Rain poured down over London, hammering against the dodgy roof and cracked window panes of the Den. The boys stood there looking at the blur outside, wearing an expression which showed very clearly the dread they were feeling. No-one wanted to go out on such a cold, wet day.
The Artful Dodger glanced at his friend, Charley Bates, and grimaced.
"So bloody English, ain't it?" Charley pulled a funny face, and then went back to the window. Dodger was about to turn around and help himself to a little more stale bread but then he felt it. That little squirmy sensation in the pit of his stomach. The Artful knew that it was his gut instinct taking over. It always told him when something wasn't right. And he could feel now that something was wrong.
But what? Not the weather, surely! They'd seen rain before… Not people's reactions either - he hated having to get even colder than he already was too. Not his comment on English rain; there had been many a time when he'd cursed it. Not Charley's funny face… He had a different one for every occasion…
Dodger turned round slowly again, but this time not to glare at the water hitting the glass like bullets, but to take in Charley's expression. His mate was still looking outside. But he had a little more than dread on his face. Was it pain? Dodger wasn't quite sure, but whatever it was, it was causing Charley a lot of anguish. His eyebrows were knitted together, his eyes wide and he appeared to be biting his lip.
"Charley…" Dodger whispered, not wanted to draw attention from other gang members, "Are you alrigh', mate?"
Charley suddenly took a deep breath in and seemed to be gathering himself together as he faced Dodger and put on his usual smile.
"Yeah, 'course!" He said, a little too brightly. Jack nodded and went back to normal routine, although he wasn't convinced. His intuition was still talking. And it was saying that Charley wasn't being truthful…
Subconsciously, Dodger noted down Charley's behaviour throughout that day. Charley picked pockets with him, as usual. He made jokes about nearly everything, as usual. He got very cold and very wet, as usual for a rainy day. He jumped puddles, like he always did. He was acting perfectly normal. Or at least, when Dodger was looking.
Occasionally, when Charley didn't see Dodger looking at him, Dodger caught a glimpse of that strange expression. It was like Charley was worried or even scared of something and was trying not to show it.
He didn't like the fact that he could sense his friend's discomfort. Sometimes he wondered whether it worked both ways. Can Charley sense what he's feeling? Dodger liked to think so. In his mind he pictured it as some sort of telepathic connection… but although that seemed rather cool, he did bring it back down to Earth a little. It was more likely that they had spent so much time together that they knew how each other acted when they felt a certain way. They may be very, very subtle things that change but they become obvious in a person you know so well.
They were the things that only he, Charley's best mate, his "brother" and his confidant could see.
The sky was still as grey as it was yesterday, but at least it wasn't raining. Charley Bates leaped over a very big puddle. But this had been a little too adventurous as the heel of Charley's holey boot landed in water.
"Ewww!" cried Charley and began a funny dance to shake it off.
"What the 'eck chu doin'?" laughed the Artful Dodger, who had been a couple of steps ahead of him, looking for more victims.
"Me foot's wet!"
"Jus' a bita wa'er ain't it?" Dodger cocked his head and raised one eyebrow.
"Yeah…" Charley tried to laugh but it came out rather shaky, "… Jus' wa'er…"
"Seriously, mate, what's goin' on?" said Dodger, quietly, walking over to Charley who was still shaking his foot and holding onto the edge of Tower Bridge.
"I dunno what cha mean." muttered Charley. Dodger just raised his eyebrow again. Charley had hoped no-one would ever notice. That he could pretend he wasn't… wasn't scared. Scared of something other than the obvious getting caught by the traps.
He should've known that his best mate would see through him just as soon as heavy rainfall came. It was only a matter of time.
"Alrigh'." grumbled Bates, "But cha gotta promise not t' laugh."
"Would I ever?" scoffed Dodger. Charley decided not to answer that question.
"See… the thing is… I 'ave… it's um… I'm afraida drownin'…"
Dodger couldn't help it. It sounded too ridiculous. He actually laughed in his face.
The only trouble with that was Charley didn't seem to find it funny. In fact he looked downright hurt. He pushed past Dodger, making sure he bumped him with his shoulder and stomped off to the other side of the bridge.
Dodger knew he'd hurt his mate and broken his promise so, after he'd recovered from a laughing fit, slipped through the crowd after Charley. He eventually caught up with him on ground level.
