You and Eye-Spy
Chapter Twelve: You and Eye-Spy
“You’re leaving a little early, aren’t you?” Mum asked as she entered the kitchen. I was stuffing a slice of toast into my mouth and raising my glass of milk so that I could down it as soon as I’d swallowed the Nutella-covered slice. She was right; I was ready over thirty minutes before usual. I nodded my head and shrugged.
“Avoiding,” I muttered, releasing crumbs from my mouth as I did so. Mum laughed softly at that, regarding me. I’d told her about Courtney on Saturday night. Considering the fact that I usually walked with her to school, along with Ryan and Abby, I hoped that would be as far as I’d have to go into it.
It wasn’t, of course.
“Are you meeting Ryan instead?” Mum wanted to know. She stepped deeper into the room and wrapped her dressing gown around her waist. I watched it fall away, however, as she approached me, lifting her hands to adjust the way my hair fell. Pushing to the side strands that were beginning to distract my vision more often than not. Needed to cut it. Her eyes were tired, but there was some sort of light shining through.
“Not today,” I replied. I hadn’t let her into that part of Courtney’s story. Angry as I was with Ryan, I couldn’t jeopardise my mum’s relationship with him. In that moment, fuck, I almost couldn’t see for how uncomfortable and uncertain I felt.
It was hard to understand how my best friend had done that to me.
He’d texted me all through Saturday too, unaware –or uncaring, or both – that I was not replying. It was so typical of him. One of the things that ordinarily may have made me smile, but had only riled me more, then. His one sided conversations, while on one hand a little humorous, only seemed selfish and a sign of his clear indifference towards me. Sunday he’d only called me once, and though I still didn’t answer, he thankfully didn’t come over. I still didn’t know how I was going to react if I saw him.
I fortunately didn’t have a lot of time to think on what had happened because the kid we’d had on Sunday had been a bit of hard work, simply because he wanted attention constantly. It was understandable for a ten-year-old to crave attention though, if they got none from their parents, from what Mum could see. However, waking up in the morning had been a different thing. I honestly couldn’t have given a shit about what Courtney had done, but Ryan… His silence. He hadn’t shown a single sign of it. That was the worst thing. And the way Courtney had spoken about it before she eventually left, it sounded like it—they— had happened more than once.
Mum’s hands finally fell away from my hair. “I’m really very sorry, Joe,” she said. “Will you be alright? I thought you said you weren’t getting on in the relationship anyway?”
I downed my milk in one go and rubbed at the area around my lips, erasing evidence of the white stache left behind. “I wasn’t, I’m fine. Honestly. Now, what happened?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, something has happened. You’ve been a little odd since yesterday.” I offered her a small smile to lessen the bite of my irritated tone. “And I really hope it isn’t just you feeling pity for me.”
“Of course not,” mum teased in reply. She sat after a moment and glanced towards the kitchen window. When she turned back to me, she was smiling. “Well. You know I’ve been training to be a foster carer.” I nodded my head, a beam of my own already splitting my face. “I got a call Saturday evening… We’re getting a kid in two days, Joey!”
I leaned down to grab her hands and pulled her up into a hug. She’d wanted this for so long—having signed up almost six months ago, she’d worked hard to complete all the required training, attend any meetings and even read books that would help her help those that she fostered. It was something she’d wanted for the longest time, and when I pulled away, she wasn’t the only one with tears in her eyes.
“Mum that is perfect. That—honestly, that’s wonderful. Why didn’t you tell me!?”
She shrugged, turning away again and using a hand to wipe her tears, though more only seemed to flow, taking the gesture as encouragement. “I didn’t want to put any more on your plate, that’s all.”
“That’s the stupidest thing ever. You know I’d want to know about this whatever happens.” I took her hand in mine again and squeezed, but this only made her shoulders shake as she inched forward, burying her head in the crook of my shoulder.
“What if I’m not ready?” she whispered into my shoulder.
“You are! Of course you are,” I told her vehemently, holding her tightly. “You’ve been taking care of kids for years, mum. No one is as ready for this as you are. I’m telling you. The children would tell you too—their thankful parents. No one is as ready for this as you are.” I felt her nod shakily into my shoulder.
“Her name is May Perry. A fourteen-year-old, for two to three weeks, depending on how quickly things at home are sorted out for her.” Just then the doorbell rang. Mum pulled away from me. “God, I’ve been so silly.” I shook my head at her. “Thank you. You know that I love you, right?”
“I never knew for certain,” I joked. “I’ll get that.”
“Okay. I’ll go sort Edward out. I think that’s Raz dropping Priya off. Could you just let her in? Have a lovely day at school.”
