“So what music are you into these days?” Billy was asking Danny. Lucy was between them, and Billy had to lean across her to talk to Danny. He was holding a Jack Daniels and coke, and every time he laughed out loud, he sloshed a tiny bit over her lap. She was not as drunk as them, but she was drunk enough not to care. It was lovely seeing Billy again, she thought, staring into his freckled, grinning face every time he replied to Danny. He looked so much like his dad, she remembered. His parents had been lovely, she thought, really lovely. They had all loved going to Billy’s house after school, back then.
“Didn’t get much chance, you know, inside,” Danny was telling him, pint of beer in one hand, and unlit cigarette in the other. Billy nodded quickly, his brow furrowed in seriousness. “But I mean, you might laugh, because you used to take the piss about me liking Bob Dylan, but I still really like him, and Neil Young too. I bet your dad’s got all his fucking records!”
Billy looked like he would explode with excitement. “Yes he has! He fucking has!” he roared with laughter, spilling another drop or two of whiskey over Lucy as he rocked back in his chair. “Oh I can’t wait to tell him you said that Dan, he will be so fucking happy, he really will! You know what he’s like, the old hippy git. You’ve gotta come and see him, you really have.”
“I will, I will,” Danny nodded in seriousness, raising his pint at Billy. “He’s on my list mate. He was good to me. I’ve never forgotten that. Plus, he can help me get back into the music. Does he still listen to the vinyl? Don’t tell me he’s into all the fucking downloading or whatever you call it?”
“Oh no, no worries there,” said Billy. “Firmly stuck in the past when it comes to records, believe me. He’ll love to see you mate, he really will. He’s always asked about you, you know.”
Lucy watched Danny absorb this, and saw his jaw twitch, and his eyes dart away from Billy’s face. It was inevitable though, she though with a sigh. Almost every conversation any of them had, would somehow trail back to the fact he had been away, he had missed out. Every now and then his new phone would beep and he would hand it to her in bemusement. “What now? Which of you cunts keeps making it bleep at me?”
They all roared laughter in response. Michael and Anthony had been sending him sporadic text messages throughout the evening. “We’re helping you get used to it,” Michael told him. “You need the practice.”
Lucy squinted down at the phone in her hand. “Oh,” she said, looking up. “It’s your mum. She must have put her number in already.”
Michael and Anthony swapped glances. “What does it say?” Danny asked her.
“It says, how are you, are you okay, and when can she see you again.” Lucy handed the phone to him. “You going to text her back?”
He looked totally lost. “No I can’t get the hang of it. I’ll call her tomorrow. Come on then, I need another drink. Who’s up for tequilas this time?”
“Now you’re talking,” Michael told him, hitting the table with his fist.
“Now you’re paying,” Anthony said, eyebrows raised at his brother. “I bought the last lot.”
“I’m broke!” Michael wailed, tugging at his pockets. He looked at Billy and Lucy, but before either of them could reply, Danny patted the breast pocket of his shirt, and Lucy saw the envelope his mother had given him sticking slightly out the top.
“Hey, hang on,” he said, “These are on me actually.”
“Nice one!” beamed Billy. Michael and Anthony just looked at him quizzically.
“Are you saying you’ve changed your mind?” asked Michael. Danny patted his pocket again, and got up from the table. He looked down at Lucy.
“Can you help me Luce? I don’t know about all these pin numbers and shit.”
Lucy smiled and got up with him. At the bar, he pulled out the envelope and passed it to her. She took out the debit card and passed it back to him, and then showed him the four-digit number that was printed on another piece of paper inside the envelope. “All you do is type that in when the barmaid gives you the thing. Just type in those four numbers, yeah? Or do you want me to do it?”
“No, no,” he shook his head, taking the envelope back. “I’m hammered but I reckon I can manage it. Have to do all these things myself eventually don’t I?” He looked at the bar, trying to get the barmaids attention. Lucy touched his arm.
“Are you all right though?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I really am.” He looked at her and gave her a smile. She frowned, thinking that it was a pretty effective smile, apart from the fact it went nowhere near his eyes.
“Okay,” she said. “So you’re gonna’ keep the money?”
