A/N: Sorry, I know this is more than the day I promised it would take me to update. I got really sick, and haven't really been able to do anything much. Anyway, enjoy this chapter and I promise it won't take me this long to update ever again. The next chapter is already half written. Also, I'm going to be updating my other story Mirrabooka in the next couple of days, so if you've never read that, I'd be much obliged if you'd check it out. I'm quite fond of it, so I'm going to see what I can do with it. I'd love to hear what you guys think. One last thing, the link to that site for the awards. Vote! Please! Encourage me.
God this is frustrating. I can't get the link to appear at all. The awards are called the Some kind of Wonderful Romance awards. Go to Freewebs dot com forward slash skow. I think I'm coming fourth in both categories, which is an achievement in itself. Woot!
"I feel safe
I feel warm
When you're here
Then I do no wrong
I am cured when I'm by your side
I'm all right
I'm all right."
- Coldplay, Careful Where you Stand
I woke up at 6:30 the next morning. My eyes felt like they'd been welded shut and my head was pounding. It was also really fucking cold. I groaned and sat up slowly. The house was still dark, and everything was quiet. Outside it was raining lightly, and I could hear the gum tree in the backyard hitting the roof in the wind. I love weather like that. I love when it's dark and cold and quiet. It's cleansing.
I suddenly wanted to get out of the house, to walk around in the cold. Moving as quickly as I could, I got off the couch and headed down the hallway into my room. Hailey was still asleep. I stopped in the doorway and watched her. She was curled around my pillow, slender body scrunched up under the blankets. Her dark hair spilled around her face and over the white pillows. I felt like crying. I noticed that the only time she wasn't frowning with worry was when she slept.
Moving quietly to the dresser, I pulled on a pair of jeans and the warmest pullover I could find. I pulled my jacket over the top and shoved my beanie into the pocket. I grabbed my ipod and my keys and left.
Outside the streets were completely deserted. The sun was only just starting to come up. It was freezing and the wind had turned my face completely numb, but I loved it. I love the feeling. There was nothing more cleansing. Just breathing in the frigid air cleared my head. I walked all the way down to the river, and followed the bush track up the hill under I reached the edge. I sat down on a log, under the scared old weeping willow, looking out over the water. When I was still in school my friends and I would come here to get stoned. My initials and various words – most of them rude - were carved on every second inch of space. I don't know why I always feel such a need to be so destructive. Why I can't let something peaceful just be. Maybe I'm like Edward Norton in Fightclub when he ruins Jared Leto's face. I just want to destroy something beautiful.
I pulled my ipod from my pocket and switched it to Coldplay. Nothing clears me like Chris Martin's voice. My mates think I'm a total poof, but I think he's a genius. I relate to their music so strongly – his lyrics. It's soothing.
"I feel safe when I am with you
and I feel warm when you want me too
I am cured when you are around
I'm all right."
I don't know how long I sat on that fucking log for. The sky didn't get much brighter, because of the rain, and everything stayed quiet. I guess no one else felt like braving the weather like me. I loved the rain. I played the same song on repeat.
"Careful where you stand, my love
careful where you lay your head
we're always looking out for one another"
Last night had really shaken me up. It had been fucked. Completely fucked. Who behaves like that? Fair enough, that guy had started it. But seriously. Hailey and I needed to grow up. We shouldn't have been out in the first place. I'm sure we could have found a million other things to do – for one, maybe we should have been decided what city we were going to live in for the next six months. I hadn't even told her about the conditions of the Sony offer yet. Like everything else, I tried to pretend it just wasn't happening.
So I sat on the mossy, partly rotten log with my initials etched all over it and I tried to figure out what I was going to do. For once, I confronted my swirling thought and tried to focus on what needed to be done. What I could do to make things better for Hailey. What I could do to stop being such a pissweak wanker. I knew I'd been over it a million times before. It was always the same. I was gunna. I was gunna do this, I was gunna do that. I was gunna stop drinking juice straight from the carton. I was gunna pick my wet towels up off the floor. I was gunna stop pissing my life away. I was gunna take responsibility and be a man for once.
