Time Heals… – Chapter Eight

I was twelve or thirteen when Timothy let me in on his secret, probably thirteen. I’d been friends with him since nursery. Three years old and were inseparable. The best of friends. I’d met Vanessa first, but that was through each of our Mum’s. As much as I got on with Nessa, it wasn’t quite the same as Tim. I chose to be friends with him. We were in the same class as school.

We would have been thirteen and on the way home from school. Normally we split at the bus stop and went straight home, booted up a game and chatted until dinner. This time though, he didn’t want to split straight away. He said he had something he wanted to tell me. He waited for everyone else to get off the bus and say their goodbyes. Once the roar of children became a dying hum he asked if we could go to the park. I said sure, thinking he wanted to play football or something. Maybe his parents were getting divorced. They wouldn’t be the first couple in the town to do so.

“What’s up?” I asked once we got to the quietest part.

It was late afternoon, about half four. The sun was clocking out for the day, waving goodbye to us and leaving an orange glow in the autumn evening. I remember being slightly cold, not that I would ever say anything, that would be admitting that Mum was right and I needed a coat. There were some children playing on the swings and climbing frame in the distance. Tim climbed up a tree and I followed. Our legs dangling and swinging freely as we sat on one of the branches, looking out onto the horizon. From up there we could see past the children, past the outskirts of the park and onto the road. Cars flowing in both directions but the sound didn’t reach us.

“I wanted to tell you something.”

“Okay, shoot.”

We sat in silence for a while. He wasn’t looking at me, his eyes going between the ground beneath our feet and the enduring sun light.

“I need to tell someone. That’s what I’ve read on the internet. It’ll help me if I tell someone.”

He went quiet and shut his eyes. The world around us moved on. I could see him concentrating on slowly breathing. In and out.

“I’m gay.”

“What?” I said, with a small laugh.

“Yeah. At least I think I am.”

“Dude, no joke. That ain’t funny.”

“I’m not laughing.”

“You serious. Wow. How do you know?”

“How do you know you’re straight?”

“Fair.”

We sat in silence for a while. I was feeling uncomfortable. He’d just told me this massive secret and my first reaction was to just laugh. I didn’t mean to laugh. It wasn’t funny. And I didn’t have a problem with him being Gay. Back then I would call things, like games and films, gay. But that’s just what we said. It wasn’t a bad thing. I know it doesn’t sound like that now, but the world has changed a lot since then.

It seemed like the whole world had shut down, the children playing seemed to be further away. Their screams fading into the distance. The only sounds were the birds sitting in nearby trees, tweeting at one another. The wind rustled along, moving between us. Slowly the sun started to lower behind the buildings leaving an orange tint over the world. The dying rays spread over us.

“Dude,” I said. “I need to start heading home. My dad’s going to kill me.”

“I know, go on. I’m fine, I just want to sit here for a while.”

“Are you sure your okay? I don’t think any less of you or anything. Your still my mate. I mean that. I know some people would think you’re weird, or something. But I don’t. It doesn’t matter.”

“Thanks, mate. Go. Your dad will kill us both.”

I half smiled, jumped from the tree and landed with a thud on the floor. Getting up I ran all the way home. Dad was going to be mad, he would be even madder if the sky went black before I got home. He didn’t like me out on school nights. Especially when it got dark so early. I don’t know what he was worried about. Sure, Westmeadow was a rough place, but it wasn’t like that. As long as you kept to yourself everything would be fine. The older kids always left me alone. I didn’t do anything to them. I got enough beatings at home.

“Where the hell have you been?” He roared as I stepped into the living room.

“I was just with Tim. We were at the park.”

“At the park? You know your supposed to come straight back home. Especially when it gets dark. Your dinner’s cold. You’re still going to eat it. I have to go out tonight so we’ll talk about this later. You come home late again and I’ll give you something to cry about.”

That was his favourite saying. I’ll give you something to cry about. He used to say it whenever I cried as a child, and then didn’t stop as I grew up. It always made me wince, knowing what was coming next. I could tell he was already drunk, his words slurring as he spoke.