He shrugged quickly, looking away and letting her know that he still did not want to discuss it. “Can’t sponge off you lot, that’s all,” he said. She nodded and left him to it. Back at the table, Michael had his phone out and was showing Billy recent pictures of his little boy. Lucy remembered the hours they had just put in, sorting out his hole of a flat. It still needed a hell of a lot doing to it, but at least, she reasoned, the fridge was clean and hygienic, the carpets were vacuumed, and all of the bottles and cans, and other bits of rubbish on the floor had been chucked out. She had actually enjoyed helping him straighten it out. Partly for little Zach’s benefit, and partly for her own. It had taken her mind off of everything for a few hours. They had worked together, chatting and laughing and totally avoiding the subject of where Danny might be. He was a grown man, she had kept telling herself. But at the back of her mind, part of her found this hard to accept. Yes, he was the same age as them. But he had been in prison since he was sixteen years old. He had not experienced life and independence the same way they all had. She had spent the hours tidying Michael’s flat, stupidly picturing him lost and alone, wandering the streets, a frightened sixteen year old in the body of a twenty-four year old man.
Anthony leaned towards her then. He was pretty drunk, she thought, watching the way he swayed slightly on his bar stool, and placed one hand flat on the table, as if to steady himself. “He’s gonna’ keep the money?” he asked her. “I’m asking you because I can’t ask him. I think me and Mike are banned from talking about it.”
Lucy smiled in amusement. “I think he just doesn’t want us to pay for everything, that’s all,” she shrugged at him. “God know what else he is thinking. He sure as hell isn’t telling me yet. Did Mike tell you about his dad?” Anthony shook his head at her. “He saw John earlier, and John had found his dad. He’s spent some years tracking him down. Passed the guys name address and number to Danny in an envelope. Pretty amazing, hey?”
Anthony was quiet for a moment, his eyes searching hers. “Bit of a day for him then?” he sighed finally. “To say the least. What’s he gonna’ do about that?”
“No idea. He’s not saying a word right now Anthony. Not about anything.”
Anthony put his hand on her arm and squeezed it. “Ah Lucy, don’t be sad, don’t you be sad. You do look sad.”
“I’m fine. You’re pissed!”
“Loving it,” he grinned at her. “It’s amazing! But don’t you worry little darling. He’ll be fine. He’ll tell you everything, if you give it time. I’ve been in prison twice, you remember that?” He leaned back slightly on the stool, as if giving her the chance to look him over and remember. She nodded, smiling at him fondly.
“Yes, I remember. Thanks Anthony. You are always full of good advice, you know.”
“Hey,” he said then, squeezing her arm again and leaning forward. “About your door! Do you want me to come and repaint it?”
“Oh no, it’s okay. My dad is coming over tomorrow, with some apparently industrial strength paint remover, whatever that is. You know what he’s like.”
“He’s probably worried about you,” Anthony said in a low voice, his eyes darting to the bar.
“Well yeah. You know how he is.”
“And you? Are you worried?”
“What, about the graffiti?” Anthony nodded at her. “No. Not if it’s just a one off.”
“And if it’s not?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged, looking up as Danny came back from the bar carrying a tray of tequila slammers. “Hire security?”
“I did it,” Danny announced proudly, placing the tray down on the table in front of them all. “The next round is on me too!”
He sat back down, as the rest of them whooped and cheered, and reached for the shot glasses. Lucy joined them. It had been years since she had done tequila slammers, she thought recklessly, as they all held their hands over the glasses, lifted then slammed them back down onto the table. Lucy chucked the liquid down her throat and felt the heat explode there. She reached almost blindly for her wine glass, pouring the sweet rose down after the tequila to take away the burn. She looked around at them all. They were all laughing, and wiping their mouths, their eyes bulging and burning. They looked happy, she thought, and she wondered it if was ever real happiness, or if it was always just something created and spurred on by alcohol. They certainly hadn’t been this joyful at the start of the evening, she recalled.
It didn’t matter, she told herself, shaking her head quickly. Danny had left the table again. She looked for him, suddenly aware of how blurry her eyesight had become. It needed the odd little shake of her head to sort it out. That was kind of funny she thought. He was at the bar, oh that was all right. It looked like he was getting them crisps, but when he came back he had crisps and more shots, this time of whiskey and coke. “We are gonna’ be slaughtered,” she heard Billy moan beside her, burying his head momentarily in his hand.
“Your girlfriend won’t mind?” Lucy asked him, leaning back into him, realising that she had not asked him about her yet.
“She’s out anyway,” he shrugged. “She’s out with all her mates tonight on the piss. We’ll see who gets home drunkest and latest!”
