“What?” Mum looks faint. “You didn’t tell me.”
“Shall we go?” Frank gets to his feet. “Only I don’t want to turn into an obese teenage heart attack victim.” As they head for the door, I hear him saying, “Did you know that most middle-aged women don’t do enough press-ups? It was in the Daily Mail.”
Forty minutes later they pant back into the hall. I say pant. Frank’s barely broken a sweat, whereas Mum looks like she’s going to collapse. Her face is red and her hair is dripping. She clutches onto the bannister for support, and breathes in and out like a traction engine.
“How was the running?” begins Dad, coming into the hall, and stops in alarm as he sees Mum. “Anne, are you OK?”
“I’m fine,” manages Mum. “Fine. Frank did very well, in fact.”
“Never mind Frank, what about you?” Dad is still staring at her. “Anne, did you overdo it? I thought you were fit!”
“I am fit!” she practically yells. “He tricked me!”
Frank is shaking his head sadly. “Mum’s cardio could really do with some work,” he says. “Mum, you only get one body. You need to treasure it.”
And, winking at me, he ambles off to the playroom.
I mean, Frank has a point.
But Mum has a point too. Everyone has a point.
After he went for that run with Mum, Frank spent the next ten hours playing computer games. Ten hours solid. Mum and Dad were out all day with Felix, taking him to a series of birthday parties, and they told Frank to do his homework while they were out and Frank said yes and then he logged on and that was it.
Now it’s Sunday morning and Mum is at tennis and Dad is doing something in the garden and I’m watching telly in the den when Frank appears at the door.
“Hey.” My dark glasses are already on and I don’t turn my head.
“Listen, Audrey, Linus is going to be spending a lot of time at our house. I think you should get to know him. He’s on my LOC team.”
I’ve already stiffened a little at the words Linus and get to know him.
“Why do I need to get to know him?” I counter.
“He feels weird coming to our house. Like, what happened the other day? When you ran away? It freaked him out a bit.”
I scowl at Frank. I don’t want to be reminded.
“He doesn’t need to feel weird,” I say, wrapping my arms round my knees.
“Well, he does. He thinks he upset you.”
“Well, tell him. You know. About…”
There’s silence. Frank still doesn’t look happy.
“If Linus doesn’t want to come to our house, he might join another LOC team,” he says. “And he’s really good.”
“Who else is on the team?” I swivel round to face Frank.
“These two guys from school. Nick and Rameen. They play online. But Linus and I are like the strategists. We’re going to enter the LOC International Tournament, and the qualifiers are on July eighteenth, so we need a ton of practice. The prize pot is six million dollars.”
“What?” I stare up at him.
“You win six million dollars? Just for playing LOC?”
“Not ‘just’ for playing LOC,” says Frank impatiently. “It’s the new spectator sport.” He looks more animated than I’ve seen him for ages. “They’re holding it in Toronto and they’re building like this massive stadium, and everyone’s flying in. It’s big money. This is what Mum and Dad don’t get. These days, being a gamer is a career choice.”
“Right,” I say dubiously. I went to a careers fair at school.
I didn’t see anyone sitting at a stall under a sign, BECOME A GAMER!
“So you need to make Linus feel comfortable here,” Frank finishes. “I can’t lose him off my team.”
“Can’t you go to his house?”
Frank shakes his head. “We tried. His granny’s there. She’s got some dementia thing. She won’t leave us alone. She shouts and she cries and sometimes she doesn’t know who Linus is, and she keeps taking everything out of the freezer. They, like, have to watch her all the time. Linus has to do all his homework at school.”
“Right.” I digest this. “Poor Linus. Well…you know. Tell him it’s all fine.”
“He asked for your number, but…” Frank shrugs.
I don’t have a phone number at the moment. Just to add to the party, I’ve become phone-averse. Not phobic, just averse.