Some distance back, I leaned against a tree and lit a cigarette, while my shoulders shook gently with amusement. He was lucky really, I mused. He was lucky I could see the funny side. He was lucky that I was feeling rich and sleepy with satisfaction, chilled and calm from our time away. I kept one hand shoved into the pocket of my jeans, while I smoked the cigarette and kept my eyes on the caravan. I imagined him sat in there, with his bag, shitting himself, and this made me chuckle softly in the darkness. It was funny, really. You had to laugh about it. I couldn’t wait to tell Jack. It was the stupidity more than anything. He’d had two weeks on his own with Jack, and hadn’t thought about it then? Hilarious. The kids mind was fucked.
I wondered how long I ought to wait. I had all night. Kay had taken a couple of sleeping pills to send her off. She’d be dead to the world until morning. I wondered how long I should let him sit in there, stewing and trembling. I supposed after a while he would begin to relax and feel safe. He would start to make plans about who to call, and where to go, unless that is, he planned on living in a shitty little rusted up caravan for the rest of his life. It wouldn’t have surprised me. I looked at the ground then, and saw stones scattered at my feet. I considered picking up a handful and sailing them through the air, to clatter eerily against the side of the van. A huge cat-like smile had filled my face under the moonlight. I was still wearing my Mickey Mouse t-shirt.
I finished the cigarette, dropped it and ground it to dust under the heel of my boot. I looked again at the wreck he had run into. Green with mildew and mould, and sagging in the middle. I pictured him crouched in the darkness, listening out for sounds, with only his fucking bag for company. It reminded me of a fly stranded in the middle of a spider web. Helpless. Stupid. Alone. I had looked for that bag when he’d gone down the stairs for pizza. I had known something was going on, because the guilt was written all over his face. His eyes were shifty, and there was something about the way the mess had all vanished so quickly, that made me suspect what he had done with it. I’d looked under the bed and found the bulging holdall, and I’d thought to myself, well look at this, that ungrateful little shit is planning a runner.
I thought about smoking another cigarette, but I was getting a bit bored and restless. It wasn’t really much fun playing the hunter, if the hunted knew nothing about it. So I pulled away from the tree and started stepping carefully over the undergrowth to reach the van. I took great care not to step on too many twigs or sticks, moving silently and smoothly, feeling like a panther, a lion. When I got to the door of the caravan I stood there for a moment just smiling madly to myself and trying not to laugh out loud. The urge was strong and getting stronger. The entire thing was just so fucking hilarious! I was going to enjoy this, that was for sure, but I had to rein myself in just a bit. I had to play it a certain way, and not go too far. There were two reasons I felt like this. One, I hadn’t been lying when I’d told him I wanted to be a dad to him. I had thought of nothing else while we were in Florida. I wanted to do right by him, and be involved in his life. It had taken me a while to admit it to myself, let alone anyone else, but the fact was, I did want the boy to like me. I thought he ought to be looking up to me, you know? Respecting me, and wanting to follow me. Sometimes I caught a glimpse of this, you know, in his face, in his wondering eyes. Especially when we were at the club together. He watched me, I know he did. But two, this was the first time he had tried to run away. This was serious. So I stood still for a moment or two longer, considering the best way to play this, and then, as my physical being filled and throbbed and surged with the power of control, I stepped up and kicked the door wide open and presented myself to him.
“Boo!” I yelled at him, and then I threw back my head and screamed my laughter at the ceiling of the caravan. The boy was sat on the floor, right in front of me, clutching his goddamn bag to his chest, clinging to it for dear life. He screamed out in fright and shock when I burst in on him. It was so funny. Like something from a horror movie! His face was a fucking picture. Bright white, big blue eyes stretched in disbelief. I booted the door shut behind me, and slapped my thigh, still shaking and roaring with laughter. “Your face!” I cried at him. “You should see your fucking face!”
The boy did not look at all amused. He was frozen to the spot, barely breathing, his eyes so wide they looked like two blue moons floating in his pale face. I squatted down gently in front of him and cocked my head to one side to take him in. “Now hey, this isn’t a very good start to our new family life, is it little man?” I asked him in a friendly tone.
“Y…you followed me here!” he stuttered, his voice shaking as much as his body.
“Oh I already knew all about this place,” I told him with a wave of one hand. “Don’t you worry about that sunshine. I knew you’d come here, that’s why I didn’t bother chasing you. Just had myself a nice leisurely stroll in the moonlight.” I gestured with my hands to the dank and foul smelling environment that surrounded us. “And now here we are eh?”
Danny pressed himself back into the broken and rotting cupboard behind him. “How did you know about it?” he hissed. I smiled and leaned forward, only stopping when my nose was almost touching his.
“I keep tabs on you mate,” I told him. “Didn’t you realize that? Oh yeah, I know all your little places, all your friends. I know everything about your sad little life, didn’t you know that? ‘Cause that’s my job see. To look out for you. To know what you’re up to.” I ran my tongue very slowly over my lower lip. Again, I questioned whether it was possible to smell, or taste fear. It seemed like it was. It seemed like the caravan was thick with it, like it was swirling in the air all around us, clinging to our skin, invading our senses. “That’s how I knew about this place,” I went on gently, while he panicked and shivered before me. “You don’t have any secrets Danny. That’s why there’s no place you can run to where I won’t find you. I’ve got eyes everywhere, you see. Plenty of people on the pay roll, does that make sense?” I grinned and chuckled a bit. I was enjoying myself a lot. I watched his eyes flick to the door, and then back to me.
