It’s been exactly four months since Alex moved back into his parents’ house along with his aunt, Ruth, and his three cousins, and he and the gang have all turned seventeen now. Their sweet sixteens are long over; Miles is well aware. Where he was once carefree and dreamy – romantic, even – he is now anxious. Just constantly anxious. Anxious and terrorised.
Because something has started to terrorise not just him, but everything and everyone.
The entire neighbourhood has changed. Park Lane is no longer a beautiful street filled with laughter and sunny afternoons. At least not to Miles. Park Lane is now a place of dread and alarm. Of watching over your shoulder and choosing your words carefully. A place of stormy clouds gathering and turning black over your head, without anyone noticing or understanding that everything is different and that, sadly, all good things must come to an end.
Miles did see the moving van pulling over and parking outside of number 13. He did see the middle-aged woman with her three sons stepping out of the smaller vehicle that followed after. He did get a good look at these people’s faces and he did notice the smug smile on the woman’s lips as she paused by the entrance in order to look up and admire the valued and to some, dear, residence that she had managed to conquer so effortlessly. (There was a look of pride in her eyes; the very shallow kind, which had Miles thinking that, in reality, this woman had never performed a single good deed to earn her this pride). However, Miles didn’t truly encounter any of his new neighbours until about a week later.
This first encounter, though, would go on to imprint itself into Miles’s memory for years and years to come.
It was a Saturday morning. They had all just been off school for a week’s time, enjoying a short holiday, meaning that Miles hadn’t had a chance to talk to Alex since his aunt and cousins moved into Park Lane, and since Alex joined them, forced to separate from the Helders family in an emotional goodbye. Miles had been dying to ask him how he was doing, how he was feeling about his new living arrangement, what it was like to suddenly live with his distant, almost estranged family members whom Miles barely knew the names of, what it was like for him to be back in his childhood home, without his parents there – and when Miles could come and visit him again… However, rather than bothering Alex with a million questions, Miles decided to be patient and to give the other some time to adjust.
Then Saturday morning happened. Miles woke up fairly early compared to normal. The urge to take a piss had him rolling out of bed and hurrying towards the toilet, even though he would have liked to snooze for another couple of minutes. Walking around in his room, wearing nothing but his underwear, Miles then spent a few moments in front of the mirror, making sure that his hair looked alright. He returned to the toilet and hovered above the sink. Humming some haphazard melody that he couldn’t seem to remember the name of, he splashed some cold water onto his face and wiped himself with a flannel.
He stopped humming when he glanced out through his window, casually at first, and noticed the fact that the curtains opposite him were drawn open, allowing Miles to once again peek into Alex’s bedroom. Miles hesitated by the sink for only a second. Then he exited the toilet and crossed the floor, slowly, with a bashful smile on his face. Sure, it had been a long time since he and Alex had done this, but surely Alex wouldn’t feel uncomfortable? Not after everything that had happened between them. Besides, Miles was dying to talk to Alex again. To see his face. To know how he was doing.
Nearing the window carefully, Miles tilted his head and searched for his friend. Alex wasn’t lying in his bed, it seemed. But the lights were on, so he had to be close. Then, after only a few moments, Miles could see the bathroom door opening. Miles held his breath in anticipation, wondering if, perhaps, spying on Alex as he walked out of the bathroom was too invasive after all. He could be naked. He could be wandering around, reminiscing what it felt like to be back in his parents’ house, completely lost in thought and not expecting to be making contact with Miles again this suddenly.
Unfortunately, Miles wasn’t given enough time to persuade himself to back off and to offer Alex some privacy. Not until it was too late.
Miles’s eyes widened in wild confusion when a huge figure walked out from Alex’s bathroom, so abruptly, so fast that Miles had no time to dodge or to even look away. His hand had already been raised as he had readied himself to give Alex a cheeky wave as soon as he saw him, and now his hand froze mid-air as Miles felt himself immobilise completely. He was staring straight at a large male, so obscenely big and wide that Miles was left wondering how he could even fit through the bathroom door. This person was simply huge in every sense; his arms were massively muscular, his chest broad and his neck thick, though it wasn’t all muscle – he was so hefty that you could see his stomach rolls spilling over his underwear; his underwear that seemed to have stretched almost painfully in order to make ends meet, and which had several tears and holes in them, leaving his genitalia way too exposed for Miles’s liking. As this giant turned himself around, Miles further noticed a disgusting trail of acne all the way down his naked back, making his skin look pink and almost swollen, as if covered in boils and blisters. These spots and blemishes of his looked so ready to burst that they were practically leaking fluids, turning his skin greasy and oily.
“Fucking hell!” Miles gasped, unable to help himself. He’d never before seen anything or anyone so repulsive. This wasn’t Alex – where the hell was Alex, and what was this ogre doing in his room?
As if he’d heard Miles’s little outburst, the sturdy stranger looked over his shoulder instinctively, sensing that he was being watched. Miles barely had time to gulp and to take a step backwards; the fellow that he’d been spying on caught him immediately and petrified him with his angry, mad stare, holding Miles captive in front of the window, unable to move or escape.
Alex’s bedroom window was then torn open.
“Oi!” He barked at Miles like a wild dog. “What the fuck are you staring at, you little wanker?”
He stuck his head out of the window and leaned further out, managing to squeeze his fat shoulder in between the window frames. Miles felt almost certain that he would be stuck in there. Shaking anxiously and falling speechless with mortification, Miles merely gasped and did what he should have done from the very beginning; he hid. He simply sat down on the floor and took cover underneath the windowsill, where he could no longer be seen by this mysterious impostor that didn’t belong inside Alex’s room at all.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” He heard the giant shouting again. “Come back where I can see you, you fucking coward! You like to spy on me when I’m in my underwear, huh? I’ll fucking show you what happens to sissies like you! You bloody poof! Open your window!”
What? Miles had been pressing both hands against his ears, pretending not to hear a single word that was shouted at him. Did that lunatic really expect him to open his window and talk to him? No fucking chance. He wasn’t falling for that, not in a million years…
“Oi, you fucking heard what I said!” He heard him roaring again. “Open your window, you cunt, and face me if you dare! Are you a little bender? Is that why you won’t open your window? Are you a fucking tart?”
Oh shit – shit, shit, shit. When the fuck was he going to give up and leave Miles alone? If he didn’t stop yelling like a crazy person soon, Miles’s parents – along with the entire neighbourhood – were going to fucking hear him. But Miles couldn’t just open the window and talk some sense into him, it wasn’t that simple. He caught Miles spying on him, for crying out loud. In his underwear. As he came out from the bathroom. Whilst Miles was only wearing his underwear, too. There was only so much male nudity that straight guys like him could put up with, and it seemed obvious that Miles had crossed the line and violated this bloke’s comfort zone.
“Last warning, you little piece of shit! If you don’t open your fucking window right now…”
He didn’t even finish his warning. Miles was still left to clatter his teeth in distress when, suddenly, from out of nowhere, he heard a loud crash which had him jumping in panic, believing that the end of the world had come, or at least the end of his world. This unexpected crash was followed by thousands of tiny shards and pieces of glass dancing and falling over Miles’s head, landing in his hair and covering his skin like harmful, sharpened snowflakes. It was only when Miles heard the sound of a small, yet substantial object landing by his feet and rolling across the floor that he understood what had happened.
His new neighbour had smashed his window in with a golf ball.
Miles was stood shoulder to shoulder in between his parents as his mum rang the doorbell to number 13.
“Mum, is this really necessary?” Miles complained worriedly, with his heart still hammering away inside his chest. “I really don’t want any trouble…”
“You bet your arse it’s necessary,” Pauline snapped, ringing the doorbell once again, furious to be kept waiting, “I have no clue what the deal is with Alex’s cousin, Miles, but he broke your sodding window, and he’s damn well paying for the damage!”
