Are you still there? Are you still listening? I’ve still got so much to tell you.
Like how it still amazes me, how easy it is to not eat. All those years of being fat, and I had thought food was my salvation, my friend, and my crutch to help me limp through a life that bewildered and bored me. I can still remember the day I snapped. I can still remember the jam doughnut that I crushed inside my fist, instead of inside my mouth. I guess it made me feel stronger somehow, more in control, more savage. Less of a fat loser. See, if you want to know the truth I have finally figured out, it’s that my worst enemy has always been myself. My biggest problem has always been looking in the mirror and seeing me, still standing there, staring back, when I really want to see someone else. I just don’t want to, I mean I expect to. I am thinking about all this as I enter Joe’s house through the back door.
Joe stands in his kitchen, which is cramped and cluttered, with too many chairs around the small square table, and towers of cardboard boxes around the edges of the room. I look around, and find myself agreeing with Lorraine, that the kitchen is a total mess. The table is normally covered in an old checked tablecloth, with Lorraine’s china fruit bowl in the centre. Today someone has used the tablecloth to mop up a spillage on the floor, and the fruit bowl is on the draining board. The table is covered in crushed beer cans and ashtrays. It’s Leon and Travis’s mess, and we are being blamed for it.
Joe is dressed in tracksuit trousers and a t-shirt. His dark brown hair is all stuck up and messy, as if he has not even had a chance to look in the mirror yet. Like me, he can’t stop yawning, and every now and again he touches two fingers to his forehead, as if the same pain rages in his, as it does in mine. He has filled the sink with water and washing-up liquid, and starts to dunk cups and glasses into the water, while I look on. I think about offering to make us both a coffee. Just then, Joe’s step-dad’s dog Rozzer comes trotting into the kitchen. He is a German Shepherd cross, and lifts his fluffy tail in a greeting to Gremlin. Gremlin responds by cocking his leg on one of the cardboard box towers. I yank him away by his lead. “Fuck me!” Joe exclaims, lifting his hands from the soapy water. “Isn’t that freak show house trained yet?”
“Sorry,” I tut, looking around for a cloth. Joe drags a dishcloth out of the water and throws it at me. “He’s threatened by Rozzer, that’s why,” I try to explain. “He’s older than Rozzer, but smaller. So it confuses him.”
“Looking like a smashed in cat confuses him,” Joe responds, and I laugh.
“You love him really.”
“He gives me nightmares.”
I laugh again, louder this time, and bend down to wipe up the mess. This particular tower of boxes contains crisps. One of the others contains peanuts. Joe’s stepfather Mick works at the cash and carry.
“Just seen your mum,” I say from the floor. Joe lets out his breath.
“You better be on your way round to mine to clean up that mess or I’ll be having words with your mother!” I relay this in a near perfect imitation of Lorraine’s voice, the way she speaks as if her teeth are permanently clenched together. Joe laughs as he washes up. “We didn’t even make this mess,” I point out uselessly. “We didn’t even come in here.”
“Well I got that in my fucking ear when I still in bed this morning,” Joe sighs.
“Why can’t they clean up their own mess?”
“They didn’t come back last night.” I make a face, my eyebrows rising and my mouth screwed up in thought. Joe looks back at the sink, but jerks his head towards the kettle. “Do you want to make me a coffee? And some toast? I’m fading fast.”
“You drank more than me,” I point out, heading for the kettle. I get two clean mugs down from the cupboard, and some bread out from the bread bin. I want to ask Joe about the bags of powder in the rucksack. Whose rucksack was it, Travis’s or Leon’s? What did he think the powder was? I had no idea, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t biological washing powder or anything. I put on the grill, and while the kettle is boiling, I poke my head around the kitchen door. I see right away that Mick is sprawled out on the sofa, fag in one hand, cup of tea in the other. He is watching Football Focus or some such crap. I go back to the oven to check the toast, knowing that this is why we cannot say anything. “Where are the little ones?” I ask, referring to Joe’s other brothers, Will and Tommy.
