The awkward silence in the car is to be expected, I suppose, but I have to grit my teeth at the way Dylan is staring at me; it's that open mouthed yet somehow patronising glance that people sometimes put on when they see a lame dog in the pound.
As I go to turn the radio on, so I can sweep what Dylan's just seen under a thick carpet of music I find that his hand meets mine. It's the lightest of touches, barely the tip of his finger, but it's so unexpected that I flinch and pull my hand away. Dylan really needs to work on his grasp of other people's personal space, I decide firmly.
"What's wrong with her?" Dylan asks me, the timid element in his voice betraying his age.
It's a question I've been asked a thousand times, and will be asked a thousand times more before my mother dies, I know almost immediately how this conversation will play out and I'm bored to death of it.
"She's got amyotrophic lateral sclerosis," I say flatly, I am an actress reading from the script of my life- apparently not a very good one because Dylan just blinks at me. "Basically it's a nerve wasting disease; everything about her body is going down the shitter, she can't walk, she can barely talk and well, soon she won't be able to breathe any more."
Dylan swallows, and suddenly for all his staring at me before he can't even meet my eye.
"We've got about a year and a half left," I continue, because I know that's a question he'll ask next, if he can ever get it out and look at me. In fact, I notice that he's shifted away from me a little, "It's not contagious," I snap, more angry at myself than anything, I remember what little shits fifteen year old boys can be sometimes.
"I know that," says Dylan dimly, "It's just," he scratches his nose, and I can see the cogs in his brain whirring and ticking over, "that's pretty heavy isn't it?"
"I suppose that's one way of putting it."
"And you have to take care of her, that's like your job?"
"It's not really a job and I don't have to, I want to take care of her; she's my Mum. And I guess after," I breath in deeply, because I'm thinking about something I've been promising myself I wouldn't, "after…I'll just get myself a new job."
"And a new house," he reminds me.
"And a new house." All of a sudden I'm desperate to get Dylan home and out of my car just so I can let the mask I'm wearing crack a little. I wish I hadn't stopped myself from seeing Ruth, I miss her and she'll definitely be better at knowing what to say than some sheltered fifteen year old boy.
Qualifying this thought he turns to me, a smile suddenly on his face, "Hey Cait, be friends with me."
"You what?" I turn so sharply that the car swerves a little and Dylan slams his gangly body against the window besides the passenger's seat. I know I'm gaping at him when I should have my eyes on the road but seriously, who says things like that?
"I was right, you know Beth," continues Dylan, shaking his hair like a dog as he straightens himself up again, "when I first saw you, alone in the summerhouse with Gwen in your crotch- you looked like the loneliest person in the world. Be my friend, yeah?"
I have to laugh, and its part incredulous, part frustrated and part sigh, "No."
"Why not?" and his expression makes it clear that he can't see any reason why what he's just said isn't faintly ridiculous. I on the other hand, am trying to pick out which argument- and there are literally hundreds- is the strongest.
"I don't need your charity for a start, Dylan-"
"-It's not charity," he's smiling now as if this is all one big joke, "I actually like you, I want to be friends, I reckon you could be a laugh...very deep down."
"I don't think anyone has actually just asked me to be their friend since I was seven."
"Well I am. Come on, Cait, staying on your own in a house is enough to drive anyone loopy. We do loads of good stuff, there's the cinema and the bowlplex…I'd pay for it all, Mum's even got a boat that she says I can-"
"Oh and can I go to football training with you, Dylan?" I snap sarcastically, "Can I lock my Mum in the minivan and play football with a bunch of spotty, snot nosed kids? Can I, Dylan, Can I? Think it through before you open your mouth."
Besides, he probably just wants me to buy beer for him and give him rides home no questions asked. I should have made the little prick walk home.
"I was just trying to help," he says, looking slightly perturbed, "no need to snap at me."
"Well you were being stupid; I don't want your help. I'm fine, I have Bill and the neighbors and my social wor-," I correct myself, "I had my social worker, but I'm not seeing her at the moment."
"And Bill's gone back to her university now. Look, Cait," he puts his arms up, palms spread out and grins again and I swear that this boy is virtually unshakeable, "I haven't got a gun to your head, I'm just asking if, once in a while, you feel like talking or stretching your legs, seeing a zombie movie or whatever that you'll ring me.."
I wrinkle up my nose, "Dylan, I-" the number fifteen keeps battering the sides of my brain. "This is stupid, you're too young."
"Nothing funny, Cait- I still have a girlfriend. It's a purely platonic thing, I promise. We'll be like cousins that don't see each other very often."
"You didn't dump that girl then?" I ask drumming my fingers on the steering wheel as Dylan points me onto another road. I know we're getting closer because I can see the lush green trees get thicker and the other houses growing unfeasibly large, with perfectly manicured lawns about a million miles away from the tough, coarse grass that weathers the storms up at The Bone House.
"What Gwen?" he scratches his nose and looks embarrassed, "Chickened out didn't I?"
I snort, "You're such a kid. She deserves better than that, you know that? It's like a fundamental law of being a decent human being."
"Look, Gwen is a really good mate, and I don't want to hurt her…"
"Oh my god," I smile a little, "You're a pathological liar."
"No I just-"
"No," he crosses his arms firmly, but a smile is playing around the corner of his mouth. "Okay, technically I'm more worried about what her brothers will do if I dump her," he gulps and looks pale, "her four… rugby playing brothers…who made a point of tracking me down and threatening to make me eat my own balls if I hurt her. And that's the honest to god truth."
