“I’ve never been so happy to see a wall without a hole in it.”
Shaun glanced behind him as the car began to pull away, driving off out of the cul-de-sac slowly. His attention turned back to his house, scanning upwards. Where his bathroom had been caved in originally, it had been totally repaired. A pristine colour of red bricks stood out as an odd patch where the Eldritch had been thrown through the wall before, and Shaun gazed upon it and smiled.
“Except for this morning. That… wasn’t a wall though, technically.”
Shaun scratched his chin.
“Kinda not a wall. Doesn’t count.”
Shaun shrugged, and made his way to the door. He tapped down on the handle once and felt it was locked, and took out a key from his wallet to make his way inside. He was soon accosted by familiar barks as Button rushed over to his side and began to scale up his legs, resting her paws on his shoulder and assaulting his face with licks and nose rubs. All Shaun could do was laugh and ruffle up the fur on the sides of her body, trying to coax her down.
“Woah, hey, missed you too, Button.”
The dog settled down and clambered off Shaun, and he ruffled the top of her head. Moving to scratching behind her ear, her tail wagged furiously behind her, and he chuckled softly.
“Missed you. You know that though. Mum and dad must be at work today.”
Shaun kneels and pats her on the side a few times, before standing up and moving into the kitchen. It was wide, spacious with black floor tiles and tanned brown wood for all the fixtures, and a black marble top for the surfaces. He grabbed a mug from a slim cabinet to the left, as well as fishing out a teabag and a small pot where they held the sugar. He put them next to the kettle, with enough water left inside for a few cups, and pushed it on to let it boil. The teabag was thrown haphazardly into the mug, and he pulled open a draw so he could spoon a cup of sugar inside.
The kettle boiled by the time he took some milk out of the fridge, and he constructed his mug of tea with some haste. Still steaming and freshly boiling hot, Shaun brought the mug to his lips and tipped back, not finishing until the contents had been necked down in a single stroke.
Sighing with relief, he shoved the mug into the sink and gave Button another ruffle over her head, then pointed to her basket. She complied and sat down, tail still wagging happily.
“Going for a shower. Stay put for a bit.”
A quick dash upstairs, and Shaun stood in the door of his freshly built bathroom. The layout was the same; a mirror to the right, the bath and shower combo to the right. The floor had changed to grey tiles, with hints of brown in patches against the light. The walls were tiled in a sandy brown, and where the cabinet was old and worn before, this one was new and fresh with a large mirror on the front. The bath itself had stayed the same, but the shower was not only a shower head that could be removed, but one installed into the ceiling, twice as large.
Half an hour later, Shaun emerged from the shower, wrapped in a towel covering him from the chest downwards. Steam poured out from the open doorway, so much so that it looked like the work of a Farborn. His hair was damp, and some attempt had been made to dry it, though it was sticking out in awkward placed.
“That was the best shower I’ve ever had.”
After drying himself off properly and tending to his hair. He brushed his hair to the side with a hand, still the same dark blonde he was accustomed to, and dug through his wardrobe for some fresh clothes. His jacket lay on the bed, as well as the rest of his normal clothes that he wore when he was on duty. He pulled out a long sleeve plaid shirt and a white shirt, as well as a pair of black jeans. Donning them, he went downstairs whilst rolling up the sleeves up his arm, so that they were just above his elbow. He walked into the kitchen and whistled sharply, and Button eagerly rushed to his side. He fetched an extendible leash up to her collar and ruffled her hair again, making sure he had some plastic bags with him before he began to lead her out of the house.
“Let’s go for a walk. We’ll go see what’s up with Josh afterwards.”
Once they left the house, he locked the door and gave the lead a quick shake. Button tugged against Shaun, and with a hop he turned to join her, briskly walking down the pavement with a vigour infused speed in the pair of them.
The path he took here was familiar for several reasons. As he walked down the beaten dirt track, he was reminded of every previous time he’d been down here with her, as well as the time Josh and himself had been to see the Eldritch that Shaun was briefly acquainted with. In a way, that alien beast was a catalyst for several changes, of which some Shaun wasn’t entirely confident about. It wasn’t just the change of schedule and new places, new people and even a job that was new. He felt less bound by his own powers, more comfortable in his own skin when he felt what his body might actually be capable of. Even then, he wasn’t certain about anything.
There was still a taste lingering, a distrust for the NFU from what he’d been told and how he’d seen a few of their behind the scenes operations skim to the surface on occasion.
There was a lot to think about as he waited, glancing down to Button. Squatting on a patch of grass, relieving herself. Shaun had a bag wrapped in his hand ready. When she stood up fully on all fours, Shaun made sure she stepped aside before he bagged it up.