He pushed past me, grabbed his coat and left me in the house alone. My whole body shaking, knowing that he was going to come home drunker and angry than when he left.

The food was sitting on the side in the kitchen, chicken and oven chips. Yay. That was pretty much the usual. Chicken that supposed to be crispy, and yet uncooked and floppy. Chips, that tasted like death itself. On top of that it had been sitting there for a while, so it’ll have to go in the microwave which doesn’t really add greatness to the flavour. Dad wouldn’t let me make my own dinner, I don’t know why. If I asked for him to leave it in a little longer he would tell me that burnt food was bad for me. I didn’t want it burnt I just wanted it fully cooked.

I half-choked, half-ate the food and then went to my room to play a game. Hoping that dad would just go straight to bed when he got home. Maybe he wouldn’t even make it upstairs. I could just sneak into bed and let tomorrow begin a new beginning. As time drew on my mind left my Dad and went to Tim. I wondered how he was doing. I didn’t know any openly gay people and while I’m sure there were some in the town it was still not common. He must be scared, I would be. I don’t think I would have been able to tell even him.

But he told me. And I ran away. That’s why he told me then though, I couldn’t get weird with him if I had to bolt straight away. I texted him asking if he was okay. I got a generic response, probably testing the waters. I told him I was here if he wanted to speak. That everything was good between us and all that stuff. I didn’t know what to say. I could tell he was having a hard time, and I didn’t want to make things worse. I was just going to act normal when we got back to school and not mention it again. Show him that things won’t change.

I couldn’t sleep and Dad hadn’t come home. The head of my bed was close to the window, I could look up and see under the curtain and watch the stars. A lot of things went through my head that night, as the still stars shined on.

I spent what seemed like two days, tossing and turning, listening out for the front door and watching the moonlit sky. There was no noise coming in through the window and I couldn’t even turn the TV on for company. Dad would have gone mental, wasting electricity. Especially if I fell asleep with it on.

Eventually Dad came back home, he stumbled in through the front door and shook the house when he slammed it shut. I winced at the sound and retreated further under the quilt. He didn’t come into my room straight away, so maybe he’d forgotten about me being late home. It wouldn’t have been the first time. I shut my eyes and pretended to sleep, hoping he wouldn’t want to wake me if he came in.

My heart stopped as I heard his feet thud up the stairs. I didn’t know what to do. I curled up and turned towards the wall, eyes shut. Each thud louder than the last. It was probably in my mind but I could smell the booze as he got closer to my room. I didn’t know what to do. My whole body was shaking. He was reaching my room. If only I could curl up and hide under the bed. I knew he was going to come in. I could feel it. His drunk breath screaming at me. Tears flowing.

But he didn’t. He walked past the room, slowly thudding down the corridor. The next thing I hear is the sound of him going to the toilet. I sigh in relief and stretch my legs out. It’s over. He won’t mention it again tomorrow, he won’t even be awake when I get up for school. Maybe I’ll actually get some sleep now. I turn onto my back and lower the quilt a little. Sticking one leg out the side I smile, and start to relax.

I hear the chain flush and the door to the bathroom opens quickly. He didn’t wash his hands. Nice. The thuds are a bit quicker now, and lighter. I’m not paying that much attention. Shuffling a little I try to enter the land of nod.

My whole body jumps as my bedroom door swings open. I can see a silhouette against the landing light. Slowly Dad stumbles over to the bed and looms over me.

“Don’t think I’d forgotten about you boy.” He slurred.

I didn’t say anything. It took all of my energy just to keep eye contact. I was shaking under the quilt. Dad leant over me, holding himself against the wall.

“Well, why were you late?”

“I was hanging out with Tim. I didn’t see the time.”

“You know better than to lie to me boy. You know the rules. You come straight home after school. It takes you long enough to get home, I don’t need you running about the place. You could get hurt. You know better than to do that. So what was it? You not scared of your old man any more? Don’t think I would teach you to follow the rules? I’m not your mother boy. I’m not soft. I will teach you to listen.”

