10. Up the Wolves
Nat watches as Ben leans over and gets something from under his cell bed.
Ben doesn’t say anything.
“Is that a journal?”
“It’s Rome’s. I stole it. See, it even says ’Rome’s revenge journal, keep out.”
Nat is still trying to piece it all together.
“So how did you come by it?”
“I stole it of course. It’s a cracking read, a real blockbuster.”
Nat somehow seriously doubted that.
“Does he know you have it?”
“Of course not. But I’ll give it back someday, don’t you worry.”
Neither of them had any idea that that ‘someday’ would be a quarter of a century later. It only took Ben 24 years to give it back, but that’s another story.
“I’ll go from then start then.”
And before Nat can complain, Ben starts to read.
Tuesday 8th January 2013
From the moment I arrived at St Richmond College, I had a problem with it. And it had a problem with me. Two years on, I don’t think I’ve ever been hated so much by a place and I’ve never hated a place more.
“Look Rome darling,” My mum drums her fingers on the dashboard as we get caught in more traffic. “I know this isn’t what you wanted but you have to understand that this your last chance at this school.”
I don’t say anything and keep staring out of the window at the grey Scottish countryside.
I don’t say anything again. I’m too busy writing out my new revenge plan in my journal
I turn around sharply at her use of my real name.
“I hope you’re listening. I only want best for you and that’s not more trouble. Ok? I’m not interested in what’s happened or why you’ve been moved to Arkansas. That’s just between you and Tina.”
Tina is apparently my fucking shrink who came up with the idea of giving me a journal. I haven’t met her yet and I don’t want to.
“I just want you to reach your full potential and be the man I know you can be.”
We get there and it’s raining so hard, as usual with a strong wind blowing in from the East. After we’ve unloaded my luggage, my mother starts to cry.
“I’ll make you proud. I promise.”
She just stands there in the rain, weeping on the doorstep.
She steps forward and kisses my forehead. She knows I don’t do hugs. Not ever. No touchy feely in my world. Not at all. I go in and slam the door. As soon as I stepped into Arkansas, I’ve never felt so out of place. It felt like I was gate crashing on some inclusive party I wasn’t supposed to be at. Everyone kept looking at me and no-one helped me with my bags or ran to see me. I was stuck in this alien house as I dragged my luggage up seven bloody flights of stairs. This bloody house seemed to go forever. When I at last got to fourth floor which was basically an attic, I was told by a very unfriendly guy that the year elevens lived along the corridor and through the next door. There were four rooms, one horizontal one, two vertical rooms on the left and one on the right. My room was at the end, the only horizontal one. In Gallagher in year eleven we get rooms of our own. But obviously not in this shithole. The rooms had labels telling us who in what room and each one was full of my least favourite people in the world. Zook. As a roomate. Oh great. Well. It could be worse. I entered gingerly but found it was empty, luckily. We had one window that almost reached the ground and over looked the mixed comm and there were two beds, two desks, two wardrobes and a sink which was …different. . The sink in my room was about the only good thing in this entire shithole.
I sat in the corner of my bed and plug myself into my IPod classic, about the only thing of value I own. Tris showed me all this really weird music last term but the only song I liked that he showed was what I was listening on the way here; This Year by the Mountain Goats. It’s the only thing in this world that understands how I feel. Then actually, I have a change of plan. I blare it out of my speakers as loudly as I can. Then I lie back and wait for hell to descend.
This was my original revenge plan:
-Use Lulu to steal Brad away
-Then when Brad had drifted from Arkansas, I would win him back as my friend and then use him as a double agent to infiltrate Arkansas and tell me their secrets
-Use Candice to flirt with Jel and to annoy Henry
And that was it. When Augie came along, I added him because he could infiltrate
I had no idea what would happen.
The actual revenge has happened like this:
-I made Lulu get with Brad for fun but they fell in love and refused to break up
-I stupidly made an alliance with Valerie because she wanted to spite Jel for some strange reason. Valerie= worst friend EVER. The moment I moved to Arkansas she ditched me, like she didn’t even know my name.
