17

FOUR YEARS LATER (catch up)

I was sixteen. My second to last year at high school, then I was off into the "real world," as I called it back then.

Silly, really, how I thought of Castle Rock back in those days. I thought it was too small to count as a proper place. I acted almost as if it was all a game. That it was just for a bit, then it was back to "real life," into my mother's arms for tea and biscuits.

Either way, I was still in the high school there, enrolled in the college courses.

Chris' family had no problems with me staying there. Eyeball and I, along with all his mates, ended up getting along really well. Really, really well. They accepted me pretty quickly, to be honest. I thought it would take time, that they would have to get past my being with the younger lads when the Ray Brower incident happened. But no. It was much sooner than that.

The ice got its first crack that first day I was at Chris', and I had a go at them. That's when they realised I wasn't just a little kid. Then later that month, they had a huge get together, which entailed much drinking. The ice well and truly cracked at that party, when I talked to Charlie and Billy for a few hours and got off my face with them.

Then, when I was fourteen, they had the biggest party you have ever heard of. 114 boxes – not bottles, boxes – of beer were brought in, plus a whole world of spirits. Of course, I was now apparently of an age at which I could drink in such a way, so I did. I also ended up smoking a lot of weed, which I now regret immensely. I just look back at some of my behaviour that night and cringe.

Anyway, at that party, Eyeball came onto me and we had tash-on and then he and I were as close as close is close. Then Ace warmed up to me when I took care of him as he was passed out in the teeny tiny bathroom, practically swimming in his own vomit.

Jack and Fuzzy I guess just saw how I was with the others and decided I was fine. I don't remember a certain occurrence that made us click, but it was a gradual process.

So I eventually wriggled my way into their lives, completely unaware that I was doing so. But I'm glad I did, and that they let me, because they made up a lot of what was fun for me in that time.

Now, Vern and Teddy began to drift away from Chris and Gordie. But I wasn't having any of it.

I asked Gordie about it once when we were about thirteen, and he just shrugged it off. "Friends come in and out of your life like bus boys in a restaurant," he said dismissively, then returned to his slasher comic.

Chris wasn't much better. "They've changed. Friends drag you down, Khione. That's what always holds you back," we were sat at his little kitchen table, and he put a hand on mine, smiling reassuringly at me. "You gotta choose the right ones."

I smiled back at him. Before he had the chance to realise it was a wry smile, I leant forward and briefly kissed him. I pulled away and continued on with my homework.

They had clearly moved on, but I wasn't done with them. I had experienced something huge with them, something that had changed all of them. So I made a huge effort to stick with them, to never forget them.

I somehow got a place as Vern's protector. I wasn't physically as strong as some of the guys that hassled him, but I was faster. And I was certainly good at knocking them into the ground with words. So he would always come to me if he was in need, and I would always deliver in a totally nonsexual way.

Teddy and I just clicked. We were both crazy, and we just got along so well. I found that if I was upset, the kind of upset that didn't make me need to talk, but need to brush it off, that I would go to him. He had this incredible way of just making me forget about everything. So I couldn't ever bring myself to leave him.

Gordie and I stuck to each other like glue. He was the only family I had left, and I had no intention of losing him. He was everything to me, and I to him. I think it goes without saying, that he was like a brother to me.

Chris. Where the fuck do I even start?

Well after that day when we made out in the tree house and I moved in, we still weren't together. We were, I don't even know. Friends with benefits. Actually, that is exactly what we were. Friends with benefits.

We acted like we were together, but only around the house. Never in public. People at school would look at us and say, "You guys should go out." We would laugh, he putting his arm around my shoulders and I resting my head on his chest. Then we would shake our heads and say "No, of course not! We're just friends, and only that. Just really good friends."

But it was so much more than that.

We kissed all the time, I made him breakfast every morning, and then the he and Eyeball dinner when their dad was out drinking. We talked about everything. He told me what was on his mind and I told him what was on mine. We had no secrets and nothing to hide from one another.

I didn't even call Eyeball Eyeball. I always called him Richard. Don't ask me why, but I like to call people by their full names. So anyway, Richard was the only one who knew about Chris and I. no one else. And that was only because he was coming to my room to ask something and we just so happened to be on my bed "chewing each other's faces."

Chris and I really liked each other. Ever since that very first kiss, maybe even before that, I liked him. And he said it was love at first sight for him, which is bullshit. I don't believe in all that fuckery. Love at first sight can kiss my ass.

But that's what he said it was. I saw him and thought he was just about the most beautiful person I had ever seen. I just thought he was gorgeous. But it wasn't love.

We just didn't feel inclined to get together. We felt that it was fine how we were. I chalked it up to it just being more exciting for the both of us. We were about as close as a guy and a girl could get, but it never left the thin walls of their – our – little cottage.

It was halfway through my second to last year at high school when it all started to change again.

I had this new friend Kel. She had thick black hair and a face full of distaste. But she could be a great laugh, and I liked having her around. She told me once that she liked Chris, but I didn't hear much of it.

She'd been admiring him from afar for much too long, in my opinion, and so I took it upon myself to introduce them. I didn't tell her though. It was too be a surprise.

We were standing on the edge of the court, she and I, in between where the fittest lads would be joking around and where the dullest would be smoking in the corner. I looked out onto the large field where Chris would play "football" with Gordie and some other mates. I took the opportunity.

"Hey Kel, do lets go over and watch Chris," I said, putting a hand on her arm.

Her eyes grew larger, then returned to a normal size. "Why? It's just football, Kee. Nothing for us to worry about."

"Oh, come off it," I said, hands now firmly on hips. "He's me friend and you like him so lets go and watch."

