The Boy With…Chapters 38&39

38

 

            I was in a foul and filthy mood all weekend.  In fact I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so pent up with frustration and evil intent.  The worse thing about it was not being able to tell anyone why.  I had to deal with the usual shit at work with a swollen ball sack, and a quivering crawl of rage clinging to my spine.  I blamed my bad mood on the unreliable builders, and staff who couldn’t seem to do anything properly, and the bastard boy stayed out all weekend, doing as he pleased.  “Thought you didn’t like him hanging around with those kids,” I complained to Kay on Friday night when I got back from the club and slipped into bed beside her.

“He’s at Billy’s,” she murmured, keeping her eyes closed. “Don’t mind Billy.”

“But they’ll all be there!” I protested, indignantly. “And I bet if you phoned his parents now, they won’t know a thing about it!  Bet they’re all round at the Andersons place, where there are no parents Kay.  No parents. Is that okay with you?”  But she was already snoring again, so I had no choice but to switch off the lamp and slip down under the duvet.  I crossed my arms behind my head and glared at the ceiling.  Down below, my balls ached and groaned.  I couldn’t even allow myself to think about it too much.  The anger was too much to contain, too much to hold onto.  A skinny weasly little kid like that kicking me in the balls.  Getting away.  The anger clouded by mind every time I remembered it.  He hadn’t even said sorry.  He hadn’t even looked scared, or anything.  Just the same flashing eyes, the same curled lip, the same, the same!  I had to keep hold of myself.  I had to remind myself that Freeman was on his way.  That an empire was being constructed and you didn’t build something like that in a day.  It took time.  But the wheels were in motion.

I wondered if he dared to come home the next day, after all of that, but he did.  Kay spotted him from the lounge window, late on Saturday afternoon.  She watched him through the net curtains, as if in a dream.  Her shoulders loose and lolling, a yellow duster dangling from one hand, a cleaning spray clutched in the other.  I was lying on the sofa, catching up on some wrestling from the night before.  I felt dark.  I’d had a headache all day, and still, my balls throbbed.   I watched Kay yawn and shake back her hair.  Then she clicked her tongue in annoyance. “Look at him, scuffing along. Why doesn’t he just ride the bloody bike?  He must feel left out of all his friends!”

I snorted laughter behind her. “Kay, that boy takes the piss out of you on a daily basis.  He does ride the bike, I’ve seen him.  He just pretends he doesn’t to get at you.”

She shook her head again and sighed. “The lies that come out of his mouth…”

“You don’t know the half of it,” I complained, shifting with a wince on the sofa. “I’ve had no joy getting him to do his chores lately either. His room will have rats in it soon.”

“I’ve got to get him to do something about his hair!”  She lifted the net then, shook her head at him and squirted the spray at the glass.  “He can’t even see where he’s going Lee.”

“He doesn’t brush it, doesn’t wash it,” I added, rolling my eyes. “I’m surprised they let him in school looking like that. Oh that reminds me, you had a call from them.”

She spun around then, mouth open. “What about?”

I shifted again, narrowing my eyes as I heard the back door open and close.  “Well apparently he walked out yesterday, before the bell.  Just took himself off.”

I watched as her shoulders sank even lower. She pressed the hand with the duster to her face and grimaced behind it. “Oh god not again, do we have to go through all this again?  You’ll have to talk to him Lee. He won’t even look at me, let alone listen to me.”

“You’re not tough enough.”

She dropped the hand and leaned back against the window, crossing her arms over her waist.  “Danny can you come in here a minute please!” she called out, keeping her eyes on me.  I picked up the remote and pressed pause on the video.  He slunk in, hair all over his face, giving it the smallest of shakes so that he could peer out at us through one scowling eye.

“What?”

Kay swallowed, bracing herself. “You’re grounded.”

He crossed his arms.  Shot a look at me.  “Why?”

“You know why,” she snapped, hands going to hips now, cheeks flushing. “Did you think the school wouldn’t phone and tell us that you walked out?”

He shrugged.  “I felt ill.”

“Liar,” I barked from the sofa.  Kay looked at me.  They both did.  She was giving me the eyes, all soft and pleading, her weakness showing already.  Danny pushed his hair back with one hand and stared at me with a challenge in his eyes.  I wiped my mouth.  Sat up a bit.  Tried to work out why the fuck he wasn’t looking scared, or worried…or anything.

