Dreams had been a problem for a long time. He had been shocked waking up after a peaceful night at Michael’s place, but had known his luck would not last long. He just felt relieved that his twisting and wrestling, and his final crash out of the bed, had not woken Lucy up. He looked up at her from where he woke on the floor, and saw her shift and murmur in her sleep, but that was it. Thank God. He could still feel the scream, caught at the back of his throat, and he had to cough twice to shake it away. He dropped his head into his hands for a few moments, and listened to his heart thumping wildly in his chest. He imagined his blood racing through his veins, waiting for the signal to calm back down.
The dreams varied in their make-up. Some were horrible, filled with images of blood and terror, some were non-descript, and nothing really happened; yet they still emanated a dark creeping kind of fear. He would wake up sweating and gasping if he was lucky. Most nights he was woken up by the sound of his own screams. He rubbed his eyes. He thought of the dreams as penance. As punishment. He had told various doctors and therapists over the years about the dreams. He had explained how violent they were, how terrifying, and how life like. They seemed to think it was okay. That he would work through them in his own time. He thought of them as his inside scars.
Danny glanced at the window. The face from the dream was still there in his mind, stretched in rage, the eyeballs bulging, saliva looping from the top teeth to the bottom. He remembered running. Running, running so fast it felt like his lungs might explode, and still, it was not fast enough, or far enough. The face was behind him, it was whooshing up upon him, and when he looked back over his shoulder at it he was reminded of that scene from ‘The Shining’, where Jack Nicholson’s crazed face appears through the smashed in door. Sometimes he knew he had looked into that face and been convinced that none of it was real, that he was not a real person at all, but a monster, a monster like in the films. Danny shook his head, shook it all away and looked around him. The blinds were down, but he could see it was daylight, so he got up from the floor and searched for his clothes.
In contrast to Mike’s place, Lucy’s flat was warm to wake up to. He liked the way she had decorated it too. Each room was simple and plain, yet somehow warm and cosy at the same time. The bedroom walls were a gentle, sea blue. The large pine bed matched the huge pine wardrobe and dressing table, which, he noted, was over spilling with various pots and jars of make-up and hair products. The room had that girl smell about it, he mused, as he pulled on his jeans, and found his top crumpled up at the foot of the bed. She had a tall pine bookcase to one side of the bed, crammed full of books, and to the other side a little bedside table, with a blue lamp on it, an alarm clock, a coffee mug and wine glass. He smiled at this. He liked looking around at her flat, piecing back together the parts of her life he had missed out on.
Like the bookcase, mostly full of teaching books and textbooks. He still couldn’t really picture her as a teacher. The thought made him want to giggle. He imagined she was brilliant at it though, a natural. He looked at her now, deep in sleep next to Kurt, who had managed to wriggle right under the duvet, with just his tail poking out. Danny sighed deeply, and allowed himself to feel and embrace the hope that careered through him whenever he was with her. It had always been that way, he thought. Life was shit, he felt shit, but then he would find her, and it was like she made the sun come out again, made him feel lighter, not so held down or bound up. He recalled many nights curled up with her, just like last night, not speaking, just breathing together, just holding on, and every breath he took with her was like being given permission to live. He looked at her now and thought, I don’t deserve you.
He went through to the kitchen and put the kettle on. He intended on making her breakfast in bed. He felt good, he realised. Not so churned up, not so fearful. He did not allow himself to think about yesterday, and the cemetery. There would be a time later to dissect it with Michael, and he would tell Lucy when things had settled down. He repeated the mantra he had sold to himself, over and over again in his mind, as he busied around the kitchen; one day at a time, one day at a time.
Lucy set her laptop up for him after they had eaten breakfast. She set it up on the kitchen table, while he washed up at the sink, and every time he looked at her she was smiling, half laughing, and he was the same. “Like an old married couple,” he said eventually, wishing it were true.
“Look at this,” she said to him, drinking from the second cup of coffee he had made for her. He dried his hands and came around to the table to see. “This is my Friends Reunited account,” she said, pointing to the screen. Danny leaned closer.
