On the morning of my sixteenth birthday, I awoke to the smell of bacon frying, and to the sound of someone vomiting noisily in the bed-sit below ours. Anthony had pinned old sheets and blankets to the large sash windows, but the morning sun burst through them with ease. I was so confused for a moment. I could hear Oasis playing, but I had no idea where it was coming from, and for a while I really had no idea where I was or what was going on. Hey you! Wearing the crown! Making no sound…I heard you feel down? Well that’s too bad, welcome to my world! I was on the left side of the pull down bed, the side closest to the kitchen. I was face down, and because the springs were knackered it felt like I had been lying on rubble all night, and I moaned and groaned as I rolled slowly over to my side. I could feel Michael, sprawled out beside me, flat on his back with his arms and legs stuck out to the sides. I felt reality juddering to life within me. It was like my heart didn’t want to get going, to be honest. I kind of felt the urge to punch myself in the chest, just to give it a kick up the arse. I didn’t want to move, but I made myself. I peeled myself slowly away from the thin and sagging mattress, and swung my legs out of the bed. I lowered my feet dubiously down to the thin threadbare carpet, and immediately pulled them back up again. It felt sticky to the touch, so I got my feet back on the bed and wrapped my arms around my legs.
Michael snored on behind me, and Anthony whistled softly to the music in the kitchen, scraping and shoving bacon around in the pan. I yawned, scratched at my neck and tried to work out exactly why I felt so crap, so weighed down. I found myself wondering if I could still remember Jaime Lawler’s number by heart. I thought back to the stresses of yesterday. It was all a bit of a blur. Like a dream. We had arrived at the bed-sit in a flurry of adrenalin and fear. Terror was buried under the surface of excitement. We were bordering on the hysterical the whole time. Collapsing in fits of tear streaming laughter when Michael pulled open a drawer in the kitchen and the knob came off in his hand. Anthony falling over backwards onto his arse when we carried up the TV he had liberated from his mothers lounge. I’d laughed, and felt myself growing weaker with every step. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, I was lost inside a shadow, and when we finally fell down in front of the TV with cans of beer and cold toast, it was drink and drugs my mind felt drawn to. I watched Michael, trying to cover up his own fear, licking his lips and jumping at every single tiny little noise. Anthony was just Anthony. I didn’t know how he did it, but I admired him all the more. He remained calm and composed, offering us lazy, confident grins around the cigarette that dangled permanently from the side of his mouth. “I’ll go shopping tomorrow,” he told our silent, sombre faces. “Get some proper food in.” He had then spent a good half hour trying to tune the telly in, cursing and making us smile faintly in a stupor behind him. After that, we sat and watched the TV in silence, only able to guess at eachothers thoughts.
I had no idea what time I had finally fell into an uneasy form of sleep, but I did know that it was hours after Michael and Anthony had both began to snore, and another few hours after the guy downstairs had turned his awful techno music off. With the music off, the guys dog had started to complain. Just a mournful yip, yip, yip to begin with, which soon built up into a genuine howl of protest. At some point I heard the man swearing loudly, and stomping across his floor to the door, presumably to take the dog out for a piss. After that, silence. I lay on my back beside Michael with my arms folded behind my head, not even remotely sleepy. All I could think about was the knife in my hands, my fingers curled tightly around the handle, and the strange bounce of leather versus steel, as the blade pierced right through the top of his shoe…I closed my eyes to wish it away, but it wouldn’t go. The blood filled my mind. It pooled and swam and ran like a ruby river, gushing behind my eyelids. My hands began to shake as they relived the fleshy wrench of the knife as it ripped back out of the foot. My feet jerked and twitched at the end of the bed, as I fought the urge to release the nervous energy inside of me. My teeth found my lower lip and gnawed at it savagely. I shook my head back and forth, and rubbed at my eyes, but I was unable to rid of my mind of Jack’s face, saggy and flabby as it stretched the folds of skin into an almighty scream. I felt like punching my eyes in. They would not close. They would not rest. I felt this sad, sick twisting inside of me and wondered if it would be gone by the morning, if any of it would truly ever go away.
