I didn’t hear Dec come in later, but I did hear him in the middle of the night.
‘No … nnnh … no no no … mm … no … ‘
I heard Dec moving, and then I felt a bump from under me, as he sat up and banged his head on the underneath of my bed. I didn’t have to wait long
… woke up in a sweat, heart racing, breathing hard, disoriented. Tried to sit up. Banged my head.
A giggle from above me. Cal. I was in Cal’s room.
I’d known it would happen, and I liked knowing things and being right. Dec must have heard me, and his voice came from below.
‘I know. I was half asleep. Sorry. Was I making noises?’
‘Yes you were going ‘mm’ and ‘no’, and I waited for you to do a big swear and you did.’
‘I didn’t scare you – er – Optimus Prime, though?’
I hadn’t been scared, not even of the thought that Dec might scream really loudly.
‘No, he wasn’t scared. It’s only your dreams.’
‘Well that’s very brave of him.’
‘Dec can I come in with you?’
I thought I might have a chance, because it was Dec’s last night, and I might not see him again for days and days.
Oh what the hell, it was my last night.
‘Come on, then.’
It had worked. I climbed down the ladder and got under Dec’s duvet, and was asleep before I could think about it.
He hopped down the ladder and filled the bottom bunk with his sleepy body. Crammed up against the wall, I slept as well as I could, dreamless and happy.
When I woke up next morning, Cal was still asleep, looking innocent and peaceful. I could hear sounds from downstairs that suggested someone was up and in the kitchen, and my stomach rumbled. I didn’t know what the time was, couldn’t see a clock from my position under the top bunk. It was dark, but this time of year it didn’t get light till fairly late. I couldn’t bear to wake Cal, but I was really hungry so, moving slowly and carefully, I edged to the bottom of the bed, tucking the duvet back around him as I did so. Once there, I hopped off, pulled on some clothes and went downstairs. Jay was in the kitchen, making tea and toast.
łHey, mate. Bit early yet?
I looked at the kitchen clock. Just after six. Very early for me, pretty early for Jay as well. Having a pregnant wife must be overriding his natural laziness.
‘Oh well. Didn’t sleep too well.’
łMore bad dreams?
‘Cal got his wish for a big swear, too. Sorry. Didn’t know where I was for a minute.’
łCan’t be helped. Was he OK?
‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was what he’d been waiting for. He got in with me afterwards.’
łOh great, now he’s going to be trying to come in to us at all hours. We’d just got him to stop.
‘Sorry. It’s very hard to say no, especially in the middle of the night.’
łTell me about it, he knows all the tricks in the book. Breakfast? I’m just doing tea for Beth, then I’ll come back down and see if Matty’s awake.
‘I can check on Matt if you like.’
Jay went back upstairs. I made a pile of toast and two cups of tea, just in case Matt was awake, and went into his room with a tray. The room was dark, and I didn’t want to put the lamp on in case it woke him up.
No reply. I sat in the chair, ate toast and drank tea. Matt slept on. I finished my breakfast and stood up, picking up the tray from the table. Matt suddenly woke with a startled intake of breath.
}Fuck. Who’s tha?
‘Dec. Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you up. Just brought you some breakfast if you want it.’
}Scared the bejehsus out of meh. Why dihnt yuh put the ligh on?
‘Didn’t want to wake you up.’
}Prefer to gihv meh a coronary?
‘Sorry. Tea and toast? Get it while it’s tepid.
}Mm, just how I lihk ih.
I turned on the table lamp and handed him his breakfast.
}Oh, Auhnty Dec yuh did a tray and ehvrything.
‘Well, last day and all, had to make it memorable.’
}Wha time issit?
‘Sometime after six.’
}Bluhdy hell, bih early ihnt ih?
‘I was awake, couldn’t sleep, hungry. Thought I might as well get up.’
}Well thahks foh sharing. Buhger off now, too early foh meh. Thahks foh tray, maybe laher …
His eyes closed and he went back to sleep. I picked the tray up and took it back into the kitchen. The house was silent again. I sat at the table, resting my chin on my hand, trying to soak up the atmosphere. I wanted to take in as much as possible of my time here, so I could take it back with me. Now that there wasn’t long to go before I left, I wanted to appreciate every minute. The inactivity did for me eventually, and I woke up, head resting on my arm on the table, when Beth came in.
_Oh! Were you asleep? What on earth are you doing down here?
‘Sorry, just dozed off. I’m up, honest. It was just really quiet. Doesn’t happen much round here.’
_I know. I love being first up, before everyone else. Don’t get to do it very often, especially at the moment, I’m sleeping so much. But I’m just as happy to have breakfast in bed. Even if James does go back to sleep more often than not. Have you seen Matty?