“Where did you meet her?”
“Walking the dog! She’s a vet nurse.”
“Ah that’s so nice,” Danny said then, nodding in approval. “I bet I’d like her.”
“Yeah, you would, you really would,” Billy nodded enthusiastically. “Sophie’s great. So, so funny, like really funny. She’s a nutter basically.”
“Where’s she out tonight?” Lucy enquired.
“Oh Howler, you know what used to be Nancy’s?” Billy stopped when he realised they were all staring at him, and then he made it worse by slapping his hand over his mouth and looking apologetically at Danny, who was looking away, picking up his drink, trying to shrug it off.
“You twat Billy,” Michael was drunk enough to scold him.
“Oh sorry, Danny, mate. I didn’t think. Got the biggest mouth ever haven’t I?”
Lucy felt the stiffness in him beside her. She longed to touch him, slip her hand over his arm and squeeze it the way Anthony had with her moments earlier, but there was something that kept holding her back, and it confused her. She didn’t know what it was. “Don’t be stupid,” he told them all, shrugging. “I don’t care. Chill out.”
“Got any pictures of Sophie on your phone?” Anthony quickly filled the silence and Billy looked horribly grateful, yanking his mobile out of his pocket and flipping it open.
“Oh yeah, yeah, and the dogs and cats. We’ve got a lurcher and a collie, you know? Great fun!”
Lucy looked at the photos. They all did, except Danny. She wanted to look at him, to check his face, to touch his body and feel whatever he was feeling, but he seemed untouchable suddenly. She felt the barrier, even if he did not mean to put it up. She looked at Billy’s photos, and she heard herself asking questions about them, making comments, like Michael and Anthony, but in her head she was questioning Danny. What was it like when you worked there for him? What happened there? What did he do to you? What did they all do to you?
Another round of drinks followed, and Lucy found herself veering towards nausea. She managed to wobble to the bar and fetch herself a drink of water to slow things down, and that was when a guy there tried to chat her up. She was really too wasted to notice properly. He was sort of big and wide, with a tight t-shirt, and tattoos winding around each thick arm. He was looking her up and down, holding a bottle of beer, and grinning at her. She tried to ignore him, asked the barmaid for water, and held onto the bar; grimly aware of the sick spinning that had started in her head. She could hear him chatting, hear him laughing, but the music seemed loud, and she was concentrating on that, and trying not to be sick, more than him.
Then suddenly she felt Michael arriving beside her, shoving himself in the small gap between her and the guy at the bar. She was about to smile and hug him to her side, when she saw him push his face close to the other mans, his lips pulled back into a vicious snarl. “Why don’t you fuck off and stop trying to cop off with my best mates girl?” he was saying. Lucy was confused. She found Michael’s elbow and tried to pull him back. The other guy, the guy she had barely even noticed, was laughing into Michael’s face, and she knew that was not good.
Michael shouted something almost inaudible in its rage, and then he had the other guy by the front of his t-shirt. Lucy looked helplessly back at their table. Danny was not there. Billy had his head in his hand, but Anthony, thank fuck, Anthony was already on his feet. The guy’s friends were crowding around, spoiling to join in. Lucy felt herself stumbling backwards, away from them all. She watched Anthony grip his brother by the arms and pull him firmly away from them all. “All right, all right, all right fella’s,” he was saying, and she saw the way they all listened, the other young men, they all fell back, grumbling, swearing, but leaving it. Anthony wrestled Michael away from the bar and shoved him back towards their table.
Lucy found her pint of water and followed in a daze. At the table, Billy gave her a worried look and put his head back in his hand. “Man I am wrecked, wrecked,” he was moaning to himself.
“What was that about?” she heard herself asking. “Where’s Danny?”
“He was cracking onto you, the fucking bastard,” Michael was still fuming. Anthony kept one hand on his arm, calming him.
“Fucking calm down you fucking idiot,” he was saying. Lucy watched Michael face him darkly.
“Don’t call me an idiot!”
“Why not eh? That’s what you are. That’s what you act like. Nearly starting a fight over nothing! Lucy was fine. That guy was just chatting, you arsehole.”
“Oh fuck you, where’s my drink? I had a drink here!”
“No, you’ve had enough. When Dan gets back, we’re taking you home.” Anthony drained the last of his own drink and nodded at Lucy and Billy. “That’s it now. Party over. Well done Mikey.”
