We made our great escape. Down the corridor and straight out of the Accident and Emergency entrance. Soon as we got out, mother dialled for a taxi. My eyes caught sight of a silver BMW.
“That looks like dad’s car.” I said.
“That’s coz it is.” Mother rolled her eyes.
I walked up to the car, mother dragged her feet behind me.
Father was inside. Passed out on the driver’s side. I knocked on the window. He woke. In a panic, he wound down the window.
“Hey, what’s going on?” He asked, looking at his watch and rubbing his eyes.
“We’re going home.” I said. “Mind if we take a ride in your… hotel?”
“Sure… erm… get in.”
“I was just about to call a cab.” Mother said.
“Well, I guess I’ve just saved you the trouble.” Farther started the beasty engine on the 1989 BMW 635CSi, Motorsport Edition. Mother hated the roar when it cranked up. Sounds like we’re on an aeroplane, she’d always say. But father loved it, so much so, that he had the engine and interior restored. He replaced the lights and alloy wheels and had the body resprayed. It was his pride and joy.
A lovely calm came over me as we got closer to home. Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire. Home sweet home. We moved here about ten-years ago. Mother and father thought it better to not live in the city. Too much congestion. Too much hustle and bustle. Father grew up in London and despised the thought of me not experiencing country life. Childhood is time of climbing trees and exploring nature, not staring at grey buildings and inhaling fumes until you’re sick! He would often say.
“Hey Jake, that’s Grandpas car.” Father pointed. “Parked outside the house.” An old, British racing green, Ford Escort. As we pulled up on to the drive way, grandpa got out of his car and limped towards us.
“Hi dad.” mother said and gave him a hug.
“Where the dickens have you been? I’ve been sitting in that rust bucket for nearly two hours!”
“Why didn’t you call?”
“Stupid battery died on my phone!”
“Sorry dad… come on let’s go inside.”
Grandpa shook mine and father’s hand and we went inside. He was probably the only person that I knew that shook hands. Most people say hello or close relatives would give a polite hug but grandpa Albert considered himself a gentleman. So, it was a stern look with vigorous handshake that meant business.
“So, where have you all been?” He asked as he fell into the comfy arm chair. One that mother bought especially for him. It was kept in the front room for when he would visit. And no one except grandpa was allowed to sit on it.
“Erm… we were at the hospital…” mother responded faintly.
“Good heavens! Is everything alright?” I knew that mother wasn’t going to lie, especially to grandpa. She would tell him everything. And it would feel awkward. Grandpa and I were close. And this news would be hard on him. I couldn’t bear to see his reaction. I just couldn’t. So, I did the cowardly thing. I ran upstairs as fast as my legs could carry me.
Although I was glad to be home, it just didn’t feel the same. I looked around my bedroom as if everything here belonged in a distant memory, someone else’s memory – it was very odd.
I sat down at my oak desk, which was still scattered with school assignments that were due in next week. At least I’m getting out of those, I smiled to myself. Though I probably would have enjoyed the creative writing assignment. The mathematics one not as much.
My phone buzzed. Message from Tad.
“Is it true?”
“Wow! I can’t believe it!!!”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No mate… there’s nothing either one of us can do. Besides, I’m sure he’ll do fine on his own!”
“I don’t understand???”
“Zayn, leaving One Direction… I’m sure he’ll do fine on his own.”
“NO! I wasn’t on about that… although I agree, I think he’ll do better on his own… I meant the other thing… you being ill?”
“Oh that… yeah that’s true as well.”
“Damn dude! You OK?”
“I think so.”
“Can I come over or is dragon lady going to burn me to a crisp???”
“Don’t be calling my mum a dragon lady! You know I don’t put up with anyone saying anything about my mum!”
“NO! You retard! I meant Doris from next door. You remember last week? The plant pots… my bike… the collision???”
“Oh yeah… lol. She was pretty mad.”
“Old bat frightens the life out of me.”
“Me too. And I have to live right next to her. Come around the back and put your bike in the shed so she doesn’t see it.”
“Cool. See you in a bit.
I drifted to my bed and lay down. The thought of jumping on to my Xbox and getting absorbed in a game of Call of Duty flashed through my mind a few times but, for the first time ever, it felt like it might be a waste of time. I didn’t know what to do with my time but I was certain that I shouldn’t waste it. My life had suddenly lost its equilibrium. All the things that I usually did, seemed somewhat pointless. It was like doing press ups right before getting executed. Or painting a wall just before knocking it down. Or even stuffing your face just to throw it back up. A temporary enjoyment that had neither meaning nor purpose.
I was startled by a knock on the door. I remained silent. It wasn’t Tad. He would just barge in. Both mother and father would had said something by now. It had to be grandpa. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted a serious conversation. I wasn’t sure I wanted any conversation. I was hoping that Tad would burst in. Throw his bike helmet on the floor. Kick his trainers off, one landing on my bed and the other in some random part of room, a mysterious corner of the room that would, later, take us a while to discover. We would just silently play Xbox for a couple of hours and then shoot out for a thrilling bike ride. Forgetting that the rest of the world existed.
