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LITTLE BIG LOVE COVER

Little

Big

Love

Katy Regan

 

BERKLEY

New York

An imprint of Penguin Random House

LLC 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014

Copyright © 2018 by Katy Regan
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Regan, Katy, author.
Title: Little big love / Katy Regan.
Other titles: Little big man
Description: First edition. | New York : Berkley, 2018.
Identifers: LCCN 2017040884 (print) | LCCN 2017034468 (ebook) |
ISBN 9780451490346 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780451490360 (Ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Mothers and sons—Fiction. | Family secrets—Fiction. | Fathers—Fiction. | Domestic fiction. | GSAFD: Love stories.
Classi cation: LCC PR6118.E583 L58 2018 (ebook) | LCC PR6118.E583 (print) | DDC 823/.92—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017034468

First Edition: June 2018

Printed in the United States of America

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Jacket design and illustration by Allison Colpoys

Title page art: watercolor waves © Shizayats/Shutterstock

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

For Yoshi Sato,
who will always be in my thoughts

New Year’s Eve 2015

Dear Liam
(maybe one day I will call you Dad but not yet),

This is your son, Zac. I am writing this letter to give you an opportunity. I know you did a runner just before I was born and weren’t interested in being my dad, but how could you decide if we’d never met? I didn’t know I wanted to be Teagan’s friend until she moved onto the same estate as me. Luckily she was nice, but she could have been really annoying.

I don’t want to be offensive  but I have been really angry with you since the day my mum and me went on the promenade train in Cleethorpes when I was three and my mum told me you existed. I don’t know why you didn’t want to see me or even phone me if I was your child. You have never even sent me a birthday card. (In case you don’t know, my birthday is May 25th.) What kind of dad doesn’t send their kid a birthday card?

So I am giving you the opportunity to come to my party when I’m eleven. It’s five months away so lots of time to organize it. If you have any more children, you could bring them, as long as they like Toby Carvery because that’s where I’m going.

BE WARNED: my mum is really mad with you and my nan says you make her sick, but I am willing to give you a chance.

My grandad says, “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” and I agree. For example, I never used to like mushrooms, but now I would have them on my death row dinner. I think if you met me you’d change your mind too.

 

Please write back.

From Zac

 

P.S. Just so you know, you can only get two slices of meat at Toby Carvery, but you can have as many vegetables and Yorkshire puddings as you want.

 

1

Zac

Fact: there are only three animals in the

world that have a blue tongue: a chow chow dog,

a blue-tongued lizard, and a black bear.

So I’d already written to my dad on New Year’s Eve, but deciding to look for him only started, really, the night of my mum’s Date from Hell. She kicked everything off that spring; she made everything start happening that would change our lives for the better and make them brilliant. She says it was me that did it, but it wasn’t, it was her. (Even though she was drunk, it was still her.) That’s the only good thing about wine, I suppose. It can sometimes help you to tell the truth.

Grimsby, early February 2016

Sam Bale’s dad was walking across our estate in the snow. It was just him with his big furry hood up. He could have been trekking across the North Pole.

“How many points would you give him, then?” I said.

“What, Sam’s dad?” said Teagan. “None. No way. He’s been in prison for fighting people, he has.”

“He’s rich, though,” I said.

“How do you know?”
“He’s got a bath that’s a Jacuzzi—and he’s got a gold car. Imagine how much that would cost. A gold car!”
Me and Teagan were high up, leaning out of her bedroom window playing the dad game. Teagan’s my best friend. She lives on our estate but in one of the high blocks on the seventh floor, where you can see the whole of Grimsby, even to the sea. We live in a boring old maisonette with only two floors, but it’s nicer than Teagan’s inside because my mum can work, whereas Teagan’s mum’s got this disease where she’s tired all the time, so if you weigh everything up, it comes out equal.
I was round at hers for a sleepover because my mum was on a date. I don’t usually go round to people’s houses for sleepovers on a school night, but then, my mum doesn’t usually go on dates. This was her first in a year and a half. Before that, she was going out with Jason, but they split up because there was no chemistry.
The dad game is something me and Teagan made up after Teagan’s dad left her mum—and Teagan, and her sister, Tia—for Gayle from Ladbrokes. Since then, she hasn’t seen her dad much. Teagan’s dead angry with her dad and thinks she’ll have to get a new one eventually. My dad did a runner just before I was born, but Mum’s always said we had a lucky escape because he was a waste of space. So I’d like to get a proper dad too someday, and me and Teagan thought it would be good to work out what sort of dad would be best.