“Can we have this conversation without him involved?” he asked his mother while he eyes bore into mine, as if trying to tell me something.  I bristled nervously.

“Your mum wants me here,” I spoke up before she could. “You won’t listen to her or respect her, so she wants me to help. And you’re grounded.  For a week.  And your friends are not allowed over here, and you will tidy your room properly and do the chores I’ve asked you to do all week.”  I lifted my eyebrows, daring him to refuse.  I saw his mouth snap shut.  His eyes widened at me, and he drew breath in through his nostrils to puff out his chest.

“You haven’t asked me to do any chores, you liar,” he said to me. “All you do is pick on me and criticize.  See mum?  It’s him, not me!”

I pulled up my legs and lowered them to the floor.  If Kay had not been there I would have ground his sneering little face into the carpet.  She put down the cloth and the spray and held out her hands, looking from me to him. “Come on you two, calm down,” she said. “Danny, you need to listen to Lee and…”

“You need to listen to me,” he snapped, talking over her. “You need to open your eyes!  Look, time it, give it five minutes and count how many times he is a prick to me for no reason. You just don’t pay attention!”

“You snivelling little git,” I heard myself complaining as I shifted to face him properly.  There he was.  Five foot nothing of skanky haired arrogance.  He was stood like a little rigid bull ready to charge.  I’d held a knife to his skinny neck and he was facing me like I was nothing, like I was no one.  His face lit up in satisfaction.

“One!” he shouted at his mother.  I felt my headache looming, rearing back to life behind my eyes and in my temples.  And every time I moved, my testicles would nudge me with dull, lingering pain.  I felt it.  I felt it jarring through my crotch.  The school shoe hammering up into my privates, smashing them.

“Shut up and go to your room,” I told him, shaking my head, warning him.  “Get up there and tidy it instead of standing her arguing with us! It’s not so hard, is it?  Doing what you’re told?” My voice had climbed louder. Kay lifted her hands once again and sort of waved them at us.

“Two!” he shouted again, his eyes gleaming with a triumph I could not fathom. “Anything else?”

“You cheeky little shit!” I roared, half up. “Do as you’re told and get to your room!”

“Three,” he announced, shooting a brief smile at Kay. “Called me a shit.”

“Little bastard, go on get up there!” I gestured violently with one hand, urging him away.  Inside me my blood was boiling and thick and rushing to my brain.  I stood up with the remote control clenched in one hand.  “Do as you are told! Now!”

“Four.”

“Danny,” his mother pleaded then, rubbing at her mouth with one anxious flapping hand. “Enough now, just go up, please, go on.”

He didn’t say anything.  He just smiled at me, goading me, looking cock sure and full of himself.  Slam.  I felt that foot thundering into my balls, causing an explosion of pain that made me feel sick.  I felt sick now.  My head pounded at him.  I shook my head once. Pointed my finger. “Go up.  Now.  When are you going to get it through your thick head, that none of this childish shit is gonna’ split me and her up?  Eh?  That’s what this is all about isn’t it?  Day in, day out, doing whatever you can to come between us.”

“Five,” he said.

“What the fuck?  What are you going on about?”

“Danny stop it,” Kay begged, both hands at her mouth now.

“Look what you’re doing to your mother, and you don’t even care do you? You’re the most spoilt, selfish boy I’ve ever met!”  He stared back at me, fearlessly. There was something coming from his eyes then.  They burned with it, something reckless and dangerous, something that told me this was all starting to escalate out of my control. His eyes were big and round and electric blue, and his body faced mine, standing his ground, standing tall.  I felt a sharp pain clawing behind my eyes.  I squeezed them shut, trying to block it out.

“Six,” he announced calmly, smoothly.  My eyes shot open.  I looked at Kay.

“Will you stop him?” I begged her, holding my head. “I don’t feel well baby, and this is all he ever does!  Throws tantrums and winds me up!  Please baby, just get him away from me, he’s getting on my last nerve.”

“I’m not doing anything wrong,” he stated quietly.  Yes he was, and he knew he was.  He knew exactly what he was doing, and it was just another vicious attempt to ruin things between me and Kay.  As usual she appeared frozen and distraught.

“You know what you are doing!” I roared at him, the words spewing from my mouth before I had the chance to contain them.  “You’re doing what you always do when she’s at work!  Being rude and arrogant, winding me up!  Trying to get rid of me!”

