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← 2. Bad Dreams
4. Moving In, Moving On →

3. Arrivals

Caffled%s's Photo   Caffled, 27 Feb 2012

 

Chapter 3: Arrivals
 
Dad was still fussing over me and I was starting to feel claustrophobic.  Usually after I have that dream it takes me a little while to compose myself and push the guilty feelings to the back of my mind so that I can function, at least at a basic level.  At home my bedroom was my refuge, a place where I could wrap myself up in a cocoon of bedsheets and forget about everything for a while.   
 
Now, at 35,000 ft up in a crowded cabin, I didn't have that luxury and I desperately needed some space to breath.  Short of trying to get out of one of the plane's exit doors, a thought which although fleeting was strangely appealing, I only had one option that I could think of.
 
"Dad, I need to go to the bathroom."  I said unbuckling my seatbelt.
 
"OK Jon,"  Nodding his assent Dad cautioned me. "Try not to be too long though, we'll be starting to descend pretty soon and they don't like people moving around the cabin once that begins."
 
I tried to give him a convincing smile of reassurance but judging by the concerned look on his face, as I stood and started to make my way up the aisle towards one of several bathrooms, I don't think I'd succeeded.   
 
Finding an unoccupied bathroom, I went in and closed and locked the door.  I sighed deeply and, placing my back against the metal door, slowly slid down it until I was in a crouched position.  Closing my eyes, I lowered my head towards my knees and clasped my hands around the back of my neck interlocking my fingers.  After several minutes of deep breathing and forcing myself to think of more mundane matters, such as what the weather would be like in England and how it would feel to be driving on the wrong side of the road, I was starting to feel more in control of my emotions again.
 
Unfurling my arms and legs I stood and faced the tiny washing facilities.  I tried to avoid looking in the small mirror as I ran some water and splashed a little on my face.  I took a couple of paper towels from the dispenser on the wall and pressed them against my face to absorb the excess water then dried my hands. Taking another couple of deep breaths I turned, opened the door and stepping out to make my way back to my seat I walked straight into someone who'd been waiting outside the door.
 
"Oof!"  The blond boy from a few rows down from me exhaled sharply as I stepped on his foot.
 
"Er, sorry,"  I muttered as I quickly jumped back away from him.  "I didn't see you there, are you OK?"
 
"I'll survive."  He said grinning as he recovered from the collision.  "Are you OK?  You don't look very well, do you get air-sick?  I heard you earlier you know, when you had that nightmare, or whatever it was.  Was it a bad one?  What were you dreaming about?"  He spoke rapidly and thankfully didn't wait for an answer before continuing.
 
"I get nightmares sometimes too you know.  The last one I had was awful, I dreamed that I was in the middle of the cafeteria at school but I was completely NAKED and all the kids were laughing and pointing at me."  He shuddered at the recollection.  "That was horrible!  I'm Michael by the way, what's your name?"
 
Michael?  Did he say Michael?  My mind instantly recalled the only other Michael I had ever known.  Mike.  My best friend.  The friend who I...No!  I can't think about that, not now, not here!  I had to get away from this kid.
 
"Sorry, I'm not feeling well, I've gotta go, sorry..."  I babbled an apology and rapidly walked back in the direction of my seat, unconsciously running my hands through my hair as I went.
 
I took my seat just as the 'Fasten Seatbelt' sign blinked on with an audible ping.  I flashed a smile in my Dad's direction to try to fend off more fussing before he started and it seemed to work for a change, as he simply smiled back and patted my leg.  I glanced up as the boy passed me, as he too returned to his seat. He shot me a confused frown but I quickly looked away until I could see out of the corner of my eye that he had turned around to face forwards.  I sighed to myself and closed my eyes, just wanting this flight to be over with.
 