On their way to Josh’s house, he made sure it went into the red dog waste bin that was nailed to a wooden post on the pathway. Shaun took a second glance at it, and nudged it with his foot. It nudged slightly, and he could see that the hole it was stuck into had looked recently unearthed. He glanced down to Button questioningly.
“You think somebody knocked this over or something?”
Button panted and wagged her tail. Shaun shrugged, and lead her down the path, and they stopped further down the way as they came upon the construction site.
“You’d think this would be done by now.”
The construction site was still gated away, though that was all that seemed to be left. Either they were in no rush to finish off the work they had started, or they had abandoned it all together for the time being. There wasn’t a shred of construction tools, no sand bags or markings that any work had been done in the last week or two. As far as it stood, it looked freshly abandoned, left to become an unfinished part of the background.
Shaun paid mind to it, considering what the implications were, then tugged on Button’s lead gently to get her to follow him. They were only a few minutes away now, and Shaun had taken Button on a long enough walk that he could find out what was going on without being concerned with her.
Josh’s house was almost identical to the others on this row, when Shaun took a second to look at it. It was spacious for two people to live in, and the orange brickwork contrasted with the black tiles above and white trim elsewhere on the building. This house in particular had a large enough garden to sport a small pond for a few Koi and Goldfish. In the summer, there would be a large quantity of frogs as well. Sadly, in such seasons of winter, it was all but bare except for the fish and the neighbourhood cat who wandered through.
Shaun always knocked four times, and he waited until Mary opened up. She brought the door open, and greeted Shaun with a warm smile. She had little resemblance to Josh. Where his hair was curly and dark, hers was straight and light brown, parted neatly in the middle. He was shorter than average, and she was taller, and she carried more weight than he did. She was wearing a sky blue blouse and dark jeans, and she stood aside to let Shaun in when she saw him.
“Hey, Mrs Watkins. Is Button allowed in?”
“Hey, Shaun. As long as she doesn’t sit on the sofa.”
“I’ll put the kettle on.”
She lead Shaun in. She went to the kitchen to fix up some tea, whilst Shaun got himself comfortable on the couch. Button was eyeing the spot next to him, and Shaun shook his finger at her, then pointed to his side. Almost in defeat, she sat next to him and wagged her tail, and he gave her some attention to the ears in the form of scratching them.
The rest of the living room was another black leather sofa, and both joined together into the right hand corner with a small table between them. In the opposite corner was a flat screen television on a glass stand, with a fireplace to the right of that. Above the fireplace was a family picture; a much younger Josh and Mary posing for a family picture together. On the mantle piece below were various ornaments, including a vase full of hyacinths. The floor was some kind of wood, and the walls were a neutral white. On the TV was a weather forecast.
Mary returned with two mugs of tea and gave Shaun his, and he politely accepted it with a smile and a ‘thanks’. She puts hers down on the table and sat on the opposite sofa to Shaun, and he shuffled closer to her so they could talk properly.
“So, how’s things with you, love?” She asked, inquisitively.
Shaun took a healthy gulp of his tea, then put his on a coaster next to her mug. “Things aren’t going too bad. How about you? You managing okay?”
“I’m making do.” She said, her smile flickering. “Working at the café is giving me hours, but things are tight. Having to cut a lot of corners to make do. It ain’t easy, but the alternative ain’t better for neither of us.”
Shaun shook his head. “No, yeah, I agree. You’re doing good. Wish I could help you.”
“Aye, I appreciate it love, but don’t worry. We’ll get by.” She said, putting on a braver smile.
“If there’s anything I can do to help-” Shaun says, leaning towards her. “-you just have to ask. You know that.”
“I know, Shaun.” She reached over and patted him on the hand. “Your dad said the same, but there’s nowt I can ask for that’s too much to ask of anybody.”
“Sounds like dad alright.” Shaun grabbed his tea, and took another swig.
“How’s that work you’re doing?” She asks, taking her tea and blowing on it before having a small sip.
“Work’s alright. Getting to know how things work, going out and doing a bit of the stuff on the streets. Did mum tell you about that?” He put the mug down on the coaster.
“She did, aye. Josh said something about it as well, though it weren’t polite. Something like ‘he’s at that effing police place again’.”
Shaun stared for a second and nodded.
“When did that start happening?”
“Reckon it was about a few weeks ago. Probably about the same time that you started working.”
Shaun nods again. “Sounds like he’s been acting a bit crappy since I’ve been working. Anything else off about him?”