“But Mum, we haven’t even met either of them yet!”
“Listen to your mother, Miles,” his dad said, slapping his back, “we can’t have these new neighbours going around throwing golf balls at our house. This is not acceptable!”
“But Dad, they’re Alex’s family-“
Miles paused at the sound of a car pulling up behind them and parking in the driveway. They all spun around simultaneously, in time to see Alex’s aunt and new guardian, Ruth, stepping out of her car and looking over at them coldly, as though she had just caught a small group of burglars in trying to invade her property. Ruth was a short, curvy woman that somehow made herself seem bigger and much more intimidating than a middle-aged woman like her ought to be. Her hair was short and dark, though it was starting to turn grey at the roots. Her eyes were small and narrowed. Hard. Hostile, almost. There was an angry look on her face which had obviously been put there at the inconvenience that it was for her to now be dealing with a neighbouring family that she did not seem to care for whatsoever.
“Is that my doorbell you’re ringing?” She spoke suddenly, stepping closer towards them. She seemed so certain of herself; she could have been a mouse walking up to an elephant and it would still be the other running away in fear. Miles noticed how her lips were thin and tightened – frowning dangerously.
Miles heard his dad clearing his throat carefully.
“I’m sorry, we were hoping to speak to a Ruth. Ruth Turner?”
This information didn’t seem to please the small woman in front of them. She narrowed her eyes even further and seemed to scowl candidly.
“That’s Ms Sharpe to you,” she snapped at him crossly, “I’m not a bloody Turner.”
“Right, forgive me – Ms Sharpe. It was just that we were hoping to have a word with you. We live next door to you, you see – in number 11. I’m sorry we haven’t been properly introduced yet. I’m Peter Kane and this is my wife, Pauline. My son here, Miles, is actually close friends with your nephew, Alex…”
“Get to the point, will you?” Ruth Sharpe cut him off brutally as she returned to her car in order to unload a couple of shopping bags. “As you can see, I’ve got my hands full. I’m busy.”
“Forgive me,” Miles’s dad stammered again, looking truly flushed and perplexed by this woman’s lack of feeling. Miles’s dad was a true Englishman and he wasn’t used to people rejecting his mannered, gentleman nature this quickly. “Here, allow me to help…”
“I’ve got it!” The woman basically barked at him, clutching on to her bags as though to protect her stuff from the eager hands of a stranger. “Just move aside, will you? You are blocking my front door.”
Miles’s dad stepped aside instantly, looking both awkward and uncomfortable. Miles could tell that he was genuinely scared of offending her. His mum, on the other hand, stood her ground, even when Ruth moved towards her slightly menacingly, swinging her shopping bags about her like a bulldozer. Even Miles had to jump out of her way when she appeared to ignore him completely and continued to approach. As she came closer, however, Miles discovered – to his horror, because in suburban England, this wasn’t something he was used to – that this eccentric woman wasn’t wearing a bra. She had put on a blue shirt that seemed to be slightly stained and creased, and not very clean. Her nipples were particularly visible underneath the thin fabric, and without the support of a bra, her breasts appeared to sag heavily, until the point when they were practically resting against her abdomen.
While Miles was busy cringing and trying to ignore his discovery, his mum remained calm and continued to block the woman’s front door stubbornly.
“You’re not going anywhere until we’ve had a talk,” Pauline insisted bravely, holding her hand out in front of Ruth Sharpe’s face, “your son threw this into Miles’s bedroom, breaking his window. I want to have a word with him.”
Glaring irritably at the golf ball in Mrs Kane’s hand, Ruth Sharpe merely exhaled and shrug her shoulders.
“Fine,” she sighed as though she couldn’t have cared less, “I guess I’ll have to show you the way in. But you are going to have to wait for five minutes, I need to unload my bags.”
Miles and his parents found themselves seated in the living room, where Miles recognised the Turners’ old furniture instantly; the family’s emerald green sofas, the dark, mahogany display cabinets containing David’s old wine glasses and Penny’s fancy dinner plates, the tall bookshelves displaying some of the couple’s favourite books, along with a few textbooks that were used in their classes – only, some of them seemed to be missing now. In fact, quite a few of the books seemed to have been taken out and removed. Miles frowned as he looked around the living room, taking in how changed it all was. Then he saw it. Where David and Penny Turner had once decorated their shelves and walls with pictures of their only son, together with pictures of friends and family, there were now either empty squares on the wall, or empty, dusty shelves. The only picture that was now ornamenting this sad and different room, was a large framed one that had been hung up on the wall above the TV – a picture of three ugly boys in their school uniforms, which seemed to have been taking at least ten years ago. Ruth’s sons.
“Where are the pictures of Alex? And David and Penny?” Miles whispered worriedly to his parents, while they were still left to themselves. “She’s taken them all down!”
“What?” His mum hissed with annoyance. She had been thinking about something else and didn’t pay much attention to her surroundings.
“There used to be a lot of pictures of Alex in this room,” Miles went on, remembering strongly how he had once admired a cute picture of a smiley, eight-year-old Alex, photographed with his classmates. Even Matt had been in the picture, Miles was pretty sure. “There were a lot of baby pictures, too. One where Penny is holding Alex in her arms. And one where David is letting him play in his car…”
“Miles, what are you on about?” His dad shushed him tensely. Apparently, he was still nervous that they would do or say anything to offend their incensed new neighbour.
“I’m saying that she has removed everything with the Turners’ faces on it,” Miles complained persistently, “it’s like she’s been trying to make it look like she’s been living here all along. Like this is actually her home.”
“Quiet, Miles, this is not what we’re here to talk about,” his mum told him dejectedly, “now, what is taking that woman so long? I’m starting to think she’s avoiding us…”
Pauline jumped slightly when the door to the living room was opened in a swift movement and Ruth Sharpe entered the room without a warning. Miles and his parents all felt themselves tense and turn silent immediately. They all looked up at the short, plump woman that they were here to see. Though she had only lived in this house for a few days, it was clear that she had already marked her territory and that if they were expecting to have a sensible conversation with her, they were to follow her rules and allow her to be in charge.
“Sorry for the wait,” Ruth muttered grumpily as she walked over to take a seat in the chair opposite to them. Something in her tone had Miles knowing that she wasn’t sorry at all. “You came at an inconvenient time.”
“Your son broke Miles’s window at an inconvenient time, you mean,” Miles’s mum bit back, which only had Ruth grimacing even worse.
“Oh right – that’s what you’re here to talk about, isn’t it?” Ruth cleared her throat and dug a cigarette out from a pocket in her trousers. As she reached for a lighter on the table between them, Miles once again noticed her sagging breasts and he looked away from her instantly, worried that she might catch him staring. “So,” Ruth sighed as she lit her cigarette and took a drag, “you’re claiming that my son broke your window this morning.”
“Not claiming,” Miles’s mum corrected her, “we’re confirming that it happened. Look – I even brought the golf ball as evidence.”
Ignoring her interruption completely, Ruth blew out her fumes and went on: “My son doesn’t break people’s windows unless he has a reason to. And I wasn’t home, so I can’t possibly know how it all happened.”
Miles noticed that the woman’s teeth were all yellow and practically stained with tobacco. Her skin seemed slightly greasy, like the skin on her son’s blistered back, and though her hair was short, there was an indication that it was unwashed and unkempt.
“In that case, I would like to speak with your son,” Pauline told her straight, “perhaps he can tell us what the hell he was thinking.”
