Chapter 33

Alex came round that afternoon.

Cameron had been sprawled across the sofa in the front room, after first positioning it so it was at an angle once more to the open door and he would be able to see if Harry made an appearance from upstairs.

Usually, he would be outside at the weekend, hating the house and its oppressive silence. But today, it was raining heavily and the overcast sky showed no signs of the weather letting up.

"Here for the duration," as his mother used to say wryly as she stood at the window and squinted up at the clouds.

The knock on the front door came at about two o'clock. Cameron reached for the remote and muted the television before hauling himself to his feet and shuffling out into the corridor. He thought it would be some delivery for his father, or maybe the Evangelists or Jehovah's Witnesses were doing the rounds again. Neither he nor Harry had friends who would turn up on the doorstep at unannounced.

So Cameron was surprised to open the door and find Alex slouched against the porch wall. Droplets of rainwater glistened in his hair.

"Heya, mate," Alex said easily with his usual sly smile.

"Hi," Cameron said, one hand still on the door, not opening it any further.

Alex, hands jammed into the pockets of his baggy blue jeans, glanced over his shoulder up at the sky.

"Was coming round here to say we should go into town, hang about for a bit," he said. "Guess not, now."

"Yeah," Cameron said.

Alex hunched his shoulders inside the grey hoody he was wearing and shook his head like a dog.

"Guess it's hanging about here for a while then," he said.

He didn't make a move towards the door as he said it, but he met Cameron's gaze and held it steady. The two boys stared at each other for a few long seconds.

"OK, come on in," Cameron said, stepping back from the door and holding it open.

Alex's smile immediately became friendlier.

"Thanks mate," he said as he stepped inside. As Cameron closed the door he shot a nervous look at the stairs, ascending into the gloom of the upstairs' unlighted landing. Alex followed his look.

"Harry here?" he asked nonchalantly.

"Around," Cameron replied shortly. "Come on through."

He led Alex into the front room, where Alex immediately spread his arms and fell backwards onto the sofa. Taking up the remote, he increased the volume until they could faintly hear the bright and cheery answers of the contestants on some day-time quiz show.

"You been up to much?" Cameron asked; sinking onto the other couch, the one nearest the door, resigned to the fact that Alex looked like he was here for a while.

"No. Had the police round though."

"The police?"

"Yeah. I now have a record. I've been cautioned with assault."

He laughed sourly.

"Could be worse, could be for something daft like stealing a highchair from McDonalds or something," Cameron said.

Alex smiled but it was more a grimace.

"That caution isn't going to go away by the time I have to apply to uni, as my dad keeps saying."

He didn't look happy, as if he was showing off his promotion from school bully to young offender. He looked very sour and bitter.

"These last few days been rough?" Cameron asked.

"Been grounded, nothing more. But I haven't heard from you since Thursday, I thought you might have called round."

Cameron didn't reply.

"Hell, phone or something. Find out what had happened to me. For all you knew, I could have walked under a bus or something."

Alex was no longer looking at Cameron but staring at the television. His tone was light, but Cameron, from experience with Harry, knew never to trust the deception of a carefully pitched voice.

"Been busy," he replied, trying to sound casual. But he was remembering his last fight with Alex, in the classroom as he had dug his fingers into the pressure point between the two veins of Alex's wrists. He remembered Alex taunting him about Harry and the sudden resentment there had been between them.

"Busy?" repeated Alex almost teasingly. "What you been up to?"

Cameron shrugged and Alex smiled.

"Some mate," he remarked but then he laughed. "It's OK, guess I was being a bit of a prick."

Cameron felt a small trace of mild amusement at Alex's understatement.

"Just a bit," he replied, keeping his voice cool. "How is he anyway?"

"Who?"

"Hitch."

"The police just said he was severely concussed or something like that but it didn't look like there would be any permanent damage."

"Good."

"Good?" Alex raised his eyebrows mockingly. "Cam, the damage was already done. The boy's not been right in the head since birth."

Cameron just shook his head, too used and too weary of Alex's comments to rise to it.

They both watched the television for a few minutes without saying anything. Cameron even closed his eyes at one point and thought how shattered he felt.

"What's this?" Alex asked.

Cameron opened his eyes. Alex had swung his legs off the sofa and had reached forward for the black folder still lying on the coffee table. Cameron hadn't bothered to move it yet. It felt like an open wound though and when Alex picked it up and dropped it carelessly onto his lap to open, Cameron felt a jab of pain.

