Jum

[IN PROGRESS!!] Josh is an American teenager living in London after moving all over the States when he was younger, and determined to make it his home. Meet Michael, the British boy who will help him do so. (BL, some chapters feature explicit content.)

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33. Chapter 23 [2/3]

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Mr Darlington was standing by the reception desk and turned towards us when we got nearer — and arched an eyebrow when he saw me. I mumbled a quick "Good morning, sir," once he had Michael had greeted each other, and after a brief nod he basically ignored me.

"Is everything in order?" Mrs Darlington asked her husband.

"Yes, we can go."

Mrs Darlington turned to Michael again. "We parked a few streets away but it shouldn't take long. Do you want me to take the bag?"

"No, I'm fine, it's not heavy," Michael replied before looking at me since it was time to say goodbye.

"I'll see you tom—"

"Would you like to come to our house for lunch?" Mrs Darlington suddenly asked.

The three of us — Michael, his father and me — looked at her with raised eyebrows, and we were all quiet for a bit.

She was the first to speak again. "I just thought… But maybe you're busy."

"No, I… I don't want to be a bother," I said, realising that I sounded exactly like Michael when he was trying not to impose on us — not that we ever thought he did.

I wanted to go, of course I wanted to go, but it was just… well, talk about unexpected! I mean, I'd met them just the day before and we'd barely said anything to each other — apart from the argument. One glance at Mr Darlington was enough to see that he didn't exactly like his wife's idea, but thankfully he didn't say it out loud.

And then I chanced a glance at Michael… and found him trying to stop himself from beaming. Right, I guess that was it then. After all, I'd put him in a very uncomfortable position when he'd met Mom and Dad.

"Would it really be OK? It's pretty short-noticed and you've had to do two trips to the hospital in as many days…" I asked after what was hopefully only a few seconds.

"Oh yes, don't worry. I must have enough in the freezer to make something for four. Shall we go, dear?" she then asked her husband.

Wordlessly, he nodded and started walking towards the big glass doors. Seriously, based only on our interaction of the day so far, I might have wondered if the man could talk.

"I'd better call Mom to tell her I won't be back for lunch," I said as Michael and I fell into step with his parents.

"Hey Mom," I said when she picked up, "I've just been invited for lunch over at Michael's parents' house, so I'll be home… later."

"Oh," was all she said for a bit. "That's… unexpected."

"Yeah."

I hadn't told her about everything that had happened for day before, but enough to give her a general idea.

"Well that's good then, we'll see you later. Remember your manners and make your mother proud!"

I snickered. "I promise."

"Oh, is Michael next to you?"

"Yeah, we're walking back to the car."

"Can I speak to him?"

"Mom…" I whined, wincing a little.

"Oh come on, I just want to talk to him! I was worried about the boy!"

I sighed and handed my phone to Michael. "She wants to speak to you."

His eyebrows shot upwards but he took the phone anyway, and I noticed his mum turning her head towards us a bit, as if she were trying to listen.

"Hello?" Michael said. "Good morning, Isabelle. Yes, yes, I'm fine."

I clearly saw Mrs Darlington's eyebrows moving up as well, and then she frowned when Michael used Mom's first name and look straight ahead again. Didn't take a genius to understand that she might be hurt to discover that Michael was already familiar with my parents when she had only learned about me the previous day. I felt bad for her.

"Yes, I… No, I promise I won't," Michael went on, blushing a bit. I was ready to bet that Mom was also making him promise to come to us for support if he needed any. "I will. Yes. Thank you. Bye."

I was dying to ask what she'd told him when he handed back my phone, but I thought it best to spare his mum. No matter how relaxed things might have seemed then, the situation was difficult for all of us and I didn't want to put any unnecessary pressure on anyone — yes, even on Mr Darlington.


*
 

The drive took over an hour because we hit traffic leaving London — Michael explained that when there wasn't any, you could make the journey in about half an hour. I sat behind his mum, and I was glad because otherwise I might have kept accidentally locking eyes with his dad in the rear view mirror. That being said, I did spend most of the journey looking out of the window. In silence. I felt too uncomfortable to chat and there was no music to focus on — Michael's dad was the type of man who listened to talking on the radio; the sort of thing that bored me to death… So, like I'd done during the first drive with Michael on the day I'd met Claire, I turned my attention to the scenery as it gradually turned into countryside.

