“Unplug your computer? Yes, young man, I did. I don’t want that computer going on for a nanosecond. If you finish your homework you can watch TV or read a book. Read some Dickens!”
“Dickens,” echoes Frank in disparaging tones.
“Yes, Dickens! Why not? When I was your age—”
“I know.” Frank cuts her off. “You went to see Dickens live. And he rocked.”
Mum rolls her eyes. “Very funny.”
“So! Where’s the birthday girl?” Dad comes hurrying down the stairs, bringing with him a cloud of aftershave. What is it with parents and too much perfume? “Now, are you guys OK?” He looks at me and Frank. “Because we’ll only be round the corner.”
My parents cannot leave the house. Mum has to do a final check on Felix, and Dad remembers he left the sprinkler on in the garden and then Mum wants to make sure that her Sky Plus is recording East Enders.
Eventually we chivvy them out and look at each other.
“They’ll be back in, like, an hour,” predicts Frank, and heads off to the playroom. I follow him because I don’t have much else to do, and I might read his new Scott Pilgrim. He goes to his computer station, rummages around in his school bag, and produces a power cable. Then he plugs in his computer and logs in, and up pops a game of LOC.
“Did you know Mum was going to take your cable?” I ask, impressed.
“She’s done it before. I’ve got like five of them.” His eyes glaze over as he starts playing and I know there’s no point talking to him. I look around for the Scott Pilgrim, find it under an empty jumbo Hula Hoops packet, and curl up to read it on the sofa.
It seems about a moment later that I glance up to see Mum at the door, standing there in her heels. How did that happen?
“Mum.” I blink, disoriented. “Aren’t you out?”
“I came back for my phone.” Her tone is sweet and ominous. “Frank? What are you doing?”
Oh God. Frank. Frank! My head whips round in apprehension. Frank is still moving his mouse around the mat, his earphones on.
“Frank!” Mum barks, and he looks up.
“What are you doing?” says Mum, in the same sweet, ominous tone.
“Language lab,” says Frank, without missing a beat.
“Language…what?” Mum seems wrong-footed.
“French homework. It’s a vocab-testing program. I had to find an old power cable to do it. I thought you wouldn’t mind.”
He points at the monitor, and I see armoire floating round the screen in a big red font, followed by wardrobe in blue.
Wow. He must have moved quickly to get that up on-screen.
Actually, playing LOC does improve your reaction times. I mean, that’s a real thing.
“You’ve been doing language lab all this time?” Mum glances at me with narrowed eyes, and I look away. I am not getting into this.
“I’ve been reading Scott Pilgrim,” I say truthfully.
Mum’s focus returns to Frank. “Frank, are you lying to me?”
“Lying?” Frank looks hurt.
“Don’t give me that! Are you telling me, hand on heart, that you’ve been doing your homework and nothing else?”
Frank just stares at her for a moment. Then he shakes his head, his face sad.
“You adults. You think teenagers lie. You assume teenagers lie. That’s the starting point. It’s infinitely depressing.”
“I don’t assume anything—” begins Mum, but he cuts her off.
“You do! All of you make these easy, obvious, lazy assumptions that anyone under the age of eighteen is a pathological, dishonest, sub-human with no integrity. But we’re people, just like you, and you don’t seem to get that!” His face is suddenly passionate. “Mum, can’t you just for once believe that your son might be doing the right thing? Can’t you just for once give me an ounce of credit? But, look, if you want me to disconnect the computer and not do my French homework, that’s fine. I’ll tell the teacher tomorrow.”
Mum looks thrown by Frank’s little speech. In fact, she looks quite chastened.
“I didn’t say you were lying! I just…Look, if you’re doing French homework, that’s fine. Carry on. I’ll see you later.”
She tip-taps down the hall, and a few moments later we hear the front door close.
“You’re sick,” I say, without looking up from my book. Frank doesn’t reply. He’s already engrossed in his game again. I turn a page and listen to Frank’s mutterings, and wonder whether to go and make a hot chocolate, when suddenly there’s the most almighty banging on the window, from outside.