Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
(Sorry I have posted so many in such a short amount of time. I just feel more accomplished when I do, aha.)
11. Present Day
Even though every fibre in my body had been begging me not to, I spent the night on the sofa in Dad and Nathan’s lounge. Somehow, despite the general discomfort of sleeping on a sofa and the bad dreams that decided to invade my body, I awoke feeling refreshed. According to the clock that hung above the fireplace, it was five forty five, and no one else in the house was up yet. I was glad about that, as it would have been just as awkward as yesterday. What were we meant to talk about, if not our deceased loved ones? There was nothing we had in common anymore, we lead completely separate lives. There was no reason for me to be here, breathing and living miserably. I should have died in that fire too, or in the violent attack that claimed Starry’s life.
I took the early start as an opportunity to explore the house, seeing as I’d only ever gotten as far as the door before - and that was almost six months ago now. First I fixed myself a small breakfast of black coffee and an apple. It wasn’t much, but I didn’t think my stomach could have handled much more. The apple was sour, and juice dribbled down my chin as I bit into it. Wiping it away with the back of my hand, I almost felt like a child again.
The bitter coffee tasted much better, pulling me back into adulthood. The scorching hot liquid scalded the back of my throat as I took a large gulp. It was payback at my body for bringing me here. I should have known better than to invade their new life. Me being here would only bring misfortune upon everyone in the house, like it had twice before.
From where I’d sat down at the table, I had a complete view of the kitchen. It was much nicer than the kitchen at either of our old house, and the one at the flat, but I found myself hating it. Of course, I was going to hate anything that symbolised this perfect new life dad had made for himself with Nathan. The fridge was plastered with drawings AJ had done, alongside report cards from his school and shopping lists scrawled in black ink. Nathan’s handwriting. Mum was always the one who wrote the shopping lists, and dad did the shopping. It was evident to me that this was the case with Nathan too, which only fuelled the hatred I had towards him. He’d completely replaced my mum, erasing her from their life despite what dad said about loving her. If you loved someone, you didn’t cheat on them with a man. You didn’t cheat on them, end of.
I swallowed the last dregs of my coffee and stood up, placing the mug on the side by the sink before turning back to the fridge. One Aristotle’s pictures, doodled in primary coloured Crayons, depicted a mass of stick figures, all stood outside a tall, orange house. Looking closer, I could make out who was who: Dad towering over everyone else, mum cowering in the corner, Julius laying amongst some flowers, the bright yellow scribble of hair distinguishing Journey from Dexter. And then there was me, holding hands with Adeleide, hiding in the background. Everyone else was smiling, long black lines slicing their faces in half. I had no face, no clothes, no hair, yet I knew it was me. Tabula rasa, ready to be filled in.
“You’re up early.” Dad’s voice startled me, and I spun round to face him. “Mornin’.”
He yawned and switched on the kettle. “You sleep well?”
“Yeah, I guess.” an awkward silence followed for a few minutes as the kettle boiled. Dad took a cup out of the cupboard above his head and spooned in a heap of instant coffee. He still liked it with three sugars and milk- sweet, like the persona he put on. The kettle boiled and he poured the piping hot water into his cup, mixed everything together with a spoon and then took a sip.
“Hey, Cas, - would you like me to help you sort out all your bills and stuff? Because you said you hadn’t been going to work. And, well, when I say me - Nathan’s better at all that jazz. You know me, useless at anything useful, eh?”
“I’m like that too. Starry was the one who sorted out all our bills and bank details and rent. If I ever tried to help she’d get all stressed out because she knew I’d mess it up.” It felt weird to be having a proper conversation with my dad, and to mention Starry in a conversation that wasn’t wholly depressing. “By ‘help me sort out’ my bills, do you mean you’ll phone up the landlord and beg them not to kick me out?”
Dad chuckled. “No, I meant maybe Nathan and I could pay what you owe, and help you get your job back so you can get back on your feet. Or, you could stay here and we’ll find somewhere else for you to live, if you don’t want to go back to the flat. I imagine that it’s too empty for you now.”
