Dear World, I try to be left alone, but it is not easy. It appears in this life, that if you want to be left alone with your own thoughts, that gives the people around you full rein to interfere with you pretty much constantly. Wanting to be alone is not normal, apparently. Just trying to withdraw from the world for a little while, is cause for great concern, it would seem. I know what I am doing, and it makes sense to me. I am home in the darkness, curled up small. I feel a peacefulness wash over me that I have not experienced for a long time. I just stay there and listen to my body breathing. I slip in and out of bewildering dreams. I play Bob Dylan again and again.
My mother is at her wits end with me. Or so she informs me about twenty times a day. She bustles in and out of my room, as I am forced to unlock it on the first day, for fear she was about to knock it down and come spilling in. It seems terribly unfair and cruel that I am not allowed to lock my own door.
So, she comes in and out, mostly carrying trays of food. “You have to eat, you have to eat,” she says repeatedly, and I just ignore her. As far as I know there is nothing she can do to convince me to talk, or to eat. I am hoping my silence will get through to her in the end. I am hoping it will encourage her to realise how much I just want to be left alone. She piles these stupid trays up all over the room. Toast, and ham sandwiches, jaffa cakes, and endless cups of tea. Piles of shit basically. She is filling my room with shit. She cannot let it go. She cannot accept that I do not want any of them. So the food sits around my room, stinking it up. I think I will go crazy.
“I believe you that nothing happened with Joe,” she sits on my bed and tells me in a weak, wobbling voice. “I know you are just like brother and sister.” That is what she wants to believe, I think, listening to her. “It was just such a shock for Mick and Lorraine to find you in bed together like that. You can understand that, can’t you? Just wait until you are a mother one day, love, then you will see, you will see how impossible it is.” She says this a lot over the next few days. “It’s harder now, if anything,” she echoes the sentiments of Lorraine. “At least when you were babies, we could pick you up and cuddle you if you cried. We knew what was wrong with you. We knew how to fix it. Not like now.”
She even gets Sara round to talk to me. She is less gentle. She gets frustrated with my silence within ten minutes and tries to pull the duvet from me. I hold on tight and refuse to answer her as she yells; “what the hell is the matter with you anyway? Are you just doing this for attention, or what?” I want to laugh, because nothing could be further from the truth. I want to tell her that if they would just leave me alone, I would be fine. I would come out in my own time. Eventually she calms down again and sits and talks to my huddled shape. “Well if you don’t sort it out pretty soon, mum will be calling the men in the white coats Lou, I’m serious. Is that what you want? You want to be carted off to the loony bin?”
“Marianne keeps calling for you,” my mother comes to tell me sometimes, in a hopeful voice, as if this information could just be what makes me get out of bed. If only she knew, I think. “She’s worried about you too now. Do you want her to come round?”
“No,” I croak from under the duvet. It is the first word I have spoken in two days. I can imagine my mothers face filling with wonder, as she sees this as a good sign.
“Okay,” she responds gently. “Okay then. Okay love. Shall I make you a sandwich? Bring you up some soup?” I do not answer. I hear her frustrated exhalation of breath. “Lou, this is not funny you know. This whole thing. If you don’t at least sit up and eat something, then I am phoning the doctor, and I mean it. You cannot just stay under there and starve to death!” I hear her voice break on the last word. Shit. She stands by the door and starts to sob.
I am forced to question just how selfish I really am. I don’t think I can listen to her crying a second longer. “Okay,” I say. “Okay, then. I’ll have some soup.”
She inhales this time. She inhales hope, and I imagine her smiling and drying her tears on her tea towel. “Okay darling,” she says quietly. “Good girl. I’ll be right back.”
When she comes back, she finds me sat up with my back to the wall. I am still wearing the same pants and bra from the day of the party. My hair is a greasy tangle stuck on my skull. She tries to disguise both the alarm and the hope on her face, as she slides the tray towards me, and then sits carefully down on the edge of the bed. I eat the soup as fast as I can so that she will leave me alone again. My stomach reacts with shock as the food curls down towards it. It clenches tightly and unclenches again. I force it down. My mum bites at her lip. “I want you to come and see Doctor Fielding with me love,” she says eventually, not looking at me. “I’ve made an appointment for tomorrow. I want her to check you over. I’m so worried about you, love.”