“Will went next door to play,” Joe answers. “Don’t know where Tommy is.”
I suddenly think of the powder in the rucksack and a sick fear grips me, and makes all my hairs stand on end. “What about…?” I say quietly to Joe. He turns and looks at me, and I can see the same thought has spread like a germ through his mind too. He shakes the water from his hands and stalks from the room.
“Wait here,” he says to me. I turn the toast over, and make the coffees. When Joe finally comes back, he is holding his three-year-old half-brother by the arm, and the little boy is whining and struggling. I go to the door to watch.
“What’s going on?” Mick demands from the sofa. Joe lets Tommy go, and he runs for his daddy’s lap and climbs all over him, still whining.
“Can you tell him to stay out of my room?” Joe complains. “He’s got his sticky fingers all over my CD’s! He broke one last week!”
I look at Mick as he comforts Tommy, knowing as well as Joe that he is wasting his breath trying to complain. “Just think yourself lucky that you have a room, eh?” comes the haughty, confrontational tone that Mick uses whenever he speaks to one of his stepsons. His tone goes up a notch, his voice is gruffer, quicker, more accusing. Even if he is saying, pass the potatoes; it is more like pass the potatoes! I can do an excellent take on his voice too, well, his two voices. Because when he speaks to Will or Tommy, his eyes go all dopey, and his tone softens and the speed of his words slow down. “He doesn’t even have a bedroom, remember?” Mick directs this statement towards Joe’s tired face, accompanied by a puff of grey smoke from his fag. I watch Joe’s shoulders drop, and I don’t know how he puts up with it. I wonder if it crosses his mind to tell Mick about the dangers we discovered in the older boys bedroom last night.
Joe comes back into the kitchen and gives me a look that I know means, god give me fucking strength. I pass him his coffee and his toast and he cocks his head at me. “You not having any toast?”
“You’re not still on a stupid diet?”
“It’s not stupid, and yes I am.”
“You look fine the way you are.”
“Well thanks very much.”
Joe chews his toast and nods at me. “You girls are all the same.”
“We are, aren’t we? Me and Marianne. Exactly the same.”
Joe rolls his eyes at the mention of our pale-faced friend. “Well not her obviously. She doesn’t give a shit what she looks like.”
“Come on,” I say, getting bored. “Let’s hurry up and get out of here.”
Joe feels the same, I know. His house is suffocating in so many ways. There is too much stuff. Every room is packed full of furniture; three sofas instead of two, three coffee tables, two units filled with glass ornaments and other nasty shit. Every room has these towers of boxes of stuff Mick brings back from work in case it is needed one day, and people. Too many fucking people. You feel like you are permanently enveloped within a crowd. The house is never empty, ever. I cannot remember us ever being alone there. You are always bumping shoulders with someone, squashing past someone on the landing, or on the stairs. The place reminds me of a rabbit warren.
I can vaguely remember it before Mick came along. We would have been about eight, I suppose. My mum and Lorraine have been friends for years. I have therefore known Joe since before we were even born. We were in our mother’s stomachs, face to face almost, forced to sit in uterine liquid and listen to their spiteful gossip endlessly. I am convinced this experience has shaped us into the cynical pair we now are.
Joe’s dad Tony left when he was five. He’s a long distance lorry driver, and Joe sees him about twice a year if he is lucky. Despite this, we both like Tony a lot. We are not supposed to obviously, him being another one of the men who have left, another useless father who walked out and closed the door behind him. But I don’t blame him one bit for walking out on Lorraine. Jesus Christ, how did he last as long as he did? We have to keep our admiration for Tony well hid. God forbid Lorraine or my mum hear us say something positive about him. He is tall and broad, and always wears checked shirts and jeans, and smokes rolls ups. He is quiet and still. He is a softly breaking sunset, while Lorraine is a fucking thunderstorm.