‘I did a while ago, he said it was a bit early for him.’
I glanced at the clock – it was now nearly eight – and stretched to work out some of the knots that sleeping with my head on the table had tied in my neck.
‘I can have another go if you like.’
_No it’s OK, James can see what he needs, he should be down in a minute. What time were you thinking of setting off?
‘I don’t know. Hadn’t really thought. Didn’t really want to think about it if I’m honest. I’ve had such a good time, Beth. I never thought I’d be part of this again. If nothing else in my life works out, this Christmas will make it alright.’
_Oh, Dec. We’ve loved having you here, with us. I know the past few months have been hard, for all of us. If I could pretend none of it had happened, I would. But I think we’ve managed to mend it pretty well – maybe we’re even stronger. We know a bit more about you, now, about how things have been for you. We all love you, you know that, don’t you? I think even Carol’s got a soft spot for you.
I nodded, speechless, throat closing familiarly, tears threatening.
When I woke up, Dec had got up, and I could hear voices in the kitchen. It sounded like Mum and Dec. I got up quietly, went downstairs quietly, and stood in the hall listening to what they were saying. They were talking, and although I couldn’t really hear, I think it was about Dec going home, and Dec cried. Dec had cried all the time since he’d got here, and it was a bit annoying, but I remembered Mum saying he was sad even though he didn’t look it, and we needed to give him loves, so I tried not to be annoyed.
‘Come on, sweetheart.’
Mum was trying to cheer Dec up.
‘You’ll be back up here in no time. And we’ll be down to see you – there’s always a reason to go back to Devon.’
Dec sniffed. ‘I’m not going to spend my last morning here being miserable. I’ve had a great time. I’ve got my family back. I’m going back to get fit and play rugby. Nothing to be miserable about at all.’
I remembered that Dec was in our family, and I felt happy, and went into the kitchen to be part of everyone feeling happy. Dec had stopped crying and was smiling. Mum was patting Dec on the shoulder.
‘That’s the spirit – oh here’s Cal. You’re up late, sweetheart.’
‘Dec keeped me awake with noises and a big swear.’
I wasn’t telling on Dec, I was just telling Mum what had happened, because she’d ask me later, and I’d have to tell her anyway.
‘Oh did he? Well Daddy told me you were quite keen for that to happen last night, so maybe you got your wish. Dec, I feel I have to be a bit annoyed about the big swear, just to keep up appearances.’
She pretended to frown at Dec, but he just grinned, like he always did when Mum told him off about swears.
‘Sorry, Beth, won’t happen again.’
‘Ha ha, if only I believed you.’
Dad came in, yawning.
‘Don’t believe him, whatever he said.’
I liked when Dad teased Dec, because he’d say something like he was telling Dec off, but he was being funny. I wanted to join in with that too.
‘Dec said he won’t do any big swears again.’
‘Is that so? Let’s see how long he lasts. My vote is for ten past eight. What’s the time now? Oh, maybe five past.’
‘Four minutes past. I win.’
And there it was. I’d joined in, and Dad had carried on, and Dec had done a swear. It didn’t get much better, although Mum wasn’t as happy as I was about it.
‘Honestly, you two. I’m a bit worried about what Cal’s going to come back saying, especially if he’s going to be hanging around rugby players all afternoon. You will tone it down a bit, won’t you?’
‘We’ll be model citizens. He’ll come back talking like an angel. Right Cal?’
I wasn’t sure about that. I had no idea what angels talked like, and I wasn’t going to have much of a chance to learn.
‘How do angels talk, Daddy?’
‘A bit like this.’
Dad’s voice was all squeaky, like a lady’s. I really didn’t want to have to talk like a lady.
‘Why do I have to talk like that?’
‘Daddy’s being silly. He means that he and Dec will watch their language so you don’t start saying some of the bad words they do.’
Sometimes grown-ups said the stupidest things. I knew I couldn’t say swears, although sometimes I whispered them to myself just to feel them in my mouth. No, I knew the rules about saying swears out loud.
‘But I’m six, I can’t do bad swears.’
‘I’m glad at least one of you has got some sense.’
‘I can’t do bad swears until I’m seven. Jake telled me.’
Jake knew everything about things big boys could do, because he had two brothers who were big boys. One of them was so big, he was in the Army, and Jake had often told me things his brothers did and said that astonished me.
Mum put her hands in the air like she was surrendering. I liked when Dad and me did boy and man things together, and Mum had to give in because she was a lady, and there was only one of her.
‘I give up. Even Jake Bagwell is against me.’
After that, Dec was getting ready to go, and he was finding his socks and pants, and checking he hadn’t left anything, and he couldn’t play with me because he was busy. He helped me feed Percy, and helped Mum with the dishwasher, and helped Granny watch TV, and talked to Uncle Matty, but he didn’t really have time for a big play with me, so I played in Uncle Matty’s room.
