Devereux

Laurie Devereux. That girl.
©Parsavagely 2015-2016

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2. Chapter 2


It was halfway through physics I found out. The head of sixth form, Miss Drake, turned up and had one of those hushed conversations that only ever mean bad news. Mr O’Donnel nodded and looked me dead in the eye. I knew something was wrong.

“Oswald,” he called.

I got up quickly, knocking my shin against the table leg loudly as I did and walking over to the two adults. Miss Drake put her hand on my arm and led me from the room, closing the door slowly before speaking.

“Oswald,” she said. “I wish I didn’t have to tell you this but…” she took a quick breath and continued, “…your mother lost the court case this morning—”

“—What? What happened?” I chipped in, panicking. The case had been going on for three months, she’d been fighting against it so she could keep looking after me. Up until then we both thought it was going well, but I suppose the jury thought differently.

“—Her claim that you would be in danger was rejected, the sentence stands and you are officially in the custody of your father – although in the interest of your studies we are investigating the possibility of temporary foster care—”

“No! I don’t want foster care, or to be with that idiot!”

“Oswald, be rational please, you have to stay with someone for the next two years. Either you move to Bristol and resume your studies there, or you stay here and we find you a foster home,” she paused, “I might just be able to organise you staying with a friend, but that would require serious discussion and paperwork and—”

“I’ll live on my own.”

“How would you afford that?”

“I don’t know, I’d just,” I ran my hand through my hair in a vain attempt to stop the frustration, “I’d think of something, I guess.”

“No, Oswald, I need you to stay calm and think about it,” She gave me a stern look, “I’ll be in my office when you have a more sensible solution, okay?”

“Do I have to go back to physics?”

Miss Drake looked at me for a second, clocking my clenched fist and expression. She nodded very slowly.

“Yes,” she said, ignoring my look and interrupting my protest, “if you’d let me finish, Oswald, yes, you will need to collect your things before you go home for the day - which, before you ask, is your dad’s house”

“But—”

“—No. The law is the law, you will stay with your father until 0ther accommodation is found, he is happy to drive you here in the morning and I’ve arranged for the school to pay for a taxi home.”

I gave up arguing - there was no point. So I nodded and went back to get my bag.

Mr O’Donnel gave me a quick sympathetic smile as I walked quickly through the classroom, the kind you give when you can’t actually help at all but would like to make it feel like you are. I grabbed my bag from under my chair and slipped it onto my shoulder. Roxi caught my eye and mouthed something to me, I made my face look as confused as I could so she knew I hadn’t got it. She held up her pen so I could see it and started writing something, so I walked slowly to her desk. Roxi finished the note and handed it to me as I arrived at the table, I took it and kept walking out of the class.

Once I’d left, I unfolded the scrap of lined paper to find a question: ‘What’s up?’ and an instruction: ‘Wait outside’. I glanced back through the window in the door and saw Roxi with her hand in the air, making some excuse to leave the room. Her fringe blocked her eyes from view until one of her friends tapped her shoulder. When she looked around, her gaze passed briefly over the door – and a quick nod told me I’d got it right. I turned back away and leant against the wall just to one side, folding the paper to stuff it into my pocket.

The door opened a minute or so later and Roxi stepped out, smiling at me. “What’s up?” she asked.
I bit my lip, trying to decide how much to tell her – she was nice but…I still didn’t know her that well. She started walking up the corridor, not like she wanted to go anywhere but more like she didn’t want to be stood still. I started to follow her, matching her casual pace.

“Listen,” she said, “I know I don’t look it, but I’m a hell of a good listener – you know, the kind who hears but doesn’t tell.” She looked at me, her pale blue eyes filled with c0ncern. I gave her a quick smile, swallowed and replied.

“It’s family stuff,” I said, my words met with a nod. Roxi brushed her fringe to the side, so it no longer covered her eye. I wasn’t sure what the nod could mean, I was pretty certain Roxi had no idea what had happened, yet she acted as if she understood completely. Perhaps that was her being a ‘hell of a good listener’.

“Family stuff is always the worst,” she said.

“It is?” I asked, hoping to delay giving any further details while I could and trying to locate the source of the slight pain in my shoulder.

“Yeah,” she answered, “you’ve got to worry about all these bonds you’ve had since you were a kid and try not to screw them up.”

“I suppose so,” I said, shifting the strap of my bag a little closer to my neck.

“Don’t you think so?” she asked, glancing at my fingers fidgeting. “Your strap’s twisted,” she added.

“Oh right,” I muttered, running my thumb down the strap to pull out the twist. Roxi stopped walking, it took me a pace or two to notice but when I did I turned to face her. She was holding her hands together in front of her chest, her head tilted very slightly and an expression of…something I didn’t recognise.

“Oswald,” she said, “you don’t have to avoid telling me things.”

“I’m not–”

“–You are,” she interrupted, locking her eyes with mine, “I don’t know why, but you are.” She took a quick breath,

“Just like you’re avoiding telling me what happened between you and Laurie.”

