She had been up ridiculously early, getting things ready. First herself; a bubble bath, hair wash and full leg wax, followed by hair straightening and an hour agonising over what to wear. She had finally decided on dark bootleg jeans and a slim fit v-neck t-shirt under a long black cardigan. She wore her hair down, applied minimal make-up; just enough to make her feel fresh faced and then set about sorting the flat. She ran the vacuum through every room, cleared the sink of washing up, and scooped up the piles of discarded clothes from the bedroom floor. The whole time she carried a vibration of nerves with her that threatened to put her right off the roast dinner she had planned. Of course her mother had texted twice already; put the oven on now love and your dad wants to know do you need him to bring some of his potatoes?
Lucy found herself, pottering rather pointlessly around the kitchen, once the chicken was in the oven, and the vegetables had all been peeled. She smoothed down her hair, tried not to nibble her nails, and tugged at her lower lip instead. Yesterday, she reflected, had been so very strange, so very dreamlike. All of it, from awaking in the morning, to driving out there, to finally sliding her arms around him, all of it had felt so surreal, so odd. She almost did not believe that he would show up today. She almost could not believe in him as real. She was reminded, and smiled ruefully at an old familiar feeling, of her breath being knocked out of her every time she thought of him. Don’t think too much, she kept berating herself. Think too much, and it will all get too hard, too complicated. Take each day at a time. Her mother had advised this approach, and it was a sensible one, but it was hard not to think ahead, and it was almost impossible not to look back. She turned suddenly, grabbing a bottle of white wine she had on the side and twisting open the metal lid. She poured herself a large glass, replaced the cap and leant back on the cupboard again, glass in hand.
She had so many questions for him. Yesterday had not seemed like the right time. She had found herself settling back into watchful silence, finding the sensation of just breathing the same air as him again, quite enough to deal with. She had not needed much alcohol in the pub to find herself totally intoxicated by it all. Just sitting back and watching the three of them back together, listening to them, noting their movements and their expressions, had taken up all of her energy. She had immediately picked up on two things; Michael’s endless anger, and Anthony’s burden of worry, which seemed to create a cocoon of tension around the two brothers. It saddened her to see the way Michael’s life had panned out, but she had never felt comfortable enough to bring it up with him. And Anthony, well she remembered a time when he had been this carefree older boy, exuding macho confidence. Someone they had all been in awe of, all looked up to. Michael had emulated him wherever possible, she remembered. Danny had found the protective older brother he had never had in John. But now, she looked at Anthony and saw a man older than his years, his eyes restless with anxiety.
It will all be okay now though, she told herself and nodded. She drank some wine and closed her eyes briefly, wondering if they would be early or late, how the rest of their day had gone yesterday, how Danny had felt getting Kurt back, how it had felt for him this morning, waking up in the real world. So many questions. Plus, somehow, she had to make it clear to Danny that he would be staying the night with her. He had enjoyed some time with Michael, she thought, now it was her turn.
The knock on the door startled her and she jerked her glass, slopping wine all down her top. “Shit!” she cursed, snatching a tea towel from the side and dabbing at it as she rushed towards the door, her heart in her mouth. When she pulled open the door, she saw Michael slouching, grinning and breathing fast, and her eyes tracked to Danny, and she watched him pull an unconvincing smile across his face, while his own chest rose and fell dramatically and his eyes looked too wide. Something was up.
“Smells good in here,” Michael kissed her on the cheek and bundled past her. There was a potentially awkward moment when Danny leaned in to kiss her, and she thought he was going for her cheek as Michael had done, but in fact he was aiming for her lips, and she sort of turned her head at the wrong moment.
“Hi Lucy,” he said softly, and she let him past her, carrying Kurt.
“Yep,” he shrugged, and she knew that he was lying. Never mind, she thought, it can wait, now is not the time anyway. If she knew her parents at all she knew that they would be bang on time, if not early. She only had moments to settle Danny and Michael in before they arrived, and she felt the first flush of irritation at herself for planning such a thing.
“Make yourselves at home,” she told them both. “I’ve got to check the chicken. Do you want something to drink?”
“Got any beer?” Michael asked. She gave him a look. “What? I can have one if I’m driving.”
“A cup of tea would be fine,” Danny told her, and she nodded. She showed him into the kitchen, and crouched down to check the oven, as he stood in the middle of the room, still holding onto the dog. She smiled to herself and wondered if he had put the dog down at all since being reunited with him.
