“Sorry!” chimes in Felix, who has been chomping on shortbread biscuits all this time. “We have to say sorry to Linus. Sorry, Linus.” He beams. “Sorry, Linus.”
“Felix, you’re fine,” says Linus.
I can see Felix gazing at Linus, his dandelion clock head on one side, as though trying to work out what we’re all doing here.
“Did Mummy cut your hair?” he says, as though he’s cracked it. “Did you cry? Ben cried because he was happy.”
“Er, no, Felix, no-one cut my hair,” says Linus, looking baffled.
“Ben cried because he was happy,” reiterates Felix.
“So that’s me,” says Mum. “Chris? Your turn?” She turns to Dad, who looks a little startled. I’m not sure he realized this was a go-round-the-table apology.
“Er…hear, hear,” he says. “What she said.” He waves towards Mum. “Count me in on that. Understood?”
“Understood,” says Linus with a little smile.
“And, Linus, we’d like to give you a little present to make amends,” says Mum. “A little gift. Maybe a theatre outing…or a theme park? You choose.”
“I can choose anything?” Linus looks secretively from Mum to Dad. “Anything I want?”
“Well, within reason! Nothing too expensive…”
“This wouldn’t be expensive, what I’m thinking of.”
“It sounds great!” says Dad at once, and Mum frowns at him.
“I want to play in the LOC qualifiers with Frank,” says Linus. “That’s what I want more than anything.”
“Oh.” Mum stares at him, discomfited. “Really?”
“You’re in a team already,” says Frank gruffly. I can tell he’s super-touched from the way he won’t even look at Linus.
“I want to play in your team. They’ve got a reserve. They don’t need me.”
“But we haven’t got a team!” says Frank, and there’s a sudden depth of misery to his voice. “I haven’t got a computer, we don’t have a team—”
“Yet,” chimes in Dad, bubbling over. “Yet.” He grins madly at Frank. “Yet.”
“What?” Frank stares blankly at him.
“You haven’t got a computer yet.” Dad gives one of his stage winks. “Just look out for a big brown box, is all I’m saying. But no more hacking my emails.”
“What?” Frank looks almost heady with hope. “Seriously?”
“If you follow our rules and don’t make a fuss when we tell you to stop playing,” says Mum. “If there’s any trouble, it’s going out of the window.” She gives a satisfied little grin. “You know I’ll do it. You know I want to.”
“Anything!” Frank seems almost beyond speechless. “I’ll do anything!”
“So you can play in your game,” says Dad, who looks almost as fired up by this as Frank. “I was reading a piece about it in the Sunday Times magazine. I mean, this LOC is a big business, isn’t it?”
“Yes!” says Frank, as if to say Finally! “In Korea it’s an official spectator sport! And they have scholarships for it in the States. Actual scholarships.”
“You should read the piece, Anne,” says Dad. “What’s the prize pot, six million dollars?” He grins at Frank. “So, are you going to win that?”
“We don’t have a team.” Frank suddenly deflates. “We’ll never get a team together. It’s, like, a week away.”
“Ollie could play,” suggests Linus. “He’s not bad, for a twelve-year-old.”
“I could play,” I offer, on impulse. “You know, if you want me to.”
“You?” says Frank derisively. “You’re crap.”
“Well, I can practice, can’t I?”
“Exactly!” says Mum. “She can practice. So, that’s sorted.” She glances at her watch, then at Linus and me. “And now we’ll leave you two alone, for Audrey to…Well, for you to…” She pauses. “Anyway. You don’t want us hanging around embarrassing you!”
OK, the thing is, no-one was embarrassed till she said the word embarrassed. As it is, Linus and I wait in awkward silence while they all get up and Felix drops his biscuit and wants another one, and Dad starts looking for his BlackBerry and Mum tells him he didn’t have it, and honestly, I love them to bits, but could my family be any more annoying?
I wait until they’ve well and truly left and the glass door has closed behind them. And then I turn properly to Linus and look at him.