Part One: Rehab

Prologue

Alfie

I had done it. I looked at the carrier bag clutched in my hand. Bread, milk, eggs, cauliflower, potatoes - all there. A sense of achievement tentatively reared its head. I had done it. My first solo outing to the market. I thought Claire would be proud of me. The quiet internal celebration began to gather momentum as I walked down the country track.

Sunlight filtered through the wet leaves above and the stream rushed alongside me. The sound of the racing water encouraged my unfolding pride. I wanted to run. Laugh. Maybe I really could do this – overcome what they did to me - talk to people, get on buses, exchange cauliflower – face the real world. I could!

Then I heard it. A siren cutting just above the noise of the water, getting louder – getting closer. The ambulance overtook me on the track, spraying gravel. The track that led to Claire's house. I watched it career around the corner ahead of me and the celebration turned into a cold lump in my stomach. I started to run.

My first thought was of Kid, but when I sprinted through the gate he was there - sitting on the front step, elbows on knees, hands clenched at the hood of his jumper that shielded his hanging head from view. The ambulance was parked next to him in the driveway. The bottle green front door of the cottage was hanging open. Through the door I could only see dim darkness, which sucked at me, and I began to feel shaky.

The gate clanged behind me as I started to walk down the garden path. The plastic carrier bag was digging into my fist as I held it tight. I reached Kid. He didn't look at me. I couldn't see his face from under the hood, but I could hear him breathing loud and harsh. I wanted to ask him: Why is the ambulance here? Why is the house dark?

I opened my mouth and felt the words and anxiety building in my chest like an inflating balloon. All I could do was force my breath in and out. "Kid?" I said. He didn't answer; just buried his forehead more forcefully into his knuckles. My legs were starting to feel wobbly, so I sat down next to him on the step. What was happening?

There were yellow grooves across my fingers when I unwound the carrier bag from my hand and put it down next to me. I wrapped my arms around myself, leaning forward. I didn't look behind me to the house – didn't want to think about what was happening in there. I watched a black beetle crawl across the paving stones and grass borders of the garden path. I thought 'Bread, milk, eggs, cauliflower, potatoes - all there'.

A muffled sound made me drag my head out of the protective barrier I'd made with my arms. Gareth had come out of the house and was saying something. He straightened his jacket, straightened his glasses. Kid had sat up and was staring at him. His thin, eastern face looked tight, jaw clenched. His eyes were furious, as if every part of him had become sharp.

"I'm sorry," Gareth said.

For a moment Kid looked as if he was going to tear in two – half of him going to stand, then to hold himself, to leap at Gareth or run from the garden. He hunched over and dragged his hands through his short, spiky hair. I was motionless, watching. Gareth looked at me as if I should have been reacting, but I didn't know what he'd said. I just held his gaze and tried to be calm.

Then Kid lurched to his feet. "You don't know that!" he shouted. "What do you know about anything?" He wrenched the milk bottles from my carrier bag and smashed them on the path. The world came back to the sound of breaking glass. Gareth pulled me to my feet, grabbed Kid by the arm and herded us both towards the gate where his silver car was waiting.

I tried to turn back to the cottage. Why were we leaving? I wanted to go inside and see Claire. I had to see her – to talk to her – because of the gut-wrenching suspicion that if I got in Gareth's car I would never see her again. I saw my carrier bag in a soggy, crumpled lump by the step and reached for it.

"Alfie," Gareth said. "We have to go now."

He bundled me into the back of the car and almost shut the door on my foot. I was beginning to feel a rising sense of panic. Kid was shoved in the front, but after smashing the bottles all he seemed to want to do was curl up in his seat. The car was new, expensive and smelled of plastic; it mingled with the smell of milk from my trainers, and I started to feel sick.

I didn't ask where we were going. Gareth was in such a hurry that the car revved and then he stalled when he tried to set off. I was trying to decipher where the urgent need to cry had come from. I swallowed the lump in my throat and turned to look out the back window at the cottage.

Paramedics from the ambulance were coming out of the house with a stretcher on wheels. A cold shiver ran through me – Claire? But – she would be okay if they were taking her to hospital. Our car began to move and I watched the Paramedics get smaller and further away as they wheeled the stretcher into the van. Then I saw that it wasn't Claire on the stretcher, it was a long, black bag.

