The following morning Lucas and his mother arose before anyone else and left in the car. At the Belswill service station they turned west onto the M25. Lucas sat quietly in the front passenger seat while his mother drove. She talked non-stop about the new home; her earlier misgivings and regrets appeared to have dissolved. “...and the Cooker, Lu! It’s got a halogen hob and extractor; have you ever seen anything like it? To think that we could ever own something like that! Your dad’s an amazing man!...” Lucas thought of his father’s little yellow book and remained silent.
They took the M1 and the M6 up to Birmingham then continued north through Stoke-on-Trent to Liverpool. They arrived at their old hometown at midday after having done the entire journey without stopping. His mother parked outside their block of flats and got out, Lucas rubbing and stretching his stiff limbs. It was a bright, warm day, washing hung on the lines outside balconies and music blared from one of the windows. In the shadow of the huge tower children frolicked in the little rec. The concrete canyons echoed with the thunder of the warplanes which cruised overheard above the city since the disaster at Anfield. Lucas and Mary entered the familiar doorway and walked through the graffiti-covered lobby to the lifts. The door to their old flat had a council notice on it announcing that the home had been vacated. Mary paused, as if wondering if the locks had been changed, but her key opened the door as normal.
Their home was untouched, exactly as they’d left it down to the half-finished drawing on the kitchen table that Cara had been doing. Her colour-pencils lay beside it. On the sideboard by the sink were his and Brendan’s dirty teacups. “Right.” said Mary, stiff-lipped. “Let’s get on with it, Lu. Just the bare essentials; remember it has to fit in the car.”
“What will happen to the stuff we leave behind, Mum?”
“The council will bin it. Some of it might go to charity.” She jerked open a drawer and began rummaging.
Lucas went to his bedroom and stood in the doorway for a few minutes, his eyes shuttling from one of his possessions to another. He sighed, then unplugged his Playstation and tipped his collection of DVD’s and books into his suitcase. He was about to seek out his favourite clothes when he realized that his father probably wouldn’t let him wear them.
“Don’t look so dismal, Love.” She smiled sympathetically as he appeared in the lounge with his suitcase. “Nothing lasts forever. God has given us all a wonderful gift, a new and better life.” They went back down to the car and loaded their belongings into the boot and onto the back seat. “Right, Lu. Let’s go and pay Tina and Sean a quick visit.” She got into the driving seat.
“You go, Mum.” He replied quickly. “I want to visit someone else. I’ll meet up with you later.”
His mother tilted her glance and said in a curious tone ”Alright, Lu; I’ll see you at Tina’s flat at 3 o’clock.”
Lucas waited until she’d driven out of sight then set off in the opposite direction, his heart thumping. His destination was a twisty cul-de-sac of modern, red-bricked houses; these were private properties, not council and were four or five bedroom jobs, even bigger than Lucas’ new abode. He shivered as he caught sight of one of the homes, with its familiar frosted-glass door and smooth lawn. His hands fumbled with the gate-latch and his heart sprinted as he walked up the path and rang the doorbell.
“Oh... Hello, Lucas.” The woman who answered the door wore her usual reluctant smile of welcome. “I heard you’d moved away.”
“I’ve just come back to visit, Mrs Lovelock.”
“Oh.” She appeared relieved. “I’ll call Jody for you.” She shut the door, leaving him on the front step.
Lucas glared at the woman’s shape, wondering if her hostility would ease if she knew the kind of house he was living in now. The door reopened a minute later and Jody peeped out. “Lucas!” She smiled broadly and swung the door wide.
“Oh, Lucas! It’s good to see you.”
They embraced and kissed. “Oh, Jody!” Lucas felt he’d melt with relief and pleasure. He squeezed back tears from his eyes.
She let him go a little sooner than usual and stepped back. “It’s good of you to come and visit me, Lucas.” There was a strange, almost embarrassed tone in her voice.
“I’ve come home with my mum to pick up our stuff. I’ve got to go back soon... I just wanted to see you, Jody. I wanted to say... I’m thinking of you and I want to stay in touch with you. I can visit you in the holidays and...”
“Lucas.” She interrupted. “Now’s a bad time.”
He paused. “”What do you mean?”
She turned away from him nervously and folded her arms. “I’m a bit busy this afternoon.”
“What do you mean, Jody?”
“You’re going to have to go now, Lucas. I’ve got to do my homework or Mum’ll do her nut.” She turned back towards him and kissed him briefly on the cheek. “I’ll call you, OK? We’ll sort out a time when we can meet up.” She stepped back inside the front door. “Have a safe trip home, Lucas.” She avoided his gaze and stared at the floor as she shut the door.