“Six,” the little shit declared, really smiling now, as he looked at his mother and nodded in satisfaction.  I lost it then.  One minute the remote control was clutched so tightly in my hand that my knuckles ached, and the next it was spinning through the air towards his head. He ducked, and it smashed against the wall. “Seven!” he yelled, and ran.

“You better run!” I bellowed after him, sinking in urgency back onto the sofa.  My head was a horrible mess of pain and banging.  Kay said nothing.  I watched her move to the wall, and bend down to pick up the control.  She straightened up and looked at it in her hands.  The plastic black casing had split all down one side, and the battery compartment was hanging off.  The phone was ringing in the hallway but she made no move to answer it.  She just stared down at the broken remote.  “Honey, he drove me to it,” I said then, and she blinked and looked at me. “My head, it’s a migraine or something,” I told her pleadingly. “I just need to lie down.  I’m sorry honey, he pushed me too far. You’ve no idea how awful he’s been lately.  Aren’t you going to answer the phone Kay?”  She shook her head slightly and placed the control on the arm of the sofa. “Baby?  The phone?”

“Oh yes, right.  God.”  She stalked out into the hall and I sank back into the sofa.  Jesus Christ, I thought, fucking unbelievable.  Winding me up like that.  I glanced nervously at the broken control and chewed at my thumb nail.  I could hear her murmuring softly in the hallway.  I wasn’t throwing it at him, I would tell her when she came back.  I was aiming at the wall, and I just wanted to shut him up, make him go away, leave me alone…

She came back in then and her face was pale.  She frowned at me and her eyes were confused. “It’s my mother,” she said. “She’s had a bad fall.  She’s in the hospital.”

39

 

 

            I was smiling as I turned the corner, and I smiled even more when I spotted Anthony sat on his front step, polishing his shoes.  I sauntered over to him, my shoulders beginning to shake with a daring chuckle, my head full of the flying remote control and the kick to the balls.  He looked up when he saw me coming, and squinted in the sun.  I liked the way he was sat out there like that, with the front door wide open, and all the curtains pulled back.  It was funny really, how the place seemed more of a home when Mrs Anderson was not in it.  We could go around to the front door, avoiding the debris of the alley way, and Anthony was always there, exerting this forceful kind of calm, and authority.  I thought Michael was lucky, having a brother like that.  A proper brother.  “You just missed Mike,” he called out to me as I approached. “Made him take some videos back for me.”

I stopped in front of him and found my pockets with my hands. “Was just looking for somewhere to kill some time,” I shrugged at him.

“He’ll be back in a minute. Are you guys camping out again tonight?”

“Was just about to ask my mum,” I said, gazing back over my shoulder.  “Oh well.  Fuck it.”

“Why are you still in your school clothes?” he grinned at me.  I looked down at myself, and laughed.

“Oh yeah!” I glanced back again, not relishing the idea of going back. “D’you think Mike would lend me some of his? I can’t face going back there again.”

“Course he will. Here, have a seat.” Anthony shifted along so that I could sit down next to him on the step.  He paused in his polishing, his eyes on me. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Mike doesn’t seem to think so.  What about that fucker over there?  He leaving you alone like I asked him to?”  His eyes held mine, and I hesitated, my mind retracing steps to the hand twisting in my hair, and the knife on my neck.  Then I reminded myself of the kick to his nuts, and of the remote hitting the wall instead of me, and the look of horror on my mothers face.  I nodded at Anthony.

“Yeah, I think he got the message.”

“Well,” he said with a sigh. “I suppose that’s good enough.”

That night, the four of us reconvened at the base, with sleeping bags and blankets rolled up under our arms.  We had all told our parents we were sleeping at Billy’s and he had told his he was staying at Michaels.  “Looks like I’ve got myself a job,” Jake was complaining, once we were all settled.  We had built a campfire, and were sat around it perched on logs and wrapped in blankets.  It felt like the night, and the good mood would last forever.  Like there was no coming back down from this moment, from togetherness and laughter and peace.  We groaned collectively in response to Jake’s announcement.

“The café?” Michael laughed, as he rolled a joint on the lid of his tin.  He was becoming pretty deft at it now, and concentrated like hell on every single one he constructed, declaring each to be better than the last. Jake rolled his eyes and nodded.

