Today's Reading

'You want me to live in 'here'?' I asked, hoping they would laugh and bring me back inside with a clap on the back. Good joke, everybody laughs.

But no.

Dad slapped his hands together, breaking the tension with a thunderclap.

'I'll get your bags, will I?' he said brightly. 'I think they'll fit under the bed, otherwise you'll have to bring them in once you've emptied them and I'll put in the loft until you leave. Not that there's a rush for you to leave.'

'Everything works except the WiFi,' Mum said proudly as I adjusted to the reality of my situation. The reality of living in a shed. 'And the reception on the telly comes in and out but that'll all be fine once we've worked out the WiFi. There's a man coming next week.'

'Great,' I replied, steadying myself on my bedframe. 'No rush.'

After all, who needed television or the internet, especially when they were unemployed and looking for a new job?

'Thing is, we turned your room into an office so your dad can work from home a couple of days a week,' Mum said, fussing with the curtains, straightening the nets. She might have her daughter living in a shed but she was not a savage. 'And you said you wouldn't be back for long and it's so nice having him around more.'

'And Jo's room?'

'Jo only left a month ago!' She turned to stare at me, positively aghast. 'We couldn't very well upend her room when her bed was still warm, could we?'

'I suppose not,' I replied, definitely not thinking about how they moved Jo into my room the same day I left for uni because she needed a bigger room. When she was four.

'Exactly.' Mum cleared her throat. 'But I have put all her furniture in one corner and I'm using it as a yoga studio. I'm really getting there with my downward dog.'

What I wouldn't have given to see my sister's face at that moment.

'If you cook anything, be careful,' she went on, picking things up then putting them down. My Pikachu piggy bank, an unopened bottle of bath pearls from Christmas 2004, a framed photo of Justin Timberlake that Sumi had given me for my birthday in the first year of uni that Mum had given pride of place, clearly mistaking JT for an actual friend. 'We took the batteries out of the smoke alarm because it kept going off every ten minutes and we could hear it up in the house. Very distracting.'

No WiFi, no TV and no smoke alarm. I could see it now: exhausted from being forced to read an actual book, I would fall asleep with a Pop-Tart in the toaster, the toaster would set on fire, I'd die of smoke inhalation and no one on Instagram would ever even know.

'Right, I need to get back into the kitchen and put the chicken in the oven for dinner. Unless you'd like to have us over to your place?' Mum asked with a theatrical wink.

'Perhaps I should try not to set it on fire the first night,' I joked weakly as Dad returned with my bags.

Or maybe I should, I thought, eyeing the toaster across the room.

Closing the door behind the horny pod people who had replaced my parents, I cast an eye over my domain  all three hundred square feet of it  before dropping down on my bed. The uncertain, ancient frame complained at my weight but the protest wasn't loud enough to get me back up on my feet.

'You have so much to be grateful for,' I told myself, staring up at the ceiling. 'You have your health, your parents, your friends "and" a highly flammable roof over your head. It's more than a lot of people have. It's not as nice as what you had before but it'll be OK. You'll get a job, you'll get a flat, you'll burn that poster of Tom Cruise and you'll be fine. Everything will be fine.'

The more times I said it, the closer it felt to being true.

A smile found its way onto my face. I'd have loved this place when I was a teenager, I thought. A bolthole at the bottom of the garden, all to myself?

Maybe it was actually amazing and I was just too tired to realize. The smile disappeared as a single drop of water fell from the roof and landed right in the middle of my forehead. I rolled over onto my side and watched as it began to rain, a summer storm tap, tap, tapping on the corrugated roof of my new home.

'It's all going to be fine,' I said again, more determined this time.

I only hoped I was right. I hadn't always been that reliable in the past.


This excerpt is from the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book The Duke Effect by Sophie Jordan.
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