I got my wish about 15 minutes later when we touched down at Heathrow Airport and taxied to a halt next to one of the terminals.  After what seemed like an age we were making our way up the disembarkation ramp and walking towards passport control and baggage reclaim.  We didn't have any problems at passport control, as we were both British Citizens we were just waived through, the Customs Officer giving our passports no more than a cursory glance.  Our bags eventually made an appearance on the carousel and we loaded them onto a baggage cart that my Dad had secured for us.
 
It was a little strange walking through into the arrivals area and seeing the crowds of people waiting to greet loved ones with warm hugs and kisses.  It was just me and Dad, there were no hugs nor kisses waiting for us, we were on our own.  I felt a wave of despair wash over me and would have stopped walking had it not been for the press of passengers following behind us.  I mentally shook myself and followed Dad over to a car rental company's desk.  He had already arranged the car rental as part of the flight package, so he just had to provide his ID and credit card as validation.  We had to wait another 10 minutes or so until the car was delivered.  After loading up our bags into the trunk and my Dad orienting himself to the controls we were finally on our way.  It was weird sitting in what would normally be the driver's seat but I suppose I'd get used to it.  Just one of many the differences between the US and UK I suspected.  
 
"Sorry Jon,"  Dad said slapping his forehead with the palm of his hand.  "I totally forgot about getting us a bite to eat at the airport.  You must be starved.  We'll pull in at the first motorway services we find, OK?"
 
"It's OK Dad, I'm not really that hungry."  I really just wanted to get to where we were going so I could put this trip behind me.  It felt like it had been a really long day and I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a bed, any bed, and just sleep.
 
"Well we should get something to eat before we get in as there won't be anything in the house until we get chance to go shopping tomorrow.  There are services on the M1, just before we turn off towards Cambridge, if I remember correctly.  We can probably get something there even if it's just a burger. How does that sound?"  He asked.
 
"A burger sounds fine Dad."  I didn't really fancy whatever passed for a burger over here but I tried to sound enthusiastic for my Dad's sake.
 
The weather was miserable.  It was raining heavily and clearly had been for some time as the roads were soaked.  Car's and trucks were kicking up a lot of spray and Dad had the wipers running at top speed.  The crease in his forehead told me he was having to concentrate quite hard on the road ahead.  Whilst he drove I stared out the passenger side window.  Not that there was much to see of course, we had landed around 7pm and it was already full dark by then.  So apart from the other traffic and regularly spaced motorway lights there was little of any interest to look at.   
 
With nothing to distract me, my thoughts inevitably turned to the events of the last five months.  I tried not to think about it but I couldn't help it.
 
Immediately after Mom...after it happened, everything just seemed so surreal to me.  The next few days are a bit hazy and I can't quite remember the proper order of events.  I suppose I was in shock, I don't know.  I do remember that I couldn't seem to stop crying and when I did something around the house would remind me and I'd start up again.  I kept asking myself 'Why her?  Why my Mom?  How can she be gone?  What am I going to do?'.  I felt like I wanted to die too, after all it was all my fault, wasn't it?  I hated myself and especially hated that it was me being Gay that had led to my Mom's...to her...I couldn't bring myself to actually think it out loud.  It was as if not thinking it would make it alright again, would bring her back to me.
 
Dad did his best to comfort me, I know he tried, but what could he do really?  Nothing he could say or do would change anything.  He wasn't sleeping either and its toll on him was starting to show.  His eyes had those dark shadows under them, his complexion had a grayish aspect and he hadn't shaved in days.  I could hear him late at night crying quietly in his bedroom, their bedroom.  It must have been worse for him in so many ways, he still had to deal with things like making the arrangements for the funeral and then there was all the bureaucracy surrounding stuff like insurance and hospital bills.  I don't know where he got the strength to do all of that, I don't think I could have.  On top of that he had to face the ordeal of informing friends and family.  It must have been like reliving the event over and over and over again.
 