“So people contact you through this?” he asked, and she nodded and ran her finger down a list of names, with accompanying photos on the left hand side.
“Look, here’s Zoë.”
“Zoë?” Danny exclaimed with a laugh. He had not thought about her in years, but at one time she had been permanently joined to Michael’s side. “Wow, Zoë. What’s she up to these days then?”
“Look,” Lucy clicked on her photo and brought up her information for Danny to see. “She’s got three kids and another one on the way,” she said and glanced up at him. He shook his head, his hand going to his mouth in amazement.
“Bloody hell, has she? Are any of them Michael’s?”
It was a joke, but Lucy made a face at him. “I wouldn’t put it past him, would you? But no, I don’t think so. She got married really young, like twenty or something. I was chief bridesmaid, no less!”
“Really? Oh my God. Where does she live?”
“Redchurch. Same as Billy. Some people just stay where they started, don’t they?”
Danny blew his breath out and shook his head again. He for one could not ever imagine going back to Redchurch, not for any reason. Belfield Park was grimy and grotty, nothing much had changed there, but it was the place they had ran to, it was the place they had at least been safe for a while. “Do you see her much?” he asked Lucy, and she shrugged in reply.
“Not really, not socially. I mean I see her at school, because some of her kids go there, but I’ve never taught any of them. We chat on here a bit. Stay in touch, you know? You can set up an e-mail account on my computer if you like?” She looked up at him enquiringly, and he pushed his hands into his pockets.
“I don’t know. No point really, eh? I don’t know anyone anymore.”
“Fair enough,” she said easily. “What time are you meant to meet your mum?”
“Any time,” he replied. “I’ve got the address. It’s about half an hour away from Redchurch, Milford something? Down by the sea.”
“She sold the Cedar View house immediately,” Lucy said then, looking back at the computer screen. “Did she tell you?”
“Yeah,” Danny nodded. His mother had in fact been his most frequent visitor over the last eight years, though he did not feel comfortable telling Lucy this.
“She had to drop the price quite a bit to sell it.”
“I know.” He turned away then, went back to the sink and picked up the tea towel to finish drying the breakfast things. He had his back to Lucy, waited for her to say more, but she didn’t. She had never forgiven his mother, like Michael. It was a hatred she seemed determined to hold onto. He sighed to himself and thought I guess everyone needs someone to blame, and Lucy blames her.
They were silent for a while. Danny finished drying the dishes and tried to put them away, but he didn’t know where anything went, so Lucy ended up closing down the laptop and getting up to show him. She seemed preoccupied, he thought, watching her move around the room. “Listen,” he said finally, catching her by the shoulder and stopping her. “Last night was amazing. Christ, how cheesy does that sound?” He laughed at himself and went on. “But I don’t want you to feel like you owe me anything, because you don’t, or like you have to tread on eggshells around me. You know?” She frowned at him slightly, but nodded. “You can say anything,” he told her. “You can ask me anything. I won’t mind. Okay?”
“Okay,” she smiled, and stepped forward, slipping her arms around his middle. “It’s okay. I’ll drive you to your mums. I’ll wait outside though.”
“You don’t fancy seeing her, do you?”
“No. Sorry. Maybe one day, who knows? But not today baby.”
“I understand,” he said, and lifted her chin up so that he could look down into her face. “And please, anything you are worried about, or want to talk about, we can yeah?”
“I am single,” she blurted out suddenly, and then instantly covered her mouth with her hands. He grinned at her and she rolled her eyes at him. “I don’t know why I said that.”
“I’m glad you did.”
“What an idiot I am..what a retard!”
“I don’t think you’re an idiot. I reckon you’ve had no end of fella’s following you about. You didn’t have to wait for me or anything, you know that don’t you?”
“Course, stupid. Listen, we better go. We’ll talk more later yeah?” She fixed him with a mischievous grin, and pulled away to find her bag and keys.
