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As James pulls into our driveway, the courage I've been building since we left Norris Lake crumbles away

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As James pulls into our driveway, the courage I've been building since we left Norris Lake crumbles away. The front curtain twitches. When the door doesn't burst open, it becomes clear that the Whittinghams have rung. They now all know James isn't the one Lissie was speaking about. Lucille had guessed straight away. Not that it took a genius to work it out when Finch looked so guilty. She hadn't been angry at me, thank god, but her son was in for hell.

Oscar jumps out of the car first, pulling my weekend bag with him, but I stay in the front seat, going over the speech I've practised.

Opening the door, James squeezes my hand. 'Is there anything I can do to help?'

I shake my head. 'This is something I need to do alone.'

'Plus, I think Dad might kill you if you step in the house,' Oscar says, slapping James on the back. 'Guilt by association and all.'

James raises his hands in the air. 'Hey! I'm innocent in all this.' Then he catches my expression and smirks. 'Ish.'

'Yeah, ish won't cut it, I'm afraid.'

'I'll call you later,' he calls after us, as we make our way across the frosty grass to our house.

'Good luck with that, mate,' Oscar scoffs. 'Her phone's a goner.'

'As I can imagine are my laptop and my freedom.'

James grimace. 'Well, it was nice knowing you. Oscar, I'll ring you instead, dude.'

We've barely closed the front door when my father calls for me. On cue, Oscar pulls his headphones out of his bag and squeezes my shoulders.

'Good luck, he says, running up the stairs before he can be called to the stand for a witness testimonial. Before he reaches the top, he turns to face me. 'Are you ok?''

'No. But I will be. You know me. I'm tough.'

'If you need backup, I'll come.'

'I know.'

'You know that I'm going to the gym now?' he says, flexing his arms to reveal muscles that hadn't been there a few months ago. 'Shall I beat up Finch for you?' His face is earnest, but his eyes sparkle.

'Piss off, you wanker.

Heart in my stomach, I brace myself for the inevitable. Slowly, I walk through to the kitchen. My parents sit on the same side of the mahogany breakfast table, with an empty chair opposite them. Neither of them move as I pace towards them. I know from the way that my mother sits - ramrod straight and as still as a statue - that she's reverted to courtroom mode. Next to her, my father has a blank piece of paper and pen in front of him, ready to pick apart my story, and trip me up over details.

I'm screwed.

'You have a lot of explaining to do,' my mother says, setting a cup of tea down and motioning for me to sit at the table. 'Start at the beginning.'

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