Despite the tantalising smell of frying bacon, and the relative safety of the fourth floor bed-sit and double locked door, I had realised miserably upon waking that it had not. If anything, the feeling had intensified, and as I sat shivering on the edge of the bed, all I could think about was my mother back at home, reading my note and wondering where I was. I can’t explain the pain inside of me right then. I felt angry with myself for it. I should have been happy. Things were going to be so cool. We’d made it; we were out, we were safe and the good times could flow….but the fears and the sadness were ballooning helplessly inside of me. I felt panic close to the surface. What would she do with the note when she found it? Would she show Howard? How soon would he be after us? What if we’d been seen getting into the taxi? What if his people, whoever they were, had seen us in Belfield Park? I gulped. My throat was dry and I had to open my mouth to breathe. I couldn’t stop staring at the closed door. What if he was out there now? Lurking in the shadows, under the stairs or in the hallway? I hugged myself tighter. What if he was waiting out there somewhere, just waiting for the chance to get me alone? Oh my fucking god, I thought then, as the goosebumps marched out across my skin, he would be insane with anger by now, he would kill me. I’d defied him in the worst way possible. I’d connived and planned behind his back. I started chewing at my nails desperately. What if he had Jack with him, hunting me down? Jack and his bloody foot? They would want to kill me, I knew it. They would be dying to get their hands on me and make me pay. I rocked myself back and forth. I was close to tears. Close to outright panic. Close to shut down, or something.
Anthony swished brashly through the beaded curtain, carrying a large plate of bacon and toast. He paused and frowned when he saw me rocking on the bed. He held the plate hesitantly out towards me. “Morning mate, you alright? You don’t look like you slept well.” I shook my head at the plate, so he withdrew it and crouched down in front of me. “Come on, you sure? You must be hungry. You’ve got to eat. Got to get some meat back on them bones, yeah? What’s the matter eh?”
“Feel sick,” I managed to tell him through my chattering teeth. “Sorry.”
“Well okay, maybe later then yeah?” He placed the food on the floor and examined me quizzically. “You’re shaking like a leaf mate, are you cold?” I shrugged. I wasn’t cold, not in the slightest. I was just shaking like a fucking wreck. “I went out like a light,” he said, then, grinning at me. “Must have been the stress of it all! I was whacked. You didn’t sleep well then?”
I shook my head. “Not much.”
“Should’ve rolled you a spliff,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I bought a tiny bit of grass off Jaime. You want a smoke now? Might help you chill out a bit.” He didn’t wait for my reply. I didn’t really care either way. He stood up and picked his ruck sack up from the floor, beside the rickety sofa-bed he had slept on last night. He perched on the edge of the sofa and opened his little tin. He rolled the joint in silence, but every now and again I felt his eyes upon me. “You’re freaking me out, I have to say it,” he sighed eventually. “What’s with the rocking? Hey, happy fucking birthday by the way!”
I tried to smile, but it didn’t work. “I thought I’d feel better…”
“But you don’t?”
I shook my head. “They’re gonna’ come after me Anthony.”
“They’d have to get through me first,” he reminded me sharply. He finished the joint, lit it up, dragged on it twice and then got up and came and sat next to me on the bed. He passed it to me and I took it between my trembling fingers. “There you are mate, have a bit of that and chill out. They’re not gonna’ come after you. They don’t know where you are, and why would they bother?”
I inhaled and passed the smoke back to him. “You don’t know them like I do,” I said to him. I was thinking about that night in the caravan, when Howard had followed me there after I’d tried to run away. Great black waves of fear shook through me as I recalled his words, and his gleaming, vindictive eyes. I’d done it again. I’d broken the rules. Took the piss out of him. Stepped out of line. He wouldn’t just let it go, I knew it. “We won’t be that hard to find,” I murmured. “He’ll track us down. Easily.”