She laughed, but I wasn't sure why. "No."

"Well," I said, turning on my heel. "Guess I'll just go on me ownself then."

I began walking briskly across the court and onto the moist ground on the field. I heard footsteps behind me and Kel appeared at my side. "You can't just walk off without me!"

"Well, honey, I knew you'd come after me," I said, laughing up at her. "So it don't count."

She sighed with frustration, but then was distracted by Chris trotting over to us. Immediately, a bright and breezy smile spread across her face.

"Hey, Khione!" he said, giving me a bear hug as he always did.

"Hey babe," I greeted him, my hands on his back, head in his chest.

We held it for a moment more, then broke apart.

"Right, so Chris," I said, turning to Kel. "This is Kel, Kel, this is Chris!"

"Hi," he said, sticking his hand out for her. She took it and shook it timidly.

We made light conversation. I was surprised with Kel. I expected her to jump right in with the flirting, but she went completely and utterly silent. She was painfully shy.

Chris and I gave up and started talking in code. Well, it was barely code. We basically just used metaphors that seemed like we were just having a legit conversation.

We discussed the fact that Kel was dead keen on him, and that this was ridiculously tedious. Then he suggested that I say I needed to go to the bathroom, which was an amazing idea, as she would then feel obliged to come with me, us being girls.

We finished laughing at our conversation Kel though we were having, and then I let my face drop.

"Ew, I gotta pee real bad," I turned to Kel. "Bathroom?"

She laughed. "I love how you say that! Bah-th-ruum. I love it!"

I gave her a look. "Are you coming or what?"

"Yeah, of course."

"Thank you," I turned to Chris and we hugged. "I'll talk to yeh later, kay love?"

"Okay," he said, letting go then giving us a last wave as we went our separate ways.

As soon as we got in the bathroom, Kel turned the tap off as I used the loo.

"So," she started from outside, then didn't know how to finish.

"You need my thoughts?" I filled in for her. I hitched my skirt up onto my hips.

"Yeah," she said as I came out and pumped some soap on my hands. "I mean, you're his best friend. You know him, and how he is."

I dried my hands on the towel then leant up against the bench, my legs crossed over. "Yeh, he reckons yer alright."

I pulled a packet of Winstons out of my pocket. Kel and I had only really been friends for a couple of weeks, and so at the sight of this her jaw swung open. I lit it up and slipped it in my mouth.

"So, what does 'alright,' mean?" she said, still shocked by the cigarette.

I shrugged, putting the ciggie between my first two fingers and blowing out. "It means he's only just met yeh, and it's too soon to make a judgement. Give it time, he'll come around."

I mentally crossed my fingers that she wouldn't come out with the question she always did, but to no avail.

"Tell me about Chris?"

I sighed, taking another drag. "Why do yeh always ask that?"

She shrugged, taken aback. "I just want to know."

"Okay," I said, putting the cigarette out on the basin then flicking it into the bin. "Take me to all yer prissy little friends who all adore him and I'll do a little q&a, how's that?"

She hesitated, obviously not expecting it. "Uh, great, I guess."

"Cool," I hopped off the bench and gestured for her to go ahead. She went out of the bathroom and I followed her to where a group of girls our age were all sitting in a circle.

"Guys," she said, and they all looked over to us. "This is Khione, Chris' friend."

There was a silence that I felt needed filling. "Heya," I lifted my hand and did a little fingers-only wave. "How are yeh?"

They all murmured that they were good, thanks, then they opened the circle to make room for Kel and I.

There was another silence, then Kel sat up a bit. "Well, uhm, it seems a bit weird now, but Khione's offered to do a little…" she trailed off, realising how stupid it would seem coming from her.

"Well basically," I stepped in. "Kel's always hassling me to tell her all about Christopher. So to finally shut her up, I've agreed to come and tell you all about him. Coz apparently you all find 'im fascinating."

They all shifted awkwardly. A pretty girl with as blond hair piped up. "You the girl that lives with him?"

"Yeh. Have been fer four years now."

She nodded. Then another silence.

A girl with chocolate brown hair started tentatively. "What's his favourite colour?"

"I dunno, red? What kind of a question is that? No offence, but I thought you'd want the more… juicy details, I guess."

Then there was yet another silence. But I knew there was no hurry. Being put on the spot like that was pretty tough.

"Have you ever liked him?" the blond girl said, and I knew after that the questions would come more easily.

Even though I did really really like him, I laughed. "No, of course not! He's like me best friend. I couldn't ever like him."

"Do you reckon you would if he wasn't?"

"Yeah, definitely. He's well fit. But I wouldn't."

She nodded.

"What's he like? Is he as bad as everyone says?"

I shook my head. "God no! He's such a sweetie. He honestly wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Is he messy to live with?"

"Nah, his room is my room, my room is his room. Richard's room is my room – the only room that isn't shared is their dad's, but I don't mind that at all."

"Who's Richard?" Kel asked.

"Oh, Eyeball, but I call him Richard."

"Why?"

"Because it's his real name, and I have this thing where I have to call people by their full name. So it's Christopher, Gordon, Charles, Theodore, y'know."

"You're in with the Cobras?!"

I laughed, realising the conversation had turned into something about me. "Yeah. They're all really cool once you get to know them."

"Even Ace?"

"Yeah! He's actually really cool and funny. Sure, he bosses everyone around and acts generally like a dick. But if you get to be kinda close to him, he's a gc."

"Gc?"

"Good cunt."

"Oh."

And the questions kept coming like that. For the rest of lunch, which was about half an hour. By the end of it, I was actually quite glad, to be honest. I didn't like talking about myself and talking about Chris and the others was awkward.