It was kind of horrible knowing that Anthony was back. I showed my true cowardly colours and stayed away. I knew neither of them would come to the house with Howard around, so I was safe. I took a few days off school, and spied on them from the bathroom window. If I stood on the toilet and cracked open the top window, I could see their house. I watched the day he arrived back home, in the back of a yellow taxi, with his mother in the front. Michael burst out of the front door to receive him. I held my breath and bit my lip and watched them, and wondered if I would ever tell them I had been there. I felt like I was sharing the moment with them. Michael threw himself at his brother and they stood like that on the front path, locked and still. I could see Michael’s black hair waving about in the wind. Anthony had his head lowered on top of his. Mrs Anderson paid the taxi driver and carried two bags into the house. They all went inside together, Michael with his arm around Anthony’s waist, and then the door closed on me.
I knew he would call me soon after and I was right. The phone rang in the hallway while I was still in the bathroom. I came out onto the landing and saw Howard stood there, a strange look upon his face. “They hung up,” he said, and he started coming up the stairs towards me. “Funny that.” He nodded to the open bathroom window. “Close that, you’re letting all the cold in.”
I turned around, walked back into the bathroom and reached up to pull the window shut. He made his move then, while I had my back to him, his fist shooting into my kidneys. I grunted and hit the floor, pain exploding right up the back of me. He used his cowboy boot to push me over onto my back, and so I lay there and stared up at him, dazed and numb. “I wouldn’t think about going over there if I were you,” he said, his voice a dreamy drawl, his beady eyes all glassy. “That man’s a criminal. People like that never change. He’ll be up to no good again before long. You stay away, right?” I nodded back at him. I wanted to tell him that Anthony was no criminal. I wanted to scream up at him to leave them alone, to never go near them again. He held his hand out to me, and I took hold of it reluctantly and let him pull me up to my feet. “Good boy,” he said, and patted the back of my neck. There was a loose and drowsy smile upon his face, and his eyes looked far away. “Washing machine’s just finished,” he said. “Your mum is at the hair salon. Go and get it out on the line while it’s sunny, yeah.”
I did what he said, but when it was done, I ran back up the stairs and back to the bathroom window. I stood there and watched for hours, and if I heard Howard or my mother, I would just flush the toilet and come back out. Towards the end of the day I saw them all out the front. Anthony was leaning against the wall and lighting up a cigarette. Michael had his hands in his pockets, and this endless burning smile upon his face. Jake and Billy were there, laughing and grinning, all of them chatting animatedly. It put this pain inside of me which grew and grew, and it was far worse than the blow to my kidneys. I was completely on the outside, and Howard had made it very clear that I needed to keep it that way. They looked like they were heading back inside, but at the last moment Anthony stopped and stared right back up at my house. I was sure he couldn’t see me. But he smiled.
I avoided school and kept my distance. Billy showed his face after school one day, looking all nervous and jumpy as I relented and let him in the back door. “Mike’s worried about you,” he hissed at me, his freckled hands tightly gripping the strap of his school bag, as his eyes shot about the kitchen anxiously. Howard and my mother were in the lounge watching TV. I shrugged at him, conveying my confusion. He rolled his eyes. “You’re not at school,” he said. “You can’t be sick all the time. What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” I said. “How’s Anthony?”
“Fine,” he grinned then, his shoulder relaxing slightly. “He wants to see you, you dufus, but he can’t come over here can he? What about you meet us at the base, or the beach or something?”
I thought about it for a moment. I wondered if any of them knew that Lucy and I met at the beach, every Sunday without fail, and had done since the day of my mothers wedding. It was a secret, though I didn’t exactly know why it was. “I’ll try,” I said, just to appease him. He shook his head a little, looked like he wanted to say more, but then decided against it. I didn’t feel the same around Billy and Jake anymore, and I had a hunch that it was a mutual thing. They didn’t know what to say to me half the time. They didn’t like to smoke weed anymore. Jake was always busy, rushing from school to his job, and then to his flat to get his schoolwork done. He was taking it all very seriously, I suppose, life and school and work and getting somewhere. I wondered he thought I would drag him down somehow. He was pensive in my presence, and gave me the feeling that he was biting his tongue the entire time, not telling me what he really thought. It’s all coming to an end, I thought, and said goodbye to Billy.