We decided to leave about ten o’clock. Jay reckoned he could do the journey in just over two hours, even though it had taken Lis over three and a half to do it before. That gave us plenty of time to drop my stuff off and say hello to Rose, get something to eat and head for the stadium. So I was left with a strange couple of hours of hanging around, waiting to leave, trying to find things to do, but not having time to really do very much.
I helped Cal feed his rabbit. I walked round the house again to check I hadn’t left anything behind. I emptied the dishwasher for Beth, I sat and watched a bit of a Sunday morning cookery programme with Carol. I scraped mud off my trainers. It felt like time was ticking away too fast.
I fetched my bags from upstairs, leaving them by the door. When I had arrived a few days ago, I hadn’t been able to carry anything. Now my left hand was so much better, I hardly remembered my little finger had been broken, although my right arm was still stiff, and the bandages served to remind me that I couldn’t push myself too far. Jay saw me bring my bags down.
łDo you want to put them in the car? While you’re out there you could move Beth’s car out of the way, it’s in front of the garage.
He tossed me the keys. I took my bags outside and left them by the garage door. I pointed the key at Beth’s car and pressed the button, opened the driver’s door, got in, shut the door and I was spinning, swerving across the road, unable to control the car. I was heading towards the ditch. A man appeared, lit by headlights. I frantically pulled on the steering wheel but he was too close and the car was too out of control. There was a bang, and my airbag inflated, pushing me backwards as the car lurched forwards into the ditch. I couldn’t move. The combination of my seatbelt, the airbag and the angle of the car pinned me to my seat, I couldn’t get out. Then I was spinning, swerving across the road, unable to control the car as it started again, replaying over and over on a loop in my head …
Uncle Matty was sitting in his chair, rather than his bed, and we heard Dad tell Dec to go and put his bag in Dad’s car, and to move Mum’s car out of the way, and we heard the front door slam as Dec went out.
‘Dohs tha boy ehver shuh a dohr quiehly?’
‘I think he does sometimes.’
Dad came in after a while.
‘Oh. I thought Dec must be in here. Where is he?’
‘Ouhside. Dihnt yuh fehl the trehmors wehn he shuh the dohr?’
‘But that was ages ago. He was only moving Beth’s car. Oh for God’s sake. He’d better not have bashed it.’
Dad stomped out and we heard the front door shut, almost as loudly as Dec had shut it.
łDec? What’s going on?
Jay’s voice brought me back to the present. I was gripping the steering wheel, my knuckles white, my breathing rapid and shallow, and I was sweating, trembling, staring straight ahead. Jay put his hand on my arm.
I shook my head, trying to get the repeating images out of my mind.
‘Sorry. Fuck. I just had an action replay of crashing my car. Several action replays. Shit. I haven’t driven since. Didn’t think. Fuck.’
łJesus, Dec, how long have you been sat out here? You came out ages ago. You look terrible, you’re shaking. Come back inside, I think you need to calm down.
He took the keys out of my hand. I leaned forwards, resting my head on the steering wheel, eyes closed, trying to push it all down. Jay pulled on my arm.
łCome on, mate. Back inside.
I got out of the car and followed Jay indoors to the living room, where I sat down, leaned forwards and rubbed my face with my hands. Jay sat next to me, concern creasing his brow.
łHas that ever happened before?
łBut you’ve been in a car since, haven’t you? Course you have, I mean, Lis brought you up on Tuesday.
‘Only as a passenger. I think it was trying to drive, set something off. Fuck. That was intense. I couldn’t stop it. Just kept seeing it … feeling it … over and over.’
łHas it stopped now?
‘Yeah, as soon as you opened the door it stopped.’
łHow are you feeling?
‘A bit shaky. I’ll be OK.’
łIf you don’t want to go today, that’s fine.
‘No, no, I think I’ll be OK. You don’t want me to drive do you?’
łFuck no, I’m not letting you behind the wheel of my baby, even if you weren’t a bloody head case. Jesus, Dec, what the fuck’s going on in that tiny mind of yours?
‘I wish I bloody knew.’
łLet me get you a glass of water. If we weren’t about to set off I’d make it something stronger, but it’s not a good idea.
I sat and took more ragged breaths while Jay got the water. The images were slowly fading and the panic was receding. I could hear Jay talking to Beth and Carol in the kitchen. He came back in, Beth in tow.
_Dec, what’s this James has been telling me? Some kind of panic attack?
‘I don’t know what you’d call it. I’m feeling better now, just shook me up a bit.’
łHere’s your water, mate.
_Let me have a look at you.
