I wanted you to talk to her, not take her away! We ll grow vegetables. I could put the bangers in, Dad says, and he winks at her. And on my thighs. 58 Are they? It s so bright it makes the room waver at the edges. Which service do you require? I don t want to spoil the moment, but does anyone fancy a ride? the doctor asks. It builds, this ache between us, changing and swelling. That s it! Jesus! I remember thinking how Dad couldn t possibly have understood, because he was crying too much to listen. 241 How much longer do I have? The fact that things always happen when she s around. 115 They shiver and laugh as they squeeze past us to an empty table. I can t bloody carry potatoes as well! Flash. Hush, he says. Can we just go now? Now let s get on with it! She looks tired and pale. Stay there. 43 The leaves were damp, he says. He might not be a store detective at all: he could be trying to get me somewhere lonely and quiet. We might, Zoey says. What are you doing? Dad kisses the top of my head. He walks over and kisses the back of my neck. The grey light outside the hospital window thickens. It looks like a library, one of those square, functional buildings with lots of windows and its own car park with allocated spaces for the director. He tries to unbuckle his belt without looking, with only one hand, but can t do it. Upstairs, I hear Mum say goodnight to Cal. The earth feels very still. He wants to get us back onto safe territory. I haul the rest of my clothes out of the wardrobe. m certainly not telling him about Jake or about jumping in the river. Magicians never give their secrets away. Then there s my birthday in May. He says, If I m over-optimistic, you ll be disappointed. I wonder what her name is. Would you stop saying that? There s a second s pause. An old bloke turns round and jabs a finger at me. I sit on the bed trying to look perky. Cal says that humans are made from the nuclear ash of dead stars. It cost a fortune, but she was really into it. Will you teach me to drive? Their eyes are etched with age and Robbie isn t even singing, but still people want a piece of them. Now go and ask Adam if he s got the mushrooms. Adam s isn t even a joke, but an observation that if the universe had appeared today, all of recorded history would have happened in the last ten seconds. I ll take him home now and put him to bed. Even the weather can t decide what to do and is lurching from one ridiculous event to another. Terminating a pregnancy isn t like taking out the rubbish. Never let a bloke into your heart – it s fatal. Oh, yeah! 194 Tessa? What s wrong with me that I don t know how to do this? Her face crashes. Philippa said my hearing would be the last thing to go, but she didn t say I d see colours when people talk. See? I weep for a dog, hit by a car and buried. Think of it as a road movie. Here, she says. Its injury is obvious – a red gash at the back of its neck. Shit! It was my dad s. My mum doesn t like me driving it. This is my moment, but I can feel my chest ticking. I can hear Cal unzipping his coat now, back from buying mustard. Hold my hand. Dr Ryan s secretary phoned and asked us to come. He nods as if he was expecting this. The toast has turned to charcoal. So is Stoner Boy. She looks doubtful, but stands up anyway. You gave up work for me, friends for me, four years of your life for me. That sounds like she can t even breathe. Cal asks him. Write it down first, because apparently people often forget what they mean to say at funerals. You know, when you fainted that time. Pack it? It s a nice bike. Good. It is if I tell her. He gets up from the chair and sits on the edge of the bed. Did I say it was? I just came out for a quick coffee. He shakes his head. I won t be long. I ask her. Watch where you re going! 272 She s fat and sticky and drooling milk. His fingernails are dirty and he has bits of leaf in his hair. I fumble with the light switches, the horn, the ignition. For not backing off. Beyond him, the dull pink clouds of morning. After I ve had a cigarette, she says, get back, you re going to let me drive. Every time you cough you ll think of me. She wasn t allowed near me for the bone-marrow transplant, but she could have been there for any number of diagnoses, and wasn t. Even her promises to visit more often have faded away with Christmas. It s amazing, the whole town down there like someone laid it at our feet, and us high up, looking down at it all. He checks my arms, legs and back for bleeding under the skin, then he sits down on the chair next to the bed and makes notes on my chart. Because you don t look as if you are. . I know there s a particular curve (the only curve I have left) where my spine meets my bum, and that when I lean on one hip, that curve pushes itself towards Adam. Dad says. Please put your shirt back on. Darren Coleman Do you actually know what you re doing? Is he giving the thumbs-up? Alcohol and the taste of total body irradiation. She nods. I cut four giant slices of bread onto the chopping board and put them under the grill. Endlessly falling. They re hired for their cheeriness and the thickness of their hair. Is Adam in? Is she dying? Adam got home ages ago, went inside for half an hour, then came back out and started raking leaves. I remember that. I don t want to be free. You could have it, Zoey. People everywhere jostling, like the day is full of emergencies. A shadow travels the length of the lawn. Dead. But I m not telling him any of that. She doesn t touch me, but stands very close. He talks about having to give up his job as a financial adviser, of the way our lives disappeared into hospitals and treatment. Oh, for God s sake! He s careful not to put weight on me. Take That are touring again and sold out in milliseconds. They ve all got cars. Zoey s delighted. A biscuit? 