Dear World, we end up walking to the park. The fucking park. I look at it with a kind of hate and scorn I have never viewed it with before. How many hours of my life have I spent in this park? We sit up on the hill, just as I did with Joe earlier, and Marianne gets her stuff out of her bag and spreads it all out on the grass and proceeds to roll us a joint. I lie on my stomach, chew a stem of crispy grass, and stare out at the park, and the fields beyond. I think, look at this here, this is my entire life! This is it, right here. This park, and this field, and school, and the fucking walk over the bridge to get there, and the town, and the bus ride in, and the quay and the tourists, and the ducks and the swans, and the Priory church, and a terraced house, and noisy neighbours, and the parade of shops, and everyone knowing who you are and where you live, and the men’s club, and the car parks and the alley ways and the Provident loan lady and the Avon lady calling, and the Christmas hampers that take all year to pay for. This is it. This is all of it. I feel my shoulders shaking with strange laughter. Marianne looks and me and smiles as she rolls the joint.
“I’m just looking at this fucking place, that’s all.”
“Looking, and thinking what?”
“I don’t know. Thinking what the fuck? Is this all there is to life? Do you ever think that?”
“I always think that,” she grins, finishing the joint and packing her tin back into her bag. She sticks the smoke between her teeth, finds a lighter and flicks up the flame. “And I have a nice big house and rich parents.”
“Oh yeah. And you still think that?”
“I think that even more. It’s all pointless. It all means nothing really. I look at my parents, rushing around, full of stress, knocking back coffee and vodka and wine, on the phone all the fucking time, fucking business suits and brief cases!” Marianne lifts her chin and grimaces at the sky. “Grrrrr!” she growls, and then looks at me and laughs. I smile. “Honestly! They kill me. On a daily basis. I swear, every single time they speak I want to puke.”
“Oh Marianne, they can’t be that bad,” I laugh at her. “They seem lovely!”
“Lovely! Who wants to be lovely?”
“Not you obviously!”
“Fuck no.” She passes me the joint and lies down on her belly next to me, kicking her shoes off, and waving her feet back and forth. “No one should. Who would aspire to be lovely?”
“Did Leon think you were lovely?” I ask with a giggle. Marianne nudges me sharply with her spike of an elbow. “What?”
“Oh how did I know you were going to ask me that soon enough?”
“Well you wanted to come here and talk lady. I was quite happy minding my own business.”
“How’s your head now?”
I pass the joint back to her and grimace. “Not good. Come on then. Tell me what it was like with Leon. Now we are both sober. Tell me everything!”
Marianne giggles and looks down shyly, and plucks a stem of grass between her thumb and finger. “It was nice,” she says, smiling. “It was very nice. He certainly knew what he was doing.”
“I bet he did. I hope you were safe by the way. I hear he gets around!”
“Of course we were safe,” she groans at me. “I’m not an idiot.”
“Did you talk much?” I wonder. “He’s never been much of a talker.”
“I talked a lot!” she laughs, puffing smoke out in front of her. “You know me. I didn’t shut up! He listened though. He seemed to really listen.” She takes another long drag of the joint and hands it to me. She looks down for a moment, playing with the grass with her fingers, stroking the stems back and forth, and then she raises her glittering green eyes to me. “It might surprise you to hear, that he was actually incredibly gentle and loving.” She nods and grins at my widening eyes. “It’s true! He was really lovely Lou. Really gentle and considerate. He didn’t even rush off after or anything. We laid in bed and talked for about an hour.”
I am shaking my head slowly from side to side. “Un-fucking-believable.” I think to myself, if there were two words I would never in a million years associate with Leon Lawrenson, it would be those two. Gentle and considerate. Unbelievable.
“Well it’s true. I wouldn’t lie. I would tell you if he was a complete shit, believe me.”
“Have you heard from him since?”
“No,” she answers too quickly, and that gives it away. I feel sorry for her then. I look away and smoke the joint, and feel my head getting fuzzier and fluffier, and the feeling spreads down through my body, lifting me up slightly, removing me from the reality of it all. I feel woozy and light-headed, and slightly sick, but my head is feeling better. “I don’t expect to. You don’t sleep with someone at a party like that and ever hear from them again, do you?” I don’t answer her because how the fuck would I know? “No,” she answers for me. “I expect I’ll bump into him again at some point, and that’s fine. I am cool with it. Does it surprise you to know he’s not the total arsehole you always thought he was?”
