I hide in the downstairs loo and put on eyeliner. It makes my grey eyes look smoky and defined, covering up the fact I've been crying. I think make-up suits me, but Dad disagrees. He thinks make-up is just for girls.
I look like my Uncle Jim, apparently. I never met him, because he died before I was born. Sometimes I like to imagine I've got his eyes, or his shy smile, or his cheekbones. He's not in any of the family pictures and it's like he's been erased. Old people still don't like to talk about what happened to young men in "those days."
Sighing, I rinse my hands under the cold tap, picking off the last few flakes of black nail varnish. Mrs Wilkins made me remove it for home economics because it's "unhygienic," only she never says that to the girls. I straighten my tie in front of the mirror, smoothing down the lapels of my stiff, black suit. It's a funeral, so you're supposed to look depressed.
I sneak out of the bathroom and run straight into Mum. 'Sam,' she says. 'Oh, there you are. What do you think you're doing?'
'You know what.' She licks her finger and reaches over to scrub my eyes, but I duck. I've done everything right: I wore a suit (like she asked) and I sat quietly through the service, looking all humble and morose, and I've been perfectly polite and respectful to all the old people.
'Mum, it's just make-up.'
'Yes, I know.' She pulls me to one side. 'And we've spoken about this…' I can wear make-up in the house when it's just Mum and Dad, but not outside. And especially not at school. 'Do you really think now is the right time?'
'The right time for what?'
'You have lovely eyes.' Mum smiles, sadly. 'But let's not upset your dad anymore. Not today. Not now.'
'Mum, you're taking away my right to self-expression…' I weave past her, into the living room, where all the adults are standing around, picking at finger sandwiches and bowls of crisps.
The weird thing about a funeral is that it's like a party, only no one is celebrating. My Dad is floating around, getting cornered by old people, who claim they were such good friends with Granny Pauline, even though she used to bitch them all behind their backs. I do my best to avoid Grandad, hunched like a gremlin on his armchair, sipping his beer.
There's an empty plastic cup on the side that looks like it hasn't been used, so I pour myself a glass of punch -
'Sam,' Dad grabs my arm, 'what the hell do you think you're doing?'
'I was just…' I spill rum punch all over my hand. 'Getting a drink?'
'What have you got on your face?'
I roll my eyes. 'It's called eyeliner, Dad.'
'Go and wash it off, quick. What if someone sees you?'
'Like who?' I look around at the sad, depressing room, half-packed with a bunch of lonely old folks who are just pretending they had anything to do with my granny.
He's just scared about what Grandad might think.
'Sam,' Dad says quietly. 'If you want to… express yourself, or whatever this is about, that's fine. But not at my mum's funeral, ok? I don't know what point you're trying to…'
I'm not trying to do anything.
'It's not my fault you're so insecure in your masculinity…' I swallow the rest of my drink, then toss the cup down on the side. A few old people turn their heads and tut in disapproval, as I storm out.
You'd think, from the way my parents keep acting, that I'd turned up in a bloody tutu and started insisting everyone calls me Samantha. Dad just thinks that make-up makes me look gay, but so what?
I strut outside, into the garden, which is basically just a square patch of overgrown lawn, with Grandad's shed at the bottom and a thin strip of patio. A pair of gnomes jut out ominously from the flower beds, clutching their pitchforks as if they are plotting their next homicide.
This random guy is standing there, smoking a cigarette, looking like he's stepped straight out of a bad Eighties movie, in a white T-shirt and tight, high-waisted jeans. His denim jacket is slung over one shoulder, an earring glinting in his right ear.
'Hey,' he winks and I swear he looks familiar. 'You look like you need this more than I do.' He gestures to his cigarette.
'No thanks.' I turn up my nose. Smoking is not cool. Everyone's into vaping these days.
'Suit yourself.' He shrugs, finishing the last drag of his cigarette. 'You're Sam?'
'How do you know my name?' I cross my arms.
Who the hell is this guy and why is he gate-crashing Granny Pauline's funeral?
'I'm James,' he says, flicking the end of his cigarette and stubbing it out under his boot. 'Don't cry, you'll ruin your make-up.'
'I wasn't-' I blink back a stupid tear. 'It's just a bit of eyeliner. I don't know why my dad had to go so apoplectic…'
'People are afraid of things they don't understand,' James says, sounding older and wiser than his years. 'My dad would kill me if he saw me going out, looking like this.'
'Like Duran Duran?'
'Now, there's a good band,' he says, wistfully. 'They just don't make music like they used to.'
'How old are you?' I frown. He only looks about twenty-five, although the way he talks makes him sound older. Not to mention the sallow, weathered texture of his skin, or his hollow cheeks.
'Older than you think,' James says. 'Let's just say, I have a lot of life experience…'
'What do you mean?'
'I ran away to London when I was eighteen.' He sweeps a hand through his hair. 'It was cool, at first. All the bars, and pubs, and clubs. But things are never the way they look, you know, on the outside.'
'I've never been to London.' Dad says it's overrated, overcrowded, and overpriced.
'You're brave,' James says, gesturing to my make-up. 'I wish I'd had guts like that at your age.'