I know that Mike and Stace had been told because Dad said that they had called to try to speak to me but I hadn't been in a fit state at the time.  I didn't think I'd ever be in a fit state again.  I hadn't bothered to turn on my computer so I hadn't checked any emails I might have received and I didn't want to read them anyway.  Not if they would be about what I thought they would.  The thought of people commiserating and offering they sympathy made me feel sick.  I didn't deserve that, I deserved to suffer for what I'd done.  How could I face Mike and Stace?  I couldn't bear to imagine the pity in their eyes because they'd know it was all my fault.  No, I couldn't face them.
 
I kept to my room for the most part.  Dad tried to get me to come down to eat but ended up bringing food up to my room.  Mostly plates of sandwiches or bowls of cereal.  I tried to make myself eat something, but I had no appetite and nothing seemed to have any taste to it, so most of what he brought me went uneaten.  After three days of this Dad came into my room and sat on the edge of my bed.  I was in my typical curled up fetal-like position, just staring at a blank spot on the wall next to my bed.
 
"Jon?  You have to eat something son."  He said with a gently pleading tone.  "You can't go on like this.  You'll make yourself ill.  You need your strength.  The funeral's tomorrow and you're going to need to be strong for that."
 
The funeral?  Is that here already?  That's when they'll put her in the ground.  In a box.  In the cold earth.  In the dark.
 
"I'm not going."  I stated simply whilst still staring at the wall.  "I can't go."
 
"Jon, come on son, you have to go.  You know that.  We both have to go.  It's the right thing to do."  He laid his hand on my thigh and squeezed gently as if in encouragement.  But I wasn't having that.
 
"NO!"  I shouted turning to him and trying to let my determination show on my face.  "I WON'T GO!  YOU CAN'T MAKE ME GO!  LEAVE ME ALONE!"  I moved my leg, shrugging his hand away and turned back to face the wall again.  Partly to let him know I didn't want to talk about it anymore and partly to hide the tears that I could feel were about to flow again.
 
He sighed.  "We'll talk about it later son.  But please think about it, OK?  I'm sure it would mean a lot to your Mom if you were there."  He stood and left my room.  Leaving me to to wrestle with many conflicting thoughts and emotions.   
 
I felt like shit for shouting at him, he was only trying to help me, I knew that.  I just didn't want to deal with any of this.  Even looking at Dad was a painful reminder of my Mom's absence, a reminder that he was all I had left.  Was that selfish of me?  Thinking of things only from my point of view?  It was so exhausting thinking about these things.  If only I could sleep for a while.  But sleeping meant dreaming and that was worse than the misery of being awake.  So I just lay there staring at my wall.
 
Dad didn't try to talk to me when he dropped of some sandwiches that evening.  It wasn't until early the next morning that he spoke again.  He'd come in with some cereal for me and instead of leaving he went to my wardrobe and rummaged around until he emerged with a dark blazer, slacks and a white shirt.
 
"You'd best have a shower Jon."  He said as he hung the clothes from a hook on the front of my closet door.  "The car will be here at 11am to collect us.  So you have a little over an hour."
 
I turned to look at him with a confused frown.  "I said I'm not going."
 
"I know what you said Jonathan.  But saying and doing are not the same thing."  Jonathan?  He hardly ever called me by my full name unless I'd done something really wrong.  It had been ages since I'd heard that.  "Listen son, I know your hurting right now but if you don't go to the funeral you will always regret it.  This is the last chance you're going to get to say goodbye..."  I didn't let him finish.
 
"I don't want to say goodbye Dad.  I can't.  Don't you understand?  I c..can't."  The tears had started up again and I lay my head back on my pillow.  I didn't have the strength to keep looking at him.
 
He sat on my bed and with his hands under my shoulders and pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me.  With my head supported in the crook of his neck he just held me and gently rocked me until by sobs abated.
 
"I'll help you through this Jon.  We can help each other OK?"  I could tell by his voice that he was also crying.  "But we have to do this today.  We have to do this for your mother's sake, OK."   
 
I gave in.  I didn't how I was going to do this but I nodded on his shoulder and said, "OK Dad, I'll try."  
 