For a moment, Miles had almost expected the woman to get furious and to kick them out of the house, refusing to even have this conversation. But instead, Ruth merely shrugged as though she couldn’t give a rat’s arse and bellowed from the top of her lungs, startling everyone:
“Boys! Get your arses down here!”
Miles’s dad jerked slightly, surprised at her outburst. Miles had always known for a fact that he hated being around loud women. Ruth continued to smoke her cigarette calmly, until a minute later, Miles could hear an overwhelmingly loud thumping of feet running down the stairs. The door to the living room was opened again and Miles felt his heart hammering away painfully with dread when they were joined by three young men, all of them larger and uglier than the other.
Miles looked up and recognised his tormentor from earlier – he was the biggest and heaviest of them all, it seemed, and he was now smiling tauntingly over at him, letting Miles know that he wasn’t sorry for what had happened earlier.
“These are my three sons, Terrence, Henry and Percival,” Ruth told them oddly formally, as though Miles and his parents had just been waiting to be introduced, “and my boys are usually the kindest among people. Mrs Kane, perhaps your son would be so kind as to point out which of my angels he fell out with?”
Miles felt too speechless to say anything. This wasn’t what he had expected. Even his mum seemed too stunned to react.
“Uh…” Miles drawled foolishly. Though he was staring straight at the biggest bloke, the one she had called Terrence, he didn’t have the guts to name him. Not when he was put on the spot like this.
“Does your son not speak?” Ruth huffed a moment later, and it sounded like she had to contain her own laughter. “Fine, I’ll ask them myself. At least I know that my sons have the guts to tell me the truth.” Ruth ashed her cigarette and looked over at her boys. “Come on, lads,” she told them, sounding like a coach for a football team, “let’s hear it. Who broke this kid’s window?”
This kid? Miles frowned; he felt pretty sure that she was trying to insult him now. He looked the three young men over carefully. He couldn’t believe the smugness on their faces, considering how hideous they were. Terrence appeared to be the oldest, as well as the fattest. The two others, on the other hand, were faring no better. The bloke stood in the middle, Henry she’d called him, was tall and muscular, though he had been given the unfortunate combination of a gigantic nose, paired with large ears, both in stark contrast to his tiny eyes, which didn’t seem to suit his rounded face at all. The third of them, Percival, was the shortest and probably the youngest, too. He was wearing glasses, had freckles and a large overbite; all traits which seemed to make it easy to identify him. On top of that, however, his hair was thinning impressively, considering his young age. He was wearing a red shirt that was way too small for him. As a result, his big belly was poking out from underneath the hem. It seemed that he had inherited his mother’s casual attitude towards clothing.
“It was me,” the oldest said suddenly, though with an unpleasant smile on his face, “I broke that crybaby’s window.”
Terrence looked directly over at Miles, cocking his eyebrows challengingly.
“Excuse me?” Miles’s mum fumed, but Ruth ignored her again and smiled at her son.
“Good job, Terry, my dear,” Ruth spoke tranquilly, “thank you for telling us what happened. Funny how Mrs Kane’s son was so quick to tell on you to his parents, but seems to clam up as soon as we’re gathered to talk about it.”
Her boys started giggling at that. Miles’s face went red with embarrassment, but in the meantime, it appeared that his mum had had enough.
“Leave my Miles out of this!” Pauline thundered as she stood up from the sofa. “I can’t believe you’re not disciplining your son for what he did! He could have injured my boy, I hope you know. If that ball had landed in Miles’s face…”
Pauline faltered and was left flabbergasted when, unexpectedly, Terrence cut her off and took a step forward.
“I only broke his bloody window because I caught your bastard son spying on me!” He swore loudly, forcing Pauline to gasp. “I was in my bedroom, minding my own business. Then I catch this loser looking at me when I’m only in my underwear, like a fucking pervert!”
“A fucking gay pervert!” His younger brother, Henry, added with a snort.
“Now, boys, let’s try and use a more civil tone…” Miles’s dad begged, though no one paid attention to him.
“No one spies on me in my underwear!” Terrence raged, gesturing madly with both his arms. “Let that be a warning to you, you little prick,” he said, pointing his fat finger in Miles’s direction, “I take no shit from gay little wankers like you. If I ever catch you spying on me again, I’ll throw something bigger than a fucking golf ball.”
Before Pauline could voice her outrage, Terrence and his brothers all turned around to leave the room in anger, acting like there was nothing left to discuss.
“Well,” Ruth said coolly, doing nothing to stop her boys from leaving, “there you have your answer.”
Miles’s mum was so upset – her mouth was still hanging wide open in horror.
“Are you just going to let them talk to my son like that?” She cried. “You must tell them to apologise – immediately!”
“I have always taught my boys to speak their minds, they were brought up that way, and that’s what they’ve done now. I’m not going to discipline them when they haven’t broken any of my rules,” Ruth explained as though it was simple logic.
“So breaking other people’s windows and assaulting them verbally isn’t breaking one of your rules?” Miles’s dad suddenly had the courage to laugh sarcastically. “That’s insane! You can’t bring up your sons that way.”
“My son may have reacted aggressively,” Ruth told him from in between clenched teeth and her hard stare had him silenced at once, “but as he explained, he only reacted that way because he caught your son spying on him and invading his privacy. Is that something you’ve taught your son to do? Hm? Spying on people when they are left exposed?”
Ruth didn’t even seem upset. Rather, it appeared that she found the whole situation amusing. Especially because there was nothing that Miles’s folks could say to intimidate her. She had the upper hand in this debate.
“I – I wasn’t trying to spy on him!” Miles heard himself whimpering pathetically. “Please, you have to believe me – I would never do something like that. I just – I was just expecting to see Alex, is all. Not your son. I mean, after all, I was only looking because I know the room belongs to Alex.”
Miles felt himself hesitating. Where was Alex, by the way? He hadn’t come down along with his cousins when Ruth had shouted for them.
Ruth raised her eyebrows and for the first time, she seemed genuinely surprised.
“You weren’t trying to spy on my son, but you were trying to spy on my nephew instead?” She asked him in a mocking tone, which had Miles blushing furiously. “How am I supposed to make sense of that? Were you hoping to catch Alex in his underwear instead of my son? Is that the kind of person you are?”
“Of course not!” Pauline shouted heatedly. “Our Miles is a good boy – how dare you!”
“I wasn’t trying to be a pervert or anything of the sort,” Miles burst out in distress, “I wasn’t spying, or lurking, or prying – and I certainly wasn’t hoping to see anyone half-naked if that’s what you think!” At this, Ruth pulled a face of disbelief. “I was just… looking out for Alex. You know, because I haven’t seen him for a few days. I thought he would be in his room.”
“The room isn’t his any longer,” Ruth spoke suddenly, catching Miles off guard. “I’ve given it to Terry, seeing as he’s the oldest. In other words, you’ve wasted your time.”
Miles’s mouth fell open.
“What?” He stammered. “You’ve given Alex’s room to your son? But – but it’s his! Alex has had it since he was small, he grew up in there…”
Ruth’s eyes were ice cold as she looked him over.
“I don’t see how it’s any of your business how I run this house, young man,” she snapped at him, “my nephew is a small and skinny boy, he doesn’t need to have the biggest bedroom in the house. Do you really think that it would be fair if my Terry, who is the largest, had to make himself comfortable in some tiny room where there isn’t enough space for all of his stuff?”
“I bet you’ve already given Alex the smallest room you could find,” Miles raised his voice before he could stop himself, “just like you’ve taken down all of the pictures of his parents! Where is Alex even? I want to see him – I need to speak with him!”
“I’m sorry, kid, but I don’t take orders in my own house,” Ruth told him off as her fingernails dug into the armrest of her chair, “you can’t see Alex, not today. I’ve told him to catch up on the homework he’s been neglecting, so he’ll be working for the rest of the day. I’ll be teaching my troubled nephew how to spend his time more sensibly – I suggest you teach your son the same thing, Mrs Kane.”