Our game’s called Top Trumps for Dads. It’s just like normal Top Trumps, except we give scores based on how good a dad we think someone would be: how kind, strict, or funny they are; if they’re rich and could take us on adventures; if they’d be able to stick up for us in a fight—and not a fight like Sam Bale’s dad’s been in, but a proper one, where you’re fighting for something worth it, not just for the sake of it.

Teagan writes down scores for the dads in our special file. So far, Jacob Wilmore’s dad scores the highest. He’s got a six-pack and a Porsche and he’s just a really nice man. He used to play football professionally and now he sometimes coaches the under-elevens. I wish I was good at football, just so I could see him more. We’ve finished doing all the dads at school now, though, so we’re scoring others we know, like Sam Bale’s.

“He might be rich, Zac, but he’s still been in prison,” said Teagan. “ There’s no point having a dad in prison all the time; you’d never get to see him.”

“Yeah, and when you went to visit him, you wouldn’t be able to touch him and you’d have to be careful because he might be in with all the murderers.”

“And he’d have to wear an orange suit,” said Teagan. “I’ve seen it on Coronation Street.”

As well as living on the Harlequin Estate with me, Teagan’s at the same school as me but in a different class, so on Mondays and Thursdays, when I’m not at Nan and Grandad’s, we sometimes play together after tea. We like playing “the Olympics,” where Teagan does her gymnastics on the bars (three metal bars, basically, all of different heights, in the middle of our estate) and I do the commentary like on the Olympics. This is Teagan O’Brien on the bars, for the United Kingdom! When it’s cold or rainy, though, we like stopping in and leaning out of Teagan’s bedroom window and looking at all of Grimsby like we own it. Our estate is at the edge of the town near the sea (it’s not actually the sea, it’s the Humber estuary, but it goes into the North Sea). But don’t go thinking there’s a beach like there is at Cleethorpes—it’s not like that. If you look at where the sea meets the town in Grimsby, from high up here in Teagan’s flat, you can just see loads of cranes and boat masts, with the Dock Tower in the middle, poking out like a red rocket. The line where the water meets the town goes in and out where all the different trawlers have their parking spots. Our town is a shing port. It used to be the greatest fishing port in the world back when my great-grandad was a fisherman, in the glory days. But then there were the Cod Wars, where Iceland and our country rowed about who was allowed to fish where, and that ruined everything basically.

“Hey, if you squint your eyes and look at all the snow,” I said, closing one eye, the way Mr. Singh from Costcutter does when you go in there and he pretends to be asleep, “you could be in Canada.”

“Jacob Wilmore’s been to Canada. He told me it was boring,” said Teagan.

“I bet it’s not. I bet it’s amazing.” The snow was amazing here too, if you looked closely. It wasn’t white; it was loads of different colors. That’s because it’s actually frozen droplets of water reflecting the light. I told Teagan this. “It’s the same for polar bears,” I said. “Their fur’s not white either, it’s transparent; it just reflects the light so it looks all dazzling. Underneath, their skin is black and under that are eleven centimeters of fat.”

“No way. Eleven centimeters?”

“Well, you’d need eleven centimeters of fat if you lived in the Arctic.”

“It’s like living in the Arctic in this house,” said Teagan. “And where’s my eleven centimeters?”

She leaned farther out of the window. She makes me nervous when she does that, because she’s so light, she could flutter away like a crisp packet. Teagan might be the smallest in our year but she’s not scared of anything, ever. I’m scared most of the time. Sometimes it feels like our bodies have been swapped around.

I leaned a little bit farther out too. The cold was lovely, it crept right through your clothes, and the moon was orange, with this sad, kind face.

“I wonder what my mum’s doing now,” I said.

“Why, where is she?” asked Teagan, flicking her hair round. Teagan’s hair is her best feature, like mine is my eyes. It’s chocolate colored and wavy.

“On a date,” I said.

“What, with a man?”