“I’m not coming home,” he said then, slowly, shakily placing his hands down behind him so that he could push himself up. “I don’t wanna’ live with you anymore..I’m not. Let me go, just let me go, and you’ll never have to see me again. Isn’t that what you want?”
I stood up and allowed him to stand. “You think I want you to run away?” I asked him, genuinely puzzled.
“Why would you want me around?”
I sighed and placed a hand on the wall behind him. “You still don’t get it do you?” I asked him as patiently as I could. “Even now, even after I just explained it all to you earlier. Let’s go back to the part where I remind you that I’m your step-dad now, and you do whatever I fucking say, right? You remember that bit don’t you?” I looked at him expectantly and he nodded. Tears were swelling in his eyes, making them look liquid. He was trying to hold himself together alright, trying to stick to his tough guy image, but I could see he was right on the edge. “Okay then, so if I was to say to you, look Danny I can’t stand the sight of you, I want you to fuck off and never come back, what do you think you ought to do?”
“Go,” he said in a whisper.
“Correct,” I nodded, pleased with the answer. “Now if I was say to you, Danny I quite like having you around, you’re useful at the club, and it keeps me happy, and I’m quite getting used to this family thing now, what do you think you should do?”
“Go!” he cried out then, face crumpling, tears falling, and he tried to go, tried his best to push past me, but it was a struggle he was never going to win. I wrapped a hand around each of his wrists and held him back calmly with his hands up in front of his face. His bag had thumped to the floor. “I want to go!” he was sobbing now, struggling and shaking his head in this very pitiful way. “Let me go! I don’t want to go back with you..I want to go, let me go, let me go..”
“You’ve gone and got yourself right worked up, haven’t you?” I said, my tone still gentle and calm. I seemed to know instinctively how to play this. There was a time for knocking his block off, and a time for reasoning and patience. It wasn’t his fault really, I realized. Everyone had always let him do what he wanted, no one had ever really cared, and for the last two weeks he’d been with Jack. Well Jack was Jack. He wasn’t one for laying the law down, far from it. The man had no discipline in his own life, for gods sake. He was scared, so I held him firmly. “Calm the fuck down and take a look at yourself, crying and whining like a fucking girl! I thought you were tougher than this! I thought I saw that in you! You don’t want to be a whining little weakling do you Danny? Do you?” I shook his arms and he yelped in pain.
“Good, then don’t be,” I nodded at him. “But I’m not letting you fucking run away, what would be the point in that? What would you learn from that? Nothing! I would find you anyway. I would bring you back. Isn’t it better just to stay with us and do as you’re told? Be a good boy and learn from me?”
He stared back at me, chest heaving and eyes leaking, and I could tell he was thinking about it, thinking about a cold fuck you and starting up again. I put his arms in one hand, and used my other to hold onto his face and tilt it up to mine. “I’m your fucking dad now mate, don’t you get it?” I whispered to him softly, dangerously. “Don’t you get that? Don’t you see? You just need to stop fighting and being silly, and just go with it, just accept it. Your real dad never gave a fuck about you did he eh? Not like me. I do. I care. You want that don’t you? You want a dad don’t you?”
To my dismay he just kept on shaking his head in my grip. I couldn’t understand it. The ingratitude. I felt the disappointment like a pain in my heart and the anger tightened up all of my muscles. I held his face and squeezed it. “Well tough shit little man, you got no fucking choice! ‘Cause that’s the way it’s gonna’ be! Now you need to think about it don’t you? What your options are? Keep trying shit like this, and threatening me before the wedding, keep testing me and have me drag you back every time, have me come down harder on you every fucking time. Have me take a look at your mates again eh? Still seeing them behind my back aren’t you? I know you are. That Anderson kid, all alone now eh? His mum’s never there is she? And when she is she’s off her face. No one gives a shit about that kid do they? Maybe he’ll just vanish one day, you ever thought of that?” I watched his eyes grow wider and smiled down on him. “Maybe he’ll bump into the wrong person in the wrong alley one day and no one will ever fucking see him again, eh? You know I’ll do it Danny, you know I fucking will! I will if you make me. And what about your mum eh? You know I treat her like a fucking princess these days, like fucking china. But that can change any time you want it to, oh yeah. Maybe I need to start getting tough with her, when she lets you get away with stuff eh? It’s her fault too, isn’t it? She wouldn’t complain you know, because she fucking likes it rough, I’m telling you mate. You want to see that do you? You want to see what these hands can do to a tiny little face like hers?”
The boy did not move, or flinch or blink. He just stared right up into my eyes and I stared right down into his, and we stayed like that for a while. You know sometimes you feel like you can see right into someone’s soul if you stare into their eyes for long enough. And they can see right into yours. It felt like that. Like he was seeing all of me, and I was seeing all of him. I stared at him, until I saw it fade, until I saw all of the fight drop out of his eyes, and until I felt it all drop out of his body, and then I let him go and nodded at his bag on the floor. “Pick up your stuff. I’m taking you home.”
It was easy after that. I walked him home with my arm slung around his shoulder. He held his bag and walked along and said nothing.