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‘My mate Ian lives in this one. I’ll be here when you want to go.’

When I get to Ben’s house, Skye is in the front garden. She runs over to me, full of excitement. Half knocks me over in her eagerness to lick my face. Ben said she is always so happy it’s like she has been dog- Slated.

‘Settle down, dog!’ I admonish, pet her.

I knock on the front door, and wait. No answer.

Is he not back from the school trip yet?

Skye was by the garage door when I got here. I walk across the garden to the garage. Knock.

No answer. I listen; there. Was that a slight noise inside?

I try the door: locked. And knock again. ‘Ben?’ I call out.

This time there are footsteps, a clink of a lock turning in the door. It opens.

‘Kyla?’ Ben grins. ‘What are you doing here?’ He looks both ways, pulls my arm and draws me in. Skye tries to follow and he pushes her out, then shuts the door and turns the key in the lock once again.

He’s not in his school uniform. His eyes are unnaturally bright.

‘Weren’t you on a class trip today?’

‘I was supposed to be. I decided to take the day off.’

‘You’re going to get in so much trouble for that.’

‘It will hardly matter. I won’t be there next week.’ He smiles. ‘I’m glad you are here. So I can say goodbye.’

And I see grinding equipment laid out, safety glasses. Towels. His back-pack packed full of stuff like he has somewhere to go.

Dread runs through my body, turns it to ice. I pull my hands away from his. ‘No Ben, no! You’re not going to do it now?’

‘Why wait? Mum left to go to my aunt’s; Dad is already there. Perfect timing.’

I shake my head, trembling, tears pricking the backs of my eyes. ‘Please don’t do this. Don’t leave me.’

‘Ssssh, Kyla. It’ll be all right. One day soon I’ll come back for you.’

‘Not if you’re dead.’

He laughs. ‘I’ll find a way.’ He links his little finger in mine, holds them up between us. ‘You can’t break a pinky promise.’ He holds it tight. ‘Kyla, I promise. We’ll be together again.’

He bends and kisses me lightly, starts to pull away but I slip my hand around the back of his neck and hold him close, kiss him again and again, desperate to stay here, just in this one moment. His arms wrap tight around me and I close my eyes, lean into him. Why is everything so hard? Why can’t we just stay like this?

He loosens his arms. ‘Go, Kyla. Go now.’

I shake my head. I have to stop him, make him see. ‘Wait. Please. At least talk to Aiden. Maybe he can tell you how they did it, so it has a better chance of working?’

‘No, Kyla. We’ve been through this.’

Think. I have to show him how stupid this is, that it can’t work. ‘Tell me what you are planning to do.’

Ben shows me his mum’s fancy new cutter. Some new engineered metal that is meant to be stronger than any other.

I shake my head. ‘No. It won’t work. Diamonds are stronger.’

He tilts his head to one side. Goes to another bench. ‘There is this.’ He holds up an old one-handed angle grinder. ‘It’s got a diamond-edged disc.’

‘It still won’t work, Ben. You can’t just hold your hand up in the air and grind your Levo off. You’ll never hold it still enough, not when the pain hits.’

He finds a C-clamp. ‘Should do the trick,’ he says. ‘I’ll clamp it to the bench. Please leave now, Kyla.’

‘I’m staying. You can’t stop me,’ I say, desperate to find the words that will make him see. Make him give up this crazy plan. But I stare back at him, his eyes, and slump in defeat. Nothing I say makes any difference. He’s made up his mind.

My head drops to my hands, almost dizzy with shock when it hits me: I have to help him. I have to. It has to be a quick cut. He’ll start and not be able to finish, and die in horrible pain. If I can’t stop him, I have to help him.

I look up, wipe the tears away. Forcing calm control outside while inside I’m screaming NO NO NO NO…

‘I’ll do it,’ I say. ‘I’ll cut off your Levo.’

‘No. No way, Kyla. Go.’

‘Listen. I know how to use one of these,’ I say, and pick up the angle grinder. It feels comfortable, natural in my hands. Harder to do this with a handheld grinder than the special fixed grinder set up in my dream, but the principle is the same. ‘It will be much safer if I do it instead of you. You won’t be able to control it with the pain.’

‘I can’t put you through that. No, Kyla.’

‘Look. I can do it.’ I clamp some scrap metal into the C-clamp, put on safety glasses. Turn the grinder on and the sound, so like my dream, makes me want to scream, but I cut a straight line through.

‘Steady hands; I’m impressed. But—’

‘No buts. I’m helping you or you’re not doing it. I won’t let you do it alone. I won’t let you die alone.’

He stares back into my eyes, shakes his head softly.

‘Let me help you,’ I say. ‘You know it makes sense.’

‘That doesn’t make it right.’

‘Then don’t do it at all!’ I start to say, ready for one last try, one final attempt to make him see, but he shakes his head and my words fall away.

His face is reluctant. ‘It makes sense,’ he admits. ‘But are you sure you can do it? Are you sure you want to.’

‘Yes.’

He hesitates. ‘All right,’ he says finally. He holds up Aiden’s Happy Pills. ‘But at least take one of these.’

‘No way.’

‘I can’t have you blacking out half-way through.’

