@callixta I think anyone would to be honest Ah, could be a while before we get there
Before The Beginning
"If you could be anything, what would 'ya be?"
"That's not how you play Jack!"
Two children, six and seven, walking home from school one blustery autumn afternoon. One attempting to balance along Mr. Robert’s low brick wall, tongue stuck out in determination. The other crunching leaves beneath boots two sizes too big.
"You said anything!"
The younger, scrawnier of the pair, dragging his boots along the pavement was Jack. Not a particularly agile child in his hand-me-downs and wild brown eyes. He left all things that required some form of coordination to Sarah; best friend, honorary sister and eldest of the two. She was also a brute, but never toward little Jack.
"But being invisible is boooring” Sarah declared, hopping off the wall just in-front of Jack. “ I would be a pirate. Then I could make Simon walk the plank!" She curled a bony finger into a hook and did her best pirate impression which wasn’t too impressive. It made Jack laugh. “Argh!” She yelled, lunging at Jack with her hook hand forward.
“Ahoy!” Jack shouted back through the laughter. Sarah was a great friend.
“See. Pirates would be awesome!” said Sarah. She walked beside Jack, occasionally destroying a leaf under enormous shoes.
"But if I was invisible no one would pick on me,” Jack replied some minutes later. “And. I would never ever have to do school again!” he spoke again, this time wearing a broad toothy grin. “No school!”
"No school!" Sarah roared.
“No school!” Both children chanted, raising their clenched fists in the air with every cry.
Most afternoons would continue as carefree as this Autumn afternoon. Both Jack and Sarah turning their fifteen minutes walk home into an hours adventure across the park, back fields and places they really shouldn’t have ventured. Each Friday they would stroll the beach and chase each other across the dunes pretending to be lost in some far off land. Every dog walker was a bandit, and Mr. Roberts was a big crime boss. Sometimes Sarah would sneak out and they would get lost in the Amazon Forest, searching for rare and exotic species. Most of the time they found chickens from the farm. Though once Jack had sworn he’d seen a gigantic snake, but could saw it again. In fact the pair rarely went straight home, and both their parents were surprised if they were.
However some afternoons would not be so pleasant and carefree. Occasionally the duo would be followed by the boy two years older than Jack.
Simon was a large boy in every way. Despite only having three years on Jack he practically towered over the small boy, and weighed almost twice as much. Perhaps it was all the cake he stole from Jack on a daily basis, or anyone who looked at him. Simon liked his cake. He was a brute and a bully, and took great pleasure in it. He even gathered a sizable group who followed him everywhere. At only nine years old Simon was a force to be reckoned with. Or maybe everyone is when you’re six and just barely make three foot tall.
Today would not be a pleasant and carefree afternoon.
Sarah had punched Michael Payton for calling her a ‘Sour Puss’ and had to stay behind and wait for her parents, they were all going to see the headmaster. So Jack walked home alone. Quickly.
“Where you going, you little freak?” A booming voice sneered not too far behind.
He walked faster. Panic rose to the pit of his stomach, his chest felt tight and empty all at once. He suddenly felt very sick.
“Oi! Don't walk away from us. Little freak!"
Faster again. Breaking into a run, pale legs feeling stiff with every stride. His heart thudded against his chest with every shaky breath.
‘Don’t look back. Keep running’
“Get back here!”
His stomach somersaulted, legs grew heavier, hands more clammy. And breathing. Breathing became harder, every breath shorter than the last. In, out, in, out. No air filled his lungs. In, out, in, out. Sweat beaded on his forehead, but his body felt cold. Ice cold. In, In, In.
“Jack? What are you boys doing?!”
He stumbled to the ground, landing in a heap on the pavement. His knee hurt, he’d grazed it against the curb and blood had already started to form at the scrapes. He pulled in his knee to inspect the damage, hot tears already threatening to spill.
"They 'ain't your real parents!"
Jack looked up and felt his thudding heart drop out his stomach. Simon and his band of bullies were practically stood on top of him, at ages nine to twelve the boys easily towered over his petite frame. Just another reason for them to single Jack out.
