Morosely, Melissa snapped the book shut and reached for her beach dress. Only two more years and I am out of here. She wished for nothing more urgently. She looked over to her uncle who stuffed the last towels into the beach bag.
He winked at her to cheer her up. “You can read in the hotel.”
Melissa nodded. Still thinking about the story, she buttoned her dress crookedly.
Freya dug an elbow into her ribs. “Concentrate. People will think you’re stupid.”
Melissa pressed her lips together and opened the buttons again.
Her aunt bent and picked up the book. “What are you reading?” She flipped through the pages. “It’s still fantasy.”
Melissa felt her aversion almost physically.
Her uncle came to her rescue. “Leave the child alone. At least, reading will take her mind off other things.”
Melissa cast a grateful look at her uncle but her aunt hadn’t finished.
With a jerky gesture, she handed Melissa the book and put her fists on her bony hip. “She is sixteen, Herbert. And an orphan!”
“She’s always escaping into a dream world, and she needs to learn urgently to look at reality. If she reads more of this trash she’ll be even less able to distinguish reality from fantasy.”
“I don’t think we need to worry about that.”
Melissa folded her towel and stopped listening to the quarrel. It had started the day she had moved in, and she had learned not to interfere. Here, she wasn’t Melissa, the beloved daughter. She was either “the poor child” or “Ms Taigh”. It sounded like mistake, and it was the way she felt. She was the one fault her aunt couldn’t correct because for Melissa there was no way back. Her heart hurt when she thought of her family. At home, I read whatever I wanted. At home …
To hold back the tears, she bit her lower lip. She didn’t want to cry any more. After all, it had been almost a year since the accident. She swallowed and blinked but couldn’t suppress a couple of tears. She wiped them off and hoped that nobody had noticed. Then, she looked at her uncle and aunt who still argued. She sat down next to her beach bag, opened her book again and read. Suddenly, it was flung from her hand and flew through the air in a high arc.
“I told you not to read this.” Freya’s voice was hoarse with anger.
Melissa saw the book land in the bushes above her at the base of the steep slope. She tried to remember the place. It wasn’t the first time that her aunt had thrown one of her books away.
Freya grabbed Melissa’s upper arm and pulled. “Get up.”
Melissa sighed and got up deliberately slow. She knew how to annoy her aunt. Slowly, she looked around for her uncle. His scrawny legs and the colored beach bag were all she could see behind the parasol, but she recognized him. He had almost reached the stairs that led up the steep slope.
“Move a little faster, please,” Freya said.
Although she knew that she made her aunt furious, Melissa moved even more slowly.
Freya struck out, and Melissa’s cheek burned. Her aunt’s voice was full of anger. “Get yourself to the hotel. Fast!”
Melissa obeyed without saying a word. She clenched her hands and ran after her uncle as fast as she could. He had already reached the upper end of the stairs. Speedily, she followed him. When her anger had abated a little, she remembered that she had borrowed the book from the school library for the holidays. I must fetch it as soon as possible. Let’s hope no one finds it before I make it back.
Behind herself, she heard her aunt pant on the first steps. She ran faster. At the top of the cliff, she walked along the path that led to the parking lot and to the stop of the steam engine train. She loved the cool gloom of the bushes along the path. Closing her eyes, she breathed deeply and her feelings calmed. I should apologize to Freya. She’ll surely let me fetch the book then. Melissa turned round to wait for her aunt when a boy bumped into her and stumbled.
“Watch out”, the boy called and ran off.
Melissa watched him surprised. Then, she noticed a group of people that had assembled on the path. Curious, she joined them and slipped through the crowd to the front. Her uncle lay on the path like a felled tree. A man in blue swimming trunks had turned him on one side and took his pulse.