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Maybe Because the Rains Came

Chapter Eight: Maybe Because the Rains Came

FREDDIE

It rained non-stop for three days.

When Friday came around, I was beginning to feel as grey as the world around me. Home was feeling less and less like such. Tuesday afternoon, when I’d arrived from school, dad had Michael and a couple of other Sunday golfers over. I’d only caught a glimpse through the half opened living room door as Mia walked out with an empty tray. I hadn’t seen sorrow, or condolences. I hadn’t seen concern, or worry or anything, I might have expected from friends. Just pride. Pride was what shone through in the few seconds I managed to observe them all. They were all the same; so conscious of putting up and holding in place a false image of perfection in all areas; luxury and wealth and comfort, satisfaction with their lives and traditional ideals. Masculinity too. Masculinity most of all.

I didn’t know whether to be sickened by or pitiful of my mother as she stood motionless just to the side of the door, almost fading into the wall. I hadn’t noticed her at first, but there she stood. She looked as though she was ready to melt into the wall, yet she didn’t seem to be touching it, and her arms were floating by her sides, not moving at all but for a twitch in her right middle finger.

His death was killing her, and I was unsure whether I should be angry that she wasn’t attempting to be strong for her children, or glad that there was something in this world that she loved so much. I’d always wondered.

The other days rolled by like stones, but, God, did they collect moss. No matter the efforts of Tom and Sherry, no matter the hugs from Lou, the squeezing of hands with Mia and the calls from Cath, each footstep I took was heavier than the last until, Friday afternoon, I arrived home and realised I didn’t want to be there. I went to my room, filled a fairly big backpack, donned a stupidly large, ridiculously ugly raincoat and left the house, aiming my graveyard feet towards a bus stop. Once in one of the vehicles, I sat with my bag on my lap, heading over to one of the quieter beaches and watching the raindrops race down my window.

JOEY

It was almost ten, and I was regretting everything already. A group of fifteen people had arrived just past nine, and that had been okay. I’d known most of them from school anyway, and I could deal with fifteen, but ten minutes didn’t pass before another twenty turned up, and still some trickled through, Lowood among them. Their own drinks in hand—cans that then found themselves littering my floor. A glass bottle had already been smashed in my broken shower. The noise was rattling through my spine, the atmosphere grating my skin raw.

“Calm your shit, Joe,” Ryan murmured, pouring himself another whiskey concoction. His eyes lazily drifted over to me, missing the fact that his drink had now surpassed the rim of his cup. “It’ll be fine,” he slurred. And I recognised the sound. Recognised the fear gripping my heart and anger with myself for trusting his judgement that ‘Everything would be okay’, that it’d be okay to pre-drink, for example.

Why had I?

I was as drunk as he was, and my body delayed any movement I wanted to make even though my brain was telling me to fucking move, find the source of the clash and the resulting collective laughter. Deal with it. Send the dicks out.

How could I?

I struggled to swallow my anger down with the abundance of saliva in my mouth, but his casual, if intoxicated, grin didn’t make it easy. “Calm my shit?” I tugged clumsily on my hoodie sleeve and wiped at the surface after he lifted his cup, trying to clean the alcohol off before it dried, left a smell, a stain. “How the fuck can I calm my shit?” I asked him. “Have you—can you see what they’re doing--?”

“You’re being a fucking girl, Joey,” he spat, eyes straining to focus on me. He swayed as he stood, watching with disdain as I narrowed my eyes.

“My mum’s gonna—”

“Fuck your mum, for a minute!” Ryan shouted, veins bursting from his neck and face reddening beyond his usual. I felt my fingers curl into fists as my eyes narrowed.

What?”

His hands shook as he glared. “I did this for you. Bloody chill out for once, and do us all a favour? Fuck Courtney.”

I wasn’t entirely sure why I punched him, but the alcohol he’d persuaded me to consume definitely had a hand in it, so I refused to feel guilty. I ignored the glass that dropped but, surprisingly, did not break, protected by his fist. Ignored the beer spilt across the floor by my own hand. Stumbled out of the kitchen instead and I heard music that I despised without acknowledging what exactly it was. I saw destruction that maddened because—fuck, this was someone’s house. Who cared if it was mine? It was someone’s house. I couldn’t stand the lack of respect all these dicks fucking had—or didn’t. My bedding had been dragged half way down the stairs. I saw a smashed bulb on the floor with eight eggs surrounding it in similar states. I saw shoes without their pairs lying, discarded, here and there, and fuck—school pictures had been pushed askew, placed upside down, knocked off where they stood completely, as if it was a joke. But I was the only one, the only fucking one, not laughing. The noise was sickening, and poisonous, the laughter worse so. I could see items from my mum’s laundry like breadcrumbs leading from the utility room to the open front door, and I saw red then.

