Sophie Kinsella

Finding Audrey

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I don’t look back once, the entire time I’m talking to her. But I can feel his eyes on me all the time. Like sunshine.
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We’re just looking and looking at each other. And I can feel something new between us, something even more intimate than anything we’ve done. Eye to eye. It’s the most powerful connection in the world.
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It’s actually pretty funny. When Linus arrives at Starbucks we’re all sitting there at one big table, the whole family, waiting for him. He looks totally unnerved, and for a moment I think he’s going to run away, but you know, Linus isn’t a runner-awayer. After about five seconds he comes forward resolutely and looks at us all in turn, especially Mum. And last of all me.
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But vulnerable. And speechless. And now they’re all looking our way. I squeeze Frank’s hand in silent desperation and he seems to get the message.
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My insides have turned hollow. Just like that, in an instant. All the inner strength I’ve been building up, the tensed-up spring, the fighting talk . . . it’s all disappeared.

I feel small and vulnerable.
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‘Leave me alone,’ I say, wrenching my arm out of his grasp. ‘Leave me alone.’ And finally, after managing to ignore it all day, I surrender to my lizard brain. And I run.
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I’m scrambling to my feet, trying to keep my poise, which isn’t easy when the landscape is looming at me and my head is singing loud protests.
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Stressful events don’t make you ill, actually. It’s the way your brain reacts to stressful events. So.’
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He doesn’t understand. He won’t understand. He’s not just opposed to the plan, he’s angry. Physically angry. He hits a tree, like it’s the tree’s fault.

‘It’s fucking nuts,’
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but right now it’s as though the whole world has shrunk to his face. His brown hair, his honest eyes, that crescent smile.

‘What . . . do you mean?’ I force the words out.

‘What I said. I love it too,’ he says, not taking his eyes off mine.

‘You said you.’

‘Well . . . maybe that’s what I meant.’

I love it. So do I. You.

The words are dancing around my mind like jigsaw pieces, fitting together this way and that way.

‘What, exactly?’ I have to say it.

‘You know exactly.’ His eyes are smiling to match his orange-segment mouth. But they’re grave too.

‘Well . . . I love it too,’ I say, my throat tight. ‘You.’

‘Me.’

‘Yes.’ I swallow. ‘Yes.’

We don’t need to say any more. And I know I’ll always remember this moment, right here, standing in the park with the ducks and the sunshine and his arms round me.
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As I reach Linus, I fling my arms round him without dropping either ice cream and kiss him. ‘I can’t believe you did that!’ I hand him his cone and lick my own. It’s nectar. It’s bliss. Coconut is the best flavour in the world. ‘Oh my God.’

‘Nice?’

‘I love it. I love it.’

‘So do I,’ says Linus, licking his own cone. ‘You.’

His words catch on my brain. So do I. You.
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Seeing him anchors me a little. Seeing his orange-segment smile splitting his face, all wide and happy, just for me, feels like someone stroking my lizard brain and telling it to calm down, everything’s fine.

(I haven’t mentioned my lizard brain to Linus. I mean, there are some things you tell a boyfriend and there are some things you totally keep to yourself otherwise you sound like a nutter.)
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I shake my head impatiently, trying to shift my thoughts into making sense. The trouble is, I can’t explain it. I don’t know why I want to do it. Except maybe to prove something. But to who? Myself?
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Tasha is the one who’s really scary. She’s the one who makes my flesh crawl. She’s bright and smart and motivated and pretty in that strong-jawed athletic way. All the teachers loved her. They loved her. You know, till they found out the truth and everything.
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I can’t say it. The words are in my brain, but I don’t want them there. I don’t know why they’re there. But they won’t disappear.
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I’m only barely aware of him. Thoughts are spinning around my brain. Thoughts I don’t even understand myself. Thoughts I don’t want.

Without realizing I’ve done it, I’ve crumpled down on the floor and buried my head in my hands. I need all my energy for thinking.
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‘Frank, can you hack into Dad’s emails?’ I say in a low voice.

‘Yeah. Why?’

‘Can we do it? Now?’
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(If you breathe out really slowly, it regulates the carbon dioxide in the brain and calms you down, instantly. Try it if you don’t believe me.)
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We’ll put in some chorizo, garlic, fry off some sweet onion, serve it in slices
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And guess what? I haven’t noticed a single difference. Which just proves I didn’t need them.
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