Outside the front door, Danny tucked Kurt under his arm and wished he had asked Michael for some cigarettes. Lucy came out behind him, looking up and smiling as a young man came jogging along the pavement towards them. “Hi Carl!” she called out breezily, and placed one hand on Dannys arm. He looked at Carl, who slowed down and stopped in front of the building, hands on knees as he caught his breath. He looked up at them both, and Danny half expected a hello, or a smile, or a question, but what he received instead was an extremely embarrassed expression, as the man pointed to the front door they had just pulled shut behind them.
“Um…” he said, grimacing and looking like he wanted the ground to open up and pull him in. Danny and Lucy followed his pointing finger, and immediately they both gasped in dismay. Someone had used black spray paint across Lucy’s red front door. The word killer scrawled out in huge, drooping letters.
The word echoed in his head during the drive over to Milford-on-sea. Lucy made small talk with him, and kept the radio down low. She told him about her class at school, and the funny things the children said and did. He could barely concentrate on a word she was saying. He nodded and looked her way every now and again, but it was useless. Killer. All over her fucking door. He felt sick in his stomach, sick and heavy with guilt. “Who would do that?” he asked eventually, his voice strangled. She turned the radio down a bit more, looked at him briefly and shook her head and shrugged her shoulders.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I want to know.”
Danny thought of the old man then, the old man in the cemetery, but it did not bear thinking about, none of it did. He could not bring himself to mention it to her. Not yet. This was all too much to deal with. It was not fair on her, he thought. Her fucking front door! Who would do that? Who would know? Again, he saw the image of the old man’s burning eyes in his head, and he looked out of the window, biting his lip, feeling the strong urge to whack his own head against the window, just to get rid of the man’s face.
“People are idiots,” Lucy was saying, trying to calm him, he knew. “It’s probably just kids, you know? Stupid idiot kids.”
“But who would know? I mean, except for us lot. It’s not like it’s all over the papers.”
“Michael mentioned that reporter was at his door yesterday morning.”
“Yes, but I didn’t speak to her. I’ve never spoken to any of them.”
“You need to put it out of your head,” Lucy said then, with a sigh. “I mean it. I know that’s easier said than done, but you’ve got your mum and John to deal with now, and then meeting with Billy later. It must all be so much, anyway. Try not to think about it for now.”
He looked her way. “I’m really sorry Lucy.”
“Don’t be stupid. It’s just a door. Carl said he would have a go at removing it while we’re gone.”
“That was nice of him.”
“Yeah. So put it out of your head, for now. Can you do that for me?”
“I’ll have to,” he shrugged, knowing it would be impossible. “Can’t do anything about it can I?”
“Just kids,” Lucy said again, and he could hear in her voice that it had shocked and confused her. Her eyes were darting around, concentrating more than she needed to on the driving, and she kept swallowing nervously. “Just stupid kids. Word must have got out somehow. I’ve told people. I should have kept quiet, but you know, I’m not ashamed of you being here, and I’m not ashamed of why you were in prison. I’ve never hid it from anyone.” She smiled bravely at him. “So it’s probably my fault,” she concluded. “I should have kept my big mouth shut. Someone has told someone and so on, and some stupid idiots have had a laugh. Tried to wind you up. We have to ignore it Dan.” She looked his way again and nodded firmly. He nodded back, agreeing with her. What else could he do?
His mother had been living in a third floor apartment with a glorious view of the sea, for most of the last eight years. As Lucy had reminded him, she had put her Cedar View house on the market shortly after he was sent to prison for murdering her husband in the kitchen. Seeing her was not going to be as difficult or as emotional as Lucy seemed to envision though. He had seen her once a month without fail for his entire incarceration. She had been his most consistently regular visitor. They had, in his opinion, laid their demons to rest a long time ago. They had peace, a mutual understanding and respect that he knew Lucy would probably never come to terms with, but that was fine.