Hailey was going to have a baby, and I wanted to be there for her. I wanted a stable home. I wanted to be her rock. Instead of a fuckwit. I wanted a stable job and a stable life and something to call home. I wanted to grow up. I didn't want to be like all the other teenage parents I saw wandering the streets, smoking joints and scrabbling for money and giving the kid the worst possible start in life. I wanted to give my kid the kind of upbringing I'd had. Plenty of love and attention. Most of all I wanted my kid to feel safe. To be able to rely on me. I wanted my family to know that I could support them. It's hard enough for a 19 year old to support himself, let alone two other people.
But that was my bed. I'd made it, so now I would lie in it.
I had to make decisions. About the band. About my music. About my options. About what was best for Hailey and our child. I couldn't keep uprooting her. I couldn't keep living the way we did. She couldn't work in a seedy club anymore, and we couldn't live hand to mouth anymore. We had to make some plans for the long term. We needed somewhere to live. We needed to start saving money.
We needed the support of our friends and family. Hailey would need her mum…and as much as I hated to admit it, I would need mine as well. I needed to get a stable job. Maybe Hailey could do uni by correspondence and then she would be able to stay home and rest.
By the time the batteries on my ipod were finally running out, I had formed a half-assed plan. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing.
"So I like a quiet time please
yeah I'd like a quiet time...
and careful where you stand
and careful where you stand"
Ben was gone when I woke up. I didn't know where he'd gone. In a way I was a partly glad. I didn't know what I was going to say to him. In the back of my mind, I felt that I'd deserved part of what had happened last night. It wasn't a nice thought, and I felt a little bit sick because of it.
I knew he would tell me it wasn't, and I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to talk about it. I wanted to forget it. I wanted to focus on growing up and getting shit sorted out. I rolled off the bed, shivering as my feet hit the floor. It was a cold morning. Strangely cold for Brisbane. I don't deal with the cold very well. I don't like it.
Liam was in the kitchen when I walked out. He gave me a slight smile. "How you doing?"
I nodded and smiled wryly. Inside I was disgusted that he knew the whole story. That he was aware of the shit that I got myself into. That he knew how we'd dealt with it. I knew Liam had been through his own shit. But somehow I couldn't see him ever dealing with something like what happened last night the way Ben and I had. He'd never make a scene the way we had. I felt sick again.
I crossed the kitchen and flicked on the kettle without looking at him.
I looked up. He frowned slightly, as if he was trying to figure out a way to voice was he was thinking.
"You'll be ok you know…the sun will come out eventually. It always does."
We just looked at each other in silence. It was such a simple thing to say. So ambiguous and coming from anyone else, it probably wouldn't have made much sense. But from him it was reassuring. I believed him automatically, and somehow I felt a little better for it.
He gave me another half smile and ducked out of the kitchen. I heard his footsteps echo up the hall, and the muffled sound of his door shutting. I stood there for a second in silence, staring at the mosaic tiles on the floor. Behind me the kettle finished boiling and the switch popped off. I smiled.
There were more cars on the road when I came home. Their wheels slushed in the rain, and even though I loved the cold, I was jealous of the dryness and warmth of the passengers inside. I felt better but. My time on my own had really cleared my head. Maybe that was my problem. I didn't spend enough time on my own, in the quiet. I was always doing something to keep myself amused. I hated being by myself. That was when my insecurities would boil over. Without my mates and my family and Hailey to reassure me that I was a good person with people who cared about me, self-doubt would eat me alive.
"I wanna be bigger stronger drive a faster car
to take me anywhere in seconds
to take me anywhere I wanna go
and drive around a faster car
I will settle for nothing less"
- Coldplay, Bigger Stronger
I walked in the front door at ten after. Hailey was sitting at the table, reading the paper. She looked up as I dumped my stuff on the table. "Hey."