“Just don’t turn up!” Billy advised, jabbing at the fire with a long stick.  “You don’t want to work there mate. Imagine all the tossers from school coming in, you’ll have to serve them, and they’ll all take the piss out of you!”

“I know, I know,” said Jake, rolling a fist into his tired eyes. “I can’t do anything about it. He’s obsessed with me having a job.”

“Well at least you’ll have your own money,” I pointed out.

“Yeah and no fucking time to spend it in!” laughed Billy.  “Oh fuck it up mate, you’re gonna’ have to.  Turn up late.  Or stoned!  Steal from them!”

I had a smile on my face for all of them. I thought about how great last night had been at Billy’s, all of us together, almost every minute spent rolling around with endless belly aching laughter.  And now here we were, bundled in blankets while the dark skies cloaked us in a solitude that felt intimate, and safe.  I felt like I did not have a care in the world, and although that was a lie, I let myself go along with it, because it felt so good.  When Michael passed the joint my way, I took it, whispered a thank you and dragged on it hungrily.  The sweet smoke rushed into my lungs, sending an instant seep of calm through my bones.  “I love your brother Mike,” I told him, as I grinned up at the black, scarred skies.

“He’s the best,” agreed Billy, as Jake nodded sleepily.

“I know it,” said Michael. “Oh that reminds me. Here you go.” He dug into his pocket and hurled something at me. “For you.  In case you need it.”

I picked the folded pen knife up from my stomach and turned it over wonderingly in my hands.  “Oh my god Mike, this is a cool knife!”

“Courtesy of Anthony,” he told me proudly.  I held it in my hand for a moment longer, enjoying the cold weight of it against my skin.  Then I tucked it down into the pocket of the jeans I had borrowed.  It felt like a comfort, and a friend, sitting there.

“I might not need it so bad anyway,” I told them all then.  “Things are looking up.”

Billy suddenly jerked into a sitting position and starting waving his hands about in the air.  His mouth was stuffed tight with pink marshmallows, and he was faced with the option of eating them quickly, or spitting them out.  “He’s having a fit or something!” Jake burst out, slapping his own knee in amusement.  We all fell about laughing then, as Billy continued to wave his hands about, whilst munching as fast as he could on his mouthful of marshmallows.  We were wiping tears from our eyes by the time he finally swallowed the last lump, and took a massive breath. “Shit guys! I totally forgot! Got something really important to tell you!”

“Whoa hang on, hang on,” said Michael, holding one hand up at Billy while he nodded at me. “Danny was gonna’ say something first.”

Billy groaned and looked like he was going to wet himself if he had to hold it in much longer, but he accepted the joint from Jake and waited his turn.  I pulled my legs up and wrapped my arms around them.  I felt all of their eyes turn on me.  “Well,” I said slowly. “Just about Howard, that’s all.  He’s probably still losing the plot right now, I mean. I wound him up a bit in front of my mum, ‘cause I just wanted her to see what an arsehole he really is, and he totally fell for it. Lost it and threw the remote at me!  Right in front of her!”

“Oh my god really?” cried Jake.  Michael shook his head at me darkly.

“Fucking bastard.”

“Yeah but now she sees him,” I enthused, looking around at them all. “Now she sees what he’s really like!”

“She’ll kick him out for sure,” Jake was nodding in certainty. “No way can he go round doing things like that.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Nah I doubt she’ll throw him out…not yet anyway. She’s in too deep. She swallows all the shit he feeds her.  But it’s a start, and I feel better anyway, and the other thing, you know yesterday when I was in the base?” They all nodded back at me, eyes wide and expectant and excited. “Well I’d just run from home. You know why? ‘Cause he started picking on me so I kicked him in the balls!”

“Noooooooo!” Billy screamed at me from across the fire, slapping his hands to the sides of his face, his jaw falling open, while Jake clapped his hands together and hooted with laughter.

“No way!  Nice one Danny!”

Michael had scrambled onto his knees. He reached for me and pounded me on my back with sheer delight and energy, his brown eyes shining with pleasure. “Danny you legend that is shit hot! You should have told us yesterday!  That’s the best thing I ever heard!  Did you get him really good?  This is great news mate, great news. That smug bastard is going down.”