“Nothing happened, I told you.”

“Why won’t she talk to you then?”

“I have no idea.”

“Really?”

“If I knew, I’d do something about it.”

“I guess,” she mumbled, almost sulking.

There was a silence while both of us tried to think of what to say next. The eye contact Roxi had held rigidly had now disintegrated, instead, she looked to one side. For the second time that term I felt like I had screwed up without really doing anything at all. Without warning, she turned back to me with a grin

“Oh my God you did it again!”

“I did?” I asked, genuinely confused. Roxi laughed and nodded.

“You’re not avoiding my question anymore, Oswald,” she said, placing her hands on her hips and twisting her lips into a stern frown. “What is this family stuff?”

I replied with the loudest sigh I could muster, which made Roxi laugh again.

“Oswald!” she snapped, “I’m not joking, you know.”

“Okay, okay.”

“Well then?”

“My mum was in court today.”

“Oh…” she said, looking a little guilty. “Why?”

“It doesn’t matter, what matters is she lost and now I have to live with my dad.”

“Is that…” Roxi hesitated, trailing off.

“Bad?” I finished for her, “Yes, it is.”

“I’m sorry,” she muttered.

“Don’t be,” I said, waving her apology off.

“No,” she said, rushing two steps forward, “I was too pushy, I’m normally good at this but I messed up, I didn’t mean–”

“–It’s fine,” I cut her off. “You should get back to class, I need to go.”

She thought for a moment before nodding and patting my shoulder. For a second the way the light reflected on her hair made it look like a glistening halo. I wondered how many angels had lip piercings and ‘x’s in their names. I shook my head and chuckled, watching Roxi’s confusion grow.

“What?”

“Nothing important, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow’s Saturday.”

“Oh yeah…well I’ll see you Monday then.”

Roxi smiled and turned to leave, waving a hand behind her as she strutted off, “See ya.”

I watched her go and sighed, perhaps that had helped – at least a little. It felt good to know someone at least cared enough to ask what was going on. Not that that would fix anything, but it was nice. Nice, yes, that’s what I was missing.
I sighed and headed to the office.

///

I never liked silence. Something about it put me on edge in a way that idle humming did not, so I hummed. Dad didn’t seem to agree, I got the feeling he was the kind of person who did like silence and actively sought it out. Maybe I was wrong, he hadn’t talked long enough for me to know.

The house was unfamiliar, I had been there once or twice but not for more than an hour. A picture hung on the wall from some holiday when I was young. My hair was blonde back then and a little too long. It was raining hard, Dad and Mum were holding a coat above their heads, I was holding a potted cactus up to the camera, beaming though I was drenched. I was crazy.

After a few minutes, Dad sighed, standing and walking to the kitchen, leaving me alone. He still hadn’t really looked at me, at least since he confirmed I was indeed the right boy. The coffee table in front of me had three circular stains, overlapping to form a Venn diagram of age. The wall opposite had two scratches, running almost horizontally - partially covered by the picture frame.

“Drink?” Dad called from the kitchen, making me jump slightly as he broke his own silence.

“Oh...just water,” I said, met with a slight sigh.

This was the feeling I remembered well, the sense that I was a burden or a hassle. It was impossible to shake the idea that he just wanted me out of the way as soon as possible, but I suppose this time he had no choice.

The tap burst to life, echoing down the hall for a few seconds, replacing all other thoughts for the brief period it was on. His steps rang as he brought the glass through, practically dropping it on the table. A couple of drops bounced out and fell to the carpet; another ran down the side of the glass leaving a shimmering trail.

Dad slumped in his chair to my left, pulling off his shoes and tossing them through the open door in the vague direction of the shoe rack. He set down his own mug and ran a hand through his messy black hair. I picked up my glass and took a sip, my hand dampened by the water which had run over the edges.

“I don’t like it anymore than you do, Oswald,” he said, his voice tip-toeing around the awkward silence.

“Good, help me find somewhere else to stay,” I replied, wiping my hand on my black jeans to mop away the moisture.

He didn’t seem to know how to reply, instead he picked up his drink, blew gently across the surface and took a long gulp.

I mirrored him, finishing my water in one go. I observed his face, reminding myself of the shape of his eyebrows, so often angled in anger; I noticed a few new wrinkles, which I welcomed with a guilty ‘serves you right’. He seemed to be trying to grow a beard, not with much success it seemed.

“So...um, the guest room is yours,” he said.

I nodded and stood, taking my glass and lifting my school bag onto my shoulder. My dad seemed to think about stopping me, but switched to drinking again. I walked to the kitchen, placing the glass on the surface, light enough that it made only a quiet clink.

I walked back past the living room and upstairs, turning left into the guest room. There were cardboard boxes in the corner and the walls were plain. I threw my bag onto the floor and myself onto the bed.

Back there again, but still the same. The ceiling had the same marks it always has and the lampshade still had that crack on one side. A bright streak would be plastered on the wall next to me if I had bothered to turn it on. Instead I did no more than lie there.

 

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