"I'm proud of you Jon and Mom would be proud too."  He squeezed me even tighter.  "Do you need any help with the shower?"
 
"No, I'll manage."  I mumbled untangling myself from his embrace.
 
"OK, if you're sure, but call me if you need me son."  He left the room shortly thereafter and I contemplated what I had reluctantly agreed to.  This was going to be a bad idea, I could feel it.  But I would do it, I'd force myself to do it because I was doing it for her.
 
I rolled over and raised myself into a seated position on the edge of my bed.  I felt a little light headed from the sudden movement and so stayed still for a few minutes to gather my senses.  Staying put, I took of my top, sweatpants and socks leaving me in just my boxers.  Every movement seemed more difficult somehow, like I was underwater or something and I had to pause again to catch my breath before I could make a move for the bathroom.
 
Getting up was painful.  My joints were aching and my muscles, such as they were, felt sore.  I felt like I did after one of our intensive swim team practices, where we had been using weights as well as the pool.  I reasoned that this was due to my lack of activity in the last few days and hobbled slowly into the bathroom.  I took my time in the shower, turning in slow circles just letting the hot water course over my head, back and chest.  I washed my body and my hair and rubbed myself dry with a warm towel from the radiator.  I wrapped the towel around my waist, brushed my teeth and combed my hair before returning to my room feeling somewhat refreshed and not nearly as sore as when I started.
 
I avoided sitting down.  I suspected that if I was to stop then the lethargy I had been feeling would get a grip on me once more and I wouldn't be able to get started again.  I put on some clean underwear and started getting into the clothes that Dad had laid out for me.  I tried not to think about anything but the process of getting dressed.   
 
Not thinking, I'd decided, was the only way I be able to get through this.  I would just run on autopilot all day.  If I could stay close to my Dad I'd be OK.  It's just for a few hours then I could go back to bed.  I fished out the only pair of dress shoes I had and buffed them lightly to improve the shine.  I was just lacing up the last one when Dad knocked on my door.
 
"How're you doing Jon, you need any help?"  He asked.
 
I opened the door to let him in.  He was already fully dressed in a black suit and black tie.  He had an extra black tie in his hand and passed it to me as he came in.  I can't remember the last time I'd worn a tie and I fumbled with the knot a couple of times before giving in with a sigh and asking him to help me with it.  I put the blazer on and did up the front two buttons.  Dad stood back and appraised me, his head tilted slightly to the side.
 
"You look very smart."  He said nodding in appreciation.
 
I shrugged feeling a little self-conscious under his scrutiny.
 
"Let's go down and wait for the car, it won't be too long now."  He said turning and leading the way back downstairs.
 
We sat on the couch in silence while we waited and in what seemed like no time at all there came a knock at the door.  Dad stood and opened the door and spoke briefly to someone before turning to me.
 
"OK Jon.  The car's here, let go son."  He said.  I could feel my resolve failing me now that the moment had arrived and I lowered my head a little.  Dad must have realized that I was having second thoughts as his hand appeared suddenly on my shoulder giving it a gentle squeeze, which was both reassuring and encouraging at the same time.  I sighed and got to me feet.  I still felt quite weak and leaned on my Dad a little as we made our way out of the house and over to the shiny black limousine that was parked on our drive.
 
There was a large, balding, middle aged man in a black suit standing by the car holding the rear passenger door open for us.  He wore a sombre expression and nodded respectfully to both Dad and I as we climbed in, closing the door after us.  There was an odd smell about the car; a combination of vanilla and leather polish which, whilst a little sickly, wasn't entirely unpleasant.
 
As the car pulled out of our drive I looked out of the window towards Mike's house.  I couldn't see any activity and his Dad's car wasn't in the driveway.  We didn't pass Stacy's house as it was in the other direction to where we were headed.  To where we were headed...to the cemetery.  To avoid thinking about that I just stared out the window, not really focusing on anything in particular, just letting the world slip past me.   
 
