Authors: Debbie Kowalczyk
‘He won’t,’ Amy lied. ‘And anyway, if you were that worried about what Frank would say then…’
‘Don’t start!’ he snapped before stomping up the drive, his boots making loud crunching noises as they pounded the cobbles. Amy had been warned many times by Luke not to interfere with his job-hunting techniques.
As Amy pushed the pram inside, the smell of roast beef made her stomach rumble. Leaving the pram in the hallway, Amy carried Tom into the chintzy living-dining room. Thomas and Frank, who sat on the settee, shouting at the football match blaring from the television, smiled at Amy then grimaced at Luke. Amy’s niece, Francesca, was in a pink, padded baby bouncer on the floor; Amy put Tom in the blue one next to her. Tom was a lot bigger than Francesca even though she was two weeks older than him. He was also much more alert.
As Amy fiddled with the straps, Alicia walked from the kitchen and stood next to the dinner table, one hand on her hip. ‘Hello Amy,’ she said snootily, giving Tom a quick, sideways glance. ‘I’m awfully sorry I haven’t been to see you. I hope Frank has explained that I haven’t been at all well?’
‘Err, yes.’ Amy smiled even though Alicia was false and overbearing.
‘Your mother and I are making tea. Would you like a cup?’
‘Go on, then.’
‘Earl Grey? Lemon…?’
Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Just the everyday variety for me please, Alicia.’
‘We can do some of that, I suppose,’ Alicia huffed, flicking her long, glossy red hair as she walked back into the kitchen, failing to give Tom the slightest bit of attention.
‘Give us my laddo,’ Thomas said, unfastening the straps and picking up Tom. Tom gave him a huge, gummy smile, clearly pleased to see his granddad.
‘Have you not sorted that wind problem out yet?’ Frank said with a smirk.
‘He’s always smiling,’ Thomas said. ‘Aren’t you, my laddo? You’ve always got a smile for your granddad.’ Thomas sat on his antique recliner chair and began bouncing him up and down on his knee.
Luke stood by the fireplace, staring at both of them intensely. Amy knew he was miffed because Tom never smiled at him, but there was something sinister in his glare that disturbed Amy.
‘He’s getting big, isn’t he?’ Thomas said, examining him. ‘Each week I see him, he’s bigger!’
‘That’s what usually happens you know, Dad,’ Amy joked, keeping her eye on Luke.
‘Look at the meat on these legs,’ Thomas said, grabbing them. Tom let out a small grunt. ‘What was that noise, chunky?’ Thomas squeezed the top of his leg again. Tom grunted again, this time louder and stared, wide-eyed, at his granddad as if eager for more. ‘Did he…was that…is he laughing?’ Thomas asked, in awe.
‘Yes,’ Amy said. ‘He’s been laughing for about two weeks. Only that little grunt, but it’s adorable all the same!’
‘Oh, you just missed my laddo here laughing,’ Thomas said as Alicia and Joan came through with the teas.
‘What?’ Joan asked. ‘Laughing?’
‘Yes!’ Thomas stated.
‘Okay, dear,’ Joan said, nervously looking at Alicia, who pretended nobody had spoken.
‘Can I hold Francesca please?’ Amy asked, trying to catch Alicia’s eye.
‘Yes, of course you can,’ Alicia said. Everyone felt relieved the subject had changed to Francesca. ‘She’s been smiling this week, hasn’t she, Frank?’
‘Yes,’ Frank answered.
‘That’s brilliant,’ Amy said, genuinely pleased. Amy’s eyes widened as she picked up her niece. Francesca caught Amy’s eye and gave her a tiny smile.
‘There look. Look everybody!’ Alicia shouted. ‘Did you see her? Did you see our daughter smile?’ She addressed the whole room.
‘Yes,’ Joan responded, although she wasn’t near enough to see.
‘Oh, I missed that one,’ Thomas said, blowing a raspberry at Tom.
‘Did you see?’ she said snootily to Luke.
Luke spun to face her, his eyes burning with hatred. ‘I’m nowhere near…’ he began with a growl, but then shook his head like there was a fly in his eyes and his facial expression softened. ‘Err, no, sorry, I didn’t,’ he said with a suppressed tone.
‘Oh look, they’re smiling at each other!’ Amy cooed before Frank snapped at Luke. Her heart was thumping against her chest as she continued to watch Luke’s odd, fidgety mannerism.
