We spent the rest of Sunday listening to music at Billy’s house. Michael seemed cool and confident about everything, sprawled on the floor reading a magazine, while Jake rolled us smokes, and Billy rolled around laughing over the prank we had played. I didn’t feel like that funnily enough. I felt like I was in hiding. But I had to go home eventually. Billy shook his head when he had run out of laughter. “He’ll be painting the hall brown by now!” he said, nudging me with his elbow. We were side by side on his bed, our backs against the wall. “Anyway, listen,” he said then, suddenly coming over all serious, as he straightened up and smoothed his hair down with both hands. “I’ve got even more information from Steve!” His eyes were bright and eager and alert, and both Jake and Michael looked up from what they were doing, mouths falling open in intrigue. Me, I really resented the instant stirring of nerves in my gut. They made me want to wriggle and fidget. My mind wandered again, before I could prevent it, back to the hand on the neck, back to the squeeze. I didn’t think I wanted, or needed to hear what else Billy had to say. “He found out where Howard came from,” said Billy, leaning forward over his knees now that he had all eyes on him.
“Go on,” Michael urged, impatiently.
“He’s been at Nancy’s about three or four months. Came from somewhere in Essex originally. Apparently he’s been running bars and clubs all over the place for years, then stepped in and saved Nancy’s just before it went down the shit hole. He shows up with his money and experience, and suddenly things are on the up again. Now everyone’s talking about what a great place it is. Everyone wants to go.” Billy paused for breath. “That’s what Steve reckons anyway. The other thing is, he plays cards after closing sometimes with a bunch of other men. Some of them cops Steve reckons.”
We gazed around at each other, absorbing the information and what it might mean. I found Michael’s bright eyes firmly on me, as he nodded. “Very interesting,” he said. “He was just going on about cops being friends, wasn’t he Danny? Like he was trying to warn us, or threaten us or something.” I nodded in return, my expression solemn.
“Well anyway,” Billy went on. “Basically Steve warned us off the guy. He said don’t bother messing with him. His exact words. What do you think about that?”
Jake stuck a roll up between his teeth and shook his long fine hair from his eyes as he lit it up. “That is starting to sound like a bloody good idea,” he said. Michael glared at him instantly.
“What? Are you mental? This is even more reason to get rid of the guy Jake! You wouldn’t want someone like that hanging around your mother, would you?” Jake sighed and looked at me.
“Why don’t you just talk to your mum?” he asked. “Just tell her what you’re worried about. Tell her you don’t like him.”
I shook my head. “You don’t know my mum,” I told him. “She’d have a fit if she knew we’d been sneaking around, and the fact I hate him won’t bother her! Plus, this isn’t enough, this isn’t enough to prove he’s a bad guy.”
Jake looked frustrated and ran his long fingers back through his hair. “So what exactly is the point in all this then?”
“The point Jake, is to make life difficult for the guy and get rid of him!” Michael barked then, appearing genuinely aggravated that Jake did not see this as clearly as he did. “We have to mess with his head any way we can, find shit out about him and blackmail him, and get him away from Danny’s mum!” He rolled his eyes and looked back at me. “But mate,” he said, a little more gently. “At the end of the day it’s up to you whether we keep going or not. I don’t give a shit if we get in trouble, but it’s you who has to deal with the fallout at home.”
I released a sigh and glanced at Billy’s hi-fi system for a moment. The Clash were singing Guns of Brixton. When they knock down your front door, how you gonna’ come? They were asking me. With your hands on your head, or on the trigger of your gun? That was sort of what it came down to, I thought then. Do nothing, surrender, or put up a fight. I looked back at Michael and nodded. “I know but I don’t want that prick in my life, or my mum’s. It’ll be worth it, if it works.”
It was agreed. No backing down, no chickening out. We sat for the following hour, detailing the next shots we would take.
The fallout at first, was predictable enough. My mother was alone when I arrived home from Billy’s. I came in the back door, and found her in the kitchen. She was sat at the table, her back rigid, her face like stone, and her hands clasped firmly around the stem of a wine glass. Her eyes were red around the rims. “Wondering how the painting went by any chance?” she asked me as I tried to sneak past. There was a worrying shake to her voice. “Well we didn’t get much done in the end,” she sniffed, not looking at me. “Was the strangest thing really. Lee came down sick. I mean, really suddenly. Doubled up in agony he was. One moment he was fine, and the next…” She shook her head as if she could not fathom it, and finally she turned and her eyes locked on mine.
