by.’ With the air of a philosopher, Hugh said, ‘Love’s good when it’s there, crap when it screws you over, but what it does do is tell you who you are – that’s what I say.’
I was spared replying by the entry of the Jack Russell. Dropping down on to my knees, I offered him my hand. The dog sniffed at it, then butted his head against my leg. Despite myself, I giggled.
‘Is he your dog?’
‘He’s no one’s dog,’ said Hugh. ‘Found him outside the house about two months ago and gave him a doughnut. Next morning he was still there, and somewhere along the line he ended up staying. Good job he’s got comedy value, cos he’s an ugly mutt.’
I had to agree. The dog’s coat was mucky white and he had a scar across his muzzle and the end of one ear was missing.
‘What’s his name?’
Hugh shrugged. ‘We just call him Dog.’
So no one cared about him either. I scratched Dog behind the ears.
‘I’ve always wanted a dog,’ I said. ‘But my dad says it would be too much work.’
‘Then you need a guttersnipe like this one. Dog isn’t any work at all; even takes himself for walks if you let him out, and he’s more than happy to eat takeaway leftovers.’
‘Is it healthy to be feeding a dog McDonald’s?’
‘Hey, even we don’t feed the dog that crap! No, his favourite is chicken in satay sauce.’
Through the gap in the door I saw that Abby and Brian were on their feet.
‘Better join my friend,’ I said. ‘Thanks for showing me the pics.’
Hugh waved. ‘See you later.’
I caught up with Abby going up the stairs to the third floor. I saw another dusty staircase leading further up – Gabe hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d said the house was huge. Abby was in a giggly mood and I wished I felt comfortable enough to join in. We spent an hour or so looking at Brian’s jewellery. It was interesting at first, but soon the necklaces started blurring into one, and Brian kept droning on in far too much detail about how he’d made each piece. I could also tell that he was itching to get rid of me, but I wasn’t sure whether Abby wanted me there or not. So I hung about, feeling awkward and more and more aware that time was marching on. When it neared half nine, I said in a small voice, ‘Abby, we should go.’
Abby made a face. ‘Ros is saying we need to head out,’ she said to Brian. ‘It’s just this really stupid curfew our parents have.’
‘Do you want to leave?’
Abby shook her head until her dangly earrings danced. ‘No, I mean, I’m having a really good time.’
‘Don’t then,’ Brian said, as though it was as simple as that.
Alarmed, I grabbed Abby’s arm. ‘Your mum and dad get twitchy if you’re even five minutes late, remember?’
She glanced at me, then at Brian. He shrugged, looking bored, and went out of the room.
‘Thanks for that,’ said Abby, staring after him. ‘Now he thinks I’m a stupid little kid. So will Claudia.’
‘Your parents will freak – you know they will.’
‘Not if I tell them I’m staying over at yours.’ She took out her mobile. ‘They think I’m at your house anyway. We could just stay a little longer, then get back ages before your dad comes home.’
‘What if he’s back early? What if your parents mention it to him sometime?’
‘Oh, stop being so boring, Ros! Go, if you so desperately want to. I’ll make my own way home.’
‘You know I can’t do that. I don’t trust these guys or Claudia anywhere near enough to leave you.’
‘What exactly do you think they’re planning, for God’s sake? If they were going to murder us, don’t you think they’d have done it by now?’
For a moment I wondered if I was being way too suspicious, like Hugh had said. ‘Do you really like Brian this much?’ I asked.
Abby fiddled with her necklace, not replying instantly. ‘Well, yeah. And I bet if this was Jonathan’s house you’d be lying to your parents too.’
This made me feel guilty. She had a