8. The Summer Holidays
Sleepless nights had now become a norm in the Graham house. My new baby brothers had been born on the night of the year seven disco. They were identical twins, exact replicas of each other. Mum could already tell them apart, but I was sure I would never be able to. “Aristotle has slightly bigger eyes, if you look really closely.” She told me as she stifled a yawn, splayed out on the sofa with a baby in each arm. “And Julius has lighter hair.”
“I am looking closely, and I really can’t see the difference!”
Being an older sister just meant that I was allowed to do more things on my own because my parents were too busy or tired to do them. It also meant I suddenly had two tiny little people to consider whenever I did anything. Can I practice my drums? No, because the twins are sleeping. Can I watch television? No, because the twins are sleeping. Can I sleep? No, because you need to look after the twins.
“Castle, can you nip to the shop for me? We’ve run out of bread and milk.” Dad popped his head round my bedroom door one afternoon as I was practicing my guitar. The days had kind of blurred into one since school ended, and I had never been fond of telling the time anyway. It just seemed like such a restriction - if I were to live out in the sticks, like I wanted to, I wouldn’t need to tell the time. I could just do what I wanted, when I wanted.
I looked up from the sheet music I had on my lap and sighed. “Do I have to? I’m busy becoming the next Kurt Cobain here.”
“You’re not gonna be the next Kurt Cobain, you’re going to be the first Castle Graham. But you’ve got all summer to play that thing, nipping to the shop will only take a few minutes. You’ll be the one to moan when there’s no bread for your toast in the morning.” He was furiously dabbing at his T-shirt with a damp cloth, a wet patch expanding across the blue material. When he caught me staring, he rolled his eyes. “JJ threw up on me. Again.”
We’d decided, against mum’s will, that the names Aristotle and Julius Jack Graham were too much of a mouthful and that they should be known as AJ and JJ instead. Mum hated it. I put my guitar down gently, resting it against my bed frame before pushing myself to my feet. Dad pulled a fiver out of his pocket and tossed it towards me. It fluttered to the ground before I could catch it, which made him laugh.
“You’re getting really good at the guitar, I was just listening to you. Was that something you wrote?” I nodded. “Have you got anyone at school you could start a band with? Does, Poet play an instrument?”
The mention of that boy’s name made my stomach flip over, a pang of guilt striking me right in the gut. “We aren’t friends anymore.”
Dad frowned, that parental frown that he only did when he was disappointed but trying not to show it. “Oh dear, did you guys fall out or something?”
I shrugged, trying to act like it was no big deal. Truth be told, I really missed his stupid little face and witty antics. He had a story about everything and everyone - most of them painfully embarrassing. “Something like that, yeah. But no, I don’t know anyone who I could start a band with. I’d rather be a one man band to be honest. If only I had eight arms and then I could play all the instruments myself”
“I’ll have to buy you a harmonica and one of those drums that you wear on your back and you can busk in the town square. Then you can pay me some rent with the money you make. Right! Off to the shop, stop distracting me! Quick, quick!”
After stuffing my feet into my tattered school trainers, I left the house with just the fiver in my hand and made the brisk walk to the corner shop. Our house was one of many identical houses in a long row, all semi-detached, two stories with three bedrooms. Sometimes even I got confused with which house was ours. Mum hated it, and she was constantly looking online for any bigger, nicer houses, preferably in an area more rural than so close to the centre of Bluevale Ridge. It was never going to happen, and we all knew that. We could barely afford the rent now, how could we afford to buy a whole new house?
I had never liked our street, it was too cramped, too close to everyone else. As soon as I was old enough, I was out. The houses I passed on the way to the shop had no life, no character. They stood still, offering no history. There were no stories hidden in the crumbling bricks or the sliding slates that tiled the roofs. The council liked to keep the houses neat and tidy and uniform - the exact opposite to how I would keep my house. Ivy covered exterior and flaking paint was what I would look for in a home, some place an author could set a ghost story.
The bell above the shop door chimed as I pushed it open, alerting the woman at the till to my presence. It was a small shop, just the essentials, and the bread was on the right as I made my way through the door. I swept a loaf off of the shelf with one hand and caught it with the other, under the watchful eye of the shopkeeper. She hated the kids in this town, enforcing the “one at a time” policy which I frankly found offensive. If I were going to steal from anywhere, it wouldn’t be the corner shop. No, I’d have much higher ambitions, thank you. I grabbed a carton of semi-skimmed milk from the refrigerated section, thankful for the cool feeling of the plastic as it pressed against my sweaty palms.
“That’ll be £2.89 please.” I handed the fiver over, and as I did so the bell above the door chimed again.
“The price of bread these days, am I right?” I groaned in a mimicky adult tone of voice. She ignored me and handed me my change and a plastic shopping bag. As I made my way back to the door, I saw the man who’d entered the shop moments before. He was maybe a few years younger than my dad, tall, and more on the athletic side, wearing a shirt and tie that looked uncomfortably warm in this weather.