I smiled and dropped a kiss on the top of her head as I walked past her into the kitchen. "Hey babe."
"Where have you been?" she asked, twisting around in her chair to face me.
"I just went for a walk. I just needed to clear my head," I told her, grabbing the milk from the fridge.
I didn't drink it straight from the fridge. I used a glass.
Hailey nodded, but didn't say anything. Her blue eyes flickered over me. I sent her a smile and shut the fridge door. "Liam around?"
"I think he's in his room."
I left her at the table and went to find my brother. He was sitting on his bed, writing in the battered old notebook he'd had since he was 14. "What's up BJ?"
I sat in his desk chair and started flicking through the CD's sitting next to his computer. "Don't call me BJ."
"Why not?" he asked dourly, continuing to write without looking at me.
"It's a stupid name."
Suddenly he stopped and grinned at me. "You loved it when you were little. Once you even went through a stage where you wouldn't answer anyone unless they called you that."
"I was like, five."
I ignored him. We had much more important things to talk about. "Li."
I waited until he looked at me.
"I can't move to Sydney."
He put down his pen. "When did you decide this?"
I raised my eyebrows and shrugged. "This morning?"
Liam nodded. "Ok. Why?"
"I need to grow up. As much as I love…as much as I love you, and the band and music and all of that…I love Hailey and I need to do what's right by her. For once. She needs stability. She needs to be able to rely on me. We need to settle down and really get ready for this baby. I need to get a proper job. We need to get some money together and work out a plan for the long term."
I shook my head. "No more fucking around."
"What are you saying Benj? You want to quit the band? You don't want to record with me anymore?" Liam asked quietly.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. "I want to do nothing more than play music Li. I want to be able to jam with you. I want to be able to live in Melbourne and stay with the band. But I can't Li. I need you to understand this. Hailey needs to be here right now. With her family and her friends. And I need to be with her."
Liam nodded, frowning slightly and looking away. "So you're going to quit the band, move back here and get a real job?"
I hesitated. Then nodded. "Yeah. At least for the next little while."
"You're not even going to talk to Sony with me?"
"Not unless they will let us live here, and let me get a steady income together. Which I can't see happening. Hailey comes first Li. I'm sorry."
Liam just looked at me blankly. Then he smiled.
"What?" I asked in bewilderment.
"I'm proud of you. You're getting your shit together and finally realising that it's not always about you."
"I know. I really just think…" I trailed off. "Hey! It's not always about me!"
Liam snorted. "Please. It's always about you. You're one of the most precocious people I've ever me. You're a total fuckwit most of the time."
"Hey, fuck you! It's not always about me, and I'm not a fuckwit. You're the fuckwit. You think you're so indie cool, with your classical music and your shaggy hair cut and your sex appeal and eyeliner and your notebook."
Liam laughed. "Come on BJ. You know I'm everything you wish you were."
"Get fucked. Why don't you take your makeup off, drink some beer and watch some sort of sport, you big skirt," I joked. It was all such a lie. Liam was so good looking and perfect it made me sick. He was the only man I knew who could wear eyeliner and not look emo of homosexual. It was talent.
"Oh Ben. Please." He sobered. "But honestly. I'm glad." He nodded. "You're doing the right thing."
"Thanks." I held out my arms. "Hold me."
I jumped off the chair and landed on the bed, grabbing at him. "No hold me Liam. I need a hug. I want to feel your pasty white underdeveloped body from lack of sunlight and physical activity against me. Tickle my face with your emo haircut."
He choked with laughter. "Get away from me you fucking queer! I've read Flowers in the Attic, I know how this will end!"
"You can be the Cathy to my Chris! You can be the girl. You'll do it well." I grabbed his arms and manoeuvred my body so I was lying across him.
"Just give me a hug Liam!"
He was laughing so hard he could barely talk. "Fuck. Off. Ben," he wheezed.
