After I have slipped quietly out of the back door, I run across the garden and jump over the wall into the alley way that runs along the back wall of Gravel's garden. I take off down the alley way which I always used to use as a shortcut between my house and Gravel's in the past.
I stand frozen on the pavement at the end of the alley way, just staring at my old home, which I use to share with Forrest, feeling really sick just seeing the place again.
I have seriously gone out of my way, so far, to avoid laying eyes on this house again. I tell all of the taxi drivers to take the long way round, to and from the hospital, just so that I can avoid seeing this place, and both Cinnamon and Mango know to avoid this street when they are driving me around, because I have asked them too.
I stare at our house and do not see any lights on, the house is in total darkness, which I would expect because I know Forrest is not here. If Forrest was in the landing light would be on. I panic suddenly, I do not even know if Forrest still lives in this house!!! It is not something that I have asked or has come up in conversation. I just presumed that he still lives here, he could have moved for all I know!! Hell!! The house is still painted in his shade of green and the windows and door are still painted brown, so at least that is one good sign that he might still be living here.
I realize I have not even given a thought to how I am going to get in either. My days of breaking and entering are long behind me and I really don't want to go down that road again!! Not that I can get done for breaking into my own house. That is providing, Forrest still lives here and my name is still on the deeds.
I suddenly think about the front door key that is hanging on a chain around my neck, along with my engagement ring. It is not likely that this key is still going to work, after all these years, but I decide to try it anyway. As I pull the chain out from under my clothes, I laugh at myself because I think I am both totally stupid and wasting my time. I hope Forrest still hides the backdoor key in the same place, if not, I am stuffed!!
I am totally shocked and amazed!! The key does actually turn in the lock and the front door opens!! HOW in over twenty years have the locks never been changed!! Although Forrest always did tend to use the backdoor more than the front door, but this this is pretty ridiculous!!
I walk in quickly and shut the door behind me. I stand numbly staring, after I have flicked on the light switch, as I look around the living room that is far removed from what I remember. It is still decorated in brown and green but nothing looks the same, not even the furniture is in the right place, and it does not smell like my home. I suddenly feel very out of place because I don't recognize this house at all, but then I guess I wouldn't, twenty years later it is not going to be the same is it!! Every single piece of furniture in this room looks like it has been changed. I am still not even sure if Forrest still lives here.
I run up the stairs. The house is in total darkness so I am flicking on all the light switches as I go looking for something that I recognize. I find it mad that I still remember where all the light switches are, even in the dark, without having to feel around for them. I flick on the light switch at the top of the stairs and just stand looking around. The landing is totally different again, then I spot something that tells me Forrest still lives here. One of our wedding photographs is hung on the wall at the top of the stairs, exactly where it was over twenty years ago. I stand staring at it for a moment and noticing it is now in a different frame, I think!
I automatically just barge my way into our old bedroom hoping he still keeps all of the photographs in the same place, but it is highly doubtful. I am expecting our bedroom to have been completely changed as well, like everything else that I have seen so far.
I was wrong!! I freeze, I actually feel my heart skip a beat once I am inside the room and my brain registers what my eyes are seeing. I just stand there staring in total shock. I feel like I have just walked straight into a time warp ... the last 20 years have suddenly rolled away and disappeared because absolutely nothing in this room has changed. I feel like I have just risen from my bed and dreamed up the last twenty years of my life in one night?! As my head is so shot, I glance at my face in the mirror, to check that my face is actually twenty years older than it was the last time I looked in that mirror, and it is.
Everything is exactly like how I remember it. The wallpaper, the covers on the bed, the curtains, the rug on the floor and the pictures on the wall, every piece of the furniture. It looks like not a single thing has changed and I can not see anything new or different. Hell this wallpaper is disgusting ... did we really like this?! This room looks really out dated now and notice parts of the wallpaper are even starting to peel off and curl up with age.
I walk over to the dresser when I spot something out of place. A photo frame is lay flat, sat on the side, something that I don't remember from 20 years ago. I pick it up and look at it. That is when I spot the dust and notice how musty it actually smells in here and how cold and unlived in this room feels. I have to wipe some of the dust off the glass, just so that I can see the picture underneath it. It is a photograph of me and Forrest again, that used to be hanging on the wall down in the living room when I lived here.
