Devereux

Laurie Devereux. That girl.
©Parsavagely 2015-2016

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3. Chapter 3

I hadn’t wanted the final visit, I told Mum that it would make it harder. She said she knew it would but she wanted her last gasp of freedom to be with me. I couldn’t argue, I never have argued with her, just strongly recommended she change her opinion.

The meeting room was dull, poorly lit and bare. There was far too much nothing in the room, yet it still felt too busy, which was probably down to the guards stood around me. It was a strange thing, without the guards I would never have thought of trying to run. But with them, I found myself searching for all the exits, hatching crazy plans to sneak past them and run from all the chaos that was ripping up my life and scattering it like leaves.

Fine dust floated in the beams of the strip-lights, I watched it tumble through the air, stirring into pairs of spirals as the door opened. A new guard entered, his hand holding the door for my mum to walk through. She walked slowly, the guard next to me pulled out the chair opposite for her so she could sit.

She looked tired, that was all I could think. Aside from the bags under her eyes, her skin had lost its colour and her hair was far from tidy. Her plain clothing added little to the monochrome feeling that the walls created. I tried to smile, but eye contact hurt. I could see it when she looked at me, the guilt, the hopelessness - I knew if I kept looking I’d cry.

“Hey, Oswald,” she said, her voice the same as always. “How’s school?”

I don’t reply, swallowing instead and closing my eyes. When I open them she’s smiling, just about, but I don’t know why. I didn’t know how anyone could smile in this place, then again, I suppose she thought something was funny.

“Aren’t you going to answer?” she asked, ducking her head down a little to make eye contact. “Oswald?”

“I didn’t come here to talk about school,” I snapped, I hadn’t wanted to sound angry but I did. Maybe I was.

“Well I thought you’d just want to talk like we always do.”

“I told you I didn’t want to come.”

“Oswald,” she said. I could see her hand moving in my peripheral vision, I knew she wanted to hold my hand, but I couldn’t let her. I had enough memories of her touch, I didn’t want this to be the one I remembered - so I folded my arms.

“You can’t pretend this is normal,” I muttered, not quite sure if I wanted to say it out loud.

“That’s not what I’m doing, hun, I’m n0t pretending anything—”

“—Well it sure as hell feels like it,” I interrupted before I could think about what I was saying. I wasn’t mad at her, at least, not entirely. Everything was such a mess already; this year was supposed to be a new start, or, something like that - yet it had already turned to shit. Mum looked at me, biting her lip and forcing her smile to remain.

“Honey…” she started, but she didn’t seem to have anything else to say.

“No, just,” I hesitated, holding my wrist tight. “Leave it.”

“Oswald, please.” The smile was gone now, turned to desperation. She’d done nothing wrong, not for a while anyway, but I was blaming her for this. And I suppose it was her fault - she did break the law after all. I found my throat tightening, the mix of regret and anger no longer made any sense. There I was, sitting in a prison and saying goodbye but all I could do was get mad.

“I don’t...what is there to say?” I asked, sitting back in my chair with a long sigh. My mother looked at me, shifting her hair away from her face; her eyes were...soft, not sad.

“Just tell me you still love me, Oswald,” she said. “After all the things I’ve done, tell me you still love me.”

All I could manage was a nod and a strangled, “Of course I do.”

“That’s all I wanted to hear.”

///

The journey home had been filled with the kind of fake questions parents ask to try and start a conversation. Dad wanted to know what we'd spoken about but apparently my answer of ‘not a lot’ wasn't what he was after. He pretended to care about Mum but gave up fairly quickly, maybe I glared a little too much but I know he doesn't give a damn about anything beyond his failing business.

He resigned from a comfortable job three years ago to start his own ‘Dream Venture’ which went about as well as me and Mum told him it would. Instead of taking us all to new heights he dragged us down with him to the pointlessness of steadily dodgier contracts which hardly paid for themselves. We existed for months just on the edge of being eligible for benefits, until Mum snapped. Time and again he’d put his business over us, sometimes it felt like we hadn’t been family since he had his stupid idea. We certainly hadn’t been a priority.

In the end I told Dad to stop the car and let me walk, he protested, but I wasn't going to sit there listening to him struggling to clamber onto the moral high ground. Instead, I trudged home in the rain, hoping it would somehow clear my mind.

I tried to force the thoughts out of my head, to remind myself that it wasn’t just his fault. I didn’t like holding grudges, but sometimes life makes us do things we don’t like. It wasn’t that what he did was unforgivable, more that he hadn’t tried to be forgiven. I was still waiting for him to show that he cared with more than just words.

The rain was getting heavier, bouncing off my sodden hair and soaking through my old jacket. I was starting to regret the rashness of my decision as my hands started to go numb with cold; I stuffed them in my pockets, but it did little to protect them. I walked as far from the road as I could, but passing cars still caught me with spray as they hurried home. Looking at the sky, there was a small patch of blue sky, but it had soon disappeared behind a house.