Alicia turned to Tom with a glare. Tom caught her eye and stopped smiling at once. He furrowed his brows as if considering her for a moment then burst into a fit of giggles. Alicia jumped back dramatically, her face hardening in irritation. The whole room, apart from Alicia and Luke, broke into laughter.
As the day went on, Alicia continued to look at Tom as if he would bite, in the worst mood ever. As her blatant, adverse reaction bordered on extreme, Amy considered Winston’s comment about him not fitting into the norm.
Amy could just about cope with strangers having mixed reactions, but if her own family could behave like this towards him, maybe Winston was right. She cursed herself for having the thought. She’d done nothing but think about how she could prove Adaizi wrong and about how she could get out of being controlled by them. She’d thought of quitting her job but gathered if Adaizi had meddled her way into buying the café, what would stop her doing the same at any other place she went?
One other reason kept her from quitting: Jack. Whether she could tell him anything or not, she’d still have him there in case of emergency. Jack already suspected something wrong between Amy and Winston. Each time she visited, she couldn’t even look at Winston. If Jack put two and two together then so be it, she thought; that wouldn’t be “breaking the rules.”
As everyone sat for dinner, Luke stood, forehead perspiring, staring at the door like he wanted to escape. His behaviour reminded Amy of a drug addict who needed a fix. Whatever his problem, wherever he wanted to go, it was plain to all he longed to be anywhere but here.
‘How did you lose your job then?’ Frank asked Luke, leaving only the sound of scraped cutlery ringing in the air.
Luke stared into everyone’s prying eyes and looked lost for words. Frank looked at Amy. Amy shrugged; the only thing he’d told her was that it had been a misunderstanding. She was now as interested as everyone else.
Luke sat in his seat. ‘They said I’d not been in for a few days here and there,’ he began, fingering his scruffy hair, ‘but they obviously made a mistake. Although they did show me the days I didn’t clock in and my workmates also said I’d not been in but I mean…where else could I have been?’
Everyone looked at each other as if they’d now found the reason for the decline in his appearance and behaviour—insanity!
‘How should I know?’ Frank said, breaking the silence.
‘You got up and left the house every morning in your work clothes,’ Amy said, confused.
‘Exactly,’ Luke said. ‘So I must have been going in, mustn’t I?’
‘Has he got dementia now or what?’ Frank asked Amy. Luke sat with a blank expression, as if he had in fact lost his mind. ‘Have you not found another job then yet?’ Frank clicked his fingers in front of Luke.
‘No, I…I…’ Luke began, but stopped.
‘I…What? Have you been looking?’
‘Yes, I’ve been…’ Again he stopped.
‘Where?’ Frank shouted.
‘Err, I’ve been…’
‘Have you actually been looking?’
‘Yes.’ Luke looked at Amy as if for help.
Amy said nothing. She didn’t know how she could help even if she wanted to. She just gaped back at him with the same confused and dumb expression he held. She wondered if Frank’s question was right. Maybe Luke had dementia?
‘Why don’t you give Luke a job, Frank?’ Alicia asked tartly. Alicia loved the fact Frank had his own business, the mini super market: Frank’s Discounts. She also loved any chance she could get to gloat about it, or to be someone’s saviour, giving her more chance to use her favourite start to a sentence: ‘If it wasn’t for us…’
‘That’s not a bad idea, Ali, yes. You can work for me,’ Frank said as if the matter needed no discussion. ‘In the back warehouse, of course. We can’t have you scaring my customers!’ Frank laughed at his own joke.
Luke panicked. ‘I don’t…want…’
Alicia raised her eyebrows with the utmost snobbery. ‘Is stacking shelves beneath you? You! Luke?’
‘No…but I was looking for a job that…that…’
‘Pays a wage?’ Frank asked. ‘That pays a wage, surely? You can look for the ideal job in the meantime! No excuses, Luke; I’m not having my sister having to go back to work earlier because of you! Be at the store in the morning and I’ll show you what you’ll be doing.’ Frank carried on eating.
Amy looked down at her plate. She felt grateful for Frank’s protective big brother act but she didn’t thank him for the bullying. In light of his obvious confusion, she pitied Luke. What had happened to him?
‘Oh Joan,’ Alicia said, now in high spirits, ‘this gravy is just divine.’ Alicia smirked, making Amy feel enraged. Alicia had a great house, took holidays three times a year and drove top of the range cars, yet she still felt the need to make people feel low.
