Updated: Oct 29
John steered Alex around another passer-by. The two miles between John’s home and Scott’s school were gruelling in the afternoon heat, but John pressed on, not wanting to be late.
Some buses would’ve made the journey easy, but a stationary Alex meant a grizzly one, and John got enough strange looks directed at him without his brother screaming for no reason.
He opted for the long walk that kept Alex entertained with the constant movement. Cars rushed down the road, the crossings beeped, people chatted and laughed, and bikes whizzed past them at top speed. It overwhelmed John at times, but Alex enjoyed it, whipping his head left to right to take in everything.
Alex stabbed his finger out in the direction of a pigeon. John didn’t know why he enjoyed watching the birds, but if he stopped by the side of the river, Alex would stare at the ducks for hours without grizzling or biting into Frank the Firefly’s head.
Pigeons were a close second, but John understood what Alex was trying to tell him.
“No time for ducks today.” John panted down at him.
He frowned at Alex’s pink finger, hoping the tinge came from sucking on it, rather than sunburn. John had slathered sunscreen all over Alex, so much so he could smell it as he rushed the pushchair down the street.
Alex hadn’t minded the sun cream, but the hat had been a huge problem.
John found a solution.
He cut out a picture of a duck from a magazine and stuck it to the hat. Alex had kept it on his head ever since.
“It’s an important day,” John told his brother. “Scott has got his maths exam.”
He'd taken a cue from Scott and began talking to Alex. Nonsensical chatter, the same way Scott spoke to both Alex and Albie. John found Alex looked at him more, and his stubborn refusal of everything John said had started to dwindle.
Alex tilted his head back and gazed through the plastic visor at John. “Ot…”
Which John translated to Scott.
He classed it as Alex’s first word, but Scott was unconvinced. Albie had said his first one the week before. MaMa. It had an obvious recipient, and despite not being in the dictionary, people classed it as a word.
Mama meant mum.
Ot meant Scott.
John rolled his eyes at the double standards.
“July 15th.” John wheezed.
He’d kept the date in his mind, opposite to Scott that seemed to convince himself it would never happen. John had confidence in him. His maths had improved despite the occasional lapse of concentration and the many times he'd hit his head against the desk.
John had set off from home at two o’clock, aiming to be at the school by three fifteen. That very moment he hurried up the pavement with Alex, Scott was sitting in the exam hall, flicking through his maths paper. John could picture him deep in concentration, eyebrows bent together, no doubt chewing on the end of his pencil. John hoped Scott broke the equations and questions down to manageable systems like he'd shown him.
Success depended on it.
“He’s gonna pass. I know he is.”
He stopped and offered Alex his cup. Not of milk, but water he had in a cooler bag. Alex took the Sippy cup and guzzled it down. John waited for the moment Alex grew bored of drinking and began letting each mouthful of water run out onto his bib.
“You’re supposed to drink it.” He shook his head, shoving Alex’s cup back into the bag. It only had space for one cup. John straightened, undid his bottle of warm water and tried to force it down. His brain screamed at him to stop drinking as if the contents had been laced with poison. He wondered why humans hated drinking warm water but loved tea.
Alex stomped his foot in protest.
“Okay, okay.” John continued with a little less steam. He could see the school on the horizon and kept pushing Alex closer while sweat ran down his back.
"Not far now and we get to see Scott."
"Exactly. Make sure you say that to him when we see him."
John’s gaze lingered on the alleyway where he’d first met Scott. He’d been targeted after he’d been in the shop with Alex and revealed the roll of notes from his bag. He should’ve been more careful, but he’d been unaware of the boys following him and didn't think they'd attack him in broad daylight. His cuts and bruises had all faded, but he still remembered the helplessness. Every time he'd tried to stand, they'd kicked him until he'd stopped trying and he accepted their punishment.
“Four months ago, now,” John whispered to himself, strolling by.
For four months he and Scott had been friends, and they saw each other most days. If it wasn't maths practise, they were watching TV or playing football. Scott had told him he was getting better, and the glee on his face filled John up with pride at odd moments. At least he thought it was pride. It wasn’t an emotion he'd felt before. It put a flush in his cheeks and left his head feeling hot, but the strangest thing happened to his insides. It felt like everything lifted, floated from the bottom of his stomach up into his chest.
John arrived outside in time to hear the bell ring. Students piled out. Some stood in groups for their buses, and others began their walk or ride home on their pushbikes. A few were picked up in cars.
Scott had told him to wait out the front and they’d go to the café to commiserate him failing. John had ignored the blatant desire for sympathy and texted back a yes. They would celebrate Scott’s victory over his maths paper with milkshakes.