Mick met Joe’s mum when he fixed her car. He used to be a mobile mechanic. He still tinkers with cars a lot. I mean, their back garden has three cars in it, and their front garden has two. He never really gets around to fixing them though. He works at the cash and carry now. More money apparently. He moved in when Lorraine got pregnant with Will. I remember feeling sorry for Joe and his older brothers when this happened. Leon and Travis never stopped complaining about this intrusion in their lives, this fake father figure who thought he could tell them what to do, or the two younger half-brothers that soon arrived to drive the house to the brink of its capacity. Joe never said much about anything. He is like his dad that way. He takes it all on the chin. He just takes it all.
We get the kitchen back to it’s usual clean, but cluttered standard, and then we leave. We don’t know where to go, or what to do. I can see it all tumbling around inside Joe’s head, because his eyes are dark and frowning, and his lips are tight and straight. He looks just like his dad that way. “I’m a bit worried about leaving Tommy there,” I say eventually, because as much as I despise the sticky little monkey-faced bugger, this is the thing that is keeping me scared. This is the thing that keeps spinning back into my mind every time I try to shrug it all off and convince myself copious amounts of drugs in my best friends brothers’ wardrobe is nothing to get my knickers in a twist about. Joe looks sideways at me.
“I know. Me too.”
“There is no lock on their door.”
“Tommy or Will could easily find that stuff. Whatever it is.”
“I know what it is,” Joe says then, and I stop walking. We have wandered to the fields behind the estate, so I lean down and unclip Gremlin’s lead. I wait for Joe to speak, and I can see a hundred secrets behind his troubled eyes. He releases a heavy sigh that smoothes its way down his body. He is taller than me now, I notice. Only by a bit. “It’s cocaine,” he whispers, even thought there is no one to be seen for miles around. My eyes shoot wide open. “At least I think that’s what it is.” He lifts and drops his shoulders in a weak and guilty shrug. I now narrow my eyes at him.
“How do you know?”
“They do it sometimes,” he tells me. “When mum and Mick are out.”
“I don’t know,” Joe shrugs again, and looks briefly away from me, as Gremlin tears yapping across the fields, chasing a crow. “I saw them do it about two months ago. They just laughed about it. I didn’t bother saying anything.”
“Okay,” I say, folding my arms across my chest and trying not to let it show that I am annoyed he had not told me this before. If I tell you the truth World, I am annoyed but also sort of excited again. I know, I know, it’s wrong, so wrong. Joe is standing before me with this taut expression on his soft face, and all I can feel is tremors of stiff excitement careering through me. Part of my mind wanders off on its own, picturing Travis, the bad boy, doing drugs and not caring. I shake myself out of it quickly, momentarily sickened by myself. “So if it is cocaine in that bag, why have they got so much of it? Are they fucking dealers or something?”
“I have no idea,” Joe says, and I believe him. He is almost incapable of lying. He is good at not telling you things, but he is hopeless at actual lies.
“They can’t seriously think it’s okay to just leave it there like that, with your brothers around. I’m getting really worried about that Joe.”
“We should go back and move it,” he nods.
“I have no idea,” he says again, as we start to head back. He drops his head and his brown hair dances about across his forehead. I wait for Gremlin to catch us up, then put his lead back on. Joe walks with his hands inside his pockets, and his back bent. For some reason, a small giggle escapes me. He looks my way. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” I clap a hand across my mouth. My stomach is growling at me and I rub it absent-mindedly, thinking about another coffee to shut it up. “Was just imagining Leon and Travis, that’s all. Finding it gone.” I snort again, and even Joe cracks a smile at this. “They’ll shit themselves,” I point out. “But what will they do, or say? Without dropping themselves in it?”
Joe just smiles at me.