The front door opened again after a few minutes, and we heard Dad and Dec go into the living room. Dad was talking like something had happened, and I tried really hard to listen, and Uncle Matty was listening too, but we couldn’t hear. Dad went and got Mum, and I drove one of my cars into the hall so I could hear a bit better.
Beth felt my forehead and checked my pulse while I gulped from the glass. She looked closely at my face.
_You look pale, your heart’s beating fast and you’re a bit clammy, but I think you’ll live. Has it happened before?
‘No – well, I suppose it feels like when I wake up after one of my dreams.’
_I wonder if it’s some kind of post traumatic thing?
‘Sorry, Beth, I just don’t know. Looks like another thing I need to sort out with Don’s shrink.’
_Poor you, things just pile up don’t they.
‘I’ll be OK. Really. Do we need to get going?’
łYeah. Sure you’re OK?
I breathed in deeply and pushed the panic away.
I didn’t understand everything they said, but they were talking about Dec’s dreams, and I think they said something about shrinking the postman, but that didn’t make any sense.
I couldn’t work out what had happened, but Dec was saying he was alright now, so it didn’t sound too bad. Maybe he’d banged his head on the garage door, or fallen over and banged his knee. I’d done that, and it had made me cry, but Mum had rubbed it and kissed it better, and after a while it didn’t hurt any more.
‘I’ll go and move Beth’s car, then. Have you said goodbye to Matty?’
‘No, I’ll go now.’
I ran up the stairs with my car so that Dad and Dec didn’t see I’d been listening, and I played up there for a while, until Mum came up and said it was nearly time to go, and to help me put things in my bag to take with me.
I crossed the hall into Matt’s room. I was surprised to see him sitting in the chair, iPad on his knee, rather than in bed.
}Yeh. Feel prehty good today. Fed up of being in behd. Might goh for a run laher. Or, yuh knoh, evehn walk tuh the lihving rohm on my ohn. Yuh going soon?
‘Yeah, Jay’s just swapping the cars around. Don’t run too far, maybe just 10k first time?’
}Noted, wihs spohts pehson. Yuh OK? Bih of a commohtion jus now.
‘Just more madness going on in my fucked up head. Had a bit of a weird moment in Beth’s car. I’m OK now, just about ready to go.’
I wasn’t sure quite how OK I really was, but the last thing I wanted to do was worry people. I could push it away and forget about it, I was sure.
}Wish I was coming wih yuh.
‘Next time, yeah?’
}Yeh. Ihs a date, Auhnty Dec. Take cahr of yuhsehf. Fucking nutter.
‘You too. Bloody cripple.’
He held his hand out, I clasped it tightly. Fist bumped. Left the room as Jay came in from outside.
łHave you seen Cal? Is he ready?
‘Don’t know, sorry.’
Mum put chocolate buttons in my bag, and a jumper, and some purple squash, and a hat and gloves because it was cold, and gave me three pound coins just in case. I didn’t know just in case of what, maybe she meant just in case I saw some sweets, and Dad didn’t have his money, and then three pound coins would be really helpful.
I wanted to take lots of dinosaurs with me, so I had something to make a game with in the car, but Mum said there wasn’t room in my bag for lots of dinosaurs. I needed at least four to make the game I’d thought of, but Mum said less than four, and so I chose three, which were my furry stegosaurus, my Lego tyrannosaurus rex and my pterodactyl puppet. They were the three biggest dinosaurs I had. Mum said they were all too big, and to choose smaller ones, because she didn’t know about the game I wanted to play, which needed them all. While Mum was telling me I couldn’t take all of them, Dad called up the stairs, and Mum answered him.
‘Right here, just having a discussion about how many dinosaurs he can take with him.’
‘One. OK Cal? Come on, let’s get moving.’
Which was really not fair, because Dad knew even less about my game than Mum, but he had his ‘no arguing’ voice on, and so I chose the stegosaurus. I would have to pretend all the other dinosaurs.
Carol came out of the kitchen.
#Are you off, now?
łSoon as Cal’s ready. OK Dec?
It was all going a bit quickly, but couldn’t be helped.
#Goodbye, Declan, I hope I see you again soon.
‘Thanks Carol, me too.’
I kissed her on the cheek. Beth and Cal came downstairs, Beth carrying a bag and Cal’s coat, Cal carrying a large fluffy stegosaurus and wearing his Arsenal shirt.
łAre we all set? Let’s go, then. See you later Matty. Behave yourself. Sure you and Mum will be OK, Beth? Back about – oh I don’t bloody know. This evening, probably later on. I’ll ring you. OK, Dec? Come on then.
_Hug first. Come here, sweetheart.
Beth wrapped her arms round me and squeezed tightly.
