On the day of the wedding, John drove all the way down from Leeds with his pretty blonde girlfriend in tow. I got dressed in the dark grey suit my mum had hung up in my room for me, and came down the stairs when I was called. I had a few mouthfuls of whiskey warming up my gut, and a smoke out of the window to take the edge off. My mother was down the road at her friends’ house, and I walked into the kitchen and surveyed a scene that made me want to vomit. My brother was stood with his arm around his girlfriend, this petite little blonde with a lilac dress on. He was all dressed up in his sharp suit, with his short back and sides and his cream carnation in place. As I stumbled into the room, Howard leaped in front of me and started attaching one to my lapel. He was already in full flow, this big cheesy grin on his swarthy red face, trying to entertain and impress everyone. He made me sick to my stomach. John came forward when he saw me, his arm dropping away from the girl, and stretching towards me, as if to attempt a handshake or something. He stopped though, and his forehead creased up and he stared at me as if he didn’t even recognize me. It made me feel weird for a moment, the way he stared at me. I felt like looking down at myself, checking I was still there. Instead I walked past all of them, my lips pressed together, my eyes hard and my insides burning with rage. As I walked I made a point of taking a cigarette from my shirt pocket and sticking it between my teeth. I heard John gasp.
“Oh don’t worry,” I heard Howard saying easily as I stepped out into the garden. “We’ve given up on that John. We just let him get on with it. It’s not worth the aggro believe me, ask your mother!” I could imagine his glassy eyes rolling in his face as he waved a hand at the back of me dismissively.
“He looks a mess…” I heard John say.
“Oh he’s been in mourning for that singer that shot himself,” Howard informed him with a snort and a chuckle. “Given up trying to get him to cut his bloody hair as well. Teenagers eh?”
I leaned against the back of the house and lit up. Part of me wanted John to come out and try again, and part of me wanted him to stay the fuck away from me forever. I had nothing to say to him, I realized, not one single thing. Jack Freeman was outside too, shuffling up and down the driveway in his tatty brown shoes, with a little roll up squashed between his tobacco stained fingers. I looked him up and down wonderingly. He had a smarter suit on than usual. He looked up and nodded when he noticed me, and then went back to his ambling walk. I pressed my back into the wall, puffed on my smoke and watched with disinterest when the first shiny Rolls Royce pulled up. Freeman wandered down to speak to the driver, and I looked at the long, sleek car and felt a growing sense of dread about getting inside it. I loathed the thought of sliding in onto its cream leather seats, with John on one side of me and Howard on the other. I didn’t think I could take it. I really and truly thought it would push me over the edge if I had to get into that fucking car. I dragged on my cigarette, my other hand jammed deep inside the pockets of my suit trousers. I pictured myself, moments ahead in time, sitting there, being driven to some pointless church in order to watch this monster devour my mother once and for all. I just stared at it, hating it, hating everything, wanting to lash out, break something, attack the car, attack them, hurt them.
Just then Howard stepped out from the kitchen, and stood before me, and for just a moment his broad frame blotted out the sun, and I couldn’t see his face properly, I just stared up at him blinking in wonder. He was all dressed and ready, shiny black shoes poking out from the ends of his dark grey suit trousers. His hair had been trimmed, as had his beard and moustache and he looked every inch the proud groom to be, and I knew he couldn’t wait, couldn’t fucking wait a minute longer to get her. I felt a crawling trembling hatred in my belly, and it was so heavy, I thought I can’t even hold my head up any longer, I can’t even breathe, or walk, or think or anything if this goes on much longer. I wanted to fall flat on the ground and stay there. He was already grimacing at me distastefully, as he plucked the cigarette from my hand and tossed it to the ground.
“You’re a mess, you little shit,” he growled at me, his tone agonized with impatience. “You’re not ready! That is not ready! Go and have a wash and brush your bloody hair..I told you!”
I bit my lower lip and looked him up and down. The sunlight felt like warm gold drifting down on top of my head and I wondered if I could do it, if it were possible, if I could just go…I opened my mouth and let the words tumble from me. “I’m not brushing my hair for you…”
His eyes widened and colour shot up his neck and spread up to his cheeks, and he looked like he was on fire, set ablaze by the sun that settled just above his head. “You little bastard, you will do as you’re fucking told!” He shook his head at me and his nostrils flared. “If you try to ruin this day for us, I swear to god I will…”
“You’ll what?” I asked him, remembering that John and his girlfriend were still in the kitchen. I pulled away from the wall and stood up straight. “Kick the shit out of me? Get ya’ belt out again? Or maybe this time I’ll fall down the fucking stairs?”