As Amy stared into Luke’s eyes, a jet black flash shot out of his pupils and a thick oily substance spread through his eyes, covering the opaque white surrounding them entirely. Then, as quick as the whites had been covered, the substance snapped back inside his pupils and hid behind the iris, swirling and lingering like murky water, clouding the natural gleam to his usual blue pigment. It made Amy jump and as it did her mind jumped too, right back to the conversation with Adaizi.
Amy could hear her heart beating in her eardrums. It was all she could do not to retch. Although their voices faded into the background, her family, oblivious to the happening, carried on talking.
‘Why thank you, Alicia,’ Joan said.
‘It is nice!’ Frank added, happy his wife was happy.
As Thomas began to say something, Luke stood, chest out, shoulders back. ‘I’m leaving!’ he said, shocking everyone with his proactivity. Before anyone could react, he marched down the hall and slammed the front door behind him.
They turned to Amy for an explanation but, unable to speak or react, she sat in shock, trembling with fear.
Francesca, who’d been left in the front room with Tom, let out a howl. Alicia ran into the kitchen with a bottle to make her formula, while Frank went to unstrap her.
‘Don’t leave my laddo in there on his own,’ Thomas said, following Frank so he could bring Tom to the table as well. The volume of Francesca’s high-pitched screaming brought Amy back into the room. As Thomas passed Tom to Amy, she could see from his expression he found Francesca’s piercing scream nothing but interesting.
‘Does Tom still not cry for his bottle?’ Frank asked, trying to comfort Francesca.
Shaking uncontrollably, it took Amy a moment to answer. ‘No.’
‘She always screams the place down until she gets hers…I bet you find this funny, do you, little man?’ Frank asked Tom as he noticed his fascination for her.
Tom, just able to support himself, had his arms stretched out toward Francesca, his frame wobbling while he tried to support his weight. Frank, clocking what Tom wanted, turned her to face him.
‘Is your cousin making a lot of noise?’ Frank asked Tom, then turned to Francesca. ‘Why don’t you stop crying and say hello?’ Tom reached forward and placed his right hand on Francesca’s beetroot-red face and gently stroked her cheek. As he did, light emitted from his palm and Francesca’s cheek glowed softly. Amy let out a yelp, nearly dropping Tom through the shock, and grabbed his hand. As Amy squeezed her hand over his, trying to conceal whatever it was that just happened, she stared at her niece who had now stopped screaming and watched in amazement as her whole face, starting from the place where Tom had touched it, turned from red to white.
‘What’s up?’ Frank, who hadn’t noticed, asked Amy.
Amy couldn’t answer. She stared at Tom, who sat back and smiled at Francesca and, as Francesca caught his eye, she gave a large beaming smile back to him. Confused, Frank turned Francesca back around to face him whilst Tom looked down at his hand, still trapped inside Amy’s.
Tom’s hand felt ice cold in Amy’s. As her skin began to tingle she turned his hand over, cupping it with her other, to see. To her complete astonishment, hundreds of tiny bubbles of light were running under the surface of his palm. As quickly as she witnessed this phenomenon, they dissipated and Tom’s hand became warm again.
Amy turned to see if anyone was behind her but no one else had seen. Amy was alone, staring in disbelief, her head pounding with the stress of both ordeals. Though Tom’s mental and physical development was extraordinary, she hoped he wouldn’t have any ‘extra’ abilities. Tom had been staring intently at his hands for the last few weeks as if willing them to do something, though Amy had disregarded it. As if he’d finally found what he’d been looking for, he now looked at them with satisfaction.
Amy clasped Tom towards her, a great lump of emotion welling at the back of her throat, and broke into floods of tears. Her family instantly rallied round, her dad rubbing her shoulders, her mum holding her hand.
‘Come on now,’ Thomas said. ‘It’s not like you to get upset, especially over a boy!’ Amy wondered what he meant for a moment then realised they thought she was upset about Luke’s behaviour—which was strange, because her dad was right: Amy would never cry over a boy. She used to look at girls in school like they were deranged if they got all soppy and daft over a boy, telling them they shouldn’t be bothered by the things boys would do, especially mundane things like how they didn’t text them when they wanted them to. She didn’t understand why girls could become so emotional over love.