2. On The Way to Reconcile /2
“Is Lou home?” I asked Mia as she opened the front door for me. I adjusted my bag and stepped in after her as she smiled at me.
“No, she’s at a friend’s house, but Beth is here for a few days!”
“That’s great! Where is she?”
Mia pointed to the living room. I grinned, heading towards it straight away. “B-but, she’s spending some time with your father, Freddie.”
I stopped short of turning the knob. “Oh. I’ll… I’ll speak to her later then.” Muffled conversation reached me through the door as my gaze fell to my feet.
“I’ll let her know that you’re here.” She was offering me a sad smile when I glanced in her direction.
Once in my bedroom I began unpacking my bag, deciding it was probably for the best anyway; I had Business homework to deal with, not to mention the new Spanish Verbs to learn. I could have sworn I had never walked out of that classroom without Ms Lui setting some task or another. It wasn’t long, however, before a knock at my door revealed a grinning Beth.
“Hey, hey, Fred the Dead.” I snorted at the old nickname my sisters had called me once upon a time. Apparently, I’d been difficult to wake as a kid. “Come down with me.”
“Down with you where?” Beth paused, her expression guilty for a moment. “To dad?” I asked incredulously. I laughed, and then clocked her expression. “Wait, you’re serious?”
“Wait, Fred, I was speaking to him—”
“As was I for the past however many years,” I spat, pushing my bag away. “And I regret it every single time.”
“I know.” She took slow step after step into my room and crouched down in front of me, resting her hands on my shoulders. “I know. Which is why you have to trust me in this, Fred. Him and I, we’re watching football together. He wants you to come and be there.”
“Everybody knows I have no interest in football.”
Beth narrowed her eyes at me a little. “He’s dying, Fred. You don’t think you can suffer through a match?”
I flinched away from her and glared through blurring vision into her intense gaze, “He can’t suffer through me. If you’re doing this out of some effort to make us work, forget it, Beth. I haven’t told you guys, I haven’t said shit but he wants to send me away again—”
“What?” Beth grabbed at me and wiped my tracked cheeks. “Freddie, when? What did he say?”
“He said so when he found out. You weren’t here. He said I had a month, and then he’d send me away again.”
“A month?” She stilled. “When?”
My lips parted, but the exact date failed to come to mind. Though, actually, it must have been the day after I’d hit Joey. “The day after we found out.”
Beth took a moment to calculate it seemed. “The twenty-first. It’s the thirtieth of October now, Freddie. He said it in anger or stupidity or fear, but he didn’t mean it.”
“You don’t know that—”
“I do,” she said. “I do, because he asked me today to bring you down. He said you didn’t have to watch, just be there. He wants you to be with him, Freddie.”
I stared at my sister for far too long, I knew, but neither of us moved. Maybe she understood I needed to be still. Maybe she saw that I was keeping myself from believing her because jumping too quickly on her words and then discovering differently would break me beyond being fixed again.
“I’ll stay too,” she whispered softly. “Bring some work, and I’ll stay too. Any foul-play, anything he says or does to hurt you, and we stand and we go,” she said.
I felt like a child when I asked in a whisper, “Do you promise?” but Beth didn’t laugh or taunt me. She pulled me into a hug and we stayed like that another moment more.
Eventually, homework in hand and Beth by my side, I headed down the stairs and to the living room where my father supposedly waited for me.
He was sitting in an armchair. The TV was on and, though some ad was playing, the screen still had my father’s full attention. That was until Beth and I stepped in anyway. His gaze trailed from me to Beth and back again. I thought a small smile might have attempted to widen his lips.
“I didn’t miss anything, then?” Beth asked, striding into the room.
“No,” my father replied as she sat on the arm of the chair he was settled on, just as the break seemed to end.
Beth glanced at me pointedly as my father returned his attention to the television screen. I hesitated before the halting steps I took that led me to the sofa on the other side of Beth.
With the football back on the TV, my father’s silence continued, but his body tensed in time with each of Beth’s shouts of joy or groans of disappointment and disbelief. I kept my head down and worked on my business assignment.
It wasn’t only strange that my father wanted to spend time with me. The fact that the activity we were doing together was watching TV made the whole thing seem like a joke. It was no surprise that my father hated even owning one. He’d declared multiple times during our childhood that sitting in front of a television screen was nothing but a waste of time and life. Yet, here he was, allowing a fraction of a smile to break the ice as a player skidded across the field in celebration.
After the match was over (during which Beth’s team lost and my father’s won, according to the fact that she was grumbling and pouting but Dad had released a chuckle that surprised all of us—including himself), I expected our little afternoon ‘bonding session’ was over, but then my father called my name.