"Not until you hug me!" I wiggled around until I had his arms pinned beside him. He was taller than me but I was heavier. I started tickling him. He kicked me, banging his head against the wall as he did so. "Ow, FUCK!"
I laughed so hard I thought I would pass out, momentarily relaxing my grip. He took the chance and threw me off the bed. I landed on the floor with a thump. "Ow. Jesus Liam."
Liam sat up, hair hanging around his face and his breath coming in pants. "Serves you right Ben. Jesus, you fucking poof. What's wrong with you? What is with this constant need to touch me?"
I sat up straight, running my hand up his leg and biting my lip. He choked me laughter and kicked my hand away.
"Ok ok." I relented, sitting back, and picking a copy of The Godfather up off the floor.
"Is this any good? Can I borrow it?"
"Yeah. Whatever." Liam leaned back against the head of his bed and brushed his hair out of his eyes. "So what now?" he asked.
I glanced up at him. "Huh?"
"You going to tell Hailey that you want to stay here?"
I shrugged. "I think we'll come back to Melbourne, at least for a little bit. I probably need to get shit sorted out anyway." I paused. "I'll need to sort out what's going to happen with the band, and what she's going to do about uni and shit. What will you do about the house? Get another room mate?"
He nodded. "I spose so…Andy mentioned that she was looking for somewhere else to live."
I gave him a sly grin. He sighed. "Get fucked."
"Man, grow some balls will you? Stop being such a big girls blouse. Just tell her you like her."
Liam shook his head. "She made it clear she wasn't interested."
I nodded, raising an eyebrow. "Must have been hard for you to hear that. But there's got to be a first for everything right?"
He shot me a nasty look. "Shut up."
I laughed and stood up. "Ok ok. Sorry. Girls blouse."
A couple of hours later Hailey went around to Dan's house. I figured she needed time for one of those girl chats that go for hours and never seem to solve anything. Jared came over and we fired up the Xbox.
"You're going down mother fucker," he informed me, settling himself in a more battle-ready position on the couch.
"I think not, my worthy adversary," I replied in my best British-general's voice. "You have skill, yes. But you are too power hungry – too ambitious. You have the strength. But I have the brains."
I climbed off the couch as the game started up and ran into the kitchen. I returned with one of mum's saucepans on my head. Jared just about fell off the couch laughing. "What are you doing man?" he choked.
"You can never be too careful," I replied, still bunging on the ridiculous accent. "Are you ready foe?"
"Wait!" he yelped, jumping up. "I need a helmet too." He disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a colander on his head and a couple of spatulas tucked into his belt. I laughed myself sick.
"What. Are the. Spatulas for?" I gasped, desperately trying to catch my breath.
"They're my swords, dipshit. Duh." He readjusted himself and sat on the couch. One of the spatulas dug into his thigh.
I couldn't stop laughing. "Ok ok. Stop. Let's start."
"What are we playing again?"
"Halo," I replied.
"Shouldn't we be playing some ye old war game, if we're going to wear saucepans on our heads and talk like British people" Jaz asked.
"Na man. Halo is like…the ye old battle for the 21st century."
I rolled my eyes. I swear, I could tell him anything and he'd believe me.
But who was I to talk? I was wearing a saucepan on my head.
HAILEY - -
I came home from Dan's to find Ben and Jared on the couch playing Xbox – and wearing kitchen utensils on their heads. Ben dragged his attention from the TV just long enough to say hi. "Hey babe."
"Hey Hails!" Jared cried, clearly caught up in mutilating someone or something on the screen. "What's going on?"
"Not much," I replied, highly amused. I sat down on the other couch and stared at them. "Why are you wearing saucepans on your heads?"
"Mines a colander," Jared replied absently, pummelling his controller and swearing loudly.
"You can never be too careful babe," Ben replied, jerking his head to the right suddenly and displacing his saucepan. "Safety first. This is a battle scene."
