Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Boy Behind the Window - Chapter Eight James, Give Me Strength

Ace slammed the door to his room, and locked it carefully. Even so, he was careful to check thoroughly before he permitted himself to walk with his usual confidence.
The room was filled with soft sounds, even before he turned on his music. Most of them were alarms of some kind. He worked his way through them, until he was sitting in front of his computer, with a cold can of Coke from his mini fridge, and a plate of snacks. One thing he could give his mother credit for was keeping his snack cupboard up here well-stocked. He was sure it was just another reason to prevent him from going downstairs. From his mother’s point-of-view, the only time Ace was safe was when he was safely inside his room. In this house, she was right.
Running his hand through his hair, Ace allowed his hands to roam over the familiar keyboard and the last of the alarms whispered into silence. Barely moments later, it started again. Ace smiled. That was exactly what he’d hoped for.
“Hey you, where have you been?”
Ace had never been so glad James was blind. He knew he looked a mess, and the last thing he wanted was for his friend to know how rattled he was. He swiped the back of his hand across his nose, wiping tears of self-pity from his cheek at the same time. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea after all.
“What’s wrong?”
“What makes you think something’s wrong?”
“Don’t bullshit me, Richmond, what’s happened?”
Ace sniffed. Who had he been kidding? He could never hide anything from James. “Just came back from the hospital.”
“The hospital? What the fuck happened? Are you okay?”
The concern in James’ voice warmed the cold place that had been growing inside Ace’s chest since he’d returned to his room after lunch to find that, in the short time it had taken him to recover from Logan’s assault and make the decision to lock the door of his room, Logan had run up the stairs and thrown a handful of marbles in through the door. Ace had always felt safe in his room and hadn’t been on guard when he stood on the marble and came crashing down on his bad shoulder.
Whether by good or bad fortune his mother had heard his yells and come running up the stairs. Ace would never know if her curses had all been because of his pain or because she’d seen the marbles. In any event, she’d bundled him up and drove him to the hospital for a professional assessment on his shoulder. He’d been in so much pain he hadn’t argued. After four hours at the hospital, more pain than he could ever remember, and a bagful of drugs he couldn’t wait to swallow, Ace was home with his arm in a sling and a warning to keep the shoulder moving or it would get stiff. His mother told him he should be thankful it was nothing more than a sprain. Ace couldn’t find much comfort in that.
“You know I hurt my shoulder at school with that stupid frieze?”
“I fell on it and it hurt so much my mother made me go get it checked. It’s fine. Just have to wear a sling for a couple of days, and if it doesn’t get better I might have to have physiotherapy. It’s nothing major, just me feeling sorry for myself.”
“How did you fall?”
There was something dangerous in James’ voice and Ace didn’t want to say another word, but the need to get everything off his chest was too great and in the end he told James about the marbles.
“I’m going to kill him. I don’t know when or how, but someday, somehow, I’m going to kill the bastard.”
Ace shivered. He knew James didn’t mean what he said, no matter how serious he sounded, but he also knew that James would find some way, short of murder, to pay Logan back.
“Please, James, don’t. For all his faults, Logan is my brother, and I don’t want to see him hurt. Besides, if you do anything I’ll get blamed. Just let it lie. Anyway, it won’t be long before I’m safe with you.”
James growled. “You should be safe there. It’s your home. Your mother is so fucking worried about danger everywhere, why can’t she see how dangerous it is in her own fucking house?”
“Stop swearing,” Ace said automatically. He’d never been completely comfortable with swearing, and James did it a lot.
“Oh for fuck sake, stop trying to divert the topic.”
“I wasn’t. I just don’t like too much swearing. You know that.”
Speaking with James always made Ace feel stronger and calmer. James’ unhesitating support and righteous anger on Ace’s behalf could be worrying sometime but it always made him feel better. He smiled at the screen, even though he knew James couldn’t see him.
“You’re my knight in shining armour,” he said.
“What?” James snapped, no doubt thinking it was another ploy to divert the topic. He’d be half right.
“You always come rushing in to my defence, no matter what, like a knight on a charger.”
“Oh for God’s sake, Richmond, you sound like a bloody….”
“A what?”
“A goddamn princess.”
Ace laughed out loud. “I’m a princess in a tower, and you’re my knight. Come rescue me, Sir Knight. Save me from the horrible people who keep me prisoner and want to murder me.”
I want to murder you right now.”
Ace smiled. He could tell that James was amused and that the amusement had, at least temporarily, killed his anger. To be truthful, he couldn’t give James answers to any of his questions. He’d asked them to himself often enough, and had come up with nothing. All he knew was that if he tried to make a fuss it made everything a whole lot worse and he was always the one who came off badly. Even when his parents did take his part against Logan or Nick the fallout was horrible.
“Don’t make me talk about all this shit, James,” Ace pleaded. “Talk about things that make me happy.”
“I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about those things on a computer,” James said, his voice suddenly husky. “My mother might read them.”
“That’s not what I was talking about and you know it.”
“I bet you’d love me to talk dirty to you, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah right. Dream on.”

