VOLUME TWO [ #2 ]
Chapter One: Break
“It’s been so good having you here, Freddie.”
I looked up from the latte I was making. Travis Stanley ducked under the bunting of rainbow flags that hung from the ceiling just above the bar area, expertly tilting the tray of empty mugs, glasses and a coke bottle that he held in his left hand as he moved. He placed it down next to me and rested his palm on my shoulder when I smiled at him.
“How are you doing?”
“I’m good! I think. Struggled a bit with the machine earlier,” I admitted, “But it’s great to be here. I genuinely couldn’t thank you enough for letting me in and training me.” I paused, glanced down. “I needed this.”
“Ah, it’s no bother. You’re a quick learner. I don’t regret it yet!” he winked.
“Well that’s a lie,” Camilla snorted. She was Irish, petite, and in her mid-thirties with long hair, pinned back, dyed an old-lady-grey, a face of metal and a sleeve of pin-up girl tattoos. She was incredibly hard-core, even as she placed a pink ring doughnut on a tray beside an elaborately decorated strawberry milkshake for a customer who’d requested ‘extra fluff’. “Heard him bitching about you yesterday.”
My eyebrows rose, along with the corner of my lips.
“Hey, now, don’t go twisting my words,” Travis scolded. “I simply cursed you,” he continued, brushing me aside as he finished the latte off for me, “Because, as owner of this café, I should be the one the lads are drooling over, right?”
“Right,” Camilla drawled, hand on hip, sarcastic smile growing.
“But yesterday, I overheard two blokes who were very disappointed to have missed you. They’ll probably come back soon, looking.” Travis ended with a sigh as I laughed at that, unsure whether to believe him.
“You do have a nice arse on you,” Camilla admitted grudgingly, crossing her arms.
“And fantastic eyebrows,” Travis moaned, finalising the latte by placing it on a saucer with a couple of sachets of sugar and offering it to me with flourish. “Take this to table 15 for me, love?”
“And this to table 2, sweet?” Camilla intoned.
I rolled my eyes. “No problem, guys.”
Sixth form broke up for half term on the 18th of October. The weekend before that I’d started looking for a job, unwilling to spend all of my holiday doing nothing at home but stewing in my own thoughts.
Kissing Joey at the beach had only happened two weeks before that.
We hadn’t spoken since—in reality, anyway. But in my head… In my head, we rarely left that scene. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The only relief I got was when I thought about my father, but that was hardly relief at all.
So I’d searched high and low for a job.
I’d originally wanted to work at Zen City. I used to go there all the time with Jay. It was a popular café run by a FTM transman called James and his girlfriend- an established artist called Freda. It was frequently visited by other members of the LGBT community, but they didn’t have any openings in staff so James suggested I try Ordeal; a café-bar owned by Travis, a 41 year old crossdresser with a beer gut and the kindest eyes you’ll ever see (not to mention the longest eyelashes, forget my eyebrows), who wore simple jeans-and-polo combinations to work but always spiced it up with a pearl necklace or some chandelier of a pair of earrings, and also ran the café with this boyfriend Michael.
Ordeal was a little less popular than Zen City, maybe because it was hidden up a little alley in town, and wasn’t near the gay-friendly area either, but it still had its locals, and I was enjoying it a hell of a lot.
It kept my mind running on things other than straight boys and cancer.
When I returned to the bar I was a five pound tip richer, and my tray only carried the empty mug of an elderly local who always came in to read the naughty books Travis kept on the shelf. His choice today had been Boys in Blue, something about cowboys, and his credit card receipt was keeping his place until he came again.
Travis had gone to the office upstairs and Camilla was wiping the counter.
“Anything planned for Halloween?” she wanted to know.
“Eh,” I shrugged. It was the 27th. Half term was almost over. School started up again on Monday the 30th—I didn’t even want to think about it. “To be honest, I’ve already got my costume and everything for this house party on Tuesday, but,” I grabbed the mugs Camilla passed me. “I’ve got lessons I probably shouldn’t miss on Wednesday so I’m thinking of forgetting it this time.”
“Really? You can’t go wild for one night? It’s Halloween! Jeez, and here I thought you kids were getting cooler.” I had a feeling that she was being sarcastic.
“Yeah, well.” I shrugged as I picked up a cloth and began wiping. “I’m also working that day. 6 to 11. It’ll be half 11 by the time I get home. I’ll probably be too tired to go anyway.”
Camilla said nothing for a moment, then, “How about I make you a deal? I cover your shift, and you cover mine on Wednesday. 6 to 11.”
“No, It’s oka-”
“Before you so kindly decline, who’s working with you on Tuesday?”
Camilla smiled wolfishly. “Wonderful. You’ll be doing me a favour, alright buddy?”