“Oh dear,” I said, not looking forward to what was about to erupt. She turned in her chair, turned right around, one hand on the wine glass and the other gripping the back of the chair.
“You boys think you’re so bloody clever don’t you? And don’t you dare come the innocent with me young man! I’ve been your mother long enough to know when you’re lying, which is most of the time! You little idiots put something in his drink, didn’t you?”
I said nothing. Just stood there with my arms hanging and my face blank. I just stared back into her quickly reddening face and felt my fear washing away. I wanted to laugh at her for some reason. I wanted to scream laughter right into her twisted little face. I wanted to say, yeah, so what? I kept my mouth shut. There were tears shining in her eyes, but her mouth was an ugly snarl. “We know that you did, so you don’t need to have the guts to admit it Danny. And what about his slashed tyres, eh? Funny that happening after you admitting damaging Frank’s car! And no other cars in the street are targeted! Like someone’s trying to give him a message, eh?” She paused, tilted her head, maybe giving me the opportunity to speak, but there was no point, so I stayed silent. “I wanted to call the police,” she said then. “But Lee wouldn’t hear of it. For some reason, he actually likes you and wants to be friends with you!” She got up then, still clutching her wine glass, and she seemed out of breath, as if if her anger was consuming all the oxygen. “I don’t know why I’m surprised at you Danny, but I never thought even you would stoop this low! Spiking someone’s drink! Do you know how dangerous that is? He’s been so ill he’s missed work! What the hell is wrong with you?”
I started to edge towards the door. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” I muttered uneasily. “We didn’t do anything.”
Her eyes shot wide open then. I moved quick, but she was quick getting after me, screeching; “Liar! You are nothing but a liar! I don’t believe a word you say, not ever! And it won’t work! Do you hear me, it won’t work!” I was on the stairs, pounding up them to escape her. “He told me!” she was screaming behind me. “He told me nothing you do will ever scare him away! It doesn’t matter what you little shits do! He loves me! Did you hear that you twisted little boy? He loves me and I love him back!”
I wrenched open my door and slammed it behind me. “I am ashamed to be your mother!” I heard her shriek. “If I knew where your dad was I would pack you off to him, because I have had enough!”
I slid the lock across the door and pressed my forehead into the wood. I could hear it vibrating with her noise. I stayed like that until her noise stopped. The house fell silent. I heard her car starting up outside, and then I was alone. It didn’t matter I thought, while I shook with rage and blinked away tears. It didn’t matter, what she said or thought about me, it didn’t fucking matter at the end of the day. All that mattered was the plan. All that mattered was keeping that creepy gorilla away from my home and my life. Love, I thought, my lips parting in a snarl, how the fuck could they love each other after a couple of weeks? “Bullshit,” I turned around and told Kurt Cobain. He stared back at me from above my bed. I’d bought the poster for £3.99 in Our Price, and it was the best one I had. Just him, glaring through his hair, looking like he felt how I felt most of the time in this life. Confused and pissed off. I stomped to my desk and hit play. Smells Like Teen Spirit throbbed it’s steady, building beat. I turned it up as loud as it would go. “Plan C is next anyway,” I said to the poster. “Plan C starts tomorrow, you stupid fuckers!”
“What the hell is Plan C anyway?” Billy wanted to know, when we were gathered again after school the next day. This time we were at Michael’s. He had returned home from school to find a note from his mother pinned to the fridge. She had gone to her sisters for a few days, and he was alone. We spread ourselves out in the lounge, the stereo on, blasting out The Stone Roses. Michael beamed and clapped his hands at the question.
“You’re gonna’ like Plan C,” he announced to us in confidence. “Plan C is prank call time!”
I was sprawled on the sofa with my legs dangling over the arm. I had a pile of tapes on my belly and was sorting through them. “Nice,” I nodded in response. “I like the sound of that. Subtle.”
Michael jerked his head towards the phone in the hallway. “Who wants to go first?”