He leaned down towards me, spit flying from his bared lips as he seized hold of the top of my arm so hard it felt like his fingers would sink through me, right down and into the aching bone. “I am warning you…”
“I’m not coming to your stupid wedding,” I yanked my arm free and told him. Over his shoulder I could see Jack Freeman, stood on the driveway, smoking and watching us with silent grey eyes. “If you try to make me, I’ll wait ‘til you’re down the front with mum, and when that bit comes when they ask if anyone has any objections, when that bit comes I’ll stand up and I’ll fucking object right? I’ll scream my fucking head off and tell them all what you’re really like, and I won’t give a shit if they don’t believe me, ‘cause I’ll just make a massive scene and run out! Do you wanna’ take that risk?” I stared into his eyes. I barely breathed. I waited for a punch to the belly, a kick to the shin, a slap to the face, but he knew as well as I did that John was only inside, and he could only glare back into me, his eyes bulging and his lips parting, and his teeth shining, and that was all. “Thought not,” I said, and walked away from him.
I didn’t normally like the beach that much; it being the main reason my mum had moved us to this town. But I liked it that day. That morning it was something beautiful to me. I stopped, just before I jumped down onto the sand, I stopped and stared. The sea breeze was running wild through my hair, lifting it free of my neck, sending shivers of anticipation and adrenalin down my spine. There was hardly anyone about, just the odd person walking their dog. The sea was right there, vast and silver and shimmering under the sun, waves rolling and lapping calmly up onto the shore. I smiled to myself. I jumped down onto the sand and started ploughing across it, until I was down at the waters edge. I took off my suit jacket and chucked it under one arm. I started walking along like that, kicking my new shoes through the sand and the water, gasping a little when the water got in and drenched my socks. I wished I had my Walkman with me, but it was back at home, up in my room.
I walked along for ages, splashing through the water with my hands in my pockets and my hair in my face. I wondered where I would end up if I kept walking. Wondered if I should try it and find out. I kept walking, fuck knows for how long, or why. What else was I meant to do? Had no smokes, nothing. I started to feel depressed. It came over me as suddenly and violently as the joy and excitement had before. I felt it hit my knees, making them weak and lethargic. I felt it pummelling my shoulders, trying to force me down. My head felt heavier, my soul drowning.
I wondered if I would sit down or fall down, but then I heard someone calling my name. I was so confused for a moment, thinking it was coming from me, and I had gone insane, but then I looked up the beach and there was this little figure of a girl, hunched up on the sand and waving at me. Lucy.
I stopped walking and stared at her, and it was like all the breath and fight left my body and I was floppy and soft and weak and numb. I didn’t know whether to go to her, or pretend I had not seen her. She had her legs crossed, and her lap full of text books. Revising, I thought, revising for GCSE’s. She was alone. Her nut brown hair blowing out in the breeze behind her shoulders. Her hand stopped waving, and she brought her arm down slowly, unsurely, back to her lap. The trouble was, I could just make out the hopeful expression on her face, and I knew what would happen to it if I just walked on. I didn’t want to see that, so I made myself walk over to her, and every step felt like the sand and the water in my shoes were trying to pull me down.
I tugged off the tie and slung it around my neck. “Hi Lucy,” I said when I had reached her. She was smiling up at me, but it was a furtive, self-conscious smile, and she swallowed once or twice before speaking.
“Hi Danny. What are you all dressed up for?”
I had almost forgotten about my clothes, and the wedding. I blew out my breath slowly and glanced down at my ruined trousers and shoes, and tried to decide if her question was even worth answering or not. Finally I dropped heavily and suddenly down onto the sand beside her, pulled up my knees and folded my arms over them. I looked at her briefly before looking away again. “My mums getting married today.”
“Oh,” she said. She didn’t know what to say after that, I could tell. I could feel her eyes on my face, and something heavy hanging in the air between us. Then she cleared her throat. “To that guy you hate? Ooh, sorry to hear that.”
“It’s okay,” I shrugged.
“So when is it? The wedding?”
“Now. It’s happening now. I didn’t go.”