It was strange seeing people going about their daily lives as we drove by; walking their dogs or chatting merrily to each other.  How could the world just go on as if nothing had happened.  My world felt like it had ended and here they were laughing and joking amongst themselves.  I hated their indifference to my suffering and turned away from the window, I couldn't bear to look at them any longer.
 
We eventually turned through a large gate in a stone wall and into the cemetery.  I was becoming anxious again and reached for Dad's hand.  He gave my hand a squeeze and flashed me a reassuring smile.  The car drove onwards past expanses of lawned areas filled with what seemed countless headstones and memorials of all shapes and sizes.  I could see there were some cars parked ahead of us and as we approached and slowed to a halt some of the car doors opened and people started to get out.
 
"Well, this is it Jon."  Dad squeezed my hand again. "I'll be right by your side, OK?"
 
Turning to face him I nodded once. "OK Dad, I'm ready."  Dad opened his door and got out.  I scooted over and got out of his door so that I could stay close to him.
 
A few people that I didn't recognize made their way over to us and offered their condolences to Dad and gave me sympathetic smiles.  I assume they were colleagues of Dad's from the College as they all had an academic air about them.  I stood close to Dad whilst he greeted them but tuned out most of what was said.  Dad took my hand in his and lead me as he started moving up a slight grassy incline to a raised lawned area.  I could see more people 50 yards or so away.  Some of them were standing in loose groups chatting whilst others were seated on what looked like fold-up chairs arranged in a couple of rows.  As we drew nearer I recognized a couple of people and my steps faltered.  Mike and Stacy were stood next to their parents.
 
They both turned to look in our direction as we approached.  I didn't know what to do.  I didn't think they'd be here.  I'm so stupid, why didn't I realize they would be here.  Both of their parents were friendly with mine and each had been over to our house on numerous occasions.  Of course they'd be invited.  It was too late for me to back out now though, so I did the only thing I could think of which was to not look at them.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see Mike make a move in my direction but thankfully his Dad caught hold of his arm, shaking his his head and saying something to him in a lowered voice.  I think I caught the word "later" but I'm not sure.  
 
Dad was greeted by more people but I don't remember what they looked like because by that time I had caught sight of the casket.  I didn't want to look at it but I couldn't seem to tear my eyes away.  'My Mom's in that box' was the only thought I had in my head.  If it wasn't for Dad leading us over to a couple of empty seats in the center of the front row I think I would have just stood rooted to the spot.  I felt totally numb.  We sat and a man who I assumed was a minister of some sort, at least he was dressed in some sort of religious looking robes, started speaking.  I don't remember what he said, I just kept staring at the casket.  'My Mom's in that box.'
 
It was only when I heard a 'click' and the casket started lowering itself into the ground with a quiet whirring sound that the reality of the situation suddenly kicked in.  I must have flinched because I could feel my Dad's hand squeeze mine tighter.  I looked up at him and he had tears in his eyes as he watched the casket disappear from view.  I could feel my own tears wetting my cheeks but I didn't make any effort to hide them from him or anyone else.  It felt OK to cry here.  There was nothing I nor anyone else could do to stop this from happening.  I had never felt to powerless, so helpless, so empty.
 
The minister invited Dad and I to each throw a handful of dirt down onto the casket together with a Tulip from a large vase at the side of the grave.  Tulips were my Mom's favorite flower and found their way into a lot of her artwork.  I followed Dad's actions robotically and threw the earth and the flower.  Standing at the graveside, seeing the casket at the bottom of that hole in the ground, I knew I would never be as close to my Mom again as I was now.  I'd never forget that sight, just like I'd never forget the sound of the earth as it hit the top of the casket.
 
And then it was over and we were heading back to the car.  Only the few grains of dirt between my fingers served as a physical reminder of the event.
 
