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By David Heulfryn
Chapter Twenty One
Martin woke early from his night's sleep, showered and dressed in a pair of light chinos and borrowed a shirt from James' wardrobe. He was eager to start the day and the plans he and Phil had made yesterday. He didn't have much to organise, Tony was due to be playing with a friend all day and so Martin didn't have any babysitting to do. The part he wasn't looking forward to was telling his mother and asking if Phil could stay over that night. It proved to be quite easy as she readily agreed and was looking forward to seeing his new friend.
Phil had arranged to borrow a car for the day and wanted to take Martin to Manchester and to The Lowry. It was only a fifty mile drive to the Salford Quays and he had wanted to see the Lowry exhibition for some time.
When he saw Phil pull up outside his house, Martin dashed outside. The front door slammed behind him and he just cocked his head backwards to ensure the catch had caught and he had not left the door swinging.
Martin plonked in the passenger seat, next to Phil, and glanced up and down the street. Happy that no-one was around; he leant forward and just placed a brief kiss on Phil's lips.
"You can stop that because I've got to drive." Phil teased.
"Well, I thought: just one before we got started. I've been missing it ever since I left yesterday."
Phil placed his hand on Martin thigh and gently squeezed. "I think I have unleashed a beast."
Martin exclaimed. "Hardly a beast, more like a small domesticated rodent. I don't think there is any sort of beast in me."
"Oh don't me too sure."
As the words rung in Martin's ears, Phil lunged over to him and tickled his flanks. Martin bucked and squirmed in his seat, his seatbelt restraining him.
"Stop it!" Martin slapped Phil's hands.
"Ooh. I see what you mean." Phil pulled away and sat back on his seat. "With a slap like that, I think a small domesticated rodent is exaggerating."
"Now stop it, and get a move on before the net curtains start twitching and all the neighbours start wondering what we're doing."
The car pulled away and made its way to the motorway. The journey should have only taken less than an hour, but it was still early and there was still some commuter traffic on the road. They hadn't been on the motorway for long before they were at a standstill. They both heaved deep sighs as they stopped, unable to see ahead as they were behind a lorry. The air in the car grew warm and stale.
Martin wound his window down completely and draped his left arm outside. Phil heard him mumble something about air conditioning and then joked that they weren't made of money, and besides, his father got the descent car with all the mod cons.
Phil smiled as Martin grumbled about the heat. The sun wasn't too strong that day but being cooped up in a car made the heat more stifling. Martin never felt very comfortable in the heat or sun and tended to avoid it whenever possible. His skin never seemed to tan as he kept himself covered up. Even in the height of summer his legs would be pale.
A slight breeze wafted into the car, the low music humming a tune. They both were quiet a moment as Martin gazed out of the window at the banks of the motorway. Hovering above the overgrown grass verge he watched a kestrel, its head pointing to the ground, its eyes focused on below. The bird suddenly darted a few metres ahead and then continued to hover. Moments later it swooped down and disappeared among the long grass and trees. Martin felt his body jerk as Phil revved the engine and moved forward a few yards. His eyes stayed fixed on the spot where the kestrel had vanished and waited to see if it would emerge. His eye caught the bird as it flew out of the grass, a small mammal in the grip of its talons.
As the bird flew along the bank and out of sight, Martin felt sad for the small rodent.
The traffic jam lasted for nearly half an hour and was caused by two cars which had struck each other and careered into the central reservation. It looked quite nasty as they slowly drove passed; ambulances, police and firemen were on the scene.
Once the accident was behind them, the road quickly opened up and they could continue their journey, albeit a little more slowly as Phil drove carefully after witnessing the two wrecked cars.
As they reached the outskirts of Manchester, Phil reached behind him and thrust a map at Martin.
"Right, I have no idea where I'm going so you might need to direct me."
"What." Martin looked blankly at the map.
"Find out where we need to be and then just make sure I go in that general direction."
"Right." Martin fumbled. Well it'll be near the city centre, so just make your way there."
"Ok." Phil mumbled and glanced across at Martin and the map.
"You'll need to take a left, but not until we're in the city."
Phil was amused at the way Martin tried desperately to read the map, his finger tracing a route and his lips mumbling.
"Don't worry; I've just seen a brown sign."
It had gone eleven o'clock by the time they had parked up and walked the short distance to the quayside. Phil made straight for the gallery.
Martin had seen prints of Lowry's famous works and his matchstick men and matchstick cat and dogs but was surprised at the variety of works on display. He had always admired the industrial landscapes and the industrial emotions they invoked, but he was drawn to some of the seascapes and pictures of boats and yachts where he had captured the elemental forces.
