It was seven o’clock on Sunday morning, but everyone except Amy was awake and gathered in the kitchen in their respective nightwear waiting on news from the hospital. Sue was the messenger, sitting at the breakfast table with her cellphone pressed against her ear and signalling for the rest of us to be quiet. She was talking to one of her colleagues in an attempt to circumnavigate the official lines of enquiry. When she ended the call, the room fell silent.
“He’s in surgery,” she said, and there was a collective groan. My heart sank. No one was expecting to hear that, especially me. Surgery usually meant something serious. Something life-threatening even. “He arrived at four-thirty this morning by ambulance. The police were with him, but I’m afraid that’s all I can find out at the moment.”
‘What was he doing at four in the morning’?
There were so many questions that needed to be answered.
“Why is he in surgery?”
“I don’t know, Robbie.”
I was starting to feel sick with fear. My stomach was tied in knots, and I thought I was going to throw up. I rushed to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my face, with Conner, as usual in my wake. He was waiting outside for me when I opened the door.
“Are you okay?”
“No, I feel sick.”
“We don’t know what happened yet. There’s a good chance he’s gonna be okay.”
“They’re operating on him, Conner. He’s not okay!” He put his arms around me and kissed my forehead as I buried my face in his shoulder. “Nathan doesn’t deserve this. He’s a good person. Really he is. Why would anyone want to hurt him?” I wiped my face with the back of my hand, trying to hide my tears. “I’m scared.”
Conner was stronger than me, both physically and emotionally. He kept me pressed against him as he whispered in my ear. “You don’t have to defend him. No one deserves that, and it’s okay for you to be upset. You don’t need to hide your feelings from me or your family. I’m sure they’ll understand.”
My boyfriend said the things I needed to hear, but his words were strangely cold and delivered without feeling. He cupped his hand on my cheek and wiped away a tear with his thumb. We were too close, and I was getting nervous. My entire family was only a few yards away, just out of view.
“Conner, please, you're in my space.”
“I’m allowed to be in your space, remember? I missed sleeping with you last night.” He leaned forward and tried to kiss me, but I moved my head to the side and pushed him away.
“Get off me!” I hissed.
He looked surprised by my reaction and grabbed my arm only to release it a second later when Nicola appeared.
“Is he okay?” She looked concerned and stared at Conner, who nodded.
“He’s fine, just a little upset, that’s all.”
My sister must have sensed my discomfort. “Robbie, why don’t you go downstairs and rest for a while. I’ll let you know the minute we hear something.” Conner agreed with her and attempted to follow me, but Nicola’s arm dropped in front of him like a toll barrier. “He needs to rest, Conner. My parents won't like you in his room.”
Nicola’s timely intervention prevented a full-blown panic attack. I would thank her later, but Conner was beginning to worry me.
‘The guy’s a control freak’.
There was something sinister in the way he grabbed my arm and stared at me that gave me the shivers. I hadn’t seen that in him before, and I wondered what would have happened if Nicola hadn’t shown up. With Nathan lying injured in the hospital, I didn’t need anything else to worry about. Conner was becoming an unnecessary burden and surplus to my requirements, but worst still, he was at my house.
I reached for my phone and tried to call Ginny. I had already left three messages on her voicemail, and this time, it was full. Nathan was supposed to be staying at her house for a few weeks. He moved in yesterday and planned to spend the evening organising his room. Ginny would have the answers if someone could contact her.
‘Maybe she was with him. She could have been hurt too’.
My mind was overrun with wild theories and accusations levelled at everyone. Not knowing what happened was the worst part.
I decided to clear my head with a shower, only to be disturbed by Daniel knocking on the door. He sounded like he had news, so I stepped out of the shower and stood behind the door, wet, naked, and shivering. Then opened it just wide enough for him to squeeze past.
“He’s out of surgery,” he said as he tiptoed around the puddles to stand in front of the toilet and pee. “I’m going to the hospital. Are you coming?”
It seemed like a good idea. I knew Nathan’s parents would be there and probably Ginny too. It was his dad who called Daniel with the news earlier, but his phone had been switched off ever since.
“Give me ten minutes. We can call a cab; it’ll be quicker than waiting for a bus.”
