Holiday is coming
Every year Jim had waited patiently for the end of the school year to arrive so he could look forward to his summer holiday and this year had been a particularly difficult year with the added pressure of exams. This year he had earned his summer and making it even better, he knew he wasn’t going back to school. His entire school career was about to be decided by a group of people who had probably never even met him and he knew there was nothing he could do about it. Thankfully while he waited for his future to be decided he had the family holiday to look forward to.
Now his school days were over he knew the amount of family holidays he had left to look forward to were limited, so this year he was going to make it special. Every year he was sure he had been the model of a perfect child while on holiday because the rents* had never pulled him up for anything when they returned home. This year he had decided there were no rules, no one was going to tell him what he could or couldn’t do because they couldn’t exactly send him home - could they?
*rents was Jim’s adopted word for referring to his parents ↑
There was one thing that was bugging him about this year’s holiday – one more thing to aggravate him as if he didn’t have enough stress with the exam results looming over him. This year he hadn’t been told where they were going, he had been given the dates and told specifically to mark them on the calendar – as if he was going to forget them, but whatever, he had done it to amuse the rents anyway.
He had taken the standard precaution of prying out of them that they were going abroad but that was as much as they had disclosed. If there had been any inclination that they were spending two weeks in England as it would be ‘just as much fun’ Jim had the fuel to remind them of the last UK summer holiday. Strangely enough the two week stay on a holiday centre with cheap discos still playing classics from the 80s had been quickly dismissed as a learning experience.
Even at the age of twelve Jim was sure the cheaper option of a UK holiday was a direct reflection of his Dad having changed jobs. This theory was confirmed when they had returned and the first thing Dad had done was plead with his ex-boss to take him back. Even with the assurance that their family holiday was abroad it hadn’t fully settled Jims mind, how was he supposed to gloat to his friends about his forthcoming trip when he didn’t know where he was gloating about going to?
The more he had been asked by friends about his summer holiday the more difficult it had been to convince them he was going away. They needed more than just his word that he was going abroad this year, why wouldn’t they? He had never been vague before even the year he had endure the English summer break. Some of them had taken to digging him in a non-aggressive manner by hinting that he was going camping this year and he was too shy to admit it. These digs had put him on a defensive foot but he had nothing to back up his story of a trip abroad.
He had made desperate searches throughout the house for evidence of a foreign trip. A discrete brochure or a guide book, he would even settle for an invoice that showed details of where they were going. He had searched everywhere except the rents bedroom, which was a known no-go zone. Not even his friends would expect him to enter that territory without a life or death situation forcing him to do it. A few times he had been tempted to cross the border into their room but the thought of what may be inside that room had always prevented him.
Holiday shopping had been sublime as well this year, the rents clearly had no idea how bad it would look if he was forced to wear the same clothes repeatedly during his holiday. He had resolved this by taking on an after school job for a couple of hours a day three times a week and claiming he had been studying with friends. The rents had accepted his story and he had successfully managed to build up a collection of essentials for his trip.
Thankfully, as well as his playfully mocking male friends he had a strong contingency of female friends that had been happy to drag him from shop to shop and show him items that suited him. The cringe-worthy moments were when they picked up shirts holding them against him and trying to work out if they would look good on the boyfriend. Being a living model for a person that in some cases he wanted to be himself was a small penance for being able to put together a good holiday wardrobe.
Jim found that he was giving himself a mental pat on the back, despite the inconvenience and pressure put on him by the rents playing their game of guess the destination he was ready to go with nearly two days to spare. His dad had given him the usual pre-holiday warning of an early night being imminent due to their four a.m. start which hadn’t sat very well with Jim due to his allergy to mornings.
This allergy hadn’t affected him in his early childhood but had seemed to develop around the time he turned thirteen and now it seemed it would be with him for life. It was a seasonal allergy that seemed to know when he was at school and when he wasn’t because he only seemed immune to it on days he didn’t need to get up early. In recent years he had been victim to a few close shaves when it came to making the allotted departure time but somehow – usually through his mother’s persistence he had made it with seconds to spare.