Plan C was still in action a few weeks later, as school limped along towards the last week of term. The summer holiday stretched out beyond us like a promise. It would have dragged, that week, if we hadn’t had the plan to keep us busy. I kept out of the phone calls, which had become a daily source of fun for the gang. I’d played witness to a fair few though, and that was good enough. They would put on fake voices and call Howard at his flat, or at the club. They pretended to be people he owed money to, or women he had dumped, while I curled up with laughter in the background. When nothing came down on me at home, they got braver. They called the club and spoke to the staff, telling whoever answered the phone that Howard owed them money and if he didn’t pay it soon the club would be torched. Sometimes I was genuinely shocked by the stories Michael came up with. His voices were brilliant too. It was like he could create a believable and realistic character out of thin air, and then just become them totally, for however long the phone call lasted. Sometimes laughter would get the better of him though, and he would be forced to hang up and sink down to his knees, gasping for air. They were times that all four of us just ended up rolling around on the floor at Mike’s house, hugging our bellies as we screamed laughter at the ceiling. Every day, I slunk home, expecting the shit to hit the fan, expecting my mother and Howard to confront me, but nothing happened. Nothing. Howard stayed away, and my mother floated in and out of the house to see him, as if nothing could touch her, as if she knew and cared for nothing.
Towards the end of the week, the gang took things up yet another notch. I guess Michael was feeling untouchable, because even I was shocked when he told me what they had done the next day at school. They had snuck out together, dressed head to toe in black, and hurled a couple of bricks through the back windows of Howard’s club. Then they had scampered back off into the darkness. Hearing this, some nerves returned to chew at me, but I reminded myself that they were on my side, that was the thing. They were doing this for me, and also, it was working! Howard had stayed away, which was fine with me. John was packed up and leaving within the week. I had returned to being the invisible kid in my home, but that was okay, I reasoned. I scribbled in my notebook every chance I got, spilling out the details of the plan, clinging to my writing and my music, gathering them all together at the end of each day. And when it was all out of my system, I would just lie back and stare at the ceiling in relative peace, reflecting that it was all working, it was all coming together. I thought about the merit Mr James had awarded me in assembly for my story in the newspaper. I’d had to go up in front of everyone to collect it. Lucy told me that she kept a copy of the story under her pillow, and this admission flushed me right through with renewed hope that one day, maybe when we were older, something would happen between us.
Looking back, I was an idiot. We all were. We thought we were big and clever and rebellious and we thought we had some measure of control. We were all fooling ourselves. We were none of those things, and it didn’t take long for me to see this. On the last day of term I cycled home alone. We were meant to be meeting up later, at the beach. It was going to be brilliant. The whole school would be down there, they said. People were going to sneak drinks down there, and bring food and music. One huge out of control party was on the horizon. I had a faint smile on my lips as I cycled along, planning in my head what clothes I would change into, wondering if Lucy would be down there, wondering if I would have the guts to talk to her again…I was watching my front wheel rolling, and when I finally lifted my head, it was Howard’s silver Mercedes that I saw, parked in the drive, right in front of me. I yanked my brakes, and skidded to a standstill.
Okay, I thought, and started to weave my bike up onto the pavement towards the drive. Okay then. I climbed off my bike beside the long silver shark of a car. I just stood there for a few minutes, thinking. I could get back on my bike I thought. Get back on and get the hell out of there. Go down the beach early and wait for the party to start. Or, I could carry on, and walk inside my own house as if nothing had ever happened. I could put on the clothes I wanted to wear, and sort out some music and roll ups to take. As Michael seemed keen to impress upon me daily; they couldn’t prove a thing. I hadn’t done a thing. My hands tightened on the handlebars as I chewed at my lip and thought things over. There was no doubt in my mind that turning around and cycling down to the beach was a far more attractive option, but then I bristled with a sting of anger, and remembered that I did not want to be like John. I did not want to pretend everything was okay and just go along with things. I didn’t want to roll over and surrender like some dopey puppy dog. And what was that bastard doing alone in my house anyway? Since when did he have a key?
