I stink. She whisks the bed sheets from under me and conjures up fresh ones. Signs. That s when maybe he realizes that this is the worst idea he s ever had, because the only thing that makes me extraordinary is my sickness. The same one. Lawnmowers. We re all right here with you. He s done this before. I write, WHERE THE HELL ARE U? Lovely mundane, family illnesses – eczema, tonsillitis, croup. Today, Cal chooses the Game of Life. Before me. 257 Thirty-six So, were you ever going to tell me? Don t say it if you don t mean it. Please, Zoey. I turn inwards, their voices the sound of water murmuring. I touch it with my fingers, but it stays the same. ll be back to having lumbar punctures every week. Do you want to come and sit on the bed? I wonder if her husband loves her, if he makes her feel gorgeous, if he lies entranced in her fat arms. She was completely addicted to milkshakes. Take That are touring again and sold out in milliseconds. They look like lanterns or baby pumpkins. Drainage or bleeding, any numbness or loss of strength below the puncture site. No! She sucks her teeth at me and tells me not to tempt fate. But his eyes are scared and his face is slack, like he s a hundred years old. I didn t hear her come in. Her energy. It s such a relief to be with someone who doesn t know me at all. Number eight is love. She stubs the joint out in the ashtray, settles herself back down next to Scott and shuts her eyes. Did he? Dad loves that. I m cold. What did they say? I want to thank him for being here, but for some reason I don t seem able to get the words together. She waves her hand at the room extravagantly. I do believe you. I could hear the whisper of leaves hitting the grass at his feet. He s useless. That s your adventuring dress! My dad tells her no, it s too late; he tells her to bring me back by midnight. I will if you do that! She looks very primeval as she hitches herself up and makes her way back to me. His arms wrap me warm. My lungs will dry up like paper fans. I haul myself up, even though my arms ache. I worry that people only give me things because they feel guilty. She talks of private schools and coming-out parties, of how she regularly stole her sister s pony and rode across town to the council estate to visit Dad at night. Your dad s going to kill me if you break anything. And he goes back to kissing my neck, my breasts, my stomach until his face disappears from me again. Dangerous dress, Adam says, and he looks right at me, as if he knows something. Please pull over! I had to sit on a stool by her side to watch the telly. Fame, isn t it? 80 She gives me a withering look. I think you ll agree, ladies and gents, that here is a young lady who is taking life by the horns. Stop going on about crap. After that he comes and asks me if I slept well, if I m hungry and what time I m going to get up. If it were born now, it would fit into the palm of my hand. Instructions for Zoey Don t tell your daughter the planet is rotting. He said, No one will take you if you re tied to me. Why don t you take a blanket and sit in the garden? I ll make him supper. It s all tongue and longing. Written in only two weeks, The Alchemist has sold more than two … Was he any good? Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with … We ll take it. I did two tests. Typical, he says. I watch him eat. The woman who answers the intercom wants to know who we ve come to see. In every shop I thought they d refuse it, but they never did. You want to, don t you? I really, really hate this, he says. The bits of garden in his hair, the filth of his fingernails. Zipped leather with little heels. I read it in the Reader s Digest. Good! I split the pockets of all my jogging pants, gash holes in my sweatshirts and chuck the lot next to the dresses. Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw. I lean back on the pillows and look at the corners of the room. These two white stones are almost perfectly round. My mum once said that sex was only three minutes of pleasure. I get the grater from the cupboard, the cheese from the fridge, and grate a pile of cheese onto the chopping board while the toast cooks. I thought it d be full of girls clutching hankies and looking forlorn, but me and Zoey are the only ones here. Sally opens it a crack and peeps at me. Come and look! He slumps down on the bed. I mean, I know I did already, but I thought I d say it again. And I m just about to say it out loud, just about to say, ve got something for you, Adam, but it s in my bedroom, so you ll have to come and get it, when there s a rap on the window. All those kids recently returned to classrooms with new bags and pencil cases will be looking forward to half term already. He d whisper, Tessa, I love you. I want the nights. Let s say yes then. OK, Dad says. Probably. Remember what? I hear his small sigh of relief. It ll be born in May, same as me. m sorry. For what? No, but now you have to. Over the years, nurses must have thrown a body-full of my blood away. I fancy some chocolate anyway, so I pull in. A fly grazes the table. She stabs at the window with a frantic finger. 