My mother pulled up round the corner from Johnny’s house. I had told her not to drop me off by the door because I had heard that there were temporary traffic lights a little down the road and I didn’t want her to get stuck in traffic, though it was really because I just needed that little bit of extra time because I went to his house – what used to be his house.
It took less time than I had originally remembered to get to Johnny’s street and as I stood as the bottom, scanning over the particularly large houses that I had come to know like the back of my hand, I felt my heart beat quicken. I hadn’t been here since before the incident. In fact, the last time I was here I met Johnny on his front door step and we walked to the cinema to meet our friends, Shaun and Jessica, and everything was normal – and everything was fine.
I slowly made my way down the road with the slight sound of ice crunching beneath my feet. I was huddling under my coat, long and grey, a white scarf wrapped warmly around my neck. It wasn’t that cold out but I hadn’t much meat on me, as my father always said, and I needed the extra layers to keep myself from freezing. Besides, it made me feel a little safer, like I was that extra layer away from reality.
I came to a stop when I reached Johnny’s house - the same old, overly large, overly decorated house I remembered. Everything was the same from the fake plants that ran up the side of his drive way to the garage, and the huge bay window that Johnny hated because they’d turned from white to grey in the winter, and the blue door with the metal knocker and the wooden number ‘23’ that hung on it. Yes, everything was the same, expect for one thing – Johnny’s room. The left window upstairs was covered from the inside with newspaper. I looked away. I couldn’t bear to imagine what they’d done to his room.
I approached the door and stood upon the door step, and reached out to pull the knocker but I hesitated. I was about to see his family. I was about to look them in the eye and send them my grievances, knowing that he’d hate me for it.
Me and Johnny had one thing in common, some might even argue it was the only thing we had in common, and that was that we both resented our parents. My father was an alcohol nut-job with a passion for fury and my mother did nothing about it. Johnny’s mother left him and Lizzie on their father’s doorstep when they were only a few weeks old, and their father was an excessively religious man that cared more for his beliefs than his own family. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against religion or anybodies beliefs but Mr Turner took it that step too far.
I stepped back from the door. I couldn’t do it – I couldn’t step in there and see their faces and know that they may just have been part of the reason he jumped. I stared up to the sky and I wondered, was it your father? What I’d have given to know why he had jumped. I wondered if anyone knew, but surely he would have told me, or perhaps Lizzie. I moved my gaze back to the door and I knocked.
The hallway light switched on, then I heard the porch door open inside, and then the front door swung open. Johnny’s father stood towering above me. He was a clean cut man, always wearing a sharp shirt and a pair of smart trousers, a long chain around his neck with a cross dangling from it. I met his gaze, his soppy brown eyes reminding me too much of Johnny. I’d never noticed the recumbence until now.
“Harry Mitchell,” he said and his tone was sweeter than I’d expected. “Come in, boy.” He stepped into the house and held open the door so that I could enter into the porch, through to the living room, filling with pictures of the lord that hung above the fireplace and up the side of the stairs. There was a picture of Johnny too, in the middle of the mantelpiece, surrounded by candles. I couldn’t help but stare at the photo. He looked so miserable on it and he was dressed in smart clothes, nothing like the way he actually was, he was always smirking and his hair was always messy.
“I didn’t expect to see you here so soon,” his father continued, “I thought you’d have needed a little more time to be honest, Harry.”
I turned to glance at him then back to the photo. “I’m here to see Lizzie. If it wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t even be able to stand here again, Sir. I wasn’t sure of how exactly to send my grievances.”
“You should’ve come to the funeral.”
I froze. “You’ve had the funeral.”
“Of course,” he said, sitting down on the cream sofa positioned by the stairs. “I didn’t want to wait. I just hope it was enough.”
“To get him into heaven. I hope the lord could see some good in that boy. I never could. I just hope the funeral was enough. May the lord have had mercy upon him.”
“He’ll be in heaven,” I said, despite the fact that I wasn’t sure it existed or not. “He was a good man, and I believe that if there is a lord then-”
“There’s a lord, Harry.”
“Sorry,” I said as sincerely as I could manage.
“Have you been to church since the occurrence. Cleansed your sins?”
“Now, come on.” He spoke strong. “My son was doing just fine, perfect family, perfect grades, perfect life, and then you came along. You corrupted my son, Harry, and it took me a while after his death to forgive you for it, but I realise that the lord does these things for a reason, and I understand that you are just a troublesome young boy.”
