"What kind of sick joke is this?" Jamie spat at Jared and Melanie.
"It's not a joke, Jamie," Melanie replied calmly. "Tom is here. He's in our room at the moment." Jamie's legs collapsed from underneath him; he flopped onto the mattress and placed his hands on the back of his head as if he was trying to catch his breath. Age had done little to Jamie's appearance. Despite being in his early thirties, he still appeared boyish, as he most likely would for his whole life. The difference was that he no longer had the same joy about him that he once had. He spent long nights by himself thinking about what might have become of Tommy, and wondering what might have happened if he had stayed with his son. Jamie never dreamt that he would ever have the chance to meet his son as a child able to talk. The last time he saw Tommy, he had been just a baby, a tiny, innocent, speechless baby. Jamie, himself, had only been seventeen, not even yet an adult.
"Why is he here?" Jamie asked in a whisper.
"He was going on a raid with Nate and some of his lot. They were going to stop here during the day to be safe," Jared explained patiently.
"How do I speak to him?" Jamie asked nervously.
"You get up off your arse and you walk to our room?" Melanie suggested, neither men in the room could tell if she was serious or being light-hearted.
"No," Jamie said evenly, ignoring Melanie's suggestion, "How do I actually talk to him? How do I talk to a teenage boy I know nothing about?"
Melanie sighed, "I don't know, Jamie, I really don't; but I do know you have to go see him." Jamie nodded and lifted himself up off the ground. His knees cracked as he stood up and, once again, he let out a sigh. Melanie grimaced at him as he crossed his arms and the two of them, plus Jared, headed down the tunnel to Jared and Melanie's cave.
Melanie ducked her head into the room; the sound of her muffled voice travelled back into the tunnel, the words unrecognisable. She popped her head back out and tipped her head towards the door. "Go on then." She told Jamie with a smile. Jamie uncrossed his arms and searched desperately in Melanie's eyes for some kind of help. Melanie gazed back at him with the same uncertainty that he felt, and Jamie realised she had no idea how to approach this situation either. Jared placed a hand on Jamie's shoulder, squeezing it gently, he pushed Jamie lightly towards the door. Jamie stumbled slightly on the rough floor of the tunnel, and then, warily, shuffled into the room. He slid up against the wall and looked across towards the boy sitting patiently in the corner of the room not touching a thing. Jamie's breath caught as he took the boy in. Tom Queens-Stryder, fifteen years old, a mirror of his father in his youth, but with the sparkling eyes of Casey Queens.
Tommy gazed at the man standing against the bubbled wall of the oddly shaped cave with the Swiss cheese ceiling. There were so many questions he wished to ask, but it felt wrong, so wrong given he'd never spoken a word to the man in front of him. There was no doubting this was his father, he knew that just from the man's looks, but was this his dad? The man, his father, opened his mouth as if so say something but as if he couldn't find the words he shut it again.
"What's your name?" Tommy asked quietly.
Jamie gazed at the boy, amazed by the voice that was like a record of his own. "James Stryder; though I've always just been Jamie; and your name?"
"Tom Queens; though everyone's calls me Tommy."
"Tom Queens-Stryder, not just Tom Queens."
"Mum never told me your name." Jamie stiffened at the mentioning of Casey Queens.
"How is she?" He asked tightly.
"Shit crazy, mental and moody." Jamie's brow creased, Casey was sick again? How could she possibly look after the boy in front of him if she was out of her mind again? Especially if she was anything like before.
"Does she look after you right?" Jamie's managed to ask.
"She doesn't really look after me," Jamie's jaw tightened as he clenched his teeth together and held his jaw rigid, "but Rachel always looked after me."
"She lives with us. I guess she's like my mum; like Casey's my mother but Rachel is my mum. She raised me more than anyone else," Tommy stopped to think a moment, "Burns always helped out, so did Rob, but I think that was more because he's sweet on Rachel and wanted any excuse to be near her."
"So you were okay?"
"No kids my age, no one but adults to talk to, no one to play with." Jamie nodded; he knew the feeling of having no one else his own age around him. Growing up in the caves, he was surrounded by mostly adults. Wes was the closest to his age, but still five years old, or should've been five years older. He was nothing now. Then the only other children were Freedom and Isaiah, too young to play with, and by the time they themselves were old enough, he was too old for them. There had only been Casey for that short period of time. And sitting before him was the product of that.
"Did you love Casey?" The question took Jamie by surprise.
"Yes." He paused. "Do you love your mother?"
"Yes. Sometimes it's hard though."
"I know exactly what you mean; she could be difficult at times." Tommy nodded. "Do you like stories?" Tommy nodded again. "I'll get Wanda to tell you everything one day then; about the universe and the souls and all the different planets."
"Is Wanda like Burns?"
"Yes. Her real name is Wanderer. She brought my sister back to me when I was fourteen."
Tommy was curious now. "Are they still sharing a body then?"
"No, Mel is Mel, and Wanda has a different body, so we have both of them. Plus it was tricky when they were together because Melanie was in love with Jared, but Wanda with Ian. You've met Jared and Ian, yes?" Tommy nodded. "There's another here too, her name is Sunlight Passing Through The Ice, but we call her Sunny."
"We just have Burns. His real name is Burns Living Flowers; he told me all about the Fire World. Has Wanda or Sunny been there?"
"No, they haven't, but Sunny has been to the Mist Planet with the Bears, and Wanda has been to eight other planets." Tommy's eyes lit up and Jamie couldn't wait to introduce him to Wanda.
The car bounced across the desert once more. Nate turned sharply and swung the car around to face the rocky pile that concealed the vehicles. He drove in slowly and carefully, and no sooner had he cut the engine Casey was out; scrambling past the rocks ad out into the cold desert night. Her head swung around as she searched for a clue of which direction to head.
"Which way?" She demanded of Nate. Nate pointed defeatedly in the direction of the caves. "Right then." Casey strode in the direction that Nate had pointed. Nate jogged after her, bemused, and frightened, by Casey's determination. It wasn't long before their welcome party of look outs met them.
"Nate," Jared called into the night, "you're back again soon." Casey kept her head down and didn't even slow her pace until she was standing all but a metre from the group from the caves. She looked up and Jared and scowled.
"Move." She said in a low, cold voice.
"What are you doing here?" Jared asked in an equally cold voice.
"You, Jared, have my son."
"You make it sound like we are holding him hostage, Casey," Jared said evenly, the statement filled with accusation.
"I want him back."
"He's with Jamie." Casey was crestfallen. She sucked in a small breath and turned her head away from Jared.
"And?" She whispered.
"And nothing." Casey turned her head back to Jared and then began to scan the group of familiar faces. Her heart stopped and her breath caught. Standing back slightly away from the others with a wary and conflicted expression was Ian O'Shea.
Ian opened his mouth and the first kind words of the night escaped his lips. Everyone turned to look at him as he offered: "I'll take her to the caves."
So I had a bit of trouble getting this chapter going and I think it shows a bit, but I have ideas for the upcoming chapters, so, fingers crossed, they will flow slightly better than this chapter. Really this one ended up being more like a filler introducing what is to come.
The Black Rosette