"Welcome to Wales, Dylan," I say, and my smile gets wider of its own accord as Dylan tells me to turn left. It's dark out, but I can still see the imposing shape of the house from behind the gate.
"God I forgot how loaded you are."
"You should have seen the Windsor house it was-"
"Twice the size and not in bloody Wales?" I say rolling my eyes as I roll down the window.
"I like Wales," shrugs Dylan, "minus the bad weather and bad tempered Rugby playing brothers. And, you know, after Dad screwed his secretary we kind of had to leave Windsor." And he's leaning over me before I know what to do with that information. I sit back in my chair as Dylan does his personal space thing. He smells explicitly of teenage boy; heavily of lynx though there are undertones of sweat, tinged with a faint wet dog smell coming from his head.
"Hi Trudy," he says, practically climbing out of the window, one of his legs resting on my knee as he presses the intercom by the gate, I hear a crackling as he laughs, "no, that sounds nice. Is Mum working?…Ace… yeah but I was- hang on," the gates swing open and he looks at me and blinks, "What the hell are you doing?"
I was rubbing the tiny tree car freshener along Dylan's back. If he was going to be all in my face, I might as well make him pine fresh, but I can't really say that to him, so I just shrug and tell him very sharply to get off my leg.
He complies and I drive about an inch through the gate before stopping again. I don't particularly want to get much closer to his house Boundaries, Cait. "Bye then."
Dylan blinks, "This is as far as you're taking me?"
"Oi, none of that, yeah? I drove you all the way up here from Pembroke."
"Right, yeah," he fumbles in his soggy pocket and pulls out a twenty pound note. Dylan might be smiling but the twenty flops limp in his bunched fist and looks all sad and soggy, "petrol money?"
"I'm not a taxi service." But the note doesn't go anywhere. I tilt my head and look at him; I don't know how I could have ever mistaken him for a college student with a chin as weak as his. I doubt I'm the first person he's offered a wrinkled twenty pound note to since he moved here. "Dylan, you do know you don't have to buy me, don't you? Driving you home wasn't that much of a chore."
He nods and grabs his school bag, swinging out of the door and following after it. "Cheers Cait, I'll call you later?"
"Don't push it," I warn him. "Go do your homework or something."
"I will it's… Geography," he says, his eyes twinkling as he slams the car door shut.
I stare down at the sterilised hospital floor; the tiling is a pure white save for a thick dark scuff mark underneath my old shoes; I always feel dark, dirty and out of place in hospitals. The scent of bleach is so heavy in the air that I feel as though I'm drowning in a bucket of the stuff, the faint monotonous bleeping of machines is enough to drive me mad and every person in a wheelchair, bed or attached to some kind of drip seems to gaze at me in reproachfully. I've bought a stupid packet of skittles from the vending machine, just for something to do; it's a vivid red in my hands, like a beacon alerting everyone that I'm still just some silly little kid.
It's Mum's Thursday check-up and it's taken a lot longer than usual, which is why the edge of the skittle packet has been ripped between my nails to ribbons and the sole of my shoe has been scuffed against the floor.
"Caitlin?" Dr. Bevan, is a grey, hard-faced doctor who could have been carved into the face of a cliff, his thin hair like the grass on top of it whipping in the wind. I can see that he's spilt something white onto his stupid Bugs Bunny tie as he glances at me with his usual unreadable expression before beckoning me into the room.
Mum isn't in her chair anymore, instead she's in a bed, looking out serenely from underneath pink blankets, which only serve to make her look more washed and worn out, as though someone's taken a bleach to her as well.
"Caitlin, I'll be honest," Dr Bevan sucks in through his grey teeth and I grip onto that vivid red pack of skittles as though it's a life line, "Things aren't looking very good. The new doses of Riluzole aren't doing what we'd hoped." Bugs Bunny is taunting me with his vapid smile.
"Oh?" I have to fight to push that one syllable out.
"I think very soon a tracheotomy is going to necessary for your mother's breathing." I wince inwardly at the thought of this, my hand going to my own throat. Doctor's use scientific terms to make things seem better or to gloss over the nastier side of thing but to me, a tracheotomy is just something they've been threatening me with for years and a hole they're going to cut into my mother's throat because she can't even breath on her own any more.
"Oh," I say again. Uselessly. I look at Mum and her eyes have gone wide, Dr Bevan never talks to her properly, only to me even though he knows full well her brain is working just fine. And I know her, she's my Mum, I know she won't want this operation, I know that she's had enough of tubes and wires and hospital. "I…I thought, you said we had longer," it comes out as an accusation because I want to blame this on someone, it's very frustrating trying to fight with bad luck or providence or whatever.
I go over to the bed, my hand grips hers and I pretend that she's gripping back.
Dr Bevan clears his throat to let me know that there's more, "Now, Caitlin, while you've made your feelings more than clear on this subject, I really think we ought to discuss a more appropriate accommodation for your mother."
"No." He's doing it again, talking about my Mum as though she's a thing, an object to be managed, tolerated and kept out of the way 'til she finally dies. "No way," I say thickly, "Mum's staying in The Bone House…it's the place where she was born, the place where…" I breathe in sharply. "Right, Mum?" She blinks at me with her watery eyes and it's as though my stomach has squeezed itself together.
I cloud over as Dr Bevan mumbles in his grey voice about keeping her overnight for more tests and before I know it I'm at the driver's seat, staring at the steering wheel and what feels like the edge of a cliff. I can't bear a night alone in The Bone House, not now, not ever. And then I think of someone who'll be waiting for me with open arms, who more or less said they'd be there for me.
Putting the car into fourth, I cling onto the tears so they don't fall, knowing- for once- exactly where I'm headed.