"Let go, Kia."
"Come on, don't be a baby."
"I en't being a baby," she shoots back at me. I grin at her, treading water, flipping the wet hair off my face.
"Fine," I say, pretending to swim off. "I'll just go without you."
"No!" she exclaims, and immediately leaps off the side of the wall. I watch her fall through the air like a shot pigeon. She en't too graceful at the best of times. Her arms and legs're flailing like a spangly monkey, gripping onto nothing but air.
"Ahh!" she screams. She hits the water with a damn big splash and resurfaces gaping like a fish what's tryna eat all the bread.
"It's f-freezing!" she stammers, teeth chattering all o'er the place.
"Well hurry yer socks up and we can get out faster," I say, chivvying her along the lake. We're headed for that there island in the middle. That's where Kia and I like to go in the summers. There's some massive flat rocks that we like to sun ourselves on and have nice gentle discussions about life. We get there after about seven minutes of swimming. We haul ourselves out of the water and crawl up onto the rocks, shivering just a little. But the sun's out nice and high and we'll be dry in no time.
"Locki?" Kia asks, squeezing the water out of her brown hair. I shake my own dry like a dog and pull myself up further on the rocks.
"Do you love Kelsey?"
The question throws me off balance, out of the blue.
"Well, um, I..."
"Do you?" she reinforces. I think and I think hard. I envision Kelsey's blonde curly hair and her dazzling blue eyes. I remember the touch of her soft tanned skin, brushing against my body. I can smell the sweet tang on her breath as her lips graze against mine. I watch out for the sparkle that glitters in her eye when she sees me, or when I do something that she adores. The way she tosses her hair over her shoulder and smirks cheekily makes me smile. I can feel my heart pumping loud just at the thought of her.
"Yes," I finally reply. My voice is dreamy and distant so I clear my throat and say it again, more manly, "Yes. I love her."
Kia grins at me, her brown eyes dancing like fireworks. "Yer such a poof."
I can't help opening my mouth a little in shock. "I en't no poof!" I protest. She laughs and skips away from me as I swat after her. I laugh, unable to help myself. After a minute or two, she settles down next to me and lies back, spreading her hair in the sun to dry. I lie myself down too.
"Do you think Ma and Pa have the same love as you and Kelsey?" she asks, eyes closed. I turn over and look at her, soaking up the sun like a solar panel. Sometimes I reckon she thinks too much for a little 'un of just eleven years. Sometimes I think she acts too mature for her age, like she needs to be a kid again.
"What makes you say that?" I ask, voice all as innocent as I can make it.
"Well, I just wonder sometimes if they got any love at all," she replies to me. I can detect sadness in her voice. And I realise, with a jolt, that I en't hidden Ma and Pa's fighting from her. Not at all. All those times I took her out to the park or the cafe when our parents started up into a row ... I thought she never knew ... I thought I'd been protecting her real good ... I'd been super dumb. That was for sure. I breathe out through my nose hard.
"Ma and Pa love each other, Kia," I say carefully. She turns an incredulous gaze on me.
"It's just deep down," I explain, fumbling for the right words. "It's way more deep down than Kelsey and me. It's harder to see, all the way down there, but it's still there."
"You think?" Kia asks me, brown eyes wide and hopeful. I'm currently feeling like an awful big brother. I been completely oblivious to her observations. The least I can do now is keep her mind at rest.
"Yeah, I think so," I reply firmly. She nods at me, seeming satisfied.
"Alright then," she mumbles. And then we just lie there in the sun, not saying nothing and enjoying the silence. I can hear the gentle splashes of the water around us. The sun feels good, soaking into my skin.
"I love vitamin D," I mumble, warming up nice and quick. Kia laughs. I love the sound of her laughter. It makes me feel good inside, like someone is fixing me up a nice cuppa and giving me a shoulder massage at the same time. Bliss. We lapse back into silence soon enough. And I think how lovely it is to have this silence. I mean, Kia's almost about the only person I feel comfortable just saying nothing and doing nothing with. And it's a good old break from life, I can tell you.