Two days later I had to go back to school. I went in alone, as ever. Headphones on, eyes down. I didn’t get very far across the playground before Michael caught up with me, grabbing my elbow and bundling me away from everyone else. I caught a glimpse of Jake and Billy lingering in the background, hands in pockets and expressions cautious. Michael held onto my arm and looked very serious, so I pulled off my headphones. “Alright?”
“We know why you haven’t been around, but that’s fine,” he said to me.
“Look, Anthony wants to see you, he needs to see you, I’ve filled him in on everything!” I frowned at him and started walking again. He walked with me.
“You know, Howard marrying your mum, buying the house and the entire club, and about the way Freeman turned up exactly the day Anthony was set up.” Michael glanced over his shoulder at Billy and Jake who were following from a safe distance. “It’s all very convenient, don’t you think? And then Howard keeps you away from us, and Freeman gives you drugs and shit, I was telling Anthony, he said for fucks sake, get you over to see him now! He’s really worried about you Danny, really worried. We all need to get together and talk.”
I stopped walking and shoved my hands into my pockets. I nodded at Billy and Jake. “What’s their problem these days?”
“Hey? Oh shit, forget it, don’t worry. They’re just being babies. They think you’re always high. I’ve gone mad at them lately.”
“Don’t do me any favours,” I retorted angrily. “Tell ‘em it’s my life and I can do what the fuck I want if it makes me happy.”
Michael was frowning heavily. He shifted his bag from one shoulder to the other and appeared restless and confused. “Forget about that, that’s not important. Anthony wants to see you mate. He doesn’t blame you, you know, not one little bit. You know that right? He just wants to see you mate, just please, please say you’ll come over or something.”
“It’s not safe to,” I told him. He opened his mouth to argue, but I put my headphones back on and walked away from him.
That Friday night I felt far away from all of it. I was at the club, out the back, washing glasses with my shirt sleeves rolled up above my elbows. Towers of glasses stood next to me, waiting to be dunked into the hot soapy water. Howard was very particular about the glasses. He would appear in the kitchen sporadically throughout the night, lifting a wine glass up to the light to check for smears or fingerprints. My back ached and my hands were sore, but I didn’t care, because all I thought about was the money. Every now and then someone would yell at me to go out and collect some more, and so I would dry my hands and roll down my sleeves, and go back out into throng of writhing, bustling punters that filled the club. I would never really see, or notice them, as I slipped between their bodies to retrieve the empties. They were nothing more than moving, shifting shadows of people, whose voices became lost beneath the thumping music, and whose faces were blurred by the darkness. They were just forms to me, as they bumped and grinded against each other, oblivious to me I moving among them.
The only thing that reached me, the only thing that could sometimes break through, was the music, if the music was good. I hadn’t given up trying to suggest songs to the Friday night DJ, although most of the time he just rolled his eyes at me and turned away. That night though, as I reached in between two heavy set men in their twenties to retrieve their pint glasses, I heard the opening chords of Supersonic ripping up the speakers. It came out of nowhere, taking everyone by surprise, and as the electricity shot down my spine I could feel the people rushing past me to get to the dance floor. I paused and stared at nothing, my eyes bloodshot and huge, my pulse leaping in my veins. The people knew all the words, I need to be myself! They all sung, they all thought it was about them. I can’t be no one else! They jumped about, and the men held their drinks aloft to sneer; you can have it all, but how much do you want it? Pure rock and roll, I thought, utterly dazed by the simplicity of it.
I bobbed my head slowly up and down, mouthing the words to the song I had requested. And then I felt a presence close behind me, and became dimly aware of someone leaning in towards me. I felt a warm, rough hand close around my wrist, tugging and pulling me away. I wanted to resist, because I needed the music, and then I heard Jack’s voice in my ear, raspy and hoarse. “Quick word?”
I felt vague. I’d had a smoke earlier, and the world looked soft and fuzzy around the edges. I let him tug me along, and I could see him looking at me, sort of squinting down at me, as if he needed glasses but could not be bothered to wear them. “We’ve got a little problem,” he started to say. “With our arrangement? Think Lee is getting suspicious and that’s no good.” I stared back at his face, trying and failing to absorb what was being said. “You with me?” he asked. “Thing is, I can’t risk him finding out, so I’ve found you another supplier, how’s that? Nothing changes. It’s just you deal with someone else, alright?” The hand on my arm again. I looked at it in confusion as Jack pushed through the double doors that led out to a small corridor. The mens toilets were just to one side, and to the other, a winding staircase which led up to the next floor and the womens toilets. Two young men were talking to each other, leaning up against the wall. When we came through, one of them immediately pulled away and slouched on up the stairs, not looking back. The other man was thin and wiry, with an England baseball cap pulled down low on his head. He wore pale blue jeans, Adidas trainers and a Ben Sherman shirt. He nodded at Jack. “Jaime,” said Jack, looking down at me. “Danny, this is Jaime alright mate? He can take care of you, alright?”