Yet...

Yet the anger was swept from me in one wave of blank confusion when I walked into the main room, prepared to begin the process of throwing people out, and saw a room of mostly male voyeurs. Male voyeurs loudly appreciating a female show; my girlfriend in a rather intimate clinch with my best friend’s girlfriend.

Their hands were in each other’s shirts, and skirts, and their mouths were attached, and it was the most confusing image. I lost the rest of the party for a moment, captured by the way Courtney pulled her face away a little, and looked through the crowd. She was enjoying the male attention; had no idea I was there, until I stepped forward.

I could tell she was intoxicated. Her eyes, the slack quality to the way she held herself. The sickening way she giggled and then moaned as Kelsey’s hand apparently dug a little deeper.

“Feel free to join us,” she called to me, gyrating in a way that I only found unattractive, along with the rest of her. The rest of them.

“He won’t,” I heard Ryan say as I took a step back. I turned to watch him emerge through the door as I just had, holding his jaw. He watched me through grey-green eyes, but I couldn’t tell if he was seeing me at all. I wasn’t seeing him, I knew that, and it became clearer when he finished what he’d been saying; “He’d rather watch me as he jerks off than fuck you.”

It was fear that lead my footsteps, then. Out of my house and into the rain outside, mingling with tears that I hated the existence of. I hadn’t been able to stay there a second longer. I was suffocating underneath the noise, the eyes, the laughter, the speculation, the fucking bullshit.

But I was to blame. It was all me. I was a coward to the bone—couldn’t say No to having a party and prevent all this shit from happening. Couldn’t tell them to Get the hell out when I first detected foul-play, or deny entrance in the first place. Couldn’t fucking dump Courtney when I should have. I wanted so badly to be free of all of them.

Without realising it, my feet had begun to lead me towards the beach, and I allowed them to keep stumbling on, feeling oddly hollow. Strangely broken.

It was an unfamiliar feeling.

The rain began to fall faster, harder, sheets blinding the path before me, but I’d walked to the beach enough times to simply walk without too much direction.

And I kept on going. Even when I felt the sand beneath my feet. Didn’t hesitate as I walked into the waves either, considering I was already soaked completely through, anyway. Ankles deep. Knees. The cold was beginning to bite as I got in deep enough that the water level had reached my thighs, and then I heard a shout breaking through the torrential rain. I paused and turned, squinting to try and see the source, but it was dark. There was clearly someone out there, though, as a torch’s beam was bouncing around unsteadily, pointed at me. I stared blankly for a second before I realised the erratic movements of the light, and its gradual growing in size, meant its user was running towards me.

The faint heart of mine quivered a little at the thought as, surely, only madmen would be out at the time, this weather. I’d be killed and would never even get to apologise to my mum about the mess that our house was.

“Hey! Hey, stop! Come out.

I didn’t react much to the instructions yelled at me. Not only had I already stopped, but, without realising it, my legs had become two blocks of ice, quite incapable of moving any sort of distance. Also, the voice was vaguely familiar, but my drunken mind couldn’t quite place it. Though, that could have had something to do with the rain and howling winds, contorting sounds and giving mundane objects and landscape details haunting features that, I was convincing myself, didn’t actually exist.

They were still shouting as they neared, but the wind had picked up, and the rain had all of a sudden poured heavily down, and I had to squint against the beam of the torchlight. “Can you hear me?”

“Yeah,” I replied, but it was carried away by the wind. I began to wade slowly, and with alcohol induced difficulty, out again, towards the anoraked figure who’d begun to lower the torch as they hovered on the edge. It was a gesture that made me smile; they were soaked through as it was, but not allowing the tips of their boots touch the sea was so ingrained into their Things You Shouldn’t Do list. They grabbed at each of my arms with their own and pulled me out of the sea once I was close enough, and then I noted the right arm, rife with bracelets of every colour imaginable.

“Are you okay?!” Freddie asked, sounding desperate. I didn’t know why the tone of his voice had been so urgent, nor did I think he’d recognised me yet. Both made me want to laugh.

