Breaking Pattern – by Jay Kehoe-Hanlon, age 16

Pobalscoil Neasáin, Baldoyle, Co Dublin

 

This is one of the stories from the anthology ‘25 Stories High’ written by transition year students from Pobalscoil Neasáin, to be published on May 17th, 2016

‘Shit,” I cursed as the branches scratched against my right cheek. I shifted my weight and broke a few twigs, pushing the remaining foliage from my face. I checked my watch for the time, 7.47pm. She was late. She’s never late. For the whole five months I’ve known her she has never been late home. She always get home between 7pm and 7.13pm on a Friday. Always. I felt frustrated, she’s missing our time. How could she do that? I bent down, balancing on the balls of my feet, placing my elbows on my knees and my face in my hands. I sighed and tried to keep it together.

I heard the sound of a familiar engine pull into the driveway, the gravel crackling under the weight of the jeeps tires. I made a note of the time in my journal, 7:51pm. I stood up and saw her in the driver’s seat, her head resting on the steering wheel. She stayed there for a few minutes before taking a visible deep breath, she too was trying to keep it calm. She opened the door of her jeep and stumbled out of it and dropped her handbag.

She appeared panicked and nervous. This concerned me. She struggled to get her key in the door, her long brown hair covered her face, I wanted to run my hands through it, to feel the softness. I shook my head clear of thoughts. I needed to concentrate. It was already getting dark, I noticed the light go on in the kitchen. It was at the front of the house and it had pretty big windows. I could see her cooking. I was confused, on Fridays she always got takeout from the chipper up the way. I wrote down these changes just in case they become routine.

Suddenly, I heard another set of tires come up the driveway. The car approaching had a quiet engine, I’m guessing it was new and expensive. It came into my line of sight, it was a sleek black Camaro. A young man got out of the driver’s side; he was undeniably attractive and well built, he was the image of an ex-boyfriend of mine – tall, dark and handsome. Anger bubbled within me, no man should be anywhere near this house apart from me.

She was mine.

No one will keep her from me.

I took deep breaths to clear my head. Inhale for five seconds and exhale for seven. I did four sets of these. I have got to keep my head straight. Her behaviour was different today, she never had people over. She doesn’t have friends, she’s a loner. Who was this man? She greeted him at the door, he kissed both her cheeks. Each sent a shock of pain through me.

I watched from the garden as they ate dinner, laughing and talking. At one point he reached over and placed his hand on hers and gave her a smile anyone would melt over. Jealousy ran through my veins. This was supposed to be our time but this bastard is ruining it, he is making her happy. Something I’ll never be able to do.

He left at 11:26pm. I watched as he reversed out onto the empty road. I was debating whether or not to follow him and put an end to him but that would break my pattern, he didn’t need someone to ensure he’s safe especially when I don’t want him to be. I’ll find out more on him at a later point. Judging by the smile he put on her face, he’ll most likely be back at some point.

The lights in the house turned off slowly one by one. I waited until I was certain that she was asleep before I retreated to my car parked around the corner. I made sure to check the time before I left, for my notes. It was 1am, later than usual. I was still angry about the change in routine but I’ll have to get used to it, I guess.

To my dismay every Friday was the same from then onwards. I still refused to leave, despite the rage that I felt. He’d come over, they’d have dinner in the kitchen, always prepared and cooked by her. They’d laugh and have long conversations . . . She no longer needed me.

One Tuesday she didn’t come home. I waited for her until 11pm. Why wasn’t she home? There was so much anger and hurt. I threw the notebook in rage. How dare she? I collapsed to the ground, the tears ran down my cheeks. I cradled my head in my arms and I cried. She didn’t need me anymore. I thought back to when I first saw her, a fragile girl crying by the riverside. She cried herself to sleep there and if she hadn’t have had that letter on her, I wouldn’t have been able to carry her home. Now she has him to watch over her . . .

I woke up in a daze, I was shivering. It was absolutely freezing. When my eyes focused, bushes faced me. Bushes?

“Oh fuck . . .” I whispered to myself as realisation dawned on me. I fell asleep here, in her garden. I checked my watch, it was only 6:30 in the morning. I had thirty minutes before her sprinklers turned on and an hour before she left for work. I collected my things and ran, I can’t be seen.