I run my finger across the top of the dresser and it is quite thick with dust, which is very unlike Forrest, who is a mega clean freak. He used to constantly be moaning at me because of the mess that I used to make, he used to say I was like a hurricane crashing through the place leaving a trail of destruction behind me. He can not use this room anymore or even come into it by the looks of how thick the dust is.
I am curious and walk over to the wardrobe and open the door. All of my old clothes are still hanging in my half of the wardrobe, exactly how they were when I left. I stare down and laugh at my old shoes that went out of fashion 20 years ago. Forrest's half of the wardrobe is completely empty, I can not see a single thing left in the wardrobe of his.
I start to have a panic attack and slam the door shut wandering where all his clothes are, wandering if he hasn't walked out and left just like I did and plans to never come back. What if finding out about Mace has made him leave for good!? What if he never comes back?! Then the musty smell in the room hits my nose again, and reminds me that this room has not been used for a long time and he has only been gone for a short time. I try to calm myself down telling myself that he has probably moved himself into one of the other bedrooms, not wanting the reminder of us in that room.
I don't know how he has continued to live here, it must have been pretty hard for him. I struggled being away from him only having a photograph as a reminder. If the tables had been turned and he was the one who had left instead of me, I would not have been able to have continued living in this house. Even now, just looking around this room, I can see and feel him in here. If I had been the one left behind, it would have driven me half crazy because everywhere I look there is a constant reminder of him somewhere. The reminders of him are not only in this house, they are all around town too, which I have been noticing a lot since my return to Sugar Valley.
I run out of the room in a blind panic. I open one of the other bedroom doors, but quickly slam it shut. That room used to be the junk room, but it has been tidied up and now looks like a nice spare bedroom, but it doesn't look lived in at all. I open the other bedroom door and laugh with relief and amusement, because this room is decorated in blue and I know straight away this is Forrest's room, and he has decorated in this colour out of defiance. The room looks lived in, there is a dressing gown thrown untidily on the bed, and a book is lay on the bedside table open and pages face down, which is something that Forrest used to do, rather than use a book mark. I was always moaning at him for breaking the book spines. I automatically walk over to the book and close it while I giggle to myself, he used to hate me doing that. The room also has a strong scent, probably the aftershave that Forrest wears now, but it is a smell that I do not recognize. I open the wardrobe door and see clothes and shoes all in green, and blue, the relief washes over me again because there are still signs of him being here and that he plans to return.
I have to get out of his room quickly before his belongings start to get to me, and I make my way back to our old room. I need to get the photographs that I came for and run, being so close to him but still so far away is killing me!!
I open the middle draw in the dresser next to the wardrobe and laugh at all the neatly stacked photo albums still where he kept them twenty years ago. I know the draw underneath this one will also be full of albums and photographs.
I pull a handful of albums out and drop them down onto the floor so that I can open them to see what they are. I laugh at the first one that I open it's Spots album. I throw it to one side and open another. Random photographs, I try not to look at them too closely because I do not want to upset myself. I just focus on the colour orange until I have spotted a few good photographs of Amber and pull them out, putting them into the pocket in my cardigan. I go to put the albums back into the draw, I have got what I came for and don't want to see anything that is going to set me off.
As I go to put the albums back in the draw I freeze when I spot an album sitting in the draw that has Slate's name written neatly across the front of it in Forrest's hand writing. I put the albums that I am holding back on the floor. Curiosity gets the better of me and I pull the album out with Slates name on it and open it.
I laugh as I flick through the album and it is full of photographs. I might have known, Forrest has taken tonnes of photographs all through out Slates life.
I sit down on the floor, opening the front cover of the album and start from the beginning. I am amused that Forrest has written on the inside cover Slates full name and date of birth and even the time he was born and how much he weighed. The first page of the album is pretty amusing, there is a tiny baby hospital wristband, a chunk of orange hair held together with a neat bow and a baby tooth. Forrest!! I sit laughing for a moment.