"Right." I got of the couch and walked behind them, straightening Ben's saucepan and kissing his cheek.
I headed down the hall and flopped onto Ben's bed, pulling a battered copy of Catcher in the Rye from the bedside table. Dan and I had spent hours just talking – I'd told her everything I'd been feeling, and I felt so much better for having gotten it of my chest. I love Ben, and I know everyone thinks that you're supposed to be able to tell your partner everything – but there were some things I just couldn't say to him. Some things I knew he wouldn't understand.
Dan didn't offer me much advice, but she listened. And I was happy just to be saying it all. Everything that had been on my mind. It was such a relief.
Fifteen minutes late Ben flopped down on the bed next to me. He burped. "Hey." There was a thud as he dropped his saucepan onto the floor.
I wrinkled my nose. "Gross."
"Ha ha. I know."
"Where's Jared?" I asked absently.
"Making cheese and vegemite sandwiches. Want one?"
Ben started fiddling with the Maori ring on his thumb. "Hails…"
"If it was a possibility…and I don't know that it is, I still have a lot of shit to work out, but maybe…"
"Ben, what? I don't understand what you're talking about," I said, turning the page of my book and only half listening to him.
"I just…if we could…would you want to move back here? For good?"
I put down the book. "What?"
"Would you want to leave Melbourne and live back here? In Brisbane."
I just stared at him, still not really understanding what he was talking about. "Move back to Brisbane? To live? For good?"
"But what about the band, and uni, and Liam and the club and everything we have down there?"
Ben shrugged. "Well that's what we'd have to work out. But you could do uni through correspondence, or go back to UQ, and I don't know about the band but that's something I have to work out…it's just that. I've seen how unhappy you've been down there. Everything you have is here. And with a baby on the way…I want to do what's best for my family."
I cracked a smile. "Your family?"
He grinned. "Yeah. My family."
I felt tears come to my eyes. "Yeah Ben. I want to move home."
The grin grew even wider. "We're still going to have to go back to Melbourne thought, just for a little while. Until I can get everything sorted out."
I nodded. I had questions, and he knew I had questions. What about the band, what about Liam, what about your side project, what about all your friends and your gigs, what about the house…
But I didn't ask them. I didn't need to, not yet. I trusted him. I knew he'd do whatever he could to make sure that I was happy. I trusted him to take care of it all.
I just nodded. He picked up my hand and kissed the inside of my wrist. "I love you."
"I love you too."
Outside the door someone farted. "And I love cheese and vegemite sandwiches. And beating your arse at Halo Benjamin. So hurry the fuck up."
"Nice Jared," I snapped, pissed off that the mood had been totally ruined.
Ben just laughed and kissed the top of my head as he sat up. "Don't worry Hails."
"Yeah," Jared commented, sticking his head through the gap in the door. He was still wearing the colander. "You're going to have to get used to it anyway. When you move back here."
Jared laughed like a madman and trotted back up the hallway. I couldn't help cracking a smile. I did love being around those guys. I wanted to move home so badly. "I've got to go win," Ben told me, climbing off the bed. "Want to come cheer me on?"
"Do I have to wear a saucepan on my head?"
"Only if you want to."
I smiled. "I think I'll stay here."
Ben shrugged. "Suit yourself." He picked up the saucepan from where he'd dumped it beside the bed and jammed it onto his head.
I laughed. "Go tiger."
He grabbed a footy flag from his desk and held it aloft. "For my land and my lady! For the Leigh Empire!"
Jared gave an outraged yell from the lounge room. "You can bite my empire arse if you don't hurry up!"
Complete with flag and saucepan, the father of my unborn child ran from the room. To play with kitchenware, a video game and his best mate.
"I think I need to change my attitude
I think I wanna change my oxygen
I think I wanna change my atmosphere
and I wanna reach out
I can go anywhere I wanna go"
- Coldplay, Bigger Stronger