I laugh out loud and pass back the joint. “He’s still an arsehole as far as I’m concerned! Well, actually, now that you mention it, he did kind of do one good thing for Joe for a change.”
Marianne looks interested. “What was that?”
“Just stood up for him at home. Him and Travis. Joe and Mick got in a fight, and they came and backed him up. Don’t think they’ve ever done that before.”
“Wow,” she says, looking both intrigued and surprised. “That’s really nice! And speaking of Travis, that brings me to my question for you! Are you hoping to see him again?”
I just groan and moan and drop my face into my arms. My head is then too heavy and fucked to lift back up again, so I stay like that for ages, just mumbling and moaning to myself, while she shakes and laughs beside me, and I am left wondering how I could have feared seeing her again so much, because I am actually enjoying myself, I am actually enjoying her company. She stubs out the joint and digs around in her bag again. She pulls out a bag of haribo sweets and opens them, and places them between us. “Best thing ever for munchies,” she remarks, plucking one out. I just roll my eyes and then close them again before I am tempted.
“It’s all right for you,” I tell her. “You can eat whatever crap you like and you never put on weight. It’s so not fair.”
“These are pretty low in calories,” she assures me, taking another. I just shake my head and grab my water bottle instead. “So you’re still at it then?”
“Yeah, and running. You’re looking increasingly stick like Lou.”
“Is that a compliment or what?”
“You look great,” she grins. “But you should still allow yourself the odd treat. A couple of sweets won’t do anything!”
I shake my bottle of water at her and unscrew the lid. I drink a few mouthfuls then screw the lid back on and chuck it in the grass before me. I drop my head back onto my arms and realise that I desperately want to sleep. “You’re not passing out on me or anything, are you?” she prods me and asks. I moan.
“I thought we could talk for a while?”
And so she does. Marianne talks about her night with Leon, and how she had instigated the whole thing, starting with the coy flirting I had witnessed before they vanished. She talks about him tracing his finger along her scars, without asking what they were or how she got them. She talks about how she spent the entire next day cleaning and tidying the house, and how her lovely parents never suspected a thing. She talks about having another party soon, and she talks about how she thinks Joe does not like her and never has.
Before I know it I am being prodded awake by urgent jabbing fingers, and I climb groggily out of pot-induced sleep. But thankfully my headache has subsided considerably. I look up at Marianne, who is kneeling down beside me and looking slightly anxious. “Sorry,” I mutter at her. “Didn’t mean to fall asleep. Don’t know what’s wrong with me lately.”
“It’s Joe,” she whispers.
“Joe. Coming across the field with his dog.”
“Oh! Shit.” I look across the field and sure enough, there he is, striding quickly towards us, with Rozzer running and darting around him, and a carrier bag swinging from one hand. He is walking fast and he does not look happy. “It can’t be seven o’clock?” I ask in amazement.
“It’s twenty past,” Marianne replies. “Oh please don’t let him kick off with me again.” I am surprised that she cares. She can hold her own in an argument and we all know it.
“Oh Christ, I bet my mum is having a fit,” I groan, rubbing at my eyes, and then at my head. “We had this massive row before I came out.”
Marianne does not answer. Instead she packs up her things and slings her bag onto her shoulder. I cannot really believe that she is worried about what Joe will say to her. Since when has she ever cared what people think of her? “Are you off?” I ask her. She nods. Joe is upon us and does not smile at either of us.
“Hi,” I call out weakly. He climbs the hill and stops in front of us and folds his arms across his t-shirt.
“Your mum is going mental,” he informs me tightly. I grimace.
“Sorry Joe. Fell asleep here. Just woke up!” I smile at him uselessly. Marianne climbs to her feet and flicks back her hair.
“I’m off,” she says brightly, looking down at me. “Better not be late home.”
Joe looks at her darkly but does not say anything to her. He drops his carrier bag onto the grass and a bottle of cider rolls out. Marianne looks at it, and then at me, before shrugging her shoulders and starting to walk away. “See you later Lou. Joe.”