She glances upwards to the ceiling, then turns her attention back to Shaun. “He’s just been acting funny. Normally he comes in, says hi, tells me school is fine and goes upstairs. Playing on hix x-box or looking at… well, whatever teenagers look at on t’internet. He’s not even talking to me now when he comes in, and if I do he’s got a right mood on him. Half the time he’s got a face like a smacked arse, the other time he looks like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle. I didn’t raise him like this, the ungrateful sod.”
Shaun ruffles Button’s fur on her head, and she began wagging her tail again. “Yeah, normally he’s a bit of a bell end, but not this much.”
“If you could just talk to him and see what’s up with him, that’d just be something. I have the feeling it might be because you’re not spending as much time together.”
Shaun raised an eyebrow. “You think he’s being this way because of me?”
“Mother’s intuition.” She said with a smirk. “But it’s the only thing that I can think of. Well, there’s the other thing.”
“The other thing?” Shaun asked, grabbing his mug and taking another sip.
“Shaun, I need you to promise me something. I know you work for the police and all now but you have to promise you won’t say a thing.”
Concern flushed over Mary’s face, as she leaned forward. Shaun tried to sound as professional as possible, though even he felt like it was a bit more of an act than he could manage.
“The NFU only deal with matters regarding the Farside. Eldritch and Fargraced and all… those sorts of things.” He couldn’t hold up the tone much longer. “So unless he’s messing about with anything like that, it’s not my place anyway.” Shaun brought the mug to his mouth.
“Oh, well that’s reet then.” She says, sighing in relief. “Shaun, I think Josh has been doing weed.”
Shaun kept the mug at his mouth for a second, as he began to remember. “What makes you think that?”
“’cos he stinks of weed. He thinks a can of Lynx is gonna cover it up, and I know that smell anywhere.”
Shaun paused for a second, opening his eyes a little. “Oh. His dad.”
Mary nodded. “Aye.”
Shaun looked at his mug for a second, then lowered it for a second. “Alright, tell you what. I’ll go up and have a chat with him and see if I can talk some sense into him, find out what’s the matter with him. Dunno if it’ll work but it’s worth a shot.”
“If you could Shaun, I’d appreciate it.” Mary smiled.
Shaun brought the mug back up and necked the last of his tea, putting it on the table. Fresh steam wafted away from the hollow contents, and Shaun wiped his mouth whilst standing. “Sure.”
He patted Button on the head, and pointed to the floor. “Stay.” He told her, and turned to walk up the stairs. Mary looked at his mug for a second, then shook her head slightly.
“I dunno how that boy can drink it that quickly. Mine’s still too hot.”
Shaun hopped up each step and stood on the first floor landing. The corridor was straight, with three doors. Two on the left, one on the right. The first door was the bathroom, and the one behind that was Mary’s bedroom. The last one belonged to Josh, quite clearly marked by the A4 poster on his door.
THIS ROOM IS OFF LIMITS
He walked over and put his ear close to the door, hearing the sound of gunfire and the muffled speaking of a high pitched voice in an American accent. He waited for a few more seconds before standing up and knocking on the door, four times as he normally would.
There wasn’t an answer, but it sounded like the action had paused for a moment. It resumed a moment later.
Shaun knocked again and waited. Again, he was met with no answer.
“Josh, it’s Shaun.”
Shaun finally got a response, one that just made him frown a bit. “Josh, I’m here to talk to you.”
“Fuck off, Shaun.”
“Yeah, your mum’s told me you’ve been acting like a dickbag, that’s why I’m here.”
“I told you to fuck off already.”
Shaun grunted, then turned his attention to the door. He grabbed the round handle and turned it, and tried to push it in. From the looks of things, it appeared to be locked.
“Hey, leave my fucking door alone, dickhead.”
“Josh, open the door so I can come in and talk to you.”
“I said fuck off already! Fuckin’ deaf prick.”
Shaun frowned, then rubbed the bridge of his nose for a second.
“Alright, Josh. Normally you act like a bit of a twat, and that’s why I like you, but you’re just acting like a total twat right now. I’ve had no sleep last night, so can we skip this whole bit of bullshit and you let me in so we can talk about it?”
“You don’t even need sleep, you bell end.”
“That’s not the point, you smarmy ass little shit.” Shaun said, rubbing down the side of his face. “Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to unlock this door and you’re going to let me in and we’re going to talk about whatever problems turned you into a fucking arsehole all of a sudden.”
“Right. Counting down from three, then I’m coming in.”
“Don’t you fucking dare, I’ll call the police.”