281 Forty-three My mum was in labour for fourteen hours with me. That s great, Tess. Free download or read online Before I Die pdf (ePUB) book. m here, right here! Dad says, do you want blackberries? It hurts like hell. Shit! Lots of people are unhappy, but they don t run away. I think of Adam and Eve. Bikini and sandals. Who? I go up to the bedroom to see where you are. That s what s good about Zoey. 231 She looks right at me as she draws blood into the syringe. Feel the biting point? Every night he goes home to keep his mother safe. He crosses his legs, then immediately uncrosses them. She s wearing the same clothes as last time I saw her. I bet I won t. It s practically the law. She s very pale and very 9 blonde and her acne makes her look kind of savage. I really do. What s up with her then? Because loads of my friends have got one. Cars have rubber tyres. 10 No, really. But no. Cal says, You OK? I lift up the two shoeboxes so he can see them. m so startled I can t speak. Come on, she says. Bloody typical. I do need to be very certain, however, that you will deal with the matter most seriously. She holds me tight, as if one of us might fall. Any chance of an ice cream? We get close enough for Stoner Boy to notice us, and then we dance. It s beginning to rain. Can I come? Doesn t he understand that he really shouldn t be seeing me like this? 263 I hate it when you say days She frowns. Cal s face is shining with good humour. 262 Thirty-seven Tell me how it will be. Cal asks. I text him back. Last time Sian was here he offered her supper and made a right idiot of himself. I don t. You do. I get such cold feet in England, she says. Look at the toys while you re waiting. She turns on the bed and looks at me. I dig my heels in and grab hold of a shelf. Perhaps they re a female thing, Mum said, and she bought us both another one. No taste or smell or touch or sound. Put that out! Elvis. It s stopped raining. His face is in shadow, the edges of her hair are tipped with light. Zoey used to live her life as if the human race was about to become extinct, like nothing really mattered. You wouldn t know it was there if you were ordinary. Your dad s making lunch by the way. I watch you. They ve given her antibiotics. And get your feet off the bloody seat! m still here, the woman says. I wish it was just us. Your bedroom s starting to smell weird anyway. What are you doing? I nod again. 82 He nods at her. Inside are pages and pages of words I ve written about my list. She looks startled. I can t work it out for a minute. m not having any, he tells her. I just got it fixed. I want to lick them. Did your boyfriend teach you that? Yeah, it s the hormones. Do you want to see him? She looks tired, as if she s been travelling for days. He slides himself from the arm of the chair into the seat. I really, really hate this, he says. We ve got coffee at home. Shall I go right to the top? You mustn t laugh at us if we do anything silly, I say. It s so tangible. That wasn t there before. I take another step, so close that we share a breath. And it s like there s a hole in time, as if everything stops and this one minute, where we look at each other so close, is spread out between us. You used to when you were small. 157 Twenty-three Cal comes trotting up from the bottom of the dark garden, his hand outstretched. 55 She sighs and walks off. She talks of bands and entertainers; she hires the local community hall and covers it in streamers and balloons. Upstairs I feel heavier, like the bed glued itself to me and is sucking me down. We walk together through snow, but we re hot and wearing swimming costumes. Music – Blackbird by the Beatles. Do you want me to drop into the GP s and pick up any repeat prescriptions? I don t have any other friends – and before you suggest it, I don t want to make any. Shut up, Zoey! Your ice cream will melt. A car passes. I heard a story once about some nymph, snatched by a god and taken somewhere dark and dangerous on the back of a chariot. Fame s next. I still have red patches on my stomach. He has a scar like a silver river running from his hairline all the way down his forehead to the bridge of his nose. We can keep going with blood and platelets if you want to, but it s likely their benefit will be short-lived. I do believe you. I didn t say I wouldn t come! Thirty, to go to parents evening and our child s a genius.