As they went round the gallery, they muttered to each other, telling each other what they liked and why. Phil would occasionally drop his eyes to the guide book and reel of some facts about when or where a particular picture was painted. He also mentioned that Lowry's mother never approved of his pictures.
For three hours they talked, walked around the paintings, they seemed to be one of the few who took their time with each picture, others merely wondered around them glancing at the pictures, taking a brief snapshot in their mind before moving on to the next content that they could say where they had been and what they had seen.
It was coming up to mid afternoon when Martin mentioned how hungry he was. Phil was too but was engrossed with the exhibition. They quickly finished the tour and went to find something to eat.
The café bar at the quays was right near the waterfront. The sun had finally found its way through and was reflecting off the calm water. With the sun's glare, the even water looked like slowly rippling glass reflecting the surrounding buildings. The surface looked so solid it appeared that people could walk across.
Eating their expensive sandwiches, Phil mentioned that they could still spend another couple of hours here before they had to start their way back.
Martin wanted to go into the city to look around, do a bit of window shopping and look at how the city had been redeveloped since the bombing in 1996. He didn't understand what had happened or really why but he remembered the impact it had on his young mind at the time and how terrified he felt that something so devastating could happen so close to him.
There was so much they could do in the city but spending a couple of hours wandering round the shops was all they really had time for. Besides, they were getting tried and didn't really want to do anything particularly taxing.
Before heading back to the car, they found a nice street café, ordered a couple of coffees and rested. As they sipped their strong coffee, they watched the people walk by, the lone youth with his bag of newly released CDs, the group of friends talking boisterously to each other and the couples, the loving couples waltzing by, hand in hand, some occasionally stopping to peck each other on the lips. He wished he could do the same.
As if reading his mind, Phil looked at a couple walking by, holding hands. "We could do that if we go to Canal Street. And nobody would bat an eyelid."
Slipping his hand between them, Martin clutched Phil's hand and gave it a light squeeze. "Perhaps another day. We need to get back soon."
"Yeah, let's get back. The sooner we do the sooner I meet your family." Phil grimaced.
"They're not that bad. At least I don't think they are."
"I'm sure they're not. Now mine are a different kettle of fish. I don't care how long we go out, we could be eighty years old and you're never going to meet my lot."
"They'll eat you alive and throw out your bones to the stray dogs, they take no prisoners. But it might be worse than that."
"Yeah, they might actually like you. And that's what scares the hell out me."
"Well I've never met anyone who disliked me, yet."
"That's it, I'm done for. It looks like they might actually like a friend I've brought home. I'll never hear the end of it."
They smiled at each other and made their way through the tables to the street.
As soon as Phil was out of the city on the motorway back, Martin rested his eyes and began to doze off, the radio playing music softly in the background. Phil eased his foot off the accelerator to make the drive smoother. As he drove, he would occasionally steal glimpses of Martin as his head rested against the door, his face serene and his chest moving with slow breaths.
James and Tom started to walk along the beach. James was still feeling uneasy at how he felt when he though Tom had been lost at sea. Tom suggested that they swim together next time, get James fitter and in better shape. To emphasise the point, Tom slapped James on his fleshy belly.
"Hey, I'm in shape." He pushed Tom. "And I'm not fat."
"Not yet." Tom winked.
They stopped off at the fruit plantation the girls had found and ate some ripe fruit. The juices ran down their bodies and James watched as a trail of red syrup ran into Tom's naval.
Tom raised his eyebrows at James when he saw him looking. "You can lick that off later." He teased.
"Don't start. It's bad enough having you walk around in those trunks. I'm really struggling here to keep myself under control."
"No bloody way, I'd never hear the end of it if the others saw me following you around with a huge tent in my shorts."
"Yeah, but I'd be flattered and that's what counts. Besides, it surely wouldn't be a huge tent, just a little one. Hardly noticeable." Tom smirked.
"Carry on like that and you'll never get to know."
They picked themselves up from the dry soil and went to dunk their bodies in the ocean to clean themselves of the sticky juices that had dried on them.
Slowly they walked back down the beach to the encampment.
The quiet of the beach was shattered when Henry and his clan returned. They pounded along the beach, all shirtless singing loudly. They were obviously proud of something and when they reached the others they dangled several fish.
"Chuck `em `ere, Ree. I'll start preparing `em." Perry called out and went to the kitchen area.
