September Salt

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Anti-heroes and Villainous Persons

Chapter Ten: Anti-heroes and Villainous Persons

JOEY

“She’s not just a villain, she’s a monster,” Priya’s dad, Raz, sighed. He’d come in to pick up Naresh but, whilst said brother was finishing things off (shower, shower, shower, shower), mum had convinced Raz to sit and drink tea with us. He was a tall guy; mum was sat down, but he was leaning against a counter as I stood at the sink washing my mug and I probably only just reached his chest, generously speaking. I wondered if Priya would soon shoot up too. Wondered if I’d still be in her life to see that. “I want her to be terrifying, but I just don’t know how to achieve that. Do you know what I mean?”

Mum and I nodded sagely, though I doubt she got it any more than I did. Priya’s dad only laughed, seeing through us easily.

“Ah, never mind. I’ll figure it out eventually.”

“How long did you say you’ve been writing this book for?” Mum asked him. I returned to the pot of pasta I was cooking up after placing my cup to dry. I poked at one of the shells with a nearby fork and smiled; it was almost done, and my stomach rumbled appreciatively.

“In my third year of it.” My eyebrows rose as I turned away from the fire again.

“And you’re only just writing the villain in?”

“Not exactly... She’s at the very head of the organisation. She’s been behind everything so far, it is only that the protagonist is now about to meet her for the first time—ah...” He lifted an arm to scratch the back of his head, ran his fingers through his salt-and-pepper hair and shrugged at us. “Well. Still, I should have been further I suppose. Life. Work. Priya. You know.” Mum nodded her head and sighed and I wondered what the novel-to-be had been in her life that I had buried in my wake. He looked wistful for a moment. “It is funny how, so many years ago, I’d planned to do such a lot, but these days I’m just glad to have a relatively quiet day at work, pick Priya up from here and listen to her day on the way home. Help her with homework and get a couple of precious hours to write a three year old concoction of fantastical ideas.”

There was a thoughtful lull in the conversation then, in which Naresh could be heard banging this or that in the bathroom upstairs.

I wasn’t sure if he was right—if it was funny. If a person could have dreams and aspirations as a bright-eyed twenty-something and then find that somewhere along the line they’d fallen into a future that they were no longer in control of.

It terrified me—but, then, what didn’t?

He looked fairly young, early thirties, healthy looking—the kind of guy that I would have thought cycled to work in all weather conditions. Kind eyes shone out under dark bushy brows and Priya had certainly inherited her warm smile from him. But he looked tired. Lines due to age and emotion mapped the youthful skin and it scared me shitless so suddenly.

I suppose Raz caught the look I didn’t realise I’d adopted. He smiled reassuringly at me. “I’m happy, though.” I wouldn’t have believed him were it not for the faraway look in his eyes. His lips tilted upwards even more at whatever it was he saw there. “I am very happy.”

FREDDIE

“Where have you been?” Beth asked as I left my room. I’d been dropped off by Joey’s mum, ‘Call me Sandy’, a few hours ago and pretty much fallen straight into bed, meeting no one between the front door and my bedroom. I’d been glad for that; I needed a bit of silence around me, even if I continued to hear the crash of waves and endless pitter patter of raindrops in my head, or Joey’s murmur that his father was dead. I’d only risen in the end thanks to an empty stomach.

I blinked at my sister for a moment. Beth’s hair colour was identical to my mother’s own, unlike the rest of us who had our father’s thick, wavy brown. It was a dirty straw-blonde that somehow managed to suit my mother’s wilting nature, yet give Bethany an edge. My mother looked sallow, ashen, ill, but Bethany, stance proud, shoulders thrown back, looked fresh somehow. There was a part of her that screamed anarchy and rebellion though she rarely said a lot at all.

She hadn’t always been like that. Though I’d been young, I could still remember each of my sisters as they’d been; Louisiana had been a wild but spiritual child. Back when we still went to church she’d ask the most questions in Sunday school and then eventually went on to research for herself when the answers didn’t satisfy her anymore. Cath had been the responsible motherly figure despite being younger than Paris. This, however, did not mean she was quiet at all. She and Lou were wild together; Cath just knew how to read the stop signs while Lou’s foot was always a ruler past the line. Paris was a romantic. She had rarely been around, purely because she was always in one relationship or the other. Her heart was broken more times than Cath could count (as I was barely aware of the comings and goings), but then love struck, and the condom broke, making me a pretty enthusiastic uncle.

