I stormed out of the front door of our council house, the door slamming shut behind me as I stopped at the end of the front path. I opened the green cigarette packet in my hand, and chose one to place between my lips, inhaling deeply as I waved my favourite lighter over the end. Menthol cigarettes. Suggested to me by my girlfriend, I suppose she didn't like me smoking as much as I did. The taste of mint swam through me, masking the smoke, and having a much more calming and relaxing influence on me than regular cigarettes did.

A split second after that euphoric first drag, I heard the front door open again behind me. The thirty-seven year old waste of space I called a stepfather stormed out after me, yelling into the morning mist. As I turned, he stopped in his tracks, and I saw him waving an accusing finger in my face. I wanted to break it off.

"You worthless little prick," he yelled at me. I stood my ground, I wasn't going to let him win this one. I wasn't going to let him see me cry. "you're never going to amount to anything. Walking around all day with your headphones on, head up your arse, listening to American music, 'fuck this' and 'fuck that'."

It went on as I secured my pockets and did the tapping checklist. Keys, phone, wallet, music. Putting the cigarettes and the lighter in the breast pocket of my dirty denim jacket, I switched on the MP3 player nestled in the inside pocket of it. As I placed the left earphone in, and the music began to play, I had just enough time to hear a segment of Ryan's hate speech.

"-no wonder your dad left you before you were even born. You, and that useless mother of yours, together in your own little world. She'll never do anything other than stacking shelves either."

That struck the perfect chord. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, my fingernails digging into my palms, no-one talks that way about my mother and gets away with it. No-one. No matter how much bigger than me.

I took a few deep breaths, trying to stem the flow of tears, and then I spun on my heel. Taking a step forward with what little weight I had behind my wiry frame, I shoved my abusive stepdad as hard as I could. The thirty-seven year old took most of the shove without flinching, but took a stumbling step backwards. Missing his footing, he fell into the flowerbed. Good thing, if he'd have still been standing I'd be in trouble. I stared down at him lying among the weeds and litter left by passers-by, and tried to stop my voice from breaking as I spoke.
"This is coming from Ryan. You're nearly forty and you're newly unemployed... I'll tell you what, 'dad'," I actually did the air quotes. I thought it was a nice touch, "you make one more comment or anything about my mothers, and I will fucking kill you. No ifs, no buts. You're dead. I'm not a little kid any more, and I've had it with your beatings, they won't be taken lying down. And anyway, why don't you try picking on someone your own size if you're so tough. Instead of getting your rocks off bullying women and children." It felt so good to let it all out. Taking a long drag on my cigarette, I resisted the uncontrollable laughter that was ready to accompany the fat waster as he struggled to get to his feet. At the same time I was ready to fight, I didn't know if I was able to beat him, but I'd give it my best.

Finally he scrambled to his feet, and I exhaled a thick cloud of menthol smoke, blowing it toward him as I flicked the half-finished cigarette directly at his face. It connected, bouncing off of the inside of his nose and sending embers flying in all directions. He glared at me after making sense of what had happened. I confidently brushed my thumb across the bottom of my nose, I don't know why, it was a reflex. But I know if I was on the other side, I'd know it meant "bring it on."
"Do you want to give it a try?" I asked him confidently, opening my arms out wide for a moment in invitation. I breathed heavily, not knowing exactly where these words or actions were coming from. The adrenaline dump had hit, and I felt sick to the stomach, I hated confrontations. The seconds seemed to drag on forever as he the two of us stared each other out. I was fully expecting him at any moment to leap forward and beat me into the ground, but I really wanted another excuse to break his nose.
The seconds crawled by, each one slower than the last.

One.

Two.

Three.