“Bye Marianne. Thanks.”
Joe says nothing. He waits until she has walked away, back across the field towards where you cut through to her house, and the drops down beside me, still with his arms crossed tightly. “Joe,” I start to say softly, as I can feel the resentment and anger coming from him in rolling waves.
“What the fuck are you doing here with her?” he snarls at me then. I blink in surprise. I think, the last time I saw him this angry was at Hogan’s party, when he attacked Travis. I blow my breath out slowly.
“Joe,” I say again, meaning to explain how I just bumped into her by accident, and everything is okay, and everything is smoothed out.
“You come here with her!” he says, sounding and looking like he would like to punch me in the face. I am finding it hard to look at him. “That fucking mad bitch! What did you come here with her for? Come to sit here and carve yourselves up together or something?” I look up at his face in stunned silence. I cannot believe he has just said that!
“Well, what then?” he yells. “What are you doing here with her?”
“I bumped into her by accident!” I yell back and I sit up. My head starts to pound a little again. I glare back at him, as he is glaring at me. “I had a row with mum and stormed out of home, and just bumped into her! What are you so mad about?”
“I’m mad because she is a fucking little bitch! I’m mad because you said if and when you spoke to her, you would do it fucking sober!” He runs his eyes over me and lifts his top lip in disgust. “And you obviously aren’t! And I’m mad because you were meant to be meeting me! Instead I get your mother all crying and stuff, wanting to know where the hell you are!” He unfolds his arms and rakes one hand back through his hair. “Jesus Christ Carling! What the fuck is your problem at the moment? You used to be normal!”
“No I didn’t,” I shake my head at him. Now I want to punch his face in. “What the hell is your problem? You knew I wanted to speak to her, and I have! We got stoned, not drunk, and if you want to know the truth, it’s done me a lot of good!”
“Did she explain why she cut you then? Eh?”
“It’s not like that,” I press my hands against my face in exasperation. “I didn’t want to really go into that. Look we were both hammered that night, Joe! People do stupid things when they are that drunk, you know that. She was really worried about me actually, about our friendship.”
“Yeah, right, bollocks!”
“What do you think she is, dangerous or something? For God’s sake Joe, you don’t own me, I can be friends with who I like, and to be honest I don’t exactly have that many fucking options!”
He is shaking his head, his lips pressed tightly together. He tears his angry gaze away from me, and snatches the bottle of cider up from the ground. He lifts it, showing it to me. “Want some?” he sneers. “Because this morning you wanted to get drunk with me, remember? So you could talk and stuff.”
“I still do.”
“Can’t believe you’ve been up here with her,” he mutters this to himself, as he unscrews the lid from the cider, and the orange bubbles rise up and froths out over his hand. He swears and shakes it off, then lifts the bottle to his mouth and drinks. I watch him, not knowing what to say or do to calm him down. His face is flushed. His eyes are narrowed. He lowers the bottle, burps and drags his hand across his mouth. “I don’t trust her,” he says then. “I don’t trust people like that! She knows what she’s doing Lou. You just can’t see it!”
“What is she doing then? You tell me.” I take the bottle as he holds it out to me and drink from it slowly.
“She’s manipulating you all the time,” he says. “You even said yourself you don’t know if she’s your friend or your enemy! Remember? She’s sneaky and sly, and she should not have done that to you that night! For fucks sake!” He snatches the cider back and drinks more.
“Just calm down,” I try to tell him. “You don’t need to worry about me so much, you know. I’m a big girl! And I’m not an idiot. I can figure Marianne out for myself. Maybe I’ll always keep her at a safe distance, you know? Either way, it’s nice to have female friends.”
“Nice?” Joe practically explodes at me, cider dribbling down his chin. “Nice to have female friends who try to get you self-harming, or whatever the fuck you call it? When you already have enough fucking issues? Yeah, that’s really nice Carling. Really, really nice of her. She’s a fucking angel!”