He scrunched his eyes closed tight and wrapped both lanky arms over his head.. Any minute now, any minute he'd pass out. Or die, or be beaten up. Or disappear.
Why did Sarah have to be sick today? Why!
Constantly being the new kid in school attracted the wrong kind of attention, Simon was the worst kind. The other children already had friendship groups, and the strange scrawny child whose parents changed as often as his school was undesirable. If it hadn’t been for the teacher assigning Sarah to take care of him that first week, Jack would have been completely alone. Kids were fickle. And Sarah wasn’t here today.
“You’re such a freak!”
The first punch landed. And then another, and another.
A week later the third family gave him up. He never saw Sarah again, nor did he see Simon and his troop.
By the age of ten Jack had bounced around five different families, three towns and no more than one friend. He grew angry and started acting out. He would break possessions at home and talk to no one in school. He couldn’t settle anywhere. Nowhere had Sarah, and everywhere had Simons. Older, meaner Simons. His new family spent much of their evening nursing the bruises and trying to see past the angry ten year old they had willingly taken into their home.
It was clear he didn’t want to live there. It was dark and gloomy, the sea was nowhere in sight and it smelt like burning. The sky was always grey from the thick smoke rising behind the house from factories. The first night he tried to run away. Most of the first week had been a similar story. Jack hated it here, and he harbored no love for new parents Harry and Louisa.
On no particular evening Harry and Louisa Jones sat in the dim light of a winter fire, waiting for Jack to hobble through the door.
He was due home anytime now.
A chair dragged across the tiled floor, squealing in protest. "I should fetch more logs. Fires goin' out." A man’s raspy voice, weathered beyond his age from breathing in factory fumes. Boots dragged across the floor toward the fireplace.
He spun around, knowing instantly it was a mistake. A fist connected with Jack’s cheek. He toppled head first into the grass, the blades burning his legs and stones scraping at his knees. This was all too familiar.
“No wonder no one wants you. You’re such a coward.”
Another fist landing. And another.
Jack curled tighter into a ball, raising both arms over his head. Eyes closed tight. Heart pounding.
The fire grew around the new logs.
Snap. Pop. Pop.
And the clock ticked by.
Everything hurt. His ears rang and he was alone.
No one really cared.
He daren’t open his eyes.
“Leave him alone!”
It could be a trick. A nasty trick that ended in a black eye.
Tick, Tock. Tick
Snap. Pop. Snap. Snap
The rustling of paper, and a restless sigh.
“Where is he?”
“I said leave him alone. Do you want me to bring the bobbies?”
He curled tighter into a ball, heart still pounding.
Footsteps backed away. Quickly. Running maybe? It’s hard to tell when you’re a human cocoon.
Leave me alone.
"Jack? Is your name Jack?"
This was not a familiar voice. It was too posh.
“Are you having a fit or something?”
Jack shook his head the best he could from the tight ball he’d become. Who is this?
“Okay. Well they’ve gone now.”
“Did you beat them up?” Jack croaked, still curled up.
“A thank you would do. But no.”
This definitely wasn’t one of the boys who had chased him home. Jack opened his eyes slowly to look for the stranger. “Thanks.”
“Should we go out and look for him?”
“I’m Charles, but everyone calls me Charlie,” the stranger smiled, holding out his hand to Jack who still sat among the grass and weeds.
“Right,” Jack replied. He ignored Charlie’s hand and hoisted himself up. Everything hurt all at once. His legs felt weak and fresh bruises were making themselves known all over his body. Stepping backward he regarded the older boy carefully, noticing first how easily he throw Jack across the field.
“Okay,” Charlie spoke, looking Jack up and down. He looked confused enough for both of them. “Hey, you go to St. Richards? Do you maybe know my sister, she just started Monday?”
Jack didn’t stay to reply. He took off as quickly as his battered legs would carry him.
Moments later Jack wandered into the kitchen, standing in doorway of the small kitchen, his frame barely filling the space. His chest heaved. Even in the red hue of the fire it was clear he was flushed.
