Authors: Richard Rider
Pip wakes early on the Sunday morning, and for a moment he can't remember where he is. He's kicked all his covers down so they're tangled around his legs. Olly doesn't normally let him do that.
It floods back in a rush and he lays there still for a moment listening to the sounds of the morning, birds singing and trees rustling gently like a defensive moat of leaves all around the house. Mister Bollo is tucked safe between the pillows and Pip brings him out carefully, more nervous than ever about handling him now. He's stupidly, irrationally paranoid, half-convinced that even
at him is going to make all his limbs fall off, but of course it doesn't. The monkey fits in his hand perfectly. It always did. It's so strange how his hand and the monkey's woollen body have always felt like they belonged, exactly the same now as it was when he was four and his hand was tiny.
He could fall back asleep so easily. He almost does, lulled by the hum of voices somewhere in the house and the familiar, comfortable smell of his old cuddly, but two things happen: Dory comes running into his room in her nightie, wild-haired from sleep, and his phone beeps a text through.
"MUM SAYS WAKE UP AND DAD SAYS YOU'RE LAZY!" she shouts at him. He starts laughing, until she leaps on the bed and then he's too winded to breathe. "WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP!"
"I ain't getting up yet, it's like five o'clock!" He gets her in a headlock and lets her struggle there, shrieking and giggling while he tries to focus his eyes to press the right buttons and read the message.
Pip smiles at that, helpless and goofy like he's fifteen, then he turns his phone off. Lindsay can sweat. It'll annoy him, not getting a response. He's brilliant when he's annoyed but doesn't really mean it, he does that face. Pip can see it in his mind so clearly, the way Lindsay sets his jaw and the line of his eyebrows and curve of his lips when he's pissed off and amused and in love all at the same time...
He starts tickling her mercilessly and she screams the house down, kicking at him with her little feet, but she's still giggling so it's okay. He always hated being tickled, it's like torture. People always think it's so hilarious tickling someone who doesn't want it, as if acting like that isn't basically
. Dory's hysterical with laughter, though, laughing so hard her eyes are streaming. Pip gives up after a particularly vicious kick in the ribs and fakes surrender, laying flat on his back and letting her sit on him and punch the air like she's just scored the winner in the World Cup.
This isn't working, this ignoring-Lindsay thing. Pip's itching to turn his phone back on and send back a giddy reply that's all <3 and xoxoxo. He doesn't, he just squints at his clock on his bedside table. 8:17. Ugh.
"Get off me, you spaz. I need a shower." "Yeah, cos you STINK!" "How come you're being so horrible to me?"
"No I ain't being horrible." She scrambles off the bed and kneels up on the chair at his dressing table, a hideous gilt thing with a dark pink seat cushion, so she can start stirring through his stuff. He's not moved everything out of Olly's yet, just a few important bits he can't live without. Some clothes, hair products, eyeliner, nailpaint. Dory pulls the lid off one of his eyeliner pencils and starts drawing on the back of her hand, a big loopy flower with a crooked smiley face in the middle. "Can I have a tattoo?"
"Ask Dad." "He says over my dead body." "Well, then." "Can I get one if I'm older?" "Yeah. If you still want one when you grow a brain." "When I'm seven? Cos that's
old." "Aahh... bit older than that, maybe."
She goes tearing out of the room yelling, "PIP SAYS I CAN GET A TATTOO WHEN I'M EIGHT!" He laughs, he can't help it, and gets up for his shower as soon as she's out of the room because he can't cave in and text Lindsay back if he's in the shower.
He's living back at home now. Might as well make himself useful and take Dory to ballet, and anyway it's an excuse to get out of the house and avoid all the awkward questions about why he's there at all. She makes him hold her Bagpuss backpack and grudgingly lets him hold her hand while she pretends to be a tightrope walker on the kerb at the side of the empty road.
"I can do it on my own," she says crossly, and Pip has to struggle not to smile at how much she looks like their dad when she frowns. That's so backwards, how she looks like their dad and he looks like their mum.
"Yeah, I know, but what'll
do if you ain't looking after me? I might like fall over the paving stones or something. Fall in the hedge, spike myself on someone's fence, anything could happen. It's dangerous for boys to wear heels, you know."
She looks at him suspiciously as if she knows he's taking the piss but doesn't say anything else. It's a good comfortable sort of silence, holding hands and skipping through the dappled sunlight under the trees. It seems a shame to break it, but he's bursting to tell
and she's as good a confidante as any.
"Hey, you remember Lindsay you met the other day?" "Yeah."
"Did you like him."
"He's well old! He's got a
"Oh my god, please say that to his face." "Why?" "Cos it'll be funny." "I ain't being funny, I'm just
." "Alright. But do you like him, though?"
She stops jumping from kerbstone to kerbstone and starts walking normally beside Pip, scurrying a bit to keep up with his strides until he realises and slows down. "He likes good music, don't he?"
"Yeah, but... you're right, good stuff too. Do you like him?" "Am I sposed to like him?"
"I'd be dead happy if you did, cos I think he's brilliant." "Okay."
"I'll like him then."
"Do you know why I like him?"
"Cos he buyed you coffee."
of the reasons..." It's a bit weird, now it's come to it. It shouldn't be difficult. It can't be nearly as horrible as it was on Friday morning, when he and Olly had to tell the kids Pip was moving out and he ended up in floods of ugly snotty tears until
got embarrassed and uncomfortable and had to comfort him instead of the other way around. For some reason it's still difficult to spit out the right words in the right order. "You like Olly, don't you?"