As far as he knew, his mother still lived alone. As far as he knew, she had not seen anyone romantically since her husband’s death. But he didn’t know for sure, and he imagined she would not jump at the chance of telling him if she was with anyone new. Lucy remained in the car, dragging a dog-eared paperback out of the glove compartment and assuring him he could take as long as he needed. She wished him luck before he set off with Kurt at his heels. He looked up at the bright white building she inhabited, and then pulled his coat tighter around his body. It was a cold day, for early September, and the wind whipping up from the beach made him shiver and quicken his step. His mother buzzed him in, and he took the stairs rather than the lift, hopping up them two at a time, with Kurt now tucked back up under his arm.
His mother met him on the landing, with the door to her flat held open. She smiled an enormous, invigorating smile. Such a smile he had not seen on her face in a long, long time. During her visits to him inside, she had worn the same dark and pained expression, time and time again. She had always been a slim woman, but the last eight years had seen her shrink to something close to skeletal. She still wore her blonde hair long and wavy, and she still dressed well. Today she was wearing slim fit blue jeans and a navy blue tunic with three quarter length sleeves. He smiled back at her and thought that even in her late forties she was still very beautiful. When he put his arms around her, he felt the fragility of her body and was afraid that he might break her. She had no such qualms about him though, practically leaping at him and gripping his head with both hands, pulling his face down for a kiss. Then she closed her eyes and buried her head in his chest, and they stood there like that, for what seemed like an age. “My son,” she said, squeezing him tight. “My son. You don’t know what this day means to me. I so wish I could have come to meet you.” She looked up at him then, stepped back and viewed him with shining wet eyes. “But I understand why you wanted your friends,” she said, as an apology, and he sighed slightly and peered past her into the flat. He wondered if there would ever come a day when she would not feel the need to turn everything into an apology.
“Lucy brought me,” he told her. “She’s waiting outside.”
“Oh.” Kay nodded, and then smiled politely, before gesturing him into the flat, which was warm and smelled of lavender. He went in and dropped Kurt to the floor. His mother closed the door and helped take his coat. “Of course,” she said, of Lucy. “I understand that. That’s fine. Would you like tea or coffee? If you have time?”
“Oh yeah, tea would be great. John’s not here yet?”
She smiled a gracious smile and shook her head as she slipped past him into the kitchen. “No, not yet. He won’t want to speak to me, you understand.” He followed her into the kitchen, which was square, with a huge window that looked out at the sea. It was painted white, and had a small round table in the centre. A wind chime made of shells hung from the great window. There were fresh flowers in a blue and white striped jug on the table. She got two mugs down from a cupboard and switched on the kettle. “So tell me, how’s it been so far?” she glanced at him with a wide smile that touched her eyes. “It must feel so strange! So unreal!”
“Yeah,” he shrugged, thinking of the man in the cemetery and the graffiti on Lucy’s door. “You could say that.”
“So good to see all your friends? And Lucy!”
“Oh yeah. It’s great. It’s been great. Weird, but great.”
“Look, go and sit in the lounge, it’s far more comfortable. I know I haven’t got you for long, but we can have a quick cup of tea, and I have two presents for you.”
Danny frowned at her. “Presents?”
“Yes! Presents! I’ll bring them through. Go on now.”
Danny did as she wanted and went back into the lounge, which sported sliding doors that led out onto a small balcony. He could see a little bistro style table set out there, and one chair. It certainly did not look like she entertained much company, he thought, looking around the lounge. There were no signs, no men’s coats or shoes, or slippers lurking around anywhere. He remembered a time when men had followed her, when every conversation with a strange man had evolved into flirting and proposals. Men had wanted her, he remembered, had wanted to own and possess her. He took a seat in an armchair next to the sliding doors and she reappeared with two wrapped presents, which she placed on his lap, before hurrying back into the kitchen for the tea. Danny looked down at the gifts. One was a square shaped box, and the other a flat package, possibly an envelope. He bit his lip on the inside and wished that she hadn’t. He blinked away a vivid memory that shot into his head, an image of him on his fourteenth birthday, sat on his bed opening the presents that she pushed upon him so excitedly. A new Nirvana t-shirt, he recalled. It had made him smile. Then his mother had gasped at the bruises to his stomach when he tugged off the one he was wearing, to try it on. Play fighting, he had told her. She had believed him. He looked at the gifts she presented him with now, and a spiteful part of him felt like knocking them to the floor and telling her not to bother.