“Oh. Wow.” Again, I got the feeling she was stumped. I almost felt like getting up and walking away again, leaving her to her text books and pens. What the hell did she want to know about my skanky life for? It would only dirty the shine on hers. She dropped one hand onto the sand between us and started using her fingers to pull it into a little mound. “I don’t blame you then,” she said eventually. “For not going I mean. If you really hate him.”
“Got all dressed up,” I shrugged again. “Just couldn’t do it.”
“Won’t you get into trouble?” I looked up at her then and she was looking back at me sort of sheepishly, half smiling and half biting her lip and glancing down at her hand making a sort of sandcastle. I shook my head and sighed.
“What are you up to? Revision?”
“Oh yeah,” she said, laughing a little and snapping the French book on her lap shut with her other hand. “Well, I was meant to be meeting Zoe down here to get stuck into it, but doesn’t look like she’s gonna’ turn up! Oh well. You started any yet?”
“Zoe neither. She’s having a hard time of it. You know, at school and that.”
“Yeah, we’re not in the same tutor group this year, she’s stuck with Higgs, you know?”
I shook my head. I hadn’t paid attention to anything at school for a long, long time, least of all the other kids. Lucy sighed and rolled her eyes and leant forward over her books to scoop more sand up from in front of her. “Well she is, and he’s being a right little shit the whole time, you know, making fun of her, making life difficult. Revenge probably, you reckon?”
“You know, for all that stuff, way back. The cinema and everything?”
I nodded at her. I had forgotten all about it. The war with Higgs seemed a long, long time ago. Another life time even. “Forgot about all that,” I admitted. “Seemed so important at the time…”
“Yeah,” she said, plucking a strand of hair from her mouth when the wind blew it across her face. “And now we’re nearly at the end of Year Ten! I can’t believe it! This time next year we’ll be about to sit our GCSE’s for real!” She shook her head and smiled, and her eyes were wide and happy. “Then we’ll be leaving school! Do you know what you want to do yet?”
I could have laughed really, at the lovely innocence of her. I was in two minds. Half of me felt like getting up and getting the fuck away from her and her wholesome loveliness, and the other half of me felt like knocking her down onto the sand and pressing my lips down upon hers. Weird. I laughed instead, and it didn’t come out good. It came out rather hollow and bitter, and her expression changed, her eyes becoming wary again. “Nah,” I told her with a shake of my head “No idea. You?”
“Sixth form hopefully,” she nodded. “You’re not at school much, I noticed that. Well if you are at school, you seem like you’re not really there, or you wish you weren’t there.” Her eyes widened slightly then, as if she was cross with herself for rambling, and she smiled shyly as her hair fell forward from her ear.
“Thought everyone felt like that at school,” I joked, nudging her with my elbow. She tucked her hair back behind her ear and grinned.
“You know what I mean. You’re never there.”
“I get bored,” I told her, meeting her eye. “It’s boring.”
“So where do you go? What do you do when you’re bored?”
Lucy laughed at me then. She tipped her head back a little and her hair slipped like chocolate silk down her back and her eyes twinkled. Her mouth was red and her lips full, like a constant teasing kiss. She bumped her shoulder against mine. “Maybe I should come and do nothing with you one day,” she said, and this time when I smiled at her, it was a real smile, I mean one that I really meant and felt.
“You’re welcome any time. But your dad wouldn’t like it much.”
“He doesn’t have to know everything about me,” she grinned. “So what are you up to right now?”
“Just killing time.”
“Oh, so sad about Kurt Cobain wasn’t it?”
I looked at her in in hurt surprise and her mouth snapped shut, and regret filled her eyes, but at the same time, she reached out and placed her hand down on my knee. “Fucking devastating,” I told her softly, shaking my head. “That’s what it is. Not just sad. Fucking devastating. Just another sad shitty thing in this sad shitty world. There will never be anyone like him again, not ever. I’m gutted Luce.”
She held onto my knee and shook it under her hand. “I know. I’m so sorry. I knew you’d be really upset. I started thinking about that night at Michael’s house, you remember? When you guys kept putting Nirvana on, again and again and jumping about? Good times. Why do you think he did it?”