I grabbed a towel and began drying myself while Daniel had a quick wash and brushed his teeth. Sharing the bathroom was a rare, but increasingly necessary addition to our morning routine, with Daniel taking ever longer fussing over his appearance before school. I had Ratana to thank for my gradual loss of bathroom privacy during the week, but this was the first time it happened on a Sunday, and on this occasion, neither of us were overly concerned about the way we looked.
I was still damp as I followed my brother out of the steamy bathroom and ran to the bedroom in my underwear, narrowly avoiding a collision with a very sleepy looking Amy. But as I joined Daniel at the top of the stairs, we were collared by Sue.
“There’s no point in you going to the hospital. He’s not awake, so you won't be able to see him. When he wakes up, they’ll only allow in close family.”
“But I want to find out what happened,” said Daniel.
“Then the best place is here,” said Sue.
“The police won’t tell you anything,” added Conner. “All you’ll do is get in the way.”
I glared at my boyfriend. He had no business telling us what to do. It had nothing to do with him.
“This is so fucked up.” Daniel rarely swore, especially in front of his parents, but on this occasion, they ignored his indiscretion. It would have been harsh if Sue had demanded money from him, but somehow I doubted the same leniency would be granted to me.
“Your mother’s right, Daniel,” said Don. “There’s nothing you can do at the hospital. His parents will be there, but they’ll have enough on their plate.” I watched as he put his arm around his son and led him into the living room for some kind of father and son talk. There were so many reasons why I found that disturbing.
“I feel for his parents,” said Sue. “It’s going to be a difficult time for them.” She was talking to Nicola and Conner before looking at me almost accusingly. “Now you know what we went through last year with you.”
I knew it wouldn’t be long before she began making comparisons, but it got me thinking as I left them to sit on my own in the dining room. I was in an induced coma for five days, and no one knew what condition I would be in if or when I came out. It must have been hard on her, but until then, I hadn’t given it much thought.
Sue, of course, wasn’t the only one to keep a vigil at my bedside. Nathan was also there, every single day, for long hours, and often on his own. It was a poignant reminder of how important he was to me at a time when my life hung in the balance. Encouraged by the nurses, he spent the best part of five days talking, singing, reading me stories, and telling me jokes. He was convinced I could hear him, and apparently, I confirmed it when I woke up, even repeating things he told me.
I no longer had any recollection of the coma or the days immediately after, but I was sure my ex-boyfriend played a huge part in my recovery. Only Sue came anywhere close to the number of hours he spent by my side, and she was my parent. I couldn’t begin to imagine how it must have felt for him. I was going crazy after one morning, let alone five days.
I cried when I thought about what Nathan did. It was a side of his character that few people got to see, but it probably said more about him as a person than a million layers of tacky bling could ever do. Nathan didn’t do that to make himself look good, or for any reason that could have benefitted him. He did it because he wanted to help me and because he loved me. It was a selfless act that he rarely spoke about and felt no need to publicise. I only found out from Sue and Lorna.
It reinforced my belief that Nathan was severely misunderstood, perhaps a victim of his own flamboyant nature and a stubborn refusal to conform to outdated rules. It was easy to jump to the wrong conclusions like Conner, but Nathan’s complex personality deserved closer examination. If it came to it, I wondered if I would have the strength of character to put myself through the same kind of emotional turmoil that Nathan did for me.
* * *
While Don was talking to Daniel in the living room, I sat at the table with Nicola watching my new but so far unconvincing boyfriend as he helped Sue in the kitchen. He didn’t like Nathan for apparent reasons, but I still found it disturbing to see him laughing and joking with my adopted mother on a day when everyone else was sombre. Despite his caring words to me earlier, there was little evidence on show that he actually meant anything he said, and there was something about his demeanour that bugged me. I didn’t like the way he was always so nice to my family. It was creepy like he was trying to worm his way into their good books.
If that was his intention, he was doing an excellent job. Don and Sue made no secret of their admiration for his workmanlike ethics, and even Nicola was warming to him.
“Is he always so useful,” she said.
“Yes, it’s annoying, isn’t it?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Maybe you should date him then.”
She studied him as he reached to the top cupboard for some dishes. His t-shirt rode up to reveal his taught abdomen.
“Hmm, he’s very athletic, isn’t he? I bet he’s good ….”
