Chris wished that just this once he could have rolled out of bed twenty minutes before school started and not have to worry about anything, but today was no different than any other day. He had been up at six to help his mum get ready for work and cook her breakfast, then he had to drag his little brother out of bed and get him ready for school and make him breakfast too. While they were eating and catching up, he got himself ready. He had just finished making their lunches and was taking his mum outside to Paula's car. She took his mum to work most days and when she couldn’t and Chris had to take her, he was always late for school, because he couldn’t drive yet and it was a good twenty five minute walk. And her wheelchair wasn’t exactly light either. Those days were hard. Every day was hard.
He waved the car out of the street. As he watched the car turn the corner, a small weight lifted off his shoulders, but his chest still felt deflated. It always felt like he had a set of weights in his chest cavity, dragging him down. He did when he was at home anyway.
"Chris?" A pitiful voice sounded behind him. He turned to see Georgie standing in the doorway rubbing his eyes and holding his foot out, the laces hanging limply. Chris sighed.
"You know, you're old enough to be able to tie your own shoe laces by now." He said chidingly as he knelt down and picked up the laces.
"But I don't want to tie them myself." Georgie protested, pouting.
"Why not?" Chris asked, exasperated. This wasn't the first time they had had this argument and he doubted very much that it would be the last.
Georgie crossed his arms. "I like it when you do it." He replied firmly. He wasn't going to budge any time soon. Chris stood up and ushered Georgie into the house. It didn't really matter; it was just another thing on his list of duties.
"Come on, we better get going. We don't - " Chris began.
"Why can't mummy tie my shoe laces?" Georgie asked suddenly.
Chris stared down at him. Georgie always caught him unawares with these sorts of questions. How could you explain to a seven year old that his mother didn't have the mental capacity to take care of him anymore? Why was it his job to explain these things? He ran his hands over his head.
"Ah... well mum just isn't as good at these things as I am I guess." He grabbed Georgie's coat and helped him into it. "Now go get your bag or we are going to be late." Georgie ran off to the kitchen to get his bag and Chris slung his over his shoulder. He let his face fall for a second before Georgie came back; the effort of keeping things light around here was taking its toll. He had been up for half the night trying to finish an English essay. He had been forced to order takeaway for dinner because he just didn't have time to cook. He hated having to do that. He was supposed to set a good example for his little brother. Georgie came back and Chris’s expression was neutral. He locked the door behind them as they left.
As he walked down the drive he glanced at his watch. He had fifteen minutes to walk Georgie to school and then walk to his own. It wasn't exactly true that they would both be late, Georgie's school started a half hour later than Chris's but he had an arrangement with Georgie's very sympathetic teacher, Miss Carmel. She obviously pitied Chris having to take care of his little brother when he was so young himself. Chris still didn't like the fact that Georgie had to sit by himself for half an hour before his classmates arrived though; he knew they thought he was strange.
Chris pushed the thought from his mind. He couldn't let it get to him today; he had enough to think about at school.
"Chris?" Georgie panted, trying to keep up.
Chris slowed down a little. "Yeah?" They reached the gate of the school. Chris caught Miss Carmel's eye in the window and she waved before getting up to come let Georgie in. Georgie pulled Chris down by the front of his jacket and whispered in his ear. "I wish we had a daddy."
Miss Carmel opened the gate and Georgie followed her in. She was a pretty young woman with a kind face, but despite this Chris still hated her a little for the look of pity she reserved just for him. Chris watched Georgie leave, completely stunned. He was sure that his heart had just broken in his chest. And it was nobody's fault but his own.
Chris got to school with only seconds to spare. He didn’t see Danny or Holly until morning break. They were at their lockers.
“Hey! Where were you this morning?” Danny asked.
Chris shook his head. “Had to get Georgie to school. Was just running a bit late that’s all.”
Robyn jerked her head down the corridor. “Noah’s still not here.” She said, her tone guarded. She was worried. And so was Chris.
“Okay. I’m going at lunch. I have a bad feeling about this and if he is sick, I don’t trust that mother of his to be much help.”
“I would come with you but if I get caught sneaking out, Sadie will have my head on a pike.” Robyn said apologetically.
“I’ll come with you.” Danny told him, closing his locker.
Chris shook, his head. “Nah, it’s alright. No point in all of us getting into trouble. I can go myself. And I’m pretty sure his mother will be at work anyway won’t she?” They both nodded. Chris was about to say something else when he looked down the corridor and saw someone sitting on the window sill near Noah’s locker. “Who’s that?”