I look down and say nothing. I think anything I try to say will just come out wrong and enrage him more. I wait for him to pass the bottle back and take a few more mouthfuls. I wonder vaguely what my mum will think now. Christ. I just seem to keep making things worse. I just seem to fuck up every single day I exist in. We pass the cider back and forth between us silently for what seems like ages. During this time, Joe does not look at me once. He stares at the ground, like he is in a trance, and just feels with his fingers for the cider bottle before raising it to his lips. Then he stares up at the sky, and at the field, and the hedgerows where we can see Rozzer having a shit. I wonder why he can’t look at me. I wonder what the hell is going through his head. I start to feel really drunk and giddy and stoned. I remember uselessly that I didn’t eat all my salad, and start to wish Marianne had left her sweets behind for us.
It seems a wise idea to lie down again, so I do, this time on my back with my arms folded behind my head. “I’m sorry Lou,” I hear Joe say eventually, and I smile at him when he lies down beside me. He is still clutching the bottle of cider, but there is not much left.
“It’s okay, you idiot,” I tell him. “You had a right to be angry. I was meant to meet you.”
“You fell asleep.”
“And I’m sorry. I’m sorry you had to deal with my mum.”
I watch him drop a hand over his face and leave it there. I look at him sideways and can just make out the creases of skin around his eyes, where he has screwed them up tightly. “What’s wrong?” I ask him then. “You’re not just angry about Marianne are you?”
He snorts in reply. “What are you, a mind-reader?”
“No, just your best friend who has known you since you were in the womb. I can tell when something is up. What is it?”
“Fucking…” he starts and then trails off, still with his hand over his eyes. I wait for him to find the words he needs. “Just…..fucking Leon. That’s it.”
“I think I know. You mean deliveries?”
Joe nods under his hand. “He won’t take no for an answer.”
“Well he has to. You want out. He can’t make you.”
“I kind of agreed to one more.”
I roll onto my side and stare at him. “Joe!”
“I know, I know. Fucking idiot right?”
“Yes, fucking idiot! Why would you do that? Remember what you were saying this morning?”
“You have no idea how persuasive he can be,” Joe mumbles, refusing to look at me. I watch his chest rising and falling under his t-shirt. It has ridden up where it is too small for him now, and I can see a slice of his bare stomach. I watch it go in and out as he breathes under his hands.
“Joe,” I say to him. “Don’t do it. You don’t want to do it.”
“I’ve said it now. Can’t back out.”
“Course you can! What’s wrong with you? You don’t have to do it. Why did you let him talk you into it?” I want to smack him I am so cross. I also want to hug him, I am so confused. What has happened to him since this morning for fuck’s sake?
“Oh,” Joe lets out a moan, drops his hands away and rolls onto his side to face me. He grimaces in anticipation for how disgusted I am going to be with him. “It’s not the money,” he says quickly, although this was not what I was thinking. “It’s just hard to say no to him. You know how he is. Plus he reckons I owe him after he stuck up for me with Mick.”
“You are joking?” I ask in disbelief. “He sticks up for you once, he does one nice thing for you and now you owe him? More like he owes you! Jesus Christ, he is one cheeky bastard.”
“It won’t hurt to do one last one,” Joe says with a pathetic shrug.
“That’s not the point Joe. You said this morning you were done with it all. You were different this morning!”
“I know, I know.”
“And then you have the nerve to storm up here and have a go at me for trying to sort things out with Marianne!” I roll away from him then, shaking my head as I stare up at the sky. I am rather pissed, it has to be said. I am brimming with anger and disappointment. “I’m not coming with you,” I tell him rather spitefully.
“I didn’t ask you to.”
“I don’t know what is wrong with you. And you have a go at me!”
“Only because I care about you,” he says quietly. I don’t look at him. He sounds miserable and unsure. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I probably felt like a shit for letting Leon talk me into it, and took it out on you and Marianne. Sorry.”
“You can say sorry as much as you like,” I snap, and suddenly force myself up from the ground. I am too angry to be around him. I think it is probably the alcohol and the state of my mind generally, but if he wants to let his bullyboy brother wreck his life and talk him into crime, then that is up to him. I can’t be bothered anymore. I feel his eyes on me as I brush the dried grass from my clothes. “I’m going home.”
“I thought we were gonna’ talk?” he says, sitting up. “You know, you wanted to get drunk and talk? It was your idea!”
“Changed my mind,” I say and start to walk away. “I’m going home to bed. I feel like shit.”
“Lou!” he calls after me, but I don’t answer him and I don’t look back.