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Chapter Three

2.


“We’ll have to call work in the morning, let ‘em know we won’t be in,” Rachel commented, awaiting that backlash that had met almost every remark she had made since she had picked Denise up two hours ago.  It was a difficult time, she knew that, but Rachel also knew that she was doing her best, and even at times like this, her patience was tested.  It wasn’t easy trying to say the right thing to someone when their supposedly morally-sound son has been arrested on a murder charge.  Especially when it seemed almost certain that a case of mistaken identity was to be ruled out.

            That was possibly the worst part.  They weren’t screaming down the motorway to rescue an innocent Ryan.  It was almost certain that he had shot someone.  Dead.

            Where did a mother start to ask questions?  Who did he kill?  Why did he do it?  What on earth was he doing with a gun?

            Drugs.  It had to be drugs.  Denise had seen it over and over again on the news – nice children turning against the world in the name of narcotic release.  Lost forever in a sea of snap-bags and heroin chic, and she had seen enough reports to know that this scourge wