Here's the first chapter of Enjoy the Silence for you to read and see if you like it.
First day of the summer holidays. That feeling: eight weeks of freedom, everything waiting for you so that it could begin properly. These holidays were going to be the best ever. Danny, Ali and I, we had plans: camping, hiking, all the usual. Learning to surf. Practising new swear words. Talking till our heads dropped off. Lying in the dark together, listening to each other’s smiles.
I broke up first, so Mum drove us to London to collect Alistair from his boarding school. The next afternoon, when Middon Comprehensive kicked out, Ali and I walked along the High Street, past the town hall, up the hill towards the southern end of town, through the dodgy part of Middon-upon-Frome until we got to the Comp. I had butterflies in my stomach, in my fingers, my feet, everywhere.
We got there just in time to hear the bell ring inside the building and then there was a roar, the doors crashing open and, like a river breaking its banks, out flooded hundreds of kids. The first ones out were Ali’s age - the fifth formers, no more school for most of them. They were throwing their books in the air, leaving it all behind forever. One of them set fire to his books - a teacher scurried over with a fire extinguisher and put it out before escorting the boy to the front gates by his collar. It was like something out of Grange Hill.
A few of the kids Ali and I knew from primary school shouted hellos. Jez and Sean Willemsen ran past us, stark naked. Most people tend to ignore Jez and Sean; they’re always doing wacko stunts like that. They say it’s because they grew up on a farm, so they’re as close to animals as humans can be. I didn’t know where to look. There were bits and pieces swinging all over the place, pale backsides, hairy front bits, I couldn’t look up or down and they seemed to be everywhere, so I looked at Ali. He was laughing at them, also maybe a bit at my embarrassment. His head was tipped back, his hands on his stomach, his mouth wide open. When Ali laughs, you can’t help joining in. Another teacher ran out into the car park, shouting and shaking his fist and the Willemsens scarpered.
Nessa Chapple and Debbie Cowley waved and came over, nudging each other and giggling. They had colossal crushes on Ali, who smiled at them in his friendly-but-not-too-friendly way.
‘Vanessa, Deborah. How’re you?’
‘Fine thanks, Alistair.’
‘Your hair looks nice,’ he said to Debbie.
She blushed and they both collapsed into giggles again.
I rolled my eyes at them and they hooked arms and wandered off. No one ever fancies me, not like all the girls in Middon fancy my brother, but in case anyone ever decides to, I’ve been practising my friendly-but-not-too friendly smile. You never know.
‘Danny’s taking his time,’ said Ali, squinting, his eyes searching the faces in the crowd. ‘Is that Petey? Petey! Hey, man. How’s it hanging?’
‘Ali Sullivan, as I live and breathe. Long time, no see. Hi, umm, hi… Heather.’ Petey Howard is Danny’s mate from school, tall and gangly with pale skin and transparent sticky-out ears. He’s one of the soundest boys I’ve ever met, but excruciatingly shy with girls, even me, whom he’s known his whole life. Nessa likes to tease him, she’s always pretend-flirting with him, and although I feel sorry for him, it is quite funny to watch him sweat and stutter. Poor Petey.
Ali said, ‘Seen Danny?’
‘Yeah, he’s just coming, he knows you’re here, he’s just talking to Patch.’ Patch is the Headmaster at Middon Comp, real name Mr Robertson or Richardson or Robinson, I can never remember. He has weird skin - hence Patch - blotchy and flaky, all over his face and neck, even on his scalp. It’s something to behold. ‘Have you heard the news - about the Lorenzis?’
Ali said, ‘What about them?’ at the same time as I said, ‘Who are the Lorenzis?’
Ali turned to me. ‘You remember Matteo? He and I used to hang around together at primary school. They moved away… what, maybe about five years ago. To Weymouth. Mr Lorenzi had a bunch of nightclubs there and along the coast.’
‘Oh, them.’ I did remember Matteo Lorenzi - small, dark hair, smiley, good at football; his dad - fat, beardy; his mum - big hair, very glam. Everything else was a bit vague though. Maybe Danny would remember him better.
Petey said, ‘They’re back. Arrived last week. Someone said they’re going to run The Wanderers pub again.’
‘Cool. I’ll swing by tomorrow.’
While Petey and Ali talked - something about Petey’s dad who’d lost his job and Ali knew someone who knew someone who might be able to give him work - I kept glancing at the school doors, where the torrent of kids had turned into a trickle. I scanned the outside of the building - a flat roof, five storeys with rows of identical classroom windows, separated by three vertical faded beige panels, the lower levels of which were covered in graffiti. It looked grim, even in the July sunshine, like an East German prison. I’d never actually been inside the building. It squatted in a concrete car park and playgrounds, now covered in litter and paper and the Willemsens’ abandoned clothes.
‘There he is! Hey, Danny. Take your time, why don’t you?’
Danny walked up to us, the smile splitting his face. The top button on his school shirt was undone, his tie loose, shirt untucked on one side, sleeves rolled up. ‘Sullivan. Good to see you.’ He slapped Ali on the back. ‘Hi, Heather.’ He put his arms around me and squeezed really hard.
‘Ow. We’ve been waiting for ages, slowcoach. Come on come on come on. I want to go to the river.’
He smiled again at me. ‘Sounds like a plan.’ He took my hand and we started walking out of the gates. Most of the kids had dispersed now, Petey said bye and the three of us carried on towards the High Street. Down the hill at the river, we turned left by the derelict hotel and a minute later we were at the turning for Bridge Lane. I tried to turn left into it, but Danny pulled my arm.
Don’t you need your swimming stuff?
Already in my bag. You?
I twanged my bikini out from under my T-shirt.
Ali said, ‘Hey. You two. Where are you going? Don’t you need… oh. You did that thing, didn’t you?’ He tapped his head. ‘What? How? Oh nevermind. I need to get my stuff.’ He looked at me, straining to get on to the river. I’ll see you there, OK?’ Ali broke into a jog, towards our house, which was at the end of the cul-de-sac; a converted farmhouse with a huge garden that was Mum’s pride and joy. Next door, in one of the smaller farmworkers’ cottages, lived the Greens - Danny and his mum Julie. Ali swung open the gate and disappeared from view.
Before we walked on, I glanced to the right, towards my school: Fromedale Ladies’ College. Across the bridge were high stone walls and an ornate gate, and through the fancy bits, you could see all the way up a tree-lined driveway to the main school, an eighteenth-century Queen Anne mansion surrounded by two hundred acres of school grounds, woods and formal gardens. It looked like something out of a Merchant Ivory film. It was beautiful and elegant and I absolutely hated it. I looked away. Wouldn’t need to walk that way for another eight weeks.
Danny and I followed the river to the west, away from town, talking and not talking, it didn’t matter. All that mattered were the weeks and weeks stretching ahead of us, every day free, every day together. Heaven. We found our usual spot by the three weeping willows and I stripped down to my bikini, sat with my feet dangling into the cool water and sighed with happiness. Danny crashed down beside me.
I searched his face as he tilted it up towards the sun. I hadn’t seen him since half term, so I wanted to get the new picture of him straight in my head. His hair was a bit longer than usual, it was a sort of muddy brown, not quite blond, and it fell over his ears. He had a few big red spots on his forehead and a painful-looking one on his chin. There were some whoppers on his neck too, at the back. I wondered if that was why he hadn’t taken off his shirt. We were the same age, Danny and I - our fourteenth birthdays were at the end of June, his the twentieth, mine the twenty-first - so if he was starting to get zits I thought I’d probably get them soon too.
It doesn’t necessarily work like that. You might not get them at all.
How d’you know?
Danny shrugged and said out loud, ‘Helps to have a nurse as a mum. Julie told me that it runs in families.’ Danny called his mum Julie. Imagine the nerve - my mum would never have allowed it.
‘So did she have bad acne? When she was your age?’
‘Nope. Maybe my dad did, though.’
‘Ah. Great. Your non-existent dad. We’ll ask him, next time we don’t see him: “Were you a spotty youth?”’
Danny laughed. ‘I’ve got a bunch of other questions I’d prefer to ask him when I next don’t see him.’
‘Like “What’s your name?”?’
‘Do you ever ask your mum about him? I mean, she does know his name. Doesn’t she?’
He shrugged. ‘It’s never bothered me that much. It doesn’t matter anyway, what his name is. What difference does it make? I’m fine with everything how it is now - just me and Julie. Same with you and Ali and your mum, yeah?’
Ah. Yes. My non-existent dad. ‘Mmm. Except we do at least know our dad’s name and he managed to stick around for a couple of years after I was born. But you’re right, it doesn’t matter at all. Hey - maybe you were an immaculate conception. You’re the spitting image of your mum.’
There was a whistle behind us and we saw Ali waving from the bend in the river. But he wasn’t alone. With him was another guy, about the same age, not as tall as Ali but with athletic, deeply tanned legs and muscley arms. He had short dark hair and as they got closer I saw that he was spectacularly good-looking. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone who looked like him before. He was sort of perfect. Like a film star.
Danny, who’s that?
Duh. It’s your brother.
Ha ha. Who’s the other one?
You really don’t recognise him?
I glared at Danny. He ignored me. He was looking at Ali and the other guy, who was so close now you could see his square jawline and dark brown eyes. I was in a bit of a tizzy by then, I didn’t know where to look, not at the film star, not at Danny, who was for some reason being a prat, and so I summoned up my most normal smile for Ali. That was about all I could manage though. I couldn’t seem to get any words out.
There was a tiny moment of awkwardness as they reached us, then the film star said, ‘Hey, Heather, Danny, great to see you.’
Huh? He knows my name?
Danny stuck out his hand and they slapped their hands together in a man-shake. I thought that maybe someone would help me out a bit and refer to him by name, but it obviously wasn’t going to be Danny. Maybe my polite brother would come up with the goods.
Or maybe not.
Everyone turned to me and I felt the heat rise up into my face, aware that I was only wearing a bikini and everyone else was fully clothed. I opened my mouth and what I can only describe as a squeak came out. ‘Hi.’ My face was on fire.
The guy was looking at me, his mouth closed, his eyes locked into mine. I saw them move off my face and they flicked downwards, just for the tiniest of moments, and the corners of his mouth moved up and I could have died; I was cringing, my whole body tensed up, all I wanted to do was bundle myself up into a ball and roll away, like a woodlouse.
‘Don’t you remember me, Heather?’ he said. His voice was low and mocking.
‘Yes. No. Um.’ I was acting like a moron.
‘I mean, it hasn’t been that long. I know I’ve changed. You have too.’ He raised his eyebrows and smiled properly at me now, with dazzling white teeth and then it hit me.
‘Matteo? Oh… oh. Yes. Sorry, I’m so. Sorry…’
‘Matt. Just Matt now.’
Oh, thank God for that. I did a little nervous laugh and then stepped on my own foot, wincing with pain and falling backwards, stumbling to right myself. Impressive, I know. The moment broke and everyone ignored me. The boys took off their tops and jumped into the river. While they were busy splashing around and ducking each other under, I dipped my hands into the water and splashed it onto my face. I swear I could hear it sizzle as it came into contact with the burning skin.
Matt looked so different. Not surprising really - the last time I’d seen him, he was a little boy. Now he was… well… a man. I guess. A very, very good-looking man. I shook my head to clear it and slipped into the river, steering clear of the others, swimming along the shady edge near the reeds. I kept dipping my face down into the water until I could be sure I’d returned to normal. OK. Good. No more squeaking. It was only Matt, after all - Ali’s best mate from primary school, the little smiley fellow we’d known for years.
This was new territory for me. Most of the girls my age, at Fromedale and the town girls, had been talking for yonks about which boys were good-looking and a lot of them had kissed boys, some even more than that. I don’t know why, maybe because I had a boy as my best friend, maybe because Ali was the main object of lust in Middon and Fromedale, but it all seemed to have passed me by.
Until Matt Lorenzi.
I snuck a look at him, quickly turning away my head before anyone noticed. Had anyone clicked, when he nearly made me fall over? Ali might not have – I wasn’t the greatest at meeting new people, he wouldn’t read too much into my half-wittish performance. But Danny was a different matter. Danny knew every thought that passed through my stupid head, and up until now that hadn’t been a problem. I couldn’t handle Danny knowing about how Matt made me feel. It was toe-curling. It was cringeworthy. Also, it was none of his business – it was my crush, my secret.
Somehow, I had to try to block Danny. I had no idea if it was possible but I knew that it should be possible. I mean, the whole telepathic thing between Danny and me was so incredible, surely making it stop should be… well, credible? Anyway, I had to try. I dried off by the side of the river, lay on my stomach in the shade, pretended to read my book and tried to clear my mind. Behind me, I heard someone climb out of the water and pad over to where I was lying. Funny, the way your heart seems to drop into your stomach, even when you know it’s not possible.
‘Hey, little sis, what’re you reading?’
Ali sat down in front of me and I held up the book for him to see - A Room With A View.
‘Might be even better if it wasn’t upside down.’
I made a face at him and turned it the right way up.
More splashing as Danny and Matt followed Ali out of the river. Telling myself to breathe, I turned back to my book. I took my time finding a bookmark and putting it away in my rucksack, dithering about for ages until I thought everyone would be dry and dressed again. I tried to blank everything out of my mind, especially about Matt. This could be working. When I looked up, everyone was sitting on the grass and Danny rolled his eyes at me.
It’s not working, Sullivan.
What? What d’you mean?
He’s not that great-looking.
I didn’t say he was.
Sometimes it was brilliant, between Danny and me, and sometimes it was dead annoying. This was new, though - he could hear my lustful thoughts about Matt and it was the first time that had ever happened. I struggled for a few seconds with my embarrassment and then decided that Danny could get lost, I didn’t care what he thought and if I wanted to look at a very fanciable guy, then I’d just go ahead and do it.
Oh, great, that’s just great for me then, now I have to experience your girly panting.
I’m not doing “girly panting”. He’s just… easy on the eyes.
Gross. I’m going to be sick. Yuk.
Get out of my head, Green.
I would if I could, Sullivan.
I gave him a look, hard into his eyes. There’s something about Danny’s eyes, they’re kind of mesmerising. I’ve never seen eyes that colour before or since: the brightest blue with a ring of darker blue around the edge. But they change all the time - sometimes they’re flat and like ice; sometimes they shimmer like the sun on the sea. I made a face at him, which Ali caught but ignored. He was used to us.
Matt saw it too. ‘What’s the in-joke, Heather?’ He looked between Danny and me a few times, a line on his forehead, squinting at us. ‘Wait a minute. Didn’t you two… wasn’t there? Wait. You mean, you can still do that freaky thing? Use The Force?’
Danny, Ali and I froze. Matt was kneeling up now, excited, his eyes lit up.
Did you tell him?
No. Did you?
Danny and I turned our heads slowly to Ali, who was cringing at our thunder-faces. ‘It was ages ago, before he left - we were best friends. Sorry. I didn’t think… I didn’t think it was a big deal. If he knew.’
I said, ‘Of course it’s a big deal. No one knows. No one’s supposed to. We told you that.’
Matt said, ‘So it is true then? You can hear each other’s thoughts? That is wicked.’ He looked at us. We were glaring at Ali and it was the first time in my life that I remember being really, truly angry with my brother. ‘Oh, come on, it’s no biggie. I almost forgot about it. Come on you two, you can trust me, I won’t tell.’
Danny growled, ‘How can we trust you? We don’t even know you.’
‘Sure you do, man, we go way back. Lighten up.’
Now I was starting to get angry with Matt, too. Sure, it wasn’t his fault that Ali had told him, plus it was so long ago, but frankly Matt didn’t seem the type to keep his mouth shut, and Danny and I had decided right from the start that no one should know about our silent talking.
Ali was the only one who knew. He’d suspected there was something strange about the way we behaved with each other, and then it had come to a head one day when we’d been playing Trivial Pursuit and I’d correctly answered an obscure question about Donald Bradman. Ali realised that there was some secret way of communication between Danny and me (I knew nothing about cricket and Ali and Danny were massive fans, walking Wisdens). We’d never told our mums or any other friends: we didn’t want to freak anyone out and it was none of their business. We thought they’d never believe it anyway. Only now we found out that Ali had told Matt. And Danny was right, we didn’t know Matt at all. We did not “go way back”. We‘d been nine years old when he’d left Middon and he’d been Ali’s friend, not ours. We couldn’t possibly trust him with this. But we had to. Bummer.
Matt pulled a cigarette pack out of his shorts pockets and offered it around. No one wanted one, so he lit his own and grinned at us. ‘Think of the things you could do. Cheat in exams. Lie to your parents and get away with it. Be each other’s alibi. Awesome.’
Ali said, ‘Nice touch, Matt. Everything you’ve just suggested is either illegal or immoral.’ Matt looked at Ali to check he was joking. He wasn’t. My brother, sixteen going on thirty-six. ‘Don’t make me more sorry I told you, OK? Danny and Heather have managed to keep this a secret for fourteen years, only you and I know, so you need to make sure you keep it that way. All right?’
‘All right, man. Chill out. Like I said, you can trust me.’ He took a drag on his cigarette. ‘Tell me how it works though.’
We just stared back at him. Ali had never straight asked about it. We reckoned he only half-believed it was real; he was far too logical to ever believe something so inexplicable. We’d never talked about it ourselves, because it had always been there and we didn’t know why and we didn’t question it or need to understand it. Most of the time, we had no idea if we were speaking out loud or in our heads.
‘Tell me. How does it work? What’s it like?’
Ali sat up, interested too.
Danny looked at me and I shrugged.
Matt said, ‘Right, so what did you say to each other then?’
‘Well, Heather said to me, “Is Matt the biggest tosser you’ve ever met?” and I replied, “Without a doubt.”’
‘Oh ha ha.’ Matt looked away from us, put his fag in the corner of his mouth and lay on his back, his hands behind his head. He squinted up at the sun. I swooned, just a little bit. ‘You may as well tell me. It’s basically the most interesting thing there is going on in this town.’ He turned on his side towards us and propped his head on his elbow, waiting.
I said, ‘It’s not that interesting. It’s difficult to explain. Umm. It just sort of happens. Like you’re having a conversation in your head with yourself, you know? Except there’s my voice and there’s Danny’s voice.’
‘When did it start?’
‘Dunno. I don’t remember it starting. Maybe when we moved to Middon; I was one year old, right, Ali?’ He nodded. ‘So maybe it was then - we moved next door to Danny and we used to play together. I think it was always there.’
Matt frowned. ‘So all the time before, when I was in Middon, when we were at school together… you two were just having your own conversations?’
Danny and I nodded.
Ali asked, ‘Do you have to be near each other? In the same room? Touching?’
‘Yeah. Sort of like - the closer we are, the clearer the signal.’
Matt said, ‘Is that why you’re holding hands?’
We both looked down at our hands. I hand’t noticed we were doing it. I blushed. Danny edged his hand away from mine.
‘Are you two… you know? Together?’
Danny’s face was like a tomato, the spots and the blush merging. ‘No. It’s not like that.’
I said, ‘We‘re just friends.’
‘Yeah, right. Never thought about it? That would be creepy, right, if one of you was thinking about the other one, naked, and then…’
‘OK OK, that… no. Stop. Stop, OK? That would never… it’s not like that.’
‘Then why have you both gone red? That is so cute. You two should definitely get together.’
‘Shut up, Matt,’ Danny and I both yelled at him. His words were churning and twisting, blaring inside our heads. My face was flaming again. Danny was fuming. Even Ali looked like he was about to blow a fit.
But Matt blithely ignored us. ‘So… you’re telling me that you’ve been able to see into each other’s heads for your whole lives and you’ve never thought about doing it with each other?’
That was when it happened. It was like a rock falling from the sky, slamming into my brain, blocking out the light and the sound and afterwards, there was a silence I’d never known. A blank space, a cool emptiness that felt soothing and scary at the same time.
I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but for the first time in my life I couldn’t hear Danny.
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FJ Campbell was born in the twentieth century in a seaside town and has moved around a lot, in Britain and Europe.