I kneel down beside Silver and I have no idea what to say. There is no point in explaining about Aunty Sophy, what she’s like because Silver won’t understand. She spoke the words therefore they must be true, at least in some way. That’s what Silver’s mind is processing at this point.
I reach for him but he flinches and pulls away. It breaks my heart. I stroke his hair and he doesn’t pull away this time, but his head remains down and he is still shaking.
“Silver...” Again he flinches... oh no, not just at a word. “Please hun... please don’t. Talk to me.”
He shakes his head slightly and I’m lost. I don’t know what else to do.
“They’re bad people Silver. They’re the ones who are bad and not you.”
He shakes his head again and I can’t stand it. Despite the fact that he tries to pull away I throw my arms around him and hold him close. For a moment he struggles but then all resistance ends. It’s as if the strength simply goes out of him and he collapses sobbing against me.
“It’s alright. It’s alright Silver. It’s alright. My aunt is not a nice person. She says she is a good Christian and she’s always doing things like fundraising and organising events, but it’s all just a mask. She’s a shell of pretty words but she’s rotten right through. Please don’t let her twisted prejudice hurt you.”
“No.” He gasps, burying his head in my shoulder and refusing to look at me. “She’s right. The things I’ve done... I... I am sick. I’m sick in my head. I can’t... I can’t be...”
“Listen to me Silver, listen please. You didn’t do anything. Everything that happened, all those bad things... they were done to you and you couldn’t have done anything to stop it. You were innocent, you still are innocent. And you’re not sick, you’re not.”
He laughs bitterly. “You’re blind.”
“Maybe I am. Maybe I choose to be, but none of this is your fault. You’re getting better Silver, every day and if you weren’t, if you stayed just as you are forever, I wouldn’t care because I love you just as you are. I have always loved you just as you were because the person you are inside, that you have always been, the one that shines through no matter what... that’s who I love.”
He shakes his head again but the sobs are ceasing and he isn’t shaking so much. I don’t know what else to say. What can I say?
“When she said you were sick she didn’t mean what you think she did. She’s said the same things to me, a thousand times. Do you remember when I told you that some people think that being gay is wrong... evil? Well she’s one of them. She’s a narrow minded, bigoted, hypocrite and it doesn’t matter to her who you are inside, she hates you because you love me and I love you. That’s all.”
For a moment he is still in my arms and then, at last, he tilts his head to look up at me. “You mean it?”
“Of course I mean it. When have I ever said anything to you that I didn’t mean?”
“But why? Why would she say those things to me just for loving you? I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I. I have never understood, but she poisoned by parents, ruined our relationship, separated me from my family and kept Ben away from me. Ben told me today that they have been telling him terrible things about me. It’s not you, it was never you. It’s what you represent.”
“But it doesn’t matter.” He looks exhausted and lies absolutely passive in my arms as I stroke his hair and face. His eyes are blank, not in the way they are when he withdraws from the world but because he is utterly hopeless and empty. “It doesn’t matter because what she said was true. I didn’t realise, didn’t think... I felt safe. I felt... I felt that you loved me and so I was... but I'm not. I’m spoiled, broken and she’s right... I shouldn’t be taking care of a little boy. I might break him too.”
“You would never break Ben. You are too... golden. You are not broken. Nikki was broken, but not you. You’re hurt and battered and bruised... but you are not broken. He shakes his head again closing his eyes and turning his head away to bury his face in my shoulder. “Silver...” But he won’t come out again. At least he’s not crying. That’s a good thing, right?
Finally Silver heaves a huge sigh and pushes away from me. He refuses to look at me as he gets heavily to his feet.
“Are you ok?”
“I’m tired.” And he looks tired. His eyes are red rimmed and puffy from crying and so dull they are stone grey, flat and empty.
“Ok. Go to bed and rest. Do you want something to eat?”
“You really should... you haven’t had anything all day. “
“Silver you’re not...”
