Chapter 16: I want to be honest with you all
Marian sat on the wall outside Eve's house, rubbing her gloved hands together. She was wrapped up warmly but the night air was chilly, freezing her breath into little white clouds every time she exhaled.
Light spilled out onto the garden path as the front door opened. Marian stood up as Eve walked out the house, bundled up in a winter coat, a scarf pulled up over her nose.
"Are you ready for this?" Marian asked as the two fell into step, walking down the street.
Eve nodded. "I have to face everyone sooner or later. Not that I have any idea what we're actually going to do."
Marian chuckled. "Me neither, Djaq was so secretive on the phone! All she said was to meet at the park and bring a blanket and an open mind. Oh, and that Will was going to build a fire."
"I hope she's not going to make us do a ritualistic naked dance around the fire or something," Eve joked, and Marian snorted with laughter.
"Did you persuade Much to come?"
"Yeah," Eve sighed. "When he found out Allan was going to be there he refused, but I talked him into it. He's going to have to get used to Allan being around sooner or later; he's part of the gang, after all."
"He shouldn't be, after what he did to you," Marian muttered.
"Marian, I told you! He explained it to me, and I forgave him; I can't tell you what he told me, but please just trust me that his actions were justified."
"I can't." Marian shrugged. "Sorry, but we're going to have to agree to disagree."
They had reached the park and climbed over the wall; the gates were locked at night. The park was silent and dark, but Marian had a torch, which helped to dispel the eerie atmosphere. Faint strains of music and laughter drifted to them on the breeze, from New Years Eve parties being held in the vicinity. The two girls began walking up the hill, towards where Djaq had told them to meet, ducking off the path halfway up and disappearing behind a low bank of bushes. There was a patch of grass sheltered from the wind, and the rest of the gang were there.
Will was kneeling on the ground, stacking twigs into a pyramid whilst Djaq crumpled up sheets of newspaper and pushed them into the middle. Robin and Much were talking, Much with his back to Allan, who was sitting quietly on his own. Eve sat down next to Allan, the unusually silent boy giving her a wan smile.
As soon as the gang was settled comfortably, wrapped in blankets and soaking in the warmth from the fire that Will had started, Djaq stood up.
"Hi," she started, sounding nervous. "I asked you all to come here because the past few weeks have been…strange. And we need something to bring us all together. A new year starts tomorrow – a new start. So I thought maybe we could do something that me and my friends at home always used to do." She fumbled in the plastic bag at her feet, pulling out a handful of pens and a notepad. "Everyone needs two sheets of paper and a pen," she told the confused people in front of her. "On one of them, write down something from the past that you want to forget, and we'll burn them. On the second page, write down a New Years resolution or a hope for the future."
"Are they going to be kept secret?" Marian asked.
"No. You have to read them out."
The gang immediately became more sceptical. "Not being funny, but there's some stuff that's private," Allan spoke up.
"That's kind of the idea," Djaq replied. "Look, we're all friends, and I think we need to be honest with each other. If there are things you really don't want to share, then fine. But please, just give it a try."
"I think it's a good idea," Will piped up, and Djaq smiled down at him gratefully.
"Me too," Eve offered her support. Her willingness to share the turbulence of the past weeks with them seemed to encourage the others, and for a few moments the only sound was the scratching of pens on paper and the crackling of the fire.
"Shall I go first?" Djaq asked, once everyone seemed to be finished. The others all nodded, looking nervous, and Djaq stood up. "I've been thinking a lot recently about how I've been doing things to make other people happy. My parents expect certain things, and whilst I still plan to respect them, I've realised that it isn't worth doing things that make me unhappy. So that is what I'm burning." She held the piece of paper over the fire, and cast a sideways glance at Will. "And that includes seeing Amir again." She dropped the paper into the flames. "And my New Years resolution is to find a balance between my happiness and my parent's expectations." She folded up her second piece of paper, put it inside a small tin, and sat down again.
"I'll go next," Eve offered, standing up. "You all know these past few weeks have been rough for me. But my dad has gone now; it's just me, mum and Jake at home. So I am burning all the family crap that's been going on." She threw the paper into the fire, watching the flames claim it. "And my resolution is to not touch a single drop of alcohol."
She tucked the piece of paper into the tin and sat down again. Allan reached out, giving her hand a squeeze. He knew that she meant it, and was proud of her for declaring her intentions to the rest of the group.
"Allan?" Djaq asked. "Will you go next?"
He shook his head. "I want to go last."
