When I say that Alicia was waiting outside the school for me, I mean she was waiting outside what used to be a diner where the handful of kids all lumped into the same room and a couple of ex teachers tried to get them to learn shit. I didn’t really see the point of education when surviving this hell hole was more important, but it was that or the poor kid ended up on the farms with me.
“You’re late,” she pouted.
“I know,” I grunted, picking her up and putting her up on my shoulders. “Eloise ain’t very happy with me, so we need to hurry back, ‘kay?” she nodded and held onto one of my hands with both of hers so she didn’t fall as I set off.
I think being here was slowly gonna drive me more insane. I was barreling down the streets, practically running others down just so I could get my ass back. Me and Eloise fought a lot, but somehow it was always okay by the time we got to bed, and I didn’t want it to be any different that night.
“Cancer!” I heard the person before I saw them, which was a surprise when I noticed the ginger fuzz balanced on top of the pale, skinny teenager somewhere ahead of me.
“I ain’t got time for this shit, Joe,” I told him as I sped past, determined to get home so I could get Eloise to forgive me in time for the make up sex before bed. I’d been chucked out and made to sleep on the floor in the corridor between the front room and the bathroom too many times.
The words “oh, okay,” were lost behind me somewhere and Alicia’s whack to my shoulder for cussing went ignored.
“You took your time,” Eloise snapped, ripping open the front door before I was even halfway through the gate.
“Yeah, yeah,” I grumbled, crouching down to let Alicia get down. She slid down my back, not letting go of my hand. Alicia was snatched away from me and an order to make dinner was chattered in my direction before a bedroom door slam took their place in front of me.
“Well fuck you then, you cunt!” I shouted, hammering my fist on the door. There was no reply.
The skin on my knuckles split and blood leaked out down the rough surface of the wall.
“You should really stop cursing so much in front of that kid, y’know?” I looked round at Sonia, my eyes narrowed at the idea that someone had just seen me fuck up my hands over an argument with Eloise.
“It’s none of your fuckin’ business,” I spat at her.
“We have to share a house with you, Cancer, it’s my business. My family have to hear you shouting at each other all the time, so do the others in the house. If that’s not enough of a reason, then maybe the fact Eloise was threatening to leave earlier is.” I shrugged, folding my arms over my chest. She gestured for me to come closer to her.
“What now?” my fists were balling without me meaning to and she dropped her hand back to her side. “You’ve told me off like I’m a little fuckin’ kid, what more could you have to say to me?”
She pulled a roll of bandages out of her pocket, “I’ll fix up your hands and help you with dinner, if you like,” she offered, throwing them to me. My hand snapped them up out of the air, my eyes barely leaving her face. I didn’t see any signs of a lie, but my ability to read people had gone to shit along with the world.
“And what do I have to give you in return?”
“Just a few quiet evenings would be enough. Well, I’d like more than a few, but one day at a time, eh? If not for my sake, then Alicia’s. She deserves better than this, doesn’t she?”
I bristled at that. Maybe that was the idea – to piss me off into doing what she wanted.
By the time the whole house had eaten – Sonia took over when she realized I always avoided kitchen duty because I can’t cook for shit – Eloise seemed a little bit calmer. She was in front of everyone else, anyway, and I’d heard her telling Alicia not to worry about the shouting. We put Alicia to bed in the room we’d cleared out and agreed everyone’s kids could sleep there together, and left together quietly once she was asleep.
I slid my arm around her waist, pulling her against me as we made our way back to our room. She didn’t pull away, but she didn’t exactly encourage it either. I toed the bedroom door shut and leaned down to kiss her neck where it met her shoulder.
“Cancer,” she sighed, turning to face me, not moving so I had to take my arm away. I didn’t smile, but I knew then she’d already forgiven me; she used my real name when she was really mad with me.
“C’mon, Lou,” I linked my hands in the small of her back, pulling her against me. She rested her head on my collarbone, “you know I never mean it.”
“You keep saying that,” she said tiredly. “But you make it so hard on me. I can’t help it if I worry about you going outside the wall, or that you’ll get yourself kicked out.”
“You don’t need to worry about me,” I tilted her head up so she could see me smile before planting a kiss on her lips. “I don’t worry about me.”
“I can tell,” she grumbled, gently bumping her head into my chest like she was hitting it on a wall in frustration.
“I do worry about you thinking I don’t love you, though.” It was only a white lie, right? I did care about her after all. I just wasn’t so sure it was ‘love’.
“Hard to remember it with the way you scream at me sometimes,” she mumbled. That wiped the smile off my face pretty fast. I shuffled us over to the end of the bed and sat down, tugging her down into my lap with me. I hated the talking bit.