“No,” I say, looking down at my soup. “I’m eating this, isn’t that enough?”
“Lou, you must be able to see, this is not normal behaviour!” she says this in exasperation, lifting her hands and dropping them again. Her expression is pained. She is trying hard not to cry. “I’m your mother, it’s my job to protect you and look after you, and how can I say I am doing that right now?”
I finish the soup, slide the tray towards her and lay back down. “I’m just tired,” I tell her, my eyes on the ceiling. “A lot has happened lately.”
“A lot that you don’t want to tell me.”
I look at her face. “You wouldn’t want to know mum.”
“I want to know all right,” she argues, her eyebrows frowning down at me sternly. “Of course I want to know! I mean, that party, whatever it was. Going to a party is fine, having a few drinks I can accept, but coming home in the state you were in, refusing to tell us what is wrong, and staying in bed for nearly three days, is not okay Lou!”
I don’t want to have this conversation with her now. I fold my arms across my face. Maybe, one day, I think to myself as she sits there and waits. Maybe one day we could have a talk, and I really could tell her everything. I could tell her everything that I think and feel, and she would listen, and understand. But not now. Not today.
I hear her release an enormous sigh. “What am I going to do with you?” she murmurs to herself.
“I’m okay,” I tell her from under my arm. “I’m sorry.”
“Look, either you come to the doctor tomorrow or you let one of your friends come and speak to you. Maybe Joe can shake you out of this, whatever it is.”
I have tried not to think about Joe for the last few days, and I am surprised and dismayed at the hot tears that fill my eyes under my arm. I press my arm down harder against them. “Okay,” I say, for her benefit. “Okay then.”
“Okay doctors, or okay Joe?”
“Okay.” She finally gets up from the bed, lifts the tray and walks towards the door. “But Lou, I will be getting the doctor to come and see you right here if you don’t stop this dieting nonsense, I mean it.”
Anger pricks at me. I tense. “Okay.”
She leaves me alone. She finally fucking leaves me alone. Oh God, I think, pulling the duvet completely back over my head. Oh God. I have been trying like hell not to think about Joe these past few days. I wonder how quickly my mum will call Lorraine. I wonder how long it will take Joe to get around here. I wonder what he has been up to since I last saw him, and what happened after Lorraine walked me home. I wonder a lot of things. I curl up under my duvet and wonder why I am such a waste of space. I am literally taking up space that someone else could have, I think. I am using up oxygen and contributing nothing positive to this world. I am wasted. I am a waste.
I am listening to Mr. Tambourine Man, and I wonder why this is still all I listen to. It’s like I refuse to move on. There is so much more out there, but I just ignore it all, I just ignore all the potential for knowing more, learning more. I told you, I am a waste of a person really. I could be so much more, but I can’t seem to be bothered. I want to do nothing. Be nothing. Have nothing to say. Have no one ask anything of me. I do not want to get out of this bed and do something. I do not want school to start. I do not want to finish school and have to get a job, because that scares me. I don’t know what the hell I want to do, except nothing. I just want to be left alone, but this is proving impossible and highly unlikely. I don’t want to even grow up, I think. I really don’t. I’m not like all the other kids who just want to be adults, so that they can do all the stuff that adults do. I don’t want to. I don’t want to do any of those things anyway. I’m the opposite, because I want to slow it all down, I want to stay like this. I am stuck I suppose. I am jammed. I am unable to move on. I am oddly incapable of development. But I am very good at shrinking. Going backwards. Oh holy fuck.
Doctors, or Joe. What a fucking choice.
I am left with an unfortunate dilemma. Stay where I am, and let Joe discover me in bed, still wearing the underwear I had on at the party. Let Joe see who I really fucking am. Or get out of bed and sort myself out a bit. Have a shower and put on some clothes. Pretend I am okay. Make out it is just my mother being melodramatic as usual. In the end I don’t actually end up thinking about it a lot more, because I fall asleep.
I fall asleep for hours. I wake up once and hear the neighbour’s children screaming outside my window. Then I fall back asleep again. The next time I wake up it is early evening, the street is quiet, and someone is tapping at my door. It is Joe. I hear him snort. He opens the door a crack and pokes his face into my room. “Safe to come in?” he whispers. “I’m on a mission.”
