Absentmindedly, I kicked the painted blue door of the local corner shop open and strolled through the threshold like I owned the place. To my left several metallic shopping baskets were stacked precariously, making it look like the tower would topple over at any second. Beyond that feeble display of welcome three 6 foot high fridges stand shoulder to shoulder buzzing with electricity. To my right, stacks of newspapers line the window, their front pages pointed towards casual passers by probably trying to entice them into the shop. That trick hasn't worked for the two years I've been aware of the shop and it won't work today.
"Do you mind not kicking my door." Matts raised tones came from behind the paying counter. Matt owned the shop, which is pretty impressive for someone as young as 22, but it's a lot less impressive when you learn that he inherited it from his brother. However, along with the shop Matt inherited his brothers debts. These were debts he owed to London gangs and they weren't money they were guns. Matts brother was an arms dealer who used the shop as a cover, it was a good cover as well. Matt only found out the truth when he was kidnapped by one of his brother's 'customers' and almost killed because this particular 'customer' hadn't got his 'purchase' yet. After that Matt felt that he had no other choice but to continue what is brother had left. And so Matt became an arms dealer-it's not the direction he saw his life going in, he wanted to be in the army. He was 18 when all this happened that's the age I am, it's scary to think that something like this happened to someone as young as him.
"Not really." I mutter whilst I walk up to the counter, dump my rucksack on the floor and rest my arms on the cold hard surface. I stare into his deep blue eyes trying to know what he is feeling (Matt never lets his emotions show on his face he's too proud). After a second I give up and look at the rest of his face, suddenly noticing the large gash in his eye brow and slit in his bottom lip. I suck in a breath and as I do so Matt drops his head and says "I was hoping you wouldn't notice" with a forced laugh.
" I think you were asking for too much there" I retort, hop onto the counter and swivel my legs around to let my small legs dangle off the floor so I can get a closer look at his facial injuries.
"What are you doing." he starts, his eyebrows furrowed.
"Helping you" I answer and indicate with my finger that I want his face to be level with mine. But he straightens his back so I have to tilt my head slightly to see his face and steps back shaking his head.
"No I don't-"
"Shut up," I cut him off "You need medical attention."
"Medical attention," he snorts. I have no idea why he being so irritating, he has been perfectly willing to let me nurse his injuries every other time he has gotten himself into a fight. "That makes me sound like I have chopped a finger off."
"Well have you?" I ask, already knowing to answer.
"Brilliant," I smile "Then you can get the med kit."
He knows that there is know point arguing with me so he turns and opens the store room door that has a sign on it saying 'Staff Only". With his back turned to me I notice red spot in the sea of grey that is his top.
A few steps later he plunged into the darkness of the store room. I hear constant scrapes and scuffles as Matt manoeuvres himself around the blackened room. I would tell him to turn the light on but that would make him look like a fool so it would damage his ego. It then crosses my mind that, that is a reason to tell him. I open my mouth but before I can make a sound an almighty crash emanates out of the store room followed with a sharp intake of breath and one of Matt's choicest curse words.
Instead of feeling sympathetic or asking if he is alright, I feel a laugh bubble in my stomach, I feel it rise and rise until it rips out of my mouth. I clutch at my side and hit my leg (a habit I have when I laugh too hard) as I keep replaying the moment I hear Matt say 'Shit' in the highest, most breathless voice I have ever heard in my life.
I am only knocked out of my humorous trance when Matt slams the med kit onto the counter, resonating a loud thud. Clearly annoyed, he unclips the med kit and flips it over so it is lied down flat, just like you would do with a brief case. He steps away from the counter, straightens his back and holds his head up a little higher. Who needs a cleaver remark to damage his ego, I can just laugh.
I peer into the med kit and after a bit if rummaging I find what I am going to need first: a large cotton pad, surgical tape, surgical spirit, scissors, and bandages if necessary. I glance at him as I close the med kit and arrange what I will need in the space between the till and my legs. once I have finished I look at him "Take off your top and sit backwards on a chair. Please"
"Sorry, what?" He blinks at me in that way he knows I hate, the way that says 'I know what you are saying but I am choosing to ignore it.
