6. Die Young
My dreams all swirl in and out of each other but when I wake up, I know I'm in big trouble. I'm still in what I wore yesterday and the taste of Pimms lingers at the back of my mouth. My mother is furious. No seriously. She absolutely flips a lid.
"That's it Benedict! I'm sending you to Riverton hall! I don't have the time or the energy to control you! You are going to ruin my chances of being re-elected, even though I sent you as faraway as possible and it will be the end of my career! You're getting the first train tomorrow from Scarborough and hopefully that will knock some sense into you!
So my theory was right. Riverton Hall is our ‘family home’ and up in the middle of Nowhere in Scotland near Wick. When I say ‘family home’, I do mean an estate with Tenants and a house that’s been in our family for 250 years. Against my will, I put on the next train from Scarborough and the 22 hour train journey is long enough to make me regret everything I've done. My Aunt Collette picks me up from Wick train station and has a very forced smile on her face.
I give my Aunt my best smile.
“How lovely to see you? How are you?”
“Very well thank you.”
We make very awkward conversation along the single track road and then up the windy drive until we pull up next to the other landrovers and jeeps while Riverton stands there; imposing and huge against the back drop of the desolate moors. The house that may be huge but it’s huge, cold and crumbling with no insulation, a leaky roof and virtually no heating.
“Mummy what the-”
My two stupid cousins also appear outside. Roderick is the biggest wanker I’ve had to be related to.
“Ben! Good god!” Roderick comes up to shake my hand. “Has that school done nothing for you? Not made you a man yet?” then he whispers. “Oh I can smell it has.”
“It’s been great thanks. I’ve loved taking your place.”
He tries to give me a Chinese burn but my cousin Stephanie shows up so we have to act civilised. After I’ve said hello to Cousin Stephanie, you can hear my Uncle Anthony thundering down the stairs from a mile away. My Uncle is a human incarnation of Toad from Wind in the Willows. He’s overweight, loud, goes to a gentleman’s club, loves good food, fine wine and always has a ruddy face, wears corduroy trousers and has the poshest laugh in the world.
“Benedict!” he brays. “How wonderful to see you my boy! Ruddy wonderful day isn’t it?”
“Yes it is thank you.”
“You coming on the shoot this weekend?”
“Of course! I’d love to!
“That’s my boy! We’re going to have a pre-lunch and I’m sure you’re old enough to have port with us before we go…”
We start to head inside.
“Roderick, take some of the luggage in old chap, make yourself useful.”
Roderick sighs heavily. I’ve got my own room for a change which is about the only good thing about being here. I put my slippers on and head downstairs to find something to eat. I get to the bottom when I hear Roderick’s stupid voice.
“Oh look at you…going shooting and getting all close with Uncle Anthony.”
I just look at him.
“Oh, do you want to come?”
“No. Annabel’s coming.”
“Whose that, your escort?”
He comes sprinting down the stairs and bowls me over.
“You little shit!”
We start fighting. Not like beating each other but verging on it.
My Aunt Collete comes strutting through.
“Control your hormones, please.”
I’ve been there four days when my retard of cousin Ronan came to stay from Ireland. I was woken by the fire alarm and the smell of burnt bacon and that’s when I realised it was going to be a long few weeks here. When fire alarm first went off, I was in the middle of a really interesting dream and woke for a moment thinking I was back at school. Oh I wish. I sat bolt upright, scrambling for my glasses and a pair of boxers and wondering what the hell was going on. Then there was a lot of shouting and kerfuffle so I jumped out of bed and pulled on my trackies and after going through the bathroom, trudged downstairs.
“Ronan. What the hell are you doing you retard?” I mumbled.
“Bacon?” He asked, completely ignoring me.
I just looked at him.
“Ah Benedict. Good morning.” My Aunt Collete bustled through and I presumed she had been up since half six.
“Morning.” I mumbled.
“What would you like for breakfast?”
“I was hoping for some bacon but someone burnt it.” I eyeballed Ronan the retard who eating toast and marmite (ewwwww.)
I eventually ended up eating toast and marmalade because after a lot of looking in the fridge and moaning: “There’s no food in this house!” that was the only thing that seemed edible.
Ronan who told me every day he was my second cousin was beyond a retard and I spent a lot of my life being expected to ‘occupy him’ because apparently my first cousin one removed Dylan (Ronan’s dad) decided it would make him a man. I doubt it’s made anything but. Ronan is just a fat weirdo who likes setting fire to things like my breakfast yet can’t shoot/stalk or fish and everyone loves him apart from me. I spend quite a lot of time hiding in my room, smoking my cigarettes and looking at the irony of my life; how you spend your whole life going from place to place without having ever called any of those places well and truly home.
