Lexi hadn’t travelled through the winding back streets of the Southern Estate in a while. Not since her school days.
Nothing had changed, she realised as she looked about at the redbrick houses, lined with fences that were either recently painted or slapped with fading graffiti. In the distance, a man worked on his car, propped on bricks in his driveway. The sounds of clinking metal and cursing echoed up the street as the oil-covered man tinkered under the chassis.
Her shoes scraped on gravel as she ambled toward his driveway. As she passed the overgrown bushes, nearly taking her eye out on a branch, she spotted a white T-shirt hanging over the fence.
Stopping for a second, she stared blankly at it, picturing him wearing it.
With the hot afternoon sun beating down on her back she stood for a moment, wondering if she should turn back. Run home and never return.
“Are you sniffing my shirt?” a confused sounding voice asked.
She almost screamed as she spun to find a figure looming over her. For a terrible and humiliating second, she thought it was Aaron. He looked a lot like Aaron, but was taller and had darker, messier hair.
“O—oh, erm, I, e—erm,” Lexi stammered, trying to find the words. The only word she really needed to say was ‘no,’ but for whatever reason, her lips refused to form the sound.
“Is there a medical reason for this stutter or... am I making you nervous?” the boy asked with a smirk.
She swallowed and took a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart.
“There’s a kid at my school who stutters. I thought if I punched him every time he did it that might cure him,” the lad said.
“Did it work?” she asked, changing the subject in the hopes he would forget about her shirt sniffing.
“No,” he replied. “He just cried a lot more.”
Lexi wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to that.
“Erm, does Aaron Riley still live here?” she asked finally, remembering why she was there.
“Aaron!” the lad shouted, earsplittingly loud.
Lexi winced and stepped back from him, turning to find a confused and angry looking Aaron emerging from the house.
“What do you want, Jayce?” he huffed.
“There’s a girl here to see you,” Jayce told him, his voice becoming oddly smug.
Aaron’s nose wrinkled as he looked her up and down. Recognition sparked in his eyes, but that only made him look more confused.
“Lexi... Beswick?” he questioned, cocking his head.
“Aaron Riley.” Lexi smiled and bit her lip. “I have something to ask you.”
“You do?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Yeah... can I come in?” Lexi asked. She wasn’t willing to ask him out in the middle of the street.
“Sure,” he muttered, turning to lead her into the house. “But this best not be some pyramid scheme thing.”
Lexi chuckled, shaking her head. The doorway led into the living room, but he led her to the kitchen. She tried not to react to the absolute bombsite of a house, though it was difficult. Clothes piled up on the sofas and exercise bike as well as lining the radiators and clotheshorse.
The kitchen wasn’t much better; pots stacked high in the sink, forming a precarious leaning tower held together with the cement of drying food scraps. It was worse than her University friends shared kitchen—the one her OCD-like brain forced her to clean at least once during a visit.
“So, if not a pyramid scheme, then what?” Aaron asked. He picked up a cup of tea from the side and sat at the table without offering her a drink.
‘How very un-British of you,’ she thought.
“You want an apology, I guess?” he said after taking a sip of his drink.
“Oh, erm, no,” Lexi shook her head and laughed. “I was thinking about you and, well, I sort of missed you.”
Aaron leaned forward, squinting as if he thought he’d misheard her.
“I was horrible to you,” he said. “I was evil. I used to push you about, spit on you, force you to do my homework. You know what... thinking about it... I do owe you an apology.”
Lexi didn’t want him to apologise. It would ruin her fantasy.
“I liked it!” she cried, instantly shutting him up.
“You... you liked it?” he asked, frowning. “What do you mean, you liked it?”
Lexi didn’t want to spell it out for him. He never got decent grades in school and rarely did his own work, but she hoped he was at least brainy enough to understand why she liked the bullying.
As he stared at her with a perplexed frown, she realised she was going to have to spell it out.
“It...” Lexi threw up her hands and looked to the right. “It turned me on.”
When Aaron jutted his head back in, recoiling from the words, Lexi knew she’d made a mistake in coming here. He wasn’t the sexual sadist of her dreams—just a cruel opportunist with poor social skills.
She was about to apologise for her weird and random visit and excuse herself when the younger brother walked in.
“Don’t you start work at five?” he asked Aaron and flicked the wall clock with the pencil from behind his ear.
“Shit!” Aaron shot up from the table and ran to the door. He looked back at Lexi, muttered something under his breath and shook his head before leaving.
‘I’ll be thinking about this moment in bed at 3 am for many years to come,’ Lexi thought, wishing the floor would open up and swallow her whole.
‘At least it’s over,’ she consoled herself.
When she pushed the chair out from the table it hit something. Lexi turned to see Jayce standing over her.
“Not so fast,” he said as he nudged the chair back in, wedging her against the table. He leaned over her, placing his palms flat on the table and twisting his head to look at her.
“Beswick,” he said and made a clicking sound with his tongue. “You’re Sam Beswick’s sister.”
“You know my brother?” she asked, wondering where he was going with this.
“I’ve never really had any dealings with him. He’s not popular or unpopular. There was nothing about him that really stood out.” Jayce tutted and signed. “Until now.”
“W—what do you mean?” Lexi asked, feeling the cold fingers of dread creeping up her spine.
“Well now he’s the brother of the girl who came to my brother, begging to be bullied because it turned her on in school,” he said with a grin.
Hot and cold pins and needles pricked at every inch of Lexi’s flesh.
‘Oh God, he heard everything.’
‘And he knows my brother.’
Of all the ways Lexi imagined this meeting going, none of her projections were quite as bad as the reality.
She pressed her eyes shut tight, hoping it might all be a bad dream. The thudding in her chest and the feeling of his breath on her neck told her it was real. A very real situation that required her imminent attention before it became any more messed up.
“Is there any chance you could... maybe... never ever speak of this ever again?” she asked.
She turned to look at him, pleading with her eyes and flashing him her most hopeful smile.
“Well that’s no fun,” he said. “You came here hoping to get bullied, right?”
Lexi shook her head. “I—it was stupid. I’m an idiot. I shouldn’t have come here. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“And yet... you did,” he said.
“Please...” she whispered.
“Please what?” he asked. His face was so close to hers she could smell the cigarette smoke on his breath.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” she finished.
“Hmm, you know, when it comes to bullying, I’m so much worse than my brother ever was. That said, I’ll give you a choice. I can either tell your brother about this and leave him alone or I can make him my new pet victim and keep it to myself,” Jayce said.
Because she’d been so sure he was going to offer to be her bully in his brother’s place, it took her a moment longer than it should have to process his words.
He was giving her two equally bad options. A lose-lose situation.
It was so cruel and yet...
... she felt her heart beating faster.
It was inappropriate and weird and ridiculous that this situation was turning her on, but there was nothing she could do to stop it.
“Well? Pick then,” he prompted.
“N—neither?” she asked.
He laughed. It was genuine sounding, rather than mean.
“That’s not an option. Pick or I do both.”