_Oh I’m going to miss you. Ring me lots. Come back as soon as you can. Dec, promise me you’ll talk to us, call us, if you need anything, if anything happens. Call us all the time.
She let me go. She had tears in her eyes, so did I.
łOh for fuck’s sake, girls, don’t start each other off again.
łSorry. Sorry Cal. Right, off we go. Raiders here we come.
Jay, Cal and I got in the car. Beth and Carol waved us off, Beth had tears running down her face, and I had to wipe my eyes several times.
Mum and Granny waved from the door until we went round the corner and couldn’t see them any more, then Dad turned the radio on, and didn’t say anything about Dec wiping his eyes.
‘So, according to Rose you think I drive too fast.’
‘But you kinda like it.’
‘Off we go then!’
Dad did drive really fast, and we had fun singing with some of the songs on the radio – Dec and Dad did silly high shouty voices to the songs, which made me laugh, and we spotted Eddie Stobart lorries, and Dad shouted at other cars to get out of the way, and I didn’t have time to play a dinosaur game, because I fell asleep.
The time in the car passed really quickly, we sung along, badly, to the radio, helped Cal spot Eddie Stobart lorries, shouted at other drivers to get out of the way. Jay did drive fast, and Cal was asleep by the time we had got half way. As we got closer, I started to feel a return of some of the cloud I had been under for the past few months. It was distant, but it was there.
łYou’ve gone quiet.
łStop thinking and get singing. I bloody love this song.
He cranked up the stereo and I had no choice. Cal slept on, despite the raucous out of tune noise we were making. We finally pulled up outside the flats. It was about midday, still ages before the game, and I sat for a while, trying to get my thoughts together. Jay looked at me.
I woke up when the car stopped, but I didn’t open my eyes straight away. Dad and Dec were talking, and I wanted to hear what they were saying. Dad was trying to make Dec get out of the car.
‘Come on, what are you waiting for?’
‘This is it, back to reality. I’m freaking out a bit.’
Dad took a deep breath.
‘You know, you can always come back and live with us. We can make room. If all this is too hard, we can work something out.’
I nearly opened my eyes, because this was what I wanted, but Dad had said there wasn’t any room, and that Dec didn’t live with us any more, but now it seemed like there might be a chance … I almost stopped breathing waiting to hear what Dec would say.
‘Really. Beth and I talked about asking you.’
I looked at him. At that moment, thinking about all the hard work, all the people and all the sorting out I was going to have to face, it was very tempting to leave it all behind and start again.
‘But we thought it would be selfish of us to ask – I mean, think about what you’d be letting go. You’ve got a second chance with Raiders, once you recover you’re not far away from the first team. Yeah, it’ll be hard work, and yeah it’s not the easy life. Rugby isn’t. You know that. And I think part of you belongs here, in this city. Think about Rose, too. She’d understand if you moved away, but I think you need her. She gets you, knows how to help you, knows how to make you accept the help.’
I shook my head, to clear it, not to disagree. Everything he said was absolutely right. Much as it would have meant to me to live with them all again, and much as it meant to me that they’d talked about it, and Jay had asked me, it wasn’t right just now, for any of us. Jay and Beth already had enough to cope with looking after Matt, they didn’t need the extra baggage of an unemployed hanger on. Regretfully, I pushed my apprehension aside.
It sounded like Dad was trying to get Dec to stay with Rose, and not live with us. I didn’t know much about all the reasons; I didn’t understand a lot of it. I just wanted Dec to live with us again.
‘No, you’re right, it’s just nerves. It means a lot to me that you offered, though. Let’s do this.’
Dad put his hand on Dec’s shoulder.
‘Thank fuck for that, no idea where we would have put you. Cubby hole by the washing machine, maybe, or a deck chair in the shed. Come on Cal, time to wake up.’
And that was the end of that.
Jay got out of the car and opened the back door so he could undo Cal’s seat belt. I got out and opened the boot to get my bag. I picked it up in my left hand, realising again with pleasure that I could carry it in that hand with no problems whatsoever. I waited with Cal while Jay picked up the other bag containing my new laptop and some food and drink Beth had insisted I brought back with me.
I fished the keys out of my pocket and, feeling really weird about it, opened the front door. It felt even more strange to be opening the door to Rose’s flat, as if I’d been away for months.
Rose rushed into the hall from the living room. As soon as I saw her, I realised how much I’d missed her, how big a part of my life she had become.
:Oh! You’re here! Let’s have a look at you. By, your face is looking better. You’ve had a haircut! There’s lovely now. Oh, and you’ve brought Jay and Calum with you. Hello young man. Would you like some orange squash?
\can I have purple?
‘I don’t think Rose does purple squash, Cal. Orange is OK isn’t it?