Luckily I get to escape in the last week of August. I get the train from Wick to Edinburgh Waverly which takes forever and then I have to loiter around WHS Smith because as usual, Jel is not on time. After 25 minutes, I suddenly take out my headphones and grab my suitcase. I could pick out that strut anywhere.
I have no idea whether to go in for the hug or not. But he knows exactly
"Come on you little shit, let's go!"
He goes in for the absolute bone crushing hug.
Jel is the same as ever; huge, beefy, tanned and with scarily white teeth. I can tell he's been somewhere hot though, unlike me. I didn't ever get a sunburn this summer which shows how wet it's been.
"Come on, our taxi is waiting."
He draps an arm around my shoulder and we go up in various lifts and stairs to where the taxi is waiting. It's half an hour drive to Dunbar and takes forever. Jel and I chat and catch up but's all small talk.
"Oh, how is your back?" I ask as we drive into Dunbar.
He stops showing me through his holiday snaps from Miami or Monte Carlo or wherever he's been.
"Much better thank you. Have you heard from Trent at all?"
"God no. I don't think I ever will. Ummm, is there anything I should know before we arrive?"
"Like Henry's family situation now his sister has been expelled?
Jel shakes his head as the taxi pulls up a long stretch of drive.
"God. I'm glad you asked me instead of him. I think it's been awful. Really awful. I think he feels like he has to rescue the families reputation before his brother and sister start playing up and apart from being the black sheep, the last thing he needs is the attention or pressure."
"TJ!" I hear Zook yelling before I've even got into the house (which is beautiful and old with an enormous garden) and as soon as I've got in, he jumps on my back and ruffles my hair.
"Good to see you TJ." Henry says, shaking my hand. I unpack my things in the room we're sharing and then I head back downstairs where Zook and Henry are both playing cards in the sitting room.
"We're playing cheat TJ, come on, we'll teach you." Henry says, making room for me next to the card table,
"Okay, dinner will probably be in about half an hour or so." Jel tells us. His cousin has cooked us a huge Paella and left us quite stupidly with a few bottles of Champagne.
"Zook, just bring 2 of the bottles , we're saving the rest for tomorrow. Henry are you still off dairy?"
"No I've given up. Beside I don't want to miss out on the cake."
We all sit down around the table and I notice another place has been set.
"This Paella is incredible, did your cousin make it?" Henry asks.
"I sure did."
She's comes striding in; the epitome of ultimate bohemian artist complete with long flowing skirt, a lot of hair, barefoot and completely bejewelled with two ear piercings in each ear, loads of bracelets and rings and half of a ying and yang necklace. I also notice she has various toe rings too and a few ankle bracelets.
"Ah Ben, you've arrived at last. Sorry I was working, otherwise I would have come to greet you."
She swishes around and I put my hand out to shake hers but she goes in for the hug and kisses me on both cheeks. She smells like...coconut and this creeps me out so much. I'm not a huggy person at all.
"It's fine don't worry."
She sits at the head of the table.
"Well you can start. Jel, do you want to open the champagne?"
In the end Henry has to open it because Jel can't.
"Would you like some?" He asks her but she waves him away.
"No thank you, I don't drink."
We all look at each other.
"Please though, do go and have some. And if you want to smoke, feel free but just not in the house."
What is this? Smoking and drinking?
"I'm guessing you don't smoke then." I say as Henry gives everyone a little bit of champagne.
"Oh no. It interferes with my art you see."
"So you paint?" Zook asks.
"God no. I write books."
We eat in silence for a moment.
"So you're all from St Rich's aren't you?"
"And all Arkansas?"
We nod again.
"Arkansas was always the best boys house. Well, apart from Vermount of course."
"That's only 6th sixform isn't it?" I ask.
"Yup. After being in Alvie Lodge with 67 girls everyday, I would escape there not just for the quiet but also for the chocolate spread cause in Alvie it would go in an instant."
I'm so confused.
"Her boyfriend was in Vermount." Jel explains.
Ah, that makes so much more sense.
"Are you still with him?"
"Yup. He does things with biology and I write books. We're a pretty good team."
She smiles at the memory.
"I'm going out to America to live with him in the Autumn and my mother, Jel's aunt, is retiring here."
The phone rings.
She swishes out and we all look at Jel.
"Does she always do that?"
"Kiss people when she meets them? It's really creepy."
They all laugh.
"She has no sense of personal space."
"Yeah well I figured that." I mutter and Jel laughs agai n
"Wait Jel, how come you never told us that you had a cousin who'd been through St Rich's."
"And one who left not that long ago. She probably knew Leo-"
Jel takes a swig of champagne.
"I don't know what happened but she went into Alvie Lodge as a smartly dressed, conservative and very religious 14 year old and she came out like that."
