Fireworks exploded but I could barely hear them over my own thoughts. Every whimper I made was twice as loud as they could ever be, as pain strode through my body in a hurricane of emotions. Camera flashes displayed such a pretty image beneath my tears.
The people should have been counting down the New Year with the rest of the world but they had no time for celebrating. They were working.
I was standing so close to the edge, casting my eyes hundreds of feet downwards to where they were stood. They looked cold, but I feel that the night breeze had hit no one as hard as me. My head pounding hard as the velvet night moved ever so slowly.
I lifted my arms up carefully. I do not know why. I took a breath. I do not know why. I jumped and I will never know why.
London was screaming at a deafening tone as the entire city stood to a hold.
I awoke with a start, my moist forehead pressed against the cool glass of the window as the train was gliding into the station. The world outside was dark though I wasn’t sure of the time. I didn’t have a watch or a phone, at least I hadn’t brought them with me, but I’d found that time doesn’t really matter. I knew that I would never escape this feeling inside.
The train speaker suddenly crackled and a ladies voice filled the empty train carriage, informing me that this was the last stop. This was home.
I didn’t even bother getting a taxi from the station. I decided it would take longer to walk and I would take any extra time away from home that I could. I didn’t want to go back, to see my parents and my friends, and to see a world without Johnny. I wondered if life had stopped without him, if they all missed him too much to continue as they were, just like me, but I knew deep down in my heart that I would return home and nothing would have changed at all. It would be the same people, living the same life, just without Johnny.
I dragged my feet through the town centre as people watched me in disgust. It was a small town where I lived so most people knew everybody else and, as I walked through a crowd of familiar faces, I saw the shock horror that struck them all to see me home again. Yet none of them stopped to ask me if I was okay. I guess they just didn’t care enough.
I remember there was one boy though – so young and sweet – who told me that smiles were worth nothing and that I should smile more. His mother dragged him away from me before I had the chance to respond.
After an hour of walking, I finally reached my house. I can still smell the fresh paint that had been slapped on the gate and the stench of my mother compost that was thrown carelessly beneath the rose bushes. The path leading up to the house still had the same crack running from one end to the other, the pebbles were all still so shiny, even in the dark, and the house was still a slightly dirtier shade of white than the house next door. It looked exactly the same as it did the day I left, like I hadn’t been gone at all.
The front door was unlocked, which was unusual, and immediately the sound of my mother’s old radio filled my ears. I must admit that it was one sound I had missed as my mother sung happily along to some old record that I had never heard of.
“Well, did you find it?” I barely recognised the sound of my own mother’s voice. It had been so long that I had simply forgotten. “Well?” She said, clearly assuming that I was my father. I heard the radio turn off and the floorboards in the kitchen at the end of the corridor creaked and my heart was in my mouth. I hadn’t seen my mother in so long. I didn’t know how she was going to react either when she saw me.
“I said-” The kitchen door swung open and there she stood, her short brunette hair was still perfectly curled and her make-up done to perfection, exactly the same as when I left. She stood dead in the doorway. Her eyes were fixed in mine like she was seeing a ghost, though she was the one that had turned pale white.
She stepped cautiously into the hallway. “Harry?” She whispered. “Harry, is it really you?”
I didn’t reply at first. I hadn’t been called my real name in so long. I hadn’t seen her in so long. I hadn’t even thought of her in so long. You may call me selfish but it was like I had tried so hard to forget this life and all those in it and yet here I was.
“It’s me, Mum.” I gulped, “I’m home.”
Before I knew what was happening, she barrelled down the hallway and pulled me tightly into her bony arms. “Oh, Harry! I knew you’d come home,” she exclaimed. “I left the door open for you every day, just in case. I had started to give up hope though. I thought you might have been-” She paused and I heard her sniffle beside my ear.
“I know,” I hushed her, wrapping my arms around her back. I’d never had such an intimate moment with my mother. Honestly, I didn’t think she would care if I were dead or alive.
There was a loud bang from the top of the stairs. “I bloody found it in my sock draw!” My father’s voice echoed around the house as he casually strolled down the stairs, fastening a tie. He hadn’t even noticed me. Like I said, everything was just as it was before.
“Honey!” My mother exclaimed in excitement as she realised my from the hug, though I could see she was trying to stifle a sob. “Look, I told you he’d come home!”
My father’s eyes shot up to meet mine, dark green to dark green. “Harry,” he acknowledged completely emotionless. “Good to see that you’re home. I’d love to chat but I have a meeting in ten minutes so, erm, go shower and sort yourself out and we’ll talk over dinner. Yes?” It was more of a command than a question but I nodded nevertheless.
He walked straight past me and Mum, without even looking me in the eye, and was out the door almost as quickly as I was a month earlier. Accept for that when I left, I did it to escape a nightmare, when he left, the nightmare left with him.
“Will you sit with me?” My mother asked, tugging at my arm as if I had already answered the question. I wanted to say no. Truth be told, I just wanted to go upstairs and take a nap and pretend as if nothing had changed.