I cut her off. “Don’t go there, Nicola.”
“I was gonna say, I bet he’s a good football player,” she said, but it was a blatant lie. I smiled at her recovery and allowed her to style my hair.
“Unfortunately, he’s not into girls.”
“Sounds like you’ve had enough of him already,” she said, standing behind me and dragging my head back with a hairbrush. “When was the last time you brushed your hair?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Why were you angry with him earlier?”
I looked towards the kitchen to make sure he wasn’t listening then turned to my sister. “He tried to kiss me.”
“Is that so bad?”
“I didn’t wanna be kissed. I didn’t want him touching me either, but he doesn’t leave me alone.”
“I’ve noticed that. It would bug me too. You’ll have to tell him.”
“I’ve tried, but he doesn’t listen to anything I say. He’s very set in his ways, and I always end up giving in to him. Ouch, what are you doing?”
“Stay still. Can I cut it?”
“Spoilsport.” She finished combing my hair and stepped back to admire her handiwork. “That’s better; you should let me do your hair before school tomorrow.”
“Like you’ll have time.” I stood up to look in the mirror, but Nicola grabbed my collar and yanked me back for some unexpected advice.
“If the shoe doesn’t fit, try another size. It’s less painful that way.” She winked at me, but I was lost.
“Is that some kind of code?”
She tutted at me and lowered her voice. “If you know a relationship isn’t going to work, then get out. He’s only a date. You're not married. You don’t have to try to fix it.”
Her analogy made sense, but if her own muddled love life was anything to go by, it wasn’t as easy as she made it sound. Nicola must have tried on every shoe in the store by now without finding the right fit, although I was reluctant to point this out. The current incumbent, Mr Lube, was out of favour and made only fleeting visits to the house. Their relationship seemed to be hanging by a thread and his chances of becoming my future brother-in-law, mercifully non-existent. I suppose I was lucky. I already had a shoe that fitted me perfectly, and it wasn’t the boy in the kitchen.
When I glanced at Conner, he was entertaining Amy by juggling oranges, and it looked as if he had talked Sue into trying one of his legendary smoothies. He was beginning to look at home, and I had a funny feeling he was going to prove difficult to dislodge.
I studied my reflection in the mirror. “Thanks for the advice.”
“Anytime. What do you think of your hair?”
“I look like a girl.”
“No, you don’t. It’s important to look your best, Robbie. Especially if you're gonna be putting yourself on the market.”
I didn’t like that expression, and I assured her I wasn’t going to be searching for a new boyfriend any time soon.
“Who knows, I might not even want a boyfriend.”
“In that case, I know plenty of girls who would date you. Just stay away from Stephanie.”
I laughed. “That’s not what I meant. I was thinking more about staying single. Where is Stephanie anyway, she hasn’t been around much lately?”
“Poor Steph hasn’t been well; she was off school most of last week.”
“Well, keep her away from me then; I don’t wanna catch anything.” It sounded a bit harsh. “I’m only joking. I hope she gets better soon. I like her and not just because we, you know.” I blushed as I tried to talk around a delicate subject. “She makes me laugh.”
In Stephanie’s absence, Nicola did her best to keep me entertained on a day that felt like it would drag on forever. I appreciated her efforts, but thoughts of Nathan were never far away, and as time elapsed, I was getting increasingly anxious.
* * *
It was just after eleven when Sue’s phone rang. I ran across the room to stand next to her, nudging Conner out of the way with my elbow. Then followed her around the kitchen until she pushed me away and turned her back on me.
“How is he?” she asked, and I held my breath as she stood motionless and without expression for what felt like ages. “I see. Well, at least that’s good news.”
I was able to breathe again; it sounded like he was going to be okay, but when she put the phone down, she looked pale and worried.
“Well?” I asked.
“He has facial injuries, a mild concussion, and two broken arms. Presumably where he tried to shield his head. They had to operate to insert a metal plate into his arm.”
“What happened?” asked Daniel.
“The police are trying to find out, dear. They found him unconscious at the Palm Springs Motel early this morning.”
‘The Palm Springs Motel’?