“Shit,” I muttered as a Subaru came past at well over the speed limit, showering me in what felt like the entirety of a particularly deep puddle. I stopped for a moment, drying my face as best I could and watching the single rear light disappear into the mist. I must have looked pathetic, my black jeans sticking to my legs, my jacket hardly worth wearing anymore and my hair beginning to get in my eyes.

The sound of an engine slowing made me look back, bracing for another dose of water. Instead I saw a familiar face leaning out of the passenger window as a car came to a stop.

“Oswald?” she asked, squinting through the rain, “What the hell are you doing out in this?”

I laughed with what I thought was relief but might have been the beginnings of insanity, I was too cold to try and work out the odds of Roxi finding me like this, but frankly, I didn’t care. “Just thought I’d go for a stroll, you know?” I called back, with almost drunken confidence.

She shook her head and got out to open the door for me, “Get in, idiot.”

I ducked into the back of the car, taking a moment to breathe without my mouth being bullied closed by the elements. Roxi turned back to me as she closed her door, grinning - presumably preparing to mock me.

“God, I’m soaked,” she said, with a half-wink. I rolled my eyes at her, but grinned back to let her know I saw the funny side. She chuckled and turned back to face the front as the car began to move, with a vague wave towards the driver she said, “This is my dad.”

“Thank you for picking me up Mr. Fenn,” I said quickly, fumbling to plug in the seat-belt without soaking too many of the back seats. He waved it off and shifted up a gear, as he accelerated, the steady beat of water on the windscreen became a continuous flurry of noise.

“It’s no problem, lad, couldn’t leave you out there in this,” he said, a puddle splashing up to the window as if to make the point, “where are we headed?”

“My dad’s I gue–”

“–He can come to our’s, can’t he?” Roxi interrupted. I would have smiled, but my brain hadn’t quite caught up with what she’d said so I just looked at her. She gave me a questioning look, which stirred me from my cold-induced trance for long enough to nod. Her dad shrugged.

“If he wants, but you’re not going in her room,” he said.

“Dad!” Roxi shrieked, “He’s not going to do that.

“Just looking out for you, Roxanne.”

“It’s Roxi,” she said, folding her arms and facing away from her dad.

I couldn’t help but chuckle watching them bickering, it certainly took my mind away from the mess my parents had created, which I think was what I needed.

“…Just ‘cause it says that on my birth certificate doesn’t mean anything!”

“Ah, but in the eyes of the law, Roxanne…”

“Fuck the law, I wanna be Roxi, ‘kay?”

“Language, Roxanne,” her dad said with a wave of his finger.

“You don’t care.”

“What if I do?”

Roxi turned back to give me those eyes which say ‘Help me, for fuck’s sake’. I shrugged, earning me a glare.

“At least you’re not called Oswald,” I pointed out.

“That,” her dad said, “is a good point.”

“Some help you were,” she muttered.

We all sat in the moody silence for about half a second before we burst into laughter. Even Roxi was smiling again. She leaned forward, reaching to turn on the stereo, but her dad intercepted with a light slap on her wrist.

“I’m not in the mood for that punk shit, Roxi,” he said with a sigh, slowing the car towards a junction. “Am I clear on that side, love?” he asked quickly.

“Yeah, you’re clear,” she said without looking, “and it’s not punk, it’s alternative rock.”

We pulled out a little way, before the strap dug into my shoulder as I was sent lurching forward; a quick sound of a horn and a car rushing past made it clear Roxi’s assumption had been a little too hasty. Roxi’s dad shook his head and fumbled with the gearstick to get the car going again.

“Whatever, it’s not gonna do us any good if you kill us.”

“Fine then, what about…” she trailed off, opening the glovebox to flick through the few CDs it contained.

“How about we just have some quiet, yeah?” he said, glancing to me for support. “We could get to know your friend a bit better.”

“Why are you saying it like that?” Roxi snapped.

“Well,” he shrugged and flashed me a wink. “You sure were keen to get him in our house.”

Dad!” Roxi almost screamed this time. “He’s just a friend from school.”

There was a pause, which slowly became an expectant silence, waiting to be filled. Roxi started giving me incomprehensible eyebrow gestures, which I let her continue with for a while. Her dad had either lost interest or was enjoying watching his daughter try to communicate silently and, frankly, failing miserably.

“We’re in the same Physics class,” I explained, “And don’t worry, Roxi’s not my type.” I was never sure what had compelled me to say that, not that it wasn’t true it was just...not necessary. I suppose I could try to blame the cold but I’d almost dried off by then. Whatever the reason, it was appreciated by Roxi’s dad an awful lot more than Roxi.

“Well thanks,” she said, “you’re not mine either.”

“Well we both know why tha–” her dad began, half-laughing.

“–Shut up, Dad!” Roxi cut him off before he could finish and gave me a look. It wasn’t as clear as her ‘help’ face but it was easier to read than the eyebrows at least. This time she was telling me, I think, to ignore what I’d just heard. Naturally, I spent the remainder of the journey trying to figure out what it meant.

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