:Tea for you two?
She hurried off to the kitchen. We trooped after her, putting the bags down in the hall. After putting the kettle on and giving Cal his squash, Rose came over to me and gave me an enormous hug. I squeezed back and kissed her on the cheek, realising how much I’d missed her and recognising how much Rose had come to mean to me over the past weeks.
‘Good to see you.’
:You too love, it’s been quiet here without you.
‘You only got back yesterday, didn’t you?’
:Yes, love. Still missed you. I like having someone to make a fuss of.
Rose gave Dec a very big cuddle, it looked like she was going to squeeze him in half, but she didn’t, and then she went to make my squash. She talked to Dec the whole time, about how much she’d missed him, and because I was still trying to work out what she was to Dec, I just asked.
‘Dec, is Rose your mummy?’
‘Cal! Sorry, guys.’
I wasn’t sure what Dad was saying sorry for. He put his hand on my shoulder, to stop me saying anything else. I suppose I often got told off for asking things, but Granny always said ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’, although she sometimes told me off for asking things too, like about poo and wee when we were at Pizza Place and my voice was too loud.
Then Dec answered, and I knew I hadn’t said a wrong thing, because he wouldn’t have answered if I had.
‘She’s the nearest I’ve got to a mummy, yeah, Cal.’
I didn’t really know what that meant. Surely someone is either your mummy or they’re not? I tried to get him to explain.
Rose’s eyes filled up and she turned away to wipe them.
\does she make you tidy your room? And eat peas?
Cal’s definition of motherhood.
‘Well she hasn’t done either of those so far, but there’s plenty of time. Rose has looked after me while I’ve been sad and needed help, and I think she’s pretty great.’
Rose’s sniffles intensified.
I heard a sniff, and looked at Rose, who had her back to us. She might have been crying. There had been a lot of crying over the last few days, and I was starting to recognise the signs.
‘Bloody hell, Dec, way to go. Cal, stop asking awkward questions. Drink your squash, maybe Rose has got a biscuit or something?’
I didn’t know why Dad was cross with Dec and me, I’d only asked a question, and Dec had only answered it. But a biscuit sounded like a good idea. Rose got a tin out and opened the lid, then put some chocolate biscuits on a plate. I took one and munched on it while Dec, Rose and Dad talked some more.
Rose put some biscuits on a plate, turned round and put them on the table by Cal. Her eyes were still red, but there were no more tears.
‘Sorry, Rose, I didn’t mean to upset you.’
:Not upset, love, just emotional. Take no notice.
łDec’s done his fair share of blubbing over the last few days. Had to have serious words with him about it. Him and my brother make a right pair, anything sets them off.
:Did you have a good time, love?
‘Yeah, I had a great time. Just what I needed.’
łJust what we needed too. Like the old days. It was good to have him back, and he was a great help with Cal. Beyond the call of duty at times.
:Sounds grand, love. Did you sort things out between you?
łYeah, we had words, didn’t we Dec. All sorted now. Dec’s part of my family, end of, in a nutshell. Oh, and sort yourself out, you bloody headcase. I think he gets it.
‘I get it.’
:Oh that’s grand, just grand. Remember how heartbroken you were, love, all those weeks ago, when you thought you’d lost them. You’d never have believed you’d be standing here telling me about your Christmas with them, would you? You never know what’s round the corner.
\rose can I have another biscuit?
:Of course, love. Are you stopping for some lunch?
‘Hadn’t thought about lunch, but yeah, that would be great, then we can get over to the club?’
I looked at Jay for approval. He nodded. Rose had obviously given lunch some thought, although she tried to make it seem casual.
:I’ve got some cold bits and pieces in the fridge, wasn’t quite sure what Calum would like, so I made some cheesy dinosaur biscuits and some dip.
She started to take things out of the fridge, and the table was soon covered in plates of meat, bowls of crisps, bread, dip, cheese, olives.
łBloody hell, Rose, this is a feast. What if we’d already eaten?
‘Rose would have made us eat it anyway. Nothing goes to waste!’
\daddy can I have a grape?
łThere aren’t any grapes, mate – oh, you mean an olive. Well, you can, but they taste very different.
Cal took a bite, and the look on his face was priceless. He chewed on, knowing he wasn’t allowed to spit it out. Jay and I laughed.
:You rotters. Poor Calum, have some more juice, love, get the taste out of your mouth.
Rose asked Dec about Christmas, and rather than saying what presents he’d got, Dec and Dad said about how they’d had a talk, and how Dec was in our family now. I wondered if that would upset Rose, as she was nearly Dec’s mummy, but it made her smile.