I dropped my arms down at my sides limply. He hadn't taken the bait, which was unusual, but that told me he was scared, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to take me any more. And I liked that feeling. Finally he wasn't just seeing me as a child-sized punching bag, but as a sixteen year old who could be a worthy opponent. I watched as he turned and stomped his way back into the house, for a brief moment panicking in case he was going for some kind of weapon, but I stood my ground anyway. When he came back out, he walked straight past me, I saw my mother's car keys in his hand. He always did this when he got annoyed, which was at pretty much all times and about everything, he'd take my mum's car keys, and recklessly go for a drive. Usually after beating me to a bloody pulp. He didn't even have a license, and most of the time he was messed up on his medication. But that was only when he accepted that he had a problem and took it. I watched as he started up the car and drove it out of the block, giving a middle finger salute to send him on his way. Walking to the bed of weeds, I lifted my battered BMX bicycle, straddling the seat. As I did so I took a moment to spark up another cigarette for the journey. I was already late for school, might as well enjoy the ride.

My feet pounded the pedals as hard as my skinny legs would allow. The journey had started well, but after the cigarette, the leftover adrenaline helped the tears on their way to bursting through the dam. The only option was to use that adrenaline before it broke me further. My earphones bounced loosely against my chest, but I could still hear the screeching guitars and slamming of the drums. The wind whipped hopelessly against my hair, which was gelled so solid I'd have to take forever in the shower to wash it off later. Another cigarette sat burning between my lips. My mind raced back to the morning, and Ryan's daily mood swing, starting earlier than usual on this particular day.

I had been stood in the kitchen listening to him yell at my mother through the locked bedroom door, and heard his heavy footsteps on the stairs. Making myself look busy on the counter top, I felt him slap me hard around the back of the head as he passed and made a comment which was just white noise to me through the red mist. Reaching out, I had managed to stop my hand from lifting a large kitchen knife, and instead I picked up my menthols and headed outside. It had been the final straw, I was just about ready to do something that would've ruined my life and ended his. But I stopped myself. Occasionally I still wonder how I had the fortitude for it.

I then fondly recalled the altercation outside, how it had almost been as if I was possessed. I had been pushed too far and some form of autopilot took over my body. It really wasn't me. I don't fight, I barely can. I'm sixteen and weigh barely ten stone. I pronounce everything the way it should be. I like to read and write stories, and I cry over sad films. I love to watch action films and envy these tough guys filling the screens, wishing I could be like them, but the fact is I really doubt I could. And besides, that's all fiction. But today I felt as if I could've taken on the world. Well, maybe there was still some doubt and self-confidence issues, but I think I could've held my own with the worst he had to give.

Ryan. He had always been there in my life. My dad left my mum pregnant at seventeen, and Ryan stepped in, having always fancied her from afar. That was when he was young, before he became a major head case. It became clear to me when I was old enough to take a punch and understand what was happening, that he got his joy from picking on women and children. Only ever those weaker than him though, I had seen on more than one occasion, someone that was his actual size try and start an argument with him, and he stuttered and pathetically tried to apologise.

Well, I wasn't going to let it lie any more. Enough was enough. And I had taken more than enough over the course of my sixteen years. One more false move and I was going to take him down. One way or another.

Throwing the cigarette butt into a rusty puddle by the curb, I pedalled as hard as I possibly could to bring myself up the steep hill I had hit. I saw as the secondary school building rose up over the peak, and within moments I was locking my bike up in the sheds and making my way around the back of the science block to the sixth form annex.