John allowed himself a small smile, but it didn’t last long. A pair of narrowed eyes removed it from his face. Darren strolled closer, grimacing at Alex in the pushchair.
“You do know he’s got dribble all over him?”
John moved around the pushchair to get a good look at Alex. Darren pointed at the sodden bib.
“It’s not dribble, it’s water. He kept spitting it out.”
“Maybe he didn’t want any then.”
John kneeled and grabbed Alex’s bag. He swapped Alex’s wet bib for a fresh one and offered him another sip of water.
“What are you even doing here?” Darren asked.
“Waiting to see how Scott’s math test went.”
“Ah, you're his cheerleader. Where are your pompoms and skirt?”
“Friend.” John corrected. “We’re friends.”
“Until he trades you in.”
“Trades me in?”
Darren adjusted the shoulder strap of his bag. “Like he did with me. He traded me in for you. It’s only a matter of time.”
“He didn’t trade you in. He still wants to be your friend.”
Darren looked away. He shifted his jaw from side to side as he watched the cars.
“But he wants to be my friend too.” John looked up at Darren from his crouched position. “It doesn’t mean we have to be friends.”
“We’ll never be friends, John.”
“You don’t want that, I don’t want that, but we both want to stay friends with Scott. Don’t make him choose. Maybe if you're just…"
"A little nicer to me."
"I don’t want to be nice to you."
John shrugged. "You could pretend in front of him, that way you won’t lose him to me."
"Lose him to you." Darren laughed. "Full of yourself, aren’t you."
"I'm stating a fact."
"What time are you meeting him?”
“He said after school.”
Darren looked around him. “Doesn’t look like he’s here.”
That's funny because…" Darren clacked his tongue to the roof of his mouth. “I saw him heading up to the pavilion.”
“What?” John slid his phone from his pocket. “He said outside school. 3:15.”
“That’s where I saw him heading.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Go see for yourself.” Darren slid off the wall and hurried to an awaiting car. He threw his rucksack into the back, then climbed into the front, looking pointedly at the pavilion in the distance. His smirk stirred up something unpleasant in John's stomach and his sarcastic wave doubled it.
John turned his back on Darren and stayed where he was, gently moving the pushchair back and forth to keep Alex happy.
Ten minutes passed, and Scott hadn’t turned up or texted John to let him know where he was. Alex had learned that although he was moving, his surroundings weren’t changing, and he began squirming in his chair and beating up Frank the firefly.
“Okay.” John said, “There’s no harm in walking over there.”
The lack of shade on the playing field cooked John alive. Sweat stuck his T-shirt to his back, and his jeans were clammy on his legs. He panted, mopping sweat off his brow and onto the bottom of his T-shirt.
“Nearly there.” John heaved, forcing the wheels over the cracks in the field. Heat rippled on the horizon and
three hundred meters felt more like crossing the desert.
John positioned Alex in the shade and trod down the parking brake. “I’ll be right back.”
He didn’t give Alex the time to start screaming, John pushed into the pavilion, and glanced at the two doors. One led to the men’s changing rooms and the other door went to the women’s. Noises were coming from one of them, but it wasn’t obvious which at first.
John rocked forward on his toes, about to call Scott’s name, but someone else got their first. A feminine voice gasped it, and John’s eyes fixed on the women’s changing room door.
He stared at it, growing colder. He heard Scott's gruff voice, strangled in a way he'd never heard before. It lifted the hairs on John’s neck, and he rubbed them down as he approached.
John pressed his hand to the door and inched it open with his heart in his throat. Scott stood in the centre of the room, school trousers around his ankles, and Janice kneeled in front of him, bobbing her head back and forth. Scott stroked his hand over her hair, slotting his fingers through her flinging strands.
Scott cursed and groaned and moaned Janice’s name to the ceiling.
There was no mistaking what was going on. John backed away, letting the door close slowly so it didn’t slam and alert Scott of his presence.
He rushed out of the pavilion and without a word to Alex began pushing him home.
The sounds refused to leave his head.
Wet slurps, and squelches.
Scott’s breathless curses, and his moan of Janice’s name.
John’s stomach rolled, and when he stopped for a sip of his warm water, he ended up spluttering and losing half the contents of his stomach in a bin. He wiped his mouth on his arm, and kept on going, pushing Alex under the relentless heat. A wave of dizziness dropped John to his knees. He shuffled in front of Alex, pretending to check on him, and waited until the world stopped spinning. Alex only allowed him a five-minute rest before poking at his face, and throwing his weight back and forth, demanding John go on.
Thirty minutes after they were supposed to meet, Scott called him.