“I will.” I grabbed my bag and darted out of the room after kissing her forehead quickly. I was likely going to catch Ryan and Courtney now… Unless I delayed, maybe? Or went the long way around.
I needn’t have worried, however. After letting an ill Priya in, Raz offered me a lift to school, which I accepted gratefully. I told him mum’s news too, which he was ecstatic about. He’d been the one to suggest she take it up, and through his connections had set the ball rolling, so to speak.
“And,” he told me just as we arrived at school, “I managed to write the villain in! I think I got her perfectly. Had to switch a few things around, but she turns out to be the protagonists close friend. A betrayal. What do you think?”
I couldn’t help letting out a weak laugh. “Well, tends to be how things are, yeah. Definitely has impact,” I told him. Why is it that things in books always relate somehow to what’s going on in real life? Even in a book that isn’t even finished yet. Raz grinned at me.
“Have a great day.”
“You too, Raz. And I think I have to have a read of this book sometime soon.”
I could have sworn Raz would have blushed if he could as he offered me a noncommittal answer and a mixture between a nod and a shrug. After waving to him however, and watching his car leave the area, the hilarity of the idea seeped out of me like blood from a fresh wound. I turned sharply on my heel and keep my head down as I strode toward the doors before anyone who might want to engage in conversation with me could. I pretty much only tolerated my supposed friends because they were supposed friends of Ryan, and now—
My gaze remained on my feet until I reached my form room, and when I entered I raised my head to see Mr. Chou standing in front of his desk—which wouldn’t have been so bizarre, if Freddie wasn’t sitting on it beside him, and if they both hadn’t glanced up at the same time, eyes definitely harbouring some sort of guilty emotion.
“Hey –Joey.” Freddie recovered first, shifting his position to face me a little more, but remaining on our form tutor’s desk. Mr. Chou took another moment to react, blinking at me with gradually blushing cheeks.
“Hey,” I replied slowly, sending them another curious glance. I didn’t linger between the doorjambs for long though—I stepped in, shut the door behind me and walked over to a desk by the far corner of the room. Right at the back. My place by Courtney was no longer attractive to me – for obvious reasons primarily, though it hadn’t been so for a while anyway. As Freddie and Mr. Chou’s eyes followed me around the room to my chosen seat, I wished our form room had a window that I could look out of. There was none, so I ripped a sheet from a notebook that had seen better days and began to doodle.
“Morning, Joey,” Mr. Chou said eventually. I repeated much the same, and then ignored the pregnant silence that followed.
Freddie cleared his throat as I used a chewed up pen to etch deep lines into the previously blank paper. “But, surely,” he began to say, “Considering you’d have to believe in God to believe in Agape, as Eros and Philia come from the same theory, you would have to believe in God for those too... Right?”
I glanced up at the two of them. They’d returned their attention to each other. It was as though I hadn’t disrupted them seconds ago. Mr Chou was shaking his head softly, the same relaxed look in his eye and general stance that I’d only ever seen now and again whenever his mind ran away with the topic of conversation in Philosophy lessons.
“I don’t believe so. Theories like this can sit differently with different people. You did Media Studies last year, didn’t you?” Freddie nodded his head and crossed his arms. His face was drawn straight in concentration. My choice of words made me snort quietly to myself, but neither of them seemed to notice. Mr Chou soldiered on.
“Had you learnt about Audience Reception Theory? No? In short, every media text affects members of an audience in a different way due to their previous experiences, and based on the type of person they are in general, I believe. I think that’s how it goes. We no longer believe in the hypodermic needle theory in which every member of the audience sees what they do on TV and takes it as fact. It’s like Relativism. Each man has his own truth. They take on different angles of a text’s intended message; the preferred reading would be responding how the institution wished; the oppositional to disagree completely; aberrant to interpret the message in an alternate way to the way it was intended, and the negotiated to agree with parts—almost picking and choosing based on what their previous experiences have lead them to believe. Do you understand?”
I looked up from my scribbles after a moment of silence to see Freddie’s confused expression as he tried to calculate. The two of them remained scrutinising each other until they suddenly burst out laughing—or Freddie did. Chou let out a quieter display of amusement that was meant to resemble a laugh, I supposed. My eyebrows raised in disbelief as I watched.
