Dear World, we stay in all day. Joe sleeps for hours. When he finally emerges, he looks even worse, if that is possible. My mum sees him shuffle into the kitchen, and she can’t help herself, the first thing she does is wrap her arms around him. I get up and make him tea and toast, which he barely touches. The whole time he can’t stop shivering, even though it is a gorgeous summer day. I try to talk to him. I try to get him talking, but he just sits in silence all day, with his head in his hand. My mum asks him when he has to go to court and he says he doesn’t know. He sits there all day, with shiny eyes, but does not cry again. Eventually my mum gets up with a sigh and announces that she is going to speak to Lorraine. Joe barely looks at her.
When she is gone my phone rings so I answer it. “Hiya!” Marianne yells down the phone at me, hurting my ear. I roll my eyes at Joe, still sat in the kitchen. I am not in the right mood to talk to her or deal with her. She must be calling on her landline, I think. If her mobile had come up, I would not have answered it.
“Hi Marianne, you okay?”
“Yes, more than okay, I am great! My parents have buggered off again, so got the place to myself! I was thinking about another party!”
I can’t believe what I am hearing, so I sort of slump against the wall and groan inwardly. “Oh I don’t know,” I tell her. “I’m not sure about that.”
“Well I mean a smaller one obviously,” she goes on breathlessly. “I wouldn’t have the time to contact everyone for a big one. I was thinking you and Joe, Josh and Ryan, Leon and Travis, maybe a few more? Anyone they want to bring!”
“It’s probably not the best time, that’s all,” I try to tell her. I can tell by the look on Joe’s face that he does not want me to tell her about his arrest.
“Why not? What else you doing? What you up to then?” She sounds sort of hyper, I think, like she is bouncing around the room while she speaks to me.
“Um,” I say, while I try to think fast, try to think of excuses. “It’s just I got family stuff on, you know. Stuff to do. I think I’m busy all weekend really.”
There is silence from her end. I wait for her to fill it but she does not. I breathe out slowly and imagine her standing still, her eyes filling with rage towards me. “Marianne? You there?”
“Yes. Yes. I am here. Okay then fine. I could come over to you? Have a girly sleepover?”
Oh Christ, I think desperately. Why does she have to call now? Why does she have to be like this right now? “I’m really sorry Marianne,” I say this firmly. “I really can’t this weekend. I’ll call you on Monday, okay?”
“Okay. Fine then.”
“Don’t be like that…”
“Like what? No, it’s fine. Fine. Bye.” That’s it. She hangs up. I roll my eyes again look at Joe.
“Well that pissed her off,” I shrug at him in exasperation. He nods very slightly. “Shall I make us some lunch then?” He looks down. I lean against the doorframe and try to think of inspiring and encouraging things to say. But there are none. He has been arrested for suspected drug dealing. I have no idea what is going to happen to him, but in the long run it does not look good, does it?
So I fiddle around making us cups of coffee, and looking through the cupboards to see what we can eat for lunch. Not eating does not even enter my mind, though I am not sure why. It does not seem quite so important, that’s all. Joe does. I am grilling some bacon for bacon sandwiches, when my mum hurries back in through the front door and slams her handbag down on the hall table. Joe and I both look up at her with wide, expectant eyes. “Well,” she says, placing her hands on her hips and taking us both in. “I have good news and bad news.”
“Good first,” I say quickly. “I think we need it.”
“Okay,” she nods. “Well the police were unable to track down the other guy on the bridge, so they have no real evidence to charge Joe with intent to supply. Your mum spoke to them this morning,” she looks at Joe and says. “They are charging you with possession. You’ll still go to court, but at your age, with no previous convictions, you are more than likely to receive a fine, and maybe some community service.”
I look at Joe in amazement. He looks confused. He pulls at his sore bottom lip with his thumb and finger and frowns at my mum. He has not brushed his hair and it is all over the place. “That’s brilliant isn’t it Joe?” I prompt him eagerly. “That’s much less serious!” He nods, considering it.
“I guess so.”
“What was the bad news?” I ask my mum. She sighs and folds her arms, and then I see her sniff and peer around me to take in the bacon under the grill. A confused look crosses her face and then she smiles ever so slightly.