“They might just leave you the fuck alone,” Anthony shrugged, his tone hopeful and bright. I knew it was what he and Michael were counting on. It being over. Us, escaped and free with the nightmare behind us, and only good times ahead. He was clinging onto it and I didn’t blame him for one second. “Have you thought of that? It might just be over.”
“It’s not over,” I said, shaking my head firmly. “I can feel it Anthony, that’s why I couldn’t get to sleep. My body wouldn’t let me. That’s why I just woke up in this stupid state. It’s ‘cause my body’s telling me not to relax, it’s telling me!”
Anthony laughed rather nervously, as Michael started to stir and turn in the bed behind us. “Don’t talk shit Danny, you’re gonna’ scare yourself like that.”
“It’s true Anthony. I can feel it.”
“Well then we’ll call the police,” said Anthony. “If they do a single thing, if either of them bother you even once, we’ll call the police. Fuck it, we’ll tell them everything. You’re not alone now, you know. You have to remember that. You’ve got me and Mike here now.”
Michael yawned as he struggled up into a sitting position. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Anthony told him. “Just Danny freaking out a bit. It’s no wonder really.”
“You can’t be with me twenty-four seven,” I pointed out. “And we’ve all got jobs we need to go to.”
“Hey can I have some of that?” asked Michael, nodding at the joint we were passing back and forth. Anthony held it out to him, and then scooped the plate of bacon and toast up from the floor. He placed it on the bed between us and helped himself to half a slice of slightly burnt toast.
“Just relax mate,” he said to me again. “Just have a smoke, have a drink, do whatever you need to do. It’s all bound to be a head fuck for you today. It would’ve been alright probably if that perverted shitbag hadn’t tried it on with you yesterday. Christ, if I ever got my hands on that filthy, disgusting old fuck…”
“Yeah, it’s not like you stab someone in the foot every day, is it?” Michael piped up sleepily, helping himself to a slice of toast with bacon. Anthony rolled his eyes at him and shook his head at me. Michael shrugged. “Well it’s not, is it? I didn’t sleep so well myself actually. Had really weird dreams.”
Anthony patted my shoulder reassuringly. “It’s all gonna’ take some getting used to, that’s all. Give it time. You’ve been through more shit than most people deal with in a lifetime, and as I have to remind you again, it’s your sixteenth fucking birthday!” He grinned at me and got to his feet, clapping his hands together as he did. “Right, you two finish that off. I’m gonna’ try the shower out, and then go and get us some decent food.”
“You’re going out?” I questioned, staring up at him. He sighed very gently.
“Yep. Too right I am. In fact, we all are later. We’ll have a walk down to the beach or something, yeah? Just to show you, that nothing is gonna’ fucking happen!” He gave us a flash of his brilliant, confident smile and walked around the bed and into the tiny bathroom. I stayed on the bed, pulling the sleeping bag back over me, and shivering still.
Michael was munching on bacon in between drags on the spliff. “You have to believe him, you know,” he said to me. “He won’t let anything happen to us.”
“He might not be able to do anything about it,” I told him unhappily.
“You need to call Lucy mate. Get her over here. You can’t be all down and depressed on your bloody birthday!”
I nodded at him. I didn’t for one moment believe that she could make me feel any safer, after what I had done, but I liked the thought of curling up with her and blocking the rest of the world right out. I could kiss her neck and play with her hair, and show her the mix tape I was working on for her. Maybe if I felt relaxed enough by then, I could just fall asleep beside her, I thought. That would be alright.
Anthony endured a very brief shower. We sat on the bed giggling behind our hands, every time he screeched out that it was too fucking cold, and then it was too fucking hot. It was pretty funny to listen to. When he came out, he threw on some fresh clothes and made a very brash and cocky show of getting ready to leave our little hole. Michael got up when he had gone and double locked the door behind him. I watched him traipse over to the windows and press his forehead gently against the glass. The monotonous techno music had begun thumping again downstairs. Michael sighed, came away from the window and joined me back in the bed. We watched TV for a while, and then he made us both a cup of tea, and we sat in the bed drinking it. He tried to say helpful and encouraging things to me, suggesting we have some kind of house party at some point, or got out later to celebrate my birthday. I didn’t say much. I just sat and smoked a chain of cigarettes until Anthony returned.