It seemed obvious that Pauline was about to hurl an insult back in Ruth Sharpe’s face, however, Miles’s dad stopped her by touching her shoulder and getting ready to leave.
“I think we’ve overstayed our visit here,” he told his wife gingerly, “perhaps we should go.”
“Perhaps that would be for the best,” Ruth taunted them all as she remained seated in her chair, without offering to follow them out.
“We are going to have the window replaced as soon as possible,” Pauline retorted as she pulled Miles up from the sofa and went straight for the door, “we’ll send you the bill when it’s all in place, Ms Sharpe.”
Miles’s mum was absolutely fuming as soon as the family made it back to their own house.
“Who does this woman think she is?” She thundered, threatening to smash something against the wall. “How dares she speak to us like that?”
“Calm yourself, Pauline, there’s no need to throw a fit. We don’t have to speak to that woman ever again.”
“She’s our blimey neighbour now, Peter!” She cried. “Do you think we can just ignore her? What if her crazy sons break more windows?”
“It won’t come to that,” he promised her, “surely, it won’t.”
“How crazy must she be, anyway, to name her sons like she has? Terry, Harry and Perry – they sound like they belong in a circus!”
“Mum,” Miles interrupted her, “she can’t just give Alex’s room away, can she? I mean – he’s lived in the house long before she has. She’s acting like she doesn’t even want him there.”
“I’m sorry, Miles, but there’s nothing we can do about that right now. Besides, I’m more concerned with her dreadful offspring. I want you to avoid those boys, Miles, do you hear me? I don’t want you to socialise with them whatsoever. Something about those boys isn’t right.”
Unbelievable as it was, it seemed that Miles was the only one worrying about Alex’s wellbeing in that house. From this first meeting with Ruth and her sons, he knew that something had gone wrong long before anyone saw it coming. Ruth was dominating, unfair – she didn’t seem to listen to anything that other people had to say. For this reason, Miles was convinced that he had to find a way to get to Alex. He had to talk with him. Even if his parents weren’t too concerned, Miles knew that he had to watch out for him, now more than ever – because Ruth certainly wasn’t going to.
It is now four months since Miles met Ruth Sharpe and her sons for the first time and as time has gone by, his concern for Alex has only increased.
It took Matt and the others slightly longer to see it. Alex continued to show up for school as usual. He and Miles would even walk to school together, laughing and talking, like the past six months hadn’t changed their lives completely. Alex would meet up with the gang every morning – he would smile and he would tell everyone that he was doing fine. And at first, a lot of his friends believed him.
That was before they realised that ever since his aunt and cousins moved in with him, Alex had begun to show up for things less regularly. Suddenly, he had started to find all kinds of excuses and reasons for not being able to spend time with people after school, for not being able to make it to parties anymore, for not being able to invite his friends over. He was beginning to act all withdrawn, like he wasn’t part of the group anymore.
Miles had found the courage to confront him about it a few weeks later, while he had gone with Alex to visit Penny’s bedside in the hospital. Of course, Miles had given Alex the peace that he needed first, seeing as Alex was always slightly emotional after visiting his mother and would need some time alone to gather his thoughts. Then, on their way home, though, Miles suddenly ventured:
“Al, I feel like I almost never see you anymore. Is everything okay at home?”
At first, Alex had given him a confused smile, as though he was taken aback by Miles’s question. However, Miles knew that Alex must have been aware that it was only a matter of time before someone brought it up. Miles further knew that Alex had heard about what had happened between Ruth and his parents, and about the argument that they had had. In fact, Miles could almost picture Ruth complaining about her ‘stupid neighbours’ to Alex since she knew of her nephew’s relationship to them.
“Of course,” Alex had told him, “everything is fine. Why are you asking, Miles?”
“Well… I’ve just noticed that you’ve been spending more and more time at home recently, studying or whatever it is that you’re doing. And I was just wondering – she does let you go out, right? I mean, if you wanted,” Miles said, scratching his neck, “if you wanted to go out, she would let you. Right?”
Something changed in Alex’s expression.
“What are you trying to say?” He asked him almost suspiciously. “I mean, it’s not like she’s holding me hostage.”
“Good, good,” Miles nodded awkwardly, “I didn’t think that, it’s just… I feel like we see less of you these days.”
Alex furrowed his brow and exhaled quietly. “Look,” he said, “I know what you mean. It’s just… Ruth doesn’t want me to fall behind in class. She says that unless I pull myself together, I’ll never be able to go to university. She, uh, says that my lifestyle has been kind of… reckless.”
“Reckless?” Miles repeated. “No way! What does she even mean by that?”
Alex shrugged. “I don’t know. I think she thinks that I’ve been partying too much. Drinking too much.”
“That’s bullshit,” Miles snorted. “I mean, you don’t party or drink any more than the rest of us do. Is she a devout Christian or something?”
Alex giggled slightly at that. “It’s not so much that. She just… has certain beliefs. About what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m just trying to follow her rules, I mean – I really want this to work between me and them.”
“What about your cousins?” Miles pressed on. “They’re not giving you a hard time, are they?”
“They tend to leave me alone as long as I keep my head down,” Alex said truthfully. “But I’ll admit, Terry does have a temper.”
“Alex,” Miles said worriedly, “are you sure you really want to live your life like that? Walking on eggshells, trying not to offend these people?”
“Look, Miles – I know they were rude to you and your parents when you first met them. I’m really sorry about that. But they’re not always like that. You caught them on a bad day, is all. My Auntie Ruth had just found out that the moving company lost one of her boxes and she had had a fight with them over the phone…”
“So she’s not always like that?” Miles questioned with disbelief. “She’s not always so rude and resentful?”
“No, of course she isn’t. Miles, I’m sorry, okay? I don’t know what she said to you, but I think you’ve got the wrong impression. Your parents got the check, I hope? You know, for the new window. She’s sorry for what happened, I know she is.”
“Yeah, we got the money alright,” Miles huffed, “but we almost thought we wouldn’t. My mum was ready to drag Ruth to court. She was really pissed off with her.” Miles paused and noticed the panicked look on Alex’s face. “Alex – you didn’t… You didn’t write that check for her, did you?”
“Don’t be silly,” Alex said with a shake of his head, but something in his voice failed to convince Miles. “Anyway, we don’t have to keep talking about this, do we? I promise you, it’s not as bad as it may seem.”
“So you really don’t mind giving up your bedroom so that Terry can steal it from you?” Miles tested him. “And you don’t mind the fact that she’s been removing all of the pictures of you and your parents?”
“Listen, it makes sense,” Alex said with a shrug of his shoulders, “Ruth explained to me that Terry needed more space…”
“Yeah, but Alex, I was waiting for us to be neighbours again,” Miles intervened, “you know, window to window like we used to be…”
“And Ruth only removed the pictures because they didn’t make her feel at home,” Alex went on, ignoring him, “it’s not like she burned them or anything. I keep them in a box in my new room.”
“Are you not even allowed to hang them up in your own room?” Miles frowned.
“Let it go,” Alex told him kindly, touching Miles’s shoulder. Not to give him a warning, but to assure him that there was no cause for emergency. “You don’t need to worry about me – but I guess it’s kind of sweet that you do.”
Alex smiled at him, and Miles was suddenly so blinded, so mesmerised by the light in his eyes and the shape of his lips that he forgot just how dangerous it was to trust someone who was a good liar to be fine.
Four months later, and Miles is still struggling to get any admissions out of Alex, and to make sense of everything. The only difference now is that Miles is no longer alone in suspecting that something is off and that Ruth Sharpe and her sons aren’t as innocently misunderstood as Alex has made them out to be.