I didn’t understand. Not one little bit. I just looked blankly from one man to the other. Jack sighed and shook my shoulder a little. “Yeah? Tell Jaime what you need yeah? He’ll sort you out. I need a drink.” He clapped me on the back and left us to it, pushing back through the double doors.
I realized then that my arms were cold, and I wondered if someone had left a window open somewhere, because normally it was so hot in the club, normally it was too hot. Or maybe it was just the air that rushed through every time someone bundled through the doors. I found myself gazing at the black and silver walls, as if I had never really noticed them before. The young man in the baseball cap leaned towards me in a very conspiring way then, a half smile on his thin lips. He had a very bony angular face, a bit like a pale rectangle, all sharpness and angles, and his eyes were a murky sea of grey. “Alright mate?” he asked me, but there was no real interest in those grey eyes. “Danny yeah?” I nodded at him, because this was something I did know the answer to. “Bit of whizz?” he asked then, in a far lower tone. “That all you need tonight?”
“Oh shit, yeah,” I said, suddenly finally my voice as I remembered what I had been looking forward to all day. “That’s right, yeah.”
“No problem mate.” He stepped closer to me, until our arms were touching, and then he took my hand and shook it in his, pressing something smooth and plastic against my palm. I grasped it and he pulled back, touched the brim of his cap and winked at me.
“I don’t get paid ‘til later,” I remembered. He slipped his hands into his pockets and shrugged his loose, lanky shoulders at me.
“It’s alright. I’ll still be around later. Tenner yeah?”
“Ten? It’s normally five!”
“Tonight it’s ten, sorry mate,” he said with another loose limbed shrug, as he turned away from me. “Seeya’ later mate.”
I turned around and pushed my way back into the club. The good song had ended. Some awful banal dance track had replaced it. I worked my way back through the crowds, picking up glasses, avoiding faces, until I found myself back in the kitchen. I ran a fresh sink of water, and placed the glasses next to it. Then I took the wrap and pushed myself into the small space between the fridge and the window. I didn’t have any papers on me, so I decided to just lick the powder off the Clingfilm. I stayed where I was for a few minutes afterwards, and I zoned out, just imagining the speed working its way down through my digestive system. I was not sure exactly what had just happened out there, but as usual I decided to not pay it much thought. What was the point? I had what I needed, that was the main thing.
Moments later I felt better. Brighter. Quicker. More with it. I found my Walkman in my jacket pocket and put it on. I had a big smile eating up my face while I washed the dishes singing along to Whatever; “I’m freeeeeee, to do whatever I…whatever I choose, and I’ll sing the blues if I want.! I’m freeeeeee…”
Howard was stressed that night. I picked up on it as soon as he barged aggressively into the kitchen to find me. I pulled down the headphones, pressed stop on the Walkman. His big face was flushed red and rolling with beads of sweat. He gave me a withering look, his hands on his hips. “You need to be quicker! I don’t pay you to stand out here fucking dancing! Get back out there and collect some more! Just had a load go crash out there, fucking glass everywhere!”
“Okay,” I said, realizing that although I had pressed stop, the music was still playing in my head. How amazing was that? I could still hear those beautiful violins, and it made me sway my head from side to side as I walked.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked me. I stopped.
“Um, nothing, I’m fine! I’m fine, and having a good time, why, aren’t you?”
“No,” he said, slowly and darkly. “I’m not as it happens. Are you drunk? You’re acting like you’re drunk. You better not be fucking drunk!”
I couldn’t stand still. I was trying not to make faces as my feet danced me from one to the other. “I’m not drunk,” I assured him. “I can stay at Jacks tonight yeah?”
“No you can’t,” he shook his head. “Your mum wants you home.”
