Jamie is asleep with his head pressed into my pillow. I look at the clock on my bedside table. It’s only half past eight. I swing my legs over the bed and get to my feet. I’ve got a major case of dry-mouth and I really need to quench my thirst. My footsteps creak the floorboards when I tip-toe across them but luckily, Jamie doesn’t wake. The more he sleeps the better.
I wander across the landing but pause when I hear my mum downstairs talking. She’s on the phone.
“No...I know...I just haven’t had time...Nora’s here... I want to spend time with her.”
I sink down onto the top step and listen in. She sounds distressed, on the verge of tears. I clutch my chest. My heart aches at the sound.
“I’ll do it before you come home...yes, I promise... No, Tony, I know...I wont let it happen again...I know it was my fault...I’m sorry.”
I carefully make my way down the stairs and pause in living room. My mum is in the kitchen, I can see her through the open door. She’s leaning against the sink with the phone tucked between her ear and shoulder. A dishcloth is in her hands and she is nervously pulling out the threads. Her hands are shaking profusely.
“I’m sorry, Tony...yes, I’ll get it done...no, you don’t need to come home early...its fine...honestly.”
I make my way to the kitchen door. Her eyes find mine and go wide. They’re red from being so close to tears.
“Okay, Tony...I’m going to have to go...okay...bye.”
She hangs up and places the phone on the counter. She sniffs and wipes her dry eyes. A fake smile pastes across her face.
“Mum...” I reply cautiously.
“How did you get that black eye?”
She laughs nervously. “I told you, I hit it on the edge of the table.”
“No, you said you slipped in the bath.”
Her eyes widen but then she tries to wave me off dismissively. “Shower, table, same thing. Not to worry.”
“Tony did it, didn’t he?”
She sighs and her whole body slouches. “It was my fault, not his.”
“What? You accidentally walked into his fist?” I snap.
“Nora, he just lost his temper, he apologised, we’ve moved passed it.”
“It didn’t sound like you’ve moved passed it,” I nod down to the phone. “You sounded scared, mum. Are you scared of him?”
“We’re just going through a rough patch, sweetie. We’ll clear it up.”
“No, mum,” I tense up. “He hit you. You need to get rid of him.”
“It was a mistake, Nora. People make mistakes. It only happened the once. Seriously, I’m fine. He loves me.”
I look deep into his eyes, “You can find someone better, mum. Just because dad walked out, doesn’t mean you should give up.”
“I haven’t given up, I have Tony.”
“You’re only with him because you don’t want to be alone. Please mum, listen to me. He hit you. That’s just the start. And don’t say that it’s not because I could tell by the fear in your voice when you were talking to him that you know it too.”
“It was an accident,” she concludes. And by the glazed look in her eyes, I know he has warped her. She walks over to me and twirls me round. “Now go back to your room. Jamie can sleep in there tonight with you,” she steers me into the hallway, “but no x-rated stuff under my roof, okay?”
“But mum, you have to listen to me-”
“No I don’t, Nora. This is my business.” She pushes me towards the stairs. “Let me deal with it, okay?”
“But you’re not seeing sense, mum. He’s in your head-”
“Nora, pleasure.” She lets out a haggard sigh, “-go back upstairs.”
I grit my teeth and stomp up the stairs. I slam my door shut behind me and Jamie jolts up to a sitting position. I had completely forgotten he was there.
“You left?” He blinks hard and rubs his eyes.
“Oh, God,” I slump onto the edge of my bed and drop my head into my hands.
“What’s up?” He shuffles over and looks over my shoulder.
“Tony hit my mum.” I sniff and look up at him. His bright blue eyes stare back at me. “That’s how she got the black eye.”
“Oh, Nora...” He rests a hand on my back but I jump to my feet.
“I can’t believe she’s still with him after he did that too her.” Tears pool in my eyes and I let them fall. “I tried to make her see sense but it was no use.”
“Let me guess,” says Jamie, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, “she told you that it was a mistake? That is was her fault? That it would never happen again?”
My blood runs cold. “Yeah...how do you know?”
He sighs, “Because I heard the exact same thing from my mum.”
I gasp and sink down onto the bed next to him. “Your dad...abused your mum?”
He nods, “And me.”
My heartstrings twang when I look into his eyes. There is so much pain in them. How have I never seen that before?
“You know the birthmarks that you love so much?” he asks. I nod. “Yeah, they’re not birthmarks. They’re from when my dad liked to use me as an ashtray.”
I gasp. My stomach lurches. I feel sick.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
He shrugs. “It’s not something I really like to share with people.”
“So what happened? With you dad, I mean. Did your mother leave him?”
“Eventually.” He nods. “After he put her in hospital, I took matters into my own hands.”
I gulp. All the rumours that have been spread around uni rush into my head. “What did you do?” Did you kill him?
“I called the police. He got put away. Still there now. I hope the bastard rots in there.”
A tear drops down my cheek and I plant a soft kiss on his cheekbone. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”
He shrugs. “I’m just glad it’s over.”
“Y’know, people at uni have been saying that you broke up your parents so you could have two Christmases.”
He laughs a little. “Yeah, so I’ve heard. It’s better than the truth though, aye?”
I nod and rest my head on his shoulder. “So are all the rumours complete bullshit?”
“What other rumours?”
“Oh,” I begin to make slow circles with my finger on his thigh, “someone said that you helped a kid commit suicide.”
“No, that one was true.”
My heart thumps against my chest and I spring up, looking directly into his eyes.
He laughs a little. “Don’t act so surprised, Nora. You know me better than anyone.”
I gulp. He’s right. I shouldn’t be surprised. I had thought it was true right from the very start. But after everything he had said about his dad...I thought that maybe I had found his true core and all that other stuff was just a facade.
“You actually killed someone?”
He lets out a sigh and relaxed onto his elbows. “I didn’t kill him. I just helped him make the discussion.”
“Because it was the only option.”
“The only option was for him to kill himself? I don’t believe that.”
“Nora.” He shifts his weight onto one elbow so he’s looking up at me. “You clearly don’t know the full story.”
“No, I just know the important part. The part where you helped someone commit suicide.”
“He was depressed.”
I laugh in disbelief. “A lot of people are depressed. They go to meeting. They take medication.”
“He had tried all that, it didn’t work.”
“But there was still no need-”
He straightens up and looks into my eyes. “The guy was a good friend of mine. And I was his only friend. He was a loner. His dad left his mum when she found out she was pregnant. His mum despised him because he blamed him for everything bad that happened to her. His mum was an alcoholic that could never keep a job. They had barely any money. People at school picked on him because he always had greasy hair and smelled due to his mum not being able to pay the water bill. He hated himself because everyone hated him. He had hit rock bottom. There was no way he was going to be able to pick himself up.”
“There is always another option” I shake my head.
“Do you know why I spoke at his funeral?” he asks, I stay silent. “That’s because I was the only one who would. I was the only one who cared. His mum was so high she couldn’t string a sentence together. There were no tears. I had ended his suffering. And if you think that that was the wrong thing to do then you are just being naive.”
I look down to the floor. Silence fills the room. I’m lost for words.