I rolled my eyes but my smile grew. “If you’re sure.”
“What’s your crappy costume anyway?”
Camilla’s face lit up as she nodded. “Fred! Nice. I like it. Inspired. Very good, Fred.”
“Sherry!” I shouted to the opening door. It was pretty lucky that it was my best friends raised ginger eyebrow that the red door revealed, because her parents could very well have been home. “I swapped shift. We can still go if you want?”
“Go?” she repeated, as if she’d never heard the word before.
“Yeah,” I said quickly, stepping into her corridor as she took a step back. I shut the door behind me and followed Sherry up towards her bedroom. “You know the party Jay invited us to?”
“Invited you to,” Sherry interrupted. I ignored her.
“It’s going to be huge, Sher.”
“So, the Mystery Gang are back together!?”
“They most certainly are.”
“Let’s get wasted!” I yelled.
Sherry sang, “It’s all we ever do!” as she pumped her fist beside me, right before she jumped into bed. “Hey, you big lump.”
“What, you little lump?”
“Wanna go get my wig tomorrow? Checked online; the best Velma wig I found was expensive as fuck, but apparently the fancy dress shop have an alright one.”
“Sure. I’m still wondering whether to get a blonde wig or not. Don’t really want to itch the night away but no harm in checking, right?”
“That’s the spirit.”
“Tom’s gonna be coming, though. I was supposed to be hanging with him tomorrow.”
“Yeah, whatever. That’s cool. I’m so excited for this!”
So was I.
When I got home, Mia told me that dad had been taken to hospital. He’d started receiving treatment to slow the spread, but this would cause weakened bones and pain. Apparently, this had already begun.
Mum and Lou had gone with him.
“Oh. Okay,” was my reply. Then I thanked her and declined dinner. My footsteps on the stairs sounded louder than ever, and the varnished wood of the banister was cold to my palm.
My fingers were picking at the strings of my guitar, moving gradually quicker as I played. The little tune I’d created sounded pretty good, even if I said so myself. Every time I got it wrong a huff of air would leave my nose, but that was happening less and less often. My grin grew as I completed it the ninth time through—no mistakes, when I heard a sneeze that quite literally seemed to shake the whole house, closely followed by loud laughter by Charlotte coming from downstairs.
My fingers paused. When I looked up, Harry Downfield was sitting in my desk chair, hands locked in between his knees and eyes as wide as the antique plates mum bought years ago for special occasions—and still hadn’t used.
I chuckled a little awkwardly. “You okay there?”
Harry nodded. “Yeah, I’m good.” He blinked at me through his thick black glasses. “That was good. Did you say you made it up?”
“I did,” I told him, and I rolled my shoulders and flexed my fingers as I lifted my guitar from my lap and rested it against my bed. “And now, my fingers hurt like fu—” Ah, shit.
Harry smiled, quite aware of what I was going to say. He adjusted his glasses and helped me out with a murmured, “Like fudge.”
“Like fudge,” I repeated, grinning at him.
Harry was my current foster brother.
May Perry had left after two weeks. She’d been quiet, constantly unsure and anxious all the time (mum even said that May reminded her of me once upon a time), but she’d started to settle a little. Not that it had mattered; her alcoholic mother had been given another chance and soon enough she was gone—just like that.
It was odd. Strangely emotional. I wasn’t sure I liked it, but if mum and I could help her- and whoever else- for the little while that we had with them, we would.
Five days ago, Harry had been dropped off.
He’d slipped into our lives pretty easily and was pretty fun to have around (even though he was ridiculously fussy about food, wanting cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner). He mostly loved to read—comic books most of all, so we did that together. He also loved music- Daft Punk kinda guy, so we lay in my room a lot, watching the static particles of my ceiling until they started to move as we listened to that too, or he sat as I practiced guitar over and over again. I even schooled him on the joys of Lilo and Stitch. He wasn’t a fan, but I could forgive him for that. (Not so much that fact that he preferred Superman to Spiderman and Flash to Green Lantern, though.)
Harry also loved hanging out with the other kids, so he often joined me in helping mum out. She’d worried that still having other children over would affect the foster kids that would come in- and that problem had reared its head when May was around, always even more uncomfortable and on guard when others she didn’t know were about. It was okay though; we just had to be wary and adjust to the needs of different children. But it didn’t affect Harry; he was in his element.
He was probably the coolest thirteen year old I knew, and he was helping me forget about Ryan.
A little, anyway.
Ryan had briefly gone mad, texting me and calling me and turning up at my house, just for my mum to turn him away despite not knowing why at the time. She said he reminded her of a crazy ex-boyfriend she’d had. I faked a laugh. Eventually, Courtney must have told him what she’d revealed to me because he sent one more—saying “I’m so sorry”, and that was it.