It was too early for the girls to start cooking dinner so Perry had the place to himself. Sophie and Katie returned and noticed Perry working in the kitchen.
"Good one, Perry. Looks like I can have a break today. What you cooking for us?" Sophie asked.
Perry glared at her. "Fish, what does it look like? And it aint for you lot. Ree and us lot caught `em, so we're eating `em."
"You got to be kidding. That isn't how this works. We're supposed to work together."
"Well get over it darling."
Henry heard their voices getting louder and went over to see what was happening. He walked and stood beside Perry. "Now what the matter sweetcakes?"
"You patronising git. What the fuck do you think you're up to? You can't just feed yourself."
"Yes I can, my gang got it. Why should you bunch of wasters get to eat proper food if you're not going to get it."
The heated exchange between Henry and Sophie gradually drew a bigger crowd. As soon as they realised what was happening they turned on Henry telling him how unfair it was. Henry and his gang were now standing together. It was now becoming tiresome for him.
"Right!" Henry yelled and everyone went quiet. "If you catch fish you can eat fish, there is plenty of line and all you need to a rod. Why don't you just get off your fat arses and do something. No-one but us is eating this. We've eaten crap since we got here and it's only been us who've done anything about it. Now unless you want to get in my way then I suggest you all just piss off."
"I'll get in you're fucking way." Sophie stepped up.
There was an audible gasp from everyone and Katie tried to keep her back but was too slow. Sophie walked right up to Henry, their noses almost touching.
"Now if you want to kiss me just ask." Henry pursed his lips.
"Fuck off you wanker." Sophie pushed him backwards. The shock of her touch made him lose his balance and he fell against Perry and Craig who propped him up.
Henry steadied himself and lunged back at Sophie. James and Tom darted between them to keep them apart. James held on to Henry and pushed him away from Sophie. Tom held Sophie's shoulders and tried to keep her calm.
"Enough, it's not worth it." Tom said to Sophie.
"Get the fuck off me! That bitch needs to learn some manners." Henry struggled with James.
"Look we'll take care of her. You just calm down, we'll keep her out of your way." James reasoned and glanced back at Henry's gang behind him. They just stood and stared blankly. They were unsure what to do or even what was happening.
James glanced behind him and saw Katie and Tom lead Sophie away. Some others followed and the crowd broke up. Henry calmed himself down and James released him.
"You'd better keep her away from me." Henry said through clenched teeth.
"Let's just leave it."
"Oh, fuck." Henry looked down at a table which had fallen over. The half prepared fish were now strewn on the ground, covered in dirt, sand and grass. "That bitch has fucked these up now." Henry glared at James. "Just tell her that she'll never get the chance ever again." He stamped on the dead fish and ground their flesh into the soil.
James felt a shudder run down his spine. He had never seen anyone that intense or angry before. He left to find Tom and Sophie while Henry stormed off with his group.
James found Sophie in the forest. Sitting on the floor, she was sobbing on Tom's shoulder. Katie was nearby pacing up and down mumbling. She was angry at how Henry had reacted and was adamant that he get thrown off the island. No-one else was around and they felt completely alone, the others that followed her were soon batted off when she yelled at them to leave her alone.
Tom hugged Sophie as James stood and watched, her head was resting on his shoulder and he could feel the warmth of her breath against his neck and the coolness of a trickle of tears as they fell onto his bare skin. Looking up at James, Tom frowned. The situation could easily get out of hand and they were only a few days in.
Slowly, Sophie managed to compose herself and released Tom from her vice-like grip. He let her go and watched as she rubbed her eyes. They were red and swollen and she sniffed away her last few remaining tears.
Her tears were turned to anger as her mind raced through the argument with Henry, she wanted him punished for his selfishness and even thrown off the island. Where were the programme makers? She enquired and how could they let this happen. She was not about to stay if this was what the rest of the time would be like.
The others watched as Sophie went through a whole gamut of emotions before she settled back to her usual self.
When they got back to the beach, Henry was gone. Someone mentioned that he had stormed off with his mates, taking a handful of stuff with him.
With Henry gone, Sophie settled back into her routine and organised dinner for everyone. They initially were wary of her, cautious not to mention Henry or the incident in case it caused her to blow her top again, but they soon began to joke about it.
Everyone seemed relaxed and unconcerned when Henry and his mates didn't return that night. Only James felt a pang of curiosity about what he was up to and wondered if he was alright. Although he didn't particularly like Henry, he hoped he wasn't doing anything stupid.
Thank you for reading
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