He drops his voice to a whisper.
"I've never someone so disillusioned with the world-"
She comes swishing back in.
"Sorry about that."
We go silent.
"Well, you don't have to finish the conversation."
"Oh yeah. Do you want to hear an interesting fact about Paella?" Jel asks and we all shake our heads.
"It symbolises the union of two ancient cultures; the Romans because they created the pan and the Arabs because they brought the rice."
That is actual quite cool.
"Where did you learn that?" his cousin asks.
We eat in silence for a moment.
"Can you pass the salt?"
"Sure thing TJ."
After a moment, Flo asks
"So what time are you going out tommorow?"
"We're going to catch the 11:10 bus into Princess Street and we're going to be back to be back for 6 cause the minibus is picking us up at seven to take us to the beach."
"Okay. I'm not around then I'm working so please don't make too much noise. There's a few bottles of Prosecco in the fridge."
The rest of the meal is eaten accompanied by small talk but after we've finished and washed up, we all sit round in the tiny TV room on all the comfy beanbags and cushions.
"So, cheat?" Henry asks and Jel deals out.
"Can I pass this around?" Zook asks, holding the bottle of Prosecco.
Zook sips some and I take some after him and take a glug.
"Jeez TJ, I thought you didn't drink. What happened?"
They all turn to look at me.
"It was that I wasn't allowed to drink. And it's kind of a long story."
Jel takes the bottle.
"I'm not giving you anymore Prosecco until you tell us."
"Okay okay, it's not that exciting."
So I explain to them about my family and the garden party and the Pimms and Eleanor and they don't think it's as uninteresting but I think it is. They in fact think it was hilarious.
I decide to change the subject. I don't want them delving too far into my past.
"Zook, how is the tennis?" I ask, taking the prosecco from him as his face breaks into the biggest smile.
"North of England championship three times in a row. Jeepers creepers, I haven't seen me mam smile so much. She kept going on about how much of a once if a lifetime oppurtunity it is etc..."
The smile fades slightly.
"If you do go Zook, which I know you will, your mom is more than welcome to come and stay with me or to use my apartment in New York."
"But Jel...my mum has never met you...she couldn't..."
Jel has voiced Zook's fears down to the last word.
"I know but come on, we're practically family. And besides, I can charm anyone."
Zook suddenly looks almost tearful. Jel leans over and ruffles his hair.
"Shall we start then?" Henry says, breaking the silence. "Hang on, wait, how was your summer Jel? I haven't heard."
"Yeah, did you go to that party of Lances?" Zook asks, sipping the Prosecco.
Jel takes a gulp from the bottle and his face falls.
"It was god awful. I've never been to anything like it and I don't I ever want to again. I've never tried Vodka and as soon as I walked into the room, I had something strong practically forced down my throat and after that there was just endless rounds of shots and I hated every second of it."
"Then why did you go?" I ask as the Prosecco is passed around again. Henry drinks some and then passes it straight to Jel.
"Cause I was expected to be there. I had to be. They tried to force me to get with some poor drunk girl but I couldn't. I just couldn't take advantage of her like that. God it was awful. There was no one person who was sober and that included me. The just took out all my common sense."
He takes another glug of the Prosecco.
"I just didn't know what to do. In a room full of people who've all traded their moral compass with alcohol, what would you guys have done?"
We sit in silence for a moment.
"So what did you do?" Zook eventually asks, taking the Prosecco from Jel before he drowns himself in it.
"I found her phone and texted her boyfriend to come and pick her up. Then I locked myself in the bathroom and fell asleep with my head on the bath."
None of us know what to say.
"I hope I did the right thing. I'm never going to one of Lance's parties every again."
The next day, we get the bus from Dunbar, aiming for Edinburgh Princess Street. It takes us a good half an hour to get ready and we only just manage to get the 10:40 bus. We're all okay with apart from Henry who despises public transport and won't touch any of the handrails or windows.
"Are you having a nice time Henry?" Zook asks and Henry gives him the finger.
"I counting the amount of the diseases that I'll probably catch if I touch this."
He genuinely said that.
"God Ugly, you're such a snob. This is the first time you've been on a bus before isn't it?"
"You're such a little liar!"
Jel climbs over Zook and holds Henry's wrists in an attempt to clasp them together and make them touch the rail. All the other old wifies on the bus are probably finding us either very entertaining or really annoying. At the next stop, the bus driver brings the bus to complete halt and get's out and strides up to us.
"Fighting is not permitted on this bus. If you're going to continue, I may have to ask you to leave."
Jel and Henry sit back but I know they're still jabbing and annoying each other. Zook leans over and tickles Henry and Jel takes a rubber band and binds his wrist together and at there's a lot of jostling and fighting which results in Zook being pushed into the aisle and the bus driver pulling over and kicking us off, leaving us in a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. We sit in the shelter and I light a cigarette.