“I think I do,” Freddie began, “But-”
“How does it relate?” Mr Chou asked, shifting to face Freddie more. He ran a hand through the front of his hair, leaving it to stand haphazardly after his fingers had long gone. “Just that, for example, having been raised in a Christian family, I believe Agape—the unconditional love from God to man and vice versa... Well, I think it exists. An Atheist, however, would likely not. But they could still believe in Philia –the non-sexual love; friendship, family, and Eros –the intense. The passionate. Their own truth is different to our own. I don’t know your own opinions or experiences, but due to them you will have a different attitude to love. Love could just be a word to you, or you could believe in it wholly. It could be a physical thing for some people, just like it could have nothing to do with that for some others. Asexuals, for example, can still fall in love, right?” Freddie nodded, and I found I did a little too. Lost in what he was saying. “I personally believe love is on a spectrum of its own, just like gender, and our sexualities-”
And there Chou stopped, as if struck, and slowly turned to face me. The bell rang.
There was a pause. I said, “Are we going to learn that in Philosophy?”
Freddie turned to face Mr Chou, who was nervously fiddling with the skinnier leg of his tie. “Learn what?” he asked hesitantly.
The door burst open then, and three girls strode in, laughing as they stared at their phones. They could have been having separate conversations. Would have believed so if they didn’t all sit as a group before glancing almost greedily at each other’s screens. I wasn’t particularly curious to know what they were looking at, but it seemed to bring them a hell of a lot of joy.
I turned back to Chou and raised my voice so that he could hear me as a couple others walked in. “The spectrum you were just talking about,” I said. I ignored Freddie, who was watching me oddly. “Love, or whatever. It sounds interesting.”
Chou didn’t really give me a proper answer. More of our form seemed to arrive then, and the classroom’s volume picked up, though I had a strange feeling that my tutor had been reluctant to reply to the question anyway. Regardless, I quickly forgot about that. Ryan wasn’t in my form group, but Courtney was, as was Kelsey. It was then that I caught them enter the classroom from the corner of my eye.
They were looking for me, I could tell. Courtney in particular. Her ice-blue eyes were sharp as knives as they sliced across the room and her hair was tied in one of those buns atop her head that made her look that bit fiercer. Her eyelashes were thick, sparse, angled oddly, like a spider’s legs after a run in with slippers, and her lips gleamed with pre-applied gloss. She looked fairly flawless, as she always did, I supposed, but her expression was infinitely more terrifying when she caught sight of me, because that knowing look arose again, and it was me who broke first. As she grinned wide and tapped Kelsey’s arm to draw the girl’s attention, I turned away, felt my hands crumple the doodle-filled sheet, and I stared at the windowless wall beside me. There was a garishly bright yellow poster promoting University open days pinned up next to a sad looking notice informing all who looked upon it that homework club was moved from Monday lunchtimes to Wednesday after school, and that some weekly eco-friendly award meetings were starting up after the half term.
Being a Monday morning, I had a free period first thing again, and I headed towards the quieter of the computer rooms available. I’d done my Spanish homework, but I had a little History research to do, and it was better than the sixth form common rooms any day. I hadn’t been in the room very long, however, when I heard the door open and turned my head to see Joey rushing in and slamming the door shut behind him. He slumped against it, eyes on his shoes and expression something close to panic-stricken. The whirring of ancient computers marred the silence, but still it went on too long—and still Joey hadn’t noticed my presence.
“Uh,” I cleared my throat and took in a breath but forgot to think up something to say. Joey flinched, looked up and, seeing me, jumped another mile or so into the air.
“Shit,” he said. He stood straight away, but he looked unstable as he did so. He was unsuccessfully trying to smoothen the creases on his face into a blank canvas too, but his emotions were so obviously readable.
“Are you okay?”
Joey shook his head. “No. No, I am not okay.” That much was obvious to the two of us. There was another moment of silence in which we both seemed to wait for some coming sign, and then Joey seemed to crumple. He slumped his back against the door and slid down until he was staring sad holes into his jeans-clad knees. The hands holding onto the sides of his legs were shaking so much that I could see the tremor from where I was sat, and he pulled them into his lap and tensed.
I stood from my chair uncertainly and restrained any desire to ask further. I didn’t know about Joey, but if I felt how he looked, I’d prefer not to be crowded by empty words. My staring at him wouldn’t help either though. I blinked back at my computer screen despite curiosity and was rewarded with inspiration.
“Hey,” I asked, glancing towards his still seated frame. He refused to look up, but I was acknowledged by a barely noticeable shift in his position. “Did you finish the Spanish?”
Joey could not have looked more surprised if he tried. He blinked up at me before relaxing a little in confusion.
“No...” he said.
“Would you like to?”
Joey had gone to get his bag, which he’d apparently forgotten in our form room - though, considering the way he’d looked when he’d burst into the IT room, he’d forgotten everything in existence but the ghost he seemed to have been running from.