83 Adam grins. It s a wound that connects us. Here is a real breathing boy, looking up at me, waiting for me. m taking you to the hospital, he says again, as if perhaps I didn t hear him the first time, or maybe the blood has made me stupid. Mine look different, entangled with his, the new bracelet on my wrist. I lie on the ground and try to imagine it. It s ridiculous! What re you going to do with yourself? I might let you down. Out of town, onto the dual carriageway. ll race about catching them. I undo his laces, put each of his feet on my lap in turn and pull off his trainers. A green and white afternoon threading daisies. She gets up and comes over. The people who love you. Everyone can see me and their gaze burns. I lick the ice-cream stick, trying to get all the flavour from it. We got tired, both of us. I must say yes to everything for one whole day. She walks slowly back across the room, shaking her head. Do you? While he was gone, Dad stood on the back step and smoked a fag. Poor Zoey. It starts as a ripple in my belly, then moves up to my mouth. Because he wants to spend a whole week with you! I wanted to stand on tables and sing cheering songs. He puts cinnamon sticks to boil on the oven downstairs, because I want to smell Christmas. How did that happen? I bet Scott put his arm round her. I also forgot that I don t have time for flirting. She flings the brochure on the grass. 186 We all shush each other. We re going to have ice cream and hot chocolate and Coke. Zoey flicks me a nervous smile across the top of her magazine. And she disappears amongst the crowd. And I m not going to die until all ten are done. Zoey told them not to make any assumptions, but still we walked into their lounge and she let Stoner take her coat. No missed calls. When we arrived, it was beginning to snow; people doing their Christmas shopping were all wrapped up against the cold. We get caught in traffic on the main road. You ll be a grandad. We ve never caught a single cockroach though. A woman says, Hello. I stand up, walk to the curtains and open them wider. How long do you reckon that s going to last? He shakes his head, taps his nose with his wand. It looks peaceful, even grateful. If I use up too much energy, I always pay for it later. But that could mean anything. It looks like electricity, and not water at all. You won t. I might get freaked out. Whatever you do, whatever you still have left to do, whatever your stupid list makes you do. If I can get them to guarantee daily visits, then perhaps we can reassess. Yeah, I ve got stuff to do in town. Did you? Imagine it, Zoey – being terrified all the time. The streetlights blaze in his eyes. He has trouble with his pants, easing them over his hard-on. She turns the page as if she s read it. It smells of her. I wonder if she feels as far away as I do, as dazed by her own reflection. I reach out my finger for a touch of those flimsy wings. It s like sleeping, except she knows we re here. Even at half speed, we might take off. Are you insane? We creep down the stairs and peer over the banister. She picks one up, wipes the fluff off and hands it to me. Poppies blooming at my feet. And last time I looked, I was only there because you told me to jump in a river! Here you go, girls. Adam will climb over the fence to steal me, maddened by my scent, by my roundness, the shine and health of me. I feel suddenly frightened. My knees are shaking and it takes a lot of effort to swing my leg over the bike and stand up. He swims his tongue around each toe. He gets out of the car, walks round the back to the nozzles and pumps. No, not eight. The ashes are still hot though, bright enough to attract a moth, a stupid moth dancing towards them. It s simple. We didn t even go up to the hotel for lunch. I text Zoey. Salty, she says. Look, Zoey, I say. What if I do? Dad walks down the path filming us with his video camera. Except