"You heard me." It comes out flatter than I mean it to.
"You're patching up my face," he reasons, no, argues. "Why do you need me to take off my top?"
"Because," I say in my matter-of-fact tone that I know he can't argue with. "Either you haven't changed since yesterday. or the cut on your back is still bleeding and is creating a blood stain on your top." He looks at me as if he is trying to poke holes in my argument but when he finds nothing to poke at he struts across the shop and picks up a beer from the fridge in one hand. Then he struts into the darkness of the store room and emerges with a plastic chair in his other hand. Matt practically throws the chair onto the floor and keeping hold of his bottle of beer, slips his shirt over his head revealing his almost perfectly toned six pack and v lines.
Now I don't really notice Matt's looks or body but when I first met him I couldn't take my eyes off him. His pronounced jaw line, high check bones and his chocolate, he has the refined rugged look, or a.k.a. my type. The first time he took off his shirt in front of me was when a knife had been thrown at him and had sliced the top of his shoulder, he was lucky really, lucky that it wasn't a deep cut and lucky that the thrower was drunk. It was unlucky that the person was aiming for someone else. Keeping a straight face while putting stitches in his shoulder has had to be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
I learnt basic medicine (stitching up wounds, bandaging cuts, putting broken arms into temporary slings, CPR etc.) when my Dad would go on homicidal rampages inside the house and my Mum was too drunk to protect me or my sister. Hiding the cuts and bruises at school was the hardest thing, especially when they were on my face. In my house it was either help yourself or don't get any help.
Matt sat on the chair backwards as I uncap the lid of the surgical spirit. I open my legs out wide and matt feels my legs brush against his back so he moves into the gap my legs have made. He leans over the back of the chair to give me a better view of the wound which is situated between his right shoulder blade and spine. With the wound now in the air it gave the blood the opportunity run down matt's back, leaving a red trail as it does so.
I lean forward to get a closer look of the round circle of pinky-red flesh that intrudes the vast brownness of his skin. the wound is shallow, piercing no further than his flesh. I sigh silently with relief. As I decide to give him stitches it dawns on me what kind of wound this is; the perfect roundness of the cut and the levelness of the bottom of the wound.
I open the medical kit with more force that I had anticipated, grab the surgical needle and the string to do the stitches with and slam the medical kit shut. At the noise Matt turns his head and sends me an annoyed glance. That breaks something inside of me. "Again. You got shot, again."
"It's only a bullet." He says defensively and almost cracks a half smile. I want to punch him.
"Don't say 'It's only a bullet' you know what bullets can do. You more than most."
"No, don't try to make this sound less than it is," my voice rises "I know what you're doing and you have to shut it down. This arms race-"
"It's not an arms race," He is now at full height and staring me in the eyes, "And can we not talk about it now. It's too early." he says lowering his voice.
"It's too early for you to be drinking but here you are, 10 past 11 in the morning with a beer bottle in your hand," I retort, there's still some fire left in my belly. "And if you carry on like this, Matt. you will die."
"No need to be so definite, Jess" He almost spits my name.
I lean forward and say in the most quietest, yet angry, yet matter-of-fact voice I can muster "Death is definite"
With that I lean back and reclaim my original sitting position, knowing that the 'talk' is now over. Matt glares at me, puts his unopened beer onto of the med kit and sits backwards on the chair again in a manner that makes it seem like he is restraining himself.
Before I resume I inhale deeply through my nose, filling my lungs with as much air as they can hold. When I can carry no more air I empty my lungs, letting all of the air pass between my clenched teeth and smooth lips.
I pick up the surgical spirit and hover the bottle over the wound "This is gonna hurt." all the anger evaporated from my voice as I realised what he was about to go through.
"I know the drill." he replies through clenched teeth. His hands grasp the legs of the chair so tightly that his knuckles go white instantly.
That's what I'm afraid of I think as I watch Matt brace himself for the surgical spirit.