Chapter no 3

Then She Was Gone


The first thing that Ellie shouldn’t have done was get a bad grade in maths. If she’d worked harder, been cleverer, if she hadn’t been so tired the day of the test, hadn’t felt so unfocused, hadn’t spent more time yawning than concentrating, if she’d got an A instead of a B+, then none of it would have happened. But going further back, before the bad maths test, if she hadn’t fallen in love with Theo, if instead she’d fallen in love with a boy who was rubbish at maths, a boy who didn’t care about maths or test results, a boy with no ambitions, or better still no boy at all, then she wouldn’t have felt that she needed to be as good as him or better, she’d have been happy with a B+ and she wouldn’t have gone home that evening and begged her mum for a maths tutor.

So, that’s where it was. The first kink in the time line. Right there, at four thirty or thereabouts on a Wednesday afternoon in January.

She’d come home in a temper. She often came home in a temper. She never expected to do it. It just happened. The minute she saw her mum or heard her mum’s voice, she’d just feel irrationally annoyed and then all the stuff she hadn’t been able to say or do all day at school—because at school she was known as a Nice Person and once you had a reputation for being nice you couldn’t mess with it—came spitting out of her.

“My maths teacher is shit,” she said, dropping her bag on the settle in the hallway. “Just so shit. I hate him.” She did not hate him. She hated herself for failing. But she couldn’t say that.

Her mum replied from the kitchen sink, “What’s happened, love?”

“I just told you!” She hadn’t, but that didn’t matter. “My maths teacher is so bad. I’m going to fail my GCSE. I need a tutor. Like, really, really need a tutor.”

She flounced into the kitchen and flopped dramatically into a chair.

“We can’t afford a tutor,” her mum said. “Why don’t you just join the after-school maths club?”

There was the next kink. If she hadn’t been such a spoiled brat, if she hadn’t been expecting her mum to wave a magic wand and solve all her problems for her, if she’d had even the vaguest idea about the reality of her parents’ finances, if she’d cared at all about anything other than herself, the conversation would have ended there. She would have said, OK. I understand. That’s what I’ll do.

But she had not done that. She had pushed and pushed and pushed. She’d offered to pay for it out of her own money. She’d brought up examples of people in her class who were way poorer than them who had private tuition.

“What about asking someone at school?” her mum suggested. “Someone in the sixth form? Someone who’ll do it for a few quid and a slice of cake?”

“What! No way! Oh God, that would be so embarrassing!”

And there it went, slipping away like a slippery thing, another chance to save herself. Gone. And she didn’t even know it.

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