-Then Valerie decided to create first a bet between her and Arkansas for no reason at all apart from to spite Jel. Then she made it a no relationship policy, so Jel couldn’t have another girlfriend. Therefore they would magically ride off into the fucking sunset at the end of it because of course, him not having another girlfriend would magically make him fall in love instantly with her. That’s exactly how love works right?
-Candice is such a idiot. I told her to go for Jel and what did she do? She went for Trent. And I realised that I couldn’t make her kiss Jel so I told her to kiss Trent in return for some fun. And what do they do? They got themselves fucking expelled. You can have to believe me that I didn’t mean for them to get into so much trouble.
-And then Lulu and Brad refused to break up. God. That was such a bad summer term. However Jel fell out with Brad which I saw as the ultimate opportunity however him and Lulu had their own little plan which I still haven’t figured out.
-I hit Lulu. And it wasn’t just once. Don’t say anything ok? You think it’s bad? You’re not the one who has to live with it.
Oh shit, someone’s coming. I better stop writing. I don’t want them to think I’m a faggot for keeping a journal.
God. It’s so noisy here. I hate this place already. Yeah so I was writing what actually happened. This is only for you Tina, when you read this in our next session.
-Yeah so in September I made my first proper friend. Tris was the guy I wanted to be like more than anything and he had so many creative ideas for revenge.
-We made his drippy brother Augie be our spy and he stole a memory stick for us and managed to cause a rift with Ben because of cause Jel knew we were up to no good.
-Augie told me that Jel and Zook both got second auditions for the tennis so we managed to get Augie to be friend Ben when they were away and cause distance between Ben and Henry.
-This is where it got kinda out of hand. Tris and I got carried away with Lulu and he forced himself on her. He only kissed her but of course, I almost got beaten up by Jel, again.
-Because of this, Lulu threatened to tell Brad everything and Tris hit her so hard. God. He even drew blood. As I said, it had got very out of hand.
I just wanted to cause some distrust, honestly. The amount of time I’ve almost been expelled, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone else and yet within my plan of revenge, I’ve seen two people banished and one sent back to their home country in disgrace.
Tris thought it would be a super fun idea to get high for the first time. And yeah, now I’m here. My whole life has been ruined by one simple choice. It keeps coming back to me, the last time I remember seeing Tris. We were loitering beside the medical centre waiting for Valerie to join and that’s when he showed me. I thought it would be pot but oh no it wasn’t.
“Look what I brought us. You know you want some don’t you?”
“Yup, £42 a gram.”
I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never had that amount of money and if I had, I wouldn’t have spent it on drugs.
“I’m afraid we’re snorting today. No needles left.”
I was holding the bottle of champagne we’d stolen from the drama department but he grabs it and starts to swig it. I don’t drink alcohol but luckily he wants all of it. I really don’t want any of the drugs he’s taking but I feel like I really don ’t have a choice.
“Val isn’t coming, let’s just go.”
He disappears off into the trees before I have time to say anything so I follow. We sat down in the dark and the snow was falling heavily. He passed me the bag and sprinkled some on the back on my Iphone.
“It has to be in a line you see.”
Then he snorted it, once, twice, three times. He does that three times Then After a brief pause, he did something I’ve never him do before. He jumped up and began to. dance.
“Oh my godddd Rome, you have to do this. It’s the best feeling in the world!”
He’s dancing around with his arms in the air, as if he’s never seen snow before and is just completely in awe of it.
“Give me the champagne!”
I passed it to him and I suddenly want to feel what’s he feeling, rather than cold, tired and bored. So I copied him. I sniffed a tiny bit of the damn stuff but as I do, I look up and Tris had gone. The stuff was the most revolting thing and to have to it up my nose, I could ’t breath. That was the last time I saw him, dancing around, looking as if the world was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, which I suppose it is if you’re getting high. Then he had vanished into the night and left me about to snort more cocaine. I barely a gram up my nose but I knew it would show up my system if I had a blood test. I began to panic. I dropped the bag and I ran. And to cut a long story short, I’m here.
