Reads: 112

6.

“I thought you said you were new to this place,” I say as I hand him some cream for his coffee. We’re sitting at the little kitchen table, gnawing on a few stale donuts and sipping at cold coffee.

“And?” he’s in a good mood but I can feel that that’s about to change.

“And? How did you know Josh?”

He makes a dramatic smoke ring before answering,

“Hannay? That prick is my step-brother.”

I spit out my coffee, not expecting such an answer. As I cough, bits of donut fly all over the table and he almost chokes to death from laughing at my reaction.

He’s amused, unlike me,

“What the fuck? When were you going to tell me?”

“Hun, it’s fine. Don’t be angry. It’s not like you actually told me you hang round those idiots.”

“Nev, he’s my boyfriend. Sort of.”

It’s his turn to spit out his coffee.

“What?!”

“Well, it’s on-off, being the slut that he is. You know, he fucks with everyone and---”

“If I know? Are you asking me if I know if he fucks with everything that moves? I know that! I spent two years of my life with the prick before he moved to his uncle’s! Then I moved back to Halifax when our parents finally got married.”

“Wait, wait, wait a sec. You lived here? With him? At his house?”

“Yes, I lived with him! One room for the two of us.”

“So just because your parents were in a relationship you decided it would be alright to hate each other?”

“No! It’s not that simple, Jill. It takes two to make a relationship work.”

“You could’ve at least tried!”

“I did, I’m telling you. I tried. I tried very hard. I believe in conversation, understanding, equality. Obviously I tried to get on with him. But you know Hannay. How can you yell at me for spoiling the relationship? I talked, tried to get to know him. Tried to close my eyes on the bad within him. Tried to find summat in common. We have things. We have a lot in common. And in fact, we got along for the first year. Then puberty hit and you know the story. I had a girl. She liked me, I liked her, we could have long conversations together. She understood me. She liked what I liked and I liked what she liked. She was the only person who I could trust after my sister died.”

He pauses. I already feel bad about starting this argument. I know what’s coming. It’s the classic story, the sort you see in the movies and I don’t like it. But I still encourage him,

“Then? What happened then?”

“What happened then? Josh happened, that’s what happened then. I know, it’s stupid. We were only fourteen and all but still. She meant a lot to me. You know how it is. Your first girlfriend, your first kiss, your first sexless romance. And then Josh came with his perfect smile, with his perfect body, with his perfect everything. And he fucked her. Just like that. And she was gone. Just like that. I don’t even remember her name. I guess that’s just my brain’s way of saving me from shame. She turned into the local slut and I moved back to Halifax.”

“And now you’re back. But you knew Josh would be here.”

“To be honest, I was hoping he left after Year 11 and went to work at ASDA,” he winks at me and that’s his way of saying “that’s enough for today.”

Right. Don’t say anything about it anymore, Jill. Then you will at least spare yourself at least a couple of emotionally tense conversations. But I have to say something,

“Wow. You didn’t keep in touch with him at all then? He made you go through quite a rough patch with that girl, huh? What was her name again?”

Do I want to annoy him, hurt him? What was the point of asking that question?

“Sally. Sally Hemsworth. You pr---”

“Hemsworth? I know her. We go to college together. I always was very judgemental of her being a slag. Now I feel bad about it. All girls that sleep with Josh turn into sluts. Well...most.”

“Thanks for rubbing that in. Anyway, no we didn’t keep in touch. Plus I remember Jackie saying Josh had moved out. I misunderstood.”

I nip at what’s left of my coffee, uncomfortably.

I’m over at Neville’s Friday night, trying on a few outfits I’d readied for the party at Shay house. I brought three outfits: first, very casual comfort-wear; second, a summer dress, still comfortable; third, the heels and dress club version.

We mutually decided on the first outfit.

I was pulling on my jeans, T-shirt and Reeboks when Neville said quite seriously,

“That Sally Hemsworth will be there, right? And so is Josh. I know Josh. I don’t want owt to do with him personally but I know him. He loves showing off and fighting is a well known way to do it. Plus he knows my soft spot. I’m afraid that if he pisses me off, I might not be able to control myself. And that might turn out quite badly. It’s like we react with each other’s anger like potassium reacts with water. You know. One reaction, sets off another.”

He pauses...

“Action, reaction.”

“What?”

“Les Choristes.”

“What?”

“Les Choristes...that French movie about the choir singers? Oh come on! One of the most legendary triumphs of cinematography! If you’d seen it, you wouldn’t have questioned ‘action, reaction’.”

“Are you not going to tell me about that movie then?”

“What’s the point of telling you? Watch it, that’s more fun.”

“Fine, I’ll watch it and you’ll have to promise you’ll try stay away from Josh. Alright?”

“Alright.”

“Oi, Jill! Who’s your friend?” I smile as Shay approaches. “Joint?” she passes me the joint as I introduce her and moments later she drifts off to another circle, making small talk.