When we get back to his house, we go in the front way so we can avoid Mick. We hare up the stairs two at a time and then quietly open the older boys door. None of them have locks on their doors. They did once, I remember. But Mick unscrewed them all when the boys kept storming off to their rooms to avoid being lectured at. Now he can follow them into their room and carry on the lecture. I smile again, my devious side wondering what words of wisdom Mick would impress upon them if he knew they had shit loads of Class A drugs stashed in their wardrobe. I imagine his head exploding and it makes me chuckle. Joe digs me in the ribs with his elbow. He is crapping himself, I know it, but what choice do we have? Tell Mick what we have found and witness world war three tear his family apart? Do nothing and risk the little brats finding it and sticking their mucky fingers in for a taste? I feel the thrill of danger and fear galloping through my body, and it is enough to make my hungry belly shut up. In fact I feel kind of sick, as we sneak into the dark room and open up the wardrobe again. We feel and look just like sneaky little kids, stealing biscuits from the tin, and I just hope to God we don’t get caught. Joe grabs the bag and we scramble back to his room.
In contrast, Joe’s room is light and airy, with the curtains drawn and the window wide open. He clutches the bag to his chest, fear making him look like someone from a film, wide-eyed and full of emotion. I smirk, thinking he never normally looks like that. Funny thing is World, he looks quite sexy really. I slap a hand over my mouth again and wonder what the hell is wrong with me. I am not normal. Really. Joe looks at me in desperation, and I can almost imagine him throwing me the bag, as if it is a bomb or something. But he doesn’t. He just looks around for somewhere to hide it. There is nowhere.
“Your house?” he asks, white faced now. I shake my head.
“No fucking way!”
I think about this. Her house is huge and vast and rambling. She is an only child. It is probably our best course of action until Leon and Travis come home. Then they can fucking get rid of it. We nod in silent agreement, and Joe slings the rucksack onto his back. We leave the house as silently and sneakily as we arrived, and hear nothing from Mick and Tommy in the lounge.
Outside, the day is getting hot. The sun beats down on our hung over brains and my stomach twists itself in hunger and fear and excitement. I have never had a proper adventure before, I am thinking, as we start to walk quickly towards the fields again. We can cut across them to where Marianne lives. We walk fast, me dragging poor knackered Gremlin along on his lead, Joe swinging his arms up and down, sweat beading across his forehead. “This is like the fucking Goonies or something,” I say to Joe, and feel instantly guilty when he looks at me, because he is not enjoying any of this at all. It is only me getting off on it, and I have no right, I realise then. Just because my own life is so dry and so full of mind-numbing tedium. Just because I don’t have criminal older brothers, or a mad witch for a mother. It never ceases to amaze me how fascinating other people’s families can be. You never find your own family interesting, do you? Nope, nothing to look at there. Boring, boring, a bit annoying, boring, boring. I want to giggle again, but I shut up and say nothing and we storm across the fields, and climb through the fence and come out onto Marianne’s road.
She opens the door when we hammer on it. She is tiny and frail, like a bird, dressed in black from head to toe, and her green eyes light up when she sees us, but her smile is always devious. “To what to I owe the pleasure?” she asks as Joe pushes past her. She is nearly always alone, but Joe feels the need to check every downstairs room for any sign of her parents anyway. Marianne fixes me with a beady-eyed stare.
“What is wrong with him?”
“We need your help,” I tell her, trying like hell to stop the smile from tugging at my lips again. “We need to stash something here for a bit.”
Marianne licks her perfect little lips at me. “Well aren’t I the lucky one?” she says to us.
Dear World, let me tell you about Marianne Sholing.