I start looking through the album at all the photographs of Slate as a baby, slowly. Slate is mostly alone on the photographs, there are a few photographs of Meadow and Forrest holding him, but other than that nobody.
There is not a single photograph of Gravel with him as a baby, or Mammy and Paps, which I find very very strange.
These photographs remind me of Spots albums and the way that Forrest used to sit watching the dog and take photographs of him every time he moved. I laugh at the collection of photographs of Slate as a baby, because they are all pretty much the same. In most of the photographs Slate is lay in his cot, on the bed, on the floor, on the couch, on an activity mat, but in each photograph he is wearing a different brown and orange outfit. It almost looks like Forrest was photographing his clothes rather than the baby himself.
I become totally distracted and engrossed in the photographs of Slate.
The baby pictures of Slate come to an end and I move onto his toddler photographs, which become a lot more interesting. I slowly browse through them all carefully, and see him up to all sorts of antics. Slate looks like he might have been a mischievous little monkey, with his cheeky grin and some of the things that Forrest has taken photographs of him doing.
Quite a few of the pictures look like caught in the act photographs, which really makes me laugh, especially the one where he is sat in a high chair laughing with a food bowl on his head like a hat and he is wearing his food rather than eating it. Also the one of him climbing into the washing machine, all you can see is his nappy and a pair of brown legs sticking out of the washing machine and a washing power box sat in front of the washing machine that I presume is empty because there is a nice little mound of white powder on the floor next to it. I sit laughing for a moment, he looks like he might have been a handful! I find it strange that I still have not seen one single photograph of Gravel with Slate!
I start laughing quite loudly when I spot a few photographs that amuses me. Slate with a little gang of other toddlers. A girl and boy who are yellow and red, I presume they are two of the Shine children, but I wouldn't know which ones. There is a little brown and green boy on the photograph with Slate and it looks like they are fighting over a teddy bear. There is no mistaking that green hair and those bright green eyes, I would lay bets on that being Bayleaf!! I spot the green and brown toddler on another few of the photographs with Slate. One photograph really makes me laugh, Sunny Shine, lying on his stomach on the floor laughing, buried underneath a mountain of toddlers,who are all sat on top of him, that guy always seems so happy and full of life!! It also looks like all the toddlers might have been at a party, there are a lot of balloons in the picture and there is a photograph of Slate with cake seriously all over his hairless head and face.
There is also a photograph of Caramel, Bay's Mother, with Slate fast asleep on her lap. Which interests me. Slate has talked to me a lot about both Caramel and Lilly, like for him they have been motherly figures in his life. It amuses and puzzles me that Slate says that Gravel never had any girlfriends at all, during the time he was growing up. The first female that he saw Gravel with was Strawberry, then Coral. Obviously Slate knows nothing about Tarragon, or Mace who Gravel has done something of a sexual nature with. I just wander how many more there are that we do not know about and who he has kept hidden from Slate?!
Then a set of photographs really catch my attention, mainly because they have both Slate and Forrest together on them. They look like they were taken on a visit to the beach.
I have been staring at the same four pictures of Forrest for the past twenty years. Photographs of us messing about in a photo booth, so it is nice to see a different photograph of Forrest that I have never seen before.
Something amuses me about these photographs straight away, I can tell that it is Forrest who has dressed Slate, rather than Gravel. Slate is out of his usual brown and orange clothes that he wears in all the photographs of him at home. On these photographs he is wearing green and blue clothes.
I have never really understood Forrest's fascination with the colour blue. I know it's his favourite colour but he's always taken it a step further, he even buys blue clothes for himself to wear, around the house, and he's bought them for me in the past. I used to have a few pairs of blue shorts and we have had a few debates over decorating our bedroom in blue, which I notice he has now done as I was not around to protest. I think that is why he loves Sandy Shores so much because it is all sea and sky there, it is a very bright and blue place. He used to be able to sit for hours just staring out at the ocean without getting bored, I think he loves the colour blue, almost obsessively.
In the past I always used to be very scared that he would leave me for a blue guy, if he ever got the opportunity to, he is that obsessed with the colour!!