“I couldn’t let you pay my bills - it’s my fault they haven’t been paid. And, it’s not like you and Nathan are particularly well off. No, it’s fine. I’m fine.” The uncertainty in my voice was clear, and dad placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I felt the urge to pull away, but I didn’t.
“Let me talk to Nathan, but I’m sure he won't mind. You’re family. Besides, he’s just been promoted so money really isn’t an issue.” He removed his hand from my shoulder and let it hang back by his side. I think he must have been thinking what I was - you touch me for too long and you only get hurt. “You’ll stay around for a while, won’t you? Aris and Addy will be up soon. Aris has been asking about you for ages now, he’s been having these therapy sessions and they get him to talk about what happened, and he - he remembers how you saved him. He said he wanted to make you a card, or something.”
Dad’s voice wobbled as he remembered the fire.
“I don’t know, I - do you really want me around your kids?” It came out more like a whisper than a question. I wasn’t sure if I was an appropriate person for them to be around. The last time we were all properly together, it was because our house burnt down, and I didn’t want anything else to happen to them.
“Castle, you’re one of my kids,” The emphasis on that one word made all the difference. He sounded like he meant it. And maybe he did.
He disappeared back upstairs to talk to Nathan, leaving me stranded in the kitchen, unsure of what to do. I couldn’t stay here, not now he was being so nice to me. It was all too good to be true. There was going to be a catch, and inevitably that catch would be something tragic. That thought just kept whirling round in my mind, tumbling over and over until it was all I could think about.
I impulsively struck out my fist, smashing it into the kitchen counter with a thud. Pain shot up through my wrist and I winced. Why did he have to be so nice to me? There was a reason Starry barely ever let me see him after the fire. “He’s not who you think he is, Cas.” she’d warned me. “He cheated on your mum for years. Years! No one decent does that to their family. He practically murdered them all, you know that right?”
Cradling my hand, I spotted something in the corner of my eye. A glass jar, tucked away in behind the breadbin. I pulled it forward out of curiosity, and was surprised to see it was stuffed full of cash. There must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds crammed into the large jar. A label sellotaped onto the side read ‘Holiday Fund!!’ in Aristotle’s handwriting.
What I did next, I could not give anyone a reason as to why. It just felt like something I had to do. I swiped the jar from the counter and stuffed it into my bag, covering it with the random clothes I’d brought with me.
“Castle?” Dad called from upstairs as I wrenched open the front door, throwing the bag over my shoulder. “Where are you going?”
“Nowhere!” I yelled back, slamming the door behind me. Dad opened it again as I was practically running up the path, my heart racing.
“Are you coming back? Wait!”
I kicked the stupid wooden gate open with my foot so hard that it flew off of the hinges. “Probably not, but what would you care?”
“What do you mean? Of course I care! Castle, don’t you dare walk away from here. We’re offering to help you! You’re sick, I know, but-”
“Oh great, go and tell the whole fucking street how sick I am! Go on, I’ll shout it if you won’t, MY NAME’S CASTLE GRAHAM AND I’M SICK!”
I turned to face him, and his face was bright red. “Castle, this isn’t funny. Come back in, now. You can’t go out like this.”
“Oh, can’t I?” I grabbed the broken gate from off of the ground and threw it as hard as I could towards him. “You only want to pay my bills because you feel guilty. You killed my mum and my brothers and my sister and you might as well have killed my girlfriend for all you care. Admit it!” I spat on the driveway and yanked my bike up from the path. “I hope you have a great life with Nathan and ‘Aris’ and ‘Addy’. Try not to burn them alive, too.”
He stood there, speechless, as I clambered onto my bike and gave him the finger. The jar of money was heavy in my bag, but it no longer weighed down on my conscience. They didn’t need it, Nathan had just gotten a promotion, afterall. I needed it. I needed to get away, out into the woods, the sticks, far away from all these people and their sympathy.