I want so much to run after him as he climbs the stairs but what could I do? I’ve already tried everything I can think of. I turn reluctantly to search the kitchen.
I don’t know why I am surprised that the cupboards are full. Why wouldn’t they be? When my parents left they were expecting to be coming back. It was a life interrupted. I have another sniffle as I survey the evidence of lives which no longer exist. My father’s pickle in the fridge; my mother’s cream cheese beside it. The weighing scales that is used or discarded depending on whether or not my mother is on a diet. The sunflower seed bread my father likes.
Get a grip River. I don’t want to be away from Silver for too long so I quickly make some sandwiches and throw them onto a tray along with some crisps, chocolate bars, cheese cubes and the ready cooked cocktail sausages that Ben likes.
Silver is asleep in Ben’s bed. That in itself says a lot. Fortunately Ben has grown up a lot recently and he has a queen size bed. I climb up onto the bed next to him and wipe the fresh tears from his cheeks. He stirs and opens his eyes. For the first time in months he doesn’t smile when our eyes meet.
“You need to eat.”
He looks at me quietly for a moment and then sits up against the pillows, picking at the food listlessly, avoiding my gaze.
Eventually I just can’t stand it any more. He is scaring me. The spark has gone and the flat grey eyes remind me of Nikki which terrifies me. As he reaches for a crisp I capture his hand and won’t let it go even when he tries to pull away.
“I am not going to let this happen, Silver. That bitch poisoned my parents, ruined my live for a time and I’m damned if I am going to let her poison you and ruin yours. You have GOT to get past this. There are people out there, bad people who will hurt you just because they can, condemn you because you are different. It’s a sad fact but true. You can’t let them get to you or you will have no life at all. You know who you are and I know who you are and that’s all that counts. Bitches like her don’t deserve a second thought and are certainly not worth shedding a tear over.
“Do you love me Silver? Do you trust me?”
Silver’s eyes snap up. “Of course I do.”
“Then trust me on this. She was wrong, so wrong in everything she said. You are none of those things. You are beautiful and strong and brave. Look at what we came through, what you came through; look at the people who love you. Sam is not a person to give his love and trust to someone who is not worthy of it. You are a very special person, never doubt it.”
For a moment he just stares and I can almost see the thoughts crawling through his mind. Then slowly, very slowly he smiles, shyly at first but then more enthusiastically and his eyes fade from grey to silver.
“Are you going to eat now?”
He leans back against the pillows and sighs, sending me a playful look. “I’m too tired to lift my arms.”
“Oh really? Well then I really don’t know what you are going to do.”
“I think I might waste away. I can feel myself getting thinner. I’m so weak.”
Grinning I take one of the cheese cubes and put it in his mouth. He chews carefully, his eyes fixed on mine and a wicked look flashing between us.
“More. I need more.” He purrs when he is done. This time when I approach his mouth with a cheese cube he opens it wide and when I put the cube inside he closes his lips on my fingers teasing them with his tongue as he takes the cheese and releases me.
I feel dizzy. My heart, which had finally begun to slow when he turned the corner, is racing again for an entirely different reason. I know where this is leading and part of me wants to stop it. It somehow feels wrong to be doing this here. Not here in Ben’s room but here in this house. It just feels... wrong. However, an even bigger part of me realises that Silver needs this. He has been shaken badly, very badly. He needs reassurance and he is seeking it in the only way he knows how.
Therefore I lean forward and kiss him and in a moment the food is forgotten. Silver clings to me and everything he does shows his desperation... the kiss, the way he holds me, the way he makes love to me. There is nothing gentle about him tonight and there are times when he hurts me but I would never dream of telling him. He needs to work this out his own way and how could I be anything other than completely there for him?
Eventually we are both exhausted and fall asleep right where we are, tangled in the sheets and each other.
In the middle of the night I wake suddenly. I am still lying with my head on Silver’s chest, with his arm around my waist and I should be feeling good but something isn’t right. As I surface from sleep I realise that actually things are not as they were when I fell asleep, not at all.