Some silences are bad. Like the air is sour and acidic and leaves a bad taste on yer tongue after Ma and Pa have a go at one another and then stomp around the house, fuming silently. That en't a nice silence.
Other silences are downright awkward. This happened to me just the other day. I was taking the bus into town on my own and I was standing along, just happily standing on the bus. Then someone came on and I had to move out the way for him to pass. The thing was, we both moved the wrong way and bumped into each other. Four times. In a row. He stepped on my foot and I accidentally bashed his glasses off his face in the process. After lots of awkward shuffling and embarrassed coughs, we finally got past each other. The bus went off again. Then this bloke sneezed. Everywhere. I got some mucus gunk on my arm and I could feel it there, just sitting there with its germs infesting me. My skin was crawling. But I couldn't brush it off. This man was obviously embarrassed enough as it was and I felt bad about brushing it off, making it clear to him that he had sneezed on me. Then he sneezed again, this time into his hands. And all the gunk went there. Into his hands. He looked around for a tissue. He asked me. I didn't have one. We stood there for the next ten minutes in silence, me not able to brush off the crap on my arm. That was the most awkward and long silence I ever had in my life. I don't never want a repeat like that.
"I'm hungry," I muse out loud. Kia gently punches my arm.
"Yer always hungry," she giggles.
"Not always," I protest.
"Yes, Locki. Always."
And I don't say nothing, cos she's speaking the truth, she is. There en't been one moment I can remember when I don't feel like I can't eat a chicken and garlic mayo and lettuce and salt and tomato and crisp sandwich. Wow I could really do with one of those right this sec...
"It's cos yer growing," Kia says knowingly. I take a peek at her sideways. She's glancing at me outta the corner of her eye.
"Yeah? How come you en't hungry all the time then?" I challenge.
"I en't growing as much as you," she replies. "And yer a boy."
I shrug. "Fair enough," I say. I wait a sec or two before I ask, "So you wanna go get some lunch?"
Kia breathes out, annoyed. "We only just got here, Locki," she complains, sitting up on her elbows. I put on a sad face. "Please Kia," I whimper. "I'm starving." As if to prove my point, my stomach gives a loud grumble and I see the corners of her mouth lift and I know I've won her over.
"One minute more," she mumbles. I lie back down and smile. I got the best little sister in the world.
After lunch at a small cafe down the way, we go to the antique shop. Kia's pretty into old random stuff and once in a while she finds something she likes in there. She's got an eye for shiny things, does Kia. I let her roam around the shop while I wait outside. I en't too interested in old furniture and I know the shopkeeper is a nice lady so it's safe to leave her by herself in there.
When I'm outside I take a good look at the street and the people on it. I watch a small car drive by, then park on the side of the road. The guy gets out, locks it, and starts walking away. You can't park here, so I guess I better go tell him. I jog over to him.
"Hey, Sir? Hey excuse me mister, you en't allowed to park yer car here," I warn him politely. He turns around and I gasp. Holy smokes it's Roy Donaldson!
"Roy!" I gasp. He lifts his shades from his eyes and narrows them at me, confused as to why I know him.
"Boyd?" he mumbles.
"Yeah, it's me! Locki Boyd!" I exclaim, almost bouncing up and down with excitement. "Watcha doin' back in Dorset?" I have to ask 'fore I burst. He grins at me as he remembers me finally. "It's good to see you too, Locki," he says.
"I thought you left a coupla years back?" I say, still thoroughly confused as to why he's here after all this time. He nods, confirming this.
"I'm actually back to look for someone," he replies.
"Yeah?" I say. "And who might that be then?"
"Gosh, feeling nosy today, Locki?" he says but I can tell he's joking.
"Who you looking for?" I persist.
"I'm looking for a girl. She's called Kelsey Gates."
I stop bouncing and grow still, my brow getting heavy. "But ... but she's my girlfriend," I stutter, heart sinking a little, "Watcha want her for?"