The black eye that I had graciously received from Ryan the night before became the centre of attention that day. I received a lot of concern from teachers and friends, even some strangers in the halls who I didn't know. Obviously there were still those who laughed just because they're pricks, but for the most part I seemed to become a minor celebrity throughout the school. Rumours flew concerning all kinds of speculation as to where it came from. I think in one story I actually took down a drug dealer. It felt good. Making my way out of the school gates toward my two closest friends at afternoon break, I had forgotten that I hadn't seen them that day.
"Bugger me!" Jason exclaimed loudly as I walked over. I shook my head slowly.
"Listen mate, you're a lovely guy and all, but I'm not into that." I said as I reached them. Max was struggling to get his lighter to spark, lifting his hood over his head and turning away from the wind, to no avail. I sparked up and handed him my lighter, which worked on the first flick.
"Not into that? Don't believe it for a second. You love men." Jason joked, crossing his arms and playing with the zip of his track top that he had zipped up to his chin. Max laughed and handed back my lighter, "You get that from Ryan?" he asked. His voice was nasal as he spoke, he was holding the smoke in, and he exhaled after. I nodded, knowing what was coming, Max had always offered to help put Ryan in his place. I shook my head, patting him on the shoulder in friendly appreciation as I smoked away. "Thanks, brother."
"Well, if you change your mind, give us a shout," Max said shifting his weight from foot to foot as he spoke. He always had a very animated look about him, like he couldn't bear to stand still for a minute. Jason on the other hand always seemed stoic and pensive. Like he always had something on his mind. Maybe he did, but he'd never talk about it.
"We're going to Riley's if you wanted to come. Can't be arsed with maths this afternoon." Jason said, I nodded, considering it. Pool and a pint would go down well.
"Might as well jog on now, then." Max said, starting the walk to town as me and Jason followed.

A cigarette sat, its burning ember sending smoke signals into the dirty air, an SOS call that it was about to drop from the end of the cigarette into the glass ashtray it was resting in. I watched it absently as it did, it was mine, and I hadn't taken a drag in two minutes. I was just nursing my pint, thanking my friends in silence for helping me to get a convincing fake ID from the next town over. Max was already eighteen, and Jason was on the verge, and so he had one as well, but for some reason he never seemed to get asked for proof when I was around.

Snapping back to attention, I watched as Max lined up his cue with the cue ball, and slammed it toward two solid coloured balls. It hit each of them with equal force and they spun off into the left and right corner pockets. He always was a flash git. Jason stood sipping his pint, his cue resting on the ground as he held it out at arm's length. I sat at the table, having played one round of pool, losing to Jason. My heart wasn't in it, I was still too wound up over the morning's events. I took up the cigarette and took a long hard drag. It was a regular one, I needed it, and no-one was counting. Exhaling the smoke and flicking the ash, I took up my pint and took a large gulp. As I did so, my phone buzzed silently against the table. Lifting it to my ear without checking the caller ID, I answered the call with a button press.

I have never heard my mother screaming the way she was on that phonecall. It was indescribable, but I never want to hear a sound like it for as long as I live. I could overhear what was going on back home. Obviously she had tried to call me and her phone had been torn away from her and thrown to the ground. I stood up quickly, the stool clattering to the floor behind me. Jason and Max both stared in my direction. Shaking my head slowly to them I hung up the call and pulled on my jacket, sweeping past my friends.
"Oi, oi, oi. What's going on?" Jason asked.

Max knew straight away, "Ryan?" I nodded as I walked briskly away. Max turned to Jason and motioned to the head with his door. I stopped them.
"No. I need to do this alone."
"Well, you need help, we're on scene within minutes." Max told me. I smiled weakly as I pushed the door to the pool hall wide open, bursting into a sprint back to school.