“Because she’s had the school on the phone again, complaining that you’re never there!” He pushed his face towards mine as he spoke, and his small eyes seemed to roll around in his head like marbles. I stared at them, transfixed. “The truants officer and a teacher are coming over at some point to speak to you. You need to be there.”
“Oh,” I said, attempting a sheepish smile. “Whoops.”
“I haven’t got time to discuss this now,” he snapped then, rubbing the heel of one hand into his shiny forehead. “Get out there and get some more bloody glasses!”
At the end of the night, Jaime Lawler was still hanging about, sat at the bar nursing the dregs of a pint, and keeping his slate grey eyes on me the entire time. I started to sweat a bit down my end of the bar, where I was gulping coke like I had never known thirst before. I started to shit myself that Howard wouldn’t pay me as he usually did, and this strange sea-eyed fellow would come loping over to me to demand his money. Just as I was working up a real shaky little panic about it, Howard passed by and dropped two ten pound notes onto the bar in front of me. Jaime Lawler lolled forward from his stool, and made his move. He slid in beside me, and before I even knew what was happening, he had closed his hand over one of the tenners and slid it into his own pocket. I looked at his face and he met my bewildered expression with an eerie smile and faded eyes that peered out from beneath his cap. “Thanks mate,” he said. “Here’s my number if you need anything.” He left a piece of paper on the bar and walked out.
I was still happy and buzzing when I got home and fell into bed. My mum was nearly always asleep when we got back. I put my music on low, going for Definitely Maybe yet again, needing to hear it in its entirety after having Supersonic ripped away from me at the club. Nowhere near sleep, I bounced up and down on my bed like an over excited child. I felt wired. Every nerve and cell in my body alive and humming with energy. My heart beat like a drum in time with the music. I had about a million really important and intelligent things I wanted to say, to anyone, to everyone! I decided to write them down, and I wrote and wrote until I had rubbed a blister onto my finger. I still felt good. Like the King of Happiness, bouncing around on my bed, playing album after album, just like that. I devoured every single lyric sung, gobbling them up, along with every note played, every screech of the guitar, every beat of the drum. I devoured all of it and I felt myself glowing from the inside.
In the morning my mother started rapping urgently at my door, and as I stared at it, and at the sunshine outside my window, and at the piles and piles of loose paper floating around my bed, it dawned on me with slow and nervous horror, that I had not slept at all. All I could do was stare at the door she pounded on, totally confused, trying to picture myself spread out asleep, or curled up under my duvet, but the pile of tapes on the floor, and the ridiculous amount of paper, told a different story. I had stayed up all night. Okay, I reminded myself, it was okay, it was Saturday. I could sleep all day if I wanted. I would fall asleep at some point, surely I would. It was just a matter of time, and relaxation. Stupid me. I tried to think then, clawing my way back to the moment in the kitchen. How much had he sold me? The same amount or more? Had I taken too much?
She came in then, suddenly and intrusively, and she hurt my head with her screeching and wailing, as she moaned on and on about how the truants officer had tracked her down. “Like a criminal!” she was crying at me, her eyes all wet and running.
“I’m not going there anymore!” I decided to tell her then. I screamed it without meaning to. I was feeling all desperate and panicky and she was making everything worse. I wanted her out. I looked in desperation to the window, and thought seriously about jumping out of it, risking broken legs just to get the hell away from her face. I was shaking my head and rubbing my eyes, and trying to tell her that it would all be okay if she would just get the fuck out and let me sleep, but that made her worse. She started wailing and crying really hard, and the noise in my head was so bad it felt like the walls were coming down on me, and I had the constant urge to shield my head with my arms. I felt like I was going to be buried, so I started throwing things at her. And then what happened next was mostly a relief, because Howard came storming in blowing out his breath like a bull, and he told her to get out, and she did, and he kicked the door shut and then I felt his hand around my throat. I laughed at him, because it was all so fucking funny, and he was hissing at me through his little spiky sharks teeth, and I could see him changing into this huge wet snake, writhing and gleaming on my bed. I laughed at the snake through my constricted throat, and this sound made him wild, and the fear of it all was eating its way through my bones, one by one, and when the snake began to pound me in the stomach, it was a relief. I was relieved, because when the pain arrived, it was familiar, and it was a comfort, and it made sense, and it made everything else just fall away. I finally fell asleep when the snake had gone. The steady throbbing of my smashed up gut took over where the music had ended.