“Where the hell is my fucking drink?” Lucy stared in confusion at the horribly angry young man opposite her. She almost did not recognise him. The Michael Anderson she had known years ago hadn’t been like this, she thought. His anger, his scowling eyes, had all been a front, a trick. He wasn’t really like that, back then. He was so sweet, she thought in dismay; he was always looking on the positive side, wasn’t he? He was always holding out hope.
“How many benders have you been on already this week?” Anthony was asking him, and she knew that he was too drunk as well, because more often than not these days he did not argue with Michael. “You need to sober up if you’ve got Zach coming tomorrow.”
“It’s okay, it’s fine,” Michael argued back, looking over at Lucy. “She helped me sort the flat, didn’t you Lucy? It’ll be fine.”
“You do know you’re not a kid anymore,” Anthony told him then. Lucy watched the darkness spill across Michaels face as he glared in disgust at his brother.
“Yeah, so you keep reminding me, like every fucking day! Grandad! So what age are you meant to stop having fun then, eh?”
“You’re a grown up,” Anthony was staring right back at him. Lucy watched in stunned silence. She realised she had never seen them like this before. “And you’re a father. About time you acted like both.”
Michael’s mouth dropped open for a moment. Lucy looked around, wondering desperately where Danny had gone, and if Billy mentioning Howard’s old club had really effected him, or not? “Oh don’t you even start with that, you fucking condescending prick.” She looked back at Michael. She felt wounded by the vitriol in his voice. That was Anthony he was talking to!
“You’re acting like our parents did, Michael,” Anthony said then, his voice very controlled and even, his eyes daring Michael to disagree. “And you don’t even realise it.”
Michael looked close to an explosion. “You what?”
“Dad, in and out of our lives. Both of them always drunk.”
“You fucking cunt!” Michael shot back at him. Lucy reached out then, grabbing at Billy’s arm.
“Where did Danny go? Where did he go?”
“I don’t know Luce,” Billy shrugged at her. “I didn’t see.”
“Just ‘cause you’ve got it all worked out eh?” they heard Michael saying now, leaning as close as he dared to Anthony. “Happy are you? You and the Queen Bee over there?”
“Don’t bring her into it,” Anthony warned him, shaking his head. “This is about you and your behaviour. When are you going to grow up and settle down?”
Michael was roaring, shouting, Lucy realised then. His face was twisted in rage and hurt, his hands were gripping his chair. “When are you gonna’ realise we don’t all want to be like you? We don’t all want your boring, cosy little domestic life!”
Anthony was breathing hard and fast. His nostrils were working quickly, and his mouth was a hard straight line. “I bet Zach does,” he said then. Lucy looked quickly at Michael. Michael spent all of two seconds absorbing this remark, before he rammed his fist into Anthony’s face. Lucy and Billy gasped in horror, jumping up from their seats, as Anthony just about managed to save himself from hitting the floor. He got to his feet instead, whipping his coat off of the back of the stool and slinging it over one shoulder, while his other hand touched his cheek, where the blow had landed. He eyed his younger brother with distrust. “People grow up Mikey,” he said to him, “they grow up and they have their own kids. You’ve had the kid, but you haven’t grown up.” With that he turned and left. They all watched him stalk moodily across the pub and out of the door.
“Come on,” Billy said then, taking control. He had one eye on the bar staff and the other customers, who all seemed to be staring their way. “Let’s go. Let’s get you home Mike.”
Lucy scrambled around, snatching up her coat and her phone, and looking desperately around for Danny. “Can you check the loos for him?” she said to Billy, as Michael got to his feet and shrugged his coat over his shoulders. Billy nodded and scuttled off, but came back shaking his head.
“Phone him,” Michael said darkly, heading for the door. Lucy pulled her coat on, slipped her arm through Billy’s and followed Michael out of the door, with her phone to her ear.
It rang and rang, all the way down the high street. Michael walked out ahead of them, his head hanging low and his hands in his pockets. “Jesus what a night,” Billy was saying next to her. “I have never seen them two like that before.”
“Things have changed,” Lucy said, more to herself than to Billy. “Things have changed a lot.”
“You’re telling me. How weird is it? I mean, in one way it just feels like yesterday, doesn’t it? That we were all little kids at school, you know, getting in those stupid fights with Higgs, you remember all that? Moaning about schoolwork and detentions. Then in another way, it seems like hundred million years ago.” Billy released a long, drawn out sigh. “It seems like another lifetime ago.”