Neville and I join a group of musicians in one of the corners in the living room. They’ve chosen a nice place: not too close to the stereo but not too far either. I sit down and wait for the weed to kick in while casually chatting with the social outcasts. I never really got why the most interesting people always seemed to be the ones to be rejected. They formed a little group of their own: the musicians, artists, poets, writers.

“So there’s this new club, right,” Al, a twitchy little individual said as he passed the joint down the circle. “A cousin of mine opened it. Might be a safe place to crash from time to time. It’s got a basement and all. Like a separate room. With a ‘Staff Only’ sign and all.”

“That’s safe, man,” a couple of distant voices say all at once.

“If you want, you guys could always come along,” Al says turning his freckly face towards Neville and me. I just smile, too relaxed to say anything.

The music is in my head, in my toes, in my fingers. It’s all over the room. It’s not too loud. Not too loud. Perfect. Bad Thing comes on after No Woman No Cry. Very swift change. I don’t mind. My ears adjust to the new, sharper beat. Mmm...

Neville’s fingers find my hand and caress it gently. I turn my head slowly and he’s smiling. God, I love his smile.

“What’s up, wankers?”

Fuck! Why is that voice so familiar? Why is it everywhere I go? The outcasts just ignore him, their only way of standing up to bullies. They don’t realise that it’s not them the big popular guy is addressing.

“What do you want, Hannay?” Neville is surprisingly calm.

“Fuck off with your carefree attitude, Piper,” Josh scowls. “You just have to suck the fun out of everything, don’t you? Come on. Where’s your snappy side?”

Neville turns away, following the outcasts’ example.

“I bet we’d all love to see that, wouldn’t we?” Josh snorts and some of his stupid friends, sensing intrigue, join in.

“Remember the little incident two years ago? That was fun. I reckon we were scrapin’ the blood off the porch for the next two days after that. Are you sure you’re not a haemophiliac?” He laughs to himself.

“I’ve never seen so much blood come out of someone’s nose before,” he adds.

He’s revolting.

It’s quiet for a bit, just the quick steady beat of Bad Thing all around us. Josh sits down next to Neville. What is he up to? Nothing good ever comes out of Josh sitting next to someone he dislikes. Especially not with that self-adoring smirk. He stretches casually. Neville simply ignores him. He’s pretty good at it. The whole room is looking towards them now. Pretender is on now. Perfect. Who’s in charge of the music here?

Josh just looks at Neville. This is Josh all over. He first corners his prey, then makes them feel comfortable about the situation, then strikes. Like a maniac, teasing, teasing, hypnotising, telling them it will be alright, then, with the craftsmanship of an artist, carves the naive victim up.

Out of nowhere, there’s loud giggling coming from the hall outside and a tall blonde, fake tan and all, drops into the room. Perfect timing, Sally, just perfect.

Everyone looks her way and Sally, in her confident Sally way pops onto Josh’s lap.

“Why so tense, pumpkin?”

I bet there’s at least a dozen people who would love to slap her across her pretty face at the moment.

“Oi!” she suddenly yells. “Aren’t you that lad? Josh’s brother? Nathan is it?”

He looks her way, vacantly.

“That’s right,” he says, “Nathan. Everyone knows that’s my name.”

“Right! Great to see you again!”

“Well isn’t this nice,” it’s Josh’s turn to speak. “The two lovebirds reunited. Isn’t this just lovely?”

Neville, subtly, very subtly reaches into his jumper pocket. But not subtle enough. Josh sees everything. And he didn’t miss this. He lifts Sally off his knee, slaps her arse and says,

“What ye got there? Judging by the care with which you did it, I’m guessing there’s summat important in there. Too important to share, maybe?”

Neville keeps his hand inside the pocket and continues ignoring his rival.

“Let’s see, then.”

Josh’s hand reaches out, going for the pocket as well when Neville’s stronger left arm flings upwards and his perfectly closed fist hits Josh straight in the jaw. There’s an “ooh” from the gathered crowd of acquaintances that have closed in on the two boys.

Josh, paralysed by pain, falls limply on the floor near the sofa and Neville is on top of him within moments. But Josh is quick. Fuelled by pain and anger he trips Neville up and it’s his turn to hit him. Neville’s good at this. He cocks his head out of the way and takes Josh’s disorientation to his advantage. Before Josh has had time to realise he’s missed and is in a vulnerable position, Neville has pinned him down to the ground and has already presented him with another blow on his already swollen jaw. This time Josh is down for a while, and, though blind with rage, is unable to do much more than writhe on the floor, trying to get out of Neville’s dominant grasp.

Neville has gone red. Poor bloke. It’s not his fault he’s been cheated and called a cheat himself. He’s rubbing his rib, completely oblivious to Josh’s presence in the room when he’s hit across the head and, shocked for a second or two, wheels around to return the blow. And they’re off again. It takes a while before a few individuals manage to pull them apart before they manage to cause each other any serious damage.

In the end Josh has gotten away with a broken jaw and Neville’s rubbing his rib in excess. But they’ll be fine.


Submitted: October 21, 2011

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