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'Jesus, Mother

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'Jesus, Mother. How long are we here for?' Oscar asks, as she picks up a fourth swimsuit. An older woman browsing a rack of linen dresses crosses herself.

'Oscar,' my mother hisses under her breath, 'you can't say the J word here. It's disrespectful.' She smiles an apology at the woman who is still scrutinising us over enormous glasses. Oscar grimaces but rolls his eyes at me as soon as mother turns her back. I follow her as she whips kaftans and linen shirts off the shelves.

'I don't see why we couldn't stay at home for another month when all we've done so far is come on holiday.'

'We've been through this, darling.'

I step in front of her and cross my arms. 'I could be in Padstow with Lydia right now. Or Ibiza with Lissie.'

'Or here,' she says. 'With your family. Your father has missed having us around him these past few months.'

'As opposed to home, where Oscar and I are at boarding school for seven months of the year.'

My mother's lips set tight. 'We are here to support him, Martha. You know this family celebrates our successes.'

Although her response is patient, I recognise the clipped tone and know that there's no point arguing. My mother isn't one for confrontation, but she always makes it very clear when a conversation is over.

Overruled, I finger through the swimsuits on the racks, dismissing each one as I replay the more vicious of James's recent comments. Thanks to him, I feel young and unprepared for life in Tennessee. Each costume I pick up, I write off as too childish or, even worse, too airhead.

'What about this one, Mats?' Oscar asks, picking up a gingham swimsuit that matches the swim shorts over his arm. It's cute, but something about the frilly straps makes my teeth grit tight. I shake my head in dismissal.

When Mother crosses over to the till, I settle on a green swimsuit belted with a tortoiseshell buckle, and a simple black bikini. Both are sleek enough to be fashionable, but not flashy enough to raise eyebrows. I place them on the counter and watch my mother's eyes widen at the price. She fights her better instincts to question my choices.

Since I'd burst into her bedroom last night in a whirlwind of rage, breaking down to tell her about James and Presley's torment, she'd been uncharacteristically patient with me. She hadn't even fought me when I pushed the MillFallows overseas students' information booklet across the kitchen counter this morning, just nodded in acknowledgement. I knew my father would throw it in the bin as soon as he arrived for the weekend, but it felt reassuring to see it out.

'How can that cost $50?' says Oscar, as the sales assistant folds my bikini. 'Any less material and you'd be stark bollock naked.'

His swearing earns him a hiss from my mother, who checks over her shoulder for listeners. She flusters an apology at the smiling salesgirl and hurries us out.

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