I stopped crying fairly quickly. One of the things Mother always used to say was that nothing gets done if you're busy being emotional about it, so I decided to take that advice to heart and plan how I can get around Father's barrier. I definitely didn't want to stop my work on Parade Street, but before I could continue, I needed to find a way past Father. When he commanded something, he expected it to happen. Maybe I could exploit that and make him feel secure in his orders so that he would lower his guard.
As I was sitting up in bed, I heard a knock at the door. Not sure what to expect, I called, "Come in."
When the door opened, I wasn't entirely surprised to see Benji there. I turned away and folded my arms. "Leave me alone."
Benji closed the door behind him and hopped up onto my bed, at a safe distance away. "Daddy's cross."
"No kidding," I snapped. "Go away."
"Daddy's saying you won't have dinner," Benji persisted. "I said I'd ask you if you're hungry."
I was absolutely starving. "No, I'm not. Tell him I'm not going down there ever again and he can just let me die up here all alone."
"I don't want you to die," Benji said quietly.
When I turned to look at him, my heart softened slightly at the sad look on his face. "Me neither. I just hate how stingy and selfish he is. That money I was giving away was just going to sit in my bank account and not do anything useful. What use does a thirteen-year-old have for three million pounds?"
"Sweeties," said Benji sincerely.
I chuckled, despite myself. "Three million pounds would probably buy all the sweets in Minnolia."
"I like sweeties."
"Me too." After a brief hesitation, I reached out and patted my brother on the shoulder. "Do you like your present, Benji?"
"Mummy talks about flowers a lot," my little brother replied happily. "She went to school and picked flowers every day."
I wasn't entirely if that was true, but at the same time, knowing my mother, it could very well have been. "That's really cool, Benji."
Benji beamed. "I like reading about Mummy."
"Will you let me read it after you?" I asked.
My brother nodded. "Okay, but after I'm done."
I nodded back. "Thanks, Benji. Hey, do you want to read some of it together? Right now?"
"Okay!" Benji shot up from my bed and dashed out the room, barely pausing to open the door. He came back within ten seconds and basically threw himself onto my bed, the diary clutched in his hands.
I couldn't help laughing. "You're really excited, huh?"
"Mummy was your mummy too," was Benji's response.
"Yeah, she was. Okay, do you want to read it or shall I?"
Benji pushes the book towards me. "You read!"
"Okay. Where did you get up to?"
Benji opens the diary and flicks to a page near the beginning. "Here. Top of the page."
I take the book from him and begin to read. "Gareth took me on a date today. We went to the botanical gardens and spent the whole day looking at the flowers and trees. My favourite part was seeing the poppy field that was planted on the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War 1; the sea of red flowers made me feel both happy and sad at the same time. I think Mama mentioned that her grandparents were children during World War 1, and that her grandfather actually fought in World War 2. He died fighting for our country when Mama's mother was a child. This is for you, great-grandfather."
I turned the book around to show Benji the poppy that was pasted into the book. It had been flattened completely in the years that it had been stuck in the book, but it still looked perfect. "Pretty flower," Benji murmured. "Dandelion?"
"Poppy," I corrected him. "The same kind of flower Mother mentioned in her entry."
"Ohh. Keep reading."
So I did. We got through several pages of Mother talking about her dates with Father and even got up to their engagement before Father called us down for dinner. I didn't really want to go and face him, but Benji insisted.
We headed downstairs together and sat down at the dining table. Father was already there, reading his newspaper as always. He barely gave either of us a word as we sat down in our places and started eating the soup in front of us.
"Mummy says you like poppies, Daddy," Benji said after a few minutes' silence.
"Did she?" murmured Father absently.
"She said you went to a bo-ta-kin-al gardens."
"Botanical," I corrected him automatically.
Father finally glanced up from his newspaper. "Botanical gardens?"
"On a date," I added. "She took a poppy from the field and stuck it in her diary. She wrote that you seemed to really like the poppies."
"Oh. Oh, yes." Father cleared his throat and set his newspaper aside. "How have you been finding the journal, Benji? Have you learned much about your mother?"
"I learned your name is Gareth," Benji giggled.
Father blinked, clearly taken aback. "She...wrote about me?"
"She wrote about her entire life, Father," I said bitterly, trying to hide myself in my food. "Whether we like it or not, you were in her life pretty prominently."
"What is that supposed to mean?" demanded Father in a warning tone.
"You know what it means." I scraped my chair back, my unfinished soup sitting in front of me. "I'm not hungry."
"Do not waste the food I worked hard to put on this table," Father said sternly. "Sit down."
"What is it with you and stinginess?" I snapped. "You're a multi-millionaire! There are MIDDLE-CLASS families down there who waste more than this and don't get affected!"
"Don't you DARE start with me!" Father matched my tone as he too stood up sharply. "You are a CHILD and you know NOTHING about being an adult!"