The bike clattered to the pavement in front of my house. I could hear the shouting from outside. My mum's car was parked half on the path, half on the road, and the door was still wide open. I burst in through the front door of my house and surveyed the hallway. My mother's phone was lying on the floor, the plastic case lay cracked around it. It had clearly been thrown against a wall, but it had survived to bring me the message. I could hear Ryan shouting upstairs, my mother was obviously locked behind a door somewhere and he was too stupid to break in effectively. Grabbing the length of lead piping that they stored beside the front door for protection, I rushed upstairs, bounding them two at a time. As I reached the landing, I heard a loud crash as a door was broken through. Running to the end of the hallway, I saw that their bedroom door lay broken inside the room. I caught a glimpse of the scene. My mother crouched cowering in the corner, one arm covering her face as the other palm faced out, urging him to stop. He loomed over her, fists clenched, breathing hard and heavy in between nonsensical ranting. Neither of them saw me, but I saw everything. Feeling the rage sweep over, I felt my blood boil, I switched to fifth gear. I watched in what felt like slow motion as he grabbed my mother and hoisted her up by her hair. His other arm arched over and connected with her face. I had never actually seen it before, and now I had, I needed to put a stop to it.
Rushing forward, the pipe still held firmly in my right hand, I grabbed a handful of Ryan's shirt with my free left hand and spun him around to face him.
"What did I say this morning?" I shouted angrily, but it wasn't my voice that said it. It was some kind of demon, formed of pure anger, hatred, and blood lust. Primal rage embodied within me. Throwing my head forward, I connected the crown cleanly with Ryan's nose, cracking it. He fell to the ground, but I couldn't bring myself to let him lie there. Raising up the pipe, I swung it down, but Ryan kicked up at me, hitting me at the elbow. The pipe fell and rolled away on the ground. I momentarily froze in panic as the weapon left my sight. Ryan tried to stagger to his feet, snarling.
"I'm going to enjoy this." he said. My adrenaline dump had kicked in, and remembering what had happened that morning, I knew I had to use it so it didn't break me. I stamped down onto his stomach, kicking at his chest and face as he curled up under me. Again and again, I wasn't going to let anything stop me. Even my mother crying out for it to stop wasn't enough to pull me away. I wanted to put Ryan in the ground.

He caught me unaware, grabbing my foot and twisting it. It threw me to the side, I landed on the ground. Within a second, Ryan was on top of me, one hand around my throat, the other pounding against my face. I tried to shake him off, but he was way too heavy for me. My vision began to blur, I could taste blood. Everything began to fade out...

My mother shrieked loudly, and I felt the weight lift from me, half conscious, I opened up my eyes and watched as she was thrown against the wall. She curled up to escape his fists. I was in agony all over, no energy. But I forced myself up, I couldn't watch any more. I didn't care if I ended up in prison, and I didn't care if I died in the process, but I was going to put a stop to this abuse once and for all. And it would be brutal.

The pipe lay just to the side of my hand, and I grabbed it, using it as a prop to push myself to my feet. I watched as Ryan grabbed my mother by the face, and then shouted at her from inches away.

I don't even remember the swing.

Ryan fell to the floor, blood dripping from a welt on his head. He groaned in pain. I dropped the pipe and immediately grabbed one of Ryan's legs. Using all the strength I could summon, I dragged him out of the room and tossed him down the stairs. I leapt half of the staircase and made sure to land on his stomach on the way down. Then I dragged him out into the street, bumping his head off the steps on the way, and dropped him on the pavement. Heading back in, I locked the door tightly behind me and called the police, and an ambulance.

At the hospital, I sat in the waiting room, having already been questioned by the police after they carted Ryan away. I hadn't cared when one of them said that I could be in trouble for attempted murder. I claimed self defence, and the other said that it could be justified. It felt like they were doing the stereotypical good cop, bad cop routine. I had been released on a probational basis, pending further investigation. I was just glad they hadn't locked me in a cell.

I had to have stitches in my right eyebrow, and cold compress all over my face, with a few anti-inflammatory painkillers to help. The doctor said I was lucky I still had all my teeth. One of my ribs was killing me, but I was assured it wasn't broken.

After what felt like an eternity, I was allowed to see my mother. I walked into the room and had to hold back the tears as I saw her pathetically laying in the bed. The doctor told me her arm was broken, I have no idea when that happened. But aside from that she would be fine, they'd keep her in overnight under observation, and probably call me in the morning. Of course it was my responsibility to arrange transport. And I had to head home to pack an overnight bag for her.