“She must be giving him curfews,” Matt says one day, as Miles, Jamie and Nick have gathered in the Helders’ house after school. They had asked Alex if he wanted to join, but he explained that he had promised his aunt to tidy up in the kitchen, as part of his weekly chores. “He barely leaves the house anymore, unless it’s to go to school. I don’t get it.”
“It’s not like him at all,” Nick agrees pensively, “he was always the fun one. Makes me think that she keeps him on a short leash. She seems like such a controlling bitch.”
“You’ve noticed, too?” Miles joins in, eager to share his concerns with someone. “Have you talked to her?”
“Me and Jamie went by their house a few weeks ago, rang the doorbell,” Nick explains, “she opens the door, eyeing us like a madwoman. We ask to see Alex as politely as we fucking can, but she starts shooing us away like fucking pigeons.”
“At least if you were pigeons, you could have shat all over her car,” Matt adds darkly.
“She keeps saying that Alex is working, or that he isn’t home,” Jamie huffs, “but where the fuck would he be if he wasn’t home? Nobody has seen him anywhere, since… forever, I guess. Plus, he would let us know if he was out and about.”
“She’s definitely telling him what he can or cannot do,” Miles concludes. “Tell you what, she isn’t treating her own sons in the same shitty way. She lets them do whatever the fuck they want. I bet Alex is the only one she forces to do chores.”
“I fucking hate those sons of hers,” Matt chimes in, crossing his arms angrily, “last time I met them on the street, the big, fat one spat at my feet and tried to push me out of the way. Just because the sidewalk wasn’t wide enough for the both of us…”
“Which one?” Miles asks with sudden interest. “Terry?”
“The oldest one, yeah,” Matt snorts, “God, he’s the worst. How old is he? 22? And he’s still living at home with his mum, doesn’t even work a job. Pathetic.”
“She keeps going on about sending Alex off to uni,” Nick then says, “it’s like she can’t wait to get rid of him. Even though it’s ten times more his home than hers.”
“We have to do something,” Jamie then decides, slapping his own thighs eagerly, “we have to make Alex realise that he shouldn’t be following her stupid rules.”
“We should try and get him out of the bloody house,” Matt nods, “he needs a break from all the work that she’s making him do. We should take him to a party or summat.”
“A party?” Nick repeats disbelievingly. “Matt, she would never allow him to go. You know that.”
“Well, then he’s not going to ask her for her permission, is he?” Matt insists. “We will sneak him out of his room in the middle of the night, if we have to.”
Miles furrows his brow, feeling a sense of skepticism that he can’t ignore.
“And how are we going to persuade Alex to go along with our plan?” He points out. “Alex would probably refuse, or say it’s too risky. I can’t even get him to come over to my house, even though we live next door to each other.”
“I don’t know,” Matt admits, sighing, “but I have a feeling that if anyone should manage to talk some sense into him, it’s you, Kane.”
“Yeah, why not?” Nick gives him a serious look. “You and Alex are close, aren’t you? There’s a bigger chance of him listening to you than anyone else.”
“I don’t know, you guys,” Miles hesitates, biting his lip.
“Come on, Kane,” Jamie pleads, throwing a pillow in Miles’s direction. “At least try to persuade him. Do your best. For Alex.”
“For Alex,” Matt repeats, and suddenly, they are all acting as though they are willing to go through hell if it means helping out a friend.
Miles sighs. They all seem to be forgetting that, if Alex were to get caught, they are not exactly doing him any favours after all.
It takes the gang a couple of days to plan the whole thing. Then, when they feel like they know what they are doing, the boys order Miles to talk to Alex and tell him about their idea. Needless to say, Miles feels nervous when he takes Alex aside on their way to an English class, requesting that they speak privately for a moment.
“What’s up?” Alex asks Miles almost cautiously, sensing that the other has something slightly controversial in mind. “Are you alright, Miles? You seem tense.”
“I’m fine,” Miles assures him, though the knot in his stomach doesn’t go away that easily, “but I have to talk to you about something. The lads have been trying to plan something, and they sent me because they were hoping that I could convince you to go along with it.”
“Plan something?” Alex watches him innocently, unsuspectingly. “What have they been planning?”
“They are getting fed up with not being able to see you,” Miles tells him with brutal honesty, feeling his mouth go dry and the sensations prickling somewhere behind his eyelids, “and frankly, so am I.”
Alex appears to simply freeze for a moment. He’s staring straight back at Miles without reacting. This was not the conversation that he was expecting.
“But…” Alex opens his mouth slowly, though he doesn’t know what to say. “But you see me every day. Right here.”
“That’s right, we see you every day for school,” Miles says, placing both hands on his hips, “but you know that’s not what I mean. Come on, Alex. How long has it been since you’ve hung out with us after school? Visited someone’s house? Gone to see a film? Gone for a drink somewhere?”
Alex’s face is expressionless, but Miles sees that he’s mortified to be having this talk. Again.
“Miles…” He mutters tiredly, but there is nothing else to add to that.
“I know it’s not your fault,” Miles soothes him and steps slightly closer towards him, “trust me, Alex, I know. I know that it’s not because you choose to not hang out with us. It’s because you can’t, isn’t it?”
Alex doesn’t pull away from him.
“Miles, I’ve told you before,” he mutters uncomfortably, “I’m okay. You don’t have to make it sound like I’m a prisoner.”
“Then what are you, Alex? Hm?” Miles inches even closer towards him, looking straight into those fragile, doe eyes. “Are you just waiting ‘til you turn 18 and it will all be over? Because you’ll be somewhere else? That doesn’t sound like a good plan to me.”
“That’s not what I’m doing!” Alex hisses, looking around him to make sure that no one is watching them. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Miles. I’m doing good. My aunt has made me realise that I simply need to work harder if I want to achieve anything for myself. That’s all.”
“Do you really need to work so hard that you aren’t able to go anywhere?” Miles questions cruelly. “What is she telling you, Alex? Has she threatened to do something to you if you leave the house without her permission?”
“Come on, Miles, listen to yourself,” Alex snaps, “that’s ridiculous! Are you really suggesting that she’s threatening me?”
“I don’t know,” Miles shrugs, taking in a deep breath. “I don’t know what’s going on with you anymore, Alex. You don’t talk to me. You don’t talk to anyone.”
“Because I don’t need to,” Alex insists with a tinge of annoyance, “I’m not in trouble, okay? I’m just… adapting to a new living situation.”
Miles clenches his fists, realising with great frustration that he won’t be able to get Alex to tell him anything. Not like this. Hence, he decides to test the other’s statement instead.
“Fine,” Miles goes on, “if you are truly free to do whatever you want, come with us out Friday night. Jamie knows someone who’s having a house party, the lads told me to invite you along.”
Alex begins to chew his lip evidently, taking his time to consider his answer.
“Look, Miles – it’s not that I’m not free to go, but… I sort of promised Auntie Ruth that I’d be trying my hardest to drink less, to be more responsible. You know that’s the truth, don’t you? I told you already. She’s just trying to help me mature a little bit.”
Miles leans his head back and sighs, not to provoke the other, but to prove his point.
“So she does forbid you to do things,” he concludes, crossing his arms, “I knew it!”
“Don’t give me that,” Alex bites at him, tired of having this debate again, “for one thing, I feel fine about her… guiding me. I don’t mind spending more time at home, or with my work. Her rules don’t bother me, I swear.”
“Alright,” Miles says, knowing that Alex has just made a big mistake, “prove it to us, then. Prove that you’re not bothered about her rules. Come to the party with us. Matt and I have arranged for us to sneak you out of the house. She’ll never know that you’re missing.”