“Yeah.” But so suddenly I felt the cold seep out of my clothing, through my skin and into my bones. I was shivering uncontrollably without having realised it, and my teeth began chattering before long. I smiled wide, eyes growing lidded as I realised how tired I was too. “Hey, Lewis.”

He froze, then. It was too dark to really see, but his eyes were likely doing some form of widening, and his mouth fell open, incoherent words tumbling out. They must have been just as drunk as I was. ”J-Joey?" Fuck, did I have a headache. “What--” Freddie’s grip on my forearms loosened for a second, and I swayed, closing my eyes. Wondered if he’d been about to speculate on what a coincidence it was, our meeting here. Because I was.

What a coincidence that, as Ryan basically calls me a fag in front of a room full of people in my own house, I run to take refuge by the sea and encounter the real thing.

What a coincidence.

I couldn’t discern between having been standing alone and the moment I was leaning against Freddie as he began to walk away from the tide that was washing over the sand and calling to me still. He’d had to place the torch in his mouth and dedicate both arms to keeping me up on my feet. Pity I hadn’t thought about the fact that any sort of movement in soaked through jeans would be no easier than walking two metres with Lottie and Priya on each leg.

“What were you doing?”

Freddie had taken us over to the stone building that housed the toilets and changing rooms. We couldn’t go inside because it was locked up at a certain time- prevent homeless people from setting up camp, supposedly, but the roof jutted out quite a bit, so there was shelter. And there was also a huge backpack resting against the wall that I fell against.

Freddie immediately began rooting through it once he’d made sure I was sitting comfortably. He pulled out a huge red blanket and threw it at me, settling down next to me afterwards.

I stared at the warm object in my hands, a little wary about Freddie’s having prepared it when he’d had no idea I’d be here. Therefore, it had originally been for himself.

“Running away?” I asked.

There was a moment in time in which I regretted saying that a little. Felt my first words should probably have been expressing gratitude, and my shivering muscles told me so too.

“Not yet,” he replied. I turned to face him. Freddie pushed back the hood of his anorak and ran his hands through his sodden curls—waves, really. They clung to his forehead and around his ears and fell in rivers down the nape of his neck. He turned to face me, and I saw the smile he offered thanks to the considerate light attached to the wall we were leaning against. “I’m kidding.”

And we lapsed back into silence as we simultaneously turned our heads back to face the sea. After trying unsuccessfully to chase away the cold biting at my body with pure will, I pulled the blanket around me, glanced at Freddie and said “You’ve got to be cold too.”

He shrugged, head turning to the side a little. “Not as cold as you are. What-” he looked at me seriously then, eyebrows knotted together. “What were you doing?”

“Walking into the sea.” I offered a grin. “Wasn’t it obvious?”

“I’m serious, Joey,” he murmured, eyes squinting the slightest bit as if that would help him find the truth he was looking for.

It was my turn to shrug. “So am I.”

“You weren’t... You didn’t—want to drown, or anything?”

My bark of laughter was, in hindsight, a little tactless, and Freddie’s flinch was proof of that. He shifted, and the fingers of his left hand picked restlessly at the bracelets decorating his right. “You think it’s funny?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that at first; it was laughable that I would try. I’d been swimming since I was about six; I couldn’t drown if I wanted to. Every instinct I’d ever built up in the water, especially since I’d started surfing, would bring me floating to the surface again. Though, after alcohol consumption, perhaps not so much.

“No,” I began, looking down at my blanketed knees. “The idea of suicide is not, no.” I had no words to use to explain myself, nor did I think he’d be too interested anyway. “Thank you,” I mumbled instead. “For the blanket, and stuff.” Freddie sighed beside me, and his answer was his leaning away to press a hand into his ruck sack. Clinking sounds suggested what I found to be true; two cans of beer followed his hand out, and he immediately handed one to me. I took the Heineken hesitantly, aware that part of the throbbing in my head was due to drink, granted I was beginning to sober up already.

“You don’t have to drink it if you don’t want,” he stated tiredly. He dragged his left leg up so that he could rest his elbow on it as he held the can and clicked it open with a hiss. Then, before I knew it, he was knocking the beer back like it was orange juice. My eyes widened.

“Fuck. You—you don’t drink like...”

“Don’t you dare say a homosexual.” Freddie rolled his head across to face me, keeping it resting against the wall, and raised an eyebrow in question.

“Of course not! I was going to say—like, you don’t take your time. Don’t, you know, sip at it or savour it, whatever.” I opened my own can too, and brought it to my lips. “You drink to get drunk.” Freddie returned his head to its initial position and he shut his eyes. I took that as acceptance. “How the fuck does a gay person drink, anyway?”