As I was jogging down the street, a black Camaro captured my attention. It was parked across the road from her house. Her “boyfriend” was asleep in the front seat. I found this odd. Looks like I wasn’t the only one to fall asleep on the job last night. I sprinted to my car. The door made a creaking noise as I yanked it open. I got in and routed out my good pair of skinny jeans and a black and white check shirt, which I threw on over my black T-shirt. As I changed I was silently grateful for having a pretty big car, it may be a piece of shit but it was spacious.

When I was sure I looked like the average young adult, I made my way towards his car. I put a smile on my face and knocked on the window. The smile turned into a smirk when I saw him jump awake, eyes wide in fear. He rubbed his face and rolled down the window, plastering a smile on his face, identical to every smile I had to force.

“Sorry for waking you but that can’t be comfortable,” I said, gesturing to way he was sitting. He checked the time on his dash and sighed in relief.

“Yeah, it’s not. Thanks by the way, I wouldn’t have made it to work on time.” He put his key into the ignition and his car came to life.

I patted the roof of his car. “Well off you go, man, good day,” I said and then walked off, he rolled up his window and gave a two-finger salute and drove off. I made a note of his licence plate as he sped out of the estate.

I stared out the car window at her house in deep thought, I’m going to have to abandon her for awhile. I sighed. This was supposed to be an easy on . . . But that fucking prick just had to stroll into her life and mess up mine. I rested my head on the steering wheel for a few minutes, breathing deeply, trying to keep it together. I started the car and drove off down the back road that could not be seen from her house. I had a lot of work to do.

I pulled up in front of a shack of a house, my house. I usually only spent three hours a day here, just to sleep and change clothes but I knew I would be here for a week or two straight. I needed to know who this man was. I stepped out of my car and made sure to grab all my things and made my way up my so-called yard. My key got stuck in the door as usual, so I had to use the back door, all it took was a few shoves and it burst open to reveal my small and empty kitchen/sitting area.

I made a pot of coffee, grabbed an old mug from the sink and made my way to my office. I say office but it is just a tiny room with a broken stool in front of a chest of drawers without the actual drawers in it. I placed my laptop down, it was the most expensive thing I had (yes, even more expensive than my piece-of-shit car). I didn’t really need much to be honest, I spent most of my time in women’s gardens (I’m joking . . . kind of) or doing random jobs for an income.

My laptop took 10 minutes to start up. Within these 10 minutes I had burned my tongue on my coffee and managed to fall off my stool. Twice. The beep it made signalled that it was ready. I began my searching. I managed to track down the license plate to be registered to a James Bennett.

I opened up a new tab and went onto Facebook, everyone has one these days. I typed “James Bennett” into the search bar and got 46 results. I scrolled down through them until I found it. Hard to miss him to be honest. I coughed, clearing my throat to interrupt my own thoughts. I clicked onto his profile and smirked, I really love how personal people get on this website.

Eight days passed before I had a decent start on getting to know James. He has a dog, a Pitbull mix named Jesse. I checked my phone, it was Wednesday. Judging from his last few weeks of posts, he brings Jesse for walks almost every Wednesday to a park not too far from here. I rummaged through my wardrobe for my jogging gear, it’s been so long since I’ve worn them.

It took twenty minutes to jog to the park, it was pretty big and had a lot of trees. I took a sip from my water bottle and looked around, taking in my surroundings. How was I meant to find him here? This park was huge. I sat down on the closest bench, which was shaded by a couple trees. I put my head in my hands. What am I doing? This isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing. I didn’t realise anyone had sat down beside me until they spoke.

“Hey man, y’alright?” My breath caught in my throat at the sound of his voice. I slowly raised my head and looked at him, his eyes widened for split second. I smiled and gave a small laugh. He joined in.

“I’m just tired, how’s things?” I said casually.

“Ah, I’m grand. I’m James by the way.” He put out his hand, I took it and gave it a firm shake.

“Alec,” I said as I shook his hand.