When he returned, we spent the remaining fifty minutes of the lesson being pretty productive. I’d already finished the essay, and decided History could wait- the topic was getting a little repetitive anyway- so I could give all my attention to Joey, who put more of an effort in than I expected he would. He was subdued though. Quiet. And I got the feeling he had some underlying thought running through his mind the entire time. Until, of course, the bell went and I stood-unsuccessfully. Got my foot caught in my bag strap, which was caught in the wheel of my chair. Joey had laughed like crazy, as if all of it had been stored up inside him for too long, and he even wiped a tear or two away.
“I’m sorry- I’m sorry- Are you okay?”
I glared at him from my sprawled position on the floor, a, for once, uncomfortably unwelcome pain targeting my arse.
“No,” I muttered, “No, I am not okay.” To which Joey only laughed more.
Once seated in Spanish, rather than stare out the window like Joey so often would, he sat, alert, staring at Mrs Luy and holding onto the essay we’d pieced together tightly, as if it could blow away at any moment. The pride was so evident in his face. It was kinda cute.
“Oh jeez, would you stop it?”
Sherry’s voice shook me into reality, and I glared at her defensively. “What?”
“You’re looking at him like a bloody love-sick puppy.”
“What are you talking about?!” I hissed, turning bright red instantly and sneaking a glance at Joey, very aware that, if he’d been able to hear Sherry call him chickenshit, he was going to fucking hear this. My best friend smirked.
“Is someone blushing?”
“Oh my God, I’m going to kill you.”
“What’s all this? Freddie can blush?” Tom joined in, popping his head up whilst, unknowingly, digging his own grave. “I think I have officially seen the eighth wonder of the world.”
My mouth hung open as I tried to think of anything to say to counter their idiotic words, but before I could do so Mrs Luy swooped in.
“Books open. Essays on the table in front of you, and I will come and pick them up. I’d like dates written down please, and the starter completed in the next ten minutes and then—I believe you all know—it is time for another vocab test!”
Joey shuffled his page and a half before neatly placing it to the side and taking out his Spanish book. He opened up to the first page—and he almost did some work. So close. But then his head turned to the window, and he was gone again. I chuckled quietly and glanced away from him, only to see Sherry watching me curiously as she took out her own two page deal. She nudged Tom.
“There’s something wrong with him,” she said.
“With who? Me?”
“Is this because you heard what I did?” My curiosity was spiked—it had to be related to the guy’s little episode the period before, but he was right in front of us, and finding out just then was not necessary. Sherry was as subtle as Barney the dinosaur.
“I literally have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Mhmm,” she answered sceptically, raising a disbelieving eyebrow.
“Wait, what’d you hear?” Tom piped up.
Sherry glanced at Joey and grinned. It was a smile that I was a little afraid of. Joey seemed so vulnerable, being so unaware of it. “Just rumours of a certain chickenshit’s hypocritical nature.”
“Oh, jeez,” I sighed, exasperated. Tom snuck an inquisitive look over at Hartman, who’d hunched his shoulders and leaned closer toward the window. Further from us. I glanced from him to Mrs Luy, and back. “Sherry, shut up.” She was getting carried away again, and she was getting no quieter.
“If you insist—but, I’m telling you, you’re going to want to hear this. You’re involved, after all.”
“I am?” I drew a blank there. Tom pouted.
“I don’t insist, shit—tell me at least.” But Sherry had decided she liked knowing something that we did not, and held us in a rather Spanish suspense for the rest of the lesson.
Even so, I found out soon enough.
When the bell for break tolled, I could not have been more grateful. My stomach was growling ridiculously, and translating a whole page from the textbook had brought on a headache that I could not deal with considering the fact that it was a Monday morning.
It was just after I left the classroom first, Tom and Sherry trailing after me, that I heard familiar taunts about my sexuality. The words themselves hardly even registered just because they were so ridiculous and unoriginal, and I turned my head to send an unimpressed look of some sort, maybe throw a glare over—but my insulters weren’t insulting me. They apparently didn’t seem to have even noticed I was standing where I was – a foot from them.
They were looking at Joey.
Cowardice never felt like this before. This… This was different. This was a fucking fear that overwhelmed more than anything else—any other sense. It was dizzying. It was cold. And as I looked at the four guys who carried on walking –each of whom having been at my house party last Friday— they continued to laugh and throw glances over their shoulders at me.
So Courtney had been true to her word.
I saw Freddie from the corner of my eye too. I didn’t know what I wanted him to do—what anyone could do—but it wasn’t to turn around and practically flee from the scene.
Guess I didn’t blame him though.