I was no weakling though, being almost the tallest in my class. I dislodged his fingers and raised my voice, “No. You’re sick and injured. You can’t get out in this weather now.” He curled up in pain again.
“Fuck you.” He spat without venom but his stare was piercing. Even his bad eye was capable of that. I didn’t know where my strength came from but I went through the drugs and medical kit my mum left again and handed him two more sleeping pills and ordered him to take them. He faced the back of the sofa again and muttered a quiet “fuck” and nothing else.
Later, I started dinner. I wanted to have it ready when mum got back. I wasn’t sure whether the boy would eat and assumed he wouldn’t. Anyway, I just put some chips and a large pizza in the oven. That should be enough. If not, I’d have more toasts and snacks later. My mind drifted back to the sleeping form. The guy was as tall as me but so skinny that he was practically malnourished. I had butterflies in my tummy when I remembered his beige hair and eyelashes, that lazy gaze when he looked at me in the sun. Damn. What was wrong with me? He was ill, and mum was right. There was obviously something really dodgy about him, so how come I couldn’t stop myself focusing on him?
As I waited for dinner and my mum, I sat and watched a stupid game show on the telly. The boy was awake but he didn’t move and didn’t say anything. When I offered him more tea, he shook his head. I could see sweat pour down his forehead, so I tried to pull the blanket away but he grabbed it back and glared at me. He really was very grumpy. That was when mum got back. She’s still in the blue hospital uniform as she shook off her jacket. Cold wind sailed through the front door with her.
“Oh, Jay. Turn the radiator on or something, the flat’s freezing.” She kissed me and ordered, whispering. “How’s he been?”
“Ah, well.” I shifted and looked at him but he closed his eyes again, pretending to sleep; he was awake just before mum got back. “He was hot and cold, so I didn’t know what to do.” That was the truth. I was concerned. Besides, being a growing lad, I had so much energy that I didn’t feel the chill myself.
She shook her head, “That’s got nothing to do with the room temperature. It’s drug withdrawal, the poor boy.” Again, my mum talked as if he was not there but I knew he would have heard her. She went in the kitchen to turn the boiler on. I was so naïve then. That’s right. Withdrawal from heroin. I wondered how long he would be in that condition.
Mum dished three plates up and I took mine to the table and tucked into it straightaway. She carried the smaller portion over to him who had turned his back to us again.
“Hey. Are you going to try eat something?” She asked gently, “We never asked your name. I’m Maggie by the way and my son’s Jay. How old are you, dear?”
When he ignored her, she put the food down and tried to help him sit up but he pushed her away. Hmm, I wasn’t sure how my mum would react to that. She’s a tough girl, my Ma. She said more firmly, “It’s good you’re better today. Try sit up and have some dinner.” It’s probably her nurse mode, some kind of firm but caring routine that she used on her patients.
The boy stared at her for a second. He then tried to get off the sofa too quickly and ended up kneeling on the floor and he was sick. My mum was in shock. I ran to the kitchen and brought out our dish bowl but he didn’t have much to be sick, perhaps just bile and the one slice of toast he ate earlier. And even after that he was doubled up in pain. Ma and I cleaned up the floor the best we could.
My mum was a saint for her patience. I guess she had to be. At the end, the boy looked up and asked for more painkillers and mum gave him some. When he eventually calmed down, my mum sat by him on the couch and asked one more time, “Is there someone I can call for you?”
He scowled and repeated, “No one. Let me go. I’m sorry to bother you.” He did seem genuinely grateful.
“Oh no, you’re in no state to go back out there. But you don’t look eighteen. There has to be someone who can help.” She insisted.
He stared at her but refused to answer. I was worried that my mum would drive him away. Perhaps I was just selfish and didn’t want him to leave yet. But why? I didn’t know my own reason then. My mum sighed once more. That was her default response when it came to the boy on our sofa.
It was much the same on the Sunday. I was secretly glad that mum was working all day again, so I could care for the boy. He was definitely improving. He hadn’t been sick again and the bruises were getting yellowy rather than black and blue, which was a good sign. He drank tea and ate toasts but still refused anything else. In the afternoon, he sat up and asked if he could have a wash. I was such a moron for not thinking that he had not had a shower for three days.
“I think a bath would be better, if it’s okay.” He asked politely, so I ran the bath for him. I let him lean on me while I wound my arm around his waist and helped him to the bathroom, supplied him with a fresh change of clothes, toothbrush and toothpaste. He started to take his clothes off. Oh, I didn’t know whether I should just leave him but he did not seem self-conscious and my feet were glued to the floor. I tried to tell myself that he would need further help getting into the tub and all that. My eyes were drawn to the ugly marks all over him again and his physique. He’s scrawny for sure but his body was also graceful in its own way, with lithe muscles and pale skin that I had the urge to touch. Oh crap.