Alison Wallace tired to tune out the noise of the changing room around her to concentrate on the particularly tricky know she had managed to get in the laces of her school shoes.
“Is Alison Wallace in here?” a voice asked from the doorway and Alison leapt up in response to a jab in the ribs from her friend beside her.
“Mrs Carruthers wants to see you in her office.”
“Well, when you’re changed.”
“What’ve you done, Allie?” asked Gemma as she sank back down.
“No idea, I’ve been dead good lately – except for that maths homework I did rubbish in last week.”
“I’m sorry to keep you from your lunch, Allie,” Libby Carruthers said, pushing her fair hair back out of her eyes as Alison sat carefully in the proffered seat. “I’m afraid I’ve some bad news for you.” Alison stared at the floor, barely aware of her fingernails digging into the palm of her hand.
“Not mam, not Jo,” she whispered to herself.
“What was that, Allie?”
“Nothing, Mrs Carruthers.”
“It’s about your grandmother.”
“Nan,” corrected Alison instinctively. “She’s my nan,” she stopped, looking her teacher in the eye. “And she’s dead, isn’t she?”
Libby Carruthers was stunned momentarily into silence. “Yes, Allie, I’m afraid so. And I’m so very sorry, but how…”
Alison shrugged. “It was just something I overheard Juliet say in the summer hols. She’s my mam’s cousin and an old people’s doctor.”
Alison had been given little time to dwell on the news as she had been taken first to her dormitory to pack a bag and then whisked up the Northern Line from Leicester Square to Euston. The train bound for Liverpool Lime Street pulled slowly out of the station as Alison sank back in her seat to watch north London race by. She pulled out the last letter she had received from her nan, the one that had been marking the page in her book and cast her eyes over it once more.
You told me to reach for the sky, nan, she thought as the train slowed down to pull into Milton Keynes Central. You told me to follow my dreams because nobody could take them away from me. I did, nan, I did as you said. And I won’t let go. I won’t stop dreaming and I’ll fight every step of the way. And when I make it, when I’m the one dancing the solo in Swan Lake or whatever then I’ll be doing it for you. And for Bethie. And for da. But really for you because you made me see that dreams can come true.
The three hour journey had seemed like a lifetime to Alison as she collected her rucksack from the luggage rack on hearing the announcement that the train was approaching Liverpool Lime Street. I’ll be outside WH Smith, the text message from her mother had said. Alison made her way off the platform, nervously scanning the early evening crowds for her mam and sister. They were where they had said they would be and the first smile, one of relief, crossed Alison’s face since that morning as she found her way into the safe arms of her mam.
I spread my wings, nan, thought Alison, I’m learning to fly but I’ll always know how to fly home.