At the beginning of the journey, Michael had showed me, using the maps on my phone, that the town where he lived wasn't far off the motorway. And he hadn't lied; less than ten minutes after we'd left the motorway, Mr Darlington pulled into their street and then slowed down to park in their front garden. The other car parked there was presumably Mrs Darlington's, and I spotted Michael's on the other side of the road.

The house was cute — even though most of the houses in the street looked the same to me — and Mr Darlington led the way in. Regular British detached house, with a porch and then the hall with stairs on one side, door to the front room on the other and door to the kitchen straight ahead. Mrs Darlington went straight into the kitchen, declaring she'd try to have lunch ready in about half an hour or so. Her husband followed her and stepped into the adjacent room, and once they were both gone Michael took my hand and dragged me up the stairs. He stopped on the landing to look at the mail waiting for him.

"My bedroom is down the corridor, on the right," he said, glancing at the envelope in his hand.

Of course, I went for the first door, but he stopped me just as I opened it.

"Sorry, second door. This is my brother's old room," he added, glancing inside quickly.

A shadow passed over his face for a second or two and so I had to ask, because it had been bothering me for a while. "Is he... still alive?"

Michael blinked a couple of times. "Oh, yes."

"Are you close?"

He blinked again. "Why do you ask?"

"Dunno. I felt like there was something like… longing in your voice just now. But you never talk about him, so—"

"You're very perceptive, as always," he said, giving me a quick smile. Then he looked into the room again and let out a sigh. "I miss him."

I had no idea how to react to the look on his face so I waited for him to keep talking.

"One thing you have to know about me… and which almost no one knows… is that I have a terrible big brother complex."

He gave me a kind of apologetic smile that really puzzled me, so again I waited for him to keep going.

"Marc was already nine years old when I was born. I wasn't planned, you see," he added, placing a hand on the door frame. "Mum and Dad had tried for another child a few years after Marc was born, but they'd given up. They were happy with one child and they got used to their life as it was. So… you can imagine what a shock it was when I came along. Not that they didn't want me," he added quickly. "They were happy to have me. But like I said, they'd got used to a certain way of life."

"How did your… brother feel?"

He turned to me, beaming. "He apparently thought it was the best thing in the world. The age gap was so big that he was already ten and very reliable when I was just a toddler, and he wanted to help Mum and look after me as much as possible. We were always together."

"What about the rest of your family? Cousins and stuff?"

"Our cousins are all slightly older than he is. So while I was entertaining as a baby, I lost my appeal as a toddler and then young child."

I frowned, wondering if the feeling of not belonging in his own family could really have started back then. "So you were alone in your own family…?"

He smiled again. "I wasn't alone. I had Marc. Growing up, I loved him more than anything and he returned it just as fiercely. He was always there for me. Whatever I needed, whatever I wanted, he'd do it for me. Unless it was really impossible, he would always put me first."

"Sounds like an enabler," I teased gently.

"Maybe… I didn't realise it at the time, but not everybody understood our bond or liked it. I was the reason for a few arguments between him and his friends or girlfriends. He always stood by me, though…"

"Wh—Where is he now?" I asked after a pause. I admit that after hearing all that I really would have expected Mr Awesome Big Brother to have been the first one showing up at the hospital.

"He moved to Sheffield for work with his girlfriend a few years ago. I don't see much of him anymore apart from family gatherings, really. He wasn't there at Easter; they spent it with her family." He chuckled. "Sorry, all this family talk is boring."

"It's not boring. It's just… I don't really get stuff like that," I said, rubbing the back of my neck. "You know, only child and all. But I want to know everything about you. There's obviously plenty of stuff we haven't talked about yet, and I want to know it all."

"I want to know everything about you too," he said, entwining our fingers for a few seconds. "So, any family secrets I should know about…?" he asked jokingly.

I was about to say that, no, he already knew everything about me, when it suddenly hit me that… fuck, yeah, there was one. One I couldn't believe I hadn't mentioned before. One that I had to tell him about if I was serious about this knowing everything business.

"Yeah, I've got one. And I… Shit, I can't believe it didn't come up sooner. I mean, it's so weird… You spend ages trying to stop thinking about something and lock it away, and in the end you forget, and you're not even aware of it…"

I looked up, knowing fully well that I wasn't making any sense, and sure enough, he was watching me carefully with a slight frown.

"Sorry, I— Well, the truth is that I should have been part of a set," I simply said.

Michael's eyes opened wide. "You mean—"

"Yeah, twins. Identical and all."