for the flowers by the chair, it s as if he s never been here at all. She finds some mascara and tells me to look right at her. The café man asks where my parents are; he asks if I know the man with gold teeth, who is now clambering up the opposite bank and laughing raucously to himself. I thought they d give me a pill and it would just fall out. I thought they d be deeper than this. Last time I looked, you were flat on your back in hospital and I was visiting you! And I ll continue in this empty world, tapping soundlessly on the glass between us. Hey, Cal, don t cry! When Cal points her out, she s leaning against the entrance to the playground watching us. . Indoors they ll be dealing out the cards and passing round the peanuts, but out here, each blade of grass glistens, spiked by frost. Doing what? It s like being in Beirut! I stuff them in the water jug while he looks at my get-well cards. It was bad timing, that s all. You know what men are like. I say. Although she s texted me every day, she doesn t seem interested in my list any more. He offers me a light. Mum smiles, passes him a Catherine wheel. I gather him and hold him close. Your pupils are huge! She sounds as if she s talking to a fouryear-old. There s a rug too, a little oval with splashes of blue and grey, like the sea. And ducks. I take the cigarette he offers and let him light it. In the supermarket. Not sure of the time. Another text arrives, then another, like a flock of birds landing in the tree. She got pregnant ninety-five days ago. But she keeps walking down the path towards us. It matches the handbag she s dumped on my floor. You look like a dog that s about to shit itself somewhere it shouldn t! It s like listening to a cartoon. We both look at his bike. Zoey sinks back away from him. Except for the baby. If Zoey needs a condom, she ll just have to come and get it. Frozen peas would be better, Mum. Why do I feel as if I m about to cry all the time? Sally calls. I try to savour the moment. Perhaps she ll do her famous disappearing act and walk out of the door. My body s repairing itself. I struggle to sit up in order to jump out of the wardrobe and wrestle him to the ground, but Cal saves me by opening the bedroom door. But it didn t feel real, more like something arranged for the tourists. He says, Are you going to pay for the items inside your jacket? Cal stuffs the gum in his mouth, chews it thoughtfully, then says, When Tessa dies, can we go on holiday? He has a scar like a silver river running from his hairline all the way down his forehead to the bridge of his nose. It ll be fun. I lie back on the grass to get away from his gaze. We cut through the back streets. Things change shape if you look through it. I spent a lot of money, Dad. Zoey says. Her name was Angela and we e-mailed each other every day, then one day she stopped. Did she fall? She puts her hand out for me to shake, but I ignore it, pretend I can t move my arms. She stuffs a spoonful of pie and brandy butter into her mouth, chews quickly, then swallows it down. I scramble into my clothes. He ll be here soon. He s not wearing slippers. He smells of stale smoke and beer and looks older than I remember. And a holdall from the same shop to put all our things in. It s like the whole hospital empties out. That s weird. A lemon-coloured baby suit is draped across her knees. He puts out a hand to catch a flake and shows it to me. Everything really. I ve only just learned myself. It wasn t meant to be. I hand it over and she looks at it closely before wrapping it up. No, I say, and I put the phone down. What is it? Past tense. 52 Nothing. I also have my hood tied under my chin like an old woman. Do you know what they re called? She has two parents who live together. He s about my dad s age, with dark hair, receding at the crown. I don t really, but I nod anyway. We talk about nothing for a bit – how the plants he bought in the garden centre are coming along, how his mum is enjoying the weather now that she s outside more often. Zoey shifts in her chair. His mum came out and caught you, that s all. They re called Scott and Jake and we re going back to their place. What do you really want? It s emerald and black silk and is the most expensive thing I ve ever bought. He makes me sound like a right twat. I touch his dark curls, twine their strength through my fingers. But watching Adam walk up the path feels like a choice. That s only a hundred and sixty days. Do you know about bikes? OK. Zoey yelps, braces