• “Izzy, tea time!” calls Lilac from the bottom of the stairs.
    I stand slowly, putting my book down on my bed. Pushing my door open with my foot, I reach for my black and red striped hoody. As I quickly hurry down the stairs, I pull it on over my head. I turn round the bend and keep going down the next flight. Hearing raised voices from the kitchen; I continue to skid around the corner.
    I hope that they’re not fighting again, I think as I trot into the room.
    Mama is standing by the sink, only her back and midnight hair visible, contrasting with her purple blouse. Lilac is standing holding two plates, blinking away tears from her big brown eyes. Alex is leaning against the door frame, his arms folded stubbornly. I can see that he’ll be hard to get to back down in this argument. Nervously, I reach over and take the other plates from the side.
    “Isn’t Dad eating with us?” I ask, seeing there are only four plates in all. Mama turns around in a flash, her dark eyes ablaze with fury.
    “Non, Izobelle, he is not. Now, will you take food into the dining room?” she whispers furiously, her voice strained with stress and anger. I nod hurriedly and push past Alex. I hear Lilac following me, sniffing loudly. As I put the plates on the table, she slides her fingers into mine. I gently squeeze her hand, hating the way Mama and Alex’s fighting makes her feel and the way that makes me feel.
    I lean down and whisper into her hair, “It’s ok Lil. They’ll make up.” She sobs quietly and nods. Ally walks in and flops into a seat, running a hand through his hair. Lil and I join him.
    Quickly glancing at the door to make sure Mama wasn’t coming, I grab Alex’s shirt.
    “Listen Alexandre,” I hiss into his face, emphasising his full name. “You’ve got to stop with the stubborn teenage act. Are you trying to start another fight?” He wrenches away, giving me the finger.
    Mama walks in carrying a tray of drinks, her eyes red. She places a cup in front of each of us. Lilac makes a small squeaking noise as I thank her quietly; none of us daring to make too much noise. Suddenly, Mama slams down the tray.
    “For Christ’s sake, couldn’t one of you say ‘thank you’?” she exclaims. Fury bubbles inside me.
    “I did!” I cry. Lilac mumbles something.
    “You could show some gratitude for once!” Mama continues to shout, ignoring both of us. “I work all day, I run around after you, I cook, I clean and you don’t lift a finger!”
    “Well we do have to go to school!” Alex yells back. “And me and Izzy have got paper rounds. Anyway, you’re our mother; it’s your job to look after us!”
    As the shouting continues, I wish I could hide into my book; why couldn’t Mama be like Serita, the perfect mother, or my twin, Alex, like Yena, the most considerate brother ever? Why do they always have to argue?
    Abruptly, Lilac stands up. Her face is filled with annoyance: her mouth set in a hard line and her eyebrows pulled together. She turns and runs furiously from the room. As the front door opens, I hear Lilac’s bedroom door slam shut.
    “I’m home!” calls Dad. Mama and Alex stop shouting and stare through the doorway at Dad. I can see Mama’s rage starting to rekindle, though this time at my father. I know another full blown war will soon start so, instead of waiting around for it, I stand up. Alex turns to look at me, one eyebrow raised and chewing on his little fingernail.
    “Mama, I’m going to bed. I’m not hungry,” I tell her, walking towards the kitchen. She starts to protest, but I ignore her, marching with fierce determination to the stairs. I ignore Dad as he tries to greet me, my people interaction quota already filled up for the day. I need solace and calm. I need another world to hide in. I need my room.
    I sink into my armchair, almost smothered by cushions, and pick up my book. Quickly, I skim the pages and start reading.

    * * *

    I am standing on a cliff, facing the sea, the wind blowing my long dark hair. I don’t feel cold, although there is frost on the grass and the wind is strong. I feel as though I’m wrapped in an electric blanket, a warm aura of air around me. It is flowing through me, warming my blood as it circulates.
    There is a tall, pale boy standing next to me. He looks like an elfin prince. His baggy, cotton trousers are the colour of midnight and he is wearing a dark blue, button less shirt and a silver coronet. He is holding my hand, swinging it gently. I turn to face him.
    “Why am I here?” I ask. He smiles gently, almost patronisingly, but with more love and understanding.
    “You are here because you need to be,” he replies. I am confused and furrow my brow. He laughs at my expression, lightly brushing my forehead with his free hand. “You need to be here to understand what happens next, what happens in the ‘real’ world.” I sense his quotation marks and my brow furrows even more.
    “Why do you say ‘real’ world?” I enquire, gesturing around me with one hand. “This is real.” He laughs again, like water bubbling from a fountain.
    “Izobelle, you don’t understand,” he says, savouring my name in his mouth. “We are real, but this world is a dream. Everything that happens here couldn’t happen in your world. You don’t feel cold do you?”
    “No,” I reply, shaking my head.
    “Don’t you think you should? We are standing by the sea in the middle of winter,” he tells me. I shake my head again. It feels right to feel warm. He smiles, “Izobelle, we shouldn’t be warm. In your world, you would be freezing.”

    “Why?” I ask.
    “The ‘real’ world doesn’t possess the power to warm us. Things like that can’t happen. Unless we make them, Izobelle.”