"Me too, but I don't love him like my boyfriend no more." "How come?"
"That ain't the same kind of love, honey. This one
stop, it don't work like that. I mean, not unless you cut all my hair off in my sleep or something, cos then I might dropkick you out the window."
"Good." They're out on Hampstead High Street now, weaving around morning pavement traffic. He holds her hand tighter, scared she's going to dash out into the steady stream of cars even though he really knows she won't. "I love Lindsay like my boyfriend now, is that alright?"
"Spose." He looks down at her and her nose is wrinkled up like she finds the whole idea revolting. He can barely keep from laughing then. It's his favourite thing about her, how utterly open she is about everything, how impossible she finds it to hide her feelings. Maybe it's because she's so little and hasn't learned to lie very well yet, or maybe it's just the way she's going to be forever. "He's older than Dad!"
"No he ain't!"
"But he's got a
"I like it. He looks all distinguished. He smells nice, he always smells like black coffee and fresh tobacco, it's all manly like out a crap romance book."
"That ain't nice, that's cancer. He smells like CANCER." "Did Dad tell you that?"
Two meanings. There's
something lurking below the surface with Phil. They're getting along better than they ever have before but it's still not right, it still feels as if they're constantly circling each other like animals ready to fight to the death. Pip can't ever tell whether his dad really means it any more when he calls him a dirty little poof or whether he's trying to be all jovial and accepting and being insulting seems to him the best way of getting that across, as if constantly reminding him he's a shirtlifter is like saying, hey, look how normal this is for me, I ain't bothered what you do with yourself. Sometimes it's like that – he remembers that moment in the bar the other night when Phil gave him money for johnnies and Pip hugged him on impulse because it felt sort of good, a bit like being mates, very nearly like a normal dad and a normal son for the first time in years and years. Sometimes, though, Phil just can't behave himself, like when Pip turned up at the house on Saturday evening after his day with Lindsay and Phil kept on and on with jibes and nasty comments: what the fuck's going on with your hair? You want a haircut, you look like Chrissie Hynde, what a fucking state, what you wearing them boots for? He wants a woman, is he paying for your op then? You ain't getting no money out of me for your tit job, I'll tell you that right now.
"Yeah, well," he says slowly, picking through his brain for something to say, some excuse, but there's nothing. Smoking
a filthy disgusting lethal habit, there's no way out of it. He changes the subject instead. "How's your classes going? What's your teacher like, is she nice?"
"Don't you like it?" "It's alright."
It's not alright at all, she's dragging her feet now and dawdling. Pip stops abruptly in the street and crouches down to her level so he can see her properly. "Hey, listen. If you don't like it you don't have to go, we can go and play footie in the park instead."
"Mum's a fucking skinflint then, they're loaded, they ain't gonna miss a couple of quid on some scummy ballet lesson you don't wanna go to. I mean it, we ain't going if you don't want."
"Alright." He slips the straps of her backpack up her arms to free his hands and lets her clamber onto his back, holding her safe by the legs. "What do you say, then? Dancing or not?"
"Dancing's for girls."
"You're a girl, you spaz."
"I ain't a
"Well, that's good cos I ain't a boy-boy neither."
"You like football."
"Yeah, but I like dancing too."
"You're a boy-girl."
"Did Dad tell you that as well?"
"No, I learnt it myself."
nice!" "Do you love me?" "Yeah." "More than what?" "More than Appratite For Destruction and Mr. Whippy." "That'll do."
An hour or so later Pip's sitting on the grass with Olly, watching the kids all play some vague hybrid of rounders and dodgeball just down the hill. He'd phoned when he and Dory found somewhere to stop and have a top-up of breakfast, weirdly nervous and not sure they'd come, but they did and it's not so bad now. Nothing's changed between them all, except that when he hugs Olly to say hello he kisses the corner of his mouth from habit without even thinking about it and then there's a second of holding his breath and panicking before Olly just laughs softly and calls him a queer.
"Your party was good," Olly says. He brought a bag of jelly babies and they're both shovelling them into their mouths trying not to let the kids see. I know we're meant to be, Pip said once, cos I eat all the greens and yellows and pinks and you eat all the reds and oranges and purples, it's perfect. Olly told him if that was his main criteria for picking a boyfriend he needed his head checked, but then there was a jelly baby fight and they didn't have time for much more talking. "Wish I could've stayed longer."
"A bit." He's doing that awful thing again, smiling like a complete dope without meaning to and without being able to stop once he's noticed.
"I kind of expected you to be all black and blue by now." "Not this time. It was just... nice. Weird. Sad. Quiet." "Sad?" "I don't know. Kind of."
"Yeah, I knew you'd have second thoughts about chucking me," Olly says, smirking, and Pip laughs and falls back on the grass, stretching his arms up over his head and feeling the sun on his face, squeezing his eyes shut because he didn't think to bring his sunglasses.
"Fuck off, as if."
"Why ain't you happy, though?"
"I am. Just, you know. Weird. It's good. I missed him. God, are you alright hearing this? Shit. I feel like a right bastard still, just like oh my ex is back in town, BYE!" He can't see Olly's face because the sun is too bright, even when he tries to shield his eyes with his hand, but Olly doesn't sound too cut up about it.