“I got him real good,” I looked back at him and grinned.  I couldn’t take my eyes off their faces then, any of them.  They were all fired up, on my behalf, slapping hands with each other and punching fists at the air.  “Pounded those nuts,” I went on. “Next time I’ll fucking stamp on them!”

“Brilliant,” Jake said. “Love it. He’ll be on his way out for sure mate. His bags will be fucking packed by now.”

“Well whatever happens I bet you feel taller eh?” Michael asked, smiling warmly at me. “Well done mate, wait til I tell Anthony!  You fucking showed him!”

“You kicked him in the balls!” Billy squealed, erupting into helpless giggles all over again.  “Little old you!  The fucking size of him!”

“Hey come on,” Michael said to him. “You had something to say.”

“Oh shit yeah!” Billy leaned forward and passed the joint back to Michael. “Okay okay,” he said, stifling a huge yawn. “You won’t believe this guys.  This will knock your fucking socks off!”

We all looked at each other, and that was it, we were off again, rolling around laughing, screaming.  I don’t know why it was funny, but it just was.  I kept picturing Billy with his socks off, and that was it, infectious laughter I could not contain.  My eyes were running now, and my belly ached, and the more annoyed Billy looked, the more I wanted to laugh at him.  “Come on now,” he urged us finally. “This is serious!  This is actually very serious, and it’s about Howard Danny, so shut the fuck up laughing.”

“Go on,” said Michael, nudging me. “Spit it out.”

I was off again then, fuck knows why.  I had to curl up into a ball with my forehead against the ground and screech my laughter into the earth.  Billy threw a pine cone at me, and Michael prodded me with one foot.  I couldn’t help it.  Maybe I was losing the plot myself, who knows?  Maybe laughter was the way it started; going insane, losing your mind.  I felt so weak with it, I had to roll onto my back and press my hands over my mouth.  I couldn’t look at any of them.  It was that bad.  If I had made eye contact with any of them I would have been screaming again.  So I held onto my mouth, choked on giggles and listened.

“Well first thing is,” I heard Billy saying. “Steve don’t work there anymore. Came over last night and said it.  He got let go.”

“Why?” asked Jake.  Michael was silent, and watching.  I could feel his mood darkening quickly, and I imagined his face straightening right out, those powerful eyes beginning to scowl under his hair.  I thought about that and tried not to react to Billy’s news.  It was horrible though.  The bad feeling spreading through my guts.  I didn’t have to press down my giggles any more then.  I just wanted Billy to shut up.

“Officially Howard told him he’s got too many staff with the refit going on, so he’s letting some go, but Steve reckons that’s bullshit. Obviously Howard’s found out he dates my sister, and so he got rid of him.  Makes sense.”

“Shame for Steve,” remarked Jake.

“Nah,” said Billy. “He’s off to uni somewhere soon anyway, he wasn’t arsed about the job really. Said he hated working for that guy anyway.  But anyway, listen, that’s not the whole thing, that’s not all of it.  Last night, Steve is clearing out his locker in the staff room, when he heard Howard and Phillips having this argument next door. The staff room is right next door to their office, apparently. Anyway the door is shut, but Steve is all alone, so he presses up to the wall and he can listen in.  Phillips sounds totally out of it, he reckoned. Shouting and swearing, banging into stuff, really pissed up.  And Howard is just laughing at him.  Not in a nice way.” Billy paused then, and I got the feeling he was waiting for me to say something, but I had nothing to say.  I sat up though, slowly and stiffly, hating the way their eyes were all on mine in this dark and expectant way.  Truth was, I just didn’t want to hear or know this kind of stuff.  Billy took a breath and went on.  “Anyway Phillips is shouting, accusing Howard of fiddling the books and stealing from him! Then he hears Howard laughing, and he says no one would believe a washed up old drunk like him anyway.” Billy’s eyes grew wide as he looked around at us, as it sunk in. “Didn’t even try to deny it guys.”

“Fuckinghell,” breathed Jake, his brow low over his eyes.  He shivered in his t-shirt and pulled his blanket tighter around his shoulders.

I was nodding.  Seemed like all I could do was nod, at Billy, and at Mike as he stared at me questioningly. “Shit Billy, Steve was lucky they didn’t catch him,” he said. His eyes were intense with excitement and fear.