I continue to stare at the photographs of Slate and Forrest playing on the beach and in the sea. I wander who actually was there with them and took these photographs? I am also wandering if Forrest has taken Slate out to Sandy Shores and how many times? I can not tell where they are, there are no clues on the photographs that tell me if it is Sandy Shores or not.
I carefully pull one of the photographs out of the album and flip it over. I knew it!! Written on the back of the photograph is Sandy Shores, a date and Slates age. This makes me laugh for a moment. Forrest always used to amuse me when he collected packets of photographs from the shop after they had been developed. He used to sit and write on the back of each and every photograph, names, dates and places, which used to take him hours sometimes. I never saw the point of it back then, but looking at this now, I guess I finally get it.
I can at least get to see some of my son's life that I have missed through these photographs. I wander where I was that day when they were happily playing on the beach! Prison. I turn the photograph back over and stare at Forrest's face.
They both look really happy.
I think that is when the smile leaves my face and it really hits me hard. That Slate and Forrest have had a whole different life together without me, which they should not have had. I should have been there with them!!
This starts to really upset me. Twenty years of both of their lives I have missed out on and even looking through these photographs, I, we can never get that time back!!
When I turn to the next page of photographs, three old loose photographs are sat in between the pages of the album that are not of Slate. They are very old photographs of me and Forrest when we were toddlers. I laugh looking at them, we even seemed to be happy and together back then, the eye contact stares, the kissing and the messing about.
The photographs of us are in the pages with all of Slates toddler photographs. I notice then how similar me and Slate actually look at about the same age, neither of us did very well in the hair department at that age. Gravel was born with tonnes of hair, it took years before mine even started noticeably growing!!
I might have thought that these were just more picture of Slate, if it was not for Forrest as a toddler being on them and the photographs themselves being so obviously old and not in colour. Me and Slate look shockingly the same all but for our noses.
I wander why these photographs are in Slate's album like this. Was Forrest comparing how similar we looked at that age?
When Forrest was playing with Slate in the water, I wander if he already knew then that Slate was my son? I would love to know when and how Forrest actually found out the truth? Did Gravel actually tell him or did he work it out from the three different blood groups, I really can not wait to find out the answer to this question!!
Why has Forrest never tried to find me to tell me? Especially now that I know he has missed me as much as I have missed him. WHY has he let the last twenty years go by without at word, especially for Slate?!
I have never seen these photographs of us as toddlers before. I am quite fascinated by them and wander where Forrest has had them from? I presume he must have got them off Mammy and Paps because I do not remember us actually having any photographs of us together when we were younger, only from teen age.
I really laugh at the photograph of Forrest kissing my face, the expression on my face and the way we have our arms around each other. It is kind of really cute!! I think our love affair must have started when we were toddlers, not teenagers. I actually sit laughing at that photograph for quite a while. Thinking that photograph should not be sat in an album in the dark, it should be in a frame and hanging on the wall where it can be seen.
I continue to look through a few more pages of Slates photographs and decide I really need to stop. My head is starting to stew and I am starting to get upset again seeing Slates life that I have missed out on. Now is not the time, I should save this for another day, and I should really not be hanging around here.
I suddenly realize how stupid I am being!! Sitting here like this looking through photographs when I need to get back to Gravels before anyone misses me, and the time is ticking ever closer to the 6am deadline. I quickly look at my watch. Cinnamon would probably give me a right earful if he knew I had sneaked out of the house like this.
As I pick up the albums off the floor hurriedly to put them back in the draw, I drop one and a handful of photographs spill out all over the floor. I swear at myself as I start to pick them up. I can not help but let a few of them catch my eye and I end up looking at them. It is too late, my head goes off again, because I see my parents faces staring back at me.
I think it is the shock that hits me. I have not seen either of their faces since I was a teenager, not even in a photograph. I don't even understand why they would be here, I thought Mammy and Paps had all of these photographs. I open the album they came out of, and it is one that I've never seen before and something Forrest must have been doing while I have been away. The album is full of very old photographs of both mine and Forrest parents. There are also a lot of photographs of our two families together, and all of us as children playing together, Gravel and Meadow included.
I close the album and start to look at the loose photographs that I have in my hand.