Wednesday 9th January
So, my first morning in Arkansas. We got woken up 6:45 cause we have to be at breakfast at 7:20 but Zook had jumped out of bed bang on 6:30 and disappeared with Ben for a communal shower. They did this last night too; showering naked together and god knows what else. In Gallagher, we were all told when we arrived that if we chose to shower together, we mustn’t drop the soap. When I looked it up on the urban dictionary on my first night, from that day on I always showered in the cubicle on the second floor. I’ve never dared shower in the showers with the curtains. Years on, I’m beginning to think that was just to scare us so there would be no nudity. So I got dressed while the communal showering was happening as quickly as I could so Zook wouldn’t see any of my scars.
I came back in from pissing and Zook was blaring MIKA at top volume of his speakers and singing along in a serious soprano while taking polish off his shoes. I haven’t heard Grace Kelly by MIKA for like ten years and Zook’s singing is so high pitched.
“Please, it’s not even 7 am yet. Can you turn it down?”
Zook laughs and keeps singing along. At the end of the song, Zook laughs again and says:
“It’s to wake Henry up.”
Really? I think it’s going to wake the whole fucking house up.
Zook succeeds because Henry appears in his underwear and unplugs the speakers and goes back to bed. So Zook puts it back on and play its even louder. Then he leaves and I have to take the polish off my shoes and scrub my uniform with a nail brush with this racket. I don’t even like MIKA that much. I wondered when Jel was coming back and I’m dreading it. I really am.
So we have our opening assembly of term this morning and therefore we have to wear our Sunday uniform which is the gayest thing I’ve ever worn. Honestly, I’ve never looked so stupid. It’s a pale blue blazer but not a nice blue, it’s just too blue. Then this really itchy sleeveless pullover thing and a white shirt underneath and because I’m in Arkansas, I have to wear a red tie. Even the trousers are a shocking shade of pale blue. Every single item is emblazoned with our school symbol which is a hawk perching on a pile of books and below it is written Ab honesto virum bonum nihil deterret which means ‘nothing deters a good man from his duties’ or something like that. Chapel is going to be so boring, I just know it.
Chapel was SO boring. When we came out, Jel was standing in the ambulatory talking to Mr H in his jeans, a white sleeveless top and a blazer with a fedora hat and two suitcases. His hair is much longer and his skin is a darker shade of bronze. Honestly. He looks like then most charming guy in the world. He didn’t seem like the type to have enemies; until became one
Zook runs and throws himself at Jel, doing a kind of koala like thing when he throws himself but Jel ends up holding him sideways but Zook throws himself with such force that it makes Jel stumble back. Jel is laughing so much that when Zook scrambles onto his back, Jel drops him and goes back too onto the ground. They’re just lying on the floor of the chapel ambulatory, in a heap and in fits of laughter. They high five and just lie there, as four hundred students file past.
Mr H is raging.
“You’ve been back for ten minutes Jel! Ten! And I’m going to have to gate you!”
Then the Chaplin, Mrs Greenwich who is head of pastoral care and various other important people appeared and I left them. I just hear Jel saying:
“What? It’s good to be back.”
When we got back, I was going to read but as Zook said kicked off his shoes and tripped over them leaving, he looked over his shoulder, as he is expecting something.
“Come on, we have to go to house meeting!”
“I don’t think it-”
“Come on, you’ve got to be there.”
I follow him down the stairs because I always get lost and it just goes on and on.
I don’t know whether they’ve been gated and to be honest, I don’t really care. Luckily Mr H didn’t make me stand up in this house meeting but he did introduce me and I tried not to feel too self concious. Now, we have an hour to unpack before lessons start and everyone is singing along to Golden by MIKA in my room so I’m sitting in the corridor, writing in my journal.
So it’s back into the day uniform which is another blazer, black this time with matching trousers, a white shirt and a red tie cause I’m now in Arkansas. Our uniform has to be IMMACULATE as do our shoes always have to be polished. My mum cut my fringe off and I got contacts instead of the glasses and I look like a whole new person, honestly. I grab my blue and silver school scarf, my bag and head out into the corridor where
Jel is styling his hair in front of the mirror and he looks like a right twat.
