Lulu has a new boyfriend. It happened after she went to town with a group of friends.
’How was it, Lu?’ I asked, pulling off from our meeting point outside Aberystwyth’s Tesco’s Express.
‘The boys jumped into the sea. Just for a minute though, since the water was freezing. They took off their tops and you know, it was funny but I never realised how fit Jake was. He has like, proper abs. Apparently he used to do a lot of boxing.’
My eyebrows sprang into action. ‘What’s this boy like Lu?’
She did the first soft smile. ‘He’s nice.’
I focused harder on her. She swallowed. Her words came out in point form. The summary:
1. He is in her teaching group at school.
2. He has had one girlfriend so far, and is known for being prudish. A sigh of relief from me. This is because, from what Lu’s said so far about her new school, it doesn’t sound like Mid-Wales will experience a fall in population in the coming years. Not based on the current hobbies of its 13-14-year-old school kids.
3. His dad died from cancer about a year ago.
I felt my breath catch and stand still on the last point. Oh wow.
That same afternoon she got a text message from him. Now, every time he calls or texts her, she smiles at the phone as if this small piece of glass and metal is personally telling her a joke. It is cute to watch but I have to be honest. I feel like hiding that small piece of glass and metal. Ok, I did. Four or five times already. I know his dad died but I don’t know him. Not yet.
Tomorrow she wants to town again. I know, I know! She wants to have fun. She wants to feel liked. I get it, I get it. But I did set two new rules first. Before she goes off to town, she has to help out in the house. Secondly, she had to watch the Whitney Houston biopic last night that I’m obsessed with. Can I Be Me? I stumbled on it last week and watched it three times so far.
Oh Whitney. I was that Eighties kid who sang intensely to The Greatest Love of All every night in my bedroom. She followed me around then. I was too cool for The Bodyguard at 17- years-old, but I couldn’t escape her completely. I Will Always Love You was painful to listen to – like it created a full stop in music. No singing voice would ever be better.
When stories of her crack-cocaine addiction became widespread, I let her go like everyone else did. And then, when I was doing my degree, that surprisingly good album popped up. My Love is Your Love. So good I bought a copy (secretly). Out of nowhere, that album both defined my last, successful year at Uni and gave me hope for her.
Ten years later she was considered lost again when we heard a song on the radio. Everyone in the house started bopping to it.
‘Who is this?’ The voice was gravelly but rich – as if it was scarred but still came from somewhere really, really good.
We listened and listened. Million Dollar Bill joined our playlist. C’mon Whitney. Not to be. I spent all day watching her funeral. I made my family watch it. Dammit.
I made Lulu watch Can I Be Me? last night too. And in fairness she did, though she did say, ‘Boring,’ a few times. ‘Why couldn’t she just be with her girlfriend Robyn if they loved each other.’ Then, ‘Wait, Bobby Brown’s not too bad really, is he? There’s something sweet about him.’
’I know! Now wait for this bit.’ Every once in a while I had to press the pause button while Lulu took a call or had to write a text message. I wanted her to see one part in particular.
She didn’t miss it either. ‘Hold on, You mean her mother disapproved of her relationship with Robyn but turned a blind eye to her drug taking?
‘What a c***.’ (Yes, this is the word in fashion.)
I let it pass. ‘Yeah, but at the same time Cissy was the one who created her. She taught Whitney how to use her voice properly. She crafted her.’
‘So her mother felt the need to control her in return? What a total bitch.’
I nodded. But secretly I got it. I completely got it. For better or worse.