I tug the duvet up to my chin and brace myself for humiliation. It’s all right, I tell myself. I can take it. “Hi Joe,” I say. He comes in and closes the door behind him. I look at him as he crosses the room. Weird. He looks taller. He looks older. Holding his head up. He looks pleased with himself. He grins at me as he lifts the duvet and scoots in fully clothed beside me. I wait for him to cry out in embarrassment when he realises I am just in my undies, but he does not seem to notice. He pulls the duvet up to his neck and folds his arms on top of it.
“So,” he says. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” I say, honestly. “I don’t know what the hell is going on.”
“Well, neither do I. They sent me round to get you up. Otherwise I’ve been grounded.”
“What happened after I left?” I ask him, with a sigh. His shoulder is pressed onto mine. I wonder how he cannot realise I am partially naked. I wonder if he cares. His grin stretches.
“I got into a fight with Mick.”
I turn my face to stare at him. “No! Oh my God! You didn’t!”
“Well, I did. I’d had enough. I punched him in the nose. Look at my hand!” He delights in showing me his right hand, where the knuckles are all bruised and swollen.
“Oh my God Joe!” I exclaim, my hand sneaking out from the cave to touch his knuckles. “What did he do?”
“Nothing! Leon and Travis appeared out of nowhere. He didn’t dare take us all on.”
“Oh my God!” I realise that I cannot think of anything else to say other than oh my God. Terrible.
“Yeah, I know. He stormed out. Left mum to it.”
“What did she do? What did she say?”
“She ranted and raved for a bit, then she calmed down. I told her no one in that house is gonna’ hit me ever again. No one.” I look in wonder at his face. He is glowing with a strength I’d never thought possible. His eyes are shining, and his mouth is firm. He is wriggling with pride in himself. I can barely believe what I am seeing, and hearing. He normally always looks so beaten down, so resigned.
“Oh my God Joe,” I say. “You are amazing. What’s happened to you?”
“I don’t know,” he says, grinning at the ceiling. “I just snapped. I just woke up like that, then I was just so worried about you, and I wanted to walk you home. Then they all come in interfering, fucking ruining things as usual, blaming us.” He rolls his eyes at the memory, and shrugs under the duvet. “I realised that’s all I care about. People like you. People who get me, and care about me. That’s why I wanted to walk you home and make sure you were okay. That’s what set me off when they fucking got in the way again.”
I don’t know what to say. I am touched, and proud of him, and want to hug him. I don’t want to cry. I could pat him on the back or something. I don’t want to say ‘oh my God’ another time. “Travis and Leon stood by you?” I ask instead, coming back to this other amazing transformation.
“Yeah!” he beams. “Amazing, right?”
“About bloody time.”
“I know. I know it. But I mean it. I’ll behave myself. But if any bastard in that house lays a finger on me again, they’re gonna’ get it back.”
“I never knew you had it in you.”
“Neither did I.”
“And you won’t smack the little ones either then?”
He shakes his head firmly. “No, I won’t. I won’t. I’m going to be a decent brother to them.”
“Even though it was Will who dropped us in it that morning?”
“Yeah. Even though. I’ll show him the way to behave. I’ll be decent to him, then maybe he will look up to me, or whatever.”
I feel warmer, with him next to me. Our body heat mingling. I feel the urge to throw back the cover, but then I remember I am partially clothed, so I don’t.
“What about the deliveries?” I ask him. “Are you still gonna’ do that?”
“No,” he says quickly. “No way. I told them. It’s over. Leon was not happy.”
“I thought it was nearly all gone anyway?”
“Yeah, I thought so. But Leon got all funny and twitchy, so I don’t know. Anyway, I’m out of it. We’re out of it. One less thing to stress about, eh?” He nudges me with his elbow.
“Yeah, I guess so. Well done.”
“So how are you?”
“Ahh,” I say, knowing it was going to come to this eventually. “Tired.”
“Tired of what?”
“Good question! I don’t know. Everything. Nothing.”
Joe blows his breath out slowly and shakes his head. “That was one fucked up night.”
“You don’t even know the half of it,” I warn him.
“Go on. Tell me then.”
“Okaaay. Well, first of all Travis tried it on again.” I wait for him to react, and feel his body stiffen next to mine, but he says nothing. I don’t know why I am telling him this, I think. Only that he is lying here next to me, trying his best to be a decent human being. Trying not to be a total waste. I feel like I should at least try to do the same.