I was confused and filled with conflicting emotions. The seedy motel on the edge of town was well-known among the town’s youth as a convenient location to have sex. It was where Nathan took me to celebrate my sixteenth birthday, but as far as I knew, he hadn’t been back since. It didn’t make sense.
For Don, it was a gift. He must have thought his prayers had been answered.
“That place should have been closed down years ago,” he said. “Everyone knows what goes on there.”
Everyone except Daniel, Conner, and Sue, it seemed. They looked surprised when Don explained the operation in no uncertain terms.
“Nathan would never go to a place like that,” said Daniel. He looked towards me for back-up, but I remained silent. I was trying my best to keep out of the conversation, and I noticed Nicola was doing the same.
Sue, perhaps sensing her disquiet, turned to her daughter. “Did you know about this?”
“No! How would I know what goes on there?” Nicola looked indignant, as if annoyed that her mom would even think of asking her such a question. I wished I could be that convincing when lying to them, but thankfully Sue didn’t direct the same question to me.
“Do they know who did it?” asked Conner.
“I don’t know, dear.”
Daniel turned to Don. “Can’t you find out? The police chief’s your friend, isn’t he?”
Don often bragged about his connection with the Cobourg Police Service and its distinguished chief and was never too shy to ask a favour. He retreated to his study to make some calls while I tried to remain calm. It wasn’t easy; I wanted to break something. Tear it apart and rip it to shreds. Trash everything in sight, but most of all, I wanted to hurt the person who hurt Nathan.
Sue put her arm around Daniel. “Nathan didn’t mention anything to you about going to this motel, did he?”
“No, I don’t know why he was there. It doesn’t make sense.”
It did to Conner. I could see it in his expression, and Nicola too. There seemed to be only one reason why Nathan would be at the Palm Springs Motel, and it certainly wasn’t beyond him. After all, he had done it with me. This time though, it didn’t add up. He was staying at Ginny’s house, where he had his own room. He didn’t need to use a motel for sex.
Nathan wouldn’t hook up with a complete stranger either, so it had to be someone he knew, and the prime suspect was Ginny’s creepy cousin, Ryan. There was something about that guy I didn’t like, and it wasn’t just because he was coming on to Nathan. If I found out he was responsible for hurting my boy, I was ready to kill him.
“I hope he wasn’t tricked by one of those online predators,” said Sue. “You read so much about them these days. They pose as teenagers to lure innocent kids.”
Nicola had to stop her mom. “I don’t think Nathan is that naïve mom.”
“He’s become almost a part of this family,” said Sue.
I had said the same thing to Conner, but it wasn’t true, and I felt the need to set the record straight.
“No, he hasn’t.”
“He has, dear.”
“He’s never been treated that way.”
“Robbie, you know that’s not true.”
“It is true. Nathan knows he’s not welcome in this house. You can’t change the facts, just because he’s lying in the hospital.”
Nicola grabbed my arm, but I felt justified in pointing it out. Nathan deserved the truth, and it made me feel like I was doing something for him. Sticking up for him as he did for me. It was more important than ever for me to do this now.
“Robbie, I know you're upset, but you need to calm down. Nathan is always welcome in this house.”
I laughed. “That’s rubbish. He hates him!” I pointed to the study, but everyone knew who I meant. I turned to Daniel. “You always sleepover at Nathan’s house, but it’s never the other way around.”
It was only a matter of time before Sue lost her patience with me and raised her voice. “There are reasons why he’s not allowed to sleepover anymore. You know what those reasons are.”
“Yeah, because Don’s homophobic.”
I guess he must have overheard because pretty soon, the big man was standing in the doorway and looking like someone had murdered his favourite pet. It was an expression I was familiar with, but thanks to Jo, it no longer carried the same threat. I wasn’t frightened of him anymore. I knew Jo was waiting, ready to walk all over him with those leather boots of hers, at the slightest hint of abuse.
He tried to sound reasonable, but I could tell he was having difficulties; containment wasn’t part of his repertoire.
“Robbie, not today, please. We don’t need you telling us how bad you’ve got it. We’ve heard it all before, and we’re sick to death of it. If Nathan means anything to you, then don’t use this as an excuse to seek attention.”
“That’s bollocks. You're all two-faced. Acting like you're upset when you're probably happy he got beaten up. Maybe you should be celebrating instead.”