"Nothing, leave it," he said shortly.

Alex opened the folder and began leafing through it. Cameron stood up and jerked it out of his hands.

"I said leave it," he said sharply.

Alex held up his hands in mock submission.

"What's up with you, Cam?" he asked as Cameron dropped back onto the sofa. "You've been in a strange mood for weeks."

"Getting on your nerves?" Cameron asked sarcastically.

"Just a bit," Alex said carelessly. "Something playing on your mind?"

Cameron tilted his head back and looked at Alex through half-open eyelids. He shrugged and Alex returned his gaze to the television.

Cameron was the first to hear the soft footsteps on the stairs, partly because he spent most of his life in the house listening out for them. He tensed at once and Alex glanced up.

"Hi kids," Harry said from the doorway.

"Hey," Cameron said.

Alex sat up straighter and glanced at Cameron.

"Watching anything interesting?" Harry asked softly, his gaze slowly trailing past Cameron and to the television.

"Not really," Cameron said, trying to keep his voice light while Harry stared blankly at the show as if he didn't really see it.

"Good."

He moved further into the room and, without taking his eyes from the screen, sat down on the sofa next to Cameron. Cameron was so unused to this that he felt himself flinch as the cushions sank a little under Harry's weight.

Alex regarded Harry carefully. He had met Harry before but only briefly enough to register Cameron's distinct fear of his older brother and feel the chill of Harry's sinister lop-sided, lazy smile.

They sat in dead silence for what seemed like an hour.

"When's your dad back?" Alex asked.

"Don't know," Cameron replied.

"How's the big-shot doing anyway?" Alex smirked.

"Happy. He closed some sort of deal yesterday. Out late."

"Yeah, with who?" Alex's tone was provocative.

"No idea," Cameron said unhelpfully. "I guess the people he closed the deal with."

"So how long since your mum left?"

The question came completely out of the blue. Cameron felt an instinctive flash of irritation at Alex's casual tone as he talked about what had felt like the disintegration of Cameron's life. But then, he realised how very still Harry had gone.

And fear replaced the annoyance.

"A year," he said. "Drop it, Alex."

"Why did she leave?" Alex asked.

Harry turned his head very slowly to look at Alex.

"Leave it, Alex," Cameron said, his voice sounding more fearful and with that lilt of panic to it which he hadn't meant to come out.

Harry stared at Alex with his dead eyes. Alex looked back with his calm ones. Cameron remembered the phrase, 'there's a thin line between heroism and stupidity; whatever you do, don't cross it.'

Whereas Cameron might not help but feel that Alex's being able to meet Harry's look without quailing was very brave, he also thought that it was very, very stupid. Harry worked on fear and if he felt you were scared enough, he would leave you alone. But the more you stood up to him, the more you confronted him, the worse he became.

Alex turned his face away and settled back. Flicking the channel over to some Australian soap and kicking up his feet onto the sofa again he continued to watch the television. Cameron didn't dare even steal a sidelong look at his brother but kept his eyes on the television too.

After a while. Alex got up and announced he was going to the bathroom. He left the room and lightly jogged up the stairs to the loo on the landing. When he had gone, Harry stood up and walked over to the door. He closed it.

Cameron's heart began thumping with fear as Harry stood, facing the closed door and spoke softly,

"That's twice in two days she's been bought up in conversation."

"Alex bought her up," Cameron said automatically. "Not me."

"I don't like it, Cameron," Harry stated in a voice so quiet it was barely audible above the Australian drawl coming from the television set.

Cameron didn't have an answer for this.

Cameron remembered a night two years ago. After retiring to the front room to watch television for an hour, his mother had shrugged off his father's arm which was carelessly draped over her shoulders and said she was going upstairs for a shower.

She had gone upstairs and then Cameron and his father heard her cry out in shock and then in anger. Leaving the television talking to itself, they bounded upstairs to see what was going on.

Mrs Lees was standing in her bedroom, furious tears shining in her blue eyes. Mr Lees had blocked the doorway momentarily as he had stopped, taking in the scene. When he shifted to one side, Cameron could see what they could see.

Sitting on a chair placed squarely in the middle of the room, was Harry. Around him on the wooden floorboards were shards of what had been clothes. Clothes which he had carefully removed from the hangers in Mrs Lees' wardrobe and systemically gone through, cutting until the clothes were no more then neatly slashed strips of cloth.