“It was Tim,” I said, trying to hide under the welcoming duvet. “I said I needed to come home.”

“So you’re a girl then? Scared to stand up for yourself and just do as your told. Pathetic.”

There was no slurring in his voice now. Just anger. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. Looking back I know it’s no excuse but I wasn’t thinking at the time. I just wanted that moment to be over. I didn’t like my Dad shouting at me. He was scary. I just wanted to go to sleep and pretend that it never happened. I just wanted my legs to stop shaking, having their own earthquake.

“He’s gay. He told me and I was trying to be a good friend.”

I think I knew how Dad was going to react. It wasn’t going to be good. I knew he was a little homophobic. Shouting stuff at the TV whenever an openly gay celebrity made an appearance. For the next couple of years I tried to convince myself that I told him thinking he would understand and even think I did the right thing. It never worked. There were so many sleepless nights because of that one moment.

“He’s gay?”

There was a moment when I thought everything was going to be okay. He stood back up and seemed shocked. Taken back by my statement. A stillness took over the room and everything calmed. The anger that had been swirling around stopped and then left.

“You let that low life into this house? You brought him in here?”

And then everything got worse.

 

To be continued…

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Time Heals… – Chapter Seven

Crap, I didn’t pack my phone charger. The red light has started flashing. Damn it. I need one of them. I suppose I’ll have to dip into that money a little more than I wanted. Can almost hear Casey telling me, “That’s what it’s there for.” I know that, I just don’t want to have to pay you back even more. I start the car and carry on driving down the street. There used to be a shop, further down. They’ll probably sell phone chargers. After that I’m just going to go to Wexgate and then get some sleep. My constant headache is starting to return.

This whole day has been crap. If I wasn’t already sure I was on the wrong path in life, this would have proven it for me. My whole life has just been one joke after another. And now look at this. My Dad’s dead, I have a brother and I’m chasing a stupid story that’s doing more harm than good. Oh and that story is also pretty non-existent.

The shop is still there, a little further along the street than I was expecting, but it’s there. On the corner. Bigger than I remember as well, must have expanded into one of the houses. I’m surprised it’s still there. Joe’s Corner News. I thought some big chain would have bought it up by now and turned it into one of their soulless copies. I hate this world. But there it is, the same as when I was a child. It’s been done up. The windows have new pictures pasted in them, showing bread, sweets and smiling faces. The sign that sits above the corner entrance door is new. No longer just block letters, now each letter swirls and dances into one another.

Back when I was a child we used to walk down to this shop after school, pretty much every day. Mum would take my hand and lead me down here. Sometimes I would get sweets, but it was mostly to get a newspaper for Dad. There was always a woman behind the counter, back then I thought she was so old, but probably only in her late twenties. She would ask Mum how we were and I would stand as close as possible, almost clinging onto Mum’s coat. It was a dark and dingy shop. The floor was always sticky and an odd smell hung in the air. I don’t miss things like that.

Inside it’s completely different now. Just like outside, everything has been redone. The lights actually work, and light the place up. There’s no odd smell and the floor is perfectly clean. The counter has been moved to the right of the entrance. I can see someone sitting on a stall behind it. There are three isles, stretching much further than they used to, confirming my idea that the shop had expanded. There’s the hum of the chillers and freezers along the left hand wall. Magazines, between them and the entrance. I grab a bottle of cola and walk back to the counter.

“Hey, how can I help?” The girl, not much older than eighteen asks.

“Can I grab this, and also do you sell phone chargers?”

“Sure which one?”

“Micro USB.”

“Look, it’s the last one. Here you go. That’ll be £12.89.”

I tap my card against the machine and wait for the beep. I haven’t checked my bank yet, but I trust Casey. More than I trust people who owe me money. The machine beeps in delight and I put my card back in my wallet, and back into my pocket.

“Thanks,” I say, preparing to leave.

“You don’t live round here, do you?”

“No, just passing through.”

“We don’t get many new people round here. I hope you enjoy your visit.”

“Thanks, but I’m just leaving.”