“Lovely place, Lucy,” he said to her, looking around the kitchen. “I really like it.” Lucy flicked the switch on the kettle, took a beer out of the fridge and pushed it into Michael’s waiting hands, and as he turned to wander into the lounge with it, she took Danny by the hand. He smiled down into her eyes and she wondered what he was thinking.
“I want you to stay the night,” she whispered to him, and he looked surprised, but closed his mouth and just nodded.
Her parent’s arrival was another strange moment, Lucy considered later. They knocked on the door at the same time as Anthony, who came up behind them looking both harassed and embarrassed, though she had no idea why he had reason to feel either. He nodded politely at her parents, and she tried to remember if they had crossed paths before. The trial, it came to her then. They had met during the trial. Her father in particular had insisted on accompanying her every time she went to sit in the public gallery. You are too young to go through something like this on your own, he had told her. Anthony pushed an expensive bottle of red wine into her hands and kissed her gently on the cheek in the hallway. Then he squeezed past and went to join Michael and Danny, while Lucy took her parents coats.
“Everything okay?” her mum mouthed to her almost instantly and Lucy gave her a look, as if to say, why wouldn’t it be? She looked at her dad and saw he was wearing his usual expression of faint concern, but trying hard not to let it show. He was dressed casually in blue jeans and v-neck sweater, while her mum had opted for a knee length wrap dress in dark brown.
“Come on,” Lucy told them, dragging them both by the hand. “Let’s get the awkward bit over with. He’s in here.”
Lucy led them into the kitchen, where Danny stood drinking a cup of tea, with Kurt asleep in his arms. His eyes widened and his cheeks flushed, and he put down his cup and stuck his hand out automatically. “Keith, Deborah,” he said to them both and Lucy saw that his hand was shaking. She could have kissed her dad for what he did next though. He took Danny’s outstretched hand, and then pulled him in for a real hug, patting his back strongly with his other hand.
“Good to see you, young man,” he said into his shoulder. “Good to see you.”
Danny was speechless, just dazed. Lucy felt the tears, always so close, pestering her eyes and blinked them back quickly, as her mum slipped in between her dad, and wrapped her arms tightly around Danny.
“Danny,” she said, and that was all, and when she pulled back smiling, she wiped at her eyes and then rolled them at Lucy. “I knew I would cry!” she said with a small laugh. “Oh dear, I knew I would.”
“How are you both?” Danny straightened up and asked them; still holding onto Kurt, even though Lucy knew he must have been getting heavy by now.
Lucy felt a little like a willing outsider for the duration of the meal she put on. She didn’t know quite what to say to anyone, about anything, so having the dinner to prepare and serve, playing the hostess, gave her a great excuse to flit from person to person, all the time keeping her eyes on Danny. The meal went well, with only a few awkward silences, which Michael jumped in and saved every time, with some well-timed dig at either himself or his brother. He played the rogue and the clown to perfection, she thought wonderingly, watching him. Joked at his own failures, poked fun at his own lowly position in the world, while Anthony viewed him with increasing frustration, and Danny just seemed overwhelmed and unsure what to say.
Her parents left shortly after dinner, and again, she was thankful to them for this. They were from another world, she mused, watching her dad pump hands awkwardly with Michael. She could see the worry, permanently etched on her father’s face, while her mother seemed full of emotion, and was wiping at her eyes again as they left. She pulled Lucy into a tight embrace in the hallway. “Thank you for a lovely dinner darling,” she told her. “Will you call me tomorrow?”
“Course I will mum. Dad. Thanks for coming.” It was on the tip of her tongue to say thank you for being nice to him, but she didn’t. What did that even mean? She smiled tightly at them as they left her flat, and she wondered what they really felt about dining with a murderer. .
Lucy joined the rest of them in the lounge. Michael was fiddling with his phone. Anthony was leaning back with one knee crossed over the other, but his face looked anything but relaxed. Danny smiled at her from the sofa, and patted the space next to him. “We’ll wash up for you, won’t we lads?” he said. Lucy settled down next to him and reached across to stroke Kurt.
“Oh mum’s taken care of it all,” she replied. “You know what she’s like. Have you heard from your mum yet Danny? Has she been in touch?”
It was one of the many questions she had deliberately avoided during the dinner. It had been exhausting, she thought now, avoiding subjects, while trying not to let conversation peter off. Inviting Michael and Anthony had definitely been a wise move. She saw him look up from his phone now, waiting for Danny to reply.