“You have what?” Alex is eyeing Miles like he almost doesn’t believe him. “You and Matt are going to sneak me out of the house? In the middle of the night? What are you going to do? Bring me a ladder? Do you want me to escape through the window? Is that what you’re asking of me?”
“If that’s what it takes to get you out of there, then yes!” Miles exclaims.
“Fine!” Alex cries suddenly. “If that will get you off my back, I’ll do it!”
He’s about to slip away from Miles who is all over his face now, but Miles stops him by clutching on to his elbow.
“Alex, wait! Don’t you get it?” Miles forces him to look at him. “I miss you.”
Alex swallows a lump in his throat and avoids Miles’s gentle eyes. Now is not a good time for him to become emotional.
“You don’t have to miss me,” he whispers, “I’m right here. Don’t you see that?”
“No,” Miles sighs truthfully, “no, Alex, I really don’t.”
As it turns out, Alex meant it when he said that he would go out with them Friday night. Matt and Miles show up outside his house at eleven o’clock, around the time when his aunt is supposed to assume that he’s asleep. The house is dark and completely quiet by the time they show up. Miles takes his phone out and sends Alex a text to let him know that they are there.
“Bloody hell, everyone’s asleep at eleven o’clock on a Friday night,” Matt whispers to Miles incredulously, “I knew that family couldn’t be normal when I saw them.”
Miles waits for Alex to text him back. When he does, and Miles announces that he’s on his way out, Matt asks:
“Which window are we supposed to watch out for?”
“I’m not rightly sure,” Miles admits, “I haven’t exactly figured out where his new room is.”
Matt sends him a nervous stare and Miles can tell that he’s already worried that they’ve fucked things up. He knows that they ought to be doing something in order to help Alex climb down the wall safely, however, neither one of them feel comfortable taking a walk around the house, especially considering how they can’t possibly know where Ruth’s bedroom is.
Then they hear a subtle sound from a window being pushed open, which appears to come from the backside of the wall; the one facing the garden. Miles and Matt hurry around the corner, looking upwards where they spot Alex swinging himself out from his window acrobatically, somehow managing to cling onto the exterior windowsill, from where he is able to reach for the drainpipe. Holding onto the pipe dangerously, Alex succeeds in climbing down almost elegantly, and he’s got Miles watching him closely and with a certain amount of admiration, too, until he’s far enough down to rest his foot on the ground floor windowsill.
“Hey man, I’ve got you,” Matt whispers as he approaches him and grabs a hold of Alex’s middle, lifting him down unto the grass almost effortlessly. “Jesus, Al, you’re feather light,” Matt teases him, “it’s like picking up a girl.”
“Very funny,” Alex tells him and grunts slightly as he arches his back and relaxes his muscles, “you can let go of me now, by the way. Thanks.”
“Fucking hell, Alex,” Miles grins and reaches forward to pat his friend’s back, “I can’t believe you actually snuck out like that. That was way easier than I thought it would be.”
“Easy for you to say when I did all the work,” Alex teases him, winking, “come on, guys, let’s go. Quick.”
“Why? Do you think you woke someone up?” Matt asks him.
“I don’t know, but I don’t want to stick around long enough to find out,” Alex breathes.
“Right this way,” Miles says, gesturing with his head towards the street, “we’re meeting up with Jamie and Nick in five minutes. We’re all getting a taxi to Jamie’s friend’s place.”
Inside the taxi, Alex and Miles are practically forced to sit on top of Matt and Jamie’s laps in order for all of them to fit inside one vehicle. Nick watches and laughs at them from his comfortable position in the front seat.
“Al, you crazy son of a bitch,” he laughs, looking over his shoulder, “I can’t believe you actually broke out like that.”
“How the fuck are you planning on getting back inside?” Jamie questions with a sly grin on his face.
“Well, I was counting on these guys to bring a ladder for me,” Alex jokes, looking over at Matt and Miles, “but I guess I’m left to my own devices now.”
“Don’t worry, man,” Matt smirks, slapping Alex’s shoulder, “we’ll give you a bunk-up or summat. You’ll be fine.”
Alex continues to smile and laugh with the others, but the more Miles watches his facial expression, the more certain he is that Alex is faking his confidence. All the jokes and gags aside, Alex is secretly worried about what’s going to happen when he returns to the house.
“Anyway, mate, it’s good to see you,” Nick says slightly more seriously as they are approaching their destination, “the group has been falling short without you. Isn’t that right, lads?”
“Hear, hear,” Jamie nods, rearranging himself as Miles’s bum digs into his thigh.
“My parents keep asking when they’re going to see you again,” Matt tells Alex in a heart-felt moment, “perhaps you should come over for dinner some time next week?”
“Yeah… Yeah, that would be great,” Alex smiles, keeping his head down. As he clears his throat and fixes his gaze at the window, Miles recognises the troubled expression of a boy who is trying desperately to figure out whether or not he’s just committed the biggest mistake of his life.
As they arrive at the scene, everybody is laughing, clinging on to each other’s shoulders, ruffling Alex’s hair, teasing him, reminding him how long it’s been since he’s been out. The party is located inside a large flat in the city centre, where Jamie’s friend lives on his own. They join people inside, Jamie says hi to the people he knows while the rest of the gang meets up with Andy Nicholson and whoever they may recognise from school.
“Alex!” Andy exclaims with a huge smile on his face. “Fucking hell, mate, I didn’t expect to see you here!” The two of them embrace, and Alex seems genuinely happy to see him as well. “Come on, mate, it’s been so long. Let’s get you a beer.”
He wraps an arm around Alex’s shoulders and walks him away from the others, in search for accessible alcohol. Miles watches as the two of them disappear, wondering if Alex is still troubled by fear and regret or if he’s started to loosen up and enjoy himself.
“Aw, so much for going through all that trouble to bust him out,” Matt jokes, gesturing with both arms, “I can’t believe we have to see him walk away with someone else. We just got here.”
“Calm your boots,” Nick tells him with a carefree shrug, “he’ll be back. He knows who his real peeps are.”
“Anyone up for a smoke?” Miles suggests, motioning towards the balcony offering a nice view over the city. “It’s on me.”
“Well, I ain’t declining such a gracious offer,” Matt says, bumping his fist with Miles in appreciation. “Come on, lads, let’s see if there are any girls outside.”
Throughout the night, as his friends begin to drink heavily and goof around the place noisily and drunkenly, Miles feels himself holding back, sipping his beers carefully as though he wants to cling onto his soberness for as long as he can. He keeps an eye on Alex the entire time. Not to see who he’s with, but to make sure that he’s alright. That he’s laughing instead of worrying.
Alex isn’t left on his own at any point. Not even once. If he’s not chatting with Andy Nicholson, he’s dancing and laughing with Matt and Nick, or sharing a bottle of wine with Jamie, smiling widely as he’s introduced to new people, even a couple of girls. Miles sees one of these girls touching Alex’s arm suggestively, but he doesn’t offer her much attention and in the end, she grows tired of it and leaves.
Matt attracts everyone’s attention around two o’clock by invading the living room, claiming the space as his dancefloor as he begins to swag about without a care in the world, singing “The Boys Are Back In Town” for everyone to hear.
“Al!” He cries drunkenly, wrapping an arm around Alex’s neck and the other around Jamie’s, drawing them both close against himself. “It’s so good to have the gang back together… All of us, I mean… Without anyone missing. Don’t go hiding from us again, Al. You belong here,” Matt declares, followed by a hiccup, “you belong with us, you know.”
Alex grins at the intoxicated state he’s in and doesn’t seem to take his words too seriously.
“Fuck off, Helders, you’re bloody strangling me here,” Jamie grunts and frees himself quickly, “come on, big boy. Let go of Alex and come join us for some fresh air.”