"I'll go," Marian offered, detaching herself from Robin's warm arms and standing up, looking down at them all with honest eyes. "I always used to do the easy thing in life. I spent five years being friends with Guy and Tony and the rest of them, because it was safer to be popular than stand up for what I believed in. But then I met all of you, and realised there are important things in life; you have to stand up and be counted no matter what it costs you." She crumpled the piece of paper in her hand and threw it into the heart of the fire. "So I am burning taking the easy way out. And my resolution is to always stand up for what I believe, because I have to be true to myself." She took the tin from Djaq and slipped her second piece of paper inside it.
The four boys were left and they all eyed each other, none of them feeling quite comfortable with exposing their thoughts. Will caught the nervous look on Djaq's face and, knowing that she was afraid they all thought her idea was stupid, stood up.
"I don't have anything to burn," he started, uncurling the fingers of his right hand and showing them all his empty palm. "I don't regret things – if I think that something is wrong or bad, I try and fix it. But sometimes life does get crappy, and it was always just me and Allan against the world. But now – now I have all of you as friends, and my resolution is to always be here if you need me." He spoke to the whole gang but his eyes were on Djaq as he lowered himself back to the ground.
"Me next," Much volunteered himself, standing up and pushing his glasses more firmly onto the bridge of his nose. He cleared his throat noisily and unfolded his scrap of paper with nervous fingers, squinting down at it in the flickering firelight. "I never say what I want to say," he told them all. "I do what you tell me, Robin, and I try to look out for all of you because I love you all. But maybe it's time for me to do what I want to do." He tossed a piece of paper on the fire and looked down at his second piece, before crumpling it into a ball as if deciding that he knew what he wanted to say without having to read it. "So I am going to say what I want to say." He took a deep breath and turned to look at Eve. "I like you, Eve, and I want to look after you. So whenever you are ready to let me, I'm here." He sat down abruptly, blushing furiously and steadfastly looking in the opposite direction to Eve.
Allan nudged the girl, chuckling at the faint tinge of pink in her pleased face, and looked at Robin. "Go on Rob, after you."
Robin shrugged. "I don't really have anything to say."
"Robin," Marian said warningly, her eyes flicking towards Djaq, who was biting nervously at her lip.
With a deep sigh Robin heaved himself to his feet. "I don't really have any regrets either. I think my life is pretty awesome." He winked at them all and they all groaned at his cockiness. "If there is one thing I wish had happened differently, it's the fact that I lost touch with Major. But that's all sorted now. So I guess my only resolution is to never let it happen again."
He sat down again, Marian snuggling up to his side in acknowledgement of his loving words. Allan jumped up to his feet, trying to project his usual brimming confidence, but knowing that it was all bravado. His hands were clasped behind his back to disguise the fact that his fingers were twitching nervously and his heart was hammering against his ribs.
"I've been lying to you all," he began with a shrug. "Well, not telling you the truth, anyway. Which is quite common for me, really. But it's about time you all knew something, and I'm never serious like I'm about to be so pay attention."
The others, who had not been expecting to hear a word of meaningful honesty pass Allan's lips, looked up at him in surprise. Allan usually avoided revealing anything truthful about himself by reeling off fantastical tales laced with ridiculous comedy and lewd jokes, saying a lot without really saying anything at all. But they could all sense a rarely-heard grain of candour in his tone, barely detectable beneath the offhand statement.
"I don't want to burn anything, and I don't have a resolution. Don't want to make a promise I won't keep. But I want to be honest with you all; you deserve that." He took a deep breath. "My dad's an alcoholic."
The frank admission was followed by a rush of air, as Allan expelled a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. The words hovered in the air and Allan half wished he could reach out and snatch them back, swallow them back into the privacy of his mind and cover the awkward silence with a bellow of jokey laughter – but he stood firm, meeting the gaze of each of his friends, taking strength from the pride in Eve's eyes.
"I – " Much stammered, staring up at Allan, his mouth wide with unabashed horror. "I understand now." Shame claimed his features, his mouth twisting into a shape that Allan would have found comical had his tongue not been glued to the roof of his mouth with nerves. "I am so, so sorry."
Allan shrugged. "I don't want your pity."
"I didn't mean it like that. I just – I didn't give you a chance to explain, when Eve was in hospital. But I understand now – why you couldn't help, I mean."
"It's not your fault," Allan replied awkwardly, unused to reassuring others but unwilling to hold Much responsible for his own ignorance.
Much stood up, pushing his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose with one hand whilst wiping the other on his jeans before offering it to Allan. Allan grasped it and gave it a firm shake, trying not to laugh at the look of relief on Much's face.
"Don't be getting all soppy on me," he warned. "I'm not being funny but I bet your mascara isn't waterproof."
Everyone laughed, a little too brightly, but it broke the tension. Over the laughter came the faint strains of a universal countdown, the drunken shouts of the final seconds of the year echoing in the stillness of the park.