That was a week ago.
And I missed him.
To think that he’d been my only real friend… How sad was that? Abby had actually adopted me in a way. I had started hanging out with her at lunch and break, which was cool because I’d failed Spanish and was starting Art after the half term break. I’d be with her then too. But… Abby at school and Harry at home was still not Ryan.
I’d known him thirteen years.
“Joey?” Charlotte pushed open the door to my room. Her lips were arranged in a pout. “Sandy’s ill.”
She nodded, “Yeah, she asked if you could take me shopping for my Halloween costume. My mum gave me money for it.”
“Of course I can. Wanna come, Harry?”
“I’ve already got my costume,” he said. He was going to be a very green Hulk. All paint.
“You can still come with.”
“Can’t believe you’re talking him away from me,” mum joked, appearing through the doorway.
“Holy shi-” I began, and may as well have continued. Harry and Charlotte laughed as she gave me a stern look. I laughed too, but only because the expression was hardly effective with her red nose, flushed cheeks and tired eyes. She was bundled up in her old dressing gown and, what looked like two different scarves, sniffling.
“Thanks so much, Joey. Now I know I look as bad as I feel.”
“Aw, mum,” I protested, rising and hurrying across my room to bury her in a hug. “You look beautiful.”
“And you are a liar!” she screeched, smacking me in an attempt to keep me away to the delight of Charlotte and Harry. “Can’t you see how sick I am? Don’t touch me!”
“I’ll stay and take care of Sandra,” Harry said then.
“No, no, darling. Don’t you worry about it. You go and have fun.”
“No, it’s fine Sandra. I’ll make you a hot chocolate and watch YouTube with you. I still haven’t shown you the donkey who steals ice cream.”
Mum grinned with a twinkle in her eye. “Make it tea and I’ll be the luckiest woman in the world.”
It was pretty bright out for the end of October. The sun was shining, birds were doing the singing thing, but the wind was still blowing so Charlotte was wearing her thick green coat plus scarf-hat-gloves combo that she loved so much, and I was wearing my favourite grey and orange hoodie with a beanie hat to keep my hair (which was definitely growing to a ridiculous length) manageable. We held hands to cross the road, and she kept hold as we walked, only freeing me when I had to get my wallet out to pay for our bus fare.
“Do you know which supermarket you want to get your outfit from?”
“No- I… I want to go to the big fancy dress shop in town,” Charlotte insisted. “That’s where the good stuff is.”
“Uh,” I hesitated. “I think those outfits are for people a little older,” I tried. I doubted there would be anything or her size.
The ten year old rolled her eyes. “Not true,” she said. She might not have been wrong. When I’d gone with Abby earlier in the week, all the girl’s outfits were pretty damn tiny. Pretty damn inappropriate too though. “Leah literally got one the other day.”
“Mhmm,” she pouted. “Please, Joey?”
I blinked down at her as she raised her hands, which she’d clamped together in an effort to look more like she was begging than she already did. My lips stretched, but I gave in.
“First of all, do you know what you want to be?”
“A zombie?” An eyebrow rose. She’d wanted to be a Princess last year.
“Yeah. That or—wait, what are you again?”
“Remember the Bam Bam kid from the cartoon I told you about?”
“Yeah, but the girl version.”
“Yeah! That’s it! A Zombie, or her.”
My lips twisted up as I shrugged a shoulder. “We didn’t find a costume for her though, Charlotte. For either of them. Not at the shop anyway. Abby and I had to make them ourselves.” And, by that I meant that I’d bought a plastic club in the fancy dress shop while Abby and her mum had sewn our outfits out of some old material and painted the pattern on. She’d texted me the pictures and they looked quite good.
I was pretty excited, though it wasn’t exactly because I was going to be trailing the neighbourhood with Harry, Charlotte and a kid called Tyrone. That was going to be fun too, don’t get me wrong, but Curtis had invited me to some Uni party again the other side of town, and I was itching to go.
Jay had added me on Facebook the day after Freddie kissed me—the day after mum revealed my dad, or, more accurately, how he’d really died. A couple of days after, Curtis added me on Facebook too. We’d talked, hung out a couple of times, and then he told me about the party. I hadn’t been able to go to the other one, and I had been quite curious, but I still held back. At my hesitation and uncertainty he’d said that it was cool that I didn’t know anyone- I’d know him, and he could pick me up if I wanted. I could bring a friend. He’d said it was going to be huge. But it didn’t matter that Curtis would be there, or Abby, or anybody else. It mattered that Ryan wouldn’t.
It may have sounded ridiculous, but I’d never been to a party without Ryan. He’d been at every birthday party I could remember, and every important event. If there’d been something big like that, where I’d had to interact with a lot of people, I went with Ryan or I didn’t go at all.