“Oh,” she says, “the bad news comes from Mick. He does not want you back. Well, not yet. Your mum is working on him.”
“Well that’s not bad news!” I laugh. “That’s good news! You wouldn’t go back there anyway, would you Joe?”
“Lou,” my mum says softly. “It will be in Joe’s best interests to make things right again with his family. But anyway, for now, he can stay here. I am sure Mick will calm down and change his mind soon enough.”
I lean forward and punch Joe softly in the shoulder. “Not so bad then?” I ask him. He manages a small smile and nods at me.
“Are you making bacon sandwiches?” my mum enquires, trying to peer past me again.
“Yep. Joe’s favourite.”
“Any spare for me?”
“I think we can stretch to it,” I say with a grin.
Five minutes later the three of us are gathered around the kitchen table, sinking our teeth into warm bacon sandwiches, smeared with tomato sauce. I think, this is crazy, but nothing in my life has ever tasted as good as this does. My mum tries not to look at me too much, and she certainly holds her tongue about me eating lunch, but I can feel it in the air around her, I can feel how happy she is, how relieved she is. I tell myself in a new calm voice I had no idea existed within me, that I can go for a nice run later. I’ve missed my runs. I can go for a nice run, and as long as I do that regularly, I’ll never get as fat as I was, will I? As long as I am sensible. I wonder if I tell myself this enough, will I start to really believe it?
Joe and I return to my room after lunch. He seems a bit brighter, but is still not exactly talkative. He flicks through my CD collection, and tosses each one aside with increasing disgust. “You are stuck in the sixties!” he tells me irately. “You weren’t even born then, but you’re stuck in the sixties!”
“I like it. I like all that stuff.”
“We could go back to mine and get my music.”
“Oh. I don’t know. Maybe not.”
Joe runs his fingers back through his hair. “It’s okay,” he says, but his voice sounds unsure to me. “Mum and Mick will be at work.”
“What about Leon and Travis?”
He shrugs at me. “What about them?”
“Have you decided what to do?”
“Nothing. I just want my music Lou. I want to get my music and my money. You know for the drums. I can’t leave it there.”
I had forgotten about his money. I had totally forgotten. I make a growling noise and cover my mouth with my hands for a moment, while I look at his pleading eyes and try to work out what to do. I don’t want to go over there, no fucking way. But I can see his point. “Okay,” I say eventually. “I’ll come with you. And we’ll tell mum what we’re doing. I’m so impressed with her at the moment, I think she deserves my honesty.”
Joe frowns and smiles at me at the same time. “How sweet.”
“It is though. I’m glad. And you ate lunch! You ate bacon.”
“I’ll say it again. Fuck off.”
Joe snorts and I see a small amount of light return to his eyes. “Wasn’t really much fun collapsing all over the place then?” he goads me. I narrow my eyes and stand in front of him.
“I’m going to smack you in your sore lip in a minute if you don’t shut up.”
He slaps my shoulder. “Chill out Carling. I’m just joking.” I push him towards the bedroom door.
“Come on, if we’re doing this let’s get it over with. I am all kinds of scared right now.”
We find mum in the back garden. She is on her knees, weeding her flowerbeds. Gremlin is lying next to her, panting in the sun. “Mum, is it okay if we go to Joe’s house to get more of his stuff?” I ask her, holding up a hand to shield my eyes from the glaring sun. Mum sits back on her feet and looks at us worriedly.
“Oh I don’t know guys.”
“He needs his stuff,” I point out. “His clothes and stuff. Toothbrush. His breath stinks you know.”
Joe elbows me. “Oi!”
“Sorry. But it does. We’ll be super quick mum. In and out. Mick and Lorraine will be at work, won’t they?”
“I think so,” she sighs. “But if their cars are there, I want you to turn around and come straight back, do you hear? I’ll go over there later for Joe’s stuff.”
“Okay, we will,” I promise. “See you in a bit.”
We pile back into the house, and as we head down the hallway my phone rings again in my pocket. “Fuck’s sake,” I curse under my breath and snatch it up. “Hello?”
“Lou, it’s me again.”
I mouth ‘Marianne’ at Joe and he rolls his eyes in sympathy and shoves his hands into his pockets while he waits. “Hi Marianne.”
“I was just wondering if you wanted to come over?”
