No, that sounds bad. He’s alpha in a lot of ways, I suppose. Only Mum is even more alpha. She’s strong and bossy and pretty and bossy.
I said bossy twice, didn’t I?
Well. Draw your own conclusions from that.
“I know you’re angry, sweetheart,” Dad’s saying soothingly. “But isn’t this a little extreme?”
“Extreme? He’s extreme! He’s addicted, Chris!”
“I’m not addicted!” Frank yells.
“I’m just saying—”
“What?” Mum finally turns her head to look at Dad properly. “What are you saying?”
“If you drop it there, you’ll damage the car.” Dad winces. “Maybe shift to the left a little?”
“I don’t care about the car! This is tough love!” She tilts the computer more precariously on the window ledge and we all gasp, including the watching neighbours.
“Love?” Frank is shouting up at Mum. “If you loved me you wouldn’t break my computer!”
“Well, if you loved me, Frank, you wouldn’t get up at two a.m. behind my back to play online with people in Korea!”
“You got up at two a.m.?” says Ollie to Frank, wide-eyed.
“Practicing.” Frank shrugs. “I was practicing,” he repeats to Mum with emphasis. “I have a tournament coming up! You’ve always said I should have a goal in life! Well, I have!”
“Playing Land of Conquerors is not a goal! Oh God, oh God…” She bangs her head on the computer. “Where did I go wrong?”
“Oh, Audrey,” says Ollie suddenly, spotting me. “Hi, how are you?”
I shrink back from my position at my bedroom window in fright. My window is tucked away on a corner, and no-one was meant to notice me. Least of all Ollie, who I’m pretty sure has a tiny crush on me, even though he’s two years younger than me and barely reaches up to my chest.
“Look, it’s the celebrity!” quips Ollie’s dad, Rob. He’s been calling me “the celebrity” for the last four weeks, even though Mum and Dad have separately been over to ask him to stop. He thinks it’s funny and that my parents have no sense of humour. (I’ve often noticed that people equate “having a sense of humour” with “being an insensitive moron.”)
This time, though, I don’t think Mum or Dad has even heard Rob’s oh-so-witty joke. Mum is still moaning “Where did I go wroooong?” and Dad is peering at her anxiously.
“You didn’t go wrong!” he calls up. “Nothing’s wrong! Darling, come down and have a drink. Put the computer down…for now,” he adds hastily at her expression. “You can throw it out of the window later.”
Mum doesn’t move an inch. The computer is rocking still more precariously on the windowsill, and Dad flinches. “Sweetheart, I’m just thinking about the car…We’ve only just paid it off…” He moves towards the car and holds out his hands, as though to shield it from plummeting hardware.
“Get a blanket!” says Ollie, springing to life. “Save the computer! We need a blanket. We’ll form a circle…”
Mum doesn’t even seem to hear him.
“I breast-fed you!” she shrieks at Frank. “I read you Winnie-the-Pooh! All I wanted was a well-rounded son who would be interested in books and art and the outdoors and museums and maybe a competitive sport…”
“LOC is a competitive sport!” yells Frank. “You don’t know anything about it! It’s a serious thing! You know, the prize pot in the international LOC competition in Toronto this year is six million dollars!”
“So you keep telling us!” Mum erupts. “So, what, you’re going to win that, are you? Make your fortune?”
“Maybe.” He gives her a dark look. “If I get enough practice.”
“Frank, get real!” Her voice echoes around the close, shrill and almost scary. “You’re not entering the international LOC competition, you’re not going to win the bloody six-million-dollar prize pot, and you’re not going to make your living from gaming! IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!”
A MONTH EARLIER
It all begins with the Daily Mail. Quite a lot of things in our house begin with the Daily Mail.
Mum starts twitching in that way she does. We’ve had supper and cleared away and she’s been reading the paper with a glass of wine—“Me time,” she calls it—and she’s paused at an article. I can see the headline over her shoulder:
THE EIGHT SIGNS YOUR CHILD IS
ADDICTED TO COMPUTER GAMES