“Of course I will,” I said. I don’t really understand why I agreed though I thought that perhaps it was because I could see in her eyes how much she wanted me to talk to her and I had never experienced that. She had never looked at me that way before. She had never shown the slighted interest in me or my life. It was just a shame that it had taken her a month away from me to want to talk.
I followed her in through the first door on the right, expecting to walk into the familiar dining room I knew so well, only to find that it was now the living room.
“I couldn’t stand sitting around all day doing nothing,” my mother explained, clearly gauging my reaction. “I thought that maybe the living room would be best at the front of the house. I’m not so sure though.” She paused, twiddling the buttons on her shirt sleeves between her forefinger and thumb. “What do you think?”
I absolutely hated the way it was set out. The way the two cream couches were crammed together against one wall and the matching rug moved beneath my feet as I stood on it, the laminated floor making it difficult to stand on. The plasma television was now mounted to the wall with two tall glass cabinets stood on either side of it. My mother had clearly done her best to arrange her ornaments to make it look pretty but they didn’t match the modern vibe of the room.
“I like it.” Of course I lied. I had to. I could see a gleam in her eyes of hope and longing to hear my approval, and I was sure that my father wouldn’t have given her any.
I stalked across the room to the large bay window where the blinds were opened slightly so that I could just about see into the front garden. I heard rather than saw my mother move across the floor and sit down on one of the couches.
“Can we talk?” She asked and I knew that this would be where she interrogated me on where I had been and if I was safe and who I’d been staying with. I quickly thought up a few idea of what I could say. I didn’t want her to worry about me being out on the streets. “I’m sorry,” she continued and I shot my glance over to her. They were the last words I ever thought I’d hear my mother say to me.
“What for?” I asked.
“I’m sorry about Johnny.”
“Oh,” I replied. “Me too.” I cast my eyes back to the window, spotting our neighbour, Mrs Garcia, carrying a bin bag from her house to her car.
“I know you two were very close,” my mother said with a hint of sympathy in her tone, “And I understand exactly why you ran away. You needed time and space and I get that. I lost one of my friends a few months back. Do you remember Rachel? Lovely girl. Well, anyway, I do know what you’re going through and I am here if you want to talk.”
Mrs Garcia walked back to her house and received another bin bag. This one had a hole in it and I could just about see a teddy bear peering back at me from inside it. She must have been donating to charity again. That’s all she ever seemed to do.
“Harry? Are you listening?”
“Can I get a shower, please?” I said, just because it was all I wanted to do. My mother may have thought she understood what I was going through but she didn’t. She saw Rachel once every month when they got together for a meal with a few other friends, and then when Rachel died my mother didn’t find out until the next meal when she didn’t show up. That was nearly a month after Rachel had died. I, however, spent nearly every day with Johnny, his sister Lizzie and our old friends from college. He was the one person that I could rely on for anything and everything. Then I watched him jump off a 20 story building.
I could feel the tears pricking my eyes at the thought of him and what he did. I shook my head. You see, I developed this technique where I would shake my head and erase the thought and think of happier times, like when me, Johnny, Lizzie and Jessica went to the cinema and bought one ticket to see some crap film and spent the rest of the day sneaking into movies until we were eventually thrown out.
I missed those days.
I missed Johnny.
“Lizzie,” I suddenly blurted out as my thoughts turned to my best friend, who happened to be Johnny’s sister, and turned swiftly to face my mother again. I walked over to her and sat beside her on the couch. I had forgotten about Lizzie. “Have you seen her? How is she?”
Mother bit her lip, hard. “Well, I haven’t seen her, Harry.”
“Not at all.”
“She’s always coming round here.”
“To see you, Harry.”
“No, she came to help you cook. She was always here.”
My mother laughed. “She was here for you. To be honest I always suspected that you two-” She paused and laughed again beneath her breath. “The last time I saw her was when she nipped round on Christmas Eve to give us our presents. I doubt she’ll have been out much since the incident.”
My thoughts turned suddenly. Lizzie and Johnny were practically inseparable, though most of the time they argued or complained about one another to me, and they loved each other more than I have ever seen siblings love each other, which I guessed was down to what they’d been through together.
I shook my head and reminded myself not to think of the bad things anymore. I wanted to look forward to the future and forget the past, and I knew the first thing I needed to do. I have to see her,” I exclaimed and stood up. “Will you drive me?”
“Now?” My mother asked, concern lacing her voice.
“Yes. I need to see her, Mother. Please.”
“Of course, Harry, but, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, you smell, Darling.”
I cast my eyes down over my body. “Ah, yes.”
“Get a shower and then we’ll find you some nice clean clothes to wear.” My mother smiled at me and I couldn’t help but smile back.
“Thanks,” I said, in the most sincere way possible.
“I’m just glad to have you home.”
For once in my life, I began to feel slightly loved by my mother, and it was such an extraordinary feeling. Before I left there was nothing between us but an empty silence and the occasional vacant look from her that I always took as a look of remorse. She looked at my father in the same way though I did not blame her for doing so. But now as I took in the sight of my mother there was a certainty of contentment in his eyes, and I was happy too, at least for a moment or so. It was a wave of welcome sanity that coated my sadness but didn’t quite get rid of it. It merely masked my sorrow and allowed me to pretend that I was fine.