This is the third part of my Ilmatu trilogy; all the loose ends from Girl in a coma and Girl with a guitar will be tied up.
Something is patting my face, regularly and quickly, quicker than my heartbeat. I know there’s a reason I don’t want to open my eyes, but it feels like whoever’s patting me is keen for me to do so. I try to move my hand, and that works, but it aches a little. The patting stops.
A sharp slap across my face jerks my eyes open, more from shock than anything else. My sister is crouching over me, her hand ready to slap me again.
“What happened here?” she says, her voice tight and controlled. I realise that her face is white. I try to sit up, and she just watches me. “What happened, Damian. Why does my living room look like a bomb’s hit it?”
“Don’t start with that again!” My sister’s scream cuts me off before I can finish his name. “Don’t try blaming him, he’s a decent boy, and DeeDee likes him. And he’s not here.”
“There was a gang,” I try, and this time she lets me speak. “They attacked me outside, then they attacked the house when I ran inside.”
“Why did you come into my house?” Melanie isn’t looking friendly; she’s looking around the living room. The window is broken and there’s glass everywhere. “How did they break the window?”
“I don’t know,” I say, but I can remember the Ilmatu coming in, and she probably just used her fists.
“Why did you start talking about Michael? Are you claiming he was in this gang that attacked you?”
I don’t get a chance to answer, because DeeDee’s spotted the guitar on the floor, torn along its length and lying in two ruined pieces. Her scream is high-pitched and has an animal quality to it that a human voice shouldn’t. She tries to push past her mother, but Melanie’s too quick: she’s seen the guitar too and the broken glass all over the floor, and she turns, rising, catching DeeDee and holding her.
“What have you done?”
“I didn’t!” I say, standing up.
“This gang broke in and broke the guitar? When you’ve been trying to get it away from DeeDee for the last few days? I don’t think so, Damian. What the hell have you done here?”
I stare at her, at the look of hostility on her pale face. She’s holding DeeDee in a grip of iron, and I’m sure that if she weren’t, she’d be holding me instead. I realise instantly that there’s nothing I can say at the moment; too much has happened too fast and I look guilty.
“No,” I start, and then the front door thuds open, hitting the wall and bouncing back. Steve, Melanie’s husband and my brother-in-law, catches the door with his foot and pushes it back open again, and comes in carrying a young man in his arms. He starts to come into the living room, sees the wreckage, and turns for the kitchen instead. I start after him, but Melanie puts her hand out to stop me. DeeDee tries to pull away from her mother, and is slapped for her effort. She stares, and I see for the first time that her eyes are confused and unfocused.
“Who’s that?” Melanie’s voice is strong, just a little higher-pitched than normal. She’s caught my gaze and is holding it, and I find myself hoping that she likes the answer.
There’s no response immediately, just a grunt as Steve lays the young man on the kitchen table and makes sure he’s not going to roll off. Then he comes into the living room, glances at the wreckage, and turns to his wife.
“Michael,” he says softly. “He’s pretty badly hurt, looks like someone beat him up.”
“Someone?” Melanie’s eyes haven’t left mine. I can’t really believe that she’d think I’d be able to beat anyone up, but at the moment I feel like I don’t know her any more.
“Probably a few someones.” Steve looks worried, and I’m not really surprised. If the Ilmatu managed to put Michael down then he’s probably far more hurt than Steve realises. “Let me call an ambulance, I’m pretty sure he needs it.”
“We’ll take him ourselves,” says Melanie. “No point waiting for an ambulance if he needs a doctor now.”
Steve nods, and looks at me properly for the first time. “Can you wait here until we get back? Looks like just anyone can walk in now.”
“No.” Melanie’s voice is still calm and controlled, but the pitch is getting slightly higher again. “I’ll get Nancy to come over. They must have heard this gang attacking the house, they’re only next door and they never go out in the evenings.” Steve looks at her, then at me, and closes his eyes in resignation.
“Then I guess you’d better be off then, Damian,” he says, but he and I both know that it’s Melanie speaking really.
“You’ve not heard the last of this,” she says, turning towards the kitchen with DeeDee.