The ride home seemed to take far less time than the ride to the cemetery.  As we were being dropped off outside our house I could see other cars from the cemetery pulling up and people getting out.  I shot Dad a questioning look.
 
"They just want to pay their respects Jon, they won't be here for long I promise."  He responded.  "Why don't you go up and get changed then come back down for some food.  I've arranged for some snacks and finger-food to be catered for us whilst we were out."
 
I nodded and, with a sigh, went into the house and upstairs to my room to do as he asked, whilst Dad stayed outside to greet our guests.  Would this day never end?  I slowly got out of my clothes and pulled on a dark pair of jeans and a gray polo shirt before walking through to the bathroom and splashing a little water on my face.  I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the bathroom mirror and did a double-take.  I looked awful.  My red-rimmed eyes looked lifeless and the dark shadows beneath them looked even more pronounced.  The more I looked the more I found my ghastly appearance strangely satisfying.  I was glad that I looked bad.  It was the least of what I deserved.
 
After a few more minutes I tore myself away from the mirror and headed downstairs.  I took the stairs slowly, listening to the low murmur of voices but unable to distinguish anything intelligible.  As I got to the bottom of the stairs I was suddenly assaulted by a pair of arms that flung themselves around my neck and squeezed me tightly.  I went rigid with shock.
 
"Oh Jon, I'm sooo sorry about your Mom." Came Stacy's voice next to my ear.  "I was so worried about you."  She let go and held me at arms length trying to look into my eyes.
 
I couldn't meet her gaze.  I was looking anywhere but at her face.  "I'm fine."  I said stiffly.  "Don't worry about me.  I'll be fine."
 
"Jon, it's OK to be upset, I understand how..."  She started to say.
 
"Don't say that!"  I snapped at her.  "Don't say that you understand how I feel, OK!  You have no fucking idea how I feel Stacy!  It's not your Mom that's dead, is it?  So how COULD you know?"  She took a step back from me raising her hands to her mouth, clearly shocked at my sudden outburst.
 
"I only meant..."  She began but I wouldn't let her finish.  I don't know why I was saying these things to Stacy.  I just couldn't help myself.  I think I needed to vent some pent up emotional pressure and her sudden appearance had given me an excuse to blow my top.
 
"Why are you really here Stace?  Come to pour some pity on poor little Jon, huh?  Well you can keep your pity.  I don't deserve it and I don't want it!  So just LEAVE ME ALONE!"  I could see tears starting to form in her eyes as I finished my tirade but I didn't want to see her cry, I couldn't handle that.
 
"JON!"  My father's raised voice caused me to snap my head in his direction.  "THAT'S ENOUGH!"  He said from the entrance to the kitchen.  That's when I noticed that it had gotten quiet.  There were other people in the kitchen, some holding paper plates of various snack foods, some just holding cups of coffee, but all of them looking at me, and right next to Dad stood Mike.  His face, like Stacy's, wore a shocked expression but mixed in with the shock was something else and I hated to see it.  It was disappointment and it made me really feel like the shit I was.
 
With a strangled sob I turned on my heels and ran back upstairs to my room and slammed the door.  I threw myself down on my bed and beat my fist into my pillow in frustration, mostly at myself for being such an asshole.  Stace was only trying to be my friend, trying to help me and I had to go and throw it back in her face.  Not only that but I'd gone and done it in front of my Dad and everyone else, including Mike for fuck's sake!  They're all going to hate me now.  But not nearly as much as I hated myself.
 
I heard the knock at my bedroom door but ignored it, curling myself into a ball again.  There was another knock and the sound of the door opening.  I closed my eyes, I knew Dad was going to be pissed at me and I was afraid to hear him tell me so.  I felt the mattress shift as he sat down.
 
"Hey."  Said Mike.  "I brought you some food.  Your Dad said you've not been eating much."  His voice was level, almost conversational but there was an underlying tone of what?  Caution maybe?  I wasn't sure.  It was enough to make me jump slightly regardless as I'd been expecting Dad.  I squeezed my eyes more tightly shut briefly as if to pretend he wasn't there.  But I could still feel his presence on my bed so I gave in and sighed heavily.
 