Firstly, she is one of those people who gives very little away. I mean, she is really, really good at it. I have known her for a year, and still have no fucking idea what to make of her. In equal measures I feel both privileged to know her, and scared of her. She only moved to our school a year ago, and she stood out right away. She is small and thin, fragile looking, with jet-black hair that she wears loose to her shoulders. She usually has a fringe. Sometimes it is growing out, and she shakes her head to remove it from her eyes. Recently she had it cut, and now it is straight blunt line just above her eyebrows. Marianne has a small, round face, with a delicately pointed chin. People at school laugh at her, and whisper behind her back. They think she is a Goth, or a witch. The people in our school are like vultures when it comes to new students. You can see them standing around the edges, licking their lips and narrowing their eyes, the most vicious of them quickly working out the unfortunate persons weak spots. They will stand and watch and decide right away if the person is worth knowing or not, worth being friends with. I’ve seen it too many times. I’ve stood back and observed the way they work, and it’s simple and shocking in its coldness. And you might not believe this, but the girls are the worst.
I’ve always hated school for this very reason. And you might think that it all starts when kids become teenagers, but you would be wrong World. It starts way, way before that. You see, people can’t usually see it, because everyone thinks little kids are so sweet and innocent and cute, but the truth is, the bitches and the bastards start young. They really do. Watch them. Sweet and innocent, my arse. Obviously they learn how to be a bitch or a bastard from their parents, and once they figure out how to be mean, they go for it, they find out that is the way forward, and forward they go. I’ve been lucky mostly. Plenty of things people could pick on me for, but I’ve got Joe, and Joe has the hardest family around. Marianne didn’t have anyone, and they went for her all right. Freak. Weirdo. Witch. And that was how we became friends. I’ll be honest; we felt sorry for her.
What we didn’t know then, was that she doesn’t need us to. She mostly wears black. When she first came to our school, she fascinated me. I didn’t understand her at all. She was obviously ridiculously clever and articulate, but more than that, she did not give a shit what the other kids said about her, or to her. Eventually they got a bit spooked by her, and stopped teasing her. They still hate her, believe me, but she doesn’t need them, so that is that.
Just like Joe, and me Marianne will be starting the sixth form at our old school in September. I would have liked to have gone to college, and get away from it all, if I’m honest. Maybe meet some new people, recreate myself among kids who have not known me since I was a child. But mum said we could not afford the daily train fare, and what was wrong with the sixth form? Walking distance, she had pointed out, and you already know everyone. I hadn’t the heart or the energy to tell her that was the main reason I abhorred the thought of going back there. Okay, so we wouldn’t have to wear school uniform anymore, and we would be able to come and go as we pleased, but what else would be different apart from that? There will still be Scott Taylor and his pretty blue eyes, the Mr. Popular and handsome that would never look at me in a million years. And there will still be Christine Raymond and Stacey Winters, the two biggest blonde bitches known to human history. We will all just have to endure it, I suppose.
Marianne regards Joe and his rucksack with, hungry green eyes. She nods through to the large kitchen. “You sure there is no one home?” Joe sees fit to ask, as we walk through. Marianne looks at him quizzically.
“What the hell have you got in there? A gun?”
Joe and I swap a look, which suggests to Marianne that it may as well be. She looks even more intrigued now. “No one is home,” she rolls her eyes at his desperate face, and shrugs at me. Then she sneers down at poor Gremlin panting and dribbling on his lead. “You can’t bring him in here,” she says. “My mum is allergic.” I tut and tie him up outside. I think what a strange day the poor dog is having. I go inside and wander slowly around the large country style kitchen. Marianne’s parents have lots of old, oak furniture, and the large robust kitchen table is a particular feature. It is huge and would look more at home in a farmhouse, and looks like it was built for a huge ruddy faced family to gather around, not just Marianne and her mum and dad. She did have a twin, she has told us more than once. A twin that died at birth. Joe and I have yet to decide if we believe this or not. “It is just me, myself and I,” she tells us, crossing her twig like arms across her black long-sleeved t-shirt. “So what’s going on?”
“Do we tell her?” Joe looks at me and asks.