These three photographs in particular would have been taken before Gravel was born or even thought about. I always wandered why there was quite an age gap between the two of us. I always used to rib Gravel when he was younger telling him that I was planned and he was a accident and wasn't wanted. I used to tell him that just to wind him up and upset him, and it worked until Dad found out what I was saying to Gravel and Dad gave me a good beating for upsetting his precious brat! I never said it to him again after that.
I stare at my Mothers face for ages, I still really miss her, even now, it still really hurts. I was always a lot closer to my Mother than him. It is a shame that these old photographs are not in colour so that I can see her properly, I always thought she had a beautiful face and her colouring was quite striking. One thing that I always used to hate Gravel for, he inherited her hair and eye colouring. This photograph reminds me that it is not just her nose that I inherited, I also have her eyes, which was very noticable when I was young, but not so apparent now.
My Father, I never really liked very much, I hated the horrible person that he was, just like Gravel, they are actually virtually the same person personality wise. I remember the awful rows that our parents used to have, and the beatings he used to give her, and me, for trying to protect her from him. I hated him for how badly he treated her, the 'other women' and affairs he used to have that used to upset her. I remember how nasty verbally and physically he was needlessly towards my Mother all of the time. He used to disappear for days and weeks without a word sometimes, he would turn up like a bad penny saying it was police business, but I think we knew it wasn't!! I swear in the end he only stuck around because of Gravel.
It is no wander that she turned to the booze, he drove her to drink! Although Mammy says she was actually an addict and that is where I got my addiction from, but I like to think he drove us both to drink. That man mentally scared me, something I will never get rid of. I think the booze was the only thing that kept my Mother sane in the end and I even think she was relieved when he was faded at work. Those last three years of her life were peaceful and she was happier than I can ever remember her being, even if she was very ill at the end.
I stare at my Fathers face and can see now just how much Gravel does actually look like him. Gravel even dresses like him which amuses me, because I have not noticed that before. I have actually forgotten how Dad used to dress. I am surprised that Gravel does not wear his hair the same as Dad used to, because I swear Gravel has spent his whole life trying to be exactly what Dad was, and I would go as far as to say that Gravel has achieved it with flying colours because he is actually the bigger Berry Hole. Gravel got his looks and personality, I hope all I got from him was his colouring.
I laugh for a moment as I lay those three photographs on the carpet. I think the cracks in mine and his relationship were already starting to show even at that age!! In the first two photograph I am being held by him, I don't look happy and all I seem interested in is staring after my Mother. In the last photograph she is holding me and he has got one of those same filthy looks on his face, that Gravel pulls, which is aimed right at me. I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't have a screaming fit between the second and third picture.
My Mother and Mammy always used to tell me I was an awkward toddler, especially around my Dad. I used to scream the place down all the time if he even tried to pick me up, they said it was because I have always been a Mommy's boy. I used to tell them both I was a genius at that age and had already worked him out. That really used to make Mammy laugh in particular, she was never a very big fan of my Father's either!
We never had the best of relationships me and him!! If he was alive today, I doubt I would even want to be living in the same town as him. I doubt we would even be talking or having anything to do with each other. I think our relationship completely broke down when I started showing signs of being gay.
It is just a good job he didn't hang around long enough to see the end product and exactly how I did turn out. The alcoholic, drug taking jail bird! Oh, he would have loved that, NOT!! While he was many things I turned out to be four of his pet hates - drink, drugs, gay and a petty criminal. However, I have always imagined and suspected that there was a lot more to that man that I never saw. I would not be surprised in the least if Gravel is not following in his shoes completely. I could quite easily believe that Dad was living a double life, just like Gravel is, hiding behind a police uniform to cover up the fact that he is nothing more than a cold callous murderer!!
Of course, Gravel has a completely different view of our Father and our family life. Gravel hero worshiped the ground that he walked on. He could never do no wrong in Gravels eyes, not even when he was beating on our Mother. Gravel's take on the situation was always that she must have done something to deserve it! Gravel could do no wrong either in Daddies eyes, even when he was being an obnoxious little git, which was most of the time, that was okay with Dad because Gravel was Daddies favourite. If it was me, there was always hell to pay, sometimes, I think he hated me more than I hated him. It was always me and Mom against him and Gravel, I think that is why me and Gravel are so divided now, we were never taught how to be brothers, just how to take apposing sides and be mean to each other. Our snapping and sniping, the back stabbing and spiteful games that we play with each other ... we learned it all from him!!