"I'm s..sorry Mike, I'm s..sorry for everything.  It's all..."  Damn these tears, I must look like such a baby.
 
"Hey!"  He broke in.  "Shut up and come here you idiot!"  He grabbed my hand and pulled me up so I was sitting up then pulled me into a hug.  "Stop apologizing."  He whispered in my ear and kissed me lightly on the cheek.  I cried lightly on his shoulder for what seemed like ages and he just held me.   
 
I remember getting sleepy and Mike helping me get undressed and into bed but little else.  The next thing I knew the early morning sun was streaming in through my bedroom window.  I raised my arm and rubbed my eyes.  Had I slept through the night?  I must have done.  I don't remember dreaming though, I just remember Mike holding me last night whilst I cried.  I sighed deeply, or at least I would have done had I not noticed that my chest was slightly constricted due to Mike's arm being wrapped around me.  What the..?
 
I turned my head and looked at his still sleeping face.  What the hell was he doing here?  I must have disturbed him as I turned because he opened his eyes and looked at me.
 
"Hey.  What time is it?"  He yawned and snuggled closer to me.
 
"Er, it's just after nine."  I answered glancing at my alarm clock.  "Uh Mike?  What are you doing here?"  I asked him, not daring to move at the moment in case it caused him to let me go.
 
"I asked your Dad if I could stay over.  I figured it was the only way you'd let me talk to you.  You're really warm by the way, better than that Teddy Bear I used to have."  He tightened his grip on me and sighed contentedly.
 
"Shouldn't we be getting up?"  I asked, trying to wriggle out of his arms.  "Dad will be bringing my breakfast up soon."  I really didn't want Dad walking in on us whilst we were in bed together.
 
"Yeah, probably."  He yawned again inspiring one from me too.  "But we should talk first, OK?"
 
"OK."  I sighed.  "But could you please let go of me?  I'm getting too warm."  It was partly true, having Mike wrapped around me was increasing my temperature but not uncomfortably so.  As nice as it was to be held, it wasn't something I was used to and I was feeling awkward and self-conscious about it.   
 
He complied and withdrew his arms from around my chest.  I turned so that we lay facing one another.  Nothing was said for a few minutes.  Mike was chewing his lip in that way he does when he's thinking hard.  I waited until he was ready.
 
"Jon?  Promise me you'll listen to everything I've got to say and not try to leave before I finish OK?"  He asked, his eyes searching mine.
 
"I promise I won't leave."  I meant it too, whatever he had to say I would hear him out.
 
"OK, well, first of all don't worry about Stace OK?  She's fine.  She knows you didn't mean to shout at her last night."  That was a relief.  I still felt like crap about it but at least I had some hope that I hadn't lost her friendship.  "But Jon,"  He continued.  "We're all worried about you.  We know you feel like shit at the moment and that's totally understandable but we're here for you Jon, we want to help you get through this OK?  Don't lock us out, please?"  He was so sincere it almost brought on the waterworks again.
 
"I'll try Mike.  It's just so hard.  I don't know what to do."  A tear did escape this time and Mike raised his hand to my face and wiped the tear away with his thumb.
 
"Just take it a day at a time.  We'll help you OK?"  He said, gently squeezing my hand.
 
"You already have Mike."  He really had helped, just by being there.  It gave me a little hope that things could get better.  Yet I knew that neither he nor Stace could be around all the time, what then?  What happens when I'm left alone and the guilt and the dark thoughts sink their claws into me again?  I forced a smile, I didn't want him to see the doubts I still harbored.  "I'm sure I'll be fine.  Thanks."
 
We lay there a little longer but the call of nature eventually won out and we both had to pay a visit to the bathroom.  I went first and had a quick wash and brushed my teeth.  I got dressed while it was Mike's turn in the bathroom and when we were both presentable we went downstairs.
 