"Something tells me you don't either!" I choke back angry tears. "You've been hiding from us ever since Mother died and now you're trying to put us in cages so you can control us! Well, I refuse to let you do that anymore!"
"Sammie!" thundered Father.
But I couldn't stop. "Mother wouldn't have wanted you to become the controlling monster you're being! She wouldn't have wanted-!"
He moved very quickly. Before I could even stop talking, his hand connected with my face. It felt like fire on my cheek, and the force of the blow made me stagger back and trip over the leg of the chair. I lay on the floor in tears, clutching my stinging cheek with my hand.
"Sammie!" bleated Benji.
I heard Father try to reassure him, but the words were starting to become muffled, like I was underwater. Red hot anger was surging through my blood, but I forced myself back under control. Getting to my feet, I viciously sideways kick the chair across the room and storm upstairs, ignoring my Father's shouts after me. I slam the door to my room and lock it behind me, starting to throw things into the bag sitting on my bed: some clothes, my toiletries, all the money I had lying around, and some of my precious possessions.
Running away had always been a last resort for me, and I wasn't really sure if I was ready to do it. I wasn't sure if I had been pushed to the breaking point yet.
I decided to test the water first. If I disappeared for the night, what would Father do? Would he not care? Would he look for me himself? Would he call the police? That was what I wanted to find out. How he reacted to me disappearing overnight would determine my next move.
After I had packed all the items I needed, I went out onto my balcony and closed the door behind me. Thankfully, my balcony is right next to a tree, whose branches I can reach if I climb over the railing.
I manage to drop to the ground lightly, with my bag over my shoulder, and rush round the house and down the drive, wishing I had brought a coat to shield myself from the cold.
It was completely dark outside, but the street lamps lit up my way perfectly and I made it to Parade Street with no problems. I remembered the shop in front of which I had found that man and quickly hurried towards it, hoping he hadn't moved.
To my relief, I found him lying in the shop doorway like he had been earlier that day, his two dogs lying asleep next to him. I approached him slowly so as to not spook him.
"Who's there?" he demanded quietly.
"It's me," I whispered. "I'm so sorry it took me so long but I've brought what I promised you. Here."
I held out the bag, and he reached out and took it from me with shaking hands. "Thank you," he whispered back, his voice cracking. "Thank you, thank you so much."
"No problem." I gave him a smile. "Good luck, sir."
"You too, kiddo."
As I hurried away, the familiar sensation came back to my stomach: the feeling of a job well done. I had improved yet another person's life, and I was very pleased with myself for avoiding Father's detection. The thought did cross my mind that maybe I HADN'T avoided him after all and he was simply pretending that I had so he could bust me, but I thought the chances of that were small.
As I walked past an alley, I heard someone call my name from within. More than a little scared, I hesitantly stopped, my curiosity overpowering my fear. "Hello?"
"Y-Yes?" I swallowed. "Who's there?"
I could just about see a figure in the darkness, though I couldn't tell if it was a male or female. Their voice and build indicated a male, but it could just as easily have been the opposite.
"It doesn't matter who I am," the raspy voice responded. "I'm here to deliver you a warning."
"You...You've got the wrong person," I said nervously. "I don't need a warning or anything; I'm just a kid trying to make a difference."
"Then you're exactly the person I'm looking for," the voice said. "Can you let me say what I have to so you can get home quicker?"
Sensing that I wouldn't be able to leave until the person had said their piece, I reluctantly nodded. "Go ahead."
"Hard times are coming, kid. You might find yourself stuck in something you can't get out of, but that might not be such a bad thing. You have the strength in you to get through the dark times and lead them to the light. Not everyone will support your quest but you must save them too, no matter who they are or what they've done. You will be the saviour of our world, Sammie. We believe in you."
"I…" I didn't know what to say to that. "I don't understand…"
Squinting, I could make out the figure slowly growing smaller as they walked away. "Hey, wait a second! What do you mean by all that?!"
But I couldn't risk going after them in the pitch black, so I had to watch them disappear, wondering what on Earth they meant, talking about "hard times" and "lead them to the light". Who was "them"? And what did they mean by "our world"? Did they mean Minnolia? Earth? Or something...completely different?
Shivering, I decided to go back to my house and shelter in the garden until morning. I turned and started to move off when I saw something move out the corner of my eye. I whirled round but found nothing there.
"Are you imagining stuff again?" I muttered to myself.
As I stared at the place I thought I saw the figure, I abruptly felt myself be grabbed from behind. I screamed immediately but the noise soon died as something sharp pierced my neck. I took in gasping breaths as I tried to continue screaming but no sound came from my mouth.
Then I was suddenly let go. Off-balance, I pitched sideways, landing heavily on my left forearm. I automatically reached for my neck and found what felt like a syringe sticking out of it. As I looked up, I saw a figure moving quickly towards me.
Then something hard smashed into the side of my head and I blacked out.