Robyn turned to look. “Oh, that’s the new girl. Megan or something. I kinda feel sorry for her. I haven’t seen anybody talking to her.”
“That’s because she won’t talk to anyone. No ne knows anything about her and no ones even heard her speak.” Danny put in. Chris narrowed his eyes. The girl was small, and she was kicking her feet off the wall below the window. The light at the bottom of the corridor weren’t on and she just looked like a dark shadow perched there, waiting for something. He was about to suggest that they go talk to her, when the bell rang for class to start. And they each headed off in different directions.
Chris only just managed to clip away at the beginning of lunch. The trick was confidence. No teacher would bother you if had a fake note in hand and looked like you were doing exactly what you were supposed to be doing. But as he was heading for the gate, he caught sight of Vice Principal Greer going for his car. He looked straight at Chris and took a step towards him; Chris was sure he was caught, right before the Greer’s car alarm went off. Saved by the bell.
Chris had never been inside Noah’s house. He had been outside it plenty of times, but never inside. Noah, never said anything, or explained why, but they all knew. His mother didn’t exactly like his friends. Or him. Chris was yet to have the pleasure of meeting her, but he had heard storied from the girls. They were all in awe of Noah that he never said a single bad word against the woman. Chris wished he could say the same of his mum.
He rang the door a few times and nobody answered. He knocked on the door, the window and even went round the back. Nothing. His bad feeling grew. The front door wasn’t locked so, praying that he wouldn’t find Noah’s mother passed out somewhere, he let himself in. The house was messier than he expected. Well, he wasn’t sure what he expected, but there were empty beer bottles all over the place and takeaway cartons littered the kitchen countertops. The mother’s doing he was sure.
He didn’t see or hear anyone downstairs, so he headed up. It was at the top of the stairs that he heard something. The toilet flushing. He moved to the door and knocked lightly. “Noah? You in there?” There was no answer so he pushed the door open.
Noah was sitting on the floor in his boxer shorts and a t-shirt soaked in sweat. If he hadn’t blinked when Chris opened the door, he would have been sure that he was dead. “Wow. What happened to you?”
Noah gave a faint smile. He took a minute to steady his breathing. “Believe me….. this is ten times better than… yesterday….” He closed his eyes for a second.
Chris had never seen him without eyeliner or his hair done or his crazy clothes. He looked so different. He moved into the room and sat on the edge of the bath. “Want me to get you anything?”
“What are you doing here?” Noah asked, pressing his hand to his throat.
“You never miss school.” Chris shrugged. “We were worried about you.”
Noah looked at him with his blood shot eyes for a second, before the effort of turning his head became to much for him. “I’m fine. You shouldn’t have come…. You’ll probably get sick now too…..”
Chris gave a wave of his hand. “I’ll be fine. I’m a big boy now.”
Noah jerked forward as if to be sick, but after a second he settled back again. “But you …. You might give it to Georgie. Whatever… this is….” He said hoarsely.
Chris hesitated. That was the last thing he needed. He would have to stay home and take care of him then. But he couldn’t just leave Noah here by himself. He looked like he was on his death bed. “But I can’t just leave you here man, have you seen yourself? You look like your dying.”
Noah let out a weak chuckle. “Thanks for the kind words.” He glanced sideways and saw Chris’s brow furrowed. “I’m fine seriously. I’m not throwing up as much and the muscles spasms are almost gone and the headaches are gone.” Chris looked sceptical.
“Have you thought about calling a doctor? This sounds pretty serious.”
“It’s going away now anyway…. And yesterday…. Every time I opened my mouth it was like the exorcist.” He leaned forward a little, letting his head hang between his knees. “I know you’re on lunch.” He mumbled.
“So you better get back before you’re caught. Principal hates you.”
Chris nodded. It was true. He had it in for Chris for some reason. Like he thought he was making up lies about his home life. He took every opportunity to catch him out on anything. Chris’s leg twitched.
“Go! Go!” Noah moaned, nudging Chris with his elbow. “And tell them to stop worrying, I’ll be in tomorrow.” Chris gritted his teeth. He hated leaving his friend like this.
“Fine, but I’ll send someone over after school okay?”
“Go!” Noah moaned again, but he was smiling.
“Just answer the door!” Chris yelled over his shoulder as he ran down the stairs. Noah was completely still until the front door slammed closed. Then he lurched forward and projectile vomited into the toilet again.