Lucas walked sadly back up the street. Before he’d gone a hundred yards he saw a boy on a bicycle ride into the close whom he recognized as Marvyn Paynton, a tall and handsome Year-10 who was captain of the basketball team and head of his house. He glanced briefly at Lucas and greeted him with a nod as he passed. Some instinct made Lucas stop and look back. Marvyn freewheeled down the close towards Jody’s house and braked. He mounted the curb by her front gate and locked his bike. Lucas felt no shock; it was as if a jigsaw piece that he knew was there had just fallen into place. Marvyn strode confidently up the garden path and Jody came out to greet him. They kissed passionately in the middle of the front garden. They then walked hand-in-hand into her house and Lucas heard the door shut.
He ran until he could run no longer and collapsed onto a park bench panting dryly. He moaned through his breathing, his nose running and his eyes blurred by tears. After a while he recovered and just sat motionless for a long time, his vision out of focus and his mind blank. The sun was sinking into the line of trees when his mobile phone rang. It was his mother. “Lucas! Where are you?”
“Er...” He cleared his throat. “In Everton Brow Park, Mum .”
“What are you doing there!? Get down to the main road where I can pick you up! We’ve got to go home now.”
“OK, Mum.” Lucas stood up and took out his wallet. He gazed at the photo of Jody for a few seconds then screwed it up and dropped it into the litter bin.
The TV picture shows a vast desert landscape of dunes and rocks. Soldiers in camouflaged battledress and helmets are running in front of the camera brandishing rifles. A news reporter begins his commentary: “These are the men of the Royal Welsh Regiment engaged in Operation Cannard, the largest multinational exercise since the Cold War. When they came here none of them expected it to be a prelude to a real war. However, like all the British armed forces, the unexpected is always on the cards. These two battalions are awaiting redeployment to the borders of ACAIR, but until their orders are finalized they continue to train in attack and evasion methods, here in the harsh desert sand of Oman and Qatar.” The picture switches to a cloudy day on an airport apron. A C-130 Hercules transport plane is backed onto the camera with its cargo doors wide open exposing its black cave-like interior. Servicemen are pushing pallets of boxes up the ramp into the aircraft’s hold. “At RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire supplies are being sent to the prospective battle lines almost every hour. “There’s a feeling here that war is inevitable...”
Charles Doughty flicked off the TV and dropped the remote control onto the coffee table. He got up and went to the kitchen. “Everything alright, love?” asked his wife getting up from her seat and putting s hand on his shoulder.
“Fine.” He replied shortly, scooping a large spoonful of coffee and dumping it into a mug. He threw in a splash of hot water from the kettle and gulped it back. His brain was churning over his various problems... challenges, he corrected himself while Mary was talking in the background of his consciousness.
“Charlie.” She said loudly.
“What?” He turned to look at her.
“I said do you want me to pick the kids up from school?”
“Erm... yeah. Sure.”
She chuckled. “What planet are you on, Love?”
“Sorry, Mary. I’ve got a few things on my mind. I’m going to open the shop early today.”
“Business is so good; I need time to deal with the extra orders.” he lied.
She grinned broadly and gave him a hug. “It’s wonderful that you’re doing so well.” When will you be ready to begin expanding?”
“Any day now, Pet.” He said quietly.
“I’m so proud of you.” She sat down and returned to her half-finished breakfast.
After a pause she said: “One of thing, Love. When are you going to have that little chat with Lucas?”
“Being his dad you might be able to get through to him.”
“Brendan and Cara seemed to have settled in here OK, but not Lucas. Do you think he’s happy at that school?”
“How would he know; it’s only his fourth week there. They’ll all be moving schools soon anyway.”
“Well whatever niggling him it needs to be cleared up. Perhaps you could take him out somewhere for the day; to the flicks, or to football.”
“Not to football!” he retorted, then added more quietly: “I’ll heart-to-heart with him sometime soon. I’ve got to go now.” He kissed her. “I’ll be home a bit late tonight; I’ve got my elocution lesson.”
“OK. Charlie. Drive carefully; God bless.”
Charlie left the house and walked towards where he’d parked his car fifty yards down the street. He glanced around him before opening the door to check that none of the neighbours were watching. It was a Volkswagen Passat, the best he could afford right now, but it wasn’t good enough. Buying a new car was currently Number 3 on his APL, Advancement Priority list.
(Possible section break here- Ed)