“Of course we have to tell her!” I snap at him. “We can’t ask her to stash it if she doesn’t know what it is!” Later, I come to regret this statement, but at the time it seems obvious. Joe nods and lets the bag slide off his back and into his hand. He places it on the kitchen table, and I notice that he has a large patch of sweat at the top of his back, between his shoulder blades. Marianne walks up to him and peers into the bag as he unzips it slowly. She sees the bags, and her mouth falls open in surprise, and she claps one hand over it and looks from Joe, to me, and back again. Finally her shining green eyes settle on the bag.
“What is that and where the hell did you get it?”
“It’s cocaine, I think,” Joe tells her, and zips the bag again. He pushes his hair back with the heel of one hand. The sweat makes it stick straight up in dark brown points. “It’s my brothers.”
“Holy fuck!” Marianne exclaims, her hand falling from her mouth. “Do they know you’ve got it? What are they, drug dealers?”
“No they don’t know we’ve got it. And I don’t know if they are drug dealers.”
“But you would assume they are, right? With that much stuff?” Marianne crosses her arms again, and shakes her hair from her shoulders.
“We just need to hide it somewhere until they come back,” I explain to her. “We found it by accident in their wardrobe.”
“You found it by accident,” Joe corrects me. “Actually not by accident, because you were poking around in their wardrobe on purpose.” I give him a look of pure disgust and he stares me down.
“Lou Carling! Do I detect you have a crush on one of Joe’s dear brothers?”
I groan inwardly at Marianne and her incessant habit of speaking like an adult. Not even an adult actually, more like an old lady most of the time. I decide not to warrant her question with a response. She smiles at me wickedly. “Poking around in boys wardrobes eh? What did you hope to find?” I roll my eyes at her irritably, but it’s too late to halt the creep of warmth that flushes my cheeks.
“It was after you guys left,” Joe takes up the rest of the story. “We were just looking for a lighter. They’d gone out.”
“Now we don’t know where they are or when they’ll be back, and we can’t leave it in the wardrobe in case the brats find it!” I look at Marianne and see the concentration deepening on her face.
“You could have told your parents about it,” she says slowly, not sounding as if she really believes this herself.
“My mum would go fucking mental, and Mick would throw them both out and probably call the cops,” Joe replies. Marianne scowls slightly.
“So what?” she argues. “They’re both worthless twats, aren’t they? Why would you care? If they were gone, there would be more space for you.”
“Marianne,” I speak up. “They might be twats, but they’re his brothers. You can’t just do that to your family.” Joe says nothing. Neither Marianne nor myself can tell what he is thinking.
“So how long do you want me to hide it for you?” Marianne questions, dropping her head slightly and peering at Joe from under her fringe. Joe releases a long drawn out sigh and drops his shoulders.
“Give me a day,” he says. “I’ll try and find them.”
“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” I look at Marianne and see a gleam in her eyes. I have to look at the floor and bite my lip, because I can tell she is relishing an adventure as much as I am, but I just bet she doesn’t make a stupid crack about the fucking Goonies. “If anyone finds that stuff, we’ll be in deep fucking trouble.”
“You’re in deep fucking trouble anyway. You’ve stolen their drugs!”
“We couldn’t leave it there,” I argue with her. “The brats get their paws into everything!”
“Are you even sure it is drugs?” Marianne gives a little laugh and walks back to the bag on the table. We watch dumbly as she unzips it again and actually lifts out one of the bags. It looks like something you would see on the telly or something, on the news, when you see the police handling mass quantities of tightly wrapped drugs. She holds it in both hands, giving away how heavy it is. Joe is watching her in confusion. She looks up at us. “It might be fucking salt or washing powder or something!”
“It’s coke, isn’t it Joe?” I look at him.
“I’ve seen them do coke,” he tells Marianne reluctantly. “A few times recently.”
She nods at him, and pulls her bottom lip in with her teeth. She is thinking, I can tell. “Shall we try it?” she says. “See if it is?”