“Stoppit, please!” Sue made everyone jump by slamming her fist on the table. “I’m not arguing with you, Robbie. It’s not fair on Daniel, and you can put a dollar in the swear box!”
“But I only said bollocks. That’s not even a swear word in Canada.”
“It is if you say it.”
‘I fucking knew it’.
I didn’t bother pointing out the obvious disparity in her treatment of Daniel and me within a matter of hours, but Nicola noticed and tried to defuse a situation that looked like getting out of control.
“He’s upset, Mom. Let it go.”
“We’re all upset, dear.”
“WHY?” I yelled. “YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW NATHAN!”
Don stepped forward, unable to resist a dig at my sexuality. “Not in the same way as you obviously. I bet you're proud of that!”
“Yes, I am proud of it. I’m proud of everything we did together.”
“Well, he certainly got what he wanted from you then, didn’t he?”
“So has Conner, but you don’t care about him. Why don’t you ask him where he sticks his dick?”
I didn’t mean to say that and immediately wished I hadn’t.
Conner looked horrified; Sue was shocked. Everyone turned towards Don.
“You're a slut,” he said, pointing at me.
“He’s your son!” said Sue.
“No, I’m not!”
“He’s a dirty little whore, that’s what he is.”
“Dad, please!” said Nicola. She stood between us, trying to keep a fragile peace. “He doesn’t mean it, Robbie.”
“Yes, he does.”
There was a tense standoff, with neither one ready to back down.
Sue must have been aware of the possible implications should her husband lose control and lay a hand on me. Jo had already made it perfectly clear to her, and she looked worried as Don crept closer.
There was a part of me that wanted him to hit me, just to see him humbled by Jo, but it was tempered by the possibility of getting hurt, and I wasn’t willing to accept those conditions.
Don was fuming. “It’s about time somebody stood up to him before he destroys this family. That’s what he’s trying to do.” He narrowed his eyes at me. “I won't let you destroy everything I’ve worked for.”
“Don, stop it,” said Sue.
“The boy needs to be taught a lesson.”
Nicola glared at her dad. “And how are you gonna do that by hitting him?”
“He’s out of control. He needs discipline.”
“Like Nathan, you mean.”
Don was fighting on three fronts and getting more agitated. I knew it was only a matter of time before his real feelings surfaced about my ex-boyfriend.
“We all know why Nathan’s in the hospital. Let's not kid ourselves. He brought it on himself. There’s only one reason why he would be at a motel at four in the morning.” He turned to Sue. “It’s what they do. They meet up with strangers to have sex. They arrange it online. He obviously met the wrong guy.”
“Who do you mean by they?” asked Daniel.
“His lot,” said Don pointing at me. “Have you been to the Palm Springs, Robbie? Tell us the truth, come on.”
Sue stared at me with her mouth open while Don gloated and nodded his head.
“What did I tell you. They’re all at it. They’ll have you believe they’re normal.”
“I was there with Nathan, not a stranger. He was my boyfriend.”
“Oh, your boyfriend?” He tried to make fun of me by using a camp voice. “He was there with his boyfriend. How sweet of you. You weren’t on a date. You went there to have sex with him, what else would you do in a motel room? How many times have you been there?”
“Just once.” He scoffed at my answer. “That’s the truth.”
He scratched his head and looked at Sue. “Now, at last, you can see the extent of the problem. Do you still think I’m overreacting? He even admits it. He’s proud of what he’s done, you heard him.”
I wiped a stray tear with the back of my hand. I was trying hard not to cry and look weak, but it was almost impossible. Don chose his words carefully and used them to inflict the maximum amount of damage at a time when he knew I was already in a state of shock. It could not have been easier for him. I should have kept my mouth shut.
Once again, Don had stopped just short of physical violence, and even his threats were cleverly veiled. ‘He needs discipline,’ or ‘needs to be taught a lesson’, could mean anything.
Jo would be throwing her clipboard against the wall in frustration. Don was smart. He was giving her nothing to work with while continuing to take potshots at me and hitting me where it hurt. He wasn’t finished either. I cursed myself for allowing him to see me cry.
“Now come the tears,” he shook his head unsympathetically. “He’ll try to get you to feel sorry for him. It’s all fake. He’s really laughing at you.”