Lucy knew what he meant, but she walked on in silence, with the phone glued to her ear the whole time, and her eyes scanning the area, looking for him. They finally found him, when they turned the corner into the alley way that lead to Michael’s flat. He was leaning against the locked door, smoking a cigarette, and he eyed them all coolly as they approached. Then he moved away from the door and nodded at it silently. “Welcome home eh?” he said gently. They all looked. Someone had painted ‘murderer’ in blood red letters right across Michael’s door.
Michael released a stream of abusive swear words, kicked his own door, and then opened it so they could all get in. “Oh my God,” Danny could hear Billy expressing his confusion behind him. “That is so out of order! Who would do that? Why would someone do that?”
“Don’t worry about it Billy,” Lucy told him quietly. “We’re not going to let it get to us.”
“But why? Why would someone do that?”
“Because that’s what I am,” Danny heard himself say suddenly, as he reached the small landing at the top of the stairs. He looked back at the three of them and felt like laughing at their dumbstruck expressions. The only thing that stopped him was the hurt and the confusion in Lucy’s eyes. “That’s what I am, don’t forget,” he mumbled this, turning from them, as Michael fumbled with his second key.
“This night has gone to shit,” he was complaining. “If I catch any bastard spraying my front door I’m gonna’ fucking beat their head in.”
“You gonna’ call the police?” Billy asked, as they all piled into the cold, dark flat. Kurt appeared in the hallway, wagging his tail unsurely. Danny scooped him up and headed into the lounge, with the small dog tucked up under his chin.
“What’s the point?” Michael had replied, switching on the kitchen light. “What can they do?”
“They should know about it. It’s harassment.”
Danny sank down onto the sofa in the lounge, and immediately snatched the blanket from the back and pulled it around him and Kurt. Lucy lingered in the doorway, her hands in the pockets of her duffel coat. “Room in there for me too?” she asked him, eyebrows raised. He patted the sofa in reply. She crossed the room and slipped in beside him. “You missed the fight,” she said quietly. He looked at her.
“Mike punched Anthony in the face.”
“You’re joking, why?”
“They had a row about his behaviour,” Lucy shrugged. “About him growing up.” Danny shook his head slowly from side to side.
“So where were you? Where did you go? I was getting worried.”
“Oh,” he looked down at Kurt. “I needed some air. It was getting a bit hot and stuffy in there, you know. A bit claustrophobic.” He looked back at Lucy and he could see that she was both hurt and angry. He shrugged. “Sorry Luce. I’m pretty drunk. I’m an idiot. As usual. And then I get back here and see that, sprayed all over the door. Nice, eh?”
Lucy sighed and dropped her head onto his shoulder. She still had her hands in her pockets, and she was shivering. Danny tugged the blanket, and pulled it over her knees for her. “It must be the same person,” she said, her voice only slightly above a whisper. He nodded.
“Horrible,” she said then, lifting her head and staring at him. “Horrible fucking bastards. I am so sorry Danny.”
“Don’t be stupid, it’s all right,” he felt himself softening, he felt his guard weakening, at the sight of her tear filled eyes. He slipped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close, kissing her firmly on the top of her head. “I can handle it, don’t you worry. It’s nothing. Just stupid idiots trying to bother me.”
“It scares me though,” she said, and he knew that she was only saying this because she was drunk. When sober, she kept it all in check, he thought, her emotions and her reactions, she controlled them all so well. Everything about her was so thoughtful and considered. But here he saw her exposed, raw and emotional. “It really scares me. I mean, how do they know where you are staying? They must be watching us, have you thought about that?” She was staring at him, her brow creased with lines of worry, her eyes begging him to reassure her.
“Course I have,” he told her. “Look, maybe they’ll get bored. If spray paint is all they’ve got, then fuck it. Who cares?”
“But whoever it is, they know where you are. They know about me, and Michael. They’ve been watching.” He felt her tremble beside him, and hugged her tighter. It sounded like Michael and Billy were making tea in the kitchen. He could hear them chatting in low voices.
“If anything else happens,” he said then, looking down into her eyes. “Then I’ll call the police, okay? Does that make you feel better?”
“I think you should call them anyway Danny. Tomorrow. Tell them about both doors. Please.”
“Okay then,” he nodded. “Okay I will.” He dropped his head back against the sofa and closed his eyes. “Christ I’m hammered Luce. That was fun for a while though, wasn’t it? Us of all back together again.”