Marianne’s question hangs in the air between all three of us. The scariest thing to me is that none of us immediately shoot her down. That must mean that all three of us are considering her question. I decide to be the sensible one, though God knows why, and fuck knows I don’t want to be. “They’d kill you, don’t even think about it,” I tell Joe, and he nods solemnly. Marianne looks momentarily disappointed with us, and stuffs the bag back into the rucksack.
“I’ll take care of this then,” she announces, slinging it onto her shoulder.
“Where will you hide it?” asks Joe. She looks back at him over her thin shoulder as she leaves the kitchen.
“Trap door in my room.” she says and is gone.
“Is she joking?” Joe asks me. “I can never tell when she’s joking. Can you?”
“I just hope we’re doing the right thing,” I say, as a monumental sigh escapes me, and I suddenly feel significantly less excited about all of this. I am beginning to wish we had left it in the wardrobe and minded our own business. So what if the brats had come across it? That would be Travis and Leon’s fault, not ours. It would technically be Lorraine and Mick’s fault too. “Any idea where to start looking for your brothers? And are they going to kill you when they know what we’ve done?”
“More like I should kill them,” he replies, with a toss of his head, and we both know this is never likely to happen. Joe is the calmest; most grounded one in his tornado of a home. His family make mine look normal. I have known his family my entire life and the only one I like and trust is Joe. By far the best thing about him is that he just gets me, like no one else does. It has always been that way. When we were babies and toddlers, I suppose we were pretty much forced on each other. As we got older, our parents would comment on how well we got on. Look at Lou and Joe, they would say, whenever they saw us together, aren’t they sweet? They both have embarrassing photographs of us in the bath together, and running around outside with nappies on.
When I was a child, I can strongly remember Joe’s mother terrifying me. She was always so loud, so screechy, and her lips so red and violent. I used to cringe and squirm if she ever tried to pick me up or kiss me. I felt like I had to pretend to like her, for mum’s sake. My mum defends her to this day. She says Lorraine has to be like that, because of her boys, which would seem to suggest that she was completely normal and non-threatening before they come along, and I have a hard time believing this. My mum thanks God she only had girls, and Lorraine curses God that she only had boys. They still make stupid remarks about swapping some of us over. If you had that many boys, you would be the same, my mum says. Boys are hard work, apparently. I can vividly recall Lorraine hearing Leon swear once, when he was about nine or ten. It was someone’s birthday party, but I don’t remember whose. We were outside playing pass the parcel on a picnic blanket, when Leon said fuck because the music stopped on the kid next to him. Lorraine heard and waded through the children like a deranged monkey, screaming and huffing and snatching him up by his arm. She dragged him into their kitchen, while everyone stood about and stared and tried not to laugh, and then she came back with a bar of soap, and proceeded to wash his mouth out with it. You can see why she makes me nervous.
My mum still shakes her head and listens and sympathises whenever Lorraine comes over to whinge about her boys. I am beginning to wonder if this says more about my mother as a person, than it does about the strength of their friendship. When I look at them sometimes I see two people caught in a friendship trap. Do you know what I mean World? There are people like it at school. They reach out to each other when they are desperate for whatever reason, and then they end up stuck together. You can see that neither of them really likes the other, or at least, they sort of wish they had more options. But not everyone does. Have more options I mean. Maybe my mum falls into that category. I think about it a lot. Anyway, Leon was always in trouble, and Travis was what they affectionately called a cheeky monkey, or what my dad called a little shit. I think Joe may have been troublesome at times, but by the time he reached about eight or nine, I think he just thought what’s the point? He was always calmer than the other two, and they picked on him just for being the youngest. There is only fifteen months between Leon and Travis. As thick as thieves, Lorraine says about them. I agree with the thick part. And the thieves’ part. I can remember about a million mean things they did to Joe over the years, and he never fought back. He never cried either though. He was as silent then as he is now. I don’t think I have ever seen him lose his temper.
When Marianne returns, Joe announces that we better go and find his brothers, before they find out what is missing from their room. Marianne tugs her long sleeves down over her hands and grimaces at us. “Well, good luck with that. You’ll be back by tomorrow then?”