It was as if something sliced through me and the breath caught in my chest when I realised that she was dead. Gareth had said, She's dead. I felt myself slide down the leather back into my seat. I stared at my shoes; smelled milk. Claire was dead. I couldn't hold on to the thought – it didn't register. I couldn't do it. I just closed my eyes and let the world stop -

I woke up in a living room, which must have been Gareth's. He had made beds for us out of the sofa cushions. Mine slid apart in the night, so that only my head was cushioned, the rest of me on the wooden floor. I lay in the darkness and didn't move. The image of the black body bag was gaping at me, wide open. She was gone. I felt something burst inside me and tears began to leak out of my closed eyes.

I didn't make any sound, but when I stopped crying there was a wet patch on the sleeping bag by my head. My cheeks felt wet and raw, and I was left with an empty, sad tiredness. But I couldn't go back to sleep. I didn't want to think about it anymore, so I started counting the number of books of Gareth's shelf, the number of leaves on his pot plants and the checks on the curtains.

During the night Kid started having one of his dreams again, where he drags his hands through his hair and wakes up with scratches on his face and nail marks down his arms. In the morning, he groaned when he woke up. He started inspecting the dried blood from a scratch on his arm when he realised I was watching him from across the room. "Have you been crying?" he asked. I shook my head.

Gareth came to wake us at about eleven. He brought croissants for breakfast and Kid and I sat in our beds, still in the clothes we had worn yesterday and slept in, eating them while he 'explained the situation'.

"I think it's important to act fast. This is just terrible – a terrible circumstance, but we must press on," he said. "We don't want this to set us back, don't want to regress or get stuck. Change is important for us to heal." Kid didn't look like he believed it. He wasn't even looking at Gareth, just picking at his breakfast. I wondered if he was listening at all. "I think the best thing for us to do is to continue with the next stage of your rehabilitation, just a few months earlier. We can work through this," Gareth said.

I thought Kid would object. I thought he would shout and throw something. I wanted him to. I needed time, not fast-forwarding, but he just said, "Yeah, okay."

Gareth sighed with relief. "After Claire, it was planned that you would move in with foster parents in Wayborough and start the school year, wasn't it? And you were doing so well here. I'm sure they'll agree to you both coming a few weeks earlier."

She's dead, I wanted to say. She's dead. I looked at Kid. Why wasn't he doing something? His expression looked kind of vacant, as if he wasn't really here. Gareth was still talking and as I watched his mouth moving I felt as if I was a passenger on some fairground ride I couldn't get off.

"Unless," he said and I felt a flare of desperate hope. "You'd like to try moving back in with your parents." The flare died. Gareth looked at Kid, who had come back to life. "Some of them have been requesting it."

"No fucking way," was Kid's response. I avoided Gareth's eyes; I knew my parents wouldn't have asked.

"Okay," Gareth said. "Foster parents, it is."

Before I knew it we were stood outside Gareth's front door, waiting for our new lives to start. "Remember," Gareth said. "These people are there to practically support you, help you adapt, but they only have a layman's knowledge of what you've come from and what you've been through."

Kid's head shot up. "What? They don't know?"

"Oh, they know, but not extensively. They have experience of children with behavioural problems and anti-social behaviour." Kid made a scoffing noise. "This is it – it's important for you to get by without that specialist help – handle yourself in the real world."

Kid's foster parent, Dave, arrived in a metallic-coloured camper van. I watched them load it up as my thoughts went frantic. The foster parents didn't know – how on earth were we going to cope if they didn't know how to help us? Dave was young and overweight, slow and kind-looking. How on earth was he going to control Kid, who was stood next to him, grinning as if he'd completely forgotten the 74 hour old corpse of our previous carer?

And now I was moving in with a woman I'd met three times before. A middle-aged, smiley spinster called Valerie. I looked around desperately for Kid - He could stop this – but he was already halfway into the van. He wasn't even going to say goodbye? He looked up and caught my eye. He held up a hand and called, "I'll see you soon, okay?"


Copyright © 2009-2013 A. C. W. Alias Blue (Id: 626202)