He glanced around the park, obviously trying to think of something to say. He was fidgeting with the hem of his sweater. He cleared his throat. “Those clouds don’t look too good,” he said pointing at the sky. I followed the direction of his finger and saw big dark clouds in the distance. I got up from the bench and stretched.

“I think I ought to get going before that gets any closer,” I managed to say through my yawn. I reached out my hand and he took it. I let go and was about to walk away but he grabbed it and again. I turned around to face him.

“How about we go get a coffee and then I can give you a lift home?” I could only stare at him for a few seconds, I was at a loss for words but I managed to give a nod. He whistled loudly and I saw his dog running towards us, he was a gorgeous dog. I petted Jesse, rubbing behind his ears.

“This is Jesse, my pride and joy,” he said with a laugh.

We made our way towards his car. I cautiously got in the passenger side and I noticed the small backseats were transformed into a dog bed for Jesse. James hopped in throwing me a charming smile. “Do you mind if I drop Jesse home first?” Butterflies erupted in my stomach, I struggled to get words out.

“I . . . I don’t mind.”

James’ smirk grew bigger if that was possible and he turned on the stereo. The sound of guitars and drums filled the car, the sweet sound of Bon Jovi’s Living On A Prayer. I nodded my head to the beat. James started singing along, he was practically screaming the lyrics. I laughed at him and joined in.

In fifteen minutes we pulled up outside a decent-sized house, it looked pretty expensive. He got out of his car and I was unsure of what to do, I felt awkward, I wasn’t used to being in the company of others for so long. He tapped on the window and gestured for me to follow him inside. I slowly climbed out of the car and trailed after him into the house.

I walked through the door and was in awe at the beautifully decorated hallway. It held such a cosy feeling. I made a note of everything I saw to write down later – I couldn’t lose track of why I was here. He wasn’t my friend and never will be. He was a threat, the man taking her away from me. I thought to how he cheerfully gave me a quick tour of the downstairs. He was cute, I had to admit it.

A picture on the wall in the kitchen grasped my attention. It was a group photo. James was in the middle with his arm thrown over a certain brunette. Jealousy burned in the pit of my stomach. I was unsure of who my jealousy was directed at but it was there all the same. James saw me looking and pointed at her, “That’s Marie, we work together.”

Marie.

This whole time I had never figured out her first name, I sort of avoided it. I feel like that would taint everything, taint her image to me. She was no longer unknown, no longer a fresh canvas. “You two just work together?” I asked.

“Yeah, just good friends, she’s not interested.” I gave him an odd look, he didn’t seem even a tad upset about that fact. Anyone would be sore from having been rejected by such a beautiful woman as Marie.

He disappeared upstairs. I took the opportunity to snoop around. I glanced around the room, everything was pretty much out in the open. It was like he had nothing to hide but then my gaze halted on a small cupboard in the corner with a padlock on it. Everyone has their secrets. I was looking at the lock when his voice came out of nowhere, “I keep my guns in there.” He must have taken my silence for confusion because he added, “I go hunting with my brother every once in awhile.”

I nodded my head as if I was processing new information but truth be told, I already knew of his hunting trips. He cleared his throat and twirled his keys in his hand, “We ready?” I smiled and made my way to the front door, tripping on the mat on my way. I could feel my cheeks burning as I hurried to the car, hoping he didn’t see but the grin he tried so hard to conceal told me that he definitely saw it.

The journey to the coffee shop was short and silent. I was too caught up in my thoughts to make conversation and he must’ve just assumed that I didn’t want to talk. It was lashing when we pulled up outside the café.

We got out of the car and ran for the entrance, he got there just before me and held the door open. As I walked past him, I felt pressure on my waist, I almost jumped until I realised it was just him. He gave the waitress a charming smile, the young woman came over to us, greeting us at the door.

“Hi! Eh, you can just sit wherever . . . Do you know what you are having?” Her voice was high-pitched, the American accent she seemed to have, was indeed fake.

James guided me through the maze of tables and chairs to a booth in the corner, furthest away from the front entrance but closest to the emergency exit. I quickly noticed that he sat in a way that he had both doors in his line of vision. I also realised that we just completely ignored the woman and I cleared my throat to gain her attention.

“I’ll just have a cappuccino with two sugars and . . .” I trailed off, looking at James, waiting for him to continue.