The door knocked again.
“Jake… can I come in?” Grandpa said in his usual croaky voice.
I sat up on the bed. “Sure.”
He plodded in and sat next to me on the bed. A few moments went by in complete silence. But it didn’t feel awkward. It felt nice. It made me realise that sometimes more could be said in silence than in a conversation.
“Jake…” Grandpa said, gently breaking the silence that I had secretly hoped would have been preserved for the entire duration of his stay. “Your mother told me about… you being ill.”
I didn’t know what to say. It felt like I had let everyone down. Fallen far below everyone’s expectations.
“She also told me what the doctors said.”
I nodded slowly. Eyes fixed on the ground.
“When I was boy… not too much older than you. I lived in London with my mother, father and my two younger sisters… London back then was a strange place. It was a time of anarchy, a time of war. With the bombs falling, there was no guarantee that you would wake in the morning. And many didn’t.
My father was called to battle at the beginning of World War 2. He had about as much combat skills as fluffy-eared bunny rabbit. But that was just way back then. If you were the wrong age and in the wrong place, you were off to fight for queen and country. And because he had a bit of flying experience, they gave him a week’s training, a pat on the back and off he went.
My mother wrote him countless letters. Not knowing whether he would get to read any of them. We didn’t have email or text messages back then. And were probably the better for it. Anyway, the point was… she never gave up writing to him.
I remember how much she wept when men in perfectly pressed military uniform marched to the door and told her that father was missing in action. Presumed dead, they said casually as if they had been delivering the same message to people all day. But she refused to believe it. And she continued writing.”
Grandpa Albert shifted his body to face me, “And you know what… after two painfully long months… the curly haired wanderer returned. And without a scratch on him. Apparently, the engine on his plane malfunctioned and he crashed. Miraculously, he didn’t get hurt. He never told us the full story of exactly how he got back and we didn’t care. We were just glad he was back.
Anyway, there is an important lesson in this.”
“Thank you, grandpa. I get it… never give up and don’t always believe things that people tell you.”
“No. The lesson is… we’re damn hard to kill!” He smiled. “Doctors have been telling me that I have all sorts of problems and I keep telling them where to shove their pills.”
“I know Grandpa but this is slightly different—”
“Codswallop!” grandpa snapped. “Now, you listen to me boy… you, just like your mother, are a fighter. I can see it in your eyes.” His eyes were locked on to mine. “Your mother, even from when she was a little ankle-bitter, was a tough cookie. No one could tell her what to do. A lot of the boys on the block used to be scared of her.” Father is still scared of her, I thought.
“You mustn’t ever give in without a fight. It doesn’t matter how difficult things seem… you never give up. Now, keep your chin up.”
The door barged open. Tad burst inside and slammed the door shut behind him.
“What the bloody hell is wrong with you boy!” Grandpa yelled.
“Sorry…” Tad said, trying to catch his breath back. “I… I think the old bat saw me.”
“Doris?” I asked.
“How do you know she saw you?”
“She stuck her head of the window as I rode past and shouted, “I know it was you that knocked over my plant pots! You better sleep with one eye open!”
“Oh. Yup, I think she saw you.” I chuckled.
“Hey, it isn’t funny. She’s barking mad!”
“Yeah, she does seem a little potty.” Grandpa grinned.
“Ha-ha! You won’t be laughing when you find me on the news. Murdered by a psychotic old woman, obsessed with plant pots.”
“Don’t be silly.” Grandpa said. “What makes you think that anyone will ever find your body?”
“What!” Tad’s eyes opened wider, “you old people are crazy!”
“Yup…” Grandpa stood up and walked towards the door, “we certainly are.”
“Jake, I’ll see you downstairs at dinner time.” He then looked back at Tad, “and Tad Pole—”
“It’s Paul… my name is Tad Paul.”
“That’s what I said, Tad Pole.”
“No, Paul not pole.”
“Seems like your parents had a great sense of humour. Anyway, I think you need to show a little respect to the old lady next door. Don’t ride your bike around her house and don’t annoy her. You wouldn’t like it if some snotty-nosed brat did that to you.”
“Yes sir.” Tad said quietly.
“Good. You can join us for dinner – put some skin around those bones of yours.”
“Yes, OK… I mean, thanks.”
I found it difficult to stop laughing. I could tell that Tad was petrified of Grandpa but I found the whole thing hilarious. Grandpa was old school. And came across as a little intimidating, sort of shows where mother got her charms from. But he was great. The best.
“Mum’s making lasagne.” I said trying to break the ice.
“That sounds good… erm, how you feeling?”
“I’m feeling like I could kick your ass in Black Ops!”
“You must have bumped your head and lost your mind! You know I am the bestest and Black Ops!”
