The taste of cheap tobacco and herb still tickles my throat. The summer had been pulled from under us, but, by some blessing, the morning of the twenty-sixth of September was clear and by eleven am, boiling. I set off to meet my boys in shorts and a heavy sweater. By the time I was at the clearing, I was down to my cami.
‘Took your time, Cath!’ Jon’s low, languid voice made me grin. ‘Chuck us my tin.’
I scrambled in the bag heap just outside the circle and fished out an old toffee tin. It did not, however, contain sweets. So, maybe everyone in the circle - my twin brother Jonathan, our big brother Matt and his girlfriend Ruby, my best friend Leo, and Will, who was in Leo’s year - except me, smoked. Smoked something a little green and fruity.
Maybe, just maybe, they were all stoners.
‘Sit beside me, little one.’ Jon ordered. My twin brother, older by eight and a half minutes, forever flaunting that annoying fact.
‘Hang on.’ I dropped my bags and gave out the customary hugs too all but my brothers. I leant against Jon as I took my seat.
‘You want me to help roll?’ I didn’t smoke, but I could roll and I helped if he were creating something long, fat, creative or complex. Or sticking skins because he’d chewed up the flavoured rips (again) on a gurn.
So maybe, just maybe, we did a few other things from time to time.
‘Hurry up, man. I NEED more WEED!’ Matt yelled, and we all cracked up.
Ruby shuffled over to sit in front of me; she wasn't laughing with us and I immediately stopped. She'd better be okay.
‘Leo’s asleep again, honey. I don’t think he’s slept again, I don‘t think he‘s… right.’ She bit her lip and I sighed deeply, casting a glance to my best friend, sprawled half-naked in the sunshine a couple of metres away.
‘Ah, it’ll be a girl, it’s always a girl. I’ll talk to him when he wakes up.’
‘Cath, keep tight on that end.’ Jon muttered. I changed my grip on the banana-patterned rip.
Ruby smiled at me. ‘He’d be in bits without you.’
‘Damn right he would!’ I giggled.
‘Cath, will you please look at what you’re doing? Gimme the end, I’ll tuck it.’
‘Sorry, Jon. It’s right though, isn’t it?’ I turned my attention back to Ruby. ‘That kid can’t look after himself.’
‘He looks after you, doesn’t he?’ She caught her long russet hair up and let it fall. My insides squirmed with jealousy: I’d put a deeper tint over my stubbornly ginger hair with the intention of eventually matching Ruby’s mane of glossy enviableness. It made next-to-no difference and wrecked my hair, so I grew about three inches of natural colour and cut the bad bits out - the ensuing crop was surprisingly nice, though. Things is, you can’t do that with life. You can’t cut out that bad bits and start again.
Jon squawked suddenly. ‘Watch, watch, watch! I just did a proper waterfall!’
Smoke streamed out of his mouth and he breathed in slowly through his nose to draw it back into his lungs. His eyes crossed in concentration and he ghosted it, but a breeze threatened to steal the dense cloud. Instinctively, he brought his hands up to cup the masterpiece back into his mouth, and the joint dropped. I caught it deftly.
‘Watch what you’re smoking, you nearly burnt me!’ I said crossly, smoothing the skin.
Instinct. Impulse. That’s what made me drag hard on the joint. I could almost hear Matt’s eyes popping. A tight tingle swam into my chest as I took it back. Yuck - cheaphouse tobacco. The herb though, it was clean. I coughed after a couple more drags and demanded a drink. Jon was beaming like a Cheshire Cat at his achievement, whereas Matt was still staring at me with bulging eyes.
‘Wha-you-just-but-but- YOU’RE MY BABY SISTER! JONOTHAN!’ He glared at the grinning, freckled, baked mess of his younger brother beside me.
‘You,’ I replied calmly. ‘Broke into drugs on MD, so you can naff off.’
He gawped a bit more, mouth working in silent shock. Ruby rolled her eyes and turned around.
‘Get up, Leo!’ She threw a little pebble at him. ‘You just missed Cath’s first smoke.’