He had then placed each shard of cloth at his feet and laid the large kitchen scissors he had used on top of the pile.

He was sitting, quite unmoved by his mother's distress, with his feet flat on the floor, leaning forward until he could rest his elbows on his knees; his hands were clasped in front of him, his fingers loosely inter-laced as he stared up at his mother's face. He wore no expression except perhaps a polite expectancy… as if he was waiting for her to say something specific.

"I can't do this anymore!" Mrs Lees was sobbing. "I can't deal with this! What the hell have I done to deserve this?"

Mr Lees had moved to comfort his wife but she angrily pushed his hands away.

"I can't stay here anymore!" she shrieked. "Not like this. I can't live like this."

She moved to the wardrobe, on top of which her suitcase was stowed. But then she remembered that all her clothes, or what had been her clothes, were cut up and by her son's feet. She stopped dead for a seconds as she realised this. Then she began to cry again. She turned her back on them and moved over to the window, her fingers grasping handfuls of hair either side of her head as if she would pull them out at the roots.

Mr Lees followed her and attempted to calm her. While she repeated over and over again becoming more and more hysterical,

"I can't live like this! I can't live like this!"

Cameron, left standing in the doorway, felt broken. He looked at his older brother and met his gaze. Harry had watched his mother move about the room with his eyes and still with the polite expectancy in them, completely unaffected by her growing hysteria.

When she had gone to the window and was no longer within Harry's sight without him having to turn his head, Harry's eyes had looked back to his younger brother.

Cameron was the first to drop his gaze, to pile of clothes on the floor. He didn't ask why, he never had. He never asked why Harry had done this. When he felt he could stand no more, he reached forward, grasped the door handle and gently pulled the door closed as he stepped back out of the room.

Well, his mother hadn't left as she swore that night she would. She had waited until approximately a year before until she did finally have enough.

"She left because you frightened her."

Cameron's voice was trembling. He couldn't believe he was saying this but somehow, no matter what Harry had just revealed to him, he didn't feel any anger towards his mother. All the anger, all the blame for his mother's abandonment of her family lay in the monster standing a few feet from him.

"I never laid a hand on her," Harry said.

"You didn't need to."

No, Harry couldn't have been more terrifying had he raised a hand to strike any of them.

But Harry had continued to frighten his mother. There were more shocks like the one Mrs Lees had received when she went upstairs and turned on her bedroom lights to find him sitting in the dark with the contents of her wardrobe shredded at his feet.

There were the family photos with his mother's eyes delicately cut out of them and replaced in their frames; the time she had got out of the shower and found that Harry had locked the bathroom door from the outside and thoughtfully - as a final effect - turned off the electricity so his mother was locked in the dark for three hours before anyone else arrived home.

And there was more, more that could not be fully explained to anyone: the way that whenever she was in the room, Harry would silently follow her with his eyes. When they were all watching television together, he would never take his eyes from his mother's face.

So his campaign of terror on his mother continued, until she broke… until she left.

"Don't talk about things you don't understand," Harry said.

"I'll say whatever I like," Cameron said in a shaky voice.

There had been other things too. Things when Harry had been younger. Things like the neighbour's rabbit's neck being broken in the middle of the night. Things like the welts and bruises which appeared on Hilary, their younger cousin's, wrists and ankles, when their aunt and uncle came to stay. Things like abandoning Cameron at the deep end of the swimming pool. Cameron had felt Harry's hands begin to drift away from his as with gentle kicks of his legs, Harry began to fall away from him, leaving him floundering in the water, unable to touch the bottom, convinced he'd drown as his lungs filled with water and he spluttered for air.

The door suddenly opened and Alex stopped short as he nearly crashed into Harry. His eyes flicked from Harry to Cameron.

"Everything OK?" he asked.

Harry smiled at him; his lazy lop-sided grin before stepping past him and slowly ascending the stairs.

Cameron was shivering. He avoided Alex's questioning look by closing his eyes. When he opened them again, Alex was sat back on the sofa and watching television again.

"I can hang about for a bit longer, if you like," Alex offered.

Cameron wondered whether Alex was just being his usual, cocky self or whether the suggestion had been made out of generosity; whether Alex had guessed how very afraid Cameron was… at the thought of being in the house alone with his older brother.