“He doesn’t look like he’s laughing to me,” said Daniel.
“Don, that’s enough,” said Sue. “Leave the boy alone. He’s done nothing wrong.”
“Didn’t you hear what he just said. He’s been meeting Nathan at a motel to have sex, and you think there’s nothing wrong with that? Normal people don’t do that.”
“I’ve done it,” said Nicola. “And I was younger than him.” She stepped forward to challenge her father, eliciting a predictable response from Sue.
“Nicola! What were you?”
She smiled at her mom and shrugged. “I was fifteen and wanted to have some fun, but you guys were always home. It’s not like I was the first kid to do it. Just about every teenager in Cobourg has been there.”
“I haven’t,” said Daniel, but I doubt if anyone would have believed him anyway, and his proclamation of purity was largely ignored. His parents were too busy digesting the disturbing news that two of the teenagers in their charge had sexual urges.
Don looked as if someone had just run through his sandcastle. “I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend at fifteen.”
“I didn’t,” she said. “It was just a boy from my class. All my friends were losing their virginity, and I thought he was hot.”
‘Way to go, Nicola’!
Not only had she admitted to using the Palm Springs Motel for sex, but it was also her first time, a one-night stand, they were underage, and by the sound of it, she picked him. She didn’t just break the rules; she thoroughly demolished them.
Her confession brought a glimmer of a smile to my lips and wiped the smug expression from her dad’s face. If she had kicked him in the goolies, it would have been less painful.
I knew she only did it to help me. Nicola only ever told her parents what they needed to hear, leading them a merry dance they were happy to follow. This was a big revelation and something she had kept a secret for three years. That day she played her ace card to get me out of jail, and it wasn’t lost on me, although I suspected it wasn’t her only visit to the infamous motel of sin.
It took the heat off me for a while, but it didn’t explain what my ex-boyfriend was doing there or who beat him up. As much as I refused to admit it. Don’s suggestion was impossible to dismiss.
I looked uncomfortably at Conner and wondered what he thought about the family now. It was only his second visit to my home and maybe the last. I certainly wasn’t expecting Don to apologise to him.
“I’m sorry if I offended you,” he said. “You're a good kid. I can’t understand why you wanna hang around with him.”
‘Because I allow him to fuck me’!
“Maybe he can be cured,” I said. “Send him to Mr Symmonds.”
Conner looked confused. “Who?”
“Conversion therapy,” I said.
My boyfriend looked horrified by the suggestion, but Don remained calm and refused to take the bait. I wasn’t even sure why I kept trying to push him. I couldn’t stop myself.
“Mr Symmonds works hard to help others. Robbie doesn’t like people who do that. He prefers boys who hang around motels offering sex.”
“Nathan isn’t a prostitute,” said Daniel.
“I wouldn’t put it past him. Maybe that’s why he got beat up.”
Sue had had enough. She confronted her husband with an expression that clearly said to stand down.
“Have some respect. The boy’s lying in the hospital.”
“And he’s a good friend of the family,” I added sarcastically. “If this is how you treat your friends, I don’t wanna be your enemy.”
Don glared at me, but Sue held him in her sights until he backed off. It was the first time I had seen her control him, and I took note.
“Fine,” he said to her. “I’ll let you try to deal with him.”
“I will,” said Sue, but I sensed her nerves as she stepped up to the plate.
Don didn’t like it. She was undermining his authority and leaving a gaping hole for me to exploit. When he looked at me, I mocked him with a smile to let him know I noticed, and for a second or two, he looked almost worried. He must have hated me at the time, and he had good reason. If Sue was in charge, from now on, I was going to make his life a living hell.
Sue was glaring at me across the kitchen in a battle of wits, but with Don gagged, I suddenly fancied my chances.
“Go to your room, Robbie.”
“No! I’m not a little kid.”
“You're acting like one. Now go to your room.”
It was a test of Sue’s resolve and a confrontation she needed to win to prove to her husband she was capable of controlling me. She looked nervous and unsure of herself while I was stubborn and determined. Don watched from the sidelines hoping she would fail.
Sue showed a lot more gumption than usual, but I kept defying her, pushing her to her limits.
“You’ll be grounded if you don’t do as I say.”
