It was so much easier to get up when there was no school. Sammy kneaded her eyes, tucked her unruly hair behind her ears, and leapt out of bed. Downstairs in the kitchen, she fetched a bowl, emptied in a packet of porridge, added milk, stirred, then slammed it in the microwave. Load up on carbs for footy. Saturday was football in the park with Dad. And some other junk that didn’t really matter. Eat some meals, watch some telly, work on her Kill/Death ratio on the PlayStation. Padding, essentially. Not that she absolutely loved football. It was all about spending time with Dad. She’d rather be reading comic books or playing video games, but she could play football better than most boys and it was the only thing her dad took notice of, making it the best way to get father-daughter time. She hadn’t seen him in almost two weeks due to him going to an away game last weekend, but this weekend he’d be free. And she couldn’t wait.
Sammy’s mum swept into the kitchen. She twirled, flinging her immaculately straight, glossy hair out behind her, and suffusing the air with the scent of cocoa butter. She stopped to face Sammy.
“Morning, sweetie.” She gave Sammy an air kiss so as not to imprint pink lip gloss on her.
“Hey,” Sammy said. She couldn’t help smiling. Mama was always happy and it was infectious. Her face was a little tired and her jeans squeezed her love handles up over her belt, but she was beautiful in all the ways that mattered.
“I bet you can’t wait to trail around shop, after shop, after fabulous shop, behind me while I look for a new outfit.”
The microwave pinged. Sammy took her porridge out and carried it to the table.
“I’m not going shopping,” she said. She sat and began shovelling food into her mouth. “I’m meeting Dad at the park,” she mumbled in between mouthfuls.
Her mum didn’t reply.
Sammy waited, but her mum said nothing while gazing apologetically at her.
“You’re kidding me!”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
“Dad cancelled last weekend. He promised we’d practise keepy-ups this week.”
“He texted this morning. Tracy’s come down with a migraine. He’s taking your stepbrother out so she can recover in peace.”
“She hasn’t really got a migraine.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Where’s he taking Ryan?”
“I didn’t ask.”
“They’re going to the park, aren’t they?”
“I really don’t know. I’m sorry.” Her mother turned away and began filling a bowl with bran flakes.
Cancelled again. Sammy used her spoon to scrape at a hard patch of porridge that had welded itself to the table.
“Will you come to Meadowhall with me instead?” her mum asked.
“I don’t want to go shopping.”
“I can’t leave you home alone.”
“I’m sixteen. Of course you can leave me.”
“A boy got stabbed at the end of the street last week. I’m not leaving you alone.”
“Well, ask for maintenance from Dad, then. The other kids at school get it from theirs. If you asked him, he’d pay. Then we could move away from this crappy area and I could go back to St Josephine’s …”
Her mum visibly deflated. “I’ve tried hard to make this house our home. I earn enough to keep a roof over our heads and we have each other. That’s all that matters. I don’t need your father’s money. I don’t need anything from him.”
Sammy stared into the bowl of half-eaten porridge.
“Things will get better. I promise. Let him have his new life with Tracy and Ryan.”
“It’d be nice for me to be a part of his life, too.”
Her mum went silent a moment, then brightened up. “I saw Chantelle’s mum outside Roy’s Fried Chicken the other day. She asked if you …”
I’m not friends with Chantelle.”
“Relax, Mum. She doesn’t dislike me. We just don’t hang out.”
“You’ll make friends, sweetheart. I know it’s been difficult to adjust since we moved. Just keep smiling. Boys like girls that smile.”
“You sound so old talking like that. And I’m not interested in any boys at Pitscrapes. Trust me.”
“You may think so now …”
“Can we do something else today? Instead of shopping?”
“Sammy Ellis!” Her mother put the back of her hand to her forehead in a mock faint.
“We always go shopping.” Sammy rested her head in her hands and stared into space. “I just thought …” She trailed off. She was looking at nothing in particular when her eyes came to rest on her coat hanging by the door. Still poking from the corner of her pocket was the crumpled envelope the old woman had slipped behind the policeman’s badge.
“Mum?” she asked.
“You aren’t going to ask me to play football again, are you? You know how my heels get stuck in the mud.”
“How about the market?”
“The market?” Her mum frowned. “It’s a little skanky, but I suppose we are on a budget.” She sighed. “Fine. The market it is. Tomorrow we’ll do something fun. Okay?”
Not exactly football with her dad, but at least they weren’t going to the shopping centre. And perhaps the day would turn out to be an interesting one after all.