“He was too nervous to listen to any more, so he left,” Billy shrugged. They all looked at me then, indicating it was my turn to speak, to comment.  I tried to force some fuck it kind of smile, but the information seemed to clog and choke my insides, and my face felt too rigid and frozen to move.  There was terror, clawing at me from within, trying to scrape its way free, and all I wanted them to do was change the subject, talk about something mundane or stupid or boring or funny. I looked down at the ground in a trembling silence and I wanted Billy never to have brought it up.  It didn’t feel useful for me to hear what a twisted bastard Howard was.  I knew that already.  I didn’t want to know about any of it.  I gave a half shrug to satisfy them.

“Makes sense,” I muttered. “He wants that place all to himself I bet.  Phillips will be gone in no time.” I picked up a stick and poked at the ground with it.

“But we know now!” Billy seemed excited to point out. He looked around at us desperately. “You know, it’s information!  We can blackmail him or whatever! We can stop him!”

“Dunno how realistic that is Bill,” said Michael, with a slight smile. “Don’t think anyone would listen to us lot, you know.”

I nodded and laughed a little. “Yep.”

“But it is useful, right?” Michael looked at me hopefully.  “One way or another?”

“Maybe,” I shrugged back.

“Well next time you kick him in the balls you can tell him you know what a thieving stinking bastard he is!” Billy yelled, dissolving into giggles once again.  Jake started to shake with laughter beside him.

“I can’t get that image out of my head. It must’ve felt so good.”

“Well anyway, maybe your mum would’ve seen sense by now and chucked him out, hey?” Michael picked up a fir cone and hurled it at Jake. “Stop dicking around, you’re letting the fire go out!”

I was relieved.  Michael had ended the conversation, and I listened to it stumble onto other things.  School, girls, music.  I let the information churn around in my head for a while, because there was nothing else to do with it.  Eventually it got tired and fell down asleep, and so did I.  I fell asleep long before they all did, my body too full of drink and pot and everything else, to stay awake any longer.

I woke up in the morning with The Smiths singing in my ears.  Was a nice but kind of sad thing to wake up to.  This bright blue sky, streaked with stretches of cloud, and the pleading tones of Morrisey strumming through my mind as I stared up at it all. Haven’t had a dream in a long time, see the life I’ve had would make a good man bad, so for once in my life, let me get what I want, Lord knows it would be the first time. I sung along for a bit, my arms folded behind my head, my lips moving silently to the music.  One by one, I watched the others struggle into consciousness, stretch out their limbs and brush the night from their eyes.  Jake was in a hurry.  He had to start work, and ran around yawning and raking his long fingers through his tousled hair.  We laughed at him when he left.  Well Michael and Billy called things out to him, which I could not hear, because I kept my headphones on.  I stayed where I was, on the ground, rolled in a blanket.  I didn’t want to go anywhere ever.

Mike kicked me when they were leaving.  I pulled my earphones off. “Eh what?”

“Going back to mine for breakfast and movies, come on.”

“I’m staying here,” I told him, though I had no idea why, I just knew that I was.  They laughed at me and cycled off together.  I closed my eyes.  It was just me and the music, I thought.    I stayed like that for ages, listening to song after song.  Sometimes I kept my eyes shut, and I could have been anywhere I suppose, floating in the middle of the ocean, or drifting through the sky on a cloud, or on the moon.  I could have been anyone.  Sometimes I opened my eyes and stared at the sky.  I watched the clouds moving past.  The world was turning beneath me, I thought.  I was watching time pass.  I felt relaxed, and yet uneasy at the same time.  I would have been okay if I could have stayed there forever, I suppose.  In that moment, left alone, and at peace.  It was the knowing that time would push me on and shove me over, that I would have to get to my feet and place one foot in front of the other, it was this knowledge that gave me a tight feeling in my chest.

I got up then, because it was depressing me.  I wanted to enjoy nice things, I wanted to soak up the beauty whenever I saw it, the music and the sky and the woods all around me, the solitude, all of it, but I couldn’t do it.  I got up because I would have to eventually anyway, so why put it off?  I mooched around the campfire, delaying leaving.  I sat on a log and poked at the remains of the fire.  My mixtape rolled onto my current favourite Nirvana song which was Lithium.   I turned it up loud and grinned to myself and sung along loudly because no one was there to hear me; I’m so happy, ‘cause today I found my friends, they’re in my head!  I’m so ugly, that’s okay ‘cause so are you!  We’ve broke our mirrors.  Sunday morning is every day for all I care…light my candles, in a daze ‘cause I found god!  It was supposed to make me feel better, listening to that, and singing loudly.  I tried to jolly a good feeling along for a while, but then I gave up and thought fuck it, it’s not happening.

