For the sake of my own security I'd had to let Errol die.
It wasn't about malice. I don'tthinkit was out of anger, though I had been angry. Not in the moment but, I'd just understood all the way until he took his final, retching breath that if I saved him I would be in danger. Errol lay hunched over, a revolting and hideous thing. I left the room and when I came back later his body was cooler and there was no pulse at his neck.
I took my fingers away and understood that he was in fact dead. Next step.
Errol didn't have any friends, of that I was quite sure. He really had been a hermit who was probably using me for extra benefit money. Hopefully those benefits would still come in and keep the house running. Errol's computer was in the corner of his bedroom and he had a leather-bound notebook with all his passwords. Hopefully all the information I'd need for money will be in there.
Calling the police would be a bad idea. I wasn't exactly sure how, but I was sure in some way I'd be forced to leave this place and doresponsibility things. I cringed at the thought. So instead I would have to hide Errol's body and keep living as if nothing had changed. I'd have to tell Margaret that he'd left town.
Hooking my arms under his shoulders, I dragged the heavy man while his head lolled. He was already stiffening, but rigor mortis seemed to have started years ago for him. Dragging him into the kitchen, bumping and dragging the dining room chairs. Forcing open the shitty door of our animal den, dragging him down the cracked steps. Thank God his colostomy bag was still attached. Dragging Errol's body across the path. Stopping to stretch my sore back and take a breather. Dragging him through the long grass and behind the trees.
Dragging Errol all the way to my hidden shed. Heaving and squeezing to get his stout, fat body through the door. Climbing over and shoving as his shoulder jammed into the wire shelf. Tired and anxious and frustrated. Forcing Errol through with a crash, glass jars falling and shattering and me dropping back onto my ass, exhausted.
I looked up to see my dead Uncle slouching upright against the wall and facing me. A multitude of spiders and moths buzzed and crawled upon him, one eye staring blankly from his purpling, pallid face. A hideous sight. When I got a hold of myself I clenched my fists into the grass angrily, stood and slammed the thin door shut.
Nobody ever came here. No one would ever find him.
Corey was exactly what I wanted him to be: amiable and pleasant. I found it good news, he will do for me after all. In roll call I expected him to sit next to me, but when he walked into the room he seemed uncertain. Gave me a timid wave and went to sit with his regular people. That didn't please me.
I thought about sex with him all the time now. Pictured his slim body naked and what it'd be like to push myself inside him. I stared at the back of his auburn head throughout roll call.
Then the bell rang and I followed my classmates out. Modern History was first period, an elective of mine. Corey was in none of my electives so we probably had different interests. But second period was Maths and I knew I'd find him there. After a monotonous lesson – I find all my electives monotonous, but chose them because I personally found it easier being tested on facts you only have to memorize – I left the indigo-carpeted room and took the concrete stairs down, walked to the other side of the school, past the little nature enclosure in the centre of the quadrangle to B block. Up the railed ramp and into the building to my room, most of the class already settled by the time I got there.
I took the empty seat next to Corey. Behind those thin-frame glasses his eyes widened in surprise, I didn't know why. Beside him a black-haired girl, Zoe Bailey, also looked surprised but was smiling.
"Hey Sebastian." he greeted.
"Morning Corey, how are you?"
"Good." He went back to setting out his book and pencil case, though his face was flushing. It seemed like he was trying to think of something to say but couldn't. I couldn't either, so just remained sitting comfortably.
"Hey Sebastian," Zoe peered around with a mischievous glint.
"Hi." My response was tight and clipped. I didn't want to talk to her, I wanted nothing from her. I only wanted to sit with Corey but she was in the way. On his other side, partially claiming him. I'd never had a proper friend or claim to another person before. I started feeling territorial.
"Do you have any plans this weekend?" She insisted on being conversational and I didn't know why.
"No." I saw her catch on to the aggression in my voice.
"That's Elissa's seat by the way."
I ignored her and settled in. Ms Lee, a newly-engaged woman in her 30s with a chestnut-brown ponytail, entered the classroom casually with a bag of folders and started organizing them on her desk. She wasn't quite fat, a full-bodied lady. The last of the students were filling in. Soon Elissa, some bulb-headed blonde girl, arrived and saw me in her seat. She cocked her head. I looked away from her and could tell in my peripheral that she was deliberating on whether or not to ask me to leave.
"You need to move Sebastian, you're in my seat." Elissa's nasal voice; she appeared in front of me.
"Find another seat."
Ms Lee was now standing to address the class and noticed Elissa was the only one not seated. She looked between us questioningly.
"Sebastian's in my seat. He needs to move." she squawked.