"I'm… sorry…" he said very quietly, and we were both silent for a bit. "Wh—What happened? Unless you don't want to talk about it, of course."

"Nah, it's…" I let out a sigh. I'd never told anyone about it; not even Jez. "He was stillborn. The doctors couldn't understand what had happened. Up until the last moment, we seemed to both be alive and kicking, and Mom didn't feel like anything had gone wrong. My parents were told later that there was something wrong with his heart. Something that never showed up on the scans, somehow. Nobody could have done anything about it."

"Would he have been… the younger one?" he asked after a short pause.

"Nah, he came out first, which made everybody scared I hadn't survived either."

There was another pause. "I must say I'm surprised you never mentioned any of this until now…"

"Well… You didn't really talk about your brother either, and my story's a bit morbid, so…"

"I'm so sorry I made you bring it up."

"Don't worry. I mean, I'm the one who talked about knowing everything about each other, right? Besides, it's not like I really experienced any of it, you know? It's a lot worse for Mom and Dad, but we never talk about it."

"Never?"

"We did once. When I was eleven, they sat me down one day, told me about it and then they answered any question I wanted to ask. And afterwards, we all promised we'd never bring it up again, and we haven't. And like I said before, I've ended up kind of… forgetting about it. Which is weird, really, because I spent so long at one point wondering what he'd have been like, how similar we might have been and all. Maybe the world wasn't ready for two of me. Anyway… I guess all of that kind of accounts for the fact that I'm such a mommy's boy, huh?" I added, cracking a smile to try to lighten up the mood.

But Michael didn't smile back. In fact, he wasn't even looking at me. "Do you know what… name they were going to give him?" he asked at length.

"Scott. That's why it's my middle name. Josh Scott McCalman," I said with a smile. "It should have been Ryan, but Mom and Dad decided to change it. It's like… like I always have a little bit of him with me. Or something."

"Thank you for telling me."

"Thanks for telling about Marc."

"It seems extremely silly in comparison. But I hope you can meet him someday. I'm sure you'd—"

Kind of perfectly on cue, the phone rang and made the two of us jump.

I heard Mrs Darlington open the kitchen door and answer the phone in the hall at the bottom of the stairs. "Oh hello, you! Yes, we just got home and I'm getting lunch ready. Yes, of course, hold on a second. Michael?" she called out.

Michael closed the bedroom door and took a step towards the landing. "Yes?"

"Marc's on the phone. Do you want to take the call upstairs?"

"Oh. OK, thank you!" Then he turned to me. "I'll be in my parents' room for a bit, so go in mine and make yourself comfortable," he added, crossing the landing and disappearing into his parents' bedroom.


I walked down the corridor to his bedroom door, and when I opened it I was startled by something dark flashing across the room and jumping on top of the wardrobe to my left. When I looked closer, I realised it was a cat — and right then I vaguely recalled Michael telling me about a cat one of the first times he'd come home with me — but the stupid thing was hiding so I lost interest and decided to check the room instead. Yeah, not much of a cat person…

Oh it was definitely Michael's room. I realised with a pang of guilt that it was smaller than my own room, even though we lived in an apartment. It wasn't the same shape either — mine was more of a square — but he'd made good use of the space he had. The bed linen was blue, no big surprise there, and so were the curtains. His desk was tidy and, just like I'd always imagined, other than the desk, the bed and the wardrobe, there were a lot of shelving units, all of them filled neatly with books.

I didn't feel comfortable looking around too much — especially with that cat making me feel like my every move was being watched and recorded — so I browsed the nearest shelf for a bit and then sat at the desk. There was a cork board on the wall just above it and my eyes immediately went to a couple of photos pinned to one corner. One was of Michael and Claire, obviously taken a few years before, and the other was quite a bit older, of him and his brother. Michael looked like he was ten at the most, which made Marc just around our age, and holy crap they could have been clones if Marc had been skinnier and with a slightly different haircut! Looking closer, I realised the elder Darlington boy was wearing none other than the 'comfy' cardigan that now belonged to Michael, and my heart swelled. He really was too cute for his own good, or maybe mine — he was going to kill me with it one day.

Wondering if a photo of me might now be allowed on the board, I glanced towards the cat again. It hadn't moved but I could see its dark shape at the top of the wardrobe. When I got up and attempted to get closer, it hissed at me. Yeah, you got that right; it hissed at me! So I sat down again, and we'd been looking and hissing at each other for a little while — what, you thought I wouldn't respond? — when Michael finally walked in.


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