Whenever I see Jel, the anger and hate just boils inside me. I see all the horrible things I want to do to him. I always see the way everyone would look at me when he ruined my life but I don’t dare touch him. This is his territory and he’s the alpha male, with a pack always behind him. He give’s me the look he always given me; a look that says ’you don’t know what I can do to you so don’t you dare come near me.” He gave me it, the first time I ever ran into him. I bumped into him in the lunch queue, in case you’re interested. I arrived at St Richmond’s College as very quiet and withdrawn 14 year old and because Brad had been in all my classes, he was my only friend. I was just minding my own business and I was trying to get through the queue and I accidently bumped into Jel with my tray. I remember how huge he was and the three of then had seemed like such a pack that I didn’t want anything to do with them. I just wanted to get through.
“Umm excuse me.” I’d muttered and Jel looked down at me.
“Oh you want through do you?”
Then they’d made some joke about me being a dwarf. I was 5 “5” at the time and I could feel everyone looking down on me. Jel was 6ft and huge. Everyone in the queue laughed at the dwarf joke and I barged through and found myself with nowhere to sit so I took my sandwich and ate my lunch in the toilet. When I came out, of course they were all standing there and laughing.
“Here he comes...the midget...“Zook muttered and they all laughed. I felt something rise up inside of me I’ve never felt before.
“Why are you so small?”
Because my arsehole of a father didn’t look after me like he should have. I don’t say that to Henry though.
“Yeah dwarf? I bet that’s the not only thing that’s small.”
Jel laughed loudly at Zook’s joke.
“I may be small but at least I can afford to have prospects.”
I was aiming that at Zook but Jel turns on me. I could feel everyone turn and watch.
“Don’t you even dare insult him.”
I would have hit Jel but I was suddenly aware of Valerie, the girl I really fancied and Jel’s girlfriend. I can tell how much she adores him just by her eyes. She’s proud of him but it also makes her the most influential girl in the year. I square up to him.
“I should have known you’d be a threat. And no-one threatens my friends. Not now and not ever.”
“Oh and what are you gonna do about it? Huh?”
I have an image of punching Jel in the stomach and then beating the shit of him. He needs to know that it’s not him who is the boss around here.
“Oh, you have no idea.”
It’s amazing how such a small series of events can have such a big impact. He looks at me now.
“I asked you a question Rome? What?”
I don’t say anything. Jel turns to look at me.
“If you’re really interested, I’m remembering the time I hit you with a tray and then you ruined my life.”
He turns around as if I’ve just hit in the face.
“You were a threat. I had to do something about it.”
The way he says, god, as if it’s nothing.
“How was I a threat in anyway?”
“I told you once Rome, no-one threatens my friends. Not now. Not ever.”
“How do you get away with so controlling and manipulative?”
We square up to each other.
“Woah, beef out here much. No fighting in the corridor, please.”
Zook appears from Henry’s room.
“Let’s go. Where’s Ugly?”
“I’m coming, Jesus.” Henry yells back.
“TJ! Get your sorry ass out here NOW!”
I leave them to it because I know when they all arrive, I’m going to be the centre of all their jokes again and that’s caused me enough trouble already.
Friday 11 January
I had my first session with Tina and she was very pleased about all my writing but she is a bit of an idiot. I will admit that. I feel like a such a victim, going to a shrink, so special needs. Reem was always the one who saw all the specialists and I was the one who would give him chocolate and read to him to stop him crying. That’s only thing my father provided. He gave us a lot of books to read.
“So this idea of revenge, it was given to you because Jel made fun of you?”
I shook my head.
“It’s something else.”
