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The wrong path; Sometimes only a stranger can know what's best.

You're only 14, Lily. You're not going.' Her Mum's receptionist name badge shook as she turned back to violently assaulting the carrots for dinner.

Lily had to make her understand. 'It's Fivedust, Mum! They're only touring in London for one night. Amelia's sister said she'd give us a lift to the station.' 'No.' Her mum reached over and grabbed a jar of dried herbs and sprinkled some into the pot.

'We got last-minute tickets. It's a really big deal.' Lily glanced at the time on her phone. 19:30. 'I have to go, like, now.' 'It's a school night, Lily. I've said no.' 'If Dad was here he'd let me,' Lily bit her lip.

Mum sighed, and turned around. The Talk was coming. 'Lily, I know you're upset about your dad moving out,' her mum pushed her fringe away from her face, leaving a bit of carrot on her forehead. 'We both need a bit of space, right now. You're young...' 'I'm not a kid any more,' Lily snapped. Mum was always patronising her. She was grown up enough to look after herself.

Her mum sighed. 'I know, love. But I need you to try to understand.' 'But Mum' 'Enough. I've had a long day. You're not going. And that's the end of it.' Her mum opened a cupboard and slammed a tin onto the kitchen top.

Dad would get it. Lily thought of the last time she'd seen him, in the McDonalds next to the motorway roundabout. He'd bought her a Happy Meal, like she was a kid or something. Tom and Chris from sixth form came in to get a McFlurry. They'd seen her. She'd nearly died of shame. She refused to eat any of it. And Dad had looked sad. He looked small. Her Dad. Her Daddy.

Rage ignited in Lily's throat. 'I hate you! You ruin everything!' Lily took the stairs two at a time as the tears fell from her eyes. Barging into her room, she grabbed her phone. Her Fivedust screensaver was disrupted by text messages from Amelia: Where are you? xoxo We're leaving now!!!!! xoxo Get to the station!!!!

Lily stared out over the flat roof of the family room below, at her old swing hanging from the tree, and into the night-time fields surrounding them.

Nothing in any direction. Living in a village was rubbish. No buses. No trains. No Fivedust. She looked at her posters of Jez, the lead singer. Glancing at her photo of Dad, Lily grabbed her bag, and quietly opened the window.

Holding her breath, she inched out onto the flat roof. The light from the kitchen warmed the garden below. This used to be her party trick when she had friends over as a kid. She scampered across the roof and reached for the rough bark branches of the tree. She could see Mum's back, as she stirred a pot on the stove. Lily escaped into the field.

She tapped her phone. 19:34. The screen glowed, plunging the surrounding mud and stubbled field into black. She kept her eyes ahead. The main road out of the village was at the end of the field.

Someone would be going into town. Someone would give her a lift. She bunched her hands into her jumper sleeves, and picked up her pace.

The road seemed narrower, murkier at this time of night. It was a trick of the light, she told herself. She saw the distant sweep of glowing orange that broke the night sky and signalled the town. She just had to get to the train station. I'm doing this for you, Jez.

The grass verge of the country road was slippery, and damp seeped into her trainers. Stepping into the road to avoid a temporary road sign, Lily found the tarmac easier going. The moon highlighted the shadowy pines that stretched up and away like jagged towers. Her footsteps echoed. She heard a car. Finally. It swept round the corner and she stuck her thumb out. It looked like Tom's mum's car. She'd spin her some story about Mum being stuck at work, and she'd give her a lift. She stepped toward the vehicle as the window rolled down. The fat, white, sweaty face of a man thrust out. She froze. 'All right, sexy? You want a ride?' 'No,' she stuttered. 'I'm fine. Thanks.' 'Frigid little tease!' the guy shouted, as the wheels squealed into the loose stones of the road, and the car sped off.