I forced myself forward then, or rather my indignation did. I had plenty of it back then, you see. I was fed up of these bastard men taking liberties, the arrogant pricks. I reminded myself of the plan, of not taking it anymore, of fighting back. I imagined myself as the true man of the house as I stalked towards it, and propped my bike against the wall outside the kitchen. The back door was slightly open, and I could see Howard was there all right. He was sat at the table, and I felt myself recoil slightly, at the sight and the size of him. The kitchen was a small room, but with him occupying it, it seemed even smaller, like there was not even enough room for the air. He was leaning back in the chair closest to the hallway, with his fucking cowboy boots up on the table, and a beer in one hand, looking like he fucking owned the place, and Jesus Christ, I wanted to spit at him. I stiffened with the resentment that flooded me then. My nostrils flared and my top lip lifted. I stepped in through the door, and he merely grinned at me, and lifted the beer in a hello. “Ooh look who it is!” he exclaimed with excitement, making out he was pleased to see me, but I could see it was all fakery and bullshit. He was drowning in the stuff. It seeped through his very fucking pores. His feet left the table and hit the floor. “Danny the boy with no tongue! You got your little friend behind you to do your talking, or are you all alone?” He cocked his head at me questioningly. “Oh good. ‘Cause I’m here to have a proper chat with you mate. Man to man, so to speak.”
I attempted to swallow the incredible dryness which lined my throat and started to walk towards the hall. “No thanks,” I growled in reply. Howard was on his feet quickly, blocking the doorway with his immense frame, beer still in hand, and a friendly smile on his face.
“Whoa hold on there a minute, where you going so fast?” he asked me, his tone dropping now. “Slow down. Your mum asked me to come and talk to you. Just you and me, and it’s pretty important, so here I am.”
I clenched my fists and stared at the tiny amount of space on either side of him. “I don’t think so,” I said.
“Unruly little shit, aren’t you?” he said, and his smile had faded to nothing. I scowled at him.
“Yeah,” he said slowly, ponderingly, his small eyes narrowing slightly as they took me in and worked me out. “You and your little pals. Little troublemakers eh? Bunch of fucking comedians.”
I shrugged my shoulders, and despite my inner nerves, I offered him a withering sneer. “Don’t know what you’re talking about prick.” I dragged the word out and met his eyes while I spoke it. I watched his small eyes widen and his thin lipped mouth drop open. It was then that it struck me who he reminded me of, who he looked like, it was that fucking WCW wrestler, Steve Austin, or Stunning Steve Austin they called him. Christ I thought then, they could have been twins.
“Prick?” he repeated the word as if the feel of it in his mouth offended him. He cocked his head and hooked his thumbs into his belt. He frowned. He looked genuinely puzzled and confused. I just stared back at him blankly. “Prick?” he asked again, and shook his head at me. “My god, you kids today are unbelievable! You know what I would have got if I’d ever dared say that to my old man, or any other adult for that matter?” He unhooked one thumb and patted his belt with his free hand, whilst his eyes drilled into mine. “I would’ve got a taste of this, little man. Real arrogant little shit, aren’t you? I mean your mum, she warned me about you, but I guess I didn’t really believe her, until I had the pleasure of meeting you that is. Now you listen here mate,” he slid his hands down his thighs, leaning down until his face was level with mine. He looked at me as if I were an alien, something he had never encountered before, and he spoke slowly and surely, as if I were stupid. “I know it was you and your mate put that stuff in my drink. Yeah, that’s right, I know it. I know it’s you and them making silly calls, and I know it’s you lot who smashed my windows and slashed my tyres. Oh yeah, I know, and your mum knows too, which is why she asked me to come here today to speak to you about something we’ve come up with, but before I do I’ve got something of my own to tell you.” He smiled at me then. I felt chilled to the bone, I’m telling you, I felt cold all over, and it was a sweltering July day outside. There was an icy glint in his eyes and as he stared into me, he ran a slow and considered tongue around his lips, coating them in a thin trail of saliva, and I felt for a second then, that he was preparing to eat me. “You’ve gone and made an enemy of me,” he nodded, “and you really didn’t want to do that.” He straightened up then, and I released the breath I had been holding and looked again at the options of space on either side of him. It felt like my chest was close to bursting with the panicked hammering of my heart.
“You can’t prove anything,” I decided to tell him then, fighting to keep the shake from my voice, desperate to uphold an unbothered exterior, while inside I was panicking, inside I knew there was something wrong with all of this, inside my heart was beating faster and faster and faster.
