Velvet swished her foot around on the pattern of her duvet. The clock by the bed said three a.m, she’d given up on sleep hours ago. Jake had gone down OK, by the look of it; no frets about spiders tonight. But, still, she couldn’t get her mind to settle.
The door creaked, that cat-mewing squeaky noise that doors make in black and white films. “Vel, why are you still awake?”
Jake made a sympathetic kissing noise. “Can’t sleep?”
“Come on, down under the covers. It’s Sunday night. School tomorrow.”
“OK, Jake, I get the picture” Velvet lifted the duvet and slid beneath it, bunching her legs up. “There.”
She tried, and failed, to keep the acid out of her voice. “Happy?”
She felt as guilty as a chocolate addict breaking in to the Cadbury’s factory. And the guilt didn’t let up when Jake sat down on the bed, reached across and ran his fingers through her hair.
He was a funny spectacle at night, Jake. Hair pinging out every which way with a blue fleece pulled round him to keep out the cold- he was always cold- and, under that, a bright red P.E. vest pulled low as it could go over a pair of old- geezer-stylie pinstriped pyjama bottoms. Not to mention the thermal socks.
Only her brother would go to bed in thermal socks.
“Wish we still had those Disney tapes. You could always get to sleep when we had those. Always.”
Velvet let out a long, lung-emptying sigh. The Disney tapes, and the Fisher-Price tape machine they’d played them on, had long gone now. There wasn’t any need for them.
Not at the time they went, anyway.
The light from the landing made a weak pool on the carpet. Jake carried on running his fingers through Velvet’s hair while she tried to think of a nice way to tell him to stop. She’d never liked people fussing with her hair for long. And, what with not having had any sleep , it was starting to get annoying.
“That’s enough now, Jake.” She said gently. “Yeah?”
“Want me to sing you a song?”
“It’s OK, don’t stress. I’m alright.”
“You’re not, though, are you? You’re sad ”
Velvet felt herself flinch as he went to put his arm round her. “It’s OK. I’m fine. Really.”
“Oh.” He sounded hurt. “Oh, right.”
As Jake shuffled off, Velvet found herself saying: “If you’re good, I’ll bring you some PRB and choccy bickys in a minute.”
Jake turned round. “Thought we’d run out.”
“You’re forgetting, I keep a secret stash in the cupboard.” Velvet sing-songed.
Jake grinned. He had forgotten.
“I’ll pop down the stairs and get it. OK?”
‘PRB’ stood for ‘Pretty Red Bubbles’. It was what Jake used to call cherryade when he was small, before he could say the proper word. And her, too, at least until she worked out it was just another reason to be teased. Well, not teased. Bullied.
So, she and Jake had made a deal. No brother-sister sayings outside the house. Jake had looked at her a bit funny at first but, then, he’d shrugged. “OK, Vel.”
So, in public, ‘cherryade’ was ‘cherryade’- just like it was for everyone else. But, in private, it was always, always ‘PRB’.
Velvet came back a few minutes later with a plateful of chocolate biscuits and two glasses of PRB. She set the plate on her dressing table, with the glasses beside it, and they slurped and munched away. “This is cool, isn’t it?” Jake grinned.
“Midnight feasts,” Velvet echoed teasingly. “It’s chocolate biscuits and fizzy pop.” A blue-grey dawn light filtered through the curntains. “And it’s not even midnight, dingleberry”
“OK, OK.” Jake’s tone was sulky. But more like imitation sulky than the real deal. “ S’cuse me for breathing.”
“Who taught you to say that?” Velvet asked, surprised.
“A lot of the people at music group say it, ‘specially the boys. Why, is it bad?”
She patted her brother’s arm. “No, it’s not bad. It just sounds kind of wrong coming out of your mouth.”
“ I won’t say it anymore, then.”
There was a businesslike knock on the door. “You two should be in bed,” Bronwyn said.
Velvet sighed. “OK, Bron, I hear you.”
Slippered feet backed away from the door. “Yes, Bronwyn, no Bronwyn, three bags full, Bronwyn,” Velvet simpered under her breath. And that was it.
She and Jake clutched each other. And exploded in to giggles.