I put the three photographs of them into my pocket, planning to cut him off them. I do not want the bad memories from seeing his face, but I do want to keep a picture of my Mother. I also think I'll give the one to Slate with Amber's pictures. Knowing Gravel I bet Slate has never seen a photograph of his Grandparents either.
I put the albums away and I walk over towards the bed still holding two photographs in my hand, I stare down at them and my legs buckle and I find myself sat on the floor again. The reason I am here and what is happening in only a few hours time has now totally left my mind because the photographs that I have been looking at have really upset and unsettled me.
I stare at one of the photographs of me and Forrest, old memories come flooding back and I start to crack up again. I remember these photographs and the one and only trip that we ever took to Sandy Shores with Gravel and Amber. Gravel in his usual style tried to ruined the holiday for all of us. It was Amber who actually took these photographs of me and Forrest.
Even Gravel could not ruin our happiness back then, oh, but he managed it eventually, didn't he!!!
My phone bleeps twice to tell me I have just received a text. I pull my phone out of my pocket thinking it is a strange time for someone to be sending me text messages. The incoming number is unknown. All the message says is "Can you phone me when you have five and are alone please. It is important! T."
I stand staring at the text for a moment, I think I know who this is already - Turmeric. Well now there is a surprise, I never expected to hear from him again. I wander what the alone thing is all about. Curiosity has me phoning the number. At first all I hear is silence when the call is answered.
"I've got five T what do you want?" I snap into my phone when he stays silent, hoping I've guessed right and this is actually Turmeric. "And what kind of stupid time is this to text me?"
"Gran, please don't be mad with me, you are alone aren't you!!" I tell him that I am totally alone. "Good!! Please can I see you?" Turmeric says back quietly
"You might find that a little difficult seeing as I am not in Cherry right now!" I say to him, even though I know he is in Sugar Valley, I can not let him know that I know that, because he is tangled up with Gravel. SHIT!! I should not have even phoned him!! If I had been thinking straight, I would not have done!
"I know bro, I've been told you have gone home to Sugar Valley. There are things that I really need to tell you, things I should have told you a long time ago."
"You quit being my bro, mate, when you started with your ultimatums and made me chose between you and Mace." I snap at him "You actually walked away too, that is what hurts the most!!"
"I know and I really am sorry!! I didn't want to, I thought I was doing the best thing at the time!! Gran please this is really important ... I am actually in Sugar Valley and ... I really need to see you ... !!"
"What the hell are you doing in Sugar T?"
"It is a long story which I will explain later. I am staying in a bedsit over on Sixth Street, house No. 3, flat 3B. Please come round first thing in the morning, I wouldn't ask but it is really important." I tell him I'll think about it "Gran, Please don't make me beg!! I have really missed you bro!"
"Okay! Okay! I'll meet you later, even if it is just to get you off my back."
I have really missed him, I thought we were really close, he was my best mate, I loved him like a brother and he was more like a brother to me than Gravel has ever been. It really hurt when he walked away after our bust up over what Mace did to him, but to find out he is nothing more than a back stabbing berry hole working for Gravel just makes it a thousand times worse!!
"Thanks Gran! please come alone and DON'T tell Mace or ANYONE you have spoken to me, it is really important that you don't!!"
"This better had be important T!! I'll see you later." I say then snap my phone shut not really knowing at first what to think. I throw my phone at the bed in frustration, he has stired up both pain and anger just from hearing his voice again.
I stare down at the photographs of me and Forrest that I am still holding in my hand, it hurts me to look at it. That photo was taken when we were really happy, before our hearts were broken and our lives torn apart. I stuff the photo into my pocket with all the others.
I am now a little incensed by Turmeric's phone call. He along with Mace have played a part in helping Gravel to destroy our life!! What is his game? Does he think I am stupid?! Gravel is probably getting Turmeric to lure me to that address which he has given me so he can do me in ... well if Turmeric thinks I'm stupid enough to go round there, he has got another think coming!! I will never be able to trust him again!!