“It was fun for a while,” she agreed, her head back on his shoulder.
“It will get better, won’t it?” he said with his eyes still closed. “I know it will. Everything will all get better.”
“I feel a bit like you’re shutting me out, you know,” he heard her say then, and he opened his eyes and looked back down at her, but she kept her head against his shoulder and he could not see her face. He rubbed her arm up and down with his hand.
“I’m sorry Luce.”
“It’s not your fault. I don’t blame you. We could do without all this extra shit, couldn’t we?” She laughed a little, her shoulders shaking, and he patted her arm, just as Michael and Billy staggered into the lounge. Billy was carrying a tray with four cups of steaming tea placed on it, while Michael was struggling with four plates of buttered toast. He lowered two onto the little table next to the sofa.
“Tea and toast guys.”
“You legend,” Danny smiled, sitting forward and grabbing a plate. Billy handed out the teas and collapsed into the ragged armchair next to the sofa. His face was flushed bright red.
“I am so drunk!” he exclaimed suddenly to them all, and they all looked at each other, before laughing at him. “What? I am. I really am!”
“You don’t change Billy, you know that?” Danny said to him, grinning. “I like that about you mate.”
Michael was grinning from ear to ear as he munched on his toast, mug of tea in hand. Danny thought about asking him why he had punched his brother, but he stopped himself. There was a simple happiness for a small moment, he thought, looking at them all, as they ate their toast and drank their tea in silence, and bringing up anything else would just ruin it all again. So he plastered a dopey smile across his face, and let the remainder of the alcohol push him that way, instead of the other, instead of the way it had been herding him. He and Mike would talk tomorrow. He would get to meet Michael’s kid. He would call the police and get them to come and see the door. He would do it to please Lucy, to make her feel better. He would not go back to sleep at hers, not for a while, not until things had died down. He repeated these things over and over again in his head, nodding to himself, and listening to the advice he was giving. He had done that a lot in prison. Talked to himself, calmed himself down. It was almost like a little part of him separated off and gave advice from afar. It was good advice though, he reasoned. Take each day at a time. Don’t look too far ahead, or it will freak you out completely, don’t look too far back or you will become entangled in the mess of the past. Live for today, and handle each thing one at a time.
He was still drunk, his head banging and a low level of nausea setting in, when Billy and Michael decided to call it a night and share the bed in Michael’s room. Like old days, like old days, Danny smiled to himself, as Lucy turned the lounge light off, and climbed back onto the sofa with him. He lay along the length of the sofa, and she slipped in behind him, pulling the blankets right over their heads to keep out the cold. It was a tight fit, but at least it would keep them warm. Kurt remained curled into a tight ball in the crook of Danny’s arm.
He felt himself drifting off, consciousness dipping and falling, and then lifting slightly again as he felt Lucy slide her hands under his t-shirt, running them softly across his back. She was drunk too, he remembered, and smiled slightly to himself. He could hear her slow, measured breathing, in out, in out. He could feel her hot breath on his skin, as she pushed his t-shirt up to his shoulders. He felt her lips press against his skin, between his shoulder blades and he giggled softly under the blanket, as it tickled. He heard her hitch in her breath. Was she crying? He waited. The nights drinks lined up inside his head, drumming out an unwelcome brain beat. He took deep, slow breaths, hoping his toast wasn’t about to show itself again.
Her fingers followed the patterns of his scars, and he sucked in his breath, suddenly aware of the wetness that leaked from her eyes against him. She was circling one finger, tracing the scar, around and around. “Lucy?” he asked her in the darkness.
“Are they cigarette burns?” her voice whispered back, her voice dripping with agony and emotion. He felt himself stiffen. He wished he was asleep, he wished he was gone already, so he wouldn’t have to answer her. But she was waiting. And she was drunk, and crying. And she thought he had been shutting her out.
He let the silence drift for a moment, his eyes closed. Then; “Yeah.”
Her breath hitched again behind him. One of her hands was on his chest, palm flat against his skin, pulling him into her. The other hand remained behind; the finger paused in the middle of the circular scar. “From prison, or from before?”
Again, he let the silence walk on, listened to her breathing, felt her body trembling behind his. Then he sighed. “From before.”