“No, a chimpanzee,” I said and Teagan laughed. She’s got this mad, crazy laugh; you can’t help joining in. I hadn’t said anything to Teagan because I didn’t want to jinx it, but I was really worried about my mum’s date. I wanted it to go well so badly that I’d prayed on Factblaster before I came out. Grandad always gets me a present just from him at Christmas, and last Christmas it was Factblaster. Every fact you’ve ever wanted to know, answered!, it says on the front. It’s totally awesome. I think it’s got lucky powers. I love my facts like I love my cooking. Out of my class, I’m probably second best at facts after Jacob, who knows literally everything, but that’s because his dad works on the rigs so can afford to take him all over.

My mum’s date was with a man called Dom. He knows my aunty Laura (she’s not my real aunty; she’s my mum’s best friend— I just call her aunty) and he’s got a sports car. My mum really needs a boyfriend. She loves me to bits, but we need a man in the house and, also, I liked it better when she was going out with Jason. I kind of miss him. Maybe I even loved him.

Teagan sighed. “Rather her than me,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, rather your mum than me going on a date. I’m not going on any dates when I’m older. I’m not going to have a husband or even a boyfriend.”

“Why not?” I said.

“’Cause men are stupid idiots, that’s why. You won’t be, obviously. But that’s because you’re different.”

I wondered what she meant by different. People don’t like different, in my experience. They don’t like fat, or really thin; they don’t like people who are poor. But then, they don’t like too rich either, or big noses, ADHD, smelliness, sticky-out ears, funny teeth, glasses, people with one arm, weird names, or weird parents. They don’t like anyone who stands out, basically. I don’t think any of these things matter—it’s the person inside that counts. But not everyone thinks like that, do they? That’s just not real life.

The windows in the flats across the way were glowing orange. The way they were lit up, it made the flats look so cozy and I thought, that’s how Teagan’s flat must look from there too, but also how it was a trick, because you couldn’t see how scruffy her bedroom was on the inside, you couldn’t see the black damp in the corners, like you can’t see the black skin underneath a polar bear’s fur. You couldn’t see there was no dad there or that her mum was in bed because she’d got the tired disease. You can’t see the truth just by looking on the surface. That’s something else I’d worked out.

I was thinking about all this when, all of a sudden, Teagan took a huge lungful of air. “Bogeys!” she shouted, so loud I bet it hurt her throat. I just saw Sam Bale’s dad look up before she tugged at my arm and yanked me down and then we were sitting with our backs against the wall, cracking up for ages. I laugh loads when I’m with Teagan; it makes me forget the bad stuff.

“Do you want some sweets?” she said, suddenly sliding onto her belly and under her bed. Teagan’s so little you could slide her anywhere. You could hide her like Anne Frank if you had to. She wriggled under her bed and brought out a plastic orange bucket. It was full of sweets from Halloween. “Have what you want.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, ’course.”

I couldn’t believe she’d saved them. Halloween had been four months ago!

I chose a mini Mars Bar, a Drumstick lolly, and a Maoam.

“Is that all?” she said. She couldn’t talk properly due to the humongous gobstopper in her mouth. “You can have more. Go on, take more.”

Teagan’s the only person my age in the world I can eat in front of without going red. She’s the only person my age I can talk to about food too—about what I baked with my nan or what recipe I made up. She’s the only person my age who knows I want to be a chef like my uncle Jamie too. She never looks at me funny. Not like that. Not like most people look at me. When she talks to me, she just looks in my eyes. Sometimes I wonder if she’s even noticed.

We sat on the bed. It was quiet except for the rustling of our sweet wrappers and the room was full of the moon, making Teagan’s tongue look blue from the gobstopper. Then suddenly, there was shouting.

“Why?” a lady was going. “Why? Why? Why?” Teagan looked at me and we burst out laughing. “Wanker!” the woman shouted and we cracked up even more. We couldn’t get to the window fast enough to see what was going on, which was that there were two people, a man and a woman, having an actual scrap in the snow! The man was skidding around trying to duck from the lady, who was hitting him over the head with her handbag. She was shouting but crying at the same time. She had blondish/brownish hair the same style as my mum’s and she was wearing a turquoise coat.

I recognized that coat.

“Oh. My. God,” Teagan said slowly. She wasn’t laughing anymore and neither was I. “Isn’t that your . . . ?”