Back home, I heard a knock at the door. Expecting the police to be there to arrest me, I opened the door with baited breath. Relief flooded over as I saw my next door neighbour stood on my porch.
"Hi," he said sympathetically. I hated that tone. "we saw everything, and we want you to know that if you need anything we're here to help."
"What?" I snapped. "You saw everything? You sat curtain twitching, with a glass against the wall, listening to everything that was happening. And now everything's calm you've developed the balls to come over and ask if there's anything you can do?" I shoved him back, but nowhere near as hard as I had shoved Ryan. He seemed shocked.
"How about perfect your fucking timing?"

I slammed the door in his face and left him gobsmacked as the rest of the neighbours stared through their windows at him.

After dropping off the overnight bag and having a chance to speak to mum, she suggested I stay at home that night. She told me hospitals aren't that nice a place to stay in, even as a visitor. So I did. I sat at home, stewing in anger. I couldn't find anything on television that I could stay focused on. I tried to read a book and ended up tearing half the pages out in frustration. Instead I sat in the kitchen, in the dark, smoking myself to oblivion.

I got no sleep that night at all, and was still awake to see the sun come up. I was amazed at how early it comes up in comparison with how soon the rest of the world's day starts. And I always thought my sixth form mornings of 8am were really early.

Thankfully it was a Saturday, my day to see my girlfriend, Becca. I sent her a text at as reasonable an early time as I could, trying not to wake her. Apparently 7am is still too early on a weekend. She called me and promised she'd drive over as soon as possible. She had no idea what had happened, or what had ever happened concerning Ryan. As far as she was concerned, we were a happy family. I had never felt she needed to know. I guess I always worried what she would think of me if I did tell her. But none of that really mattered anymore, today I was going to tell her everything.
Becca was eighteen, and went to a different college to me. We had been at school together, and while I had decided to stay there at sixth form, she craved a change of scenery. We'd just gotten together at the end of mandatory education, and didn't want it to end, so she promised that we'd keep it going. We'd been together almost a year, and we were very much in love. Having tried the whole 'texting every five minutes' thing, we had realised that I really didn't get along with that, and so we only messaged each other when we wanted, or needed something. All in all, I saw her often enough for this not to be a problem, but sometimes I felt she could think I was going off her. That's not it, I just need my own space.

That day when I saw her car pull up beside my mother's- which I had taken the liberty of straightening up under cover of darkness- I had butterflies again. It was like I was back to being the giddy schoolboy crushing on the girl in the year above. I saw her climb out and I suddenly felt anxious. What if I told her what Ryan was like and she left me? What if she thought I was a wuss for not doing something sooner?

Thoughts raced as she knocked on the door and I opened it on autopilot. Greeting her with a kiss, she stepped into the hall.
"And what the hell happened to you?" she asked, genuinely concerned. I shrugged it off.
"I'm going to tell you some things today, Becca." I said, motioning toward the kitchen. We headed in and she took a seat at the table, staring up at me with her big blue eyes full of love and worry. I took a position opposite her, on my feet, leaning against the counter. Unsure of what to say, we stood in silence for a moment.
"Coffee?" I asked awkwardly.

She slammed her fist on the table, taking me by surprise, "Just tell me what's going on, Bradley."

Damn, she was sexy when she took control.

Taken aback, I sat in the seat beside her and preceded to explain. I told her the most vivid story I could remember.

When I was very little, there was nothing in the world I loved more than my Super Nintendo. I'd sit and play on it at every opportunity, it was the only thing that really made me happy. I could wile away the hours playing Super Mario in my spare time, or switch it on to shut out my problems in real life. It was the best thing I had going for me.

One day while I was playing, I heard the door slam. My dad was home. Well, he wasn't my real dad, but he had always been there for me, and I loved him like a father. I heard him yelling at my mum downstairs and shut the door to ignore it, focusing all of my attention on my video games.