From beside me Corey was staring at his tabletop, ears pink.
"That is Elissa's seat, Sebastian. You need to go back to yours."
Ms Lee was one of the few reasonable teachers at Tuttle High. She could be an authoritarian when it was called for, but was chill most of the time. It was more of a confused statement than an order. I stood straight up and glared at her anyway. The whole class went quiet at my rigid posture. I took my bag and pencil case and skulked back to my regular seat at the back-end of the room. Not knowing what to make of it, Ms Lee shook her head once and then started her lesson.
First lunchbreak I stood outside B block and Corey had detached from everyone else to find me. He looked apologetic.
"Do you want to sit together for lunch?"
We went back to the undercover area. A group of Year Ten girls sat in the opposite corner and chatted amongst themselves. I watched Corey huddle into his green hooded jumper after a wintry breeze. I was mostly immune to the cold by now, sitting unaffected.
"Who do you normally hang out with?" he asked me.
"I thought so..." his eyes lowered and he looked concerned.
"I like being by myself." I assured him.
"That makes one of us..." he mumbled. I didn't know what he meant but didn't ask for clarification. Eventually he spoke up again, body tight and twisting his arms while I only watched him, relaxed. "Did you... do you...?" he wasn't looking at me, face red again. "Did you mean what you said- about thinking I'm beautiful?" He was entirely red. I was confused but reassessed him. I did find him good-looking.
"Yes." I said simply.
"Do you... want to hang out after school?"
"Sure. That'd be great."
"Cool." He looked happy, but still not looking at me. Still red and strangely nervous, heart pounding in that slim chest.
"We should sit together in English too." I told him assertively.
"Okay." He acquiesced and I felt satisfied.
When Corey was up to it he started talking about something else and we ate together, just the two of us. I had dry noodles, crackers and an apple. Corey's meal looked like it'd been made with care, everything neat, exquisite and glad-wrapped. Afterwards we sat together in every class we shared that day. When second lunch came around Corey said he wanted to sit with his friends but invited me to join them. I agreed but didn't like it. The other teenagers were excitably gossipy amongst themselves, but I didn't say much to any of them. I certainly wasn't polite. Hailey Urquhart was particularly annoying, standing in front of us with hands on her hips.
"So whatcha doing here anyway?" she was annoyed that I was being curt, Corey sat passively on the concrete next to me. He'd seemed to be enjoying the extra attention brought on by my presence beside him. Hailey was not happy with me here "Where are your other friends?"
"None of your business. Go away."
Her eyes widened, eyebrows up. She was very expressive and her frizzy hair twittered with each head-twist. She huffed indignantly, like an old woman. Probably had copied the reaction from her own grandmother. Then Hailey left me alone and the others stayed wary. Visibly happy that I was here beside Corey, but wary nonetheless.
I wasn't happy that they were here. A lot of them would talk to Corey, ask him about something school or TV related. I felt my eyes darkening each time it happened.
After school Corey and I met up at the front gates and then walked into town. We passed shops, outdoor cafe chairs and umbrellas, the dollar store, a line of people waiting to use the ATM beside a Commonwealth Bank. I smelt rotisserie chickens burning behind hot glassfront in one of the shops and felt hungry again. The two of us settled on a pie shop and ordered tall milkshakes in metal-container cups. Corey seemed very happy again, bubbly as we sipped through straws and he explained things to me I didn't care to know.
Movies, book series, school gossip. But I let him talk. We picked from a greasy box of chips between us, chicken-salted with a modest squirt of tomato sauce to the side. This cramped store smelt of nothing but salt; framed photos lined the checkered wall.
"This weekend me and my friends are driving up North of Lake Laguna to a new spot. Zoe and the others wanted to invite you... but you were being standoffish, I guess you were just shy?"
My brain whirred and I scowled into another sip of milkshake. Corey'sfriendswere a problem for me. I didn't want to have to compete with them. I recalled the dirt-track roads through the forest that bordered the lake. Errol didn't drive. Margaret had a heavy-duty truck she'd inherited from her late husband, I had to drive her places several times a week since she broke her arm. It was a climb for me to get into the thing, let alone her. She'd never let me drive it for myself.
"I don't have a car."
"Zoe can pick us up." He spoke eagerly.
Zoe. Every time I heard the names of his friends I felt my body go taut with annoyance. I felt antagonistic toward all of them. But even though I didn't want to be there, I wanted even less for Corey to be around other people without me present.
"Cool." He looked down, strangely shy and nervous again. Face going red, then he looked up and seemed mildly desperate. "Hey Sebastian... can this- uh... is this a date?"