Then Rose asked if we were going to stay for lunch, and we did, and Rose had made me some biscuits made of cheese that looked like dinosaurs, and a bowl of stuff to dip them in, and they were very delicious, and I ate them all, but I also had a green round thing that looked like a grape, but tasted very not like a grape, and I nearly spat it out, but Dad would really have been cross, so I ate it all. It made Dec and Dad laugh, but Rose felt sorry for me and made me more squash, and gave me a chocolate biscuit when Dad wasn’t looking. I liked Rose.
We finished lunch and headed off. Jay said he wanted to swing by the old house, which was being rented out. I hadn’t realised their new house was also rented.
łWe weren’t sure what our plans were – a lot depends on Matty – it seemed like the easiest way to keep our options open. I’m just going to sort a couple of things out with the tenants. You OK staying with Cal in the car?
\i want to go with you, Daddy.
łNo, Cal, stay here with Dec. I’m sure you’ll find something to do.
It was still Mum and Dad’s house, and I didn’t really understand that, or why we couldn’t come back and live in it, but Dad had to go and talk to the people who lived there now, while Dec and I waited in the car.
I had lots of questions for Dec while we waited. The house looked the same but different: the grass looked long at the front, there was a car I didn’t know on the drive, there was a Christmas tree in the window with flashing lights, and there were toys and a bike on the grass. I hadn’t thought about our house since we went to live with Granny and then in our new house, but now I thought about all the things that were in this house when I lived there, and I wondered if they were still there, if my pictures were still on the fridge and Dad’s trophies were still in the living room.
‘Whose bike is that?’
‘Don’t know, Cal, maybe another little boy lives here now.
I couldn’t imagine another little boy sleeping in my bedroom, shutting my Ben10 curtains at night and being scared of the shadow the crack in the door made at night if it was left too wide open.
‘Which little boy?’
‘Don’t know, Cal, sorry. Ask your dad when he comes back.’
‘When am I going to live here again?’
‘Don’t know, Cal, ask your dad.’
Dec wasn’t being any help. He was saying ‘I don’t know’ to everything.
‘When are you going to live with us?’
‘Don’t kn … oh mate, no Cal, you live in Stafford now. I live down here. I’m not going to be living with you.’
I knew this was the answer, but I wanted to keep checking, because it just didn’t make sense. If I kept asking, I hoped that maybe someone would say ‘oh this is silly, Dec should be living with you, shouldn’t he’. Dec didn’t say that, so I tried to nudge him there.
‘Can you come and live with us?’
This was really hard. Cal saw things in such simple terms, and my situation felt so complicated, it was like negotiating a minefield trying to decide what to tell him and what not to.
‘I wish I could live a bit closer to you, but my job is down here, I have to live here so I can do my job.’
Well that was easy to change.
‘But Daddy got a new job, you can get a new job.’
‘No, Cal, it’s not as easy as that. I have to stay here. But I’ll come and see you as often as I can, and you can all come and see me.’
The more Dec said it, the more I was realising that it was true, that Dec wasn’t going to be living with us again. Maybe Dad and Dec weren’t the right people to talk to. I would ask Mum when I got back. She’d cried when Dec left this morning, so she must want him to live with us. But if Dec wasn’t going to live with us, and he didn’t live here in our old house, I wasn’t quite sure where he did live.
‘Where is your house?’
‘Well, you know Rose, where we just had lunch? My flat is upstairs, just above her flat.’
That made sense. I could see Dec living near Rose, so she could tell him to pick his pants up and when to go to bed.
‘Can I see your house?’
‘Maybe another day. We’re going to Raiders Stadium when Daddy’s finished here, to watch the rugby.’
I’d almost forgotten the reason for our trip. I’d never seen rugby, or football, that wasn’t on TV, and I wondered if I might be able to have a bit of both.
‘Are Arsenal playing?’
‘No, Cal, you know Arsenal play football. This is Raiders, my rugby team, and Daddy’s old team.’
‘Are you playing?’
‘No, I can’t play with my hurt arm. Nico’s playing, though, so you can cheer for him.’
‘Is Daddy playing?’
‘No, Daddy doesn’t play any more You, me and Daddy are all going to watch it together. We might see Lis there too, she’s going to watch Nico.’
This was all very confusing. I decided to just wait and see what happened when we got there, and for now, there was something else I could ask.
‘Can I have some chocolate?’
‘I think your mum put some in your bag. Wait till your dad gets back, though. He won’t be long.’
‘But I’m hungry.’
‘You can’t be hungry, you just ate a whole plate of cheesy dinosaur biscuits at Rose’s. You didn’t even let me have one, and they looked well tasty.’
Dec pretended to look sad, but I had seen him and Dad eat lots of other things, so I knew he wasn’t hungry. Luckily, I also had an answer for him.
‘I’m hungry for chocolate.’