“Is all your homework finished?”
I paused, half stood from my seat, and shook my head. “No, not yet.”
“I’m thinking of watching something else,” he said, and somehow that meant I had permission to stay. So, I continued my homework as he and Beth watched a movie, and then a little after I finished working, Lou arrived. The four of us watched some chat show that we found cheesy but dad seemed to love.
Through this, my father asked each of us how our days had been, only really shocking us when he’d turned to me too.
Freddie had texted me at lunch. Asked if I wanted to meet him on Wednesday, at the beach.
I hadn’t replied yet.
Each time we’d met there, something had happened. Surely it would only escalate. He’d said he wanted to apologise though—for the kiss? I didn’t need him to apologise for that. I wanted to forget it- and I didn’t. My guts were grinding themselves into a big-ass knot trying to figure out where my feelings stood with it all. An apology meant admitting it was a mistake. We learn from mistakes; learn not to act on them again.
I had just reached my front door when I heard someone call my name. I thought it might have been a hooded figure that seemed to be hurriedly crossing the road, but when I glanced around to the side I saw Harry running down the street, backpack rattling this way and that. He threw his feet forward faster when I waved a hand and waited.
“Hey, how was school today?”
“Really good,” he said, fishing his key out of his pocket to open the door. Harry liked opening things. “The Games teacher tried to do a demonstration and did something to his back.”
“I feel like there should be a ‘but’ in there somewhere,” I grinned as I stepped in behind him.
Harry shrugged and replied through a chuckle, “They said he’ll be alright. It was pretty funny to see.”
“Mum’s not home. Wanna play a gamer before homework?”
“Can we eat ice cream too?”
“One at a time, Harry.”
“None at a time would be better. Shame on you, Joe.” Mum appeared, smiling a little, through the doorway of the living room, pausing Harry and I on our tracks. I grinned.
“We technically can’t be punished if we haven’t done it yet, right?”
“I don’t know, I’ve heard it’s the thought that counts,” she replied, an amused look on her face.
“It’s Monday, though. Don’t you have salsa with Claire?” Something flickered through mum’s features and I narrowed my eyes. “She’s ‘ill’ again?”
“She has a lot of work to catch up on, it’s fine. I invited Raz along instead.” Pushing the door open revealed the man in question sitting on the couch beside Priya. “Thought we’d wait for you guys to get home. Mind doing a little babysitting tonight?”
“What if I had plans?”
“That’s beside the point. I’d cancel them all for Priya anyway,” I joked. Priya beamed at me. “Can I speak to you for a moment though?” Mum nodded and began to follow me away from the others.
“And you,” she pointed to Harry, “Go change out of your uniform and then eat the pasta in the pot. Joey’ll scoop some out for you.”
“Can I have ice cream after?”
“No, you most certainly cannot.”
Harry glanced at me, disappointed, but perked up when I offered him a wink and he scampered upstairs.
“Don’t you dare give that boy any ice-cream—he needs to learn to eat real food.”
“What’s the deal with Claire, mum?” I’d been afraid of mum’s relationship with Ryan getting messed up because of us, but what about the one between her and his? Mum and Claire had been best friends as long as we had.
“I don’t know, Joey.”
“Is she on Ryan’s side?”
“Of course she should be, she’s his mother.”
“Speaking of, you haven’t really told me the full story yet, either. But I’m still blindly behind you on it. That’s the job of a mother. Can I be honest, though?” I nodded. “You guys were so close. Whatever it is, I’m sure you could fix it if you’d just talk. Right? Don’t you miss him? Claire says you wont—”
My bottom lip found itself between my teeth. “Mum,” and she blinked at me expectantly. When I reached out and opened the kitchen door, she stepped in without a word. I regretted closing the door behind us; felt like all the air in the room escaped ahead of the quiet click.
“Courtney cheated on me.” She nodded. “With Ryan.” Eyes fractionally wider. Her hands rose to cover my cheeks. “And I—”
Ryan shouting, veins bursting, ‘Fuck your mum, for a minute!’
“Ryan told—no, they both told everyone-”
Courtney on Kelsey in our living room. ‘Rather watch me – than fuck you’
“That I am gay.” Disbelief drowning in her eyes. Angry arch to brows.
“I heard the truth in what he said, ’cause only guilty fuckers run.”
Wet dreams that never compared to standing thigh-deep in salt-sea with male lips set on me, of sitting underneath public-changing room shelter to hide from rain with my head on male shoulders…
“And I’m worried that it’s true.”