‘Did whu?’ He pulled a face, hoisting himself up onto his elbows. ‘Don’t throw stuff, just poke me or somethin’.’
I got up at strode over to him. The tingle was still in my chest and I was still a bit canted from the nicotine.
‘Hey, hey. You. I’m getting high, me.’ I threw my chest out in pride. Leo suddenly woke up, grin splitting his face from ear to ear.
‘Yeah? Well then, give me my box, because you and I are gonna do it together!’
So we sat and watched the sun die, chain-smoking our way through forties. Ruby and Matt bade us farewell after a couple of lazy hours and went to Ruby’s. It was still hot, too hot for us to want to move, which was rare. I slumped against Leo, soaking up the sunshine peacefully; Jon was laid clean out with a stupid smile on his face. Will was sat cross-legged, plugged into his iPod. He was so quiet, you forgot he existed at times - I’d barely heard him speak the whole day.
‘I’m stoned as toast, me.’ Jon said into the heavy air. I started to giggle at him.
‘Toast isn’t stoned, man. You are.’
‘I know I am! It’s awesome as fuck!’ His deep bass voice turned high in excitement and Will started laughing at him. Leo’s chest rumbled and the most ridiculous, Donald Duck-esque snort burst out. I started to laugh breathlessly, the heat increasing the dizzy, heightened, happy feeling bubbling through me. I rolled off Leo and we all started to cackle hard, pointing at eachother with tears streaming down our faces.
‘This is why we’re alive, isn’t it?’ I said between giggles. ‘Just for random shit like this. All the love.’
Jon cleared his throat. ‘Yeah, like, like…One love…’
Will joined in. ‘One heart…’
‘Let’s get to-gether aaaand feel alright…’ we chorused.
‘Yeah, that stuff. Bob Marley’s looking over us right now, his stoner children, and he’s proud.’
‘You’re chatting bollocks, you.’ Leo ran a hand through his navy hair. ‘Pretty stoned, aren’t you? You trippin’ yet?’ Excitement flooded his voice at the notion.
‘What’s tripping meant to be like?’ I asked curiously. God knows, if this was a trip, it was sick.
‘Like…’ Will eyeballed me for a minute. ‘You might see colours when you close your eyes. Or your pulse might feel really fast.’
‘I reckon time’s slowing down.’ Jon volunteered.
‘It’ll just be a jump out of reality.’ Leo added.
I thought for a minute. Nothing seemed especially weird, I just felt dead chilled and giggly.
‘Nah. I’m just stoned.’ I considered my earlier though about this being sick, whatever this was. ‘So trips are more sick than this?’
'Sister. You’ve got no idea. Tomorrow, help me pack my bong. Will, bring yours.’ Jon nodded sagely at the blonde boy still bobbing his head to whatever his Beats were gracing him with; I could see a plan formulating in Jon's eyes.
‘You’re gonna get me more high? Matt will slaughter you.’ I raised my eyebrows.
‘As you said, Cath,’ Will replied, smiling to himself. ’Your big brother’s first drug was methylenedioxymethamphetamine.’
‘I want to try MD too, Matt says it’s amazing.’ I tried to recall exactly what he’d told me through the green haze in my head.
‘Hey.’ Leo prodded me. ‘Start small.’
‘Can I have a bong tomorrow then? I think I’ll like it better pure, I hate baccy. Ugh!’ The giggles hit me again: two squeaky breaths and tidal waves of euphoric peace flowed out.
I took a look at the red-eyed, laughing guys around me. Why had I not done this before?
I’d be lying if I said that Cath had shocked me. With brothers like that and friends like these; it was a matter of time.
Matt was sat watching an old Scrubs episode in the living room and I was hunting for the wine. At one bit, I couldn’t understand why my mum drank it, but now, it was Godsend: I’d taken on Cath and Jon as family when I’d gotten with Matt and, love them as I did, they could run me ragged - Jon especially.
‘Rube! Come on, I want a cuddle,’ Matt whined. ‘I’ve hardly seen you today.’