“Still, I hope you have a great day and find happiness in whatever you end up doing. It’s a fine day out there.”

“Thanks, you too.”

Maybe I’ve been in London for too long, but I really don’t remember teenagers being that polite. It’s almost creepy. I’m not going to give her a tip or anything so what the hell was that about? I’m probably just being stupid. It doesn’t matter. She was polite and I think it’s a bad thing. I need to just sort some things out. Need to get out of this town, it’s not good for me to be here. I feel like I’m going to explode.

“Chris?” A voice says to me, just before I reach the exit.

I don’t want to turn and see who it is. I’m not going to recognise them. I just want to get out of here. I just want to go home. I just want to wake up tomorrow and forget that this ever happened. I have to turn though. Can’t be that rude.

“It is you, God. I haven’t seen you in what? Ten years?”

“Jet?” I say, after turning. “Wow. I wasn’t expecting to see you.”

I really wasn’t expecting to see her. Not after all this time. I’d pretty much forgotten about her. My upper school girlfriend. Jet Hill. I can’t believe it’s really her.

“Chris. Wow. You weren’t expecting to see me? How do you think I feel. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again after you left us like that.”

Oh yeah, that’s something I’d forgotten about. When I left town, I didn’t give her warning. She knew I was leaving soon, but I didn’t say good bye. I got a new phone in London and didn’t give anyone back home my number. She wouldn’t have been able to contact me if she wanted to. I was a prick to her, to most people.

“Sorry, about that.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she says with a smile and swipes the air in front of her. “We were kids, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. What brings you back round town? It’s nice to see you again at any rate.”

“I’m just passing through.”

“Oh come on now, you don’t expect me to believe that. I know this town, no one just passes through. We don’t even get visitors. You’re the first newcomer I’ve seen in months. The only reason Joyce’s B&B stays open is because no one has the heart to close it.”

“She still kicking about?”

“No, sadly. Time catches up with all of us, but other people have taken over. It’s like this place. Joe left town six years ago and my family took over. Couldn’t change the name though. You know how it is.”

“Sure.” There’s an awkward moment. “Look, I need to get going. I’m sorry for how I left before. That wasn’t a good thing to do.”

“Nonsense. If you’re not going to tell me why you’re here, the least I can do is get you a room at Joyce’s.”

“No, honestly. You don’t need to. I’m not staying. I’m just passing through. Thought I would see the place again, probably for the last time.”

“You break my heart, Chris, you really break it. Good luck with your travels and I hope you find whatever you’re looking for. Do you want an apple for the road? It’ll do you a world of good. I can promise that.”

“No thanks. I’m good.”

“Come on, it’s on the house. Just grab a piece of fruit you look like you need it. You need to look after yourself. Five a day and all that good stuff.”

“Fine,” I say with a smile.

If she wants me to take a snack then I’ll grab one, I walk down the isle and grab an apple. I walk past Jet, shaking the apple in her face.

“Thanks, Jet. I’ll see you around.”

“Good to see you again, don’t be a stranger. Take this,” she says passing me a piece of paper with a number on it. “Call me if you need that room at Joyce’s. I’m sure I’m not the only one in town who wouldn’t mind catching up”

“I’m afraid of that. See you around.”

I was only half-joking. There are a lot of people I miss. Jet, even though I left her without a word. Vanessa, my first ever friend. I wouldn’t mind seeing them, it’s the others I don’t want to think about. The people I want to leave in the past, and not see how well they’re doing now. I also don’t really want to see Ryan Campbell. Not because he was a bully, but because of what I did. What my perfect Dad did. I really don’t want to even think about it. That whole thing haunts me most nights. Nothing I do is going to fix it now. It’s done. I wanted it to stay in the past, but I suppose I don’t deserve that.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Time Heals… – Chapter Six

The rain lets up a little bit, but I still drive slowly. The sign declaring I’m in Westmeadow is half hidden behind an overgrown bush and there’s almost enough dirt to cover the rest of it. The buildings come into view a couple of minutes later, houses first. The nicer ones, with big gardens and garages, a couple higher up on hills which show their expense in their gates and decorated fences.