“No I don’t need to buddy,” he told me, delivering a fresh and dazzling smile. “But you need to realize that your pathetic little stunts haven’t worked, yeah? Just like I told you before, your shit won’t scare me away, in fact if anything they’ve brought me and your mum even closer together. United, you might say. So carry on if you feel the need, but you’re wasting your time, because I am still here.” He lowered his voice down to a whisper. “I’m still screwing your mother.” His smile flicked up at the edges, and his small eyes shone, enticing me to react, and then he merely rocked back on his heels, drank his beer and waited.
“Get out of my way,” I said through gritted teeth. He laughed.
“I haven’t quite finished yet, little man. Hang on,” he held up a hand and feigned a serious expression. “What your mum wanted me to talk about, you see, well, you know she’s been struggling to pay the rent, and work two jobs, and I’ve been helping her out with money here and there, you know? Well we just decided you see, it’s crazy us paying two lots of rent when we spend all our time together anyway, so look, take a look over there!” He finally moved to one side and revealed the hallway, and a pile of luggage that was sat neatly by the front door. “I’m moving in!” he yelled happily, and slipped back into his chair at the table. “Isn’t that great?”
“You can’t be!” I yelled, taking a step towards the pile of bags, and then staring back in horror at Howard, and the smug look upon his face. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, or hearing. I felt like the walls were crashing down on me then. I felt like the entire world had gone fucking crazy. “She doesn’t even know you!” I cried, and it was true, how could she?
“She knows enough pal,” he grinned back at me, rubbing his hands together in unmistakable glee. “Thing is Danny, let me explain it to you. She needs me here because of you. Because she can’t cope with you. So if you wanna’ get pissed off about me moving in here, get pissed off with yourself, little man. You wanna’ blame someone, blame yourself.” He picked up the pack of cigarettes that lay on the table and pulled one out. I was a dumb and shaking, sweating ball of maddening, relentless anger as I watched him stick it between his teeth, flick the flame on his lighter and inhale. He leaned forward then, caught my eye, and grinned a lop-sided grin. “You stupid little bastard.”
Well, to say I went a little bit insane after that, is probably an understatement. I went completely insane. I had no more fear then, none. I had nothing but red mist. The red mist swirled like a tornado behind my eyes, and the faster it swirled, the darker it became, until it became black. I don’t really remember what I did, or said, except for I know I screamed you fucker quite a lot, and I know that John appeared from upstairs and manhandled me away, with his arms around my middle. I’d gone for him too. I remember kicking his shins, scratching his hands and punching his head. He somehow, I don’t know how, managed to drag me upstairs, shoved me in my room and shut the door on me, with him on the other side. He held onto the handle when I started to wrench it up and down. He tried to tell me to calm down so that he could come in and speak to me. I told him to fuck off, told them all to fuck off. I screamed and bellowed and kicked my door until I made a hole in the bottom of it.
After a while I could hear my mother downstairs, so I locked my door and changed my mind about wanting to come out. John and her conversed in tense tones on the stairs. She rapped on my door and I screamed at her to fuck off. “Danny, I can’t afford the rent on my own!” she started wailing on the other side, while John mumbled words of discontent in the background. “We’ll lose the house! Stop being such a child and let me come in and speak to your properly!”
“Big mistake,” I could hear John telling her. “They needed time to get to know each other first mum, what are you thinking?”
I got up from where I had slumped on the floor and pressed my ear against the wood. Howard’s voice was droning on downstairs. I tried to pick up what he was saying, something about not throwing his weight around, and being more of a lodger than anything, but mum and John were arguing over the top of him, so it was hard to tell.
“John, I’ve been at my wits end!” she was saying. “You have no idea! Do you even know the awful stuff that boy has been up to lately? Well I can’t cope, and who have I got to help me now you’re off eh? Not my mother, and not his father, no one! I can’t do it John, so you can say what you like and think what you like, but I either have Lee here to help me emotionally and financially, or I get carted off to the bloody loony bin, and I am serious!”
“If you let Lee move in now, you’ll be living in a war zone,” John told her. She laughed.
“We already are if you hadn’t noticed! Since we moved here, that boy has been nothing but trouble! Fighting from day one, stealing, lying, getting arrested! Damaging people’s cars! I can’t control him John, I admit it, I hold my hands up! He doesn’t listen to a word I say, because he has no respect for me whatsoever!”
“Your mum needs a rest,” I heard the gruff voice in the hallway. I kicked the door again then, I couldn’t help it, I just had to. I turned around, picked up my chair and threw it at the wall.