By ‘some fresh air’, Jamie means a joint outside on the balcony. He drags Matt and Alex with him, before he gets a hold of Nick and Miles, too.
“I don’t like weed,” Nick complains, though he takes a drag as the joint is passed on to him, anyway, “it makes me feel nauseous.”
He passes it on to Miles, but he declines, offering it over to Matt.
“I like it,” Matt declares happily, inhaling several times, “works a lot faster on me than booze. Here, Al. I know you’re happy when you’re high.”
“Fuck off,” Alex tells him, though he accepts the joint and inhales skillfully, making Miles realise that this isn’t his first time, either. Not long after that, Alex begins to laugh loudly along with the others, slapping his thighs with amusement, though no one seems to know what the joke is.
An hour later, Miles runs into Alex in the hallway. They have both been searching for the toilet and have both found it, though now there appears to be an issue to settle as to who gets to go first.
“You first,” Alex winks at Miles, and Miles can’t help but to notice that this is the second time that Alex has winked at him tonight.
“Oh no,” Miles grins, “after you. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?” Somehow Alex manages to move his face closer towards Miles’s, flicking his eyes at him without being too obvious about what he wants.
“Certain,” Miles utters, staring straight into Alex’s dilated pupils. He has seen Alex drunk many times before, but never high.
“If you insist…” Alex smirks at him, giving him a slightly teasing stare. He moves past Miles and opens the door to the toilet. However, instead of closing it behind him, he lingers by the doorstep, looking over at Miles as though he’s waiting for something to happen.
Miles doesn’t have to wait for an invitation.
Following Alex into the toilet, Miles shuts the door behind them and locks it carefully. When he’s stood face to face with the other, Alex approaches him, though he never actually touches him. He stops dead in front of Miles, looking up at him as though they are communicating telepathically, blinking almost sleepily, though every fibre of his body has been awakened. It’s all written in his eyes. The desire. The longing. Miles feels as though he can read his every thought.
“I’ve missed you, too,” Alex whispers suddenly, forcing Miles’s heart to skip a beat.
Miles captures Alex’s shoulders with both hands and pushes the other backwards, until he’s got him firmly pressed up against the wall. Alex moans, spurring Miles on, and Miles urges himself close up against him, pinning Alex between himself and the wall, using all of his strength.
“You’re so beautiful,” Miles sighs with an equal amount of both joy and frustration, over and over again, “you’re so god damn beautiful, I haven’t been able to take my eyes off you all night.”
If Alex had anything to respond to that, he isn’t given the chance. Miles snogs him fast and hard, using so much more determination compared to their first kiss where he tried to be gentler. As Miles shoves his tongue into Alex’s mouth, still struggling to develop a perfect technique, Alex twists and squirms, but not because he wants to be let free. On the contrary, he wraps his arms around Miles’s neck in a frantic attempt to bring him closer, eager for more. And Miles is more than ready to give it to him; reaching a hand into Alex’s thick hair, grasping it mercilessly in order to keep his head steadied, he kisses him as deeply as he can, finally understanding the expression ‘exploring someone’s tonsils with your tongue’ a little better. Alex seems to fall slack in his arms, so in a sense, it’s lucky that Miles is restraining him, keeping him from falling. He responds to Miles’s kisses by moving his lips, following the other’s pace, but he’s somehow unable to match Miles’s dominance. Miles yanks at Alex’s hair, forcing his head backwards as he pulls away from his mouth.
“Miles,” Alex sighs heavenly, closing his eyes and gasping obscenely, “oh my God.”
Miles has started kissing the other’s jawline intensely, causing Alex to shudder and his breath to hitch deliciously. Miles moves further down, ghosting over Alex’s throat before he forces Alex’s head further back in order to ravish him by the collarbone. Alex shivers with delight and begins to moan, too lost and absorbed in the tingling sensations brought to him by Miles, to worry about people hearing them.
“Fuck!” Alex groans as Miles’s warm breath washes over the sensitive skin by his neck.
“You like that?” Miles hums, taunting Alex by sinking his front teeth into his skin carefully, nibbling at his neck playfully. “Do you want me to stop?”
“No,” Alex gasps helplessly, causing Miles to grin with satisfaction, “no, please. Don’t stop.”
Miles lets himself get carried away by Alex’s encouragement; he reaches down and grasps on to Alex’s legs, lifting him up so hastily that Alex is forced to wrap his legs around him in order to keep his balance. They both grunt as Miles pushes his pelvis against Alex’s, rutting against him ruthlessly, causing Alex to jerk whilst he’s heaving for air. Miles isn’t letting him go; driving into him almost forcefully and pinning him up against the wall securely, he feels Alex clawing at his back like a wild animal as he begins to suck and kiss at his neck once again.
“Shit!” Alex hisses passionately, throwing his head back out of free will this time. He’s still keeping his eyes closed. He’s afraid that, if he opens them, he’s going to realise that Miles’s touching him is all part of his imagination. “Oh fuck – Miles!”
“Alex!” Miles responds, breathing heavily as he licks his way up towards Alex’s chin.
Alex shivers again and Miles backs away from the wall momentarily, carrying Alex with him, only to ram them both up against it all over again, letting Alex’s back smack against the cold surface loudly. Alex wheezes as Miles moves his body against him suggestively and counters by moving his hands down to the hem of Miles’s shirt, lifting it up teasingly. Initiating another round of almost furious snogging, Miles pants frantically when he feels Alex’s fingers finding their way underneath the fabric of his shirt, touching his naked skin mischievously. Miles exhales into Alex’s open mouth and everything is truly blissful, until –
“Hey!” There is a cautious knocking on the door, which has them both pulling out of the kiss simultaneously. “Is anybody in there?”
“Go away!” Miles hears himself shouting, desperate to return to the moment, in which there isn’t room for anyone to intrude. When there isn’t a second knocking, Miles smirks and tightens his hold around Alex’s thighs. “Where were we?” He whispers, leaning in to kiss Alex’s lips again.
But Alex turns his head to the side, avoiding him. He has started to look uneasy.
“Miles, I – I don’t think I can do this,” he murmurs, suddenly wriggling and fidgeting nervously in Miles’s grip, asking to be released. “I’m really sorry.”
“What’s wrong?” Miles asks with concern, looking into Alex’s eyes pleadingly. “Alex, no one has to know about this. It’s okay.”
“You don’t know if someone’s listening by the door,” Alex says, shaking his head, “I – I don’t want to risk it.”
“But – but I’m not going to let anyone find out about us,” Miles objects, “I promise. Come on. It’s been so long…”
“I’ve missed you so much. Alex, come on – just five more minutes…”
“People might already know we’re missing,” Alex goes on, pushing against Miles to stop him from kissing him again, “please – just let me down.”
Miles gives in and lets go of Alex’s legs, slowly, so he doesn’t fall. They stand in front of each other quietly for a moment, trying to catch their breaths. Alex is looking slightly flushed and Miles can practically feel the sweat moisturising his own forehead.
“Alex, I don’t want to lose you,” Miles utters with sudden drama, though he hates how pathetic it makes him sound.
“You won’t lose me,” Alex tells him, his voice quivering. It’s almost funny how Miles used to be the one making him this promise when Alex himself needed some assurance. But it’s not up to Miles anymore, to guarantee the continuation of their relationship, it seems. “I promise,” Alex adds when he sees the look of doubt in the other’s eyes, “I just – I can’t do this right now.”
“You’ve told me that before,” Miles reminds him, sighing and wiping a hand across his forehead. “I’m starting to think that maybe you don’t want this at all.”