She came back with the tea and a plate of biscuits and set them all down on a small table between them. She took the other chair; almost disappearing into it, so small and bird-like she was these days. She perched, and picked up her tea and held it delicately in her hands, grinning at the gifts he held. “Go on,” she said. “We haven’t got long, have we? We can’t leave Lucy out there on her own too long and John will be here soon. Open them!”
“You didn’t need to,” he told her uselessly. “I don’t need anything.”
“Oh don’t be silly. Open the big one first.”
He opened it and held up the box. It contained a brand new mobile phone. He frowned a little and shrugged his shoulders. “Thanks mum.”
“You’ll need it!” she seemed to delight in telling him. “Everyone has them these days you know! You can’t live without them.”
I’ve managed the last eight years, he thought, but did not say. He smiled and turned the box over in his hands. “Thanks. I won’t have a clue how to use it though.”
“Oh Lucy will show you!” his mother laughed, waving a hand at him and setting her tea back down again. “Before you know it, you’ll be addicted to it like the rest of us! Plus, I can get in contact with you. I’ve put my number in there already for you. They are great really, Danny. We’ll be able to stay in touch so much better with this.”
“Okay,” he nodded, unconvinced. “Thanks again.”
“Now the next one!” she urged, and actually pulled her knees up slightly, rocking back in the chair gleefully. He wondered distantly if she was all right. He pulled off the paper and found an envelope addressed to him. He looked up at her and she nodded at him insistently. “Open it love. Open it.”
He tugged it open and inside he found a bank statement, a chequebook and what seemed to be a debit card with a pin number. He held them lightly in his hands, not understanding, but she nodded at him, smiling. “All yours,” she informed him.
“What? What is it?”
“Your bank account Danny. You remember I started them for you and John when you were little?”
“Sort of, but…”
“Well I’ve been looking after it for you, all this time. I’ve been adding to it. I’ve left you some money. So you will be okay. Look!” She sat forward and thrust a finger energetically at the bank statement. He trained his eyes in on it, ran them down the entries on the right hand side, and landed on the current balance figure at the bottom. His eyes shot wide open. Two hundred thousand pounds. No way. It couldn’t be real. He looked at it again.
“Holy shit mother.”
“It’s all yours,” she said then, and shifted forward, even closer to him. He felt her small hand drop onto his. He looked from her grave expression, her haunted eyes, down onto the paper. He shook his head at all of it.
“No way. It can’t be. You can’t.”
“I can and I have. Don’t you worry, John is sorted out as well. He wouldn’t take as much. Well it took me years to convince him to have any, but you know he has a little girl now? That kind of changed his mind. Things between us have thawed gradually, since then.” She kept her deep blue eyes on Danny’s. He wanted to look away, but he was held there, and it was horrible, because he could see everything there in her eyes, the awful guilt, the useless regret, all of it, and he knew he could never take it away for her. “But he’ll never forgive me of course,” she went on, her voice now tight and small. “And rightly so. But he has accepted my help finally. He accepted it because it is all I can do to say sorry. It is all I have left to try to make amends. You need this money Danny.” He looked down, shaking his head violently, and felt her hand tighten on top of his. “Look at me,” she said. “Look at me!” He lifted his eyes; found it torture to meet hers. “Now,” she said to him. “You listen to me, because I have to say this to you, and then that will be it, because I don’t want to rake up the past, I want us all to move on. I want us all to have decent normal lives. But you need to take this money, son. You have nothing at the moment, and we all know why. You can take this money. Start a business. Buy a house. Whatever you want. I only ask that whatever you do with it makes you happy, because you deserve to be happy Danny. Do you understand?” She was crying now. Fat diamond shaped tears filled the corner of each eye, before toppling over to spill quickly down her thin cheeks. She was holding his hand so tightly it was beginning to hurt.