Lily's breath came out in short, sharp bursts, sending condensation out into the air. Back over her shoulder the village looked far away. She knew her house was the third light across. One. Two Three. The sound of a car approaching made her stomach contract. Was he coming back? She scrambled up onto the verge, as the noise filled her ears, the car rounded the corner at speed, headlights spilled across the road, and the driver accelerated hard away into the dark. Dust, dirt and leaves whipped up around her. Lily lost her footing and her hands plunged down into sharp grass and cold mud. Her knee scraped the floor. She sensed something behind her. She wasn't alone.

Lily turned herself over as the moon ducked behind a cloud. Her heart beat loudly in her ears. She held up her phone, screen out, using the light to illuminate the figure across the road. A boy, not much older than her, was standing there.

'You OK?' he said.

Lily remembered she was sprawled on the grass, scared, like a baby. She felt a blush warm her cold cheeks. 'I tripped.' She sounded dumb. She pushed herself up. Wiped her hands on her jeans.

In the gloom she could make out the boy's dark hair swept up and away from his face. He had large smiling eyes. Was he laughing at her? 'I'm Dylan.' 'Lily,' she managed. Calm down, Lily. You're acting like a tool.

He was wearing a denim jacket, his hand gripped the strap of the rucksack on his back. Lily had to look up at him, he was tall. On the top of his right cheek was a scar, a little Y picked out in the dim light.

'You headed to the Fivedust gig?' he asked.

'How'd you know that?' 'Badges on your bag,' he pointed. She lowered her elbow so he wouldn't see the 'I heart Jez' one. And nodded.

'You're not going on your own, are you?' he looked along the shadowy road.

'My mates left without me.' 'Tough break,' he said. 'Your mum not give you a lift?' She shrugged, and looked down at her trainer as she scraped it along the floor to shake off a wet leaf.

'My brother was supposed to take me into town. We had a row.' 'Me too,' said Lily. 'With my mum, I mean.' 'You walking to the station then?' He looked dubious. She wished she'd bought her coat.

'I thought I might, like, flag a lift or something,' she tried to sound cool. She didn't want him to know she'd been scared before he'd shown up.

'Cool,' he said. 'And your mum won't mind if you don't get back until after midnight?' 'Midnight?' Dylan stopped and turned back to look at her. His teeth white, as he spoke. 'Nah, you're right: by the time you get to London - the band comes on, does their bit, you get out of the gig. You won't even be at the train station until like 1 or 2am. Do the trains even run that late?' 'I don't know,' Lily said. How would she get home? She felt her phone vibrate. One flickering bar of signal. A message from mum: Lily, I'm sorry. Please come home. I just want you safe.

'How much trouble you going to be in for skipping out and going to London?' he said softly, stepping toward her.

'But I haven't gone not yet anyway.' She gripped the phone tightly. Her fingers were numb with cold.

'Know what I'd do?' She looked up. His forehead was crinkled with concern. She wanted him to reach out and wrap his arms around her. 'What?' Her voice sounded funny. He smelt like lemons.

'I'd go back,' he said. 'Better to have sneaked out and run off, than to have sneaked out and run off to London. It's half term soon: shame to be grounded.' Lily closed her fingers round her phone.

Jez didn't seem so important any more.

'I better go back.' Dylan smiled. 'Good luck.' She didn't want to leave him. 'Thanks. Are you on Facebook or anything?' 'Yeah. Dylan Peterson. Look me up. You take care of yourself, Lily.' Her phone buzzed again in her hand. 'I will. Better go,' she turned walking fast back the way she came.

As Lily neared the road sign she'd passed earlier something caught her eye. It was a police incident sign: We are appealing for witnesses: On Thursday 31st December at 19:30 hours a fatal traffic accident happened here.

Goosebumps ran across Lily's skin. Taped to the sign were cellophane wrapped flowers, and a photo of a boy with dark hair, dark eyes, and a little Y scar on his top right cheek. Her breath caught in her throat. There must be some mistake. She stooped to read the handwriting under the photo: Dylan Peterson.

Loved son and brother. RIP. Turning to look where she and Dylan had stood moments before, Lily felt the air rush out of her. As the clouds parted and the moonlight bathed the road, she saw there was no one there. |


Lily sensed something behind her - she wasn't alone
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 3, 2016
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