The man cleared his throat, and stepped out in front of me. He reeked of sweat, so badly it made my nose wrinkle in disgust. “You’re Castle, right?”
“Depends who’s asking.” I definitely didn’t recognise this man.
“I work with your dad, I have done for a while actually.” It was clear he was a little nervous, which wasn’t totally unreasonable as in most circumstances, when a sweating older man approaches a young girl, he doesn’t have good intentions.
I was growing impatient, the carrier bag digging into the skin of my hand as I gripped it tightly. “And?”
“Oh, er, he just always talks about you, at work. And your mum just had a baby didn’t she? I was about to pop round and see how you’re all getting on. I’ve actually known your dad since before he met your mum.”
“She’s had twins, not just one. Are you going to buy something or did you just come in here to distract me?”
He shifted to the side, almost knocking over a display of sweets as he did so. “Oh, sorry. Tell your dad I’ll be round in a moment. Nathan, that’s my name.”
“Nice to meet you, Nathan, but you work with my dad - so what? Am I meant to care?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I just, er-” But I’d already barged past him and left the shop.
As I entered the house again, I called out to my dad. “I just met one of your weird work friends.”
He appeared from the kitchen as I was kicking off my shoes and took the bag from me. “Really? Who?”
“Some guy called Nathan, in the shop. He said he was going to come round in a minute to see JJ and AJ or something.” A visible flinch of panic quickly hit my dad’s face, but he attempted to not let it show.
“Oh yeah, he mentioned something about that.” For a moment he paused, like there was something he had wanted to say but couldn’t remember. “Thanks for popping to the shops for me. You got the change?”
I fished the coins from my pocket and dropped them into his hands before disappearing back up the stairs to my room. . All I wanted to do was get back to my guitar practice. Journey had gone over to a friend’s house for the day, so I had the room to myself and could actually get some practice done without her yelling at me to shut up every few minutes. Dexter was in my room, sat on my bed with my guitar.
“Hey!” I went to snatch it from him. “I didn’t say you could use it!”
He moved it out of my reach. “Chill, Cas! I just wanted to have a go.” His fingers strummed the strings and an awkward, dissonant noise rang out.
“Get your own guitar, and get out of my room.” I crossed my arms and glared at him until he gave it back. “Thank you. If you want to play, you can just ask me. I’d be happy to teach you.”
“Really? Because Mikey and Kit want to start a band, and I’m the only one who can’t play an instrument. They said if I couldn’t learn to play one soon then they’d ask Louis Newton to be in the band and I can’t let him upstage me, not again.”
“How soon is soon?”
Scratching his head, he replied. “A week?”
“Dex, you can’t get good at the guitar in one week! I’ve been playing since I was eight and I’m still nowhere near being classed as ‘good’.”
“But I honestly can’t let Louis upstage me again. Kit said Louis is planning on asking out Weronika soon, and I’ve had like the biggest crush on her since year nine. And I need something to make me cool when I start at college in September. Why are you laughing at me?”
“You, Dexter Owen Graham, are worried about being seen as cool?” I couldn’t help but laugh at him. “I thought you were taking that BTEC engineering course at college? Why do you need to know the guitar?”
“Everyone else is good at something, like, everyone has a talent. Except me. Even Journey is good at something, and she is seriously thick!”
Shaking my head in disbelief at what my brother was saying, I sat down on my bed next to him. “I’ll teach you how to play the guitar, don’t fuss about it. But you are good at something.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
I grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him off of the bed. It sent me down with him, and I landed on his back. “Getting beaten up by me!”
For a brief moment we rolled about on the floor in giggles but then we heard a knock at the front door. I dashed to the window and peered down at the front garden. Nathan was standing at the door, waiting for my dad to open it, a huge bouquet of flowers in his hand. I assumed they were for my mum, who was asleep in her room with AJ and JJ, which was a little weird considering I was sure they’d never met each other.
“Who is it?” Dexter asked as he used my bed to help get to his feet.
“A ‘work friend’ of dads, apparently. I just met him in the shop a few minutes ago.” Dexter approached the window too.
The door opened and dad greeted Nathan with a hug - a proper hug, not that weird half-hug half-handshake that adults do. He properly embraced Nathan, who embraced him back before offering him the flowers. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, so I cracked open the window and pressed my ear to the gap.
“Congratulations on the boys, John.” Nathan said as he stepped back from the hug.
Dexter turned to me. “Do you remember those gay mags I found under dad’s bed? D’you think-”
“Shush!” I cut him off, trying to listen to the rest of the conversation.
“They’re asleep at the moment, but I can show you some photos on my phone, hang on.” That was dad, his tone of voice much softer than the one he used with mum. It was the kind of voice he used when he spoke to the twins; calm and affectionate. The kind of tone - I would find out when I myself used it in the future - you spoke in to the person you loved.