I realise that I have let myself get distracted again and I have stayed here way too long. I go to walk out and as I am retrieving my phone off the bed that is when something catches my eye on the bed. On my side of the bed, stuck on my pillow is a post it note. I am not sure how I did not notice the note before! Turmerics call is now totally forgotten as I grab for the note and read what is written in Forrest's handwriting.
Ingrate Stale Cork,
Trestles in the breadrow,
Raffle Store Cork
I stand really laughing, almost hysterically, for a moment, never expecting to see one of these notes again. Suddenly I stop laughing, because I can tell that Forrest was mad with me when he wrote this note. I wander just how many years that note has been there, because it too is covered in dust and there now is a little clean brighter coloured square patch, which is dust free on the pillow where this note must have been sitting for years.
That note is so typically of us, we used to leave each other notes all over the house, notes written in a language that only we understand. We had this game that we used to play constantly from when we were children. We are both fairly intelligent and intelligent enough to be pretty good with anagrams, to the point where we can do them in our heads without having to write the words down. I am not really sure how it even started but we soon realised that we could create our own code that we communicated with, especially in front of our parents, friends, siblings and teachers. It got us out of a lot of scrapes as well as into trouble sometimes.
When we were kids we used to spend hours, not like most kids, we sat together, usually up a tree, playing with words and phrases and created our own dictionary of words that became like our second language. Nobody, up to the point when I left had worked out what we were actually doing, not even Mango managed to figure it out, and it really used to freak Gravel out especially when we started to talk to each other using our own language which he used to call double dutch.
The note that he has left on my pillow, I don't even have to try to work out because I know exactly what it means instantly by just reading it once, it is still just like a second language to me at a glance. Anyone else reading that note would just look at it, think whoever wrote is a crack pot and walk away none the wiser of what it means. I wander for a moment why Forrest would leave me this note? Has he expected me to sneak into the house over the years while he is not around and hoped that I would see it?
Ingrate Stale Cork - that is me Granite Slate Rock. I know he was mad with me when he wrote this note because he wrote my full name, otherwise he would have just written 'Ingrate' or something sappy, and he signed it Raffle Store Cork - his full name Forrest Leaf Rock and there are only two kisses instead of at least a dozen. I could always judge his mood by how many kisses I got, when I got only one kiss on one of his notes, I knew, I was in BIG trouble!! Trestles in the breadrow - Letters in the wardrobe.
I open the wardrobe door, I presume he means that there is a letter or letters inside the wardrobe for me to read or look at. Probably divorce papers knowing my luck!! I move the hanging clothes to one side, to look in the space behind my shoes, but see nothing. Then I look on the shelf above the clothes rail and spot a box at the back of the wardrobe that was never there before. I pull the box out of the wardrobe.
I open the box curiously and am surprised by what I find. A whole pile of letters, probably close on a hundred of the damn things if not more, then I realize I have seen every single one before, well the envelopes at least. Now I think I know why he was mad with me when he wrote that note!!
The letters are all addressed to me and the address on them the prison in Berry Shores. Every single envelope I have written on - Return to Sender. Which is exactly what I did. Every time he sent me a letter, I sent it back unopened. I feel sick!!
I take one out and stare at it for ages, wandering if I dare to open it. Curiosity gets the better of me and I tear open the envelope and take the letter out. I start reading the letter and before I have even read half way down the first page my legs have buckled and I am sitting in a heap on the floor. I finish that letter and tear open another, then another, until I can not read anymore because of the tears rolling down my face and blurring my vision.
While each letter is basically telling me the same thing, there is something different at the end of each letter - what is going on in town, family, work and especially how he is feeling which cuts me up having to read it. He is also telling me things about Slate, like when he first started to walk and talk, and how Gravel is treating him. I learned from the few letters that I have read, that Forrest was the one basically bringing up Slate not Gravel, because Gravel couldn't even look at the boy let alone go anywhere near him. Now I guess I know why he was in none of the photographs that I looked at. This just totally cracks me up.
