Ace dressed quickly in t-shirt and jeans, and hurried downstairs. There was no one in the hall, so he headed to the kitchen. The smell of coffee stirred his stomach and he went straight to the percolator.
“Why don’t you sit at the table, darling?” Mrs Richmond headed him off smoothly and directed him to sit.
“I’m perfectly capable of making myself a cup of coffee,” Ace grumbled.
“Why do we have to wait until Ace has coffee?” Logan protested, then subsided. Ace could imagine his mother giving Logan a stare. Other people had talked about mothers’ stares although he had, of course, never seen one himself. He’d never seen anyone’s stare.
“Now, you’re sure you’re up to this,” Mrs Richmond said, setting a cup of coffee on the table in front of Ace, and directing his hand to the mug. “It’s a big responsibility, taking care of your brother outside.”
Ace’s ears pricked up. What did she mean? Oh God, she wasn’t going to send him out into the world with Logan and Nick, was she? What would they do to him without his mother there to temper them.
“What do you mean?” he asked sharply. “I don’t want them to take care of me. I don’t need anyone to take care of me. I don’t want to go out with them.”
“Believe me,” Nick said, “I don’t want you to go out with us either but it’s either that or we don’t go and I need to.”
“Need to what?”
“Just get some stuff done.”
“Why can’t you just do that and leave me here.”
“Because I’m going out,” Mrs Richmond said, in her “don’t’ mess with me” voice. Ace might not be able to see her stare, but he could certainly hear the tone of her voice and had learned all the subtle differences and exactly how far he could push before he got to this stage. Clearly his brothers had been having this conversation with their mother for quite some time.
“That’s okay. I’ll be fine up in my room. I don’t come down here very often anyway.”
“You cannot stay in the house on your own.”
“Why not? I hardly ever see you anyway.” Ace couldn’t help the touch of bitterness that crept into his voice and was unprepared for the sharpness in his mother’s when she replied.
“That’ hardly my fault. You shut yourself away upstairs and half the time I don’t know I even have another son.”
Good grief, she sounded for a minute as if she wanted to spend time with him. Then he remembered all the times she’d sent him scuttling up to his room whenever anyone came around. If an unexpected visitor arrived Ace was expected to make himself scarce pretty damn quick, even to the point of her practically throwing him up the stairs. She might be feeling guilty about not spending time with her son but that certainly didn’t extend to other people. Oh no, whenever anyone who might – God forbid – judge her, was around Ace was hidden away, tucked safely into his attic room, isolates; for his own good; somewhere he couldn’t hurt – or draw attention to – himself.
So why now was she pushing him out into a world he was unprepared for? Why was she forcing him into the company of the two people in the whole world she knew he was least safe with?
“Please don’t make me do this.”
“I thought you wanted more independence,” Mrs Richmond said, placing bowl in front of Ace and putting a spoon in his hand.
“I do…just not with them. I wouldn’t mind going out on my own.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t do that.”
“I could. I have my stick, and--”
“Please let’s not go there again. It’s not going to happen, so let that be an end to it. I’m fed up of all of you this morning. Finish your breakfast, then get out of my sight until teatime.”
“Don’t take it out on me,” Ace grumbled and was glad he was unable to see stares because he had a feeling he was the focus of three of them.
The journey into town was conducted in silence. Initially, Logan had repeatedly kicked the back of Ace’s seat, but Nick got pissed off with him for possibly damaging the upholstery and when he threatened to drop Logan off in the middle of the lane, Logan subsided.
Eventually, the car came to a halt and Nick said, “Okay, rugrats, get out.”
“What? Here? You’re leaving me on my own with him? Mum’ll kill you.”
“Mum will never know,” Nick growled, “Not if you want to keep your balls. Now get out.”
“Where are we?” Ace asked.
“Bus depot. You can walk in from here.”
“No way. I’m not getting out. You can’t abandon me here with him.”
“Quit whining and get out. Dump him in a café somewhere. He’s always whining on about being independent.”
“I’m not doing that. Mum’ll kille me. Besides,” he continued in a smarmy voice. “I’m not allowed to be left on my own. I’m too young. Mum would have a blue fit.”
“I told you, if either of you speak a word to Mum I’ll make you wish you’d never been born. Now get the fuck out of my car.”
“I’ll tell Mum you swore.”
“I’ll tell Lucie you’ve got an STD.”
With a huge sigh, Ace let his brothers’ argument wash over him and kept the hell out of it until the slamming of the door startled him. Next moment, hid own door was wrenched open and Logan practically dragged him out.
Suddenly, Ace found himself standing on the pavement, listening to Nick’s car zoom away.
“Stay here,” Logan spat. Sit on a seat and don’t move. I’ll be back.”
“What? Wait. Logan, wait. I can’t…. Logan?”
All Ace heard was the rumble of traffic and footsteps running away.
“Logan get back here and tell me where I am. Logan.”
There was no answer. Ace was alone in a place he had never been and no way of getting his bearings. Dammit. Although it was true he wanted to be independent he did need some assistance. His stick would help keep him safe so he wouldn’t fall into a hole or get run over, but he couldn’t just walk either. He could wind up anywhere, and even if he got lucky and walked straight into town his chances of finding either brother were slim at best. So he sat.