“No – no, don’t say that,” Alex bites his lip and lowers his eyes, feeling guilty. “I can’t think straight right now. Alright? It’s the alcohol, or the bloody weed or… something. I feel like I can’t gather my thoughts.”
“What is there to think about?” Miles pries, sensing that, perhaps, there is something that Alex isn’t telling him. Perhaps the problem has nothing to do with Miles at all.
“Everything,” Alex retorts with an exhausted grunt. “Forgive me – I just… I need some air.”
Alex pushes past Miles and heads for the door. Miles doesn’t even look at him, he simply hears Alex locking himself out without a word, disappearing on him without an explanation once again.
The party ends at four o’clock in the morning, when everyone’s more or less run out of alcohol and the music has stopped playing a long time ago. Miles and Alex don’t talk much for the rest of the night, though they do put up a smiling façade in front of their friends, pretending that nothing has happened to break their spirits.
“Right, Jamie and I are off,” Nick says, downing his last beer and using Matt’s shoulder for support as he struggles to get up from the sofa, “but we have to do this again soon.”
“Looking at you, Al,” Jamie jokes, elbowing him in the ribs until Alex is forced to push him off, laughing.
“Alreyt,” Alex tells him, shaking his head, “if I don’t get busted when I get home, I promise we’ll do this again soon.”
They all get ready to leave and as they’ve said goodbye to their host, Miles follows Matt and Alex outside in search for a taxi.
“Right, lads, looks like I’ll be walking you both home,” Matt grins, wrapping an arm around them both. “Besides, someone’s gotta help Alex climb back up the window. I don’t trust you to do the job, Kane – those skinny arms of yours wouldn’t get him far.”
Miles slaps Matt’s arm, feigning offense. In secret, he almost wishes that Matt knew how Miles was able to lift Alex off his feet in the toilet not long ago.
The taxi ride home is quiet. Matt is so drunk, he almost falls asleep several times, resting his head on Alex’s shoulder, then Miles’s. Miles catches Alex checking his phone numerous times, looking more and more anxious the closer to Park Lane they get.
“Your aunt doesn’t wake up before six in the morning on a Saturday, does she?” Miles asks in an attempt to soothe the other. When Alex looks over at him, he offers him a gentle smile.
“No,” Alex chuckles, putting his phone back inside his pocket, “I guess I’m just being paranoid.”
Miles feels like there is more to be said, but he doesn’t want to risk it, in case Matt isn’t really asleep. They arrive at Park Lane, outside Miles’s house ten minutes later. Miles and Alex shake Matt by the shoulder in order to wake him up, laughing slightly when he produces a snore and jerks awake. After paying about seven quid each for the ride, they get out of the vehicle and approach number 13 slowly, as silently as they can. Checking to see that there are no lights on inside the house, Alex releases a sigh of relief.
“Alright, buddy,” Matt whispers, patting Alex’s shoulder, “I think you made it. They’re all still asleep, it seems.”
But Matt has spoken too soon.
As they sneak around the corner, to the backside of the house, Alex stops dead as soon as he looks up and pins down the point from where he climbed down earlier.
“What’s wrong?” Miles mutters, observing the paleness of Alex’s skin.
“My window…” Alex says, all terror-stricken. “I left it open. Someone’s closed it.”
“What?” Matt hisses. “No, that cant’ be…”
Before they are able to make sense of the situation, they all turn around at the sound of a twig snapping and they only realise that someone is approaching them when a flashlight is being held up and shone right in their faces.
“Well, well, well,” a dreadfully familiar voice sounds, with a hint of cruel pleasure and amusement, “look who’s back so soon. I thought we wouldn’t see you again until dawn.”
Miles is forced to narrow his eyes at the brightness coming at him from the flashlight, but once the light has been lowered, he spots the silhouettes of three massive blokes immediately.
“Did you really think you could sneak off without us knowing?” The same voice speaks mockingly. “You must take us for idiots or something.”
Terrence. Miles recognises his enormous figure and his menacing face immediately as he continues to approach them. And behind him are none other than his brothers, Henry and Percival.
Alex has not yet regained his ability to speak. Even when Terrence walks up to him like a shark closing in on its prey does Alex not move or utter a single word to defend himself. Terrence holds up his flashlight once more, flashing it straight into Alex’s eyes contemptuously, laughing when it’s obviously blinding him.
“So what if we’ve been out for a few hours?” Matt speaks up suddenly, causing everyone to look over at him. “Whose fucking business is that? Who fucking even cares?”
Terrence drops his flashlight and walks over to where Matt is standing next to Miles, refusing to let anyone intimidate him.
“Who the fuck asked for your opinion?” Terrence spits at him, baring his teeth. “Do you think I fucking care what you think, you little twat?”
“Oh fuck off,” Matt snorts, standing his ground, “you’re not as scary as you think, you ugly motherf-“
Terrence seizes Matt by his collar, shaking him furiously in order to shut him up.
“Stay the fuck out of this!” He bellows, threatening to knock Matt over. “Do you hear me?!”
“Terry, no!” Alex shouts, snapping out of the comatose state he’s been in since they were taken by surprise. “Let him go!”
Alex jumps in to try and get between them, but this only forces the remaining brothers to get involved. Restraining Alex by holding on to both his arms, Henry and Percival drag him away from Matt, kicking and screaming.
“What the fuck is this?!” Terrence fumes, pushing Matt away from him violently enough for Matt to tumble against Miles, threatening to take them both down. “Am I dealing with a group of babies all of a sudden?”
With his hands full of Matt, Miles looks up in time to see Terrence returning to Alex as he’s more or less trapped in between his cousins.
“This is for fucking thinking you can go out behind our backs!” He screams, raising his beefy hand and slapping Alex brutally across the cheek. “And this is for even trying to argue with me!” At this, Terrence pulls Alex forward and tackles him down against the grass, leaving him to gasp painfully by his feet.
“No!” Miles hears himself crying at the top of his lungs, letting go of Matt. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He runs towards Alex, thinking he can get to him. However, he ends up running straight into the arms of Henry instead.
“Back off, you little brat!” Henry warns, pushing against Miles’s shoulder, keeping him away from the scene. “This doesn’t concern you.”
“I saw you fucking slapping him!” Miles hollers, fighting against him with all his might. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Miles, it’s okay,” Alex groans almost calmly as he raises himself to his knees, clutching his bruised cheek, “I’m fine.”
“No,” Miles barks angrily, “no, Alex, I won’t let them fucking treat you this way!”
Miles continues to fight and to protest until, seconds later, a lamp attached to the house wall is switched on, illuminating the entire lawn.
“Alright, boys, that’s enough,” Ruth’s voice sounds somewhere behind them. None of them had realised that she was watching the scene without interfering. “It’s time to go back to bed, don’t you think?”
Miles halts and tears himself away from Henry before he’s given the same treatment as Alex. Ruth is watching him coolly with her arms crossed, only wearing a short nightdress and a pair of ugly slippers.
“You saw what they did!” Miles bellows as he tries to reason with her. “Don’t tell me you’re just going to pretend it didn’t happen!”
“I didn’t see anything I wouldn’t have done myself,” Ruth tells him dismissively, then focusing her attention on her sons, “alright, boys, let’s get him inside, shall we? It’s freezing cold out here.”
Terrence and Percival haul Alex to his feet, giving him only a brief moment to recollect himself.
“I’m fine,” Alex wheezes again when he catches Miles staring at him, “it’s okay, I promise. Just go. Both of you.”
Percival gives Alex a push, forcing him to walk away from his friends.
“Alex!” Miles shouts after him, but to no avail.
“And you two,” Ruth adds wickedly, frowning at Miles and Matt as though they’re a pair of rats terrorising her garden, “you better get off my property before I ring the police.”