her arms against the dashboard. She flirts with Dad as we go down to the studio. Please, Zoey, I m tired. Yeah. He s got a snack as well. 104 Where we end up is somewhere I didn t expect – a muddy car park off the dual carriageway. There are signs everywhere. What s that supposed to mean? You can laugh at me, but it s true. At the gate he gives me a wink. m not. He says, Shall I help you put it on? I ll try and see you again soon. Cal asks. The opposite. Dr Ryan s secretary phoned and asked us to come. Two hours later the police were knocking on the door. We ve got a present for you too. I absolutely give a shit! I knew it would. I even tell him about my habit of writing on walls. He was terrified. I don t feel scared at all. I could ring her, see if she can come over. What do you call Batman and Robin after they ve been run over by a steamroller? She waves the feather duster at him. He looks at his watch. Where are we going? Shall we walk to the garden centre then, Mum? I would suggest methotrexate and hydrocortisone for four weeks. I hate all of you! We ve had no dealings with her before, and I m not obliged to call the police if I hand her back into your care. Hello, she says again. Will I still be a brother? I grab her arm, pull her up. Live, I tell her. A woman comes up the stairs and into the lobby. d love to be that baby deep inside her. I tell her how at breakfast one morning, Mum wouldn t eat, said she was sick of sausages and tinned tomatoes and that it would ve been cheaper to go to Benidorm. I stare at it very hard. 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. You all right? You seem quiet. It makes me feel vaguely drunk and very cold. I sit hunched. Will you be all right if I go and do that? Tess, I love you! You have a choice, she says. There s a silence then. You promised you d do everything with me, Zoey. He sweeps his hand in circles on my back, whispers Shush into my ear, eventually eases me away so he can see me. He might not be a store detective at all: he could be trying to get me somewhere lonely and quiet. I swallow hard, fight the impulse to get up and walk out. Listen, he says, there s a doctor here who s developed a system called bone breathing. Bloody idiot. I move his hand to my breast. ve been here before with exactly this view. He said we d have to pay extra if you puked. But now, because of Scott, she s lost her definition. Dad says, You haven t seen Zoey for a while. I could watch. I push my foot hard down on the accelerator. To feel this, when I d thought it was over, when my body s closing down and I thought I d have no pleasure from it again. She circles a finger on the glass, then she says, Maybe you should try and believe in God. I lacerate every pair of trousers. It sounds worse than it is. What re you doing? A biscuit? m not sure. We re in Willis Avenue already. 122 We walk down an aisle towards the back of the shop. Are they talking about me? 87 It s a parka with fur round the hood. At us. Tiny kisses where he bites my top lip gently, where my tongue edges his mouth. There s a big window behind his desk, and out of it I can see the tops of two trees. The lights change through amber to green. How did you know I wanted them? That s worse. He strokes my head, my face, he kisses my tears. Hats and jokes and plastic toys fly through the air as we pull. Fifty-one, two, three. He greets me politely and drags a chair over from under the window to sit by the bed. Maybe he s busy. Shirley sighs. Then I wake up. Panic spills from Dad s throat. When we discovered the ’25 documents before your die PDF’ on the Wall Street Journal, we knew we had to share. Get good at distraction therapy – do something, anything, to keep your mind off it. The sky gets darker and darker. She s trying to hide it, swinging her hair to cover her face. Yeah. Being and not being. I can t look at him, so I move closer, bury myself deeper, hide in his arms. We ll build things, shelters and traps. It s weird hugging him in the dark on the landing. I laugh quietly to myself. Where s it all going to end? She looks bemused. 