“What the hell are you doing in there?” My mother screeched. “I’ll kick the door down if I have to young man!”
“Mum, leave him, leave him, come on, we all have to leave him.”
She listened to John, and I listened to their footsteps hurrying back down the stairs and away from me and my rage. I didn’t know what to do with it then. I stared wildly around at my room. I wanted to smash the window and kick in the wardrobe. I stayed where I was though, anger rooting me to the spot.
Eventually a thought came to me. I don’t have to live here. They can’t keep me here if they hate me so much. No one will care if I just fuck off. So I packed a few clothes and things into my school bag, opened up my door and stole out onto the landing. I could hear all three of them still discussing me in the kitchen. They had the door closed for obvious reasons, which made it easier for me to creep down the stairs. Just before I opened the front door I heard Howard talking in this voice which was the complete opposite of the one he had used with me. “I won’t interfere,” he was assuring my brother. “I’m not into all that. I’m just here to help Kay with the rent and bills so she doesn’t have to kill herself working two jobs, and I’m just here for her, that’s all. To support and care for her at the end of the day. Once you’re gone, you know? To help her out, that’s all. And I’m pretty sure once he gets used to the idea, and he gets to know me, he’ll be just fine. I can guarantee it John. I’m convinced of it.”
Fucking bullshitter, I seethed and slipped out of the door without any of them knowing. I walked around the corner, with my hands in my pockets and my head low, and I suddenly felt the loneliest person in the world. I went around to the back of Michael’s house and began to hurl stones up at his window. “Come on you bastard let me in!” I yelled, before it dawned on me that he would be down at the beach by now, that they all would be. My legs seemed to go weak on me then, so I sat down heavily on the back doorstep. I caught my head in my hands and as my breath hitched in my chest. My heart remained in a panic. I knew I should go to the beach to find them. I knew I should join them, join in the fun, but my legs didn’t want to know at that moment. So I stayed where I was, staring through my fingers at the thousands of dog ends that lay scattered on the dry earth around the doorstep. I felt wretched and sick, if you want to know the truth. Worse than that, I felt small, and like an idiot. I thought helplessly about all the things I had done to drive my mother crazy. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut when I realized how easily I had driven her towards his arms. I sat there, accepting the trembles of rage, and feeling queasy with the awful turning, churning that went on in my belly. I sat there and could not believe that any of this was really happening.
I stayed there for so long, that the sun began to slip down in the sky behind Michael’s alley way. Dusk was upon me. Fingers of gold and orange reached out on either side of the sun, washing the sky and bathing the unkempt garden in an eerie, pinkish light. I pictured my friends at the beach, maybe dancing around a fire, maybe drinking stolen beers. I wondered if Lucy was there with them, celebrating the end of the school year. My backside grew numb and cold on the step, so I shifted position and sat sideways instead, pulling my legs up onto the step and leaning against the closed door. It was like a bad dream, I thought, as the time slipped by. What made it all worse was the niggling feeling that I was only getting what I deserved. My mother had fallen in love with some kind of monster, and nobody could see it except for me. I chewed my lip until it felt sore, remembering their words in the kitchen. To them, I was the problem, I was the one at fault. No one had heard Howard call me a stupid little bastard, and no one had heard him say I had made an enemy of him.
I was so relieved when I finally heard Michael dragging his bike down the alley, I could have cried. I was close, I can tell you. I felt like my life had slipped through my fingers and smashed into pieces on the ground. I felt like I was staring at the pieces of it, with no idea how to collect them up or reassemble them. I stayed on the step, hugging my knees and shivering in the growing darkness, and I called out a warning to him as he bundled through the gate. “Hey Mike, it’s me.”
“What the hell, Danny?” he said, coming quickly towards me. “What you doing there mate? Where the hell were you tonight?”
“Mum’s let Howard move in. He’s moved in Mike.”
“You are fucking kidding me!” Michael spat, arriving beside me, his expression outraged, his fists already balled. “No way!”
“He knows everything Mike,” I said, my head hanging. “He hates me. He’s fucking moved in. They just let him. I can’t live there now Mike. I can’t live with him.”
Michael breathed out slowly and placed his hands on his hips. He shook his head and gazed around in wonder. “Stay here mate,” he said to my relief. “Just stay here.”