'It's not guts,' I mumble. If anything, I feel more insecure without it. I wish people would stop telling me I'm trying to make a "statement." I just want to be myself.
'Boys like us had to hide away in those days,' James begins. 'We found places where we could be free and express ourselves. But people always want to shut you down. The important thing is to keep on fighting. Give them something to talk about. To Hell with them!'
I don't want to cause a scene with anyone. But there's something about his energy that sparks a fire of rebellion in my chest. To Hell with them all!
'Where did you come from?' I ask. 'Are you my fairy godmother, or what?'
'I could be your fairy godmother.' James grins. 'I'll take that.'
'What are you doing at Granny Pauline's funeral?'
'Me and your folks, we go way back… Well, I haven't spoken to your granny and grandad in a long time…' He looks down at his Doc Martens and it's pretty obvious he hasn't been invited. 'I guess, I didn't get the memo…'
'Everyone's inside,' I say. 'Do you want a drink?'
'Nah.' James shakes his head. 'I probably shouldn't.'
I try to work out what it is that rings a bell with me. Maybe it's his eyes, deep and grey, but older than his years, like he's seen too much. His skin is pale, dry, and flaking on the backs of his hands.
'Can I give you some advice, Sam?' James says, shrugging on his jacket. 'The world isn't always kind to people like us. But don't let that own you. You're worth more than what they have to say about you out there. Always be true to yourself and never let anyone -'
I've had enough sermons today. Who does he think he is, turning up here like some clown, acting like he knows my family?
'I don't know if I…' I look back at James and it feels like staring at my own reflection. 'You don't know me.'
'I know you better than you think.'
'Who are you?' I demand. 'You just show up here at Granny Pauline's funeral, claiming to be my fairy godmother. They don't even exist. What is this, some kind of bad joke?'
'It's not a joke, Sam,' James sighs, looking away. 'You're right, it was wrong of me to turn up uninvited. I know where I'm not wanted…' He turns up the collar of his jacket. 'I should go…'
'Wait!' I call him back. 'You still haven't told me who you are.'
James looks up at the sky for a moment. 'Have a nice life, Sam,' he adds, before turning and walking away.
I could chase after him, but there's no point. He's just a stranger, sneaking back out through the garden gate, letting it clank closed behind him. When I glance back at the spot where James was standing, it's like he was never there at all. Not a trace, not even a cigarette.
Shivering, I hug my arms and head back into the house. It's warmer inside, although you can't shake the chilly, funereal atmosphere. Honestly, if Granny Pauline was here, she'd expect people to be a lot more pissed right now - not sitting around, blubbing.
'Dad?' I find him standing by the fireplace, with his back to people, elbow resting on the mantlepiece, head in his hands. 'Dad, are you ok?'
'Sam?' Dad looks up. 'Sam, I'm sorry. I overreacted.' He takes my hand and squeezes it.
'It's ok, I just…'
'Sometimes people say stupid things when they're…'
'Dad, there was someone…'
'Keith,' Grandad calls across the living room, rising up from his perch in the corner and tottering towards us, spilling his beer. 'Tell your son to wipe that crap off his face.'
It's just eyeliner, I want to say. But the words get stuck in my throat.
'What do you mean?' Dad challenges. 'I don't know what you're talking about.'
'You know exactly what I mean,' Grandad hisses, coming too close to Dad's face. 'He looks like Jim.'
'It's just a bit of make-up, Dad.' My dad stands up tall, squeezing my hand proudly. 'All the kids are doing it these days. You've got to get with the times. You can't still be living in the past.'
A stunned expression washes over Grandad's face and he takes a couple of steps backwards. He stares back at me: grey, colourless eyes, lined with smudged black eyeliner. He looks like he's seen a ghost.
'Come on, Leanne.' Dad grabs Mum's coat. 'We're leaving.'
Dad drives in silence and all three of us keep our eyes straight on the road. If Granny Pauline was watching, I bet she'd be looking up at us, secretly delighted that a bit of drama went down.
'What did Grandad mean?' I ask. 'About me looking like Uncle Jim? Did Uncle Jim wear make-up too?'
Mum and Dad don't say anything.
Eventually, Dad breaks the silence. 'Sometimes I think he liked to, yes.'
'Oh,' I lean my head against the window. It's a shame no one ever wants to talk about what happened. I only know he died too young.
'You would've liked my brother, James.' Dad smiles out-loud. 'He had a wicked sense of humour. He would've made you laugh, Sam. He was a right wildcard.'
'Wait,' I frown. 'James?'
'Jim is short for James,' Dad explains. 'Jimmy, Sonny Jim…we called him that when we were kids, but he always hated it.'
I open my eyes wide, a part of me shouting, STOP, TURN THE CAR AROUND! But it's too late to go back to the past. Somehow, I know Uncle James would prefer it this way.
'It was your grandad's fault he ran away to London,' Dad says. 'That city seduced him. Then it swallowed him up…'
'The way it did to a lot of glamorous young men at that time,' Mum adds.
'I really wish you'd had the chance to meet him, Sam,' Dad says. 'He would've loved you.'
'Yeah,' I sigh, watching the trees and houses slide past outside the window. 'I think I would have liked him too.'