Just beyond the houses starts the town centre, not that there’s much to see. A wider street, t with a shop, coupled with a post office, the police station, funeral home and The Brown Bear itself. A little bit of me thought the shop would have shut down, I remember that being the fear when I was in lower school, especially after they opened the supermarket between here and Wexgate.

There’s another building, one I’d forgotten about, between the police station and funeral home. Francine’s Cafe. I can’t believe I’d forgotten about it, chip butty and chocolate cake were my birthday treats pretty much every year. It’s still there now, I don’t believe it. The car is almost completely stopped, I’m frozen as the memories flood back.

Old Fran, that’s what Mum used to call her, died when I was a still a child. It was her daughter, Catherine, who took over the cafe. It was never much, but Mum always said the walls held memories. The last time I went in there, was the night before I turned eighteen. 2008. The place looked like something from the 1970s and hasn’t even changed now, ten years later. I pull the car up onto the curb outside the shop, between another couple of cars. They’re both newer than the one I’m driving, too new for anyone I knew from this town to own.

The inside of Fran’s hasn’t changed, it still looks decades out of date, but there is freshness to it. Someone has spent a lot of time cleaning the place up, replacing broken tiles and ripped upholstery. There’s a shine on the walls, like they had only been painted yesterday. I can see my face reflecting back at me in any of the metal chair legs. All the place mats and menus look as if they have just been printed, crisply folded out on each table. Weaving through the tables I approach the counter.

There are two people eating in the cafe, neither look up at me. I spend too long trying to figure out if I knew them either of them, heart racing, beating at my chest. There’s an elderly woman behind the counter, filling up the coffee machine. That machine is definitely new. Everything looks new, as if they replaced everything with new versions, just to keep the aesthetic.

The elderly woman looks up at me and smiles.

“Hello,” she says. “I don’t recognise you. Just passing through and want to get out the rain?”

“Something like that.”

“Well you couldn’t have picked a nicer place. It doesn’t look like much, but here at Francine’s we only serve the best. I can’t recommend our forest gateaux enough, freshly made every day. A cup of coffee to go with it?”

“Sure, that sounds nice.”

“Okay, take a seat and I’ll bring it right over.”

I’m glad I changed clothes before I got here. Not that I recognise anyone, it seems like this town has moved on with the rest of the world. It’s so neat, nothing like I remember.  I remember the lights being dim, and cracks in the floor with ketchup stains filling them up. I remember the chairs being torn all over and fiddling with them to widen the holes. I remember the way the tables would rock slightly and if you put too much pressure when you stood up, everything would jump and fly off the table. Nothing like now. It’s as if someone reached in and only took the good parts of my memories and somehow made them even better.

“Here you go, sir. Anything else I can get you?”

“No. Thank you. This is more than enough.”

She places the plate down in front of me. This is new. Looks nicer than anything they used to make. I make eye contact with her as she places the cup in front of me, on top of a coaster. It’s her. Catherine. Time has moved on, fast. I can’t believe how old she looks. Still bright and full of life, but age has caught up with her.

“Catherine?” I ask, almost without thinking.

“Yes?” she asks, probably thinking I just read her name-tag.

“You still work here?”

“Huh?” she asks. “What do you mean?”

For a second her nice appearance fades and I see the old Catherine, the one that used to shout at me when I spoke to loudly or walked muddy footprints though the place. Everything changes in a second without warning. Her smile reappears, as if she’s a puppet and someone just pulled a string.

“Do I know you?” she asks with the cheeriness back in her voice.

“Yes, it’s me. Christian Hopkins. It’s been quite a while.”

“Little Hopkins?” she smiles. “As I live and breathe. I can’t believe it. Is it really you? You’ve grown up into quite a bit, I can see that.”

“Yes, it’s been a while. I didn’t recognise you straight away. The place looks a lot better now, really fixed the place up.”

“It took a while, but I managed it. Everything is good now. Everything is better.”

“I can see that.”

“So, what brings you back into town?”