This year he had it all planned out, there would be no last minute rush for him, he was going to spend the night catching up with his gaming buddies around the world. His father had made the expected recommendation of an early night and suggested ten p.m. as a target time. Such an early nocturnal retirement would usually have been cause for protest as that hadn’t been bed time for four years but on the pre-holiday night it would be accepted without question. From experience he knew the alternative to questioning it would be to lead a one man campaign trying to justify his ability to get up and be ready in a shorter time but that would be answered with the new standard response.
‘If you’re not ready on time, we will leave without you’.
The difference between having made that response when he was thirteen or fourteen years old and now was that legally he could now be left alone and the rents knew he was able to look after himself if needed. There was also the risk of them having a back-up plan of friends and relatives that could conveniently check up on him if he was left at home. The elements were against him, usually an educated decision could be made as to whether it was worth the risk of oversleeping but as he didn’t know the destination he had no idea what he might be missing out on. He also had to take in to consideration the fact that this year due to the ‘guess the destination’ game he had spent his hard earned (and unknown) money on clothes for this trip.
An all-night gaming session was not only fully justified but was the only fail safe way of knowing he would be up in time.
Taking advantage of his last normal night before travelling Jim had stayed up until after midnight to encourage his body to have a lay in which to his surprise had worked successfully. Instead of waking to an alarm clock he found he was awoken by an alarm shout from his mum announcing that Dad and she were going out for a few ‘bits’. With less than twenty-four hours before a holiday, the word ‘bits’ could only mean one thing in Jim’s opinion – the tickets.
There was something more significant than the idea that they were finally going to collect the tickets and that was the fact that he would have the house to himself. If he could do everything he needed to get done before they returned he could disappear to his room for most of the day allowing him to avoid any last minute conflicts.
He was careful not to respond to his mother’s voice announcing they were going out. Feigning sleep meant he could avoid extra chores being added to the list he was sure would be waiting for him when he got downstairs. He listened carefully for the front door shutting and waited an extra ten minutes before getting up. He had learned from experience that the door shutting doesn’t always mean they have gone – sometimes they return for a forgotten wallet or bag. Many times he had been caught out by getting up as the door shut only to receive the non-negotiable invitation to join them. Even though he was sure that today’s trip was one they wouldn’t want him to go on it wasn’t worth the risk.
Keeping a stealth-like approach, he crept along the upstairs corridor toward the top of the stairs, listening closely with each step for any sound of the front door being opened. Each step took him further from the safety zone but he was confident that he could make it from his room to the top of the stairs before they got back in the house if needed. He started his way down the stairs, from here there was no return – he was out of the safety zone and in to vulnerable territory. At the bottom of the stairs he was completely exposed to anyone that might decide to come in to the house and there on the coffee table propped against a glass of juice was his chores list.
There was no way of escaping the chores; if he had got up when they were home they would be issued as gradual instructions whereas now he was faced with them all on a numbered list. Empty and refill the dishwasher and deal with the washing were the main items on his agenda. Deal with the washing left a range of possibilities as to what needed dealing with. It would be one of three phases and until he got into the kitchen he wouldn’t know if it was filling the washing machine, transporting then items to the dryer or worst of all – ironing and folding.
Before completing the rents assignments he had an agenda of his own to complete. An agenda he had dreamed up in his head in the ten minutes he was lying in bed waiting to see if anyone returned to the house. It occurred to him that despite weeks of policing the post and scouring the usual locations around the house for clues there was still one place he hadn’t looked. He knew his dad fairly well and he knew that he would be itching for information on the place they were staying. Despite this he couldn’t see any logical way that the rents would have got physical information in the house without him knowing.
That left only one option for a source of background information on the quickly approaching holiday. The internet, Dad wasn’t very clever with computers but if he tried hard enough he would eventually get to what he was looking for. There had been a few awkward moments with his online pursuit’s one that involved him looking for pictures of cats and one when he was looking for a new web camera and had shortened the word to cam. Eventually um had accepted they had been genuine errors and allowed him back on the computer.
Since being let off he had taken more caution and even bought a new office style chair for the desk computer desk that sat catching the afternoon sun through the patio window. Somewhere on the computer Jim had decided he would find the evidence he had been looking for. It surprised him that he hadn’t considered the idea of the computer before but he put the oversight down to the stress of exams.