I remembered Lucy and used my new knife to carve a heart into the log I was sat on.  I wondered if she hated me now.  I thought about apologizing to her for yelling in her face like that. I thought about going over to her place, but I knew I would not be welcome there now, and her dad would more than likely slam the door on me.  I recalled how I had shouted at her, at gentle, sweet Lucy and hot shame touched my cheeks.  I got out my last roll up and smoked it sat on the ground, with my back against the log.  What a prick, I thought dejectedly, and puffed the smoke viciously up into the air.  With each puff I watched the dancing curls of smoke twist and leap up into the atmosphere.  I tried to keep my eyes on them for as long as I could, and I thought how fragile they looked, rising higher and higher, dispersing until they had all disappeared.

I hung about for a few more minutes, using a stick to write my name in the dirt, while my stomach growled and groaned in hunger.  Finally, I stuck my hands in my pockets and started home, my head down, my shoulders slouched.  I realized that the trouble with good nights like that, the trouble with fun times, was that they couldn’t last forever, or even very long at all.  You were on a high, that you had to come down from at some point.  You tried to avoid it, or delay it, but it got you in the end.  You got dragged back down, and then you had to just kick along with everyone else until something good happened again.

I passed Michael’s house and almost considered going in to join him and Billy, but I suppose the curiosity got the better of me.  I walked quickly around the corner, pulled my headphones down and then sort of snuck up on my house, ready to take flight at any moment should I need to.  What I found was worrying and strange.  My mothers’ car had gone.  I couldn’t think where she would have gone at that time on a Sunday, as she never ever worked a Sunday.  His car was still there, and parked on the street, right outside our house was a solitary police car.  My guts crawled right up to my throat and I started backing off right away.  There was no fucking way I was going back in that house without my mother there, and the police?  What the fuck?

I found the knife in my back pocket and curled my hand around it briefly, as I scurried away towards Somerley road, not even thinking about where to go.  That was when I discovered the handful of change Michael had left in the back pocket of his jeans, and I decided to go and have a milkshake and decide what to do.  I paid for a chocolate shake and took a seat at the window to drink it.  My mind swam with so many things it was difficult to hold onto any one of them.  I was simultaneously planning the apology I would give to Lucy at some point, while I wondered if I had enough change back at home to pay Mike back for the milkshake, and tried to decide how long I ought to sit there.  How long was safe? The shake was just enough to shut my grumbling belly up, and I sucked it slowly, watching the traffic roll by on Somerley road.  I pictured Jake on his first morning at the café in town, and smiled a little to myself, wondering if they would make him wear an apron, or a hair net.

I could have sat there for longer, dragging it out, as the queasy feeling in my gut got worse and worse.  But they played shit song after shit song and it got to the point where it was making me angry.  I actually considered asking to speak to the manager about it.  Play a bit of everything, I wanted to tell them. Play the shit pop songs if you want, but then play some real music too, or I’m not coming in here anymore. I didn’t though.  I crushed my drink carton and tossed it in the bin on my way out.

I walked back home slowly, my feet like lead.  I wondered what I would find there.  Part of me longed to believe what Jake had suggested; that my mother would have seen a glimpse of Howard’s true colours and asked him to leave.  It was a nice thought, but I couldn’t believe in it.  I knew how much she relied on him, you see.  He was paying for everything, for one thing.  But maybe it was a start?  Maybe she would look at him differently from now on?  And maybe it was the beginning of Howard’s mask slipping?  It had to be hard, I reasoned, keeping up a pretence like that day in day out.  As I got closer to the house I saw that the police car had gone, and the drive was empty.  My shoulders sagged in utter relief.  I laughed at myself and went around the back.