“He did?” he asks. “When?”
“Near the beginning,” I sigh. “Outside. After the cocktails. I let him kiss me. Then we had a chat. Then he left. That was it.”
“And so what now?”
“Nothing now,” I shrug. “Nothing. Really.”
“I’m sorry, Joe.”
“You don’t have to be sorry. You can kiss who you like.” He turns his face to look at mine, and he grins. I am thinking, I would rather kiss you. Just to see what it is like. But I do not say it.
“And then there was you and Leon, and Marianne and coke,” I go on. He sighs at this.
“Ah yes. Not good.”
“No. Not good. Then I wake up and go to the loo, and you and Josh and Ryan are all asleep. And I bump into Marianne, and she insists we drink neat whiskey in the garden.”
“Oh Christ. You idiot!”
“Yeah! Both of you!” Joe sort of laughs and rolls back to stare at the ceiling. I do the same. Fixing my eyes on the stained and cracked aertex patterns.
“I don’t know what happened,” I say, and I mean it. “I don’t understand. She was very strange Joe.”
“Well I phoned her,” he says then indignantly. I stare at him. “I would have gone round there but I was grounded.”
“You phoned her? Oh God, Joe.” I groan and cover my face with my hands. “What did you say to her?”
“I had a go at her. She fucking deserved it,” he says. “I can’t stand that girl. I told her to get some help. And to stay away from you.”
“Oh Joe, you didn’t?”
“What? Don’t tell me you feel sorry for her?” He is staring at me in amazement, with his mouth open.
“Well, yes. Sort of. I can’t help it. Joe, she must be so messed up! Worse than us.”
Joe snorts in disgust. “Well funnily enough I don’t see her spending three days in bed with no food,” he retorts, and I flinch, and long to hide under the duvet away from his accusing eyes. “Lou, I don’t think she gives a shit about anything, or anyone.”
“Well, that’s even worse,” I argue. “That’s sad!”
“She didn’t sound sad on the phone. She talked a load of shit. She said you wanted to understand what pain was, like she does. Stupid fucking bitch!”
I shake my head and stare at the ceiling. I don’t feel comfortable with Joe being this angry with Marianne. I think, he doesn’t understand, because he has never understood why she cuts herself, and he probably never will. He is simply seeing this in black and white. “Joe,” I say to him softly. “I can’t even remember what I said, or didn’t say that night.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he says adamantly. “You didn’t cut your own arm, did you?”
I look down at my arm, lying on top of the cover. The cut has a tiny thin trail of scabbing over it. It is about three inches long. I worry it will scar. I lie under my duvet and worry that people will see it there forever and think that I did it to myself. I shake my head. “No, I didn’t.”
“You were drunk, and then she got you even drunker. It’s just totally sinister, Lou.”
“I’m probably going to have to talk to her at some point,” I sigh heavily.
“Well if you do, just make sure you are sober yeah?”
“Course I will.”
“And don’t let her wriggle out of it with all that weird shit she talks. I know how you fall for it. She fucking twists you around her finger mate.”
I raise my eyebrows. I am too tired and fraught with confusion to argue with him. I don’t understand what he means by this. He decides to change the subject by briskly clapping his hands together. “So what now?” he asks me.
“Are you gonna’ lie here wasting any more of your precious life, or are you gonna’ get up and come and walk the fucking dogs with me?”
I frown. “Dogs?”
“Rozzer is down there,” he grins. “I’m back on dog walking duties.”
“Did Mick come back after the fight?”
“Yeah, he came back.”
“What happened then?”
“Nothing,” Joe shrugs and throws back the duvet. He gets out of bed and stares down at me. “We did the other thing we always do in my family. Pretended nothing had happened and carried on as normal.”
I find myself smiling a little. “Oh yeah.”
“Come on then,” he tugs at the duvet but I hold onto it tightly.
“Joe, give me a chance. Go and have a cup of tea with my mum or something. I need to have a shower and stuff.”
I see the light grow in his hazel eyes; he nods twice at me and goes to the door. He tilts his chin to the ceiling and grins. “Okay, off I go to let your mum know I have saved the day yet again. Hope she has biscuits too.”