“I don’t care.”
“Fine, you're grounded for a week.”
“Come on, Robbie, you’ve made your point.” Nicola put her hands on my shoulders and tried to push me towards the stairs, but I was determined not to concede. Daring Sue to take it even further.
“I already told you, I don’t care.”
“Okay, make that two weeks.”
My mind was on fire. There was a rage inside of me that wanted to lash out at everything and everyone. I pushed over a small table they kept by the stairs and felt someone grab me from behind. It was Daniel who pinned my arms to my side before I cause any further damage. Then with Nicola’s help, he pulled me unceremoniously towards the stairs.
“What are you doing,” he said. “You're crazy. Just do what she says. It’s not gonna hurt.”
“He’s a delinquent,” said Don.
“YOU CAN FUCK OFF!” I yelled.
Daniel bundled me into the bedroom and kicked the door shut.
“Robbie, what the fuck! You’ve gotta calm down. This is crazy. You're just making things worse for yourself.” He refused to let me go until I stopped resisting. My brother was stronger than me, and that day, he proved it.
I relaxed, and my head dropped to his shoulder. “I don’t know why I did that.”
“You have to learn to shut up sometimes. There are easier ways to get your message across. Now you got yourself grounded for no reason.”
“They don’t understand.”
“Look, I know it hurts, but losing your temper isn’t gonna help Nathan because if you're grounded, you won't be able to visit him.”
“I don’t even know whether he’ll want me to visit him.”
“Yes, he will. I know he will.”
At some point, Daniel’s firm grip had eased into a hug, and without even thinking about it, my arms wrapped around him too. It was rare for him to show this much affection. Maybe we both badly needed a hug.
“If I let you go, promise me you won't do anything stupid.”
I had a much better reason for him to release me, which was wholly involuntary and definitely unwelcome, considering he was my brother. It was one of the rare moments I envied him for being straight.
I was used to being hugged, but usually, when a boy held me like that, we were either about to have sex or had just finished. I had to remember it was Daniel’s shoulder I was snuggling into. I nearly kissed his neck by mistake, thinking he was Conner. That would have been interesting, but mercifully Daniel let go and stood back before I lost any more credibility.
He chuckled as I sat on my bed, wiping my face. “You weren’t getting a hard-on, then were you?”
“Of course not. It’s my phone.” I pulled it out of my front pocket to show him.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
I rolled my eyes. “Geez, straight boys are so weird.” He didn’t believe me for a second, but at least he was smiling when he left the room.
“Stay here, okay. I’ll be back in a while.”
Nicola was waiting for him outside; she smiled at me before leaving with her brother to lobby their parents on my behalf. It rarely worked, but they always tried to stick up for me, even when I didn’t deserve it.
Daniel and Nicola saved me that day. Without them, things would have been a lot worse. But I knew that eventually they would get fed up with saving my bacon and leave me to self-destruct? I had to admit my younger brother was more mature than me. He didn’t lose his temper and make a fool of himself in front of everyone like me, and he never got himself grounded like me. I wondered what Nathan would have thought of my stupidity. I was trying to stick up for him but just made things worse. I wasn’t proud of myself as I shed my clothes and climbed back into bed.
* * *
“Robbie.” I opened my eyes as Conner kissed me on the cheek. He was sitting on the bed, stroking my hair. “My mom’s here. I have to go.”
I groaned and sat up. “What time is it?”
I rubbed my face. Then the horror returned as I remembered what happened and why I was in bed.
“How is everyone?”
“Subdued. You missed lunch.”
“No big deal.”
“Robbie, you have to control your anger. I’ve never seen you like that before. It will get you into trouble.”
“It already has. Thanks for the advice.”
“It’s a shame you're grounded; my parents are having a celebration meal next weekend, and they wanted you to be there. We’ve got permission to go ahead with the dairy extension to the farm. I thought you could stay for the weekend. It would have helped take your mind off Nathan and all the terrible things that are happening in your life.”
I felt bad for not being able to go, but not bad enough to want to plead for a special exemption from Sue, and I didn’t want anything to take my mind off Nathan. Quite the opposite, I wanted to be there for him, not stuck on some farm in the middle of nowhere.