"Please, Charley, I'm sorry!" Charley said nothing. Not a good sign. "I didn't mean t' laugh!"
Charley stopped so that the Artful Dodger could move so they were face-to-face. His bottom lip was sticking out and a grumpy frown was on his face. It was rather comical but Dodger forced himself not to laugh again.
"So… why chu afraida drownin'?"
Gurgled screams filled Charley's head. He could feel freezing water all over his body, engulfing him. His lungs were contracting and his vision went blurry. He could no longer see his best friend. He was looking up into a woman's face. A face he could barely remember. And she seemed to be dunking him over and over again…
He snapped back to reality. Back to Dodger's face, which no longer had even a trace of a smile on it.
"Just a… memory…" Charley whispered in a choky voice. Jack didn't bother asking more. If Charley felt anything like he did about that sort of thing, then he knew that "memories" were often terrible half-dream like things that you just wanted to forget rather than remember.
"So ya scared hu?" muttered Dodger, more to himself that to Charley. "D'ya know what cha gotta do with fears, eh?" He looked into Charley's worried blue eyes as Charley shook his head. "Ya gotta face 'em, o' course!"
Charley didn't like the sound of that.
"What cha gonna make me do…?" he said, suspiciously.
"We're goin' swimmin'!"
"I… I don't like this Jack…" whined Charley. The two boys were standing on the bank of a small tributary that ran into the Thames. It was quite quiet round this area. The boys were only wearing grubby undergarments.
"Relax!" assured Dodger, "It ain't deep." Then he ran right into water.
To tell the truth, he didn't like the murky water splashing up above his belly button, but he kept a brave face on. It was a small price to pay for helping a friend.
When he got to the middle he turned back to Charley, who was shivering on the bank.
"C'mon! Look, I'm still able t' stand!"
Charley padded carefully to the edge, trying not to step on any broken glass bottles. He stuck a toe in. He immediately pulled it back out as the shrill screeching started up again.
"I don't think I can do this!" he wailed.
"Yes. You. Can." Replied Dodger, in a comforting voice that Charley didn't even know he possessed.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the water. Stop being so silly, Charley told himself.
He took another step. He could feel something slimy under his bare foot. He gulped and looked for Dodger's help. Dodger had an encouraging smile on. So Charley took another step.
Slowly but steadily, Charley made his way in. Yes, it was cold and yes, it was dirty but at least he could stand in it… at least he wasn't being shoved under.
As soon as the water got to Charley's chest level, Dodger sensed more panic in his friend. He waded over to him.
Something about Dodger's presence made Charley feel safe.
"There," said Dodger, calmly, "Not that bad ain't it?"
"No." breathed Charley. But something was still nagging him. "But this ain't deep… the Thames is deep ain't it? I could fall in… I could still dr-"
"You won't." interrupted Jack. He could tell Charley was about to work himself into a frenzy.
"'Cause it's 'ighly unlik'ly."
"Bu' it could still 'appen."
"No it won't."
Dodger could think of nothing else to say.
"'Cause… 'cause I'll be with ya."
Charley stared at his dark haired friend.
"Ya know ya can't always be with me!"
"Yeah, bu' I'll be with ya whenever ya near deep wa'er. And if ya do drown, which is 'ighly unlik'ly, chu know I'd do everythin' and anythin' t' save ya."
Charley was about to reply when a gruff voice called;
"Oi! Chu two! Get outta there!" A big stout man was bellowing at them from the bank. His dog was barking too.
"Make me!" retorted Dodger, not frightened by some man who thinks he practically owned the river.
The man started towards them, angrily, but stopped when he realised he would have to get wet to do so. Instead he swore loudly at them and huffed off down the nearby road, his dog at his heels.
Dodger grinned smugly.
"See, anythin'. Even fightin' off stupid men and their dogs!"
Charley laughed a proper laugh for the first time in two days. Dodger grinned. Then he cheekily splashed Charley in the face. Charley looked shocked for a moment but then he realised that he wasn't coughing and spluttering. His blue eyes glinted, accepting the challenge of a splashing battle.
Yay for Charley and Dodger friendship! Hope you liked! And I'm gonna leave you guessing Charley and Dodger's "terrible memories". Please Sir, may I have some more reviews?