“Dunno,” I shrugged. “But you know what? I don’t fucking blame him. At the end of the day, it’s your life, and no one has the right to say you have to keep going through it if you don’t want to. The stuff on the news is all crap, total crap. Like we’ll all go and fucking kill ourselves if we listen to certain music! More like we’d kill ourselves if we didn’t listen to music! I know I bloody would!” I could have gone right off on one then, but I glanced at her and saw some sort of pity in her eyes that made me stiffen, and rein myself back in. I shook back my hair and glared out at the ocean. The sun was bouncing off of it, making me squint. “Anyway,” I said gruffly. “Just feels shit now. Everything is shit. All they play on the radio and the telly is shit. You actually have to go out and hunt for good music you know, you actually have to hunt it down! Now it feels like…” I shrugged my shoulders. “It feels like something is over, you know? End or an era or something.”
Lucy was quiet then. She eased her text books slowly from her lap and placed them in a neat pile beside her. She drew up her knees, tugged her skirt down over them and wrapped her arms around her legs. I wished desperately that I had another cigarette, but I didn’t. I bit my lip hard, closed my eyes for a second and thought about a warm splash of whiskey trickling down my throat. I peered at the ocean, holding one hand up above my eyes to shield the sun out. It went on for miles, forever, just this endless arrangement of tiny green waves dipping and rolling, and even that made me feel depressed for some reason. The vastness of it; it was too much. I exhaled loudly and wanted to growl.
I heard Lucy sigh beside me. “Beautiful isn’t it?” she said and I frowned sideways at her, guessing she meant the sea. Instantly she smiled at herself, her cheeks reddening. I smiled back at her, how could I not?
“It’s alright,” I said. “But I don’t get it in a big way. I can take it or leave it I suppose. I mean, I don’t get why tons of people want to live right by the sea, like it’s the best thing in the world ever.”
“Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up here,” she suggested brightly. “Lots of good memories, I guess. Playing down here when we were little, and that. So where would you like to live then? If you could go anywhere in the world?”
I made a face as I thought about it. Every now and again I could feel her arm brush against mine. Sometimes it would stick there for a bit, before moving off again. Like everything, it made me feel sad as well as happy, and I didn’t understand why. Maybe it was because I never felt relaxed around anyone, despite how much I liked them or wanted them to like me. There was something in the way all the time, some hardness I couldn’t get past. It would make me feel sick with longing and then want to get up abruptly and storm away and find something to kick in. It made me want to be with them, and yet be horrible to them at the same time. “I dunno,” I said to her. “Somewhere far away from here.”
“Yeah? Like another country?”
“Nah. Just like far away. The countryside or something.”
“Really?” She was leaning over her knees, almost brushing them with her cheek, and she was smiling at me, those brown eyes mischievously bright and I wanted to give in to her more than anything else in the world.
“In the middle of nowhere,” I told her.
“Wouldn’t you get lonely?”
“No, I’d have all these dogs and things running around, keeping me company.”
She laughed, her eyes going all crinkly and sparkly. “Dogs? I didn’t know you liked dogs!”
“Yeah!” I retorted, grinning despite myself. “Course I do! Who doesn’t like dogs? I’d have loads of them, just running around the place, keeping people away and keeping me company.”
“Hilarious,” she said, bumping against me again, and this time when she did it, I leaned back into her, and she didn’t move away, neither of us did. I heard her sigh heavily. My heart pumped loud and strong.
“Always wanted a dog,” I said then. “A dog would be a really nice friend.”
“Bless you,” she said, and then we were quiet for a long time. We didn’t say anything, and we didn’t move, we just stayed there like that, pressed together, staring at the sea, and whether you know what I mean or not, it really did feel like the most perfect thing in the world ever.
When I finally had the guts to return home, I found they had gone. All of them. Mum and her new husband, and my brother and his girlfriend, all gone. I sagged and sighed in the kitchen as I took it all in. I wondered what else I had expected. Then I heard a rasping cough in the lounge, so I wandered on in. Jack Freeman was slumped on Howards leather sofa, tray of Chinese takeaway on his lap and a bottle of beer on the coffee table. He looked up and grunted at my bemused expression. “Been told to babysit you,” he said with a roll of his eyes. A grin pulled at one side of his rubber lipped mouth. “Don’t worry about it kid. I won’t be getting in your hair much. You know me.”
I thought of something then and slipped onto the other sofa, feeling the weight of the day seep through my bones. “You got any grass?” I asked him. He chortled and forked a heap of wet noodles into his smiling mouth.
I didn’t say anything else. I just gave him the eyes. He had a thing about my eyes. He nodded at his tin on the table and started to laugh.