So, I’d reached the point where I was excited. Scared, nervous, all that other bullshit, but I wanted this so badly. I wanted Curtis because he was nothing like Ryan, and I wanted Abby because she was a breath of fresh air, too. I was finally standing on my own two feet, no longer my best friend’s uneasy shadow. I still missed him but...
Sounded fucking corny, but, I felt a little free. I was tasting the courage my mum had always told me that I had.
“I love it here,” Charlotte exhaled, eyes dancing from one wacky outfit to the next. I’d been wrong—there were a tonne of outfits for kids, Abby and I just hadn’t been looking.
Other people were, though. The shop was full—not that I was surprised. It was the 28th. With three days to Halloween, freak-outs were bound to happen. Still, it was not quite to the stage where we’d been forced to squeeze through the masses, but I had had to grab Charlotte and pull her into me when some kid wearing comically large sunglasses and wielding a pistol chased Spiderman down our aisle, yelling that he wanted to be the masked hero for once.
“I like this one.” She pointed to what was basically a dinosaur onesie.
I furrowed my eyebrows. “It’s nice…”
“Or this one?” That was a lot of spots and frills. The label described the costume as a ladybird but I didn’t really see how.
“I thought we said zombie or Pebbles?”
“But there are so many options now!” she declared happily, gesturing to all the costumes with an elaborate flick of her wrists.
“Oh. Well.” I watched her eyes light up as they scanned the aisle. “Zombie sounded good to me.”
“Holy carrot, look how cute the kiddie stuff is! That dinosaur would be perfect if it was green.”
“Probably more perfect if it was your size.”
I looked up to see Tom from Spanish striding towards the previously dismissed dinosaur costume. He grabbed it off the shelf just as Freddie emerged from behind a standy promoting glasses with fake, bloody eyes.
“I can squeeze, no problem,” Tom grinned, turning the plastic packet this way and that. I inched backwards, even though there was not a chance they wouldn’t notice—or recognise—me. Unless maybe I just turned around-?
“That’s for ten years plus,” Charlotte told him with an all-knowing smirk. Tom looked down at her, surprised, and smiled. Freddie looked up at me.
“I’m plus ten years, aren’t I?” Charlotte’s eyes climbed up and down his tall frame and shook her head. “Well I guess I’ll have to stick with the Shaggy costume I put together last week then,” Tom told her, sticking out his tongue. Charlotte laughed and repeated the gesture, arms crossed like a grown up, as Tom’s gaze finally found me, stood rigid and half poised to get away. “Oh, hey Joey. I didn’t see you there.” His gaze flicked from me to Charlotte and back again. “Is this your sister?”
“Oh, uh, no, this is Charlotte,” I said, as if that was explanation enough. She waved right on cue with a shyer “Hi,” aimed at the two of them. Freddie’s eyes lifted from her to me, then drifted away. I ignored this, smiled down at her as she then turned back to the costumes. She placed a hand over her mouth as she considered what was available. “She’d wanted to go as a zombie,” I told Tom. “Now, she doesn’t know.”
“Zombie! Whoa. But that sounds good!” Charlotte glanced up at him with a shrug but shook her head.
“There aren’t any I like. I want something else,” then turning to me, she said, “I’m just going to check the other side. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Go for it,” I encouraged, even though I didn’t particularly want to be left alone with the two of them.
“You looking too?” Tom asked.
I shook my head, “Nope. I’m sorted. You’re Shaggy?”
Tom grinned proudly, raising a hand to run fingers through his hair. “Yep. It was pretty hard to come up with something this year, but Fredbear saved all of us when he said he wanted to be Fred from Scooby Doo.” I glanced at the one in question. He’d moved towards us slightly, having paused where he’d stood too, and had been gazing at the vampire cloaks until Tom had mentioned his name. He smiled a little.
“Then they all decided to jump on my bandwagon, so the Mystery Gang was born.”
I laughed despite myself. “Do you guys have a Scooby Doo too?”
“Of course,” Tom piped up. “Jenny. She says she refuses to put the head-hood on, but I’ll convince her—”
“You mean you’ll attempt,” Freddie interrupted.
“I’ll convince her!”
“This wig is not as nice as the website made it look,” came a voice I did not like the sound of. Sherry was next to appear from behind the fake-eye glasses standy and she walked right up in between Tom and Freddie, holding it up for them to see. I inched immediately backwards again, but it was still useless. She looked more irritated than I expected she would, though, when she saw me, going on to glance straight at Freddie.
That was when I felt Charlotte’s fingers slip through mine. “Nothing,” she said with a sigh.
“N’aw, that can’t be true. One more look, come on- uh,” I blinked up at the audience we still had and cleared my throat nervously. “I guess I’ll see you guys later,” then Charlotte led me to the other side.