He sat himself in the comfy chair – Dad had made a good case for buying it, saying it was something the family could enjoy. Jim had never used it because he had his own computer in his room and mum had given him the stern nod to say she would go along with what he was saying even if she knew in her heart that it would be dad using it most of the time. With a rush of adrenalin he flicked the power button and stared at the screen waiting impatiently for the computer to boot up. Oblivious to his anticipation it casually displayed a message saying welcome and waited for the password.
There was no secret amongst the family as to what the password was, sometimes it seemed pointless having one, but Dad had insisted it was for security reasons. He watched the screen load up and quickly pointed the mouse at the icon to access the internet tapping the fingers of his other hand as the screen opened. Quickly he pointed the mouse up at the browser and clicked on it staring at the screen eagerly as he looked for the browsing history. To his dismay he was met with a blank reply from the computer filling him with frustration that he took out by hitting the table and causing the keyboard to jump.
Of all the things that his dad could remember how to do on the computer, all the little helpful hints he had asked for repeatedly why was it the only one he had remembered was how to clear the history? He cupped his head in his hands and looked up at the screen trying to will it to take pity on him. Staring didn’t change the blank box that was mocking him, the box that should have held a list of sites that had been visited. In desperation he checked the bookmarks and favourite websites lists but they offered no evidence either.
He couldn’t understand it – when had the rents got so clever at hiding stuff from him? Had they been taking night classes in how to outsmart your teenager or something? The only thing he hadn’t tried was asking his sister and that was not an option he was willing to give in to.
Chloe didn’t live at home anymore it hadn’t taken her long after the disastrous family holiday to Wales to announce she was moving in with her boyfriend who called himself Jay. At such a young age it had been a little bit confusing to hear that his sixteen-year-old sister was moving out but Jim had shrugged it off. The rents had different thoughts on it and had decided it had to be discussed further.
Dad had never liked Jay. It wasn’t just the dreadlocks and twisted gesture he made that vaguely resembled a hand shake that distressed Dad. The thing that had made Dad cautious, more than anything else, about Jay was the clear plastic bag that had been bulging out of his pocket with what had looked to Jim like grass seeds when he had first met the rents.
Adding to the frustration about the person Chloe had decided to date was his choice of career as he put it. Even if the rents had overlooked the other characteristics that they didn’t like about him the fact that he was making a living as an artist made it worse in Dads eyes. He wouldn’t have minded so much if he was a successful artist, or even if he was trying to be successful with the vague talent he had, but he wasn’t trying. His idea of being an artist was filling the house with canvasses of coloured work that needed a full day’s explanation of what they were. He openly admitted to having never had an exhibition of his work and was quite happy to let the government fund his projects in every way possible.
Dad’s request for a family discussion had been calmly agreed upon in between Chloe stating that she loved Jay. It had been arranged for a Sunday lunch which suited everyone involved and Chloe had reluctantly agreed not to bring J along to it. They had waited until the main course had been served before any mention of her moving out and as if she knew the best timing for her second announcement she made it. Dad had just scooped a fork of peas into his mouth after a calm and collected lecture on how young she was that in his mind was Oscar worthy when she burst his illusion. ‘Dad, I’m pregnant’ were the only words needed to send one of the peas like a missile towards Mum’s head as she choked down her glass of water at hearing the same three words.
Nine months later and the rents now had their first grandchild and it didn’t take long for Chloe to watch Jay decide to follow his calling and disappear to travel the world, leaving Chloe holding their daughter. The note he left saying he was going away didn’t give her much choice in the matter. It took her two years to find a man to replace the delinquent Jay and, in complete contrast, this one was approved of as he was apparently a ‘keeper’ (according to Dad).
Chris was well dressed, highly focussed and polite around the rents which appealed to them. His only downside was that he was ten years older than Chloe; however, Mum pointed out that the age difference may be an advantage with a young child to look after. It didn’t take too much convincing for the rents to accept Chris and on more than one occasion they referred to him as their son in law. As he watched Jim found himself wondering how much that opinion would change if they ever saw the comments he made on social media. Apparently a steady job and a clean cut look was all it took to win the rents affections.
