"Have fun, lads!" Jay said as he ushered Max, Tom and Siva to the door.
"You sure you don't wanna come?" Tom asked, referring to their weekly trip to the local pub.
"No thanks." And putting a hand near his stomach: "My liver needs a break. And besides, someone's gotta babysit Nath."
"Have it your way, then," Max shrugged as he opened the door. When they were halfway out, he suddenly remembered something he had to tell Jay if he was gonna be alone with Nathan the entire night. "Oh, wait, Jay? Do me a favor and get Nath to cheer up? He's been a bit cranky lately, and for the life of me, I don't know why."
"Yes, dad," Jay mocked. "Now get out of here and have the night of your life."-When Jay walked back into the living room of the flat the five of them shared, he found an unusually quiet Nathan sprawled on the couch watching Family Guy. Max was right after all. Might as well try to start up a conversation.
"Hey, Nath. What's up?"
"Not much," came the reply. His voice sounded heavy and nasally, as if he'd been crying.
"Don't say that." Jay sat down beside him and put his hand on Nathan's shoulder, which seemed to tense at his touch. "Something's going on with you, and I'm not gonna stop bugging you until you tell me what it is. You know you can talk to me any time, right?"
"Yeah, but I don't think you can help this time." Nathan said, his eyes staying firmly glued to the television.
Something's definitely wrong, Jay decided. "Of course I can help," he said. "Just tell me."
"It's none of your business, okay?" When Nathan finally looked at him, there were tears in the younger boy's eyes and his chin was quivering so much that it wasn't hard to tell that he was desperately trying-and failing-not to cry.
"Mate, don't cry," Jay pleaded. "I hate seeing you like this." He tried putting an arm around Nathan, but the latter flinched and ran up to his room.
"Nath?" Jay called just as he heard the door slam. Great. What have I done wrong now?
He was about to follow Nathan upstairs when his phone chimed. He checked it and found a text from Siva.
Hey, Bird. Max told me to ask you if Nath's okay. What's going on?
Of course. Leave it to Seev to be the only one sober at this time.
It's nothing. He's just been acting-
He hesitated, waiting for the right word to come to him.
-weird lately. Like something major's bothering him. Can't say that he's okay now, but I'll go talk to him. Just tell Max to lighten up a bit, okay?
S: Yeah, sure, he and Tom are having a drinking contest with some bloke right now. Good luck with Nath, wish I could help.
J: Nah, Max and Tom need you more than I do right now. Have fun.
If I can't talk to him personally, maybe he'll reply to a text, Jay suddenly thought.
J: You okay?
The reply came seconds later:
N: I'm fine.
You're obviously not, Jay thought. But he decided not to push the matter. I'll just surprise him with a visit to his room. That boy never leaves the door locked anyway. And with that thought, he trudged up the stairs, determined to find out once and for all what was bothering Nathan.