264 Mum and Cal are next to each other on the sofa. He tastes different – of smoke and something sweet. ll just torture myself with this then. ll get a job, and maybe one day I ll have children – Chester, Merlin and Daisy. That won t happen to you though. The headache begins in McDonald s. It s like someone suddenly scalps me with a spoon and digs about inside my brain. Zoey doesn t look at all pleased to see them. 221 Maybe it s yoghurt and orange juice. Birds swoop and dive. He doesn t. She scowls at me. Sun cream, sun hat and a sensible cardigan for a start! But it doesn t last long. I want Adam to wantto be here. Mum chuckles, and it s strange because it makes her seem more alive than Dad somehow. He gazes at me across the winter garden. she cries, and clutches her heart melodramatically, which makes Cal roar with laughter. He looks mad and breathless, as if he hasn t slept for weeks and is capable of anything. Never let a bloke into your heart – it s fatal. Spring, he said. And the retinas are formed. 70 Dad smiles down at me. Are you still having all that treatment? When I leave the cubicle, Zoey s waiting by the hand dryer. We ll visit you loads. I ll take you in my dad s car. All gathering towards this one. I wonder if Mum ll get sent some kind of bill. she yelps. We ll grow vegetables. Download 100 Things To Do Before I Die full book in PDF, EPUB, and Mobi Format, get it for read on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. We re bundled out pretty sharpish. Their throats have turned to liquid and their fingers glint under the weak autumn sun. A nurse comes in, fiddles about with the sheets, fills up my water jug. What shall I tell him? At this stage we have the option of giving your daughter a warning. Number seven, I told him. What are you doing? He blushes. Flash. Anything could ve happened during the night. 174 Fundraising? I back away in amazement and awe. It s terrifying. Maybe we ll fall in love. Say yes, just say yes. He nods. ve got ll bring her home by three. That s it, all done. It s like turning off the lights one by one. I want to hear a thousand songs played incredibly loud. Now? We thought you were the cab. He sends you his love. It s a den. I don t know what to say to her. Trees, fields, space appears. That s it! The motorbike on a giant spring, which veers drunkenly to one side when I sit on it, so I scrape my knee on the ground. That s it, Mum tells him. Together they push the stick into the ground. He doesn t exactly know I ve got it, but I m really good at driving! He says they grow in clumps, but only in late summer and autumn. I laugh right up at her. Have you got enough meds? Two for the great globs of melting plastic from the seats splitting the air. I rake my hands through it, bring up my fingers to smell the earth. I don t want to take my hand away. Zoey won t look at him, but I will. I m not even having to think about it. Maybe it s lack of money, or perhaps she wants to make sure I don t over-exert myself, but we always end up watching videos or playing board games. You could have it, Zoey. Hello again! Never, in the last four years, have all three of them visited me at the same time. Last week I got five sea bass just lying there in a plastic bag. Like a butler, he brings me things. I picked them. And what would you talk about? He gets out of bed without touching me and puts on his clothes. He should be outside digging in manure, peat and rotting vegetation. I hate my room. he asks. It sounds like it s hurting her. That s a good idea. He nods as if he s expecting more. It s such a relief. Then he laughs, as if it wasn t cool to say that. I was tired. You don t know? You really want me to? Thanks. You should go back and have another go. It will pass. she screams. I point at the window just in case he s been too busy to notice the mellow light and the blue-sky clouds. m getting dressed. It gets easier as your children get older, but it never goes away. I notice a thin trickle of blood on the back of his hand. Will Adam be listening? It hurts like hell. It tastes delicious. His face is in shadow, the edges of her hair are tipped with light. Tessa s capable of anything now she s got her list. He turns on the bench so that he s facing me. You want me to? I bet he thinks I ve just been chucked by my boyfriend, that these are love letters. Do we have an understanding then? Sit down, I tell her. I won t break. My mum and dad had a fight, he stomped off to the pub and forgot to look when he crossed the road. T H E FELLOWSHIP PRESS Philadelphia, Pennsylvan, 1 Before I die Jenny Downham 2 For Louis and Archie, with Love 3 One I wish I had a boyfriend. Run! m better. 4 Breathe, Tessa, he whispered. He looks at me in surprise. Adam s probably still washing his mouth out. A Tory MP cheats on his wife. We go everywhere – the little house at the top of the ladder in the sandpit, where we just fit in. So don t you dare tell me I don t. Don t you ever say it again! I think she s thirsty, Mum says. We might go completely crazy. 