The only advantage to asking his sister if she knew anything about the holiday was that it was likely she had an idea as she would be on house watch during their time away. There was no real reason to have anyone looking after the house, and the more he thought about it Jim couldn’t recall having a house sitter before Chloe had moved out but dad insisted it was better to be safe. There were no plants inside that might need attending to and no pets that would need feeding or watering but the house sitter was put down as a security feature.
On the negative side asking her would show a weakness in that he hadn’t been able to find out for himself. As he considered the option of bringing his sister on board to find out the secret he reminded himself that he had to securely hide anything that she could use against him.
Despite the fact that she was no longer a resident at the house and she had two children now, one from each of the known partners she had been with since moving out, she seemed to have plenty of time to uncover his secrets. Somehow she seemed to know where to look for stuff that would incriminate him in some way or another to the extent that she was able to find things he didn’t even know he still had.
Leaving her with full access to the house for two weeks and no distractions gave her plenty of digging time. For two years he had been developing more and more ways to hide the things he didn’t want found. He knew that if he wanted he could probably question why she was in his room when he wasn’t there but usually the stuff she had on him was far more awkward to explain than why she might be in his territory. The more he contemplated the scenario the more he was sure that it was better to go without knowing than to ask her and give her unnecessary fuel
Jim gave out a loud huff and puff as he carried out the other chores he had been allocated. He knew there was no one around to comment on his frame of mind but huffing seemed to make the household chores easier to bare. Quickly he admired the work he had done and checked that he had left no evidence to say he had used dad’s computer. Satisfied that he had covered his tracks, he grabbed a few random items out of the fridge that could vaguely make up a snack and headed back to his room.
By the time they had returned, he was deep in online chats and passing emails between his usual crew of online mates as he arranged his night session. Their announcement of ‘We’re back’ seemed fairly pointless given the fact that he had heard the front door being opened and closed but they seemed to feel the need to say it. He replied with the standard grunt to acknowledge he had heard them and continued his search for a team for later.
Lunch time came and went without any major issues except a request from mum to collect the suitcase for traveling. Since his first memory he had used the same case for his holidays and it showed that in the tattered corners and dated tweed colouring. At first this case had been the one he shared with his sister but by the time she was hitting the age of thirteen she was demanding her own case.
She had made her request in plenty of time before their booked trip which as Jim recalled was to Majorca that year and after weeks of protesting the rents finally caved in. Her new case was much smaller than the shared one that Jim now appeared to have full claim to but she seemed happy that it gave her more privacy. It wasn’t until the day before that holiday that the extra space in Jims newly acquired case had become home to some of the rents luggage which at the age of eight years old didn’t matter to him.
Gradually over the next few years he gained more and more of the territory until by the age of fourteen he had the case to himself. Carefully he reached under his bed to the hidden bags that contained his newly acquired clothes purchased with his own hard earned money. It was like having a second Christmas although he knew exactly what was in each of the bags. Some of the bags had stories behind them that linked them to the person he had been with while shopping but most of the stories involved him sitting in a café in a shopping centre while his chosen shopping partner told the latest tale of their boyfriends bad ways.
By dinner time, his presence was requested by the rents and he reluctantly took himself away from the computer to join them. Nothing was mentioned about the holiday except a casual reminder that they had to be out the door by four a.m. They seemed to know there wasn’t much point in asking him if he was looking forward to the trip as it would just spark comments on not knowing where he was looking forward to going.
After being recommended to get an early night he confined himself to his room and drowned out the noise with a set of headphones as he prepared to join his crew online. When he was in a game it was like he was part of a different world, an elite force that did things that would be considered impossible in the real world. This was his escape from reality; here he could be anything – the commander of a large army, a pirate on the seas in search of treasures or a lone ranger trying to defeat an army of zombies. Most of his crew he had never met before although a few familiar voices had become regular gamers with him.
He had mental pictures of what they might look like that he had built from their voices but he knew that sometimes the voice doesn’t match the person that could be created by an imagination. The players that he did know in real life were proof of that however it didn’t matter who the person behind the onscreen avatar was. Nothing real mattered no one would ask him questions about where he was going because nobody cared about anything except the player’s ability and winning the game.