“An Americano for me, please. And could you maybe get us some cheesecake?”

The woman nodded as she scribbled in her notebook and she said something. I didn’t hear as I was too focused on the bit of skin on her arm that her short-sleeved shirt just about failed to cover, it was bruised. I recognised the pattern. Images of this young woman being grabbed and shook by someone considerably stronger than herself flashed through my mind. She must’ve seen me looking because she tugged at the sleeve, trying to hide it. An emotion crossed her face for only a split second. Shame. My mind went into overdrive, she needed someone. She needed someone to protect her.

I was brought out of my daze when James placed his hand on mine. “Are you okay?” he sounded concerned. I shook my head clear of my inner ramblings.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. Just got lost in thought, I guess,” I chuckled to make it at least a little bit convincing.

James sat back against the cushions of the booth and stretched and then his whole demeanour changed, his face was cold, his body was tense. He grabbed my hand and kept it in place.

“Don’t panic, just smile and pretend everything is fine, okay?” I gulped and slowly nodded. God, I really got to learn to speak more. “Every time I squeeze your hand, you laugh, you got that?” I didn’t answer. “Are ya deaf or what? Fucking answer me when I ask you a question!” I looked him dead in the eye and smirked.

“Of course, princess.”

He glared at me but the look quickly disappeared as the waitress’s heels clicked against the hard floors. She placed the cups in front of us and a plate of two slices of strawberry cheesecake between us. “Thanks, love,” James said as he brought his cup up to his mouth. She smiled and then was on her way.

“So what’s up? What’s with the whole asshole routine?” I remarked while taking a big spoonful of the cheesecake. His mouth shaped itself into a thin line.

“I know who you are, I’m not thick. I could tell who you were from the moment I laid eyes on you.” He paused for a second and went to speak again but I beat him to it.

“Who am I then?”

His brown eyes pierced mine, he suddenly laughed. “I don’t know what exactly but you spend an awful lot of time in Marie’s garden. I saw you leave one night and from then on, I waited for you. The flowers from her bushes in your hair when we first met, were a dead give away too.”

I cursed myself for being so careless. I was caught. He knew everything and I realised I knew barely anything about the real James. “So you set out to find me today?” I inquired.

He thought about his answer before telling me, “Not exactly, I had a feeling you were on to me so I kept my eyes open,” he paused, his cheeks beginning to redden, “and then I saw you, looking all lost. You looked so cute, Jesus, I couldn’t help but go over. It was a terrible mistake but hopefully worth it.”

So I wasn’t the only one, “Wait, you knew this whole time?!” He laughed at me and I took that as a yes.

The rest of our time was spent talking, he dropped the half-arsed hard man act and we freely spoke to each other about so much. Soon darkness fell and the waitress informed us that it was time to leave. We jogged back to his car in the rain, shaking water from ourselves when we seated.

James turned to me, “Where to?” I shrugged my shoulders at the question but then I remembered that I should probably speak more.

“Home, I guess. You know that old music store on Attikens Street?”

“Ah, I know it but I’ll drop ya home, it’s no bother at all,” I got an uneasy feeling but I gave him the go ahead.

My voice shook and cracked as I gave him directions. Embarrassment ran through me as the car came to a stop outside my house. I sighed, “This is me.” I climbed out of the car but to my surprise, he got out after me.

“It’d only be right of me to walk you to your door, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do after a date?” He called to me over the noise of the wind. It was a rhetorical question, well I took it as one. My stomach did flips at the sound of him saying “date”.

He walked me through the shitty front gate, past the weeds and unkempt trees. All the way up to my off-white door. “Today was interesting.” He mused. I hummed in agreement.

“It was nice meeting you James, uh, sorry for stalking you, I guess?”

“It’s grand, I basically did the same. Quite the pair we are.” He laughed awkwardly.

“Yeah, we are . . .” I trailed off.

Everything went silent and it became even more awkward. James shifted his weight a few times before he uttered something under his breath that may have been “fuck it” and pulled me towards him in a swift yet gentle movement. He captured my lips with his. I froze for a second before melting into it. Before I knew it, he was turning away and it was over.