‘You’re still going to have to wait.’
Although it didn’t seem to be working as well as I’d hoped.
‘Ohh but how long is Daddy going to be?’
Maybe using whine-mode might work better.
‘I don’t know. Let’s play I-Spy shall we?’
I-Spy is a really boring game when you’re sitting in a car that isn’t moving outside a house, where all you can see is other houses. I played for two goes, and then I thought of another question.
‘Dec, for my next birthday, can you go to Dinosaurland with me?’
‘I think that’s a great idea, Cal, but it depends on lots of things.’
This was a bit less enthusiastic than I’d been hoping for.
‘Well, things like whether you can get here, what I’m doing, what you’re doing – it’s nearly a year till your next birthday.’
A year was forever. And Dec sounded like he was making grown-up excuses not to come to Dinosaurland, so our plan was never going to happen.
I saw the disappointment on his face, remembered how much I’d let him down about his last birthday, and thought of a way to make it right.
‘I’m sure we’ll be able to sort something out though. Even if it’s not on your birthday, maybe near to it. We’ll talk to your mum and dad, yeah? Make some plans.’
\can we ask Daddy now?
This sounded more promising, and if I could get Dec to agree and tell Dad, then there was no getting out of it. Dad was walking up the drive, so I needed Dec to be quick.
‘Maybe wait a bit, I’ll give them a ring later.’
I didn’t understand that. Why not say yes now? Dad got in the car, and I decided to take my chance.
‘Everything OK in here?’
‘I’m going to Dinosaurland with Dec for my birthday.’
‘Oh really, you’ve been busy plotting while I’ve been out have you?’
‘Just a suggestion from Cal. I said we’d have to think about it. There’s plenty of time.’
‘Sounds good to me. Dinosaurland’s a lot of fun, eh Cal?’
I was delighted. Dad had said yes, so it was going to happen.
‘See, Dec, Daddy said yes.’
‘Hm, I’m not sure that’s exactly what he said.’
Dec still wasn’t saying we could. It was very annoying.
‘Why the hell not? Like you say, there’s plenty of time to sort it. Maybe not actually on your birthday, Cal, it might not be possible, but close to it. OK?’
Cal looked at me triumphantly, and decided to push his luck.
\daddy can Dec live with us? He can sleep under me.
It occurred to me that Cal had been really young when I moved in with them. I didn’t even know if he could remember a time, before recently, when I hadn’t been there, and these last few months must have been tough for him to get his head around.
‘Cal, we just talked about this. I’ve got to stay here and get better and play rugby.’
łYeah, and you know how messy Dec is. You’d lose all your Lego under piles of his dirty socks if he shared your room. I know you’ve liked having him around again, haven’t you. We’ll just have to get him back up for lots of visits, won’t we.
No, that wasn’t the same. I didn’t mind about Dec’s socks, even though they were very smelly. It just had to go back the way it used to be. I still didn’t understand why it couldn’t.
‘But Mummy said you aren’t cross with Dec any more and he’s been sad and needs us to give him loves to make him better, like Uncle Matty does. Why can’t he get better with us like Uncle Matty?’
I gasped at Cal’s matter-of-factness. Jay ran a hand through his hair and looked over at me with a sigh.
Dad pushed his hands through his hair, like he did when he was thinking. For a minute, I thought he was going to say OK, like with my birthday plan, but then I realised he was thinking about a way to say no.
‘Well, Cal, we’ve all missed Dec, and it’s been great having him with us for Christmas, hasn’t it. And yeah, Uncle Matty needs Mummy and me to look after him, but Dec needs people down here to make sure he gets better, people like the doctors at Raiders, and Rose, and Nico. Mummy and me couldn’t do it the same, and it’s too far away from where Dec plays rugby. Dec knows we don’t have to be near him to love him. Tell you what, though, it’s Dec’s birthday in a few weeks, why don’t we ask him if he wants to come back for a family party?’
I had to admit defeat. If Dec needed to be here to get better, and we had to be there to help Uncle Matty get better, I suppose there was nothing we could do. Maybe Dec coming back to see us on his birthday, when we could have fun and football and pizza, would be something to look forward to.
‘Dec, can you?’
‘That sounds great, mate. Maybe you can take me for an Ice Cream Factory? And I can stay in the bottom bunk again?’
Dec sounded excited about it, so maybe it was a good idea after all. And we could do a birthday plan for Dec, like we had a birthday plan for me, only this one would work.
‘Kay. Daddy, I think Dec will like to see the zoo and have Smarties on his birthday too.’
‘We’ll make some plans with Mummy, shall we? She loves a party. Sounds like you’ve got some great ideas already. Right. That’s the partying sorted. Let’s go watch some rugby.’