He heard her swallow, and gulp back tears, as she tried to compose herself. But he could feel the slow slide of tears wettening his top. She stopped circling the scar and wrapped her arms around his middle instead, pressing her cheek against his bare back. He could hear her crying steadily, and he let her. “Why?” she was whispering, trying to hold it all in, “why? Why would anyone do that?”
“As a joke,” Danny told her, and he was surprised at how gentle and calm his own voice sounded. He found her hands with his own and closed them on top of hers. He thought if he held onto her, if he could just somehow hold onto her forever, then he would always be okay, he would always be safe. “When he was bored. He used to flick them at me. Stuff like that.”
“I don’t understand,” she was still sobbing into his back. “I will never understand how one person can do that to another. It’s just not fair…”
“No,” he agreed. “It’s not fair. And I still don’t understand it either.”
“You must have thought about it a lot.”
“Mmm. The only thing I came up with is what a power hungry control freak he was. He used violence when he felt he’d lost control.” Danny coughed twice, clearing his throat. In his mind he saw a brief flash of Howard’s face when in full rage, tiny eyes glinting with promise, small teeth bared. He quickly opened his eyes again, blinking the image away. “And I think he got addicted to it. To violence. It made him feel better, it calmed him down to lash out. He just got worse, and worse.”
He felt Lucy shaking her head behind him. “Makes you wonder how he was brought up,” she murmured. “Makes you wonder about what he was taught.” Danny thought again of the old man at the cemetery, and the gleam of outrage in his eyes. “How did it feel, spending the money?” Lucy asked him then. “Did it feel like Mike wanted it to feel? Like you were getting revenge again?”
“No,” he told her softly. “It didn’t. It felt sick. It should feel like it’s over, though, shouldn’t it?” he lifted one of her hands to his mouth and kissed it. “It was meant to feel like it was all over.”
“And it doesn’t? Because of the graffiti?”
“It’s just starting again Luce, that’s all,” he sighed, patting her hand. “It’s all a bit crazy, isn’t it? I think me being here has brought it all back for all of you, you know. I didn’t mean to make you feel shut out either. It just feels weird, like people are treading on eggshells around me, not wanting to say the wrong thing. I hope that will change one day.”
“They don’t want to bring up the past, in case it upsets you. Danny?”
“Your mum,” he felt her sigh heavily against his skin. He turned over then, taking care not to knock the snoring dog from the sofa. He wriggled around to face her, and she pulled her hands away from his body, bringing them up to wipe at her eyes.
“What is it?” he asked her. He could see her lower lip trembling as she tried to control herself.
“I just don’t understand that’s all. I know you’ve made your peace with her, and I’ve tried to get my head around that…but…” she trailed off unsurely, wiping her eyes once more, before she slid her hands back around his middle. Danny pressed his forehead to hers, and kissed her nose.
“Lucy, she didn’t know. I’ve been over it with her like a thousand times.”
“She really didn’t know? Didn’t know anything? I find that hard to believe, and I know you did too back then.”
“She actually thought he was good for me,” Danny smiled a little bitter smile at this. He was surprised by Lucy’s questions. She had never asked much before. It seemed like most of the time it was a topic they avoided. It certainly wasn’t the sort of thing you talked about during prison visits. You talked about good things then, how people were, what they were doing, what was going on in the world and so on. “Before he came along Luce, I was a pain the arse for my mum. She had no control over me whatsoever. Howard took advantage of that. Before she knew it, he had it looking like we were fucking best mates. If she didn’t know what to do or say to me, she would let him. He made it that way Luce, because he convinced her he could handle it. He was like a different person around her. Sometimes I could hardly believe the difference, especially at the start. He was so good to her, you know? So kind and attentive and calm, just sorting everything out for her all the time so she didn’t have to worry. He could sort things out. So she let him.”
“She really didn’t know anything else?” Lucy pulled her head back then, so that she could look into his eyes. He frowned and smiled down at her. He wondered why it was so important for her to know what his mother had, or had not known.
“She knew he was tough on me,” he admitted. “She knew he was strict, and controlling and all that. The odd clip round the ear, or whatever.”
“So did she ever see him hit you?”
“Well yeah, once or twice.”
Lucy’s jaw tightened instantly. “Well that’s what I mean, Danny. That’s just what I mean. That should be enough for any mother! What was she thinking? Why was that okay? That’s what I mean!”
“Lucy, don’t take this the wrong way, but you are a bit drunk…”
“Yeah, so what? I’m drunk so I’m saying what I think for a change, I’m saying how I feel.” She looked away from him briefly, blowing out her breath as if to try to calm herself down again. “I was thinking about meeting with her, you know, going with you next time you see her. I was thinking lots of things Danny. You know, like me and you settling down one day. I was thinking about Mike’s little boy coming over tomorrow, and Anthony’s kids.”
“What about them?”
“Just….just, I don’t know,” she seemed momentarily exasperated by her own lack of words. Then she met his eyes again, and her eyes were fierce. “Maybe I will meet her,” she said. “I’ll meet her, and ask her myself, all the questions I have, so I don’t have to pester you with them.”
“You’re not pestering, don’t be silly. I told you, you can ask me anything.”
“But I feel like it hurts you to think about it, and talk about it. You should be able to forget it.”
“I’ll never forget it Lucy,” Danny told her, pulling her closer again and resting his chin on top of her head. “It’s a part of me, whether I like it or not. But I have to find a way to move on, don’t I? I have to find good stuff in life.”
“And seeing your mum, being on good terms with her, that’s part of that is it? That helps you?”
“It’s not easy,” he admitted. “But let me put it this way Lucy, then you can think about whether you should talk to her or not. Howard did his worse when it was just him and me. He would do things that wouldn’t show up, like punch me in the head. If anything showed up, he’d get in first and tell my mum I’d fallen off my bike or been in a fight, or whatever. I never told her any different, because he had me terrified. I thought I’d end up in care, and he said worse things went on there. He said he’d kill me, or he’d kill her, and I believed him. I was scared he would do things to hurt you lot, like he did to Anthony. So he got away with it. Even that time, when Mike sent the fucking police around to see me, I could have told them the truth, I could have said Mike was telling the truth, but I didn’t.”
He felt Lucy’s head dip up and down under his chin as she nodded. “She must live with the guilt every day, I guess,” she murmured.
“Yeah, it’s ruined her life, that’s for sure. John still won’t have fuck all to do with her. We’ve all got to find a way to move on, that’s the only way I can look at it.” He moved his head and kissed her again, this time on the forehead. “I know she turned a blind eye to a certain extent, and I know I could have tried harder to make her see, and what can either of us do about that now eh? Nothing. It’s done.”
“Okay,” he heard Lucy’s voice getting drowsy now, thick with impending sleep. “Okay, I’ll talk to her, I will. I’ll give her a chance.”
Danny nodded and closed his eyes upon her head. He listened to her breathing get slower and slower, and heavier as she dropped into unconsciousness. He shivered and tugged the blanket tighter around them. His last thought before he drifted away himself, was wondering how bad the hangovers would be in the morning.
That night he dreamed violently. It was all there, in vivid colour, as real as day, everything, every last detail. In reality, Danny could not clearly remember much about the day he had stabbed his stepfather to death. It came to him in a series of blurred, and underdeveloped images and moving pictures, a bit like a scratchy old movie, and most of what he remembered was the emotion of that day. The overriding one being sheer blind rage, followed by a shaking sensation of relief and joy that it was over, that he had ended it, and he was free. But in his dreams it played out almost exactly as it had happened that day. Dreams treated him to a scene-by-scene, detailed account of what took place that morning, in his mother and Howard’s Cedar View home. The clearest bit found him on the kitchen floor, where his head was full of pounding blood and Howard had his hands in his hair as he bounced his head upon the hard floor, and he croaked something at him, and then when Howard leaned close to hear what he was trying to say, he saw the knife plunging in, and he felt it heavy in his hand, and he felt it puncture through the silk dressing gown he was wearing, rapidly slicing through skin and muscle after that. He would see the bright red blood pumping out over the knife, flowing warmth onto his hands, and then he pulled the knife back out and went back for more.
Sometimes it would be him getting stabbed, or they would both be stabbing each other. These made for the most violent dreams, where sometimes he would wake up on the floor, or with bloodied fists from punching the wall. This time it was Lucy’s alarmed wailing that snapped him out of it. He woke up, and found her face staring back at him in horror, her hands covering her mouth, her eyes horribly wide and scared. He did not understand at first. He looked down at himself. He was knelt on the floor beside the sofa, and all the blankets were with him, tangled around his middle. He was holding up his fists, as if wielding knives at an unseen enemy. But Lucy was not unseen, and she was not the enemy, but when she lowered her hands, distraught tears flowed down her face, and her mouth was cut and bloodied.