When we left my room, Don was waiting outside. He was standing watching the TV, but he rarely ventured downstairs. It was odd, but I ignored him and followed Conner upstairs to give him a sterile kiss goodbye before closing the front door and facing the music.
Sue was in the living room with Amy. I smiled at my sister as I walked past them to the kitchen while ignoring Sue.
“Robbie, can you come here, please?”
“What do you want?”
I strutted over and stood next to where she was sitting, but refused to look at her. “What?”
She took my hand. “Sit down, honey. I want to talk with you.”
I let out a frustrated sigh, but she sounded relaxed, and I needed to get back in her good books. I sat down next to her and decided to apologise before she made it a condition.
“I’m sorry for losing my temper.”
“Good. And I’m sorry for being hard on you. I know you're upset about Nathan. Obviously, you have some feelings for the boy.”
It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start. She could not have realised how much I needed some recognition, however small, that my relationship with Nathan was something more than a quick roll the hay.
“I have a lot of feelings for him.”
Sue put her arm around me, and I flinched.
“Can you just put up with it for once? I’m trying to show you some affection.”
“Am I still grounded?”
“Is that a condition for allowing me to hug you?”
She smiled and squeezed me, but she still looked worried. “Under the circumstances, I can reduce your punishment to one week, providing you keep your temper under control.”
I frowned. “But I want to visit Nathan, and I have to see Jo.”
“What days do you have to see Jo?”
“Every day. She’s doing a special evaluation next week.”
Sue looked skeptical. “You won’t mind me calling her then to check your story?”
“Tuesday and Friday.”
“That’s better. Lying to me doesn’t help your cause. You can visit Nathan with us on Wednesday.”
I was forced to accept her conditions but had to endure five minutes of affection and eat one of the cookies Amy baked.
“They’re delicious, Amy.”
“Conner taught me how to make them,” she said. Sue must have noticed my face drop at the mention of his name.
“I think he’s a nice boy.”
“You do realise he’s queer, don’t you?”
Sue slapped my wrist and pointed to Amy, who was laughing. “Don’t say that in front of her. We can talk in a minute.”
I sensed something was going on, and Sue confirmed it when she asked Nicola to take Amy downstairs with her. I shifted in my seat uncomfortably and waited until my sister left.
“What is it?”
“Don spoke to the police while you were asleep.”
My eyes opened wide as I threw off her arm, and I sat on the edge on the couch. “Did they say what happened?”
“Does Nathan take drugs? I mean hard drugs. Like cocaine.”
“No, I’ve never seen him …. Why?”
“Are you sure? It’s important to tell me the truth, Robbie?”
“Yes, I swear.”
“When they found him, he had a large quantity of it on him.”
“It’s a mistake. He doesn’t do that. I would know about it. I know I would.”
“It was in small bags, similar to the one we found in your room.”
I screwed up my face. “You think he was selling it?”
“How do I know? Why are you asking me this? I don’t take drugs.”
She tried to hold my hand, but I pulled it away. “Honey. This is very serious, and I’m worried.”
“He’s Daniel’s friend, are you accusing him too?”
“I’m not accusing anybody. But if you have something to say. You should say it to me now because the police will probably find out.”
“You don’t believe me, do you? Why don’t you search my room?” As I spoke, it suddenly made sense why Don was downstairs. “Wait a minute. That’s what he’s doing now, isn’t it? He’s searching through my stuff.”
She grabbed my arm as I tried to stand up. “If you’ve got nothing to hide, then there’s nothing to worry about.”
“You don’t get it, do you. He’ll find something because he wants to set me up, just like his police friends set up Nathan. He’s lying to you, Sue. YOU CAN’T TRUST HIM!”
If you enjoyed this chapter, then please take the time to leave a comment below and follow the story.
In the next chapter, Nathan is charged with intent to supply narcotics, and the bank withdraws the funding for Conner's farm, leaving his family facing financial ruin.
For discussion of themes and topics. The book can be found here: https://www.gayauthors.org/story/dodger/thecockneycanuck After 47 chapters and lots of drama I think it's time this story has a discussion topic where readers can interact with the author and each other. There are certainly plenty of situations, characters and emotions to bring up, and of course most of all Robbie the Cockney Canuck. Dodger has kindly given me permission to start this thread and has promised to be part of the di