"Yes." I decided.
He smiled wide while fiddling with the curved glass saltshaker, sliding it across the scaly silver table.
The next day of school passed in much the same way. Corey and I sitting together in all our classes, even rollcall, and people began to notice. We sat alone at recess and I let him direct our conversations, as usual. The group of Year Ten girls pleasantly and respectfully ignored us. At second lunch I had to sit with Corey's friends though dearly wanted to contest. My mood was chilly throughout.
After school Corey had to do chores and homework, but I gave him my mobile number. We met at one of the many public playgrounds of Tuttle in the dark evening, the enclosed bark type ones with a waist-high fence so parents can trap their toddlers while reading on a nearby bench. Multi-coloured slides, swings and a miniature rock-wall climber. A huge white sandbox-area. Other teenagers, barely older than twelve, were zipping along the flying fox and possibly drinking.
We walked by the lake together. The night before I'd pondered how exactly I'd go about getting sex from Corey. I'd come up with nothing. But the fact he'd called our after-school hangout a date was just further confirmation. Corey was too shy so I'd have to make the first move, which I was fine with doing, only I wasn't sure how. Grown-ups had sex, but nobody talked about how it actually started. Asking outright seemed somehow wrong, and it seemed that Corey was a shy person in general.
We walked the dark sand by the choppy water, the far-out streetlights casting long shadows behind us. The night air was freezing, blowing uninterrupted across the water. With nobody in view and the two of us alone, in the dark by the lake I figured I'd have a better chance of having my way. We stopped walking when Corey decided we'd gone far enough and should head back, reasoning that those other kids have probably got bored and left by now, moving along to the skate-park and then the various other playgrounds dotting our town. As another routine silence fell I hoped I was reading it right.
I stepped up to Corey and grabbed his waist, he jolted against my harsh fingers. I hunted his face down and pressed my lips against his, smacking our jaws at first in the dark, but adamant. Corey froze. I started moving my lips like I'd seen people do in movies and pornography but he remained unresponsive. After a moment I released my vice-grip and stepped away from him.
"What's wrong?" I was confused by him and the situation. Irritated. Perhaps I'd misread it after all.
"Nothing." He answered faintly, standing stock-still.
"Let's go back to the park."
And so we walked back. The little delinquents were indeed gone. So the two of us lay together in the centre of the climbable web-rope. Staring up at the stars behind drifting black clouds. A nearly-full moon tainting everything with its rousing blue. That light always made me feel wild, stirring the animal inside me.
I didn't push myself onto Corey again. He was too timid, so I decided I'd have to wait. For now. Instead we chatted on quietly until it got too cold and started to get wet.
"...We should probably go home." Corey murmured "But this was really nice. Having someone you can just open up to, you know?"
On my way home I noticed several missed calls from Margaret. I'd forgot that she tended to show up for dinner unannounced and she'd arrived earlier to find no one home. Bashing on the doors and windows to no answer. She was feisty for someone so old. My text explanation that Errol had gone away didn't appease her and she called again after I set foot in my dark house. My house – since no one else was living here, it was no longer Errol's.
"Well what the bloody hell do you mean he's gone away? Why isn't he answering my calls?"
"I don't know. He said he had to leave. He couldn't stand it here anymore."
"You're a bloody liar! That doesn't sound like Errol at all!"
I knew she was right, it was fishy. "Why would I lie?"
"I don't know... But that bastard Errol better not have thought he could get away with not helping his handicapped mother by skipping town for a few weeks. He'll have to come home sometime, he has nowhere else to go! And then I'll give him something to complain about, mark my words! Ungrateful, lazy. Just like you! And howdareyou..." she went on and I had to listen quietly because the consequences would be worse if I didn't.
As I zoned out with the phone to my ear, much the same way I had all these years under her berating, a strange thought drifted by. Margaret's constant criticizing and nagging over the years had only served to sap my energy further, making me more apathetic about life in general. Without her I'd have more time to myself, I wouldn't have to help her with all the tedious things she needed help with now. Getting her groceries and listening to her complain about the other ladies in her committees or whatever else she spent her days doing. It was too bad Margaret didn't also rely on me for life-saving medicine. It was too bad getting rid of her wouldn't also be that easy.
That night I'd dreamed of the small shed out back. I hadn't been near it since I put Errol there, I imagined all my specimens that hadn't been set free among the broken jars would all die in a few days without food or water. Not that I cared about that. In my dream I revisited the shed, opening it to find a perfect skeleton and all the insects and spiders were free, a swarm of them buzzing in tandem, crawling between eye sockets and ribs.