“I’ve arranged to go to her place tomorrow,” he told them all. “She gave me the address last time I saw her. And John will be there too.” He nodded and raised his eyebrows at their sombre expressions. “Coming down from Leeds, he is. Be a bit weird.”
“Do you want me to take you?” Michael asked.
“Oh I can,” Lucy spoke up quickly. “It’s not a problem.” Michael nodded in understanding and she smiled at him gratefully.
“Just texting Billy-boy,” Michael said then, looking back down at the phone in his hands. “He wants to meet up. What shall I suggest?”
“Anything,” Danny shrugged in reply.
“Pub it is then,” said Michael, tapping in the reply. “Tomorrow evening suit you?”
“I have no immediate plans,” Danny said with a grin. He slipped his arm casually around Lucy, and she sucked in her breath, so surprised by the sudden warmth of it. For a moment she felt stiff and scared, but then she let herself relax back into him, nestling easily into his side. His arm draped her shoulder, his hand coming down to rest on top of her forearm.
“Right then,” Anthony announced suddenly, getting to his feet. “I think we’ve taken advantage of your hospitality enough Lucy darling. We better be going.” He raised his eyebrows at his brother expectantly, and Michael frowned up at him. Lucy saw a look pass between them, and Anthony even jerked his head ever so slightly in her and Danny’s direction, and finally Michael got it and jumped to his feet.
“Oh yeah,” he said, “that’s right. You got to get back to the wife and kids, and I got to get back to my shitty flat. Do you want me to take Kurt back Dan?”
“No, it’s fine,” Danny said. “He can stay, if that’s all right with Lucy.”
“Course it is,” Lucy ran her hand smoothly down the little dogs back. “We’re old friends, aren’t we buddy?”
“Okay, well,” Michael seemed hesitant for a moment, and lingered in the doorway, as Anthony grabbed their coats from the hallway and passed his to him. He seemed to be trying to make eye contact with Danny. “I’ll leave you to it then,” he said. “You’ll be all right and everything?”
“Course I will,” Danny nodded back at him, and Lucy watching, had that feeling again, that something was up, and that they were both keeping it from her.
When they had finally gone, she sighed and turned to Danny. “I know you two are not telling me something,” she told him and watched his eyes widen in guilt. “But that’s fine. As long as everything is okay?” he nodded slightly, reluctantly, his eyes searching her face, as if trying to decide what or how to tell her. She decided she did not need to know right now and leaned slowly towards him. Her hand came up to his face, cupping his chin and cheek, and she moved forward, kissed him long and deep and hard, before any more words could be wasted. When she pulled back, his eyes opened again slowly and he opened his mouth to speak. She stopped him with a finger to his lips. “No words,” she told him, “no words, no thoughts, let’s just do this. I seem to recall we were starting to get pretty good at this, before you went away?”
His mouth dropped open again, he shook his head slightly, and she got up, taking his hand and pulling him with her. “Lucy…” he started to say, as she led him through to the bedroom.
“Shh,” she told him again. “I said don’t talk, don’t think, just let me…”
Afterwards, they slept for a while. It was the dog, whining and scraping at the bedroom door that lifted Lucy from sleep. She sat up blinking, glanced at Danny, who was lying on his side, facing away from her. She got up quickly, darted across the floor and let the dog in. He immediately scampered up to the bed, hopped up and curled into a little ball next to Danny. Lucy chuckled softly at the sight of them. It warmed her heart to see them like that, back together again. She had bought the dog for Danny as a late sixteenth birthday present; when he was living in the Belfield Park bed sit with Anthony and Michael. He had been struggling, she remembered, sleeping badly, looking over his shoulder the whole time, his nerves shot to bits. The dog had helped calm him down, and gave him a reason to get up in the morning, a reason to go on.
She shivered and slid back under the duvet behind him. She found herself biting down on her lips again, at the sight of his bare back. Scars, she thought to herself, her eyes running along the haphazard array of white slashes and small circular marks that peppered his skin. She resisted the urge to reach out and touch them. She wondered if they were all from the past, or if any had happened while he was in prison. Her lips trembled then, her eyes moistened and she moved in behind him, slipping her arms around him and pulling him back into her, wrapping her body around his and holding him tight. She turned her face away, so that the wetness from her eyes would not wake him up.