John stared numbly at his name and got back to his feet. He turned off the path and headed down the street that led to the river. Alex recognised the route and began bobbing up and down in the pushchair, guiding the way with his finger.
Scott called again. John continued to ignore it and found his favoured bench beneath an oak tree. He slumped down, finally out of the sun. The shade helped with the dizziness, and the ducks kept Alex entertained. John rested his foot on the bench and leaned his forehead against his knee. His breaths came slow, and his heart ceased pounding. His gaze travelled skyward, marvelling at the huge oak tree that shadowed him from the sun.
He answered on Scott’s third attempt.
“Hey,” Scott said, full of enthusiasm like always. “Where are you?”
“You weren’t there.”
John closed his eyes. His heart picked up the pace as he waited for Scott's reply.
“I’m sorry. Mr Andrews…he gave me a detention.”
The lie cut deep. John remembered Darren's warning about Scott replacing him. “For what?”
“Disrupting the class—"
“What did you do?”
“Told a stupid joke—"
“Jesus John, what is this, twenty questions.” Scott forced a laugh. John knew it was forced because he’d learned the different ways Scott laughed, including the fake one he used when he didn’t understand something but thought laughter was the correct response.
“Where are you?” Scott asked.
“On the way home.”
“Okay, well, I can catch you up. I’ve not been to your place yet—”
“How did the maths test go?”
That's why he'd been rushing across town. Not to walk in on Scott being pleasured by Janice. Not to grow nauseous and confused with a mixture of anger, and jealousy. It was the sound more than the sight. They’d unlocked a load of emotions John wasn’t equipped for.
“I think it went okay.” Scott snorted. “I don’t want to jinx it.”
“You passed. I know you did.”
“Only thanks to you."
John didn’t reply. He fell silent and listened as the duck’s made ripples on the water, and the leaves quivered in the breeze. The shade above took the heat from his skin, and he closed his eyes, breathing as he tried to replace the sounds he’d heard with the ones all around.
"What are you doing?" Scott asked.
John hummed. "Thinking."
His thoughts never came to him linearly. There was no order to them. They attacked and he held on best he could, sorting through them, slotting them into folders inside his head. It was a chaotic mess. The biggest folder was dedicated to Scott and the confused feelings around him. The day’s events had left it overflowing.
Scott had been with Janice, intimately. That reveal had thrown together lots of emotion, from anger to fear, to white-hot jealousy he didn’t understand, but he could accept it.
Scott found Janice attractive, and Janice found Scott attractive. John already knew that, but to see them together, to hear them. John clawed his nails into his jeans. The furnace in his stomach spat up acid, and he shifted on the bench, fending off another wave of jealousy. He didn’t want her touching Scott. He didn’t want her making those wet sounds with his body. He didn’t want her to change the pitch of Scott’s voice.
He heard Scott’s gruff voice again and again and despised her name with each time it passed through his head.
John didn’t want her to do any of that to Scott.
“You there?” Scott asked.
John took a shuddery breath. “I’m here.”
The second thought competing for John’s attention came from Darren’s warning.
Scott would trade him in.
It cut so deep into John’s chest that he feared it might stop his heart. Scott hadn’t shown up outside the school, not because he was unable, but because he’d been given a better offer than John.
Scott had been swayed into ditching him by Janice’s wet mouth.
John shuddered and knocked his head into his knee. Scott moaned her name. Her name. He gritted his teeth.
The concern in Scott’s tone almost stitched together the cut in John’s chest, but then the final, most damning thought surged to the front of his mind.
It took centre stage and demanded John take notice.
Scott had lied to him.
He could’ve told him the truth, said he’d wanted some alone time with Janice, but instead, he’d lied, and it had rolled off his tongue so effortlessly. Detention. Mr Andrews. He’d thought through the lie, made sure there were enough details to make it convincing, and if John hadn’t had walked in on them, he would’ve believed it.
He'd believed lies before.
"Come on." Scott sighed, but it sounded amused, not frustrated. "You got to give me a clue. What are you
John pulled the phone away from his ear.
You should never look at the sun.
John had read that in a book.
Staring at it could cause irreversible damage.
John's eyes burned.
He pressed his lips together to trap the whimper of Scott’s name.
He knew what he had to do. He had to turn his back on the sun before it was too late, no matter how cold he'd grow without it, no matter how much he longed to see it shine.
It lied. It deceived. John was better off without it.
He waited until Scott said his name one last time before ending the call.
Before Scott had a chance to call again, John blocked his number, blotting out the sun.
Chapter nine: https://www.louisecollinswrites.com/post/the-sun-to-your-moon-9