I woke up feeling utterly normal.
“Did it seem to work?” I asked Ryan.
He smiled. “Yeah, you didn’t resist or anything.”
I nodded. “That’s good. Hopefully it’s worked.”
Ryan nodded and stood up, walking over to my desk to put my pendulum away.
“Thanks, Ryan,” I said honestly.
Ryan smiled. “No problem. Can I go now?”
“Mm-hm. See you 'round.”
Ryan left, calling back, “See ya.”
Moving back to sit against my wall, I tested Ryan’s success by thinking back to Harriet’s parting before lunch. I wasn’t surprised to remember the distress but I found a different type of thinking entering my mind in retrospect: ‘She had to go at some point and it’s not like you won’t see her ever again.’
I smiled. Ryan’s suggestions seemed to have worked.
Just then, Matt came into the doorway of my room, knocking on the open door.
“Hey, I thought it would be nice if we all had dinner together tonight. I’ve put on a cottage pie and some veg and it should be done soon.”
I sat up.
“Oh yum. I love cottage pie.” I slid off the bed and followed him out of the room. “You know,” I remarked, “Ryan was just talking about the way we don’t associate with each other much.”
“Oh, was he?” Matt asked. “I agree, actually. Sometimes it’s like we forget we’re even brothers.”
I thought of Henry’s hatred of me. I wondered if he considered the blood we shared - if he hated me because he forgot we were brothers or if he hated me in spite of that. It was an interesting question. I couldn’t imagine him ceasing to hate me because he suddenly remembered we shared the same surname and parents.
“I guess we’re all so different from each other,” I replied.
For dinner, the eight of us squeezed around the table in the basement. Matt served, wearing a white apron that made him look vaguely chef-like.
“Isn’t this nice?” Jack commented, when Matt had taken his seat. He sat between Shaun and Simon, two seats down from Andrew and diagonally across from where I sat between Ryan and Matt.
“Definitely,” said Ryan. “I was starting to forget what you all looked like.”
Everyone smiled at that.
“Isn’t it interesting how five of us have girlfriends? It’s like we enjoy pairing up. And Shaun and Simon are inseparable.”
Shaun and Simon grinned at each other.
Jack looked thoughtful.
“We should findyoua girlfriend, Henry. Then we’d all be in pairs.”
“Oh, no, I’m all right, thanks, Jack,” I replied.
“Really?” asked Arthur casually.
I looked at him. He looked back at me, expectant.
“Quite all right,” I said carefully.
“Liar,” he said calmly.
“I’d let it alone,” Simon suggested quietly.
Andrew joined the conversation.
“No, maybe someone should say something. If Simon fancied Mia, Jack, and tried to interfere in your relationship, you wouldn’t like it, would you?”
Jack looked puzzled.
“I ... I don’t understand.” He looked at me, brow furrowed. “Unless... Henry, do you fancy Arthur’s girlfriend?”
I could feel Arthur watching me, ready to call me liar again if I denied it.
I looked down at my plate and sighed. I didn’t want to lie to Jack anyway.
“Yes, I do, Jack,” I admitted. I looked up. “But I wouldn’t mind about it so much if Arthur wasn’t so possessive.”
Jack looked at Arthur. To my surprise, he asked, “Are you? Possessive?”
Arthur looked shocked.
“Jack, that’s not fair.”
“Well, Henry’s always said and done things for a good reason. I can’t imagine he’d be lying about this.”
“I ... it’s my business what I do with my girlfriend.”
“Yes, but you should always treat her right.”
“I do. Jack, I think we should end this discussion here - it’s a bit more complicated than you might think.”
“Oh,” Jack said, confused. He glanced at me with a slight frown on his face before tucking in to the meal. “Thanks for cooking for us,” he told Matt.
Matt nodded, smiling.
“That’s okay, Jack.”
The rest of the meal was uneventful. Shaun, Simon and Jack talked among themselves, as did Ryan, Arthur and Andrew. I had a nice conversation with Matt.
“How’s school?” he asked.
“It’s okay,” I told him. “I don’t like being so captivating, but I prefer it to home-tutoring. How are things for you?”
“They’re good. I got a weekend job stacking shelves at the supermarket. It’s nice to have an income like that.”
I smiled. “That’s cool.”
I helped Matt wash up, while Ryan dried and put away. The latter didn’t seem to want to talk to me, probably because of the suggestion I had made earlier. But Matt kept talking - he told me that he and Zara were going to see a concert in a couple of weeks and that she was already excited about Christmas.
“She’s begun a countdown. She texted me this morning saying '43 days’. I remind her it’s still November but she thinks this is the month for buying presents. On a serious note, I don’t know what to buy her. I saw this singing cuddly reindeer but is that too childish?...”
I returned upstairs feeling quite happy. Matt had infected me with his good mood and I started looking forward to when the eight of us would decorate the house for Christmas. But, reaching my room, I saw the books on my desk and my schoolbag on the floor and I remembered the ordeal that was my life. My bubble bursting, I finished my last piece of homework and put Monday’s textbooks into my bag. I peeked out of my doorway to listen for the shower and hearing that it wasn’t on, went and took one.
As I went to bed, I prayed that the upcoming days would be easier. The upcoming 20 days.