I hesitate, but he is right. What if my levels drop and the grinder with them? ‘Fine,’ I say, and down one pill with a glass of water. Ben takes a handful. ‘Is it safe to take so many?’

He shrugs. ‘Too many is better than too few, I reckon.’ Soon there is a thin film of sweat on his skin, his pupils are dilated. Like that boy in my dream.

My dream…

‘Whisky. Have you got any?’

‘I think so. Why?’

‘It helps cushion shock.’

There is a door between the garage and house; Ben goes through, then returns with a bottle. Drinks some back.

Coughs and pulls a face. ‘This is vile.’

‘Please don’t do this. Please. It’s not too late to change your mind.’

‘I’ll do it alone. Go home, Kyla.’

‘No! If you are going ahead, I’ll help you. But Ben, listen. I think that once it starts to cut into the Levo, there is no going back. It has to come off all the way to stop the pain.’

‘Yep. No matter what I say, keep going.’

‘If you scream, people will come.’

‘I won’t make a sound.’

‘Who do you think you are: Superman or something?’

‘Super Ben!’ He laughs and sits in the chair next to the bench, clamps his Levo to it. As it compresses his face contorts with pain.

‘Kyla, in case things go wrong, I want it to look like I did this all by myself. No matter what happens, you have to get out of here. Promise me you will. And if you get caught here, say you found me like this. Promise!’

‘Okay. I promise.’

‘Put on some gloves,’ he says. ‘Over there. Wipe off the controls, the handle, everything you’ve touched.’ I put the gloves on and do as he asked.

‘Ready?’ I whisper.

‘Wait.’

‘Yes?’ Hoping against all that he will say, stop: I’ve changed my mind.

‘Kyla, whatever happens to me: I love you. I’ll always love you.’ And okay, he has had enough Happy Pills to make a Lorder friendly, and whisky on top of it. He barely knows where he is, let alone what he is saying, but he looks like he means it.

And I stare back at him and I want to say the words, that I love him, too, but they are caught inside my tightening throat, and won’t come out.

‘Do it!’ he says.

And it is like I am in my dream, that horrible dream. I am not myself. I am this nightmare girl: calm, collected, able to do things like this. Where does she come from? I pick up the angle grinder, release the safety and hit the ‘on’ switch. A quick cut. It must be fast.

The wheel spins and whines.

I look at Ben. He nods. ‘Do it,’ he mouths.

The spinning blade connects with his Levo. Sparks arc and fly all around.

Unlike the boy in my dream, Ben doesn’t scream. But his face contorts, sweat pours out and I try not to look, to watch his face. I must focus on the blade, hold it steady.

Skye must know, through some canine link with Ben who she has adored and been adored by since she was a puppy, and she starts to howl and scratch at the door, then the door thuds as if she is throwing herself against it.

Sparks continue to fly and I’ve started so now I can’t stop. The blade bucks and kicks, chatters, and the grinder is getting so hot that even with gloves I can hardly hold it any more. There is a trickle of blood coming out of Ben’s mouth and his body is convulsing, but somehow he is still silent, isn’t trying to pull away.

The last bit of the Levo is putting up resistance. It pulls and bucks, and then…snap. It is off. I release the switch and pull the grinder back, but not before Ben’s arm jerks. His wrist touches the blade as it slows. There is blood and I throw the grinder down, rush to release the clamp and grab a towel to wrap tight around his wrist.

‘Ben? Ben!’ I shake him, his body is limp, he is unconscious, there is more blood in his mouth – did he bite his tongue? He slides off the chair. I pull the gloves off and throw them to the corner, and feel at his neck. His pulse is erratic.

Dimly I hear Skye howling. A car. The garage door rattles, then opens.

Ben’s mum.

‘I forgot the baby’s…’ she starts to say, then takes in Ben on the floor in my arms. ‘What happened?’

And tears are running down my face, I’m shaking my head, and can’t speak.

Tell her what Ben said.

‘I c-c-c-came to see him and found him like this.’

And she is pushing me away and checking the towel which has blood soaked through now, then sees. Colour drains from her face. ‘His Levo is gone.’ She looks up at me. ‘What happened?’

I shrug helplessly. Lie.

‘I don’t know. He must have cut it off.’

Ben’s limp body arcs. And again. He is convulsing. Seizures? Oh, God; no. Damaging your Levo leads to seizures and death. That is what they always told us. It hasn’t worked!

She pulls a phone out of her pocket and calls an ambulance.

‘Get out of here, Kyla. Go.’

And I am shaking, limp. Happy Pill or no my levels are dropping fast. It vibrates.

‘Go! I don’t know what really happened here. But for now, go. Get out of here before they come!’

I can’t leave him, I can’t.

‘Get out. It is what he would want.’

Yes. That is what he said to do.

I stagger for the door just as sirens sound in the distance.

‘Not that way,’ she says. ‘Use the back door and the canal path. Go!’

And I stumble out the back door. Cross the garden behind their house, go through a gate. There is the canal path, like she said. Somehow I drag myself down it, behind the houses. Count them along, to four. Jazz’s mate?

There is music pouring out the back so loud the ground is vibrating. I pound at the back door, but there is no answer. I let myself in.

Jazz takes one look at me, and turns off the stereo. Then they hear the sirens.

Tears are pouring down my face.

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