“Where did the money come from?” he heard himself ask her, his own voice a strangled croak. She swallowed and lifted her other hand to wipe at her eyes.
“It’s my money,” she said adamantly. “From the sale of the old house and the sale of the club.”
Danny gritted his teeth. He stared down at the cream coloured carpet beneath his feet. “Then it’s his money.”
“No,” Kay said quickly, sitting back, but keeping her hand over his. “No it’s not Danny, it’s mine. Because when he died everything that was his fell to me. My house and my club. My money.”
“No,” Danny argued, his eyes burning into the carpet. “His money.”
“No!” she said, this time louder, angrier. “Don’t you say that! It fell to me. What am I supposed to do with it? I have everything I need, don’t you see? I bought this flat, I own it completely. I have a nice little car, and I have a nice little job as receptionist in a doctor’s surgery. I don’t need any more.”
“Mum” Danny spoke softly and lifted his eyes to meet hers again. “I understand that. But I don’t think I can take his money.”
She stood up then. She seemed furious. She dropped her arms, slapping her hands against her thighs. “Danny!” she cried in frustration. “Stop saying that, stop saying it’s his money! It’s mine! You must take it!”
“Doesn’t feel right,” he shook his head at her.
“Danny, for Gods Sake,” she turned on him then, hands going to her hips, head cocked slightly and shaking from side to side as she regarded him, sat stubbornly in the chair. “Don’t you do this,” she warned him. “Don’t you dare do this.”
“What? Do what?”
“Play the martyr. Play the victim. You’ve done that long enough.”
Danny could not believe what he was hearing. “What?”
“You know what I mean,” his mother seethed. “The court case. Your bloody guilty plea. You could have got off. You could have got manslaughter, or diminished responsibility, but no. No. You had to go against all the legal advice, and all our begging, and plead pre-meditated murder.”
Danny sucked in his breath and released it again slowly, and carefully. He felt the urge to stand up, to square up to her, take her on, but he forced himself to remain seated, hoping that was one way to keep calm. He let her words run through his mind for a moment. He looked at her and saw her blue eyes darken with anger. “That’s because it was the truth,” he told her slowly. “It was pre-meditated murder. I told the truth.”
She rolled her eyes and gasped at him. “You may say that,” she told him, nostrils flaring. “But I don’t buy it. I didn’t then, and I don’t now, and you have no idea how frustrating it was to see you put yourself through that, when you didn’t have to!”
“Mum, I meant to kill him. I planned to kill him.”
“You were half crazy with fear, and anger, and drugs!” she shouted back at him, coming a step closer, with her hands till planted on her tiny hips. “You didn’t know what you were doing Danny! And if you still believe that, then you need to go back and look at it all again. You really do. You need to stop being so ridiculously hard on yourself. You did it then, pleading murder when you didn’t have to, and you would have got far less than the ten years they sentenced you to, and now you’re doing it again. Refusing this money,” she nodded at the paper in his hand. “Exactly the same thing. It’s like you are determined to keep suffering.”
“No I am not!” Danny snarled at her. He held onto the bank statement with one hand, and his other hand dug into the armrest. He clung onto it, not wanting to let himself get to his feet. “That’s bullshit, and you don’t know anything!”
“Take the money then,” she challenged him. “Take the money and build a good life for yourself. You don’t think you deserve that?”
“Not really, no!” He almost laughed at her, dropping his head into his hand and balling the bank statement up into his fist. He let it fall to the floor. She scooped it up instantly and remained crouched down before him. She placed her hands on his knees.
“Why not?” she demanded, her tone angry, her eyes fierce. “Why don’t you? Why don’t you deserve it?”
“Why do you think?” he shot back. “I killed someone. I took someone’s life. I don’t really think I should be rewarded for that, do you?”