When he got back, he banged on the door and shouted at us to let him in. I watched from the bed as Michael unlocked the door, and his brother bustled back inside, lugging four bulging plastic bags with him. He promptly dropped one and two tins of beans rolled out across the floor. Michael pounced on the food, snatching up a selection pack of crisps and a packet of cheap ham. “Get out of it!” Anthony yelled at him, trying to haul it all into the tiny kitchen. “It’s got to last!”
“You sound like mum,” Michael smirked after him, picking up the beans and passing them to him through the beaded curtain. Anthony laughed out loud and started opening and closing the cupboard doors with exuberant bangs. Then he appeared in the doorway, shoving the curtain to one side and lighting a cigarette.
“Guess I’m mum and dad now!” he joked, winking at me. “Fancy that eh? My age with two bloody kids!” he laughed and nodded at me questioningly. “What about it then Danny-boy? What’s the plan? You’re sixteen mate!”
I smiled. I wanted to snap out of it, I wanted to please them and be brave for them, and I wanted to stop craving the things I knew I shouldn’t touch again. “Think I’m gonna’ call Lucy,” I told him, and he grinned back at me wildly. “Get her over.”
“And Billy and Jake,” said Michael. “Party time!”
“That’s more like it,” agreed Anthony, “now you’re talking. Let’s get them all round and give that guy downstairs something to complain about! We’re free boys! Let’s fucking enjoy this!”
Later that day, Jake and Billy and Lucy arrived together. They had caught the bus over, and from the looks on their faces, I imagined they had been checking over their shoulders the entire time. Billy strode into the bed-sit, wide-eyed and impressed and carrying a bag full of tapes he wanted us to listen to, and Jake swung a heavy bag onto the side in the kitchen and plucked two nice looking bottles of wine from it. “No one asks me for I.D anymore,” he shrugged in response to our astonished expressions. I watched them all from the safety of the bed I had barely moved from all day. I sat there and wondered dully if the house party included me telling them I had stabbed a man yesterday. I listened dutifully while Billy dissected The Stone Roses Second Coming album, as it played in the background. I nodded in all the right places, but my tongue was this useless lump of meat inside my mouth, and my mind, a tangled, bewildered mush. I saw Jake eyeing me warily from across the room, his eyes narrowed and uncertain. I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking I was fucked up on drugs again, and that’s why he was keeping his distance from me. Well I wished I fucking was. I would have done anything right then to escape it all.
But then Lucy accepted a glass of wine and dropped down onto the bed beside me, and there was no awkwardness, no hesitation between us, and I found myself reaching out for her instantly, as I felt the horror coming to life again inside of me, threatening to tear me right apart. I needed something to hold onto, and I held onto her. I wrapped my arms tightly around her neck and buried my face into her neck. The rest of them became nothing more than a background noise to me then, as I clung to her, and she waited patiently, stroking back my hair, her body loose and sinking into mine. “Something bad happened yesterday,” I told her when the others had started shouting at each other over the music. She curled her legs up with mine, and it was like there was this physical barrier between us and them. I could hear the talking and the laughing, and the music, but it all sounded far away from us. Her face was just millimetres from my own.
“What is it?” she asked me. I leant forward and pressed my lips onto hers suddenly, before pulling back and dropping my head down onto the pillow.
“Don’t hate me.”
“Why would I hate you? I could never hate you, silly. Tell me what happened.”
“I stabbed Jack in the foot,” I whispered it to her, holding her face down next to mine, our hair covering us, shielding us from the outside world. She tightened her arms around my shoulders.
“Oh my god. Why did you?”