“Just passing through. Thought I would drive through and take a look around the old place.”

“I remember you disappearing. It was the talk of the town, but that was then. Things are better now. How are you? Is life treating you well?”

“I can’t complain. I’m a writer now.”

“You always had a good imagination.”

“No, not like that. I could never actually sit down and just write, no I’m a journalist. For a website.”

“That’s nice. But there aren’t any stories around here. Everything is good here.”

“I can imagine, not many things change. The whole town looks better though, cleaner, almost brighter.”

“Yes. Everything is better now.”

“Yeah, you said.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll let you eat, it’s on the house.”

“Thanks, but I’ll pay.”

“No need, also I’m very sorry about your father. He was a good man. Always had a smile on his face. It was a sad day indeed. The whole town felt it.”

“What?” I asked, my heart stopping for a second. Each beat echoing throughout my body as a heat builds up and rushes through me.

“Your dad, dear. I thought someone would have reached out. I’m sorry. It’s not good for you to find out like this, but don’t be upset. He led a good life and he passed away peacefully with his wife by his side. About a year ago. Nothing is bad about that. Sad, maybe, but at least he lived a good life.”

“Are you talking about my Dad? David Hopkins?”

“Yes, dear. Your father.”

“He got remarried?”

“Yes, about five years ago. It was a good wedding. I held the reception here, myself.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“I’m sorry that you found out like this. He was a good man.”

“No, he wasn’t. He really wasn’t.”

“He was a good man. I can assure you that. He may have had his flaws, lord knows we all do, but he wasn’t a monster. He was a good father, and a good husband.”

“I should be the judge of that.”

“I suppose you should be dear, but the way I see it, you seem to be a good young man and his other son, Jonathan is a fine young lad.”

“Other son?”

“Yes. Jonathan, he’s about four years old. A nice littlun.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“I can imagine it’s difficult, dear, but life does move on. It’s been a long time since you left. It’s a shame you didn’t get to say goodbye, but don’t be upset. He loved you, I can assure you that.”

“Thanks.”

I didn’t feel like arguing with her or telling her about how my Godlike father used to hit my mother. Or how he used to get drunk and forget to make me dinner. Or how he didn’t once reach out to me when I left for University even though he knew exactly which one I went too. He wasn’t a good man, and some stranger isn’t going to tell me otherwise.

“I’ll let you eat this, honestly don’t worry about the bill. I’ll cover it. Let me know if you want a refill.”

“Thanks,” I say, without really meaning it.

I wasn’t going to offer to pay now, not after that bombshell. That’s a crappy thing to do. It’s not her fault, she wasn’t doing anything wrong. I still don’t want to pay though. She knew what was going on back then, everyone must have known. It was behind closed doors, but it’s a small town and people talk. Neighbours must have heard, and rumours would have been spread.

He wasn’t a good man, I don’t care what she says. I shove a load of the cake into my mouth not really enjoying it. Just eating to do something, anything. I don’t want to cause a scene. I’m not a child any more, I just want to eat this and leave. I’m not going to pay for it, and that’s okay. She said don’t worry, and that’s the end of it. I can’t believe he got remarried, and he had another kid. I can’t believe that. One wasn’t enough to mess up. I really don’t feel like eating any more.

I take a mouthful of the coffee and leave without looking at any one else in the cafe. Back in the car I lean on the steering wheel, eyes closed and holding back tears. Too much to think about right now, Dad’s dead, I have a brother. A four-year-old. Jesus. What the hell happened? I expected my Dad to move on, but not quite like this. He wasn’t supposed to die without me speaking to him first. He wasn’t supposed to die at all.

Two in the afternoon. Still got a couple of hours before I need to get to Wexgate. This is crap. Screw Casey for doing this to me. I didn’t want to come, and now everything’s different. I could have lived the rest of my life knowing he was out there somewhere, never needing reassurance that he was already dead. I didn’t need to know. Screw her. She didn’t need to send me. I know there’s no story here. It’s a small town, and it seems to be a lot nicer than when I left. Maybe that’s the story. The people look after the town and not many want to commit suicide, you know that could be true. Not everything needs writing about.