For one thing Silver is not relaxed, his body is tense and the arm that encircles me has a hand that is twitching spasmodically, the twitching fingers clutching at me. He is breathing fast and moaning softly.
At first I think he is having a seizure but it doesn’t take long to realise that actually he is dreaming. I prop myself up on my elbow and gently stroke his chest and face. Gradually, so very gradually he calms and his breathing slows down. Finally he stops shaking and with a gentle sigh, slips into deep sleep again.
Long after he has settled back into sleep, I look down at him and tears burn my eyes. It’s been a long time since he had a really bad dream. I hate Aunt Sophy: I hate her. He looks so peaceful now and I know that when he wakes in the morning he will be calm and sweet and beautiful but inside he will be different... hurt. And there is nothing I can do about it. When Silver is like this I can’t reach him. He retreats inside... not like he used to... but still.
I stroke his hair and it is soft and smells so sweet. He stirs gently as I rake my fingers through it. I can’t stop. My heart hurts and he is so close, but so far away. Sweetly he turns in his sleep and snuggles into me. I lie down again, cradling him on my chest and continue to stroke his hair. With a sigh he tilts his head back and looks up into my eyes. He looks sleepy and smiles gently at me. My heart melts and I have to kiss him.
We are woken the next day by the telephone ringing. I am jolted awake with a shock. I hadn’t thought anyone knew we were here.
It is the hospital asking me to get there as soon as I can. They won’t tell me what is wrong and, of course I panic. Glancing at the clock I see that it is quarter to ten, more than two hours before the doctor had told me to be there.
I drag poor Silver out of bed, dazed and not having a clue what’s going on. I don’t even feed him and as soon as we are both dressed I bundle him in the car and speed off towards the hospital.
This time I won’t let Silver stay in the car. He has been silent and introverted since the moment he opened his eyes this morning, answering all questions with single word answers and a smile that never reached his eyes. He is decidedly nervous but then, so am I. I have a bad feeling and I don’t want to let him out of my sight.
As soon as we press the intercom on the door to the ward, things got weird. The doors to the ward are kept locked and the only way anyone can get in is by speaking to the nurses inside and convincing them they have the right to be there.
A nurse opens the door and immediately ushers us into a side room. Silver is shaking and clearly upset but he doesn’t say a word. We are left alone and I start to pace. All sorts of things are flying through my mind and none of them are good.
Eventually I realise the effect my behaviour is having on Silver. He is huddling in the corner, his eyes huge and fixed on me. There is something about that look that cuts through my anxiety and I immediately throw myself down on the seat next to him and take him into my arms. He rests his head on my shoulder. He is shivering.
“It’s alright babe. It’s okay. Don’t be scared. I’m sorry I upset you. I’m okay. I'm just worried that’s all.” He says nothing and that just worries me more.
The sound of raised voices outside the door snaps my attention back to the situation we are in at the hospital. That voice is familiar, very familiar.
“This is outrageous. You can’t do this to me. I’ll get my lawyer on to this. I’ll have your job.” Fortunately the diatribe is cut short as Sophy and Ray are escorted out of the door.
Silver has stiffened and is sitting ramrod straight, staring fixedly at the floor. “Silver, you know what she’s like. She’s a vicious poisonous bitch. Don't listen to what she says, please. You are...”
I am interrupted when the door opens and a rather flustered looking nurse comes in.
“Could you come with me please?”
“Is it Ben?” I say getting up.
“Please, just come with me.”
I am out in the corridor before I realise that Silver isn't with me, but it’s too late to go back now. The nurse is hurrying me.
Ben is hysterical. The doctor is trying to calm him but he’s having none of it. As soon as he sees me he flings himself off the bed and into my arms, clinging to me.