“Bestest isn’t even a word! And bring it on!”
“It is a word. I just said it, so it is a word!” Tad kicked his shoes off and sat in front of the Xbox.
While the games console was booting up, I grabbed my Oxford pocket dictionary and threw it at him.
“Ouch!” He shrieked as it hit the back of his head.
“If the bestest is in that, then it is a real word!” I smiled.
Tad threw his game controller towards me, “you set the game up and I’ll find the word.”
After a few moments, he threw the dictionary back at me. I didn’t realise how painful it was getting hit by a dictionary, especially when the corner hits your arm.
“It’s in there!” Tad gloated.
“It’s on the back page.”
I hurried to the back page which he had scribbled on:
Bestest: A person that becomes so close to you that he becomes your best-est friend. A person you can’t imagine your life without. Transcending best friend status, he becomes your best-est friend.
I had no idea how to react to that. I felt butterflies in my stomach. The realisation that I wasn’t going to live for much longer was finally sinking in. The thought of leaving my family and my bestest friend behind had been so hard to digest that I had subconsciously chosen to ignore it.
“So, are we doing this?” Tad said, holding the games controller out like a gun.
“Prepare to be humbled! I said grabbing my controller, “bestest friend.”
The next hour was spend in intense warfare. We heroically battled it out to our heart’s content. Completely absorbed in a virtual world so real that I didn’t want to leave and face the cold reality that I couldn’t simply spawn back into life by pressing a button. How convenient that would be.
“Jake!” Mother yelled from downstairs, “dinner’s ready.”
“Coming mum!” I yelled back.
The dinner table was packed. A pleasant contrast from the last nine-months of just mother and I. Mother had to get an extra chair from the garage when grandpa told her Tad was staying for dinner.
“Does your mother know that you’re staying for dinner?” Mother asked.
“I sent her text earlier to let her know.”
“Didn’t even have the curtesy to call her.” Grandpa remarked. “Youth is wasted on the young. It is true.”
“Times have changed dad,” mother said. “That’s fine Tad. Thanks for letting her know and it’s really nice to have you over for dinner.”
“Thank you. The lasagne is delicious.” Tad smiled nervously.
Apart from the clashing of forks and knives on ceramic plates, an awkward, yet increasing familiar, silence loomed over the dinner table. Father was completely silent. He was picking at his food. Just like I did when I had too much on my mind to eat properly.
Tad’s phone buzzed. Grandpa’s eyes locked on to him like lasers beams.
“It’s fine Tad.” Mother intervened, “you can check that, it might be your mother.”
Tad nervously removed his phone and checked the message.
“Erm… yes, it’s from my mum, she wants me home by eight.”
Grandpa looked at the clock on the wall, “you had better get a move on then… it’s half-past-seven.”
“Yes, I’m sure he can read the time.” Mother said, “there’s pudding for dessert, have some and then you can make your way home.”
“I can drop you off…” Dad said, clearing his throat. “You know, when I leave for a hotel…”
“Good God! You two aren’t fighting again are you!” Grandpa huffed. Mother didn’t respond. “I really wish you two would grow up. Life is short, way too short for childish bickering.” He whacked his knife and fork down on the table. “No one is going anywhere, except you Tad, of course. We need to pull together as a family. Support one another through difficult times.”
“It’s fine. There are plenty of good hotels around here and—”
“Nonsense! You are staying right here. You can take the guest room if you need to but you need to be here.”
Grandpa’s words were like music to my ears. I really wanted father to stay. I wanted it to be like old times. And I knew that if anyone could make this happen, it was grandpa.
We all looked over at mother. “Yeah, of course.” She said and then began collecting the dishes.
Just like every time Tad came over, we spent our last five-minutes wrestling through the room, hunting for his trainers. One had landed on my desk, the other was probably in another dimension.
As I searched under my bed, I stumbled on my old wooden chest. I pulled it out to look behind it. How his trainer-shoe could have gotten behind that I would never understand yet, somehow, it did.
“Got it!” I cheered.
“Thanks. Wow, your old chest. Haven’t seen that in years.”
“I know. Having some serious nostalgia looking at that.”
“Let’s open it up.”
I looked at my wrist watch. “Yeah… you got a few minutes.” I heaved open the lid of the chest. A small cloud of dust puffed up. Immediately, I noticed an old compass that grandpa gave me.
“Hey, you remember that.” I said smiling.
“Yeah,” Tad chuckled, “I remember being lost in the woods for a long time with that thing!”
“What about this?” I pulled out toy car. It was Kit, from the Knight Rider TV series, I never saw one episode, but father was huge fan. Part of me thinks that the car was more for him than for me.
“Yeah that was cool!”
I turned the switch at the bottom and the red strobe light strip flashed.
“I cannot believe that still works!” Tad said in excitement.
I froze as my eyes were drawn to a small black note book.
“Is that…” Tad said quietly. I nodded. I picked up.