When he has gone I climb out of my bed slowly, wincing at the pain in my muscles and joints. I am not sure if the pain is do with lying in bed for three days, or not really eating for three days, but there it is. I find my dressing gown lying on the floor and put it on. My mobile phone is lying on the dressing table, dead and silent. Good, I think, it can stay that way. I have no desire to know what strange messages Marianne has been sending me. In the bathroom, I turn on the shower and let it fill the room with hot steam. I climb in and get myself cleaned up. I have to admit, it does feel good. Like I am washing away all of the confusion from that night. Like I am revealing myself again slowly. When I am done, I climb out and wrap a towel around myself. I use both my palms to rub a hole into the steamed up mirror, and my hands make a squeaking noise against the glass. I brush my teeth, watching my reflection. I look at myself, and I feel like I am sort of outside of myself, looking in. I tell myself I am a stupid young idiot, who needs to grow up. I am better than this, I tell myself. I am stronger than this. I try to believe it, because I desperately want to believe it.
When I am dressed and ready, and my hair is combed and towel dried, I leave my room and descend the stairs. I can hear the huge sigh of relief from my mother when she makes out my footsteps coming down. She is sat at the kitchen table with Joe and three cups of tea. I slip in beside her and pick mine up. Mum is staring at me, and when I look at her, her eyes are all shiny, like she has been crying. “Well thank God,” she says to me, one hand touching her chest. I nod at her. I don’t know what I am supposed to say.
“You can pay me later,” Joe jokes. I smile at him. Mum reaches across the table and squeezes his arm.
“You are a special young man,” she tells him. “You always have been.” Joe blushes a deep red and shifts uncomfortably in his chair. “Are you okay?” My mum turns to me and asks. I drink my tea and raise my eyebrows in reply.
“I think so,” I say eventually. She smiles a brave smile.
“Growing up is not easy for anyone,” she tells me. “Believe me. I was a teenager once too, you know. I still feel the same half the time. You know, your body grows older, but you still feel the same inside, even with all the responsibilities.” She nods her head at the kitchen surrounding us. “It’s not easy love,” she goes on gently. “Because nothing ever is.”
“My dad says ‘nothing worth having, comes easily,’” Joe informs us brightly. “Or something like that anyway.”
I just look at him and shake my head. “We should go.”
“Breakfast first?” my mum enquires quickly. I am almost expecting her to follow this with a threat of ‘or I call the doctor’, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t have to, because the threat is there. I roll my eyes and get up and grab a yoghurt from the fridge.
“Before you say anything,” I tell her, pulling a spoon out from the drawer. “Yoghurts are fine for breakfast. Yoghurt and an apple are fine.”
“As long as you are actually eating, I don’t mind what it is!” my mum says with a slight laugh, swapping looks with Joe. I feel irritated. I feel hemmed in, and watched over. My head is pounding too. I eat the yoghurt, and take the apple with me. My mum let’s us go, smiling sadly from the table.
Joe unties Rozzer outside, and I clip Gremlins lead on. I can’t think of anything worthwhile to say, so I just breathe out heavily, and get walking. Rozzer starts pulling instantly and Joe rolls his eyes at me. “You’d think that would hurt him, wouldn’t you?” he wonders. “Choking like that! That’s how stupid a dog he is.”
“Has anyone ever taught him not to pull?” I ask with a sigh of misery. “It’s not his fault, he thinks that’s how you walk.” I nod down at Gremlin. “See, look at him. Because I trained him to walk to heel when he was a puppy.”
“Well you know Mick,” Joe responds. “He’s never got time for the dog, apparently!”
“He should have got a lap dog then,” I say, feeling sulky, and sorry for Rozzer. “That would have suited better.”
We get to the field and let them both off. Rozzer tears off at top speed, barking at nothing, and scaring the mothers with small children in the park. Gremlin tries to follow him, but soon gets out of breath and gives up. “Maybe you could be an animal trainer or something, when you grow up,” Joe says to me. I look at him sideways and take a bite out of my apple. “What?” he asks. “I’m only saying. You would be good at it. You would enjoy it wouldn’t you?”
I look away, munching on my apple. I have no idea why Joe suddenly seems so interested in my future employment. “Don’t talk about it,” I tell him quickly, when I see him open his mouth to say more. He laughs at me.
“What? Why not?”
“I don’t want to hear about it,” I tell him, and I mean it. “I don’t want to have those depressing kinds of conversations thank you.” This makes Joe laugh louder and longer, so I glare at him.