"Well what do we do now?" Zook asks as I pass him the cigarette. Jel checks his phone.
"There's only thing for it." Jel says after a moment as he takes a drag on the cigarette and gives it to Henry. Henry holds up his IPhone and we take a selfie on it as Jel makes a phone call. 20 minutes later, we are picked up by an exceedingly cross Flo who has to squish all of us into her tiny car and is not impressed at all to have to drive us into Edinburgh.
"Where do you want to be dropped off?"
"Next to Edinburgh Waverly please."
She sighs heavily and after sitting in two traffic jams, she drops us off in the station car park.
"I'm afraid you're going to have to go through the station. I'm not going onto Princess Street."
She picks up her phone and dials a number, indicating that's time for us to go.
We all tumble out and eventually mange to make our way through Edinburgh Waverly.
We spend all day shopping and we go all the way along Princess Street and then all the way back and up over the mound next to the castle and down the royal mile where we have lunch. After lunch, we explore the Grass Market and head into Edinburgh Old Town. The weather is great, the shopping fantastic and I couldn't have to asked for better people to be weird with. I've been waiting all summer for this and it's been worth every long hot day, sleepness night and snobby person I've been forced to endure.
We get the bus back to Dunbar at about 6:30 and our trip to Tesco’s, which although we didn’t want to go, creates the highlight of my summer when we stand and watch Jel trying to work the self-service and just piss ourselves laughing. I did so many fun and crazy things that summer but watching him arguing with the self-service, that was by far the highlight. Henry goes to help him briefly and after shouting some abuse at it, they get the help of a pretty shop assistant at which point Henry leaves him to it because although Henry will never admit it, he’s only used one of those self service machines once. He’s way too posh to have ever used one. Flo gives us a lift to the beach and we light an illegal bonfire, play topless football and cricket which both end up as Rugby and attack each other with sticks when Henry told us to collect them.
"Losers, sausages are ready." Zook says and we stop fighting and go and jump on Zook instead. We all sit around and Jel hands us all a beer.
"Cheers guys." Henry says and we all tip our bottles in.
"You know what Jel, I've done a lot this summer but nothing was as funny as watching you at the self service."
“It was in the fucking bagging area!”
“I agree with Zook. When people ask me, Ben, what was the highlight of your summer, I’m going to say, it was watching Jel have an argument with a machine.”
“Well Ugly helped me.”
“We more just yelled abuse at it while it sat there.”
“Of course it just sat there.” Zook says. Jel lights a cigarette and passes us all one. “It’s just a machine. Machines can’t feel.”
“Thank you for enlightening us with that fact Freak. Can I have a sausage?"
"Well what else are we going to do with them?"
“Not bad Freak. Not bad.”
“You’re not as dumb as you look.”
We sit and eat for a moment, watching the sun dip low in the sky, making the most of being together.
"You know, I was thinking of getting a tattoo." Jel says after a moment.
"What kind of thing?"
"Something small. Maybe something written in-"
Henry and Zook look at each other and start laughing.
"You're gonna be a man. You need something manly." Zook says, continueing to laugh.
"What, like a gun?"
"No please! Anything but!"
"Jel! Don't be a male version of thuglife!"
Jel joins in their laughter. I butt in.
"Who the heck is Thuglife?"
They all continue to laugh.
"You know her, she's Ivy Jame's friend with the blue hair."
"But why Thuglife?"
"She has a huge tattoo across her stomach of a revolver intertwined with flowers and thuglife coming out of the end." Jel explains.
"Why Jel, have you seen it?"
He flicks sand at Zook.
"If you ask her to show you, she's very happy to."
"So does she have a real name."
They look at each other.
We laugh for a bit longer and have another beer.
“Right, shall we toast marshmallows now or later?” I ask, poking around in the embers of the BBQ.
“Later I think.” Henry says and they all agree.
“Oh my god. Let’s go for a swim.”
“No Freak. Do you know how cold it will be?”
Trust Jel to be the fun sponge.
“Can’t we play a bit more football?”
“I agree with Jel.”
“Oh my god Henry, you’re so boring. TJ, you up for a swim?”
We think for a moment.
"Wait, weren't we going to play beer pong?"
They all look at each other.
"Beer pong and then swimming. It's a plan."
"Oh my god Henry, we haven't told them the story have we? About the carpet vendor and the melon?"
The next 4 hours are a real blur. We play a lot of beer pong which eventually becomes Prosecco pong. We also have a toasted marshmallow fight and then Jel decides he's going to dig a hole so he does for about an hour straight. That's before we throw him the sea. He doesn't forgive us for a long time.