I watched the corner of Freddie’s lips flick up in a smirk as he raised the hand holding his can, stuck his little finger out, and then allowed his wrist to go limp. I chuckled weakly, rolling my eyes and allowing them to settle on the pier less than a mile away, still lit at the late hour.

“I’d be drinking a Margarita instead, as well,” Freddie said.

“Very stereotypical.”

“Of course.”

Silence fell, allowing us both to notice the gradual decline in the quantity of rain. I’d begun to miss it already.

“What are you doing here?” I wanted to know.

Freddie sighed, and white mist left his lips in thin wisps. “Needed to get away from home. You?”

“Ah,” I murmured. “Same here.” And that answer briefly caused me to worry about the state my house would be in when I eventually returned, but doing so only caused a rising panic, and there was nothing I could do now. It was out of my hands. My hands were tied.

I felt sick with it.

FREDDIE

There was silence for moments more, but for the waves washing up a while before us, and the rain.

“Because of your dad?” Joey asked. I wanted to laugh; what wasn’t? My life as I knew it... I was pretty certain that every aspect had been directly affected by my father in some way or another. It reminded me of science experiments; I’d make a change of some sort, his reaction would take place, and the end result would be destructive, pointless and not the desired outcome by half.

“Yeah,” I finally answered Joey. “But not the reason you’re thinking of.”

“Is he okay?”

It was always difficult to answer questions of that kind. I could have said yes because, thus far, my father seemed to be so. He was acting as he always had, there was no change. Nothing uncharacteristic, like giving a shit about his son for example, had taken place - altered his behaviour, and his health appeared much the same. I’d always thought there were two ways that a man could respond to the knowledge that they would soon pass away; fear, or a simple sort of sadness. But, of course anger came into it, like my father was showing me. A sense of injustice too, and blame could of course be a coping mechanism they would cling to.

Was he okay?

The pretence was there. He had kept that up pretty well. But there was an underlying wildness, a hint of pain accompanying his movements- though it wasn’t necessarily a physical one. I finally decided to go with “I don’t know,” which was pretty close to the truth.

“And what about you? Are you okay?”

I shrugged. In theory it was a much easier question to answer; I felt tired; weary; worthless, empty, uncomfortable. There was a river of emotions flowing through my mind, and if you threw in a fishing line you were likely to catch anxiety, or something similar. It was an easier question to answer, but I doubted Joey would give two shits.

“You know, Freddie, I’m aware that you hate me and everything, but you can talk to me. I’m not exactly going to go shouting whatever out to the world, and not everyone knows what it’s like not to have a father figure around— available when you might need to talk to him.”

I laughed at that. Was he serious? “A divorce or separation or whatever the fuck happened between your parents is not the fucking same as my dad being dead and gone.” I’d hardly registered the fact that I’d finished my sentence before I was drenched in alcohol and covered by a red blanket. I pulled the blanket off from over my head to see Joey struggling up on legs that weren’t quite on the same page with his head when it came to sobriety.

“What the fuck?” I shouted. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“What the hell is wrong with me?!” Joey stopped abruptly where he was and just stood there. If his body was shaking from anything but cold, it would have been from anger. “Divorce?! Is that what you fucking think happened? My parents didn’t get a fucking divorce, my dad fucking died!”

Every part of me seemed to sag in disbelief, and I simply stared for a moment. His father had died? Since when? How? And how had I been to know? I’d only ever heard him talk about his mother in almost four years I’d known him. And I hadn’t even known him well! We weren’t exactly on speaking terms. How had I’d been to know that, unlike most other people’s parental situations, his father hadn’t actually intended on leaving?

“Wh—” I stopped before I even started properly, unsure what I’d been about to say. “I’m sorry...” He said nothing. “Honestly, I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

Joey turned his head over to the right. He was standing in the rain, having left the shelter of the protrusion, and seemed to welcome it. He lifted his head slightly to the sky. “Whatever,” he said. “It happened ages ago. Ten years,” He paused, and his head dropped. “Fuck. It’ll be ten years in six months, anyway. The huge fire down in town, the one that tore down that block of flats?” I was silent. I didn’t know. Hadn’t lived here at the time. “He was the first one on the scene, my mum said,” Joey continued, voice being lost a little in the wind. “He was brave. Fearless. He could save every fucking person on the floor but he couldn’t save himself.”