Then I heard his feet clumping on the stairs as he came up. He burst through the door, shouting at me. I didn't know why, and didn't understand what he had to be mad about. I hadn't done anything naughty.
"Dad, what's wrong?" I asked.
"I'm not your fucking dad." He replied, and I had no idea what he meant. Then he stormed over to me and snatched up my Super Nintendo, tearing the plug out in the process. Then he opened up the window and threw it out into the garden. I heard it smash on the patio and I burst into tears.
"Stop fucking crying." He shouted at me, and he grabbed a handful of the cords for the Super Nintendo, bunched them up in his hand, and thrashed them at me like a whip.

I don't know what made him stop in the end, but I lay there and took it. I didn't cry, I just stared at the space under the bed and took the whipping. My childhood innocence left me that day, out the window and into a million pieces with the Super Nintendo, the only thing that had ever brought me happiness.

Lifting my shirt up, I showed her the scars on my back. They weren't that big, but they were clearly scars. Becca burst into tears and threw her arms around me, kissing my neck.
"I had no idea, I'm so sorry." she whispered into my ear between kisses placed on my face. I knew why she was apologising, I tended to have moments of massive self-pity, and she occasionally called me on it. That was no problem, I liked it, I needed to be kicked out of that kind of mood.
"It's OK." I told her, kissing her back. Our lips met, and sorrow turned into passion as we kissed each other. We made our way to the bedroom and fell down into one another's arms.

I had never done it prior to that point, and it wasn't how I had pictured my first time being initiated. You know, out of pity and all. But it was amazing. Years of desperate attempts at trying to make it happen, and it happened when I wasn't trying to. We lay in bed next to one another, naked. Her head was on my chest and I was looking up at the ceiling while stroking her long blonde hair.
"You know. Until you came along, I felt like there wasn't a single good thing in my life. I hated being at home because of Ryan being here. And I hated being at school because, well, it's school. And then one day I saw this beautiful girl sat opposite me in class. We'd been in the same class for years and I knew her as an acquaintance, but never had I seen her in the way that I could at that moment when I saw her. The sun was shining through the window behind her and she looked like an angel. I had a crush on her for months and then one day I finally plucked up the courage to speak to her. And she was really nice to me. I was amazed, I thought she'd laugh in my face and I'd spiral lower. But she didn't, she spoke, and we went to lunch together, and she gave me her number. I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven."
She put her finger on my lips and stopped me, moving it away and kissing me softly, "you're beginning to sound like a poem. Cut it out." she giggled. "I'm glad you told me everything today. I don't know why you didn't tell me before."
"I was afraid," I shrugged. Suddenly becoming severely self conscious at being naked, "and I don't think I've told you everything yet."

She moved away and propped herself up on her elbow to look me in the eyes. Oh, those beautiful blue eyes. I just wanted to stare at them all day. "Before you came along. I used to hurt myself. I felt so bad I just wanted to get away from everything, I wanted it all to end."
Becca covered her mouth with her hand and I saw the tears welling up. It set me off and we lay together, holding one another.

She made me promise that I'd never try to do it again, and I did. As long as I had her I wouldn't feel that way ever again. We spent the rest of the day in bed until my mother came home, and then we all had dinner together. Becca excused herself, obviously feeling a little awkward, and drove home.

Mum and I sat in silence without her there. Neither of us knew what to say. I was on the precipice of yelling at her for getting with him in the first place. Somewhere on the edge, I apparently slipped and fell. I yelled at her, asking how she could have such bad taste in men. She told me she had felt worthless and he had been there. I understood. Excusing myself, I headed up to bed, hoping I could sleep that night.

The following Friday while I was at school I got a call from my mother. Excusing myself I headed home. As I came through the door she leapt out into the hall in tears.
"Ryan's being let out." she cried, collapsing to her knees. I put my arms around her, dumbstruck.
"Why?" I asked, demanding to know. She just sobbed into my shoulder. I couldn't understand it, he didn't deserve to be released. Apparently they couldn't hold him on account of the fact that he had missed medication and couldn't have been fully aware of what he was doing. I cursed the police force who put me on hold when I called to complain, and then when I finally got through they told me they 'don't deal with domestics anyway'.
"Come on." I said to her, and pulled her to her feet. "We'll pack some bags, and go to gran's and stay there."