“Um, I can’t, remember? I said I was busy all weekend.”
“Busy with Joe?”
“No. Well yes actually, but look, it’s a long story, loads has happened, and I can’t tell you over the phone so…”
“No, it’s not like that, it’s just actually he’s sort of staying with us at the moment,” I make apologetic faces at Joe as I see his expression darkening. “I can’t go into it on the phone. He’s got family problems.”
“So you lied earlier?”
“No, I said family stuff didn’t I?”
“You said your family.”
“Oh Marianne, what does it matter?” I snap at her. “Look Joe needs me at the moment, and I’ll explain it all when I see you, so…”
“Doesn’t matter,” she snaps back at me, and hangs up the phone.
“Oh Jesus Christ, what is her problem?” I cry at Joe, who just shrugs carelessly in return. “She’s all pissed off with me!”
“She’s a nutter, I told you. Forget about it.”
“Why did she call back? For God’s sake, I told her I was busy.”
“Nutter,” Joe says again. “Come on let’s go. I’m getting all jumpy.”
The August sun pounds down on us when we step outside. It seems to bounce off the pavements, making them too bright to look straight at. Every car we pass seems to fire spiky rays of startling sunlight into our brains. We look down and walk on. Joe falls silent again, and I suppose I cannot blame him. His whole life has been turned upside down, one way or another. Even if he escapes jail and is allowed home, I know things will never be the same for him again. He looks increasingly sombre as we head towards his house. We go the long way around without even discussing it. Neither of us relishes the thought of passing the shop while Lorraine is at work.
We get to his road and look around. There are no cars in front of the house. It looks like no one is home. “Wonder where the brats are?” I ask quietly.
“Neighbours have had them lately,” Joe shrugs.
“Have you got a key to get in?”
“No. Mick took it off me.”
“So how do we get in then brainiac?”
“Around the back,” he says, and walks off. I follow him around to the back alley and we walk down it, stepping over bags of rubbish and broken bikes and old TV sets. The back gate is open. He strides up to the back door and just walks in.
“Unlocked?” I ask, shaking my head.
“Broken,” he corrects me, and shows me the floppy door handle. “It won’t lock.”
“Handy for us.”
We stand in the kitchen for a few awkward moments, looking around us. I feel like it is a strange and hostile place, all of a sudden, instead of one I have known since a baby. I am guessing Joe feels sort of the same. He certainly does not seem comfortable or at ease in the slightest. He rubs one arm up and down, shivers, and then heads for the lounge. “Come on then,” he says. “We’ve got to be quick about it.”
We pound up the stairs and into his room. It’s a complete wreck. It looks like Mick has thrown a massive tantrum in here. Joe swallows as he looks around at it all. His posters have all been torn down and screwed up. His clothes are out of the wardrobe and scattered across the floor. It is creepy and shocking, and I want to get the hell out of there as fast as possible. I find his school rucksack on the floor and start to fill it quickly with clothes. Joe snaps himself out of his daze, grabs a holdall from the top of the wardrobe and kneels down on the floor, scooping up armfuls of his belongings and throwing them in. “Your money?” I say to him at one point, and he looks up and yanks open the top drawer of his bedside table. He grabs all the socks and boxers and hurls them into the holdall, and then holds up one bulging sock and smiles at me.
“It’s okay. Look.”
“Good. Come on, hurry up.”
We crawl around the floor, grabbing everything we can salvage. His CD collection is half the size it used to be, as he hadn’t managed to replace any of the ones Mick smashed that day, but he packs them all in and zips up the holdall. He is breathless and his forehead gleams with sweat. I am still packing up, having found his schoolbooks under his bed, but he stand up suddenly and stares down at the floor, breathing quickly. “What are you doing?” I ask him.
“Just want to check something,” he replies and walks out of the room.
“Joe!” I call after him impatiently, but I do not follow. I carry on packing his rucksack until I cannot squeeze any more in. I do the zip half the way up, and push my hair back out of my face. I feel my heart drumming quickly in a kind of panic, but I don’t understand why. Just then Joe marches back into the room, his hair hanging over his eyes, and his hands full. I look at him in confusion. And then I yelp. “Joe! What the fuck!” He is holding two bags of cocaine. Just like the bags we found that day in his brothers wardrobe. Christ how I wish we had never taken them. Christ, how I wish I had never opened that wardrobe door…. He raises his head to stare at me, his mouth hanging open in awe.