“River... please, please don’t let them take me. I don’t want to go with them. They want to take you away from me again. They said that I should live with them because they can look after me better and that I wouldn’t have to live with someone who is a really really bad person. She pretended to be nice but I know she’s not. She’s not nice. She said bad things about you and about... Silver. I know they’re not true. I know it.”
“Hush now. It’s alright. The only place you are going is home with us. Are you ready to go?” I glance up at the doctor who nods gravely. “Do you have clothes?” I realise with a sinking heart that I had been so startled by the phone call I have forgotten to bring clothes for him.
“He has what he was wearing when he came in.” The nurse smiles at Ben as she fishes a neatly folded pile of clothes from the cupboard by the bed. “They’re not entirely clean but I wouldn’t imagine that’s a problem for a boy your age.”
“Why don’t we let Ben get dressed?” The doctor says, drawing me towards the door.
“No River. Don't leave me. Please don’t leave without me.”
“It’s okay Ben. I’m not going to take River very far away. I just need to have a few words with him.” I smile reassuringly and follow the doctor out of the room.
As soon as we’re out of earshot the doctor turns to me, his face like thunder. At first I think he’s angry with me but it quickly becomes clear that is not the case.
“Mr & Mrs Henson have been making quite a nuisance of themselves this morning. They arrived about half an hour ago, shortly before we telephoned you. They demanded to see Ben and then tried to bully him into leaving with them. He clearly didn’t want to go and we tried to reason with them but they became extremely irate and angry which, as you can see, greatly upset Ben. Frankly, if you had not arrived when you had then I would have had no choice but to sedate him.
“I don’t know what’s been going on between you and frankly I don’t care. In my estimation you are a stable and well balanced young man, and she’s a bitter and twisted woman. Ben is my only concern and I think that quite apart from the fact that you, as his next of kin are legally Ben’s carer, I think he would be far better off with you.
“I have arranged for the Hensons to be escorted off hospital grounds and I would suggest you get as much distance between you as you can as quickly as possible.”
“Don’t worry doctor I fully intend to.”
“As I said, Ben is my first and only concern. Now if you would like to sign the release forms you can take him home.”
In no time I am walking down the corridor with a very nervous Ben holding my hand. I know Ben well, as well as anyone could, and the very fact that he is holding my hand shows just how badly upset he is.
When we get to the door of the waiting room I pause and Ben pulls on my arm anxiously.
“Why are we stopping? Why are we going in there? Who’s in there?”
“It’s alright Ben. I promised you were coming home. I promised no one was going to get in my way.” I smile. “But I can hardly go home without Silver, now can I?”
Ben’s eyes widen and a smile replaces the anxious expression. “I forgot.” He said simply but then his smile fades. “What if...?” he begins but I hush him and open the door.
Silver is sitting very much as I left him and I feel a pang of guilt.
“Silver, are you ready to go? Come and meet Ben.”
Silver raises his head and, when he sees Ben, he smiles. Ben has gone still and silent and I’m sure if he had been a few years younger he would have hidden behind me.
“Hello Ben.” That glorious, sonorous voice purrs and I feel Ben melt.
“Hello.” He says shyly.
Silver smiles again, a warm sunny smile that, this time, goes all the way to his eyes which turn metallic as he crosses the floor to us. Suddenly I am flooded with hope that this might be a healing experience for both of them. Ben willingly takes Silver’s hand and we walk out together. Ben doesn’t say anything but he keeps stealing glances at Silver, and who can blame him?
When we get to the car Ben insists on sitting in the back with Silver and within about five minutes they have their heads together chatting and giggling. I am happier than I have been in a long time.
When we approach the street Ben falls silent and I know why. My own heart gives a lurch when I see the house and I had only left it that morning. I still feel sick and poor Ben must be so much worse. I notice that Silver is silent too, instantly understanding and responding to his pain. Their fingers are laced together.
The realisation hits me that Silver is incredibly empathetic. Maybe we all are and it is hidden behinds screens; layers of broken relationships and rejections; years of observing and experiencing people, becoming jaded and cynical. Silver has had none of that. He is what he is. I can’t help smiling.