I punch the steering wheel a couple of times, instantly regretting it. As the sting swells through my fist, I wipe my eyes with my other hand. This is stupid. I knew he was going to die at some point. I don’t care. He wasn’t a good man. I’m glad this other one gets to grow up without that in his life. Good for him if he was good dad for those few years, at least he doesn’t have time to snap and go back to his normal self.

 

To be continued…

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25

Yesterday was my birthday. I’m now 25 years old, half way through my twenties. A lot has changed in the last year. Mainly, I moved out of my Mum’s house and into my own with Tabby. I’m still not completely used to that. It still feels weird. Hard to believe that was almost a year ago now. It feels like it’s been forever since I lived with Mum but doesn’t feel like a year since I moved in here.

I’m writing more and more. That’s the best change since last year. It’s more consistent even if it’s only once a week. I’m no longer taking long breaks from writing, which I think is a good improvement. I still wish I was reading more, although it’s getting more steady and with my discovery of audio books I’m still getting through books slowly.

Other than that most things still feel the same. I go to work, I watch too much TV and films. I read books and play games. (Not as much gaming as before to be honest.)

I went to see Mission Impossible: Fallout with Tabby for my birthday. Very good film. Good action sequences. Tom Cruise is insane for the stunts he pulls off in those films. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who likes the others. We also saw Ant-Man and the Wasp which is a good fun movie, although nothing special.

Tomorrow I will be uploading the next chapter of Time Heals…

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

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Time Heals… – Chapter Five

What’s the worst that can happen? He could hurt me, a lot. He could take a scalpel from the operating room and tear me to pieces. Wouldn’t even put it past him to do that. And I wouldn’t blame him either. If I hadn’t already placed all the blame on my Dad then I would probably have already started the cut, if not finished it.

Casey drove us back to her house and then we got out the car. I hugged her goodbye, rejected her offer to get a drink inside and got in the driver’s seat. Better to get this over with. It’s barely noon, I have more than enough time to get to Wexgate. It’s about an hour and a half away from Casey’s house. I could just go there and then come back. Avoid Westmeadow altogether, but Casey thinks there is something there. I don’t share the same optimism.

I switch the radio on and off more times than I can count on the way. I can’t stand the silence, but I also can’t stand the noise. I just don’t want to be here for this. I don’t want to let Casey down, and I suppose I’ve always known I’ll go back eventually. It’s not like I could avoid it forever. I’ve thought about it before, on long sleepless nights. It’s even been tempting a couple of times, especially after I published that big article. It would have been brilliant to go back and rub that in Dad’s face, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.

I pull into a couple of different service stations, both for the same reason. To delay my inevitable return. I can’t imagine the town has changed at all. Both times I got out of the car and paced around for a minute or two and then got back in and continued driving, wanting to turn back. I could just say there’s no story. She wouldn’t believe me, even though that’s the truth. I don’t even need to go back to see that. She knows it too, I’m sure of it. I suppose she thinks forcing me to go back will make me grow up a little bit. I suppose she thinks I’m just falling into the same old trap that my Dad did. Getting stuck in life and never really going anywhere. I need to just get on with this. I’ll drive straight to Westmeadow and just drive around. Just seeing the place will help, I’m sure.

The same old chewing gum flooded streets. The broken windows on every other house. The dark windows of the local pub, The Brown Bear, not letting me see in to check if Dad is inside. The old bus stop pole that’s bent and pointing towards the lower school. I suppose it would be a primary school now. It’s all going to be exactly the same. I’ll get that out of my system, and then I’ll go and see Ryan. He’ll beat me up, or shout at me. At best he’ll forgive me, making me feel even worse about it, and then I’ll come back. I don’t even need to stay the night. I’ll transfer Casey’s money back and tomorrow I’ll start on the article about how some towns never change. Never catch up with the times and that will be the end of it. I’ll find myself a proper job and actually start living.