“Tell me what is depressing about that?” he asks. “I thought you’d enjoy something like that!”
“No,” I say to him, and hurl my half eaten apple across the grass. “I don’t. I hate having conversations like that. They are so depressing. I don’t want to think about getting older, or having a job, or anything like that.”
“Well it’s gonna’ happen, so you might as well get used to it mate.”
“I know that, don’t I? I am well aware of the inevitable passing of time and the result that has on our ages, but I don’t particularly enjoy talking about it, okay?”
Rozzer is racing back across the field towards us with a huge stick between his jaws. He drops it at Joe’s feet, but when Joe goes to pick it up, Rozzer leaps forward and snatches it up again, almost severing Joe’s fingers in the process. He races off again and Joe shakes his head and swears at him. I can see Gremlin trotting along in the distance, close to the hedgerow with his nose to the ground. I cross my arms tightly across my chest and keep them there. I feel foul. I really do. I feel so angry I could easily smash someone in the face. I want to be alone, in my bed and none of them will let me. I want to be thin and get thinner, but they won’t let me do that either. Joe is looking at me for too long. “Are you all right?” he asks me.
“I don’t know,” I shrug at him. “Not really.”
“Well what’s the matter then? I mean, really. You can tell me. It’s not really normal to stay in bed for three days.”
We are at the park, and the last mother is leading her child away by the hand, whilst casting anxious looks Rozzer’s way every time he runs past her with the stick in his jaws. Joe climbs the little hill with the slide built in, and flops down on the dead brown grass there. I sit down next to him with my knees bent and my arms resting on them. “So?” he prompts me. “You can tell me, can’t you? Was it just the whole thing with Marianne?”
I rub my forehead with the heel of my hand, because my head really fucking hurts. “I don’t know,” I tell him honestly. “I was just so tired, Joe. So, you know, fed up. Just wanted to stay there.”
“Marianne’s fault,” he nods at me.
“No. You can’t blame her for everything.”
“She cut your arm!” he sees fit to remind me angrily, and I can see that his disgust towards her is never very far from the surface. “What kind of friend does that, Lou? That’s totally weird and psycho!”
“You don’t understand. You don’t understand her.”
“I don’t want to understand her. I think she’s a spoiled stuck-up bitch with a fucked up mind and I haven’t got any time for her now.” He stares out across the field, as Rozzer charges after a pigeon, barking ferociously.
“It wasn’t just her,” I say, dropping my aching head into my arms.
“What was it then?”
“Yeah, all of it. I don’t like the thought of stuff, that’s all. There’s so much I don’t like the thought of.” I keep my head in my arms, my eyes closed tightly. I feel like I am on my own, back under my duvet, talking to myself. I know, that if I look up and see his face, then I won’t be able to say any of the things I am thinking. Is that the way it is for everyone? Or are there some lucky people who are able to voice their exact thoughts and feelings in such a way, that everyone understands them instantly?
“You don’t like the thought of getting a job one day?” Joe asks me patiently.
“Or going back to school,” I add. “Or eating meals. Or talking to people and pretending to like them. Or traipsing through each day, not knowing anything, not having a clue.”
“Lou,” I feel him place a hand on my shoulder. “I don’t know what you mean. I mean, the school and job bit I get. I feel the same sometimes, but you just got to get on with it, you know? How about you think about all the fun we should be having? How about we just have more fun? You know, more parties and get togethers, and laughing and stuff? We haven’t done enough of that lately.”
I don’t answer him because my train of thought has hit a crossroads and gone two ways at the same time. It’s gone. It’s all gone, I realise. I was close, I had it on the tip of my tongue, how to explain to him how I feel. But now it’s gone, it’s slipped away from me like a dream. I sigh and lift my head and rub my eyes, and he squeezes my shoulder once, and then drops his hand.
“I don’t like seeing you like this,” he says. “This isn’t the real you.”
I look at him, frowning. “Isn’t it?”
“No. The real you is cynical and sarcastic and hilarious all right, but not down and dopey and depressed. The real you is on the verge of an argument most the time, and the real you stands up for people even when it’s not good for you.”
I don’t know what he means, but I feel warmed and touched by what he is saying, and I think, oh I wish I could see myself like that! “Thanks,” I smile at him.