“He was a fireman?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want another drink?” I righted my can, which had been dripping down my leg without my realising. I didn’t care much; Joey’s throwing his all over me meant I smelt like beer anyway.

Joey looked over his shoulder at me. “Fuck. I should go home...”

My heart sank a little. “Oh. Okay.” It was a little odd that I didn’t want him to go. Not yet. Didn’t want to be left alone so soon. I’d come to the beach to be, but having had his company... I wanted—

“But I’m too fucking scared,” he hissed. “Fuck it. Yeah, another drink.” And he turned sharply and strode back to me where he stood in front and stared down at his feet. I cleared my throat and, simultaneously, my mind of the desperate thoughts that followed.

“You’re not going to sit down?” I placed my can beside me and reached my frozen hands back into my bag to retrieve two more, as mine was almost down. Joey slowly knelt in front of me. “What are you scared of?”

He took the can I offered as he scoffed. “Everything.” He shook his head, fell back onto his ass and lifted a hand of trembling fingers to his face. “Every fucking thing. And you know it— chickenshit, remember?”

Our eyes caught hold of each other, then. I wasn’t able to let go of the blue that was such an unexpected shade of unhappy. Joey smiled. “Guess it’s not so crazy that I might have been trying to commit suicide. I fucking hate myself.”

The shock of Joey’s words floored me and my eyes widened as I tried to take it in. Joey Hartman. “Why?! Why the hell would you—”

“I’m just really good at fucking up. Can’t do anything right.” He laughed, eyes falling away from mine to the can in his left hand. He opened it and immediately brought it to his lips and began to down it as though every happiness in the world depended on that. Every sip would bring him closer to Nirvana. The wince on his face told me he wanted anything but to drink; just like the angry twist to the set of his eyebrows and the haltingly way his chest moved beneath the heavy hoodie he was wearing that, being so damn soaked through it clung to him like a second skin, told me he was feeling just about as stable as I had been the weekend before. I was hesitant in taking the beer from him, replacing it with the red blanket when Joey regarded me questioningly.

“Alcohol warms me up, too,” he muttered.

“It doesn’t warm you, it numbs,” I corrected, because I knew that better than anyone. He couldn’t fool me. I left my own can where it was. After a moment he scooted over to settle next to me and placed the blanket over himself in such a way that there was spare, so I gratefully pulled it over myself too.

JOEY

I didn’t even know why I started telling him about the party, and my girlfriend, Lowood, and my frustrations concerning Ryan making me sound gay in front of everyone—though I didn’t reveal anything about the dreams. It was clearly the alcohol. Lack of inhibitions and all, but my mouth kept opening and stupid commentaries kept falling out. He didn’t speak over me, nor did he make any sounds to show he’d heard, but as my words grew drowsier, even to my ears, and my head felt heavier, he patted his shoulder. It was just so easy to let my head fall there, and as I started to drift from my original rant, something about rain, and Stitch, I felt his fingers brush mine. I hadn’t reacted, believing it to be a mistake, but when they took mine, protesting seemed too much effort. Besides, his second hand soon joined his first, and they sandwiched my own and rubbed, generating warmth. And the warmth that grew in my fingers spread through my hands, up my arms, my heart. I could almost feel it pump heat about my body, and it was so sudden, fighting the cold, that it stirred something in my gut that felt like a fleet of intoxicated butterflies. The atmosphere felt like silence might. There was a definite calm, despite the rain storm taking place and the crashing of the waves.

There, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, it was pitch dark and half past two a.m. My head was on Freddie’s shoulder, and my hands were still in his, but the warmth had all gone. Freddie was shivering but, when I turned to look at him, asleep. His hands clutching mine were ice cold.

“Fuck,” I murmured. It only took me a minute to shake him up, and we both stood slowly, painfully, in silence. Together we gathered his cans and I placed them in the nearest bin whilst he folded the blanket. It took a little while, due to his stiff fingers. He brought his backpack up and wore it, and then we both stood staring at each other.

“The rain has stopped,” I said.

“Yeah,” Freddie replied, hands disappearing into his anorak pockets. He was trying to put some sort of brave face on, but the cold was biting. Reminded me of the story with the little Spartan boy and the fox.

“Are you going to be okay?”

“My bus. It’s stopped going. Forgot about that.”

And so I replied, without giving it much thought, “You can come to mine. It’ll still be a mess because.. Y’know? But—”

“Yeah,” he said. “That would be really cool.”

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