“They’ve got more!” he practically screams at me. “They’ve got a fucking load more!”
I climb to my feet. I grab both of the bags we have filled. I want to cry. “Joe,” I say in desperation. “Just put it back, put it back now!”
“They’ve got more!” he says again, his eyes wide in wonder and disbelief. “It was all gone, and now they’ve got more!”
“Joe,” I beg him, “it doesn’t matter, leave them to it, let’s just go! Just put it back and we can go!”
He shakes his head at me. I watch anger clouding his eyes. He keeps shaking his head and staring at the bags. “I can’t believe they got more.”
“Joe! Just put it back, I am begging you! It doesn’t matter!”
“It does fucking matter!” he roars at me then, and his face is so dark, and his mouth twists in rage and grief. “They lied to me the whole time!”
“What do you mean?”
“That they nicked it, that they found it in a car they robbed. That the amount they had was it. Just one load. It was gone.” He shakes his head, utterly confused, yet filling steadily with rage. “It was gone Lou! So what the hell is this? Where the fuck did this come from? There’s loads in there! They’ve got more!”
I walk forward and grip his arm with my hand. “Joe,” I say to him. “Just put it back. Put it back right now. We have to get out of here. Just leave them to it.”
“No,” he says, pulling away from me and scraping back his hair. “No fucking way. They lied to me!”
“They’re always lying!”
“They lied to me about all of it!”
“Joe please, just put it back and lets go. I’m going!” I try to shock him by grabbing the bags and bundling past him. I head for the stairs. “Come on!” I call back at him. He storms past the stairs and into the bathroom. I am confused. “Joe what are you doing?”
“Flushing it!” he yells back, kicking the bathroom door open.
“What? Are you insane?” I drop the bags again and run after him. He is kneeling down in front of the toilet. He is tearing a hole in one of the bags. I am terrified and overwhelmed and desperate to be out of there. “You can’t do that!” I hiss over his shoulder. “Are you crazy?”
“I’m putting an end to it,” he says. He starts to pour out the first bag. I stare in horror as Leon’s drugs pour in a neat white stream into the toilet bowl.
“Oh my god Joe, they will kill you,” I say breathlessly. I try to stop him. I try to pull his arm back but he pulls away.
“I’m ending it,” he says again. “I’m getting rid of it all.”
“Joe they’ll kill you. They will fucking kill you! You can’t do this!”
“You should be helping me!” he cries back at me, tossing back his hair long enough to glare angrily at me. “You’ve had enough of them too! Look what they’ve done to us! They’ve lied to us and lied to us. They’ve had us running all over the estate with this fucking shit and I’ve had enough. So I’m ending it. I’m getting rid of all of it.”
There is nothing I can do but stand and watch. He flushes the toilet and the first bag is gone. I have no idea how much money he has just flushed down the loo, but it is sort of horrifying and mesmerising at the same time. My stomach feels sick to the core. I can barely breathe. “Hurry up,” I beg him, nearly in tears. “Don’t do all of them Joe. Let’s just go!” He ignores me and tears open the next bag. When that one is all gone, he gets up and stomps back into his brother’s room. I stare down at the bubbling toilet. I chew my nails. He comes back and kneels down again and starts digging a hole into another bag.
“Drug dealers,” he is snarling to himself. “They lied. They never found it. It was never a one off. They’re drug dealers, and that’s it. They lied, they lied, they lied to me. They’ve ruined my fucking life. I can’t even live here anymore, because of them!”
I don’t know what to say, so I keep quiet. I only know I have never been so terrified in my entire life. But all that changes when I hear the front door opening. My eyes grow wider and wider. Joe does not hear. He keeps flushing the drugs. I listen again. Was I imagining it? Oh my shitting God. The front door. The front door. The front door!
“Joe,” I put my hand on his shoulder. My hand is shaking so much it looks like a blur. Joe jerks to his feet when he hears the footsteps on the stairs. He has half a bag of cocaine in one hand, and as he stands next to the toilet and stares in terror at the landing, the rest of the bag empties slowly into the toilet bowl, and that is how Leon finds us, when he arrives at the top of the stairs.