6 I don t know why I let her read it. He grins. I thought I d come and look for you. He touches my hand. I look at him. No, then you ll die. At the junction, an ambulance stands skewed, its doors open, the blue of its light flashing across the road. Really? Ever heard of that? She feigns interest in a pair of sugar tongs. So, he says, we found the right antibiotic in the end. You re the only one who can judge it. Not here! Anything wrong with that? Someone s dreaming about you, Mum says. I used to come here with Dad and look at them. I was almost arrested for shoplifting. You could both come. Waves. he says. The structures of the spine are in place, I tell Zoey. And that s when she moved into her flat. What re you hoping for? Tell me about him. But then, I ve got nothing to lose. Come on, he says. Christ! They re bad news. Which is? It doesn t matter. m glad that night porters and nurses and long-distance lorry drivers exist. . But he sits on Mum s lap instead. I don t even remember going to Spain. He waves at them in despair as we crawl through the town centre. I m sinking, sinking into the bed. Nothing again. She gets gauze and antiseptic spray from her medical case, puts on sterile gloves and holds my arm up so she can clean around the portacath. The red dress seems smaller than ever; I pull it down, trying to cover my knees. Heavy, dull drops splash the carpet as I walk. Don t pretend to care. When his skin touches mine, skin to skin, we both shiver. Are you stoned again, Zoey? Adam shakes his head. Saturday night is always sausages. Can t he see it s deeper than that? I think of Zoey. He s eleven, Mum, practically a grown-up. I might just get that. Are you all right? mutters Zoey, and she plonks herself on the wall to wait. Adam says, What s your dad up to? But I couldn t feel anything, not even when I took off my shoes. Adam s just a kid, Tessa. Goodnight, Adam. The drowsy creak of bedsprings. There s a café and a park and no one will know us. I want to get so hot that I have to crunch ice in my mouth. At his funeral, all the sandwiches curled at the edges. Do you want some batteries? 269 Adam climbs into bed. 141 She frowns. Zoey says, Have you just left him up there? As Zoey turns to face me, I realize that life is made up of a series of moments, each one a journey to the end. You did feel it, didn t you? Shirley merely blinks. You mustn t let him! A hot-water bottle. m fine. Is that how it feels? I can hear whispering coming from the wall. It s a portacath, an access disc for medical treatments. I stand on the step, trying to breathe deeply, trying not to panic. I say. My mum sat on the stairs and covered her ears with her hands, and they stood in the hallway with their hats off and their knees shaking. I don t want you to! He s going to smile at me the way he did yesterday when he was carrying garden rubbish down the path and he saw me watching and said, Just can t keep away, can you? We stand for a bit looking at the sea together. Your privacy is important to us. They said a million things, all of them terrible. Come here. He ll think you can t cope. She smells nice. Halloween soon, then firework night. He looks bemused, and that s the trouble – they never quite get the joke. We forgot to pull the crackers! After she s gone I have a dream where I walk into the lounge and everyone s sitting there. Zoey asks. You could get sick from that water. Maybe I should build a fire. She brings in the cold. I don t think she s going to miss this tube of Relief Body Moisturizer or this small jar of Crème de Corps Nutritif. She s still on a million tablets a day. I push his arm off and sit up to look at him. m fine. I liked her knowing the words. He turns to me, his eyes glistening. He walked over to the window and opened the curtains. They said it would, but this is quicker than anyone thought. I don t know what will happen next, but there s something very calm about him, which seems to be contagious. she says. My dad says musicians write all their best songs when they re high. I need to go, Tess. Dad tries to whisper, but she can t hear, so he has to say it again, louder. There s hardly anything left. Ragged clouds fringe a blue sky. d be surprised if you weren t below twenty. I don't usually read books I think might make me cry (I bawl pretty easily) but I decided to try 'Before I die' since I had just read 'You against me' and really enjoyed that.