Friday, 14 October 2016

The Boy Behind the Window Chapter 7 - Afternoon Sunshine

If you want to read the previous chapters please go here

Time passed slowly, as always, but that suited Ace fine. The faster time passed, the sooner his brothers would be home. They wouldn’t bother him, because he made sure to keep the door locked when they were in the house, but somehow just knowing they were nearby placed him on edge. At times like this, he wished he could go walk in a park or maybe on a beach. He’d never been near the sea, because his mother thought it was a dangerous environment. His mother thought a lot of places were dangerous. Ace sighed. Thank heaven for school. At least his parents had done one thing right in choosing the school. He felt almost normal when he was there.
A crash from outside jolted Ace out of a doze. He listened intently and heard Logan curse. Oh great! Surely, it couldn’t be four already. Straining his sensitive ears, Ace heard the door slam and Logan’s voice yelling for their mother. Ace slipped off the window seat and padded silently to the door, which he unlocked as quietly as he could. There were no pounding footsteps on the stairs, so Logan wasn’t coming up. It was fairly safe to creep down to the first floor where he could hear better.
Ace was in luck, Mrs Richmond met Logan in the hall.
“What on earth is all the commotion? Is everything alright? Is Ace hurt?”
“Ace? Why does he have to come into everything? This has nothing to do with Ace.”
“Then what does it have to do with, dear?”
There was a long pause, and Ace wished he could see what Logan was doing. It didn’t sound as if he was moving around.
“Out with it. You’re not in trouble are you? What have I told you about fighting?”
“I wasn’t fighting,” Logan snapped.
“Then what are you doing home from school so early?”
Ah, so it wasn’t four o’clock.
“Well what?”
“Well….” Logan heaved a sigh. “It wasn’t my fault.”
Uh oh.
“What have you done?”
“I told you, I haven’t done anything. Jamie Deacon, he’s captain of the football team, overheard me telling Jack about what happened at the freak school and he said I shouldn’t call Ace a freak and I told him to mind his own business.”
So much for “What does it have to do with Ace”, then.
“You said you hadn’t got into a fight.”
“I didn’t. We didn’t. One of the teacher overheard and I got sent to the headmaster for what I said about Ace. He sent me home “to think about it” and I have to talk to the school liaison about some pc shit tomorrow.”
“Don’t swear, Logan.”
Uh oh, his mother sounded mad. Time to make a strategic retreat. He really didn’t want to know what she had to say because it would be more of the same old and he would much rather not listen to himself being talked about as if he was…well, a freak. Did his mother really not see that the things she said about him weren’t all that much different to what Logan and Nick said. She didn’t actually use the world “freak” but she might as well have.
As Ace stepped back, his foot caught on something. Damn, he’d forgotten to check the stairs. He didn’t fall, but he did stumble and made a noise that was clearly heard from downstairs.
“Ace? is that you?”
Ace seriously considered sneaking back upstairs. He could probably make it before Logan could get to him and he had a fair chance of being quiet enough for them not to hear. However, they’d both heard him and he’d never get away with pretending it hadn’t been him. He was terrible at lying.
“I’m sorry to eavesdrop,” he said, carefully making his way down the stairs. “I was coming down to get something to eat.”
“Oh Ace dear, I’m so sorry. I forgot to get you lunch. I’m in the middle of baking. There’s a fete at the church on Saturday and I promised to provide some cakes. I have no idea why because I don’t even go to church.” She sighed. “Oh well, I suppose a quick sandwich will have to do.”
“I’ll make it.”
“Don’t be silly, you can’t make sandwiches, you’ll make a mess and you might hurt yourself.”
“We make sandwiches at school and I manage not to cut my fingers off or burn down the kitchen.”
“Yes, well, I’m sure you do, but that’s not a proper kitchen, is it?”
“No, of course not, it’s made of lego.”
There was a pause when Ace was pretty sure they were both staring at him with puzzled expressions, then Logan said, “You’re such a prick, Ace.”
“Logan. Your language. You’re lucky I need to make lunch for Ace, but I can assure you this conversation is not over. Go to your room and we’ll talk later, when your father gets home.”
“Can I have a sandwich?”
“You still have your packed lunch.”
“Yeah, but─”
“Go to your room, Logan. Don’t make this any worse than it has to be.”
“But it’s not fair. I didn’t do anything wrong. I can say what I like about Ace. He is freak. And I didn’t swear that much.”
“Swearing? You didn’t mention that little bit of information.”
“Sorry, Mum. It wasn’t bad swearing. Not really.”
“Room. Now.”
Ace drew back as Logan’s thunderous footsteps started up the stairs, but not far enough. Somehow, even though he flattened himself against the wall as much as he could, Logan managed to jab and elbow into his side, hard enough to make him double over. That jarred his shoulder and he had to grit his teeth to keep from crying out. He was not going to give his brother the satisfaction.
Mrs Richmond said nothing, she was already on her way back to the kitchen and probably wouldn’t have seen. Ace was glad. If she’d seen, she would have yelled at Logan and that would just have made things worse. With a sinking heard, Ace realized he’d left his door unlocked. He was now faced with a choice. Either he could go back up and lock the door, in which case he’d get told off by his mother for being so long, or he could go straight to the kitchen, get his lunch and take it back up as soon as he could, hoping Logan wouldn’t have gone into his room and done anything nasty while he was gone.
Ace shivered and headed back up the stairs.