Ben is silent when we enter the house, his head down, shuffling his feet as if he is reluctant to go any further. Of course he is reluctant. Suddenly he makes a strange sound, half sob and half groan, and bolts up the stairs. Moments later I hear a door slam. I am locked, uncertain, not sure what to do. Should I go after him, give him space? While I am indecisive, Silver is half way up the stairs.
“Wait.” Either he doesn’t hear or he ignores me. I hear the door open and close and then silence. There are no raised voices, not that Silver has ever raised his voice, no tantrums and Ben doesn’t throw him out. I suppose they must be okay.
Feeling like a spare at a wedding, I wander into the kitchen and start to make lunch. I am setting out the plates for Spaghetti Bolognese when I hear steps on the stairs. Both Ben and Silver look as if they have been crying, which surprises me but both are smiling now which is all that matters.
Ben glances at Silver who smiles at him and then runs to me and throws his arms around me. I am taken slightly by surprise but reciprocate.
“I love you River. I’m sorry I ran away but I’m really glad that Silver came to talk to me, he’s awesome. Tell me you will look after me River. Tell me everything is going to be okay and I’m safe forever.” He falters but before I can say anything presses on. “I know that nothing can bring Mum and Dad back but please, please promise me that I’m going to be okay with you and Silver.”
I prise him off me and look down, although far less than I had the last time I had seen him, into his tear stained face.
“Ben, I swear as long as I have breath in my body and blood in my veins I will never let you down. I will take care of you and I will always be there for you. You have a home with us no matter what. I love you, you are my family and nothing is going to separate us again.”
“But Aunt Sophy said...”
“I don’t care what she said. I am the one who is going to look after you so she can say and think whatever she wants, it isn’t going to make any difference. If you want to, I will arrange for you to visit but if you don’t you don’t ever have to see her again. Don’t be afraid.”
Ben grins. “He said you’d say that.” I am confused about what he means and he laughs at me. “Silver; he said you would say that, that you would look after me like you looked after him.” I smile and ruffle his hair and he lights up. Suddenly, in the quicksilver change of mood, that I had forgotten was the mark of a pre teen, he grins up at me.
“Did you really kill someone... really?”
I glance at Silver who is smiling at me, his face entirely open and his eyes full of love. I force myself to smile but groan inside. I am going to have a serious talk about him some time soon. “Yes, but that’s not something we talk about okay?”
Ben grins wickedly. “Okay. What’s for lunch, I’m starving?”
We eat a companionable meal chatting about inconsequential things. Practical matters came creeping in, things I hadn’t thought of. Like what is going to happen to the house and contents and what about Ben’s school and friends?”
Between us we decide that, as there are only a few weeks left of term we will take Ben home and let him settle there before enrolling him in a new school at the beginning of next term. I ring his headmaster and run it by him. He is extremely shocked to hear what has happened and reassures me that of course, in the circumstances, he is more than happy with the decision. He promises to send home some work so that Ben will not start at the new school behind with the curriculum, and to send Ben’s notes on to the new school in due course.
After sending his condolences to all of us he talks a bit about Ben, saying that they will all be sorry to lose him as he is a bright and popular student. That makes my heart soar even more. I am so proud of him I could burst. Is this how it’s going to be all the time?
Next I contact the solicitor who is dealing with my parents’ estate and make an appointment to see him before we go home.
The rest of the afternoon is taken up with packing up Ben’s stuff for the move. For now we are just going to take essentials, like his laptop and gaming stations, along with his collections of games. The rest, like the majority of his clothes and books, will come later.
He tried to talk us into taking the enormous LCD television and looked quite worried when I told him that the house wasn’t big enough.
I left my parents’ things alone. I wasn’t up to sorting through any of them, not yet. I took the 2 boxes in which they had kept their important papers to hand over to the solicitor, but otherwise touched nothing. It just wasn’t the time