Dad was in the kitchen reading the paper when we walked in and he looked up as we arrived.
 
"Well it's good to see you two up and about, can I fix you some breakfast?"  He asked, getting up and taking his finished bowl of cereal to the sink.
 
"Can I have some toast Dad?" I asked and he dropped a couple of slices into the toaster.
 
"Not for me thanks, Mr Barrett."  Mike politely declined.  "I've got to head home for a little bit.  I told Mom I'd check in with her first thing.  But I'll be back in an hour or so if that's OK?"  He said, aiming the question in my direction.
 
I nodded and walked him to the front door.  Before he left he turned to me again but didn't say anything, he didn't need to, he just smiled and that said more to me than any amount of words ever could.  I was so lucky to have him as my friend.
 
My thoughts were brought back to the present as the car pulled to a stop in a parking lot 20 yards or so from the entrance to the Welcome Break motorway services that Dad had mentioned earlier.  I noticed a sign for Burger King through the still torrential rain and felt comforted by something so familiar amongst so much that wasn't.  Even though I hadn't had any fast food for a while I felt, and heard, my stomach rumble at the prospect.
 
Even with Dad's large umbrella our lower legs were soaked in the short distance between the car and the covered entrance.  I'd heard that it rained a lot over here, I just hope it's not this bad all of the time.  Dad shook off the excess water and closed the umbrella and we went inside.  I noticed they also had a KFC but both Dad and I opted for Burger King.  I ate most of my Whopper with Cheese and all of my fries, washing them down with a watery Coke whilst Dad demolished something called a Double Angus.  It just looked like a burger to me.
 
We sat for a little while to digest and I glanced around whilst Dad finished his coffee.  We noticed a supermarket at the services and we took the opportunity to get some basic groceries so at least we'd have something for breakfast in the morning.
 
"We shouldn't have more than 45 minutes or so left before we get there."  He said as we bagged up the supplies.  "I'm looking forward to seeing the old place again."   
 
The old place he was referring to was his family home, an old former vicarage in Howeton, just west of Cambridge.  It had lain empty since Gramps had died two years ago and he'd left it to Dad in his will.  Dad couldn't bring himself to sell the place and had intended to use it as an occasional holiday home for us and to rent it out in the interim.  Neither option had been realized though, as we had never gotten around to visiting the UK as a family since Gramps had died and the local Real Estate people hadn't been able to find a tenant to take on so large a property.  Dad had made the trip to attend the funeral and take care of his affairs whilst Mom and I stayed at home.  
 
I had seen the place in photos and had a vague recollection of playing in the garden when I was around six years old so wasn't sure what to expect when we got there.  Dad used to love to tell us tales of his childhood exploits in and around the house and the adventures he and his friends had in the local woods.  It used to be easy to get caught up in his enthusiasm.  I suppose I'll be seeing the real thing soon enough.
 
True to his word, it was practically dead on 45 minutes later we were pulling up outside a set of ornate iron gates set in a high stone wall.  The gates were set in square pillars each topped with a stone sphere.  Dad got out and unlocked the chain securing the gates, struggling to control his umbrella against the wind and rain, and pushed each gate open and locked them in place with some pivoted hooks set in the ground.  Returning to the car, freshly soaked, he drove us through into the grounds and up a curving driveway which ended in a turning circle in front of the house.  In the center of the turning circle was small three tier stone fountain and although it wasn't running the basins were full of water, from this latest downpour no doubt.
 
I stayed put whilst Dad got out again and unlocked the solid looking wooden front door.  Looking at what I could see of the front of the house, I couldn't help but feel a sense of foreboding creep over me.  We had moved here for a fresh start but this didn't feel like a place were things started to me.  This felt more like a place were things ended.
 
 
 
To be continued...
 


 

This is my first attempt at writing a story.  Any feedback would be gratefully received.

 


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