I drive past Northampton about an hour later, and head towards Westmeadow. It’s a good thing I know roughly which way I’m going. I haven’t seen a sign for it yet. Wexgate yes, but not Westmeadow. Not that it’s that surprising. Westmeadow is pretty much just a glorified village. There is nothing noteworthy about it. It was a boring place to grow up and is probably still a boring place to live. It’s a town that will eventually just fall apart as people move away and no one will remember it.

The sun is still high up in the sky, even though it feels like days have passed since I left. I’ve decided I’m going to drive around Westmeadow first. I have more than enough times. Hours, more than enough time. I’m just going to drive down the main street a couple of times. The shops, the houses. See if I recognise anyone, and spot how much the place has changed. Then I’ll go, and drive passed the old house. See if Dad still lives there. I don’t know how I’ll figure that out without knocking on the door, which I’m not going to kid myself into thinking I’ll actually do that.

After that I’ll head into Wexgate and get something to eat. I’ll probably still have more than enough time to just see what I remember there and maybe find some place to stay. I don’t want to stay in Westmeadow, I know that much. The original plan of driving back down to London tonight is already out of the window. I’m already tired, with a splitting headache. I know it’s not going to be a good idea. I’ll just find some cheap place to stay and then drive back in the morning. A good night sleep will probably do me a world of good. New surroundings.

I can’t remember the sun ever being this bright. I know that’s stupid, but it just seems like everything is a degree brighter than normal. The heat burning my face is welcoming and I crack the window a little just to get a taste of that fresh air. When was the last time I was this far out of London? God it hasn’t been since

I almost want to scream out the window. Just scream and never stop, let out a deafening howl out onto the M1. It feels so good to be out of London, as if some kind of smothering blanket has been lifted.  It feels so good to be moving about. The wind rattling around inside the car with me, waving my clothes, cooling me down. The radio belting out songs from my past. I guess Casey set up a playlist. I can’t help but to smile at everything.

I leave the M1 and start following the signs towards Wexgate, hoping that I’ll start recognising the place soon. I don’t have any data on my phone and can’t really use the maps on it. I drive past the large fields, as animals graze. After so many years in London, it’s hard to believe that roads can be this empty. Just me and the animals, as if some kind of plague has wiped out humanity. It’s refreshing not to hear the drum of traffic and to be able to breathe the fresh air, rather than fumes.

I drive past the turning to Wexgate and continue on down to Westmeadow. I know exactly where I’m going, I didn’t think I would, but everything has just slotted back into place. My memories all aligned to show me the way back home. I’m hungry, it’s only a little past noon and I’m already hungry. I had fish and chips for breakfast. I suppose I haven’t really eaten in the last couple of days. Just some scraps that have been left in the house. I don’t really want to get anything to eat in Westmeadow so that will just have to wait. I’ll leave around three, only a couple of hours away and then get something to eat.

The sun seems to be setting early today, as dark clouds take over the skies. It’s a little past one in the afternoon. It came out of nowhere. There was a chill in the air, and I had to close the window. The sun softens a little and then the sky started to darken. At first, I thought it was just the trees. They look like they hadn’t been cut in quite a long time and were looming over the car as it twisted down the small road.

Rain starts to pelt down on the windscreen, flooding my sight before I have a chance to start the wipers. Jesus, where did this come from? It was so sunny a minute ago, does God hate me? He can’t hate me, he doesn’t exist. Probably shouldn’t even think that, just in case. I hate driving in the rain, never had much practice. Never had a car, only learnt with Casey back in Uni at an intensive course. We shared one for a while in the second year, but I didn’t want to pay in the third. Didn’t think I needed a car in London with the underground and everything. Had nothing to do with the girl I was hanging around.

Slowing down and taking my time, I still make it to the Westmeadow sign by half one. I’m starving now. I could just pop into the shop when I get there and grab a sandwich. I’m sure I won’t bump into anyone I used to know. God, no one would remember me anyway. Not a chance in hell. I barely recognise myself in the mirror these days. Much shorter hair, receding hairline to boot. The chubbiness in my cheeks has disappeared and there’s a sense of constant tiredness in my eyes.

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