She seemed to think that it would be a good idea, and the two of us headed upstairs and packed. We called gran and she came over in the car and drove us to hers for the evening.

The next day I left gran's early, taking the buses, I arrived home early afternoon. As I went to unlock the front door, I realised it was already unlocked. Stepping in, I dropped my bag silently on the floor, and lifted the pipe from beside the door. Stepping through into the lounge, I saw the top of Ryan's head over the back of his chair. The TV was on and he was just sat there.
"Surprised you dared to come back here. Didn't have enough last time?" I asked loudly, putting some authority into my voice. He didn't reply, and I assumed he would just be ignoring me to get a reaction. "You're not funny, and you're not clever-" I said, walking around the chair, ready to give him a speech, but I was stopped mid-sentence by what I saw. Ryan was sat there, sweat dripping off his bald head, wet patches around the collar of his shirt. In his right hand he held an empty vodka bottle, and in the left, the little plastic pot his medication came in, it was also empty. He didn't appear to be breathing, I held my hand in front of his nose. There was nothing.

I wasn't sure how to feel, Ryan had killed himself. I should've seen it coming, when he wasn't raging about something, he was feeling sorry for himself. On the one hand I was glad, but on the other-

"Wake up. I'm not fucking stupid." I yelled, slapping him around the face repeatedly. The lack of any form of reaction, or indeed any indication he may still be alive annoyed me more. I dropped the pipe and grabbed him with both hands, shaking him violently.
"No! You son of a bitch! You don't get to go out like that!" I slapped him and shook him. Beat him and punched him to get him awake, but he just sat, limp in his chair. For some reason tears came, and I am ashamed to admit, they weren't for Ryan. They were for me. I wanted to be the one to do this to him. I wanted him to suffer, not get the easy way out by sleeping himself to death.
"Fucking wake up! You don't get to leave! You don't get to die while I have to live and clean up all the shit that you've caused! It doesn't work like that." Still nothing. Refusing to admit defeat, I pulled him from the chair, laying him out flat on the ground, I punched at his chest. The way I had seen in films.
"Wake up! Wake up, you son of a bitch!" I yelled, my voice cracking under the tears. Shaking him again violently, he suddenly coughed. I stopped crying, shocked. He coughed again, then sat bolt upright, vomiting on the carpet. He put his hand on his head and looked dazedly around the room.
"Bradley?" he said. His tone was soft, the way it had been in my younger years, when I had called him 'dad'. "what happened?" he asked.

I can't explain why, but I swung. Punching him in the face. But only once, I didn't want to beat him to death this time. Standing, I left the room as he dealt with his shock reaction and the fat lip I had just delivered. In the hall I took mum's car key from the hook and walked back into the lounge, throwing it in Ryan's face.
"Take the car. Take the fucking car and leave. Leave for good. I never want to see you here again." I said. He stuttered to speak, but I shouted out, stopping him. "No! It's gone, Ryan! There's nothing for you here now, go! Drive away and don't turn back." grabbing his lapels, I heaved him to his feet and forcefully pulled him out of the house, pushing him into the driver's seat of my mum's car. I was so angry at him, I just wanted him out of my life, and out of my mother's. I put the key in the ignition and turned to face him for the last time.
"I hope you crash." I whispered, vitriol pouring out with every syllable. Slamming the car door shut, I watched as he seemed confused at first, and then pathetically did exactly as I told him to. And he drove away.

I never did see Ryan again after that. I tried to call Becca to tell her the good news. I wanted her to know I was finally free. I needed to see my angel, needed to hold her, kiss her, make love to her. There was no answer from her phone and I realised she must've just been busy, absently brushing it off, I resigned to leave her to it.

It took the rest of the day for me and my mother to fix the house back up, we collected up everything of Ryan's and had a bonfire in the garden that night. Loud music, beer, it was like a tribal festival, the orange glow of the fire in the night as it purged away our horrible past. Max and Jason even came over to celebrate, I had never felt so free, it was indescribable.