Shaun raised his voice “Josh, for the love of christ, you really wanna call the police when you’ve been smoking weed? You dense fuckin’ idiot? I can lift this door off it’s hinges, and if you keep acting like a prick to me I’ll walk through the fucking wall into your room, and you know you can’t stop me if I wanted to, if you’re gonna push me like that. So you’ve got ten seconds to get this lock off the door and let me in or I’ll make a hole and make my way in.”
The house dropped silent for the next few seconds. Shortly after, Shaun heard the lock on the door click, and he sighed quietly to himself. He gave Josh a second to move away from the door before he opened the door without any resistance.
Josh was in a black hoodie and jeans, sitting in front of his television. The main menu from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was on the screen, and Josh hadn’t even made eye contract with Shaun as he walked in, and sat on his normal chair. He looked at Josh, then the screen. Josh had his arms folded, and was looking away from Shaun. His posture rigid, eyes slowly blinking.
“Look, man.” Shaun started. “Being shitty with me is fine. If there’s some beef between us, I’m cool with duking that out, but don’t be a dick to your mum about it, okay? She’s not done anything, and she’s trying her best to keep things going.”
Josh didn’t answer.
“So what’s up?”
“Nothing.” He spoke out, quickly but quietly.
“Bullshit.” Shaun said, turning towards him. “You’ve been giving me ratty text messages since I’ve started working for the NFU, and your mum had to call me to ask me to talk to you.”
Josh didn’t immediately react, but the mention of a phone call made him glance slightly in Shaun’s direction. Shaun took it as a sign that what he said had made a little mark, if anything.
“Look, is this just about us two not hanging out much anymore?”
Josh elected to remain quiet.
“It is, isn’t it?”
“You don’t know what it’s like.” Josh said, as quietly as before.
“Well, it’s kinda hard for me to be sympathetic if you’re throwing this bitch fit, just because we don’t hang out as much. Seriously?” Shaun said, incredulously. “Is that it? Just that?”
Josh burst out from his chair, and his tone raised until the bottled up emotions made his voice crack.“You don’t know what it’s like! You’re my only friend at school and you’re the only person I hang out with outside of school. People are starting to give me shit because you’re not around, saying your fuckin’… boyfriend’s not around to talk to you and back you up, and I really can’t be fucked with taking it.”
“Are people really saying that?” Shaun asked.
Josh glowered. “They’re saying all sorts of things. Fucking cunts.”
“Look, I’ll talk to them-”
“No, you don’t get it, do you?” Josh interrupted. “It’d be proving them right. You always do stand up for me.”
“Well you don’t exactly stand up for yourself.” Shaun raised an eyebrow. “Just trying to be a decent fucking friend, you know?”
Josh stood for a second, without speech. He slumped into his chair, his expression of anger turning more sorrowful. “And you’re not around and they give me shit for it. Nothing big, just little comments here and there, taking the piss out of me. Snide little things that can’t be proven, so I can’t do shit about it, and there’s more of them so nobody would believe them. And if I go for them, they can just put it down on me. And if I ask you or you do something about it, they’re right. And i’m just a coward who hides behind you.”
“Nobody should be going for anybody. You’d better not be planning anything.”
“No, man, no, fuck that noise. I’m not some high school American shooting waiting to happen. It’s just… it fucking pisses me off.”
“Gathered. But, look dude. I’ve got important things to do. I know we’ve not been hanging out much lately but I’ve been doing work. I’m doing a lot of important shit. I didn’t mean to be neglecting our bro time but I can’t just hang out with you as much as we did. Sort of the shit point of growing up, I guess.”
“I know, man. Fuck. I just… don’t talk to anybody else. I’ve got my gamer clan, but that’s here.”
“Try talking to other people then.” Shaun suggested, leaning back in his chair. “I don’t know. Find a new hobby? Talk to other people?”
“Everyone just thinks I’m turning into a stoner. There’s Greg, but he just wants me to buy more weed. He doesn’t give a fuck about anything else. I get to smoke with him outside of school, sometimes go to his when I buy some stuff, but he’s not my mate, you know?”
“That’s stoners for you.” Shaun shrugged.
“Dude, I don’t wanna turn into that.” Josh leaned forward, pushing his glasses up his nose. “I don’t wanna be some scummy stoner fuckbag who just smokes weed and doesn’t shut the fuck up about smoking weed, but if you’re not around dude, I don’t have other choices.”
“Fuck, I don’t know, man. Don’t make me feel guilty about it. I just met people at work, that’s all. I don’t know what to do.”
Josh and Shaun sat in silence for a moment. Shaun broke it.
“Your mum knows about the weed by the way.”
Josh turned his head slowly. “Shit.”
