each other, just disenchantment over everything that being a teenager was supposed to be, but wasn’t. Before Bridie’s bassists, and in the middle of her year of self-discovery.
They had taken the bus to a town twenty minutes from theirs (a town just as boring as their own, but at least they didn’t run into people they knew). They had walked through a park and stopped at a bench by a river, and eaten Anzac biscuits. Bridie’s mother had produced them, pretending they were homemade by crumbling the corners and stuffing them in Tupperware containers, but Bridie saw the wrappers in the bin and was not fooled. It was a sweet gesture all the same.
He could hear Bridie’s voice in his head, and could remember the taste of the Anzac biscuits, and the wind biting at him through his jacket. He had said something self-critical or pessimistic or otherwise depressing, as he so often does. He never remembered the details because it was never important. Bridie usually ignored his constant self-deprecation, but not this time.
‘Jesus Christ, Spence,’ she said. ‘Even if no one ever falls in big-time orchestra love with me and I die a cat lady, it doesn’t matter. Even if I get hit by a bus tomorrow and die a virgin, it’s fine. Because I made the most of it while I was here. My parents love me, even if they’re not great at showing it. I love them. I love you. I took opportunities and I made mistakes and I don’t regret anything. I’m lucky that I was born in this country and in this age and that I’ve got to be everything I am. And you know I don’t care if other people think I’m fat, because I think I’m gorgeous. You have to stop putting yourself down and feeling inferior to everybody and start enjoying your life, Spence. You’ve only got one. Don’t waste it being miserable. And that’s the last inspirational speech I’m giving you, so you better pick up your game.’
He thinks of a Greek word he likes (he doesn’t speak Greek—he doesn’t speak anything except English and Pig Latin and Sarcasm,—but he’s got a whole catalogue of words in his head from other languages, words that don’t have an exact English counterpart):
Doing something with soul, creativity, or love.
That’s how Bridie lives her life: with meaning and passion, everything done for a reason. Nothing half-arsed about Bridie.
And it strikes Spencer now, in the bank, as it did then, that, despite being flaky, not particularly academic, and also easily distracted, Bridie is one of the smartest people he knows. And even if she is really bad when it comes to prioritising her friends over strange new bassists, she’s there when it matters (well, not right now, but that’s impossible), and she knows what’s important, and she’s not going to die with any regrets. But Spencer can’t say the same for himself.
Nina is sitting beside Spencer with the rest of the hostages. She’s put her gun down on one of the counters, alongside deposit slips and tethered pens. It’s a relief. Her parents are in the office behind the tellers and he’s fairly sure they’ve put their guns down, too. They’re speaking to each other in low, harsh voices. He can’t make out a word. Now it’s just Tom with a gun in his hand, and he’s hoping Tom isn’t the type to kill anyone.
More lights flash outside. It can’t have been more than twenty minutes since the police arrived, but it feels like eons. Everyone sitting in the group is looking at each other, or at the carpet. Spencer imagines them as a group of Prep children at school, waiting to be read a story.
He catches the eye of the red-headed woman beside him. ‘Jesus,’ she mutters. ‘Wish I could call my kids.’
He looks at his dad, a couple of metres away, and smiles weakly, wondering whether Monica would be aware that this was going on, would it be breaking news? Would she be panicking?
‘You know that verge you told me about?’ Spencer says, so only Nina can hear. She nods. ‘I think I’m ready for whatever is beyond it. I don’t think I can feel more afraid than I do today.’
‘I’m sorry for leaving you like that,’ says Nina. ‘I thought it’d be better. Or I couldn’t bring myself to tell you. Maybe both. Dad would’ve let us stay, but Mum was determined to go ahead with her plans. Just like she is now.’
‘I can’t say that explanation makes much sense, but it’s better than nothing,’ he says. ‘It’s all right. I missed you too much to be angry.’
‘Your emails would indicate otherwise,’ says Nina.
‘You read them?’
‘But you never replied?’
‘I couldn’t. It wouldn’t have been fair to you. I wanted so much to tell you about…about all this, but I didn’t know what you’d do. I’m sure you wouldn’t share all my family secrets with the police, but I couldn’t risk it. And I didn’t want you to hate me because of what my family does.’