“He attacked me. Howard sent him. I had to do it.” I closed my eyes then. I thought, you know Jesus Christ, I just can’t stand this, I just can’t do this. I don’t know how to put one foot in front of the other anymore. I don’t think I will ever have the will or the energy or the courage to leave this bed. I think I will just fade away here. Images of pumping blood and red footprints and his screaming face had filled my head again, invading my sanity. “He walked out okay….Mike and Anthony cleaned up…we came here.”
Lucy shushed me. She used her hand to smooth my hair back over my forehead and she kissed my nose. “Shh,” she said. “It’s okay then. It’s over. You had to do it. You got away. I’m proud of you.” I opened my eyes.
“How can you be?”
“Because you’re still here.”
I couldn’t speak then. I closed my eyes because they were overrunning with tears. She curled up with me. We felt like one. “Everything is gonna’ be okay,” she told me. She kept telling me it. “Go to sleep. You’re exhausted. I’ll look after you. I’ll love you forever, do you know that? Danny…you’re my Danny-boy…do you know that?” Our bodies were tightly entwined and in that moment, somehow I was able to believe her. I let her stroke my hair and she spoke to me softly the whole time, and I guess at some point, it worked, and I fell asleep.
When I woke up, the lights were on, and it was dark outside. The bed-sit smelled of pot and spilled beer. Jake was lying on the floor laughing so hard with his hands clutching painfully at his belly. Anthony was cutting up pizza in a massive box on the carpet. Lucy held onto me, and we sat up together, blinking. I didn’t know what to say, or do, so I just watched them all. I watched them laughing and singing and shouting and I loved them. My soul trembled and swayed with it all. I wanted things to be good. Just then, Anthony saw I was awake and leapt up to his feet, shoving the knife at Michael to cut the pizza. “Birthday boy, birthday boy,” he sung in a drunken voice as he turned off the light and shoved through the curtain into the kitchen. There was a strange, hysterical silence. He came back through, carrying a small chocolate cake just covered in candles. I smiled, and I laughed. Lucy squeezed my hand. It was brilliant. Happy birthday to you, they sang it at the top of their lungs. They danced and clapped, and everyone was happy, everything was okay. Billy came to the bed when I had blown out the candles. He was drunk and stoned and smiling like a lunatic. He leaned towards me and he pressed a white envelope into my hands.
“Happy fucking birthday from the happy fucking fat man!” he garbled at me, before stepping backwards, tripping on someone’s discarded shoe and falling onto his arse. They all roared with laughter and Michael jumped on top of him, ruffling his thick red hair. I looked at Lucy and she was smiling this serene and beautiful smile for me.
“Been looking forward to this,” she said, her arm through mine. They were all staring at me again. “Open it!” she urged, giggling. “Come on!”
“It’s from Terry?” I asked, ripping it open.
“Yep,” said Lucy.
“Fucking fat man!” Billy bellowed at me from the floor.
I opened the envelope and pulled out two tickets. Tickets. My mouth fell open. My breath froze in my throat. My heart stopped. Oasis. October. Live. Bournemouth. I blinked again and again and again, my mouth hanging open, my hands holding the tickets and just shaking, shaking like crazy. They all started laughing at me. “His face!” Billy screeched, rolling around under Michael. “Oh his face!”
“Danny!” Michael was yelling at me, his dark eyes intense with excitement. “We’re all fucking going!”
Anthony put the cake on the bed and shoved a glass of wine into my other hand. “Cheers mate!” he yelled over the music. “Happy birthday!”
I couldn’t speak, or anything. All I could do was stare at the tickets in my hand. The room became a dark and spinning tunnel of lights and colours and noises around my head. I felt like I was standing on top of the world and it was spinning recklessly and violently beneath my feet, and I was looking up, I was looking upwards, my eyes on the sky, my head in the stars. If you could take moments like that and capture them completely, into some perfect essence that you could bring out again and again, whenever you needed to, whenever you needed help, whenever you needed a lift, or some hope, some light, then do you know what? I think we would all live forever.