If You Go Down to the Woods...

Chapter One

It was 6 o' clock on a crisp December morning when Aaron batted his phone alarm off and sat up quickly in bed so that he didn't drop back off to sleep. Normally a late riser, especially on a Saturday, it was unusual for him to be out of bed before eleven on a weekend. But this day was different, and it was with a mixture of trepidation and – yes, he had to admit – excitement, that he thought about what he would be doing today.

His mother had roped him into a charity fundraiser organised by Marlon to raise money for the Down Syndrome Society. Usually, he'd run a mile from anything so community-spirited, but this was a bit different. A paintballing day out in Connelton Woods, Woolpack versus Cafe, with the first team to find the other's base camp winning. Each participant had been sponsored per hour they manage to stay in the game without being shot by a member of the other team.

Aaron was actually really looking forward to getting out in the fresh air and running around like an idiot for the day. He was by no means over losing Jackson, and he didn't think he'd ever be able to fully recover from everything that had happened. But he was making steady progress now that he had been forced by Paddy and his mother to see a therapist. Now he had strategies to help him cope with the guilt and anger which had ruled his life and caused him to do terrible things over the last few months. The main turning point had been the look on his mum's face when she found him cutting his thigh up late one night. He never wanted to cause that look again.

Since then, he'd tried his best to stop hurting himself, to control his temper rather than letting it control him, and to build some bridges with his mum. They were all difficult tasks, especially the last, since Chas only had to open her mouth to annoy him sometimes. But according to Adam, that's just a talent all mothers possess, not just his.

After quickly getting washed and dressed into his black outdoor gear, he made his way downstairs, surprised to hear lots of voices coming from the living area. Pushing the door open, he was greeted by a room full of people in similar attire to his own. Adam, Moira and Victoria were sat at the table tucking into a large cooked breakfast each. Marlon was in the kitchen, plating up three more servings, while Chas was sitting on the sofa nursing a large cup of coffee.

"Blimey, you're all up early" Aaron greeted them.

"Tell me about it" grumbled Victoria, who was already wondering why she'd agreed to this.

"This is a lie in for us mate" laughed Adam through a mouthful of sausage.

"Here y'are. Get this down ya" said Marlon as he thrust a plate of food into his hands before placing one in front of Chas and sitting down with his own.

"Cheers Marlon" he said as he dug in. Sometimes it was handy having a chef for a cousin.

"So have we got any strategy plans for today then?" asked Moira, "Or are we just going to wing it?"

"We should have two people guarding our base camp the whole time, whilst the other four split into two teams and go two different ways to the enemy's camp" said Chas, as she pushed her beans around the plate with her fork. She looked up to see everyone staring at her as if she'd grown a second head. "What?" she asked.

"Nothing" said Adam, "just wasn't expecting such a full answer at 6 in the morning, especially not..."

"...from a girl?" Chas interrupted. "Here, I've had army training, love. Would've been a Lieutenant by now if it wasn't for...never mind." She picked up her still-full plate and was about to take it into the kitchen when Adam stopped her.

"I'll have that if you don't want it Chas".

"I'm trying very hard not to be offended here" said Marlon.

"Sorry Marlon, just not hungry" Chas replied. "I'm gonna go and get my jacket, everyone be ready in ten, yeah? The minibus'll be here."

As Chas left the room, Marlon nudged Aaron and quietly asked "She alright?"

"I dunno, I'm not her minder am I?" he shot back quickly. But he was wondering the same thing. She looked tired. "Probably just getting up so early" he thought to himself as he jammed a whole piece of bacon into his mouth at once.