‘I don’t blame you. This isn’t you.’
‘How do you know what’s me? How do you know I didn’t keep other things from you?’
‘I know you. I didn’t know this, but I still know you.’
Is that a smile on her face? She moves her hand towards his, then she stops and pulls it back, and the chasm reopens between them. He watches her blink repeatedly and he remembers one of the many did-you-knows she told him, about how blinking stops tears by moistening the eyes.
He thinks of a word (how can he think of odd words at a time like this?):
. It’s from an indigenous language in South America. It means something like:
a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will offer something that they both desire but are unwilling to offer themselves. Like comfort.
Sophia is searching through the office. Nina can see the top of her head through the teller windows. She’s peeled back her balaclava and is tossing papers aside, glancing over at the flashing lights through the half-closed blinds, The look on her face is like someone in a horror movie: possessed.
Tom is still standing next to the hostages. He looks uneasy pointing the gun at them. Nina wants to tell him to put the gun down, as the rest of them have, but Sophia will tell him not to.
‘Anyone have a lighter?’ Sophia yells. Someone probably does, but they’re all too scared to move. Her voice, her mannerisms, have amped up in intensity. She’s jittery. Is she excited or nervous?
‘We’re not exploding anything or setting fire to anything,’ says Paul. ‘I’m not letting you endanger people’s lives.’
Sophia pauses. ‘And everything until now has been okay? You’re okay with robbing banks, but
is going too far? You want to get caught? Don’t pretend you’ve got different moral standards, Paul, because I know you’re the same as me.’ She’s screeching.
‘This has gone on too bloody long, Sophia,’ he says. His voice is calmer, lower, controlled. ‘Maybe we should just give it up now.’ He walks back from behind the tellers to the main part of the bank, Sophia following a few steps behind.
Nina does not know what she is supposed to do. She can’t imagine her mother just walking out to the police. Should she try and reason with her? Take the gun off Tom? She’s used to her mother’s moods, but there is no precedent for situations where Sophia is about to be arrested, or what she might do to avoid that. She does not like being unable to predict her mother’s behaviour. Maybe she should just walk right out herself? Let the police know what’s going on? Surely her mother wouldn’t stop her. Couldn’t.
She can’t leave Tom. Or Spencer.
‘Who are you?’ snaps Sophia. ‘Give up? What the hell? What has happened to you? Have we slipped into an alternative reality without me noticing? Is it opposite day?’
‘This is not really the time for a deep and meaningful, okay? Maybe I now see this for what it is, hey? You know we don’t need to do this. I could get by on teaching. You’re the only one who wants to do this. The kids have never known anything but this. Jesus Christ. I should have had a mind of my own, shouldn’t I?’ He’s shouting now. ‘Just because you were raised a criminal and I had a shitty childhood doesn’t give us an excuse to be evil, Sophia. To raise our kids in this way. I’ve been blind to it for too bloody long because I love you so much. Never again.’
‘Everyone is a bad person if you really think about it, Paul. Like this guy—’ she walks over and grabs the young dreadlocks guy by his arm and drags him up.
‘Don’t,’ he mutters, flinching.
‘I’m not going to hurt you, you imbecile. The gun’s in the other room, anyway. I’m trying to illustrate a point.’ She turns back to Paul, speaking in a measured tone. ‘Our young friend here’s shirt is probably made in China, likely in a sweatshop, by either the desperately underpaid, or children. Okay? So he’s supporting child labour and keeping millions of people impoverished, so that he can wear a cheap shirt. Do you think the immediacy of pain and suffering makes a difference, Paul? Do you think it’s okay to hurt people as long as they’re far away and you’re only one of many people that are supporting their misery? If it’s not just you to blame, if you don’t have to deal with seeing their face? It’s like getting to eat the pig, but being too ethical to kill it.’
Nina cannot bring herself to point out that her analogy makes no sense, and isn’t really comparable to robbing a bank.
‘My shirt’s second-hand,’ the man says quietly. He is trembling.