I took the word like a blow to the chest. “You think I’m the reason he killed himself?”
“The lord forgives you, as do I.”
I could feel my shoulder raising and falling, my mouth opened slightly as I let out each heavy breath. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t upset. I was contemplating the idea that I was not completely innocent in all this. Maybe I was as much to blame as everybody else.
“Do you know why he did it?” I asked his father. “Did he mention anything? Did you see him that day when he jumped? Do you know why he took his life?”
“The lord works in mysterious ways.”
“That’s not what I asked.” I raised my voice ever so slightly.
“You want to know why he did it?” He took to his feet. “You corrupted him and made him like you - a sinner – and I shall not stand idly by and watch you turn my other child into a sinner too. Now I suggest you leave.”
“Where is Lizzie?” I said and glanced around the living room. She was always down here when I came round, usually curled up on the sofa reading a book, usually hidden beneath another book’s cover so her father didn’t know what exactly she was reading.
“She’s not here,” he said. I watched him carefully. His brow was creased and his lips were pressed in a firm line. I knew he was lying. So with a second thought I bolted for the stairs, listening to the sound of him shouting from behind me and the creak of the stairs. I reached the landing and ran for Lizzie’s room, twisting the handle but the door never moved.
“Lizzie?” I shouted, continuously trying to open the door. “Lizzie? Are you in there?”
“Harry!” I heard her shout from the other side. “The door’s locked!”
Her father coughed from behind me and turned around to face him, standing up straight. “Why is the door locked?” I asked.
“She wanted to see you,” he muttered, “But I vowed to protect her from sinners like you but she didn’t listen. It’s for her own good. It’s for the good of my family.”
“Let me see her,” I said. “You can’t keep her locked up in there.”
“No, but I can stop her from seeing you by all means possible.”
A muffled sound of a sob made me turn to face her door. I’d never heard Lizzie cry before, she was usually so tough and never failed to brighten up the room. I knew that no matter what it took right then I had to get in there and see her.
“I need to cleanse my sins,” I said what I knew he’d want to hear. “I want to turn my life around and you are right. I am no good for your daughter, so let me see her, to say goodbye and to begin cleansing my sins. I may not be able to fix everything and everyone I had corrupted but perhaps I can try.”
Their father stood tall. An almost victorious smile spread across his face. “You may have ten minutes, and then I want you out of her life for good.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small silver key before striding over to the door and unlocking it.
I watched him walk back downstairs before I entered Lizzie’s room to see her sat on her bed, amongst the pillows and the teddies, hugging her legs close to her. She didn’t move when I entered. She just sat watching me cautiously.
“Hi,” I said and smiled at her as best I could.
“Harry!” She exclaimed and before I knew it she was of the bed and she threw herself into my arms. I held her there, supporting her body as it seemed that she was too weak to hold herself up. Her breath was warm against my neck; the stench of expensive perfume was strong in her scent.
“You’ve got a lot of perfume on,” I chuckled after a while.
“Father wouldn’t even let me out to shower this morning. So I-”
“You don’t have to explain to me.” I pulled out of the hug and held her at arms length in order to examine her. She pretty much looked the same as when I’d last seen her. Her long blonde hair ran down to her stomach and her eyes were still a dazzling shade of blue, she was a little paler though and that seemed to bring out the faint dark circles beneath her eyes that she usually covered with make-up. She wasn’t wearing any make-up at all today.
She’d noticeably lost weight too as her long pyjamas, which covered practically every inch of her skin, were baggy, though I remembered seeing her when she could just about fit into them. To say she had lost a stone might not cover it.
“Shall we sit? I haven’t got long before your father kicks me out for good.” I walked over to the bed and patted for Lizzie to sit down beside me. She came over, plonking down directly beside me and fitting her head into the crook of my neck. I placed my arm around my back and pulled her in closer. She visibly relaxed.
“How have you been?” I asked.
“Good,” she said, and I knew she was lying. “You?”
“Good,” I said, and I think she knew I was lying too.
“Do you miss him?”
“Me too.” Her voice was almost inaudible. “Oh god, I miss him so much.” Suddenly, Lizzie slumped and fell against my chest, awkwardly twisting her body, and sobbed violently against my chest. I could feel her pain. My heart was aching it the sight of her. Of course she missed him. She missed him just as much as I did.