The phone call came near midnight. It was Becca's mother. She was at the hospital. Becca had been driving over to see me and had been in a car accident. She was on life support and the doctors couldn't do much except wait and see. Deep down I already knew the call that would come after, from the police. Ryan had been involved in a drink driving accident. He was dead. I resisted the tears of guilt and made my way to the hospital.

In the room I couldn't bear to look at Becca, I felt worse than I had when my mother had been in the hospital. I stood, dumbstruck, in the door of the ICU. Becca's mum came over and gave me a hug. I broke there and then, almost falling to the floor in a flood of tears. Becca's mother said she'd go and give me some time, as I took the seat next to her bed. Taking her hand in mine, I brushed it against my cheek and kissed her palm.
"Please wake up." I whispered, hoping she could hear me. She didn't look right, with the tubes coming and going from her body, the oxygen mask on. Scratches and marks all over her arms and face. It was horrific. I remember putting my head on her side, stroking her hair. Begging her not to leave me.

I don't know if I'm happy that she decided to leave while I was there to stay goodbye. Would I have hated myself more, knowing that I had caused it. Ryan wouldn't have gotten into the car if I hadn't pushed him into it. Wouldn't have survived the overdose if I hadn't roused him. Should I have even gone home that day?

I watched through the window as the doctors and nurses desperately tried to revive Becca. My right arm around her mother's shoulders, my left hand pressed against the glass as I fought back the tears, but I couldn't. And when the doctor came out, I swear that I screamed so loud that the entire hospital heard.

The funeral was a month later, the first day of spring, and the sun came out. I hated the way the weather behaved like that. The weather is always most cheerful, when the mind is at its darkest. I didn't go to the actual funeral, I watched from afar. I couldn't stand to be there. I couldn't stand to admit that my girlfriend had left me. I told her mother I'd be there for her, but when we'd arrived I couldn't go any closer. I asked her to apologise to Becca for me. Stupid, I know, but I like to believe that when people die, they get to witness their funeral before they depart. Possibly a morbid thought, but it was a morbid day. The most morbid day of my life. The best thing to ever happen to me had gone, and it had been entirely my fault. I watched from the distance as they committed her body to the Earth. I didn't cry, I had cried every day and every night for the past month. It wasn't that I didn't care anymore, I just couldn't cry. Instead I stood with my hands in my pockets, watching from a distance as Becca left me for good. Shortly after, the attendees stood and shuffled away. Becca's mother came over and met me with a hug.
"I'm sorry." I said softly, she hushed me, saying she understood, and we headed to the pub for the wake.

The next day I woke up in Becca's bed in my boxers, with my first true hangover. I had stayed at the house after the wake, apparently. It wasn't prearranged, I guess it just happened when I was drunk. As I sat on the edge of the bed, wrapped in the blanket, I looked around the room. At the photos of the two of us tucked into the frames of mirrors, up on the noticeboard. The mandatory strip of photo booth poses. I couldn't cry, although I felt terrible. There was a knock at the door, and Becca's mother came in.
"Tea?" she asked quietly, she still seemed broken up, but who could blame her?
"Yes please." I said, and she smiled weakly and headed downstairs. Finding my trousers on the end of the bed, I pulled them toward me. My keys fell from the pocket, and after pulling my trousers on I bent down to pick them up. A box under the bed with my name written on it caught my eye. Pulling it out from under the bed I picked it up. It was written in Becca's handwriting, with kisses underneath. Feeling the tears coming, and a part of me wanting the cathartic release, I dwelled on it for a moment before I opened it.

My release came, as I opened the box I fell beside it on the bed, tears streaming down my face, part of me couldn't help but smile.

It was a Super Nintendo. She was the only one I'd ever told that story to, and the only one great enough to realise that this would make me really happy.

She really was the best thing to ever happen to me.