Chapter 12: Pompeii
January passed without incident and merged into the beginning of February. It had been some of the best weeks we'd had in a long time. After the night at Christmas when I kissed Jay, life had gone on. It had to. Even we couldn't make it stop. So yeah, as with every Saturday, we were having lunch, just the five of us which was such a change. Jel was a lot quieter these days, Zook a lot louder and Henry a lot ruder. Brad was never there as he was always of, being in love and I was on my quest to prove myself. But the strongest undercurrents are the ones you can never see. That Saturday, we were sitting around a small table in the corner and even Brad had ditched Lulu for us. There was something so special about the way we sat together, like the people we were in that moment had just learnt how be at peace with each other. It was last the proper meal we'd ever eat together.
"And then it just erupted...covered everything..." Brad is saying and Zook raises his eyebrows. Henry laughs.
"Yeah Brad...what erupted everywhere..."
Brad flicks a bit of leftover lasagne at him.
"Pompeii Henry! Where I was at half term! God you two..."
It's common knowledge Brad and Lulu have done the dirty so Zook and Henry just go for the sexual jokes whenever they can.
"First your chapel and now this..."
Zook and Henry burst into laughter. Even Jel who has barely said one thing this meal, laughs.
"Well Zook found the photos...don't blame me..."
"Chewy, you saw what happens if you google pictures of Nelson Mandela..."
They both laugh again.
"My dad was livid you guys..."
Brad find that hilarious too. It was our house assembly that we do once a year and we all had to help in some way. It was -about famous people who were imprisoned and how they are inspirational etc. so people talked about Anne Frank, the guy from the Shawshank redemption....Then Zook and Henry stood up and talked about Nelson Mandela. But as you've probably guessed, the whole chapel could tell in an instant that Morgan Freeman is not Nelson Mandela and everyone was trying so hard not to laugh. All five hundred of us.
"I think it was the fact you didn't notice until half way through.." I say and we keep laughing. The way Henry had looked at Zook in front of five hundred people with the reaction we were all waiting for aka. Henry swearing under his breath and Zook laughing out loud.
"And of course, Zook looked at me so I had to sort it out.."
Zook guffaws with laughter.
"As you know, this is not Nelson Mandela...but Morgan Freeman is very inspirational too...in his own way..." Zook imitates him. "God Henry, you looked like such a twat."
Henry goes for Zook and get's him in a headlock and Zook bites his arms.
"Oh fuck Zook, Christ, leaving ruddy tooth marks..."
Henry looks at Zook in a way I've ever seen about twice. It's a brotherly affectionate kind of look but also one of fear. The fear that you're loosing the one thing you can't live without. I saw it in Henry's face as he had Zook in a headlock and I see it in Brad's eyes whenever Lulu appears and she has the same thing in her smile.
"God I love you guys...don't ever change please..." Jel says and I hear it ripple across within his laugh. I look around the table, my eyes still watering from laughing until I cried, which is something I haven't done since I was a child and my heart swelled. Just for a moment, I'm at peace. And it's beautiful.
"Henry, I need a word. Now."
We all look up. And it's over. We never get that moment back. We never get any of this back. The moment Jay approaches, it's the end of everything as we know it in Arkansas.
"Jay, what do you..."
Henry's eyes are so wide with fear. What does she want with him?
She drags him up and they disappear.
"I've got to go and talk to India." Jel says after a moment of very awkward silence and he too disappears. Brad gets up at the same time as him, presumably to go and find Lulu.
"Well fuck me. This is all about to go so wrong. So so wrong." Zook mutters. "Come, let's go back to the house."
We wander back in silence. I know Zook is having kittens about finding his tennis future any day now. Zook checks his phone when we get into Arkansas.
"Oh fuck. Jesus Christ."
"Christ Ben, you just couldn't leave her alone could you?"
"Jay! For fucks sake! Henry is completely flipping out because you've been trying to set her up with fucking Gwebe!
"And what's this got to do with-"
"Ben." Zook turns to look at me and he says very slowly. "Henry is going to flip out at you when I open this door. He went out with her for almost a fucking year Ben! Do you know how long that is?
Too long Oh. Fuck. That explains everything. It really does. Before I have time to think anything else, Zook opens and the door and then disappears. There is deadly silence. It unnerves me completely. The calm before the storm. I gingerly open the door to my room. Henry is sitting at his desk. I can see the storm behind his eyes. I won't go into detail of him flipping out but it began with him slamming his fist down on the desk and it was ending with him grabbing my by the collar and shoving me up against the wall.
"YOU LITTLE SHIT! YOU'VE RUINED EVERYTHING! Because of YOU, she seems have to allied with him! WITH FUCKING ROME! The guy who is trying to ruin ALL of OUR LIVES! It's because of YOU this is all happening!"
It was at this point Henry grabbed me by my collar and shoved me against the wall so my feet weren't touching the ground.
"Have you ever lost someone Ben? Someone you truly loved and now, you can never get back? And now, because of someone's stupid mistake, you'll never have that? Ever felt that? The grief beyond heartbreak-"
At that point I did something I never imagined I'd do. Not in a million years. Henry is two inches taller than me and weighs at least 10 pounds more than me as well as being one of the props on the rugby teams. He could beat me into a pulp and then Jel would come and finish me off. But those words, god, they made the ocean in me rise. I saw Elliot's face for a moment and all that we went through. I hear his voice:
"Don't ever let anyone tell you what you feel isn't real. Particularly when it hurts like an absolute bitch." So I did it. I smacked Henry hard across the face. I think my fist hurt almost as his face. I don't ever hear Jel's familiar footsteps but all I know is that things would have been very different he hadn't held Henry back and grabbed both of his arm behind his back.
"Woah woah woah guys, break it up."
"Why are you holding me back? He was the one who ruined EVERYTHING! He turned the girl I lost against us-"
"Dude. She turned against us a long time ago. We can't control everything."
He lets Henry go and Henry just stares at him .
"Coming from the control freak eh? I should be telling you that Jel. I should have told you that a LONG time ago."
The door opens and Zook's familiar run echoes around the Loft. Jel's face falls.
"When are you going to tell him?"
"Tell him what?"
"Jel got into that fucking tennis academy! A fully funded scholarship! And he won't goddam tell Zook!" Henry hisses so Zook won't hear.
Woah. Fuck. Shit. God.
"I can't Henry...it will break him..."
Henry stands up defiantly and just stares at Jel. There is something very final about his next words.
"This is it then Jel. Nothing is ever going to be the same."
Jel doesn't say anything. The door flies open and Zook comes crashing open.
"Woah, am I missing something?"
That makes two of us.
"Come on Jel, we need to go and train. We've got to get to tennis in ten minutes."
He just looks at us.
"Seriously, who died? Where's the funeral? Should I be in black? Is the a Hershey on the way-"
Henry jumps up.
"Hearst Zook. It's a Hearst."
Jel just stays put.
"I've got to pack, I'm sorry. I'm flying to the states tomorrow."
Zook's face drops.
"I'm sorry. I can't."
Henry evil glares Jel.
Jel checks his phone.
"Oh. My. God. No. This can't be happening. We need to go the comm. Now."
Jel sinks down onto his bed. He is speechless.
"It's Brad. He's been expelled."