“She doesn’t seem to be angry about it.” Shaun added. “She’s worried. You can understand why.”
“Fuck.” He leaned back into his chair, holding his hands to his face. “Shit, fuck, shitfuck.”
“Man, I’m cool with it. I don’t care, I told you about this, but, you need to talk to your mum about it.”
“She thinks I’m gonna turn out to be like him.” Josh said, throwing his hands onto his knees. “That’s the last thing I want.”
“Dude, no.” Shaun said, sitting upright and turning directly to Josh. “I never met the guy, but he sounds like a total arsehole. You’re like, only half an arsehole at the best of times. You’re not like him.”
“Thanks, fuckwit.” Josh said, deadpan. “I haven’t given her much reason to think otherwise. Smoking weed, being pissy with her.”
“Don’t let it go any further, then. I’m not telling you to stop, I’m telling you to talk to her. She’s worried, and you’re her son, dude. Fuck, I know I fall out with my dad once in a while, but that’s just families when you live with people who have different opinions.”
Josh nodded slowly, staring at the screen.
“If people give you shit, let me know. Even if they give you shit, I’ll put them in a dumpster. That’s where trash normally goes.”
“Jesus.” Josh turned to Shaun. “That was bad.”
“Fuck off.” Shaun said in jest. “I’ll still throw them in a dumpster. I don’t give a fuck. You’re my best mate, they can all fuck off if they’re gonna be bell ends like this. They give you shit, they give me shit, and people don’t give me that shit without thinking twice.”
“I dunno if that’ll help.”
“It’ll make you feel better.”
“I dunno about that either.”
“So we cool?”
“I guess.” Josh said, though his tone made it hard to tell if he was serious or joking.
“No more hissy fits, you fucking drama queen. Next time, I’m ripping the door off.” Shaun pointed to him. Josh raised his hands up in defence.
“Okay, okay! Fine, fuckin’ hell.”
“Tell you what. Sometime, we’ll go to the pub together, and we’ll see about making new friends, and then maybe you’ll have more people to chat to. Or look into getting a hobby. I just can’t be around as much as before, dude, and it fucking sucks, but I’ve got shit to do. Important NFU shit.”
“Yeah.” Josh says. “That might work. I dunno. You’d better promise.”
“Right.” Shaun said, standing. “As much as I’d like to kick back and play Cod with you, I wanna go home and do jack shit for a good few hours on my day off.”
Josh shrugged. “A’ight. Thanks for coming over, dickhead.”
“Anytime, fuckface. Just do one last thing for me before I go.”
“Come down and talk to your mum.”
Josh sat in silence for a second, then nodded to himself. “Probably a good idea.”
Shaun nodded, and Josh got up out of his chair. He tugged down on his hood, revealing his mane of curly hair. They both descended down the stairs, and Josh trudged his way into the living room. Mary’s face lit up for a second as Josh took a seat opposite her, and squeaked out a “Hey, mum.” She reached over and pulled him into a quick, tight embrace. Shaun stood and watched, smiling.
“I’m gonna head off. You two take care. Thanks for the tea, Mrs Watkins.”
“Anytime, Shaun. Good luck.”
“See you later.” Josh said as well, giving him a nod.
Shaun mocked a salute to Josh, and grabbed Button’s lead. He made sure it was fastened on to her collar before giving it a tug, and she obediently moved to Shaun’s side. He made sure that Josh and Mary were okay, and they’d started to talk before Shaun gave them a slight wave, pulled the door open, and absconded.
On the way home, Shaun mused about a few things. The journey was quick, as he took the direct route back to his house. He thought on what had happened, and the previous patrols he’d had to do with the NFU. Most of all, he was looking to the future, wondering what the next few days would have in stall for him. Even as he opened his front door and let Button in, something nagged at him in the back of his head. For now, he’d just dismiss it, and went upstairs whilst taking off his hoodie. Button went to her basket to lay down for the time being, and Shaun went upstairs to sort out the clothes he’d strewn on the bed previously.
He grabbed his jacket in his hands and looked at it for a second before shaking his head, then finding a coat hanger to hook it up on. Once he hung it on the handle to his wardrobe, he brushed his hair out of his face and went back downstairs. Button followed him to the living room, and lied down on the sofa next to him as he turned on the television. The news came on, and though he normally would turn it off, he decided to give it a quick watch, whilst stroking down the fur on Button’s back.
“Things are starting to feel a little more normal again.” Shaun said to Button, who just raised her head and put it on his lap whilst looking up at him. He scratched behind her ears when she didn’t respond, then changed the channels to see what films were on.