Kay shook her head slowly, in utter amazement. She licked her lips, and then sat back on her heels, keeping her hands on his knees. “You just spent eight years in jail Danny,” she reminded him. “Tell me, was that a reward? What about prison? Was it wonderful? Was it? Was it a happy, joyful place? Was it great, was it?”
Danny leant back in the chair, to move away from her. “Course it wasn’t.”
“So you were punished,” she told him. “You punished yourself by making that plea. You’ve served your sentence now son. It’s over. Why don’t you think you deserve the chance of a decent life?”
Danny rubbed at his eyes with both his hands. “I don’t know, I don’t know all right? It just seems wrong to take his fucking money!”
“And what about what he did to you?” she questioned, her tone softer now. He kept his hands over his eyes. He did not want to hear this. He did not want any of those things to come out of her mouth. He was starting to wish he had never come. He wanted more than anything, to just get up and walk out. “What about that?” she asked him, taking one of his hands and pulling it away from his face. “Do you ever ask yourself that? What about what he took from you? Not just eight years in jail Danny, but three years of abuse and torture! He took your childhood from you. They should have been the happiest, most carefree years of your life, but instead they were nothing short of hell.” Her voice broke on the last word, fresh tears spilled from her eyes, and she closed them tightly, unable to look at him any longer. “You have to look at it that way,” she said quietly. “I know you don’t want to think of the past, and neither do I, but you have to remember sometimes, you know, why you did what you did. Why.”
“I need to go,” Danny said then. He blinked away tears. He would not cry. He tried to get up, but she held onto his hand, holding him back.
“Please take the money. I want you to take it and be happy.”
“Mum, how can his money make me happy? It will just make me sick.” He pushed past her and got to his feet, clicking his tongue for Kurt to follow him. Kay scrambled to her feet, grabbing the bank statement and shoving it into the envelope with the rest of the things. She snatched his hand and pushed it into it.
“Take it with you,” she begged him. “Please, just take it with you and talk to Lucy about it. Talk to your friends. That’s all I’ll ask Danny.”
“I don’t know.”
“Please, do it for me. Do it to make me happy. Do it to ease my guilt just a tiny bit. Take it and talk it over with them. They’ve been there with you all along. They’ll know what to do. And if you come back in a few days, and you’ve really thought about it, and you still don’t want it, I’ll accept that.” She dropped her hand, leaving the envelope in his. “I mean it,” she nodded, folding her arms across her middle. “I’ll accept it and I’ll never mention it again, I promise. But you do this one thing for me; you take it and talk it over with your friends. See what they think. Will you do that for me?”
Danny dropped his shoulders in defeat. Nodded, and opened the door. Pulling it back towards him, he found himself face to face with his older brother, and he felt like sinking to the floor. It was too much. He felt his knees wobble a little, and his head was swimming. John regarded him with surprise, and then smiled warmly and broadly and stuck out his hand. “Not going already are you, little brother?” Danny shook his head. He could not speak. He looked back at John. He saw a man, an adult, tall and heavy set, in good shape. He looked fresh faced and healthy. It flashed through his mind how little he knew about him. His eyes flicked momentarily to Kay, stood silently behind Danny. “Mum,” he nodded at her, and then his jaw set tightly, and he looked back at Danny. “Shall I come in? Or do you fancy a walk somewhere?”
In the end they went for a walk. Danny waved at Lucy in her car as they came out of the building and headed towards the beach. He saw her wave back and then look back at her book. They walked along side by side, both with their hands in their pockets, as the little dog skipped ahead across the sand before them. “I’ve got something to give you,” John said eventually, and when Danny looked at him expectantly, he saw his older brother look immediately down at the sand, as if the burden of guilt lay heavily upon him also.
“More gifts?” Danny mused with a small smile. “It’s not my birthday.”
“Look I don’t know what to say to you Danny, and you know how I feel about mum, so I’ll be quick about this. You know I’ve felt terrible, about….” John had stopped walking, and his mouth was small as he looked angrily around at the beach, and then the sky, seeming to find it harder and harder to look at his brother. Danny sighed and decided to make it easy for him.