That boy, he was like a big ginger puppy.
‘I’m coming, I’m coming...’ My hip knocked the door open and I set my glass down, diving onto the sofa beside him. He wrapped himself around me firmly, squeezing a little too hard.
‘Mmm… You smell nice.’ Matt burrowed his face in the side of my neck.
‘Cheers, I guess.’
We slouched into the cushions, cuddling and kissing and just generally being fluffy with eachother. Matt and Jon were so similar, you’d think that they were the twins, but Jon had a something that Matt didn’t; something that had made me fall for Jon first, rather than Matt. I think that the term for it might be “blatant sex appeal”. I mean, they were both broad, ginger, freckled… But Matt looked like Ron Weasley, and Jon looked like Ed Sheeran. You do the math. It took about three months for me to make the transition from “want Ed” to “love Ron”. Matt was fluffy and cute; Jon was a tiger (by all accounts), but personality wins you over in the end, some things are just meant to be, etc.
‘So, what do you think to Cath, then?’
Matt stiffened a little; his baby sister was a touchy subject.
‘It’s cool, I suppose. She really is one of us now, and she enjoys it… Just, her inhibitions and stuff… Don’t want her to do stupid things.’
‘It’s not like drinking, baby, and I’m sure that Leo and Jon won’t leave her alone.’
I heard him mutter something that sounded suspiciously like a threat.
‘What?’ I twisted round to kiss him. ‘I didn’t hear you.’
‘I said,exactly.That kid won’t leave her will he? He never has!’ Matt growled and grumbled a few expletives, sinking further into the cushions.
It was very similar to being punched in the gut when I twigged what he meant about little Cath, except it made me chortle because my puppy was acting like a wolf.
‘It’s only Leo!’
‘Well, yeah, but it’s only Cath. Leo’s got his type.’ An image of long flame hair and short-shorts floated in front of my mind’s eye. ‘And it’s not her.’
‘You’re thinking about Baby, aren’t you?’
I sank back into the mental image of Leo’s ex. None of us missed that girl, I could tell you. She was beautiful and arrogant and thus made us all feel like crap, but it was what she’d done with Dice in the end. That image would stick with me until I died and it made me feel sick. Leo’s juddering, stuttering, sobbing half-sentence that ran out of steam before he could insult the whore; him pulling away from me and the slam of the front door as he left, then Matt and Cath thundering upstairs, Matt roaring and Cath threatening and all the building tension until Cath manhandled Baby out the door and Dice ran after her.
I was pretty sure that Leo still loved her, but he’d clung to Cath ever since. As innocent as Matt made her out to be, Cath was a bitch with brass balls: if she ever saw Baby again, she’d tear her to shreds, and until that day, she was content with fiercely monitoring Leo’s every move.
‘You wouldn’t do that, would you, Rube?’
I hitched myself up on the sofa a bit. ‘I wouldn’t do what?’
‘What she did.’ Matt ducked his head, seemingly embarrassed.
‘I - what? Matt, don’t be daft. She was dirty, and she used Leo to get to Dice. I’m kinda offended that you think I’m capable of that.’
I didn’t want to add that I wasn’t nearly assexyas Baby (I never wore skirts, or heels) because it’d only set Matt off on his but-you’re-so-beautiful rant. Which would embarrass me.
‘She had a very certain look anyway,’ I settled for. ‘And it’s nothing like mine. I couldn’t if I wanted to.’
I couldn’t stop the self-depreciation.
‘Ruby, Ruby,’ Matt moved awkwardly, cupping my face, ‘You’re beautiful.’
I smiled back. It was embarrassing but kind of sweet too; this was why I was with him. He was a bit dorky and mushy but he really truly cared about everyone in his life. I kissed him chastely. Well, I thought it was. Matt nuzzled me, slipping his hands under my shirt. I arched, humming quietly, just letting it happen. I’d be lying if I’d have said I’d not thought about this all day. A week was a long time when you loved someone like I loved Matt…