I let myself in cautiously.  Peered around the door and strained my ears for something, anything.  I crept in, closed the door behind me.  Picked up an apple from the bowl on the side and sunk my teeth into it.  I felt strange, I have to tell you.  I felt a bit like I was on a film set, and people were watching me, and everything was fake and constructed and set up.  I walked down the hallway, and pushed open the lounge door.  Nothing.  No one.  So why did I feel like one of those characters in a horror film?  Creeping around in the dark, knowing, just knowing that something bad is going to happen somewhere, some time…

I put the TV on low, flicked to MTV and sat on the sofa.  Immediately I felt the tiredness wash over me.  Sleeping on the ground had left me washed out and sore.  I’d had unsettling dreams that I could barely remember now.  I yawned, finished my apple and let my head rest back.  I would just wait here for a bit, I thought.  Wait for my mum to show up or phone.  Wait until I knew what the fuck was going on.  I thought about Billy’s information from Steve, and closed my eyes for a moment.  It was interesting, I supposed.  A bargaining tool, or a weapon, of sorts…

I woke suddenly.  I jerked up, cold spiky fear seizing my heart and squeezing the life out of it.  I forgot how to breathe for a moment.  It felt like a small bird had become trapped in my chest and was battering me there with tiny panicked wings.  The front door had opened, and there were voices in the hallway.  Howard, and another man.  I pressed mute on the TV and climbed over the back of the sofa, lowering myself down to a crouched position on the floor behind it.  I heard the lounge door creak open and held my breath. “Just checking,” Howard grunted, and the man in the hallway laughed appreciatively.  He didn’t come in.  Instead I heard footsteps head into the kitchen. “Time for a cuppa’?”

I was on my hands and knees, my fingers digging into the fibres of the carpet, my throat frozen shut in terror. “Nah better get on in a minute,” the other man replied.  He had a very low, gravelly voice, and it did not belong to anyone I knew.  When he spoke it sounded like his voice was strangled in phlegm, and he had a smokers cough.

“That was another siren,” Howard commented, and he was right.  I could hear a siren outside, wailing closer and closer.  The men laughed together in the kitchen.  I sat back on my ankles and tried to calm my breathing down.  “Let’s go upstairs,” Howard said then, sounding like the idea excited him. “We’ll be able to see it all from the back window.”

Chuckling and snorting like school kids, the two men shuffled back down the hallway and I listened to their heavy tread on the stairs.  “It’s all fucking kicking off,” Howard was saying, and I felt cold, cold all over.  Shit, I was thinking, shit, shit, shit. Fucking shit, what the hell was going on?  I heard another siren and wanted to press my hands over my ears.  I heard them coming back down again, and realized my mistake.  I should have ducked out of the house while they were up there.  “Better get you the keys then,” Howard was saying.  There was a jangle in the hallway as he took some keys down from the hook next to the door. “There you are mate.”

“Right-o.  Nice one.”

“Don’t suppose you’ve got a lot to move?”

“Nah, not a lot no.  Just the stuff my old mum left me.  This couldn’t have come at a better time for me Lee.  Her place is on the market now.”

“Won’t take long to sell. People always looking for bolt holes in London. What’ll you do with the money?”

“Was thinking I might invest in a really good nightclub.”

Brash, abrasive laughter followed.  Laughter which set the strange man off coughing again.  I decided to move.  I crawled from the sofa to behind the lounge door.  I was going to make my move the next chance I got, and I knew I would have to be fast.  I heard cigarettes being lit, and could smell the smoke filling the hallway. “Come down later,” Howard said. “Just a lick of paint here and then, and we’re all done.  You’re gonna’ fucking love it.”

“Can’t wait.  Looking forward to it mate.”

Howard responded with a hearty chortle. “Knew you’d be up for it.”

“You know me too well Lee.” The man coughed again, and it sounded like if he went on much longer he would chuck up a lung.  He settled himself and cleared his throat. “I take it you got links around here?”

“Came with the club.  Might need yours as well though.”

Behind the door, my head was racing.  Links?  What links?  What the hell did that mean?  I covered my mouth with one hand.   I was shaking a stupid amount.  From my head down to my toes.  I wondered if I would be able to run properly in that state.

“Not a problem,” the other guy replied, and I heard the front door open up. “Better get off then.  Been a long day already.”

Howard laughed out loud and the sound of it grated in my head, making me wince behind my hand.  “I appreciate it,” he said. “Things were getting out of hand.”

“I don’t believe that for a second.  But anyway, I owe you enough favours my friend, so don’t mention it.”

“Good man.  See you later.”

The front door closed and I used the wall to pull myself back to my feet.  I heard Howard in the kitchen.  I pressed myself against the wall and realized that I was trapped.

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