Six years earlier
‘Come on, idiot! Run! Run for your life!’
Liam was bending low outside the garden gate, about to lift Brian’s wee sister, and carry her in. Her sweet face crumpled, and she stamped her foot in the mud.
Brian grabbed Liam by the back of his jacket and spun him around. His eyes were playful and fiery.
‘She’ll be fine. Come on, or we’ll miss the beginning.’
They ran through the garden gate, across the waterlogged lawn and in through the back door, grabbing coke from the fridge and crisps from the cupboard. A minute later they were wriggling their tummies into the soft pile of the carpet in front of the telly.
‘You think she’s okay? Want me to go back?’ Liam asked, licking salt off his fingers.
‘Nah, make the most of it, mate. She’ll be in those puddles by the gate. Eat up before she gets here and steals the lot.’
Liam went out anyway. Carly wasn’t in the garden or on the path where they’d left her.
‘She’s not there,’ he shouted from the door.
‘Aw... It’s a really good bit.’
‘C’mon. Your mum’ll be back soon.’ Liam said.
‘I’ll kill her when I find her. She’ll be in yours, I bet.’
But Liam’s back gate was locked.
Brian’s mum arrived home to an empty house. After calling out for a long time she found the boys by the ford.
‘You left the back door wide open and the telly on,’ she shouted at them. ‘I told you... Where’s Carly?’
It seemed like the rain would never stop.
Carly looked so happy on the TV, and when Liam saw her smiling out at him from the corner of his living room or from the posters in the village he would sometimes forget he was meant to be sad. But when the relief was snatched away, a black hole yawned open and swallowed him up.
Three weeks later, Liam was on the golf course with his dad. Bored, he slipped under the wire fence and into the woods. The river here was slow. Liam threw a stick into the water and followed it, until it got stuck in a pontoon of matted twigs and debris that had built up over the winter. He lay flat on the bank and tried to fish it out. Caught up in the solid thatch was a piece of pink spotted fabric.
Everyone was at the funeral. Light drizzle clung to felt hats like spider webs. An old woman in black sprawled over the fake lawn around the pit and howled like a cow torn from her calf until someone pulled her to her feet and took her off. Brian and Liam found each other and stood dry eyed and side by side as Brian’s dad and uncle lowered the tiny coffin into the ground.
When Brian and his family moved to Oban a month later, Liam waved goodbye and found himself crying for the first time.
‘Too late for tears,’ his father said, taking his hand off Liam’s shoulder and giving him a push towards the house.