“It’s true,” he nods. “That’s why you are my best friend, you idiot. All those times you’ve stepped in and spoke up for me at home. You’ve never just stood there and said nothing, never.”
I nod at him and smile. He looks so sincere, so serious that I almost want to laugh. I bump him with my shoulder, and then pull away, although part of me wants to stay close to him. I lie down instead. I stretch out on my back under the sky. I fold my hands together on my belly and watch the streaks of white cloud rolling along above us. Joe lies next to me. He is silent for a few minutes, and we watch the clouds, and listen to Rozzer barking far away. “Are you going to be okay?” he asks me then.
“Course I am.”
“No, but I mean really. You’re going to start eating again, aren’t you?”
I suck in breath and feel my stomach muscles tightening under my hands. I just wish I could tell him how I really feel about eating and getting fat or thin, but I am scared to. I am scared now that he will report back to my mum and she will send me to the doctor. “Course I am,” I tell him.
“But properly I mean? Your mum is really worried about you.”
“I just have to be careful, that’s all,” I explain to him. “I don’t want to get fat again.”
“You never were fat!”
“That’s easy for you to say Joe. I was fat. I was a fat pig. And I don’t want to be that ever again. I can’t be that ever again.” I feel my breath hitch, my voice break, oh crap, I don’t want to cry in front of him again. I have these awful fuzzy memories of sobbing endlessly under his duvet. Oh Christ. I stop talking and take some deep breaths and close my eyes for a moment. Joe stays silent beside me. So many thoughts are rushing through my head, you know all the things you think but never say, all the things you cannot say, all the feelings you have no words for. It is so frustrating, I think. “Let’s talk about something else,” I say finally, opening my eyes.
“I don’t want to talk about anything else until I know you’re okay,” says Joe softly. My heart feels crushed. Does anyone else ever feel like that World? How do I explain that, without sounding insane? Maybe I am insane.
“It’s so hard to explain Joe,” I say instead. “I just can’t explain.”
“Maybe you need to try. Try and explain. You always keep everything to yourself. You put on a brave face and everything. You don’t have to do that with me.”
I sigh heavily yet again. “I wish I could get drunk with you.”
“I don’t know. That’s what I feel like doing.”
“We can do that if you like.”
“As long as it’s not with Marianne, and you be straight with me for once.”
“Might not be a great idea,” I say then. “Drink and me don’t seem to mix well lately.”
“I’ll look after you.”
I want to turn to him then. I want to turn my face to his and find a way to thank him, for being so amazing, for always being on my side, for being him. I want to take his face in my hands and kiss him. I want to snuggle up with him, like we did under the duvet in his bed. I want my head to be on his chest, and his arm around my shoulders, because those made me feel better, made me feel okay. I felt safe. Tears rise to the surface of my eyes yet again, so I cover them with my arms. Why? Why do I hide them?
“Okay,” he says then, propping himself up on one elbow. “If getting drunk will get you to spill your guts, then so be it. We’ll do it. I don’t care if you cry or whatever. Are you up for it?” I nod glumly in reply. I feel heavy and repulsive in my own body. I feel trapped and submerged and weighed down. I can’t imagine ever having the will or the strength to get back up again. What the fuck is wrong with me? Joe sits up just as Rozzer arrives panting at his side. He pulls the dog in for a wrestle, but Rozzer breaks away and tears off again, barking. “When shall we do it?” he asks me. “Tonight? I can come to yours on the pretence I am helping sort you out?”
“How will we get away with it? They’re watching us like hawks.”
“Dog walk,” he smiles. “Park. Cider. Simple as.”
“Okay,” I agree, and force myself to sit up and wipe my eyes. “I better go home then, and make my mum feel better. Then we might have a chance.”
“Result.” Joe gets to his feet and holds his hand down to me. I look at it for a moment before grabbing it and letting him help me up. He slings his arm around my neck, and we walk down the hill from the slide. “You know I’ve seen a drum kit for sale in the paper? One I can afford?”
“Really? That’s so cool Joe.”
“I know. Going to phone them later.”
“Nice one. I can’t wait to hear you play.”
We walk back across the sun-parched field. The blue skies rolling above us, the clouds watching us go. I don’t like the thought of going home. I don’t like the thought of talking to anyone, about anything. But I don’t want to let Joe down. We arrange to meet back at the park at seven o’clock.
“It’s a date,” Joe grins, and walks off towards his house.