“John, it doesn’t matter. None of it matters now. You had your own life to live, and I didn’t ask for your help. We can’t change that now, so forget about it. Please.” He turned and started walking again. John caught him up.
“Okay,” he said. “All right. But there had to be something I could do to help, or make it up to you somehow, well that’s how I felt when you went to prison anyway. I wanted to do something but I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to do one thing, to be a good brother, you know?”
Danny had no idea what he was talking about. He only knew that all of this was doing his head in. He and John had never been close. Never. He had let go of any anger he had once held for John for leaving, but what was the use in pretending they were ever going to get on? John seemed aggravated and uncomfortable walking beside him, and eventually he stopped again and pulled a letter out of his pocket, thrusting it almost impatiently at his younger brother. Danny frowned and took it from him. “What’s this?”
“I found your dad, Danny.”
“Your dad. When you went to jail, I started looking. I didn’t know if it was the right thing to do or not, if you’d even want to see him after all these years. But I always felt guilty you know? I had my dad, and you never had yours, not since you were nine anyway. It wasn’t fair.” He pushed his hands back into his pockets and blew out his breath. He nodded at the letter. “He lives in Southampton these days, not far from where we used to live before mum moved us here. He travelled around for years, had a pretty colourful life by all accounts, and then he went back there to try to find you. When he’d sorted himself out, you know? He wanted to see you but we’d gone.”
Danny stared at the letter in his hands. He at once wanted to hurl it into the sea and run away from it, and hold it closely to his chest and never let it go. He did not know what to say so he said nothing. Just stared from the letter, to John, and back to the letter again. “He’s been writing to you,” John said. “Over the years. Even before I found him and told him what had happened. He had all these letters for you. He’s got them. If you want to see them? That’s his address in there for you, and his number. What do you think?”
“What do I think?” Danny asked, his voice catching in his throat as he looked up at his brother. “I think my head is fucked John, that’s what I think.”
“I know. I know, I’m sorry. I wanted to give it to you in person, that’s all. To explain. And see how you are.”
“I know. I know you are. I’m proud of you, you know.”
Suddenly, out of nowhere, John’s arms were around him, and Danny felt himself stiffen in surprise. His brother had always been bigger built than him, taking after his own father, Kay’s first love. He felt like a giant now, enveloping him in his broad arms, pulling him into his thick chest. Just as quickly, John released him and wiped what might have been a tear from the corner of one eye. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “I didn’t mean to mess with your head, but it took me a few years to trace him see. I didn’t know whether to tell you when you were inside, or not. I just wanted to find him for you. It was about the only thing I could give you back.”
“Unbelievable,” Danny said to him and forced a smile. He tucked the letter into his jeans pocket and patted his brother on the arm woodenly. “Thank you.”
“You mean it? You’re okay with it, I mean?”
“I’ll deal with it when I’m ready,” Danny nodded. “But thanks, and I mean that. It was a kind thing you did.”
“About the only good thing I’ve done, for you.” John was staring down at his feet. Danny thought wistfully of Lucy sitting in her car, and his friends, and the pub and warmth.
“You were a good brother John,” he said then and he was not really sure if he meant it or not. “Before you left, I mean. You tried really hard. I do remember that. Mum put on you a lot, and I was a little shit. I haven’t forgotten all that. I never blamed you for leaving, you know.”
“Well I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, that makes you a finer man than I will ever be,” said John, releasing a sigh and relaxing his shoulders as if Danny’s words had eased his troubled mind just a little. Danny grimaced as they turned back towards the road, and he thought about his eight years in prison, and all that had gone before.
“I don’t think that’s true,” he said.
Outside, his mothers building he climbed into the car beside Lucy and shuddered. She looked at him in concern and reached out to stroke Kurt. “Okay?”
“I need a drink,” he told her.
“Okay,” she said, turning the key in the ignition. “We can do that. Let’s go.”