"It's almost midnight!" Marian realised in shock, squinting at the watch on her wrist. "Come on!"
Scrambling to her feet she hauled Robin up with her and the others followed suit, grasping hands as they stood in a circle around the fire. "Five!" They all took up the cry. "Four! Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!"
They chorused the words in a cacophony of cheer and smiles, hugging each other and grinning with the newfound closeness born of their honest confessions, until the merriment died down along with the fire. The chill air forced them to stamp out the dying embers and, after Djaq buried the tin containing their resolutions, the gang walked across the park and clambered out onto the road.
They set off in the direction of their homes, walking close together, comfortable in a contented silence until they reached the turn off for Djaq's house.
"I'll walk you home," Will offered to the girl at his side. Djaq opened her mouth to protest and he cut her off. "I'm not asking if you want me to, I'm telling you that I am. It's late."
Djaq laughed. "Then I suppose there is no point in me arguing." They set off in the direction of Djaq's house, walking in companionable silence. After a few quiet minutes Djaq spoke up. "I was so surprised by what Allan said. All this time, and I never knew…I assume you did?"
Will nodded. "I've always known. I can't remember a time when I knew Allan, and didn't know that his dad drank too much. Even when we were little and didn't know what an alcoholic was, we knew that there was something wrong with him."
"So that is why Allan doesn't drink?"
"Yeah. He's always the life and soul of the party, even without alcohol; I think he's constantly trying to prove to himself that he can have a good time without getting wasted."
Djaq nodded thoughtfully. "When we've been at parties and stuff, it always seemed like maybe his smile was a little too bright. Like he was forcing it."
"That's Allan. I mean, most of the time he is having a good time – he's just determined to always be happy. He doesn't want to end up like his dad."
"So when he said his dad was away…"
"Rehab," Will confirmed. "He's been in a few times, always falls off the wagon though. He was there that time we crashed at Allan's, but he was drinking again within a fortnight."
Djaq shook her head. "I feel so guilty now, for judging him for leaving Eve. It all makes sense now."
"He's had to call an ambulance for his dad a few times," Will explained. "He was only eight the first time. His mum had already left, couldn't cope with it anymore. He had to come and live with us whilst his dad went into rehab, but then he was allowed home again. And when he saw Eve…he just couldn't go through that again. It breaks his heart every time."
As soon as the idea of a broken heart was raised, the image lingered in the air between them and made the atmosphere awkward in a second. As they walked past a small cluster of shops, Djaq reached out and tugged on Will's sleeve. As the boy came to a halt Djaq turned to him.
"I need to talk you," she started, taking a deep breath. "I actually wrote down a second resolution, that I didn't tell anyone else, and that was to be honest with you. I forced Marian to tell Allan that I didn't like you – it was a lie."
Will blinked at her. "It was?"
Djaq nodded, ducking her head, trying to hide the red tinge in her cheeks. "I do like you. A lot."
There was a long silence as Will stared at her, trying to get his head round the news that his feelings were not unrequited after all. Excited hope began to bubble in his stomach but he forced himself to control it. "So – "
"But nothing can change," Djaq said quickly, as if getting the words out faster would diminish the pain of their meaning. "My parents, they expect me to be with a Muslim. And I can't disappoint them."
"But back there – you said – " He gestured helplessly back towards the park and Djaq forced her eyes from his face, unable to look at his hurt and confusion any longer.
"I said I still plan to respect them," she reminded him gently. "I'm not going to do things, like date Amir, purely for their sake – because I didn't like him. But I'm not going to go out of my way to disappoint them, in order to secure my own happiness. Being with you – it would make me happy, but it my parents would hate it. And that would kill me, Will. I couldn't do that to them."
There was another long pause. "I understand," Will finally said, and started walking again.
Djaq stared after him, her relief at finally getting her feelings out in the open quelled by the unease that came from not following her heart. She had known he would understand, had known that he would be kind and respect her decision, because that was Will. But part of her wished that he was angry her – she deserved to be shouted at, deserved to have her own guilt compounded.
"I'm sorry," she called after him, knowing how empty and ineffectual her words were as they floated in the air between them. She saw Will's slender shoulders hunch upwards in a shrug, but he kept his face turned away from her and she didn't try to catch him up, unwilling to see the disappointment that she had caused in the eyes of a boy she loved.
Author's Note: Hmm. Not my favourite chapter, but I guess it says what I wanted it to say!
Sorry about the wait between updates. I really struggled with this chapter - plus, my best friend FINALLY came home and a few others came back from uni, so I've actually had a life wider than work and RH fanfic. Crazy, I know. I feel like I need to dive back into the RH world and immerse myself again!
I want series 3, like, now.