I think it all gets just a little too much for me. Since the day I received that phone call from Mango about Slate's existence and him needing a kidney replacement, I have been on an awful emotional roller coaster ride. Being in this house, seeing all these photographs, and especially reading those letters on top of everything else that is going on, worrying about Slate and Mace's future and Forrest's whereabouts ... the roller coaster ride has just derailed and crashed - taking me with it.
I just sit there sobbing hysterically for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of what is written in those letters. Forrest was trying to tell me about Slate being my son all those years ago. When I was sat in prison, being stubborn and sticking to the no contact, because I thought I was protecting them, while all my stubbornness was really doing was tearing Forrest and our lives apart. Forrest was trying to tell me about Slate, from when he was a toddler and I could have known then - I should have known then!! If I had only opened one letter, I would have gone home straight after prison.
The lie is what gets me the most - Gravel's lie - the set up beating that he sat there and told me the Brownies had given him as a warning for me. That is what drove me away and kept me away - it was all fake!! Gravel was the one pulling the Brownies strings, me, Forrest and Amber were in no danger!! I walked away from my life for twenty years and there was no need for me to do that. I stayed away for twenty years for NOTHING!! It has ALL been just one of Gravel's games to keep me away from Slate who he stole from me!!
I am now grieving for some other time 20 years ago that I can never get back. I so wished I could roll back time and do it all differently. IF ONLY I had read just one of those letters then everything would have been different!! I want to go back and right my wrong and relive those years that I missed out on, and live them here where I should have been with Forrest and Slate, and not in Mint Valley or Cherry Hill or any of the other places that I've lived since I've left prison.
I'm the one who has messed everything up - me and I can never take it back!! I just sit there by my side of the bed crying like I haven't cried for years.
My phone starts ringing. Mace's number is flashing up on the screen. Hell!! I hoped he would not wake up and spot that I am missing. I answer it quickly. Of course he is demanding to know where I am in his usual scared hysterical tone that he uses when I go a.w.o.l.
"It is okay baby, I didn't want to leave you but I could not sleep." I say to him, trying to butter him up, while I wipe the tears off my face "I was getting a headache, so I went for a quick walk round the block to get some fresh air." I say to him which is an excuse I've used a lot of times when I have needed to get out of the house and away from him so that I can make sly phone calls.
"You better not be drinking!!" he snaps at me, which amuses me because that is always the first thing that he throws at me, it is what worries him the most when I go missing.
"No!! I promise!! ..."
"Then why does your voice sound strange?" he snaps "What are you doing?"
"Nothing, just walking. I've got a banging headache and you shouting is really not helping!! Look I am just round the corner, I will be back in five minutes."
I end the call telling him I love him which calms him down a little. I throw the letters that I have read back into the box with all the remaining unopened ones and throw the box back into the wardrobe. I will come back and collect them later once Gravel and Mace are safely locked up, I can not risk taking them back with me right now. I run into the bathroom to wash my face, I turn all the lights off that I have turned on and quickly leave the house.
As I walk down the alley way making my way back to Gravel's my phone starts to ring again. I swear out loud thinking it is going to be Mace again, knowing he will sit and watch the clock and the minute those five minutes are up he will start raring at me again, he is so predictable. However, when I pull my phone out of my pocket to answer it, I see that it actually is not Mace.
It is Corals name that is flashing up on my screen.
"Granite you need to come home quickly!!" I ask her why what's wrong "Gravel and Mace are fighting and I can not stop them! Gravel is beating Mace up pretty badly, he is going crazy, I think he has lost it and I don't know why!!"
I can actually hear them yelling and screaming in the background. I think I know already this is probably Gravel kicking off with Mace over Tarrogan's disappearance and whereabouts again. It seems to have totally unhinged him!!
I tell Coral to get into her bedroom and lock the door. I also tell her to phone Cinnamon and tell him that I've told her to phone and just tell him there is trouble, he will know what she means. She starts trying to question me and I snap at her telling her to just do what I ask. I tell her she is not to speak to Gravel or Mace and to lock the bedroom door and to stay in there until either me or Cinnamon come for her.
I snap my phone shut and start to sprint down the alleyway.
Song = Photograph ~ Ed Sheeran