I hate this memory. But I told her. I have to. So I told her about the day I walked into the canteen and everyone in the year turned around and looked at me as I looked for somewhere to sit. That was the first day out of many I ate my lunch in the toilet. I told her about how I was cast out of all social circles before I’d even had a chance to meet most of the people in our year. I remember when I really knew something was wrong because Brad disappeared out my life within 24 hours. The looks. The gossip. The whispering. The lies. The feeling of never wanting to go to a meal because of the anxiety of having no one to sit with. I tell her about developing social anxiety on top of everything else and never being able to go to a G&T because I was so terrified of being laughed at. I was Rome, the girlfriend stealer, the womanizer who would always take your girl.
“So you created a new identity for yourself through this revenge?”
“A sense yes. I didn’t mean to become a bully, I was just trying to get even. Christ, even Arkansas’s house motto is ’Ab alio spectes alteri quod feceris-”
“As you do to another, expect another to do to you. Yes, that phrase was going through my mind too. So although everyone sees as the year group bully, it is questionable who really is the bad guy here? Or is there is a good and bad guy? Are we all as bad as each other?”
She really does make me think, this women and while I was sitting on that sofa, I decided that if they’re just as bad as me, I need to finish what I’ve started. And then I move on and not cause any more trouble.
“I think it’s human nature. I mean in Arkansas, I’ve seen the worst of human nature but I’ve also seen the best. The way they look after each other and the fun they have. I think I was partly just really jealous because I’ve never really had friendship like that. They’re like a family. And...and...”
“This makes you want revenge because they made you so alone for so long? ”
Yes. Yes. That’s partly it.
She writes down something on her pad of paper.
“What do you want now Rome, that you’ve been offered a fresh start. Love? Good grades?”
She rattles off a list but there’s one thing that appears in my head. Redemption.
“I don’t know.”
I don’t know how to be redeemed. I’ve got two and half years in this place and I need to become someone other than the bully and the girlfriend stealer. After our session finished, I walked out the med centre and slouched back to Arkansas, trying to keep a low profile despite all the looks I was getting. Everyone is furious because Tristan was much more liked and either we should have both gone or it should have been in reverse. I should have gone and Tris should have stayed. I wandered up all the flights of stairs and I suddenly had a yearning for friendly faces, familiar walls and the smell of somewhere I called home. This was so alien to me. I’m now sitting in my cupboard, hiding from everyone and writing this by the light of my Iphone-
Zook just came barging in and after a moment, he’d said.
“Rome, come out of the cupboard.”
How he knew I was in there, I had no idea.
I crawled out but left my journal in there.
“We need to talk.”
He saw the look on my face.
“It’s nothing bad.”
I sit down and he comes and sits down next to me. I used to hate Zook but he’s not as bad as I always remembered him to be.
“Look, I know it’s not easy coming to a new house. ”
It’s the closest I’ve ever got to an apology from anyone in Arkansas.
“But please don’t cause any trouble. Please.”
Zook looks so shocked, like he thought I couldn’t speak or something.
“You know it wasn’t me who Henry’s girlfriend kissed and yet you’ve blamed it all on me. I have every right to cause trouble Zook. Every damn right.”
And I get up and I leave him. I go outside into the woods and have a cigarette. Here in nature, is where I can have a break and get everyone off my back. And as I sit there, I plan my new revenge. Zook thinks I’m not gonna cause trouble then he has no idea.
Thursday 17th January
I’m doing my English prep, plugged into my music I’m totally in the zone. Zook is next door as usual with Henry the Iceman and Ben the Ginger freak and I presume Brad and Jel are there too. It’s the first decent bit of peace I’ve had since the evening before Henry the perv took out a bit of the ceiling. I take out my headphones for a second and as usual they’re shrieking about something or other.
“Oi, get your own, fatty!” Henry shrieks next door.
“Oh, so I’m the fatty now? Who ate all my chocolate digestives once without asking?” Brad asks.
God. It’s like this EVERYDAY.
“It was in year nine and it was a dare. You weren’t around and he-” I guess Henry is talking about Zook. “dared me to see how many I could fit in my mouth.”
“It wasn’t just me. Jel and Binbag were too.”
Who the fuck is Binbag?
“And I came back from a really long tiring swimming gala which I had been at since 6:20 in the morning because we were away at Glenalmond and you were sitting on my bed-”
“Actually it was mine.” Zook adds in but he’s cut off by Brad.