"Sweetie, what happened?" Louisa lowered the shirt she’d been sewing, placing it on the table. “Did those boys follow you again?” Her voice was soft, like it could break at any moment.
She looked at Jack with concern. He was missing a shoe and his blue school tie. His shirt was ruffled and dirt stained, both knees were scraped and covered in grass stains.
“Nothing. I'm fine." Jack mumbled harshly, eyes fixed on his legs. Useless things. This house was full of useless things, why couldn't they all go away and leave him alone?
" It doesn't look like nothing son,” Harry spoke, now stood beside his wife and sharing her concern. He looked the small boy up and down with tired eyes, Jack could see the dark circles from across the room. And he was home early again. Did he ever work?
Jack stood motionless and said nothing. He refused to look up or even acknowledge both either his mother or father. They didn't really care. No one really cared.
Harry sighed. His gaze shifted from Jack to the hand he rested on Louisa’s shoulder. She was shaking, sobbing. "You have got to speak to us. Jack, we can't help you if you don't talk to us."
Still Jack said nothing. He left the room.
Later in the evening Jack crept across the hallway, careful to avoid the floorboards that creaked, to listen.
"He's not trying," said his father, throwing both hands in the air. “We’re the fifth home the lad’s had, and we’re doing no better.” He stood up, a hand quickly finding his back as he winced.
“And we’ll be no better than them if we give up!” Louisa replied, raising her voice though it didn’t quite fill the room the same as Harry's. “He’s still scared Harry. Wouldn’t you be if people kept handing you back like a rabid dog?”
Jack darted back down the hallway and into his room, all care for the floorboards gone. He pushed the door closed, dived back into bed and pulled the sheets up over his head. Willing the Earth to swallow him whole.
"Jack, sweetie can we come in?"
‘No, I'm asleep’
The floor creaked as both Harry and Louisa picked their way across the discarded clothes and single socks. They didn’t wait for an answer, they never did. “Can we talk?” Louisa spoke her voice soft and quiet, the tone she always used around him. Like he would take fright if she raised her voice, like Jack was fragile.
"Please don't use that tone." Harry spoke this time. Voice not as patient and caring as his wife.
He felt a weight at the side of the bed and guessed Louisa had sat there, probably biting her lip and twiddling her thumbs. He made her nervous. “Fine. But it’s not like it matters. You’re going to send me back anyway. I’m a rabid dog, no one wants me.”
He heard Louisa make a sobbing sound and the weight next to him lifted, floorboards creaked and she left the room.
Then, a heavy sigh. “Listen here you,” Harry’s gruff voice began. Jack could see his outline against the door, he looked fed up. “You might think that. But she doesn’t.” He turned to leave the room. “We are trying to give you a home. Show us that’s what you want.”
- - -
Months passed. How many Jack couldn’t be sure. But smoke still rose behind the house and fires continued to be lit daily. He returned home missing articles of clothing a few times a week, sometimes didn’t come home till the sun had set and the moon rose.
Still for all the consistencies the family dynamic shifted. Each day Louisa would prepare breakfast before Harry would return to work and Jack would go to school, and all three would eat together. It began in silence, with a simple ‘Morning’ and ‘Good-bye’ being shared before and after the meal. It would progress to small talk between Harry and Louisa, with Jack listening quietly, privately growing to enjoy these moments with every passing morning. When he finally joined in one Saturday morning between a mouthful of cereal Louisa had almost cried and Harry had promptly diverted the subject from the weather to asking his son to spend Sunday’s fishing.
Fishing on Sunday quickly became a regular excursion, and while they rarely caught anything it turned into an opportunity for father and son to talk. It started with Harry asking why Jack would be missing a shoe or how school was going, and ended with them walking home for supper deep in discussion about sports, girls or the possibility of spending weekends at new friend Noah’s farm.
By the time Jack’s twelfth birthday passed he had grown to accept this smog-coated town as home, and Harry and Louisa as his parents. In the two years since he last made his mother cry, Jack had proved this was what he had wanted, what he had needed. In the following two years he would spend every waking moment trying to convince his parents to let him ride horses, and more importantly compete them.