“Definitely,” Joe promises her. “Thanks so much for this Marianne. I owe you a massive favour.” He looks at me and jerks his head towards the front door.
“Thanks Marianne,” I say, and follow Joe out. We untie Gremlin and start to head home, our heads hanging low, our thoughts dark.
“There is no way Josh or Ryan would have done that,” I say, just to break the silence, as we cross the fields again. Joe has his hands in his pockets.
“Christ no,” he agrees. “Ryan would have wet his pants and Josh would have just told his mum or something. Marianne is really cool.”
“This is quite a day, so far.”
“I know. Unbelievable.”
“Do you just wish we’d left it there now?”
“Well, in a way. I don’t know. You know what the brats are like.” Joe shrugs his shoulders and looks at me. “What the hell are my brothers doing?” he says, thinking out loud.
“Leon has been heading that way for years,” I reply. “Travis follows everything he does. It’s not really that shocking, if you think about it.”
“Not drugs, no, but in the house! That is.”
“They’re not exactly gifted in the brains department,” I remind him. “God knows what else they’ve got stashed in there!”
“Maybe Marianne was right. You know, about letting them get caught. Letting mum and Mick deal with it.”
We walk on in a nervous silence. Gremlin is knackered, and his lead is completely slack and hanging at my side. As we get closer to Joe’s house, I feel none of the excitement or giddy fear I did earlier. I wonder where it went, and wish I knew how to lure it back. It was nice, for a while, feeling like something big was going to happen, and we were all going to get caught up in it, and in years to come I would look back and have a story to tell. Now I just feel a sick knot in my stomach, and my mouth becomes incredibly dry, and my mind starts to wander towards the tastes and smells of the food I have been avoiding lately. I am thinking it might be wise to grab something to eat from my house pretty soon. Just an apple and a coffee, or maybe some dry crackers. Something to keep me going. I think of Marianne and how much I admire her twig like arms, and I simultaneously curse myself for being such a fucking idiot, such a fucking sheep. I started the summer thinking how great it would be to lose weight, and then go back to school in September, a new person. Stacey and Christine, The Stick Insects I call them, would not even recognise me. They would flock around me, gasping at the difference, asking me to tell them how I did it. Scott Taylor would look at me for the first time ever, and his blue eyes would run up and down my body, and he would think I was a new girl at first. He will look at me, he will finally look at me, and then he will smile. I won’t be the fat girl anymore. I told myself that when I crushed that doughnut in my hand at the start of the exams in June.
The day is getting hotter, and I have no idea in hell what time it is, as we trudge out onto Joe’s road. The sky feels dark and low, and the clouds on the horizon are turning navy blue, building up to grey and black. There is that feeling of electricity in the air, of something about to happen, of a storm on it’s way. I love storms normally. I even like to stand outside in them. But this feels different, and I wonder if it is because we can both see Leon’s beat up Ford Fiesta parked outside the house. We look at each other. Is it good or bad, that they are back?
As we near the house, the car door opens on the driver side and Leon gets out. He is nineteen years old, six foot three and spends most of his waking hours lifting weights. He looks like Joe, but his face is wider and his features heavier. He is wearing a Nike t-shirt and blue jeans, and he flexes his tattooed arms at us. Travis gets out the other side. He is smaller and thinner than his brother, but with the same light brown hair, cut short around the sides, and longer on the top. He has a lanky quality to him, flexibility in the way he moves and walks, very casual and slow, whereas Leon is very quick and hard and solid. They approach us immediately and fall into step with us, as we walk towards the house. Leon on Joe’s side, and Travis on mine. That ripple of fear and excitement and inexplicable longing is rampant inside me again, and my eyes are wide with it. “Inside,” Leon says, and he sounds like a deeper voiced version of his mother, all clenched teeth and bubbling fury. “Now.”