“With an empty packet next to you, a mouth full of digestives and crumbs everywhere. I was so angry, I really was.”
I plug myself into my headphones. I really don’t want to hear anymore. I’m just zoning out when the door bangs open and Zook comes hurtling in. Zook is by the far one of the weirdest, the loudest and craziest people I have ever met and that’s saying something and I swear I’ve never seen Zook walk in my life. He is always running. He stops right in his tracks when he comes in, as if he has just seen me for the first time in his room.
He looks at his desk. Then he looks at the wall. Then back to the desk. Then he sits down at his desk, props his feet up on the desk and starts to noisily eat a packet of Rich Teas.
I really want but I don’t know if I should.
“You know you want to.”
“No thank you.”
“Fine, all the more for me.”
He begins to crunch on them noisily.
“You know, I saw a phrase on the back of a book about tea and biscuits and it said that if this, is a Rich T, then where are the Poor Tea biscuits and what in the world must they look like.”
If there is one talent Zook does possess, it’s being able to talk drivel constantly. There is just no off button. Well. I know one. But even for me, that’s just cruel.
“Zook. I’m trying to work so if you’re not going to-”
He ignores me.
“I bet they’re square shapes...wait, there was a plate here.”
Then he looks at the wall. Then back to the desk. He looks at the wall again.
“Did you break the plate? The one that was one my desk?”
I don’t say anything.
“And everyone thinks I’m weird.”
Zook shakes his head and disappears out. Well you know what? I don’t care what him or the rest of the freakshow thinks. Nope. Not at all. Wait, actually, that gives me an idea. I need to be on Zook’s side if he’s going to tell me anything. I have to pretend to be his friend while secretely plotting my revenge.
“Actually, can I have that Rich-T?”
He just looks at me.
“Sure. You know Rome, you’re a complete bastard but as a roommate, you’re not too bad.”
“Well thanks. Thanks.”
He laughs and I laugh along. Maybe this isn’t going to be as bad or as hard I thought.
Wednesday 23rd January
Ok so I’ve made a new plan of revenge. I’m sitting in classics and I’m bored out of my skull. I have the worst class in the world and they all think they can laugh at me because I moved houses. Particularly Angela. God she makes my skin crawl, she’s so gross.
“So Brad, tell me, is it nice having Rome in Arkansas?”
I look up from rewriting my ultimate revenge plan.
“Or should I be asking Rome his opinion?”
“Don’t ask him. He doesn’t deserve an opinion.” Brad answers and goes back to his work.
“Oh. Is this to do with Lulu?” Angela asks. Brad stands up.
“What do you know about Lulu and I? None of you have any idea. None at all.”
“Oh but Rome does.”
“What do you know Rome”
Brad stands up and I shut my journal and stand up to meet him.
I ummm...hit your girlfriend. I wonder how he would react if I told him that.
I was coming out of classics and trying to remember the one Latin phrase that had just made my skin prickle. Lupus est homo homini aka man is wolf to man. I go up into the library and get out Wolf Hall which my classics teacher recommended to me and oh my god, it was heavy. I went into lunch and Augie was at the other end of a big table. Luckily there was about 15 people between us.
“It’s just not fair...it wasn’t his fault and now his whole life has been ruined...”
I don’t think anyone is listening to him to be honest.
“It’s not fair that he was expelled....”
I look down the table at him.
“Christ Augie! Stop whinging!”
He looks at me in shock. The whole table goes quiet.
“Did you know your brother was a crackhead? A fucking junkie? He offered me goddam cocaine!”
A gasp ripples across the table. Val looks up at me.
“Jeez man, don’t yell.”
That makes me just want to yell even more.
“All you did was steal a memory stick for me! Woah! Big fucking deal! Get a grip Augie! You have nothing to complain about! Nothing!”
And I stormed out, leaving him and all the people on the table in shock. I explained my plan of revenge endlessly to him and yet he still didn’t understand. Tris did though. And I guess that’s why Tris isn’t here.