“Do you see it when you close your eyes?” I asked, and forgive me for saying that I had hoped she’d say yes so that I knew she was feeling exactly was I was feeling. I felt her nod against my chest and I held her tighter.
“I haven’t slept,” she said and pulled away from me, wiping her tears away with the back of her sleeve. She sat up and turned so she was facing me. Our eyes were locked. “Where were you, Harry? Where have you been the past few months? Do you blame me? Was it my fault?”
“God, no!” I exclaimed and leant forward to grab her arm. “I don’t know why he did it. Nobody does. But I promise you that it wasn’t because of you.”
She glanced up at me – the ghost of a girl, so fragile and lost, and I thought it sad. I knew I should have been there for her the past few months but I was too busy being selfish. I was running away from all of this to protect myself, not checking over my shoulder to see who I’d left behind. I’d failed to help Johnny. Now I was failing to help Lizzie.
“Let’s sneak out,” I said. “We can go anywhere you like. How about we go to the kebab shop? Or down to the arcade – you know, the one that we used to go to? Or the park-”
“You’re naming all the places we used to go with Johnny.”
“We went everywhere with Johnny.”
She sighed. “I haven’t been out since it happened, Harry. I can’t go out there. Not with all those people that will be staring at me and asking me how I am doing, and judging me. What if they think I’m to blame?”
“No one blames you.”
“I’m better off here,” she stated. “There are too many sinners outside.”
“Your father thinks I’m a sinner.”
“Don’t take it personally. He thinks I’m a sinner too.” Lizzie closed her eyes tightly as if she had wounded herself by her own words. “Maybe I am a sinner.”
“No, Lizzie!” I moved forward and grabbed her wrist. Lizzie squealed as if in pain and yanked her arm away from me, quickly rubbing where I had grabbed. I glanced at her wrist, then to the agonised expression on her face, and back to her wrist again.
“Lizzie?” I leant shuffled closer to her, fearing the worst. “Let me see.” I held out my hand with my palm up and offered her a reassuring smile. She didn’t smile back. “Please,” I said.
Lizzie slowly moved her arm, placing her hand on top of mine. I took hold of it and used my free hand to gently roll up her sleeve. I gasped when I saw her arms. They were filled with cut after cut, burn after burn, pain after unspeakable pain. I felt my blood boil.
“Who did this?” I somehow managed to keep a calm tone.
“I did this,” she said, completely unfazed by the sight of her arms. “I deserved this.”
“Lizzie, no!” I gasped. “Don’t you dare!”
She didn’t speak but her eyes said everything for her. She truly believed she deserved this, like she was worthless. I didn’t speak again either. I just pulled her into my arms and kissed her hair and slowly rocked her back and forth. I tried not to turn my focus back to her arms but I could see them in the corner of my eye, black and purple and red. There was a tug in her heart and I had to choke back a few tears every once in a while because it was like I could see how broken she had become and I didn’t know how I was going to fix this.
I never should have left her, I thought, this is my fault and I will everything in my power to put this right again. I shuffled to the side and lifted her so she was facing me, placing my hands on either side of her face. Neither of us said anything but her eyes seemed to be pleading with me, like she was saying, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for what I have done.” The weird thing was that I was thinking the exact same thing.
The door swung open abruptly and Lizzie quickly pulled away from me, tugging down her sleeves. Her father stood in the doorway, though he saw nothing. Perhaps if he would have just cared that little bit more, he may have noticed how broken his daughter was. Perhaps if he cared a little bit more he would have seen how broken Johnny was. No. If he’d have cared a little bit more then perhaps Johnny and Lizzie wouldn’t have been broken at all.
“Time’s up,” he said to me then turned to Lizzie, who was sat looking shameful beside me. I stood up from the bed, glanced at Lizzie for a final time and began to make my way out of the room. “See yourself out. I need to talk to my daughter.”
I stopped under the doorway, just for a second to assess the situation behind me. Her father was stood tall, his eyes never leaving her. Lizzie was still sat on the bed. Her eyes were shimmering with tears and I could see the pain etched across her face – the regret – and her body was shaking with fear of what was about to come. She was so scared of him. I wanted to badly to help her but I knew there was nothing I could do, and so I left the room, walked back down the stairs and briefly paused in the living room to glance at a picture of god on the wall, and for the first time ever I prayed – I prayed for Lizzie.
“Devil child,” was the last thing I heard as I left the house and the tears came fast down my face.