I can tell you now, no ten-year-old kid wants to see their mum having a scrap in the snow, whacking someone over the head with her handbag. It makes the mum look mental and it’s not very lady- like. But that was exactly what was happening. I watched as my mum stomped off back home in the snow, and then I sat on Teagan’s bed for a bit, deciding what to do. I went home in the end. Teagan understood because she knows what it’s like to be worried about your mum.

The back door was open when I got there, so I just walked in. Mum was frying sausages in the kitchen. She’d got changed into her PJs, but she still had her makeup on, plus the dangly earrings she’d bought from Matalan especially for the date. I wished she hadn’t bothered.

“Zac! Jesus . . . Bloody hell . . .” She jumped out of her skin when she saw me. It might have been funny, but it wasn’t, if you know what I mean. “Why aren’t you at Teagan’s?” she said, wiping under her eyes with her fingers. Her eyes weren’t looking at me straight and she had black tears down her cheeks.

“She felt sick,” I said. Lying makes me nervous, but I didn’t have a choice. She asked me for a cuddle and I gave her one. She smelled really strong of the pub.

“What’s wrong?” I asked as she hugged me, really tight. It hurt a bit, but I didn’t want to say. “What happened on the date—it went wrong, didn’t it?”

But she ignored me. She just started putting the sausages on the slices of bread she had on the side. They had big clumps of butter on and even bigger holes. “Do you want one of these, darlin’? Mummy’s special sausage sandwich?”

Her voice was funny—I didn’t like it—and she wasn’t cutting the sandwich all neat like she normally does; she was making a mess.

“Why’re you acting strange?”

“Strange? I’m not acting strange,” she said, but she was walking toward the cupboard to get some plates out and even her walk was weird. The way she was talking. I hated it. All of it.

“Are you drunk?” I said. “Because I don’t like it. Just act normal, Mum. You’re freaking me out.”

She reached up to get the plates, but when she turned around and looked at me, I saw that she was crying again, horrible crying with all her face crumpled up. “How can I be normal, Zac, when I’m not?” she said, doing this horrible sob, so big that a little snot bubble came out of her nose. “When I’m this disgusting fat pig? This big fat mess of a person? I’m not surprised Dom didn’t want to kiss me or that your dad never—” That was when a plate slid out of the cupboard and smashed first on her head, then all over the floor, and then Mum was shouting and crying and I was too, and I was trying to pick up the pieces of the plate as well as hugging her at the same time and I just wanted this whole stupid date, this whole night, never to have happened.

I DIDN’T WANT Mum to be on her own, so I got into her bed and we ate our sausage sandwiches—Mum was dropping ketchup everywhere because she was still drunk, you could tell.

Afterward, I lay on her boobs. I love doing that ’cause they’re so soft, like pillows. I even have names for them. One’s Larry (he’s a bit bigger) and one’s Gary. Nobody but my mum and me know.

“What am I going to do, Zac?” Mum said suddenly. Her voice was all funny like she had a bad cold, because she’d been crying so much. “I’m never going to get myself a man like this, am I? Never going to get you a dad. And then you’ll leave me and marry a gorgeous girl, because you deserve a gorgeous girl, and I’ll just be a lonely old woman with cats.”

“But you wouldn’t be lonely if you had cats, would you?” I said. “Plus, you can get really friendly cats. And anyway, I’m not moving out—ever. Even if I do get married, I always want to live with you.”

Mum laughed. “You won’t always feel like that,” she said, kissing my head. “I promise you.”

“Anyway, you will meet someone. Nan says Liam ruined all your confidence but you’ll get it back when you get a new boyfriend. You’re dead pretty. I think you are.”

That was when Mum said the thing that made me glad this night had happened after all. “But that’s the problem, Zac.” She was stroking my hair; it felt dead relaxing. “I only ever loved Liam. I don’t think I even want a boyfriend if it’s not him.”

My heart was going boom. I didn’t dare speak in case she stopped talking.

“I loved him and he loved me—so much. He did, I know he did. And I just can’t imagine finding that again.”

She was quiet for a bit then, and I thought she’d fallen asleep. Then she did a big sigh.

“Bastard,” she said.

 

 

 

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