Beth, the middle child, was silent. She wasn’t unhappy, as far as I knew—though, considering how little time I spent with her, that likely isn’t saying much. Still, she didn’t seem so. And, though all my sisters preferred their hair long, Beth’s had been the longest. Always braided, reaching past her arse at one point. So, you can imagine the surprise when, one day, it was all gone. I’d been at boarding school at the time, and she must have been about sixteen or seventeen, but the boy cut had been maintained. She grew more in confidence too. There was a hint of anger underneath it all, but after returning from boarding school, I’d been too caught up in my own matters to notice anyone else’s.

“Oh, hey Beth.” I smiled, and when she returned it she raised her arms too, welcoming me as I stepped slowly forward to allow myself be engulfed. It was no surprise that I loved hugs as much as I did considering the sisters I’d grown up with.

“You alright?”

“Yeah. Didn’t know you were coming over this weekend too.”

“I didn’t know I was. Spur of the moment thing.” She grinned at me. We were the same height, taller than the rest of our siblings.

“Want lunch?”

“I’ll cook it for you. Mia went shopping with Lou.”

We walked downstairs hand in hand, and it was odd. I hugged my sisters a lot, and we were fairly close, but I had always been more so with Lou and Catherine.

Once in the kitchen, Beth and I laughed and joked as she prepared instant noodles.

“How can you say I need to learn how to cook and then make instant noodles?

“Because you do need to learn how to cook, and we like instant noodles. Is that not reason enough? Besides, I just cooked for my housemates; I think I’m entitled to a break.”

“You don’t get a break from being a poor University student.”

She swivelled grey eyes over to me and raised an eyebrow, hands on her hips. “How would you know?”

Half an hour later, our cold noodles were forgotten, the kitchen was a mess and Beth was balancing a chopstick between her nose and top lip while I attempted to twirl them around my fingers. When the doorbell rang, however, we both froze mid-activity. It could have been Mia and Lou. It could have been fine. But it could also have been our parents, who weren’t in the house. Where they were we didn’t know. Heaven forbid parent-child communication actually existed in this house.

“I’ll get it,” Beth said eventually, allowing the chopstick clutter to the clothed table. I didn’t offer to take her place. My father hadn’t looked at me in days. I couldn’t bear opening the door only to be walked through like a ghost.

I shouldn’t have worried though. Beth yelled that it was for me, and when I hurried out I grinned widely to see Sherry standing beside my sister as she shut the door. Sherry collected me in a tight hug and I laughed into it. I’d forgotten she was coming over today.

“I’ll clear up in the kitchen,” Beth smirked. “You two love birds can run along now.”

“What’s going on?” Sherry murmured into my neck as we curled up on my bed.

“Nothing,” I sighed back happily.

“Where were you last night?”

I pulled back, eyebrows drawn close together. “Uh…”

“You sister—Lou—texted me. Wanted to know if you were at mine, which you weren’t. Then I texted around and you weren’t with anyone else—”

“The fuck, Sherry?”

“What?” She asked, opening her eyes finally and glaring at me. “I’m not allowed to be worried?”

I pouted. No wonder I’d received texts from Tom, Jenny and a load of others questioning my whereabouts. “You are totally allowed. But the missing posters and foghorn weren’t necessary.”

“Weren’t they?” Her glare intensified. “Then tell me—where were you?”

Out.

She bristled. “With a guy—”

“No- yes- not exactly—”

Sherry sat up and crossed her arms, and I was quick to mirror her movements, frowning. “Explain.”

“If you calm it with the attitude. What the—what is wrong with you?”

“I was fucking worried about you, Freddie. We all were. But you were just fucking around with some guy—” and she lifted a pale hand covering her nose as she sniffed and tears sprang to her eyes. I felt my shoulders fall as the annoyance that had been building leaked out like the salty beads tracking her cheeks. My hands found their way to hers, and I stroked her palms with my thumbs.

“I’m sorry, God, don’t cry, okay? I wasn’t doing anything like that. I swear.” So I told her everything—barring the personal details Joey had confessed to me, and the (ridiculously insignificant) desire I’d (very briefly) had to kiss him.

“Oh,” she said. And she ran a hand through her wild, ginger hair. It was down again, though she’d left it pinned up how I liked it for a few days.

“Yeah. So worry not.” I grinned evilly then began tickling her mercilessly. She shrieked and tried to slap at my hands without success as I continued, “I’m not out collecting notches on my bedpost and having heated intercourse with fellow homosexuals.”

Eventually we settled on my duvet, facing the ceiling and breathing heavily.

“You know I only worry so much because I care about you.”

“Of course I do,” I said, turning my head to face her. Hers fell softly to the side too. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I have you.”

She smiled at me, and I grinned back. “So show me?”

I rolled my eyes. “I will buy you as many Cadbury’s Chocolate buttons as you want, but I am not massaging your feet again!” She laughed but only shook her head and reached out to touch my right hand. Her fingers separated bracelets on my arm and felt the scars underneath before I flinched away. Then she kissed me—quickly—barely a brush of our lips, but it was the lingering gaze that struck me. That worried me, and sent alarms whirring.

We were best friends, Sherry and I. We’d kissed a dozen times at least—whether by mistake or through dares, or a mutual feeling of meaningless flirtation. But that time I could have sworn that it was different. I was too stunned to speak or react in any way.

Maybe I hadn’t needed to. Sherry bounded up and out of the bed in the next moment, babbling a thousand words a second about all the things I owed her, the ways I would show her I was grateful.

I let it slide.

It was probably my imagination acting up, anyway.

“Um, Joey just messaged you on Facebook.”

“Hmm,” I agreed, having not really comprehended what Sherry had said. And when I did, a slash of purple varnish was spread from my middle left toe to the little one. I swore and Sherry looked over and laughed.

“Thought you said you were better at that than I am.” She kept clicking as I cleared up as best as I could. “You’re helping him with Spanish?”

“What?”

“Joey. You’re helping him with Spanish?”

I swung my badly painted feet over the edge of my bed and stood gingerly. My attempt to walk over to Sherry was even funnier, but she wasn’t laughing. She was looking at Joey’s message curiously.

“What’d he say?” I asked, once close enough to see for myself.

Joey: hey!

Joey: I won’t even need a helping hand for Spanish right now, just a phrase, if that’s okay?

Joey: forgot to write the vocab we had to learn down. Mind giving me the page number? Also, the essay, how long is yours? If it’s more than a paragraph, I’m fucked :p

I chuckled, gazing at the screen until Sherry smacked me lightly in the gut.

“What the fuck?” I protested, holding the injured area. It hardly hurt, but my reflexes weren’t given the memo.

“I should be saying that to you! I’m sorry, were you present when the guy stole your bag, your book, told you to go fuck your diagnosed dad and- just, fucking existed?”

“Whoa,” I raised an eyebrow, which usually got her to smile because, supposedly, I looked ridiculous. (Even though I’d checked in the mirror and thought I looked endearingly intimidating.) “Number one, he apologised.” She rolled her eyes and so I guessed that one didn’t count. “Two, he returned the book. And he was actually in the process of returning the bag when I attacked him, remember.”

“Because he’d taken it in the first place, and he and his friends had been little dicks in your free. That common room is every bit your space as it is theirs.”

“He’s alright, Sherry. The beach-”

“Okay, he wasn’t as much of a tosser. I already told you, he’s chickenshit without his friends.”

I said nothing to that. He’d said that himself. He’d heard Sherry, and he believed it. And he hated himself. Putting those together, Joey didn’t seem so bad to me at all.

“He’s an anti-hero,” I told her eventually, pushing her gently off my desk chair. She complied, but crossed her arms.

“I believe the word you’re looking for is antagonist.”

“No, anti-hero is like the conflicted good guy, right? Good intentions, bad streak or methods?”

“He is no Mr. Darcy, Fred.”

“I still don’t get how you find him hot.”

“I don’t question your attraction to Jude Law-”

“Hey-!” I protested, growing red with embarrassment.

“He’s attractive to women over forty only, Fred. But anyway. That’s not the point. That’s not Joey. He isn’t noble in any sense of the word. Besides, I say they’re more a tall, dark and handsome kind. Like Byron himself, really. And, kind of like you.” I snorted loudly, but she acted as though she hadn’t heard. “Difficult past. Jaded, intelligent, rebellious, mysterious, attractive-”

“Okay, okay, I think you can stop there-”

“Don’t get me wrong. Joey’s flawed, alright. But he’s no hero.” She stopped hovering around my shoulder and went to throw herself onto my bed. I smiled at little at the message again, fingers touching the keys repeatedly, but never pushing down. “What’d you suppose I’d be?”

I grinned as I glanced at her. “Either the dragon to be slayed, or the big, fat, witch.”

“In your story I mean, you twat!”

“That’s what I was saying.”

“Well, then. Be very aware of my cauldron! A potion is brewing.”

“Will do, Sherry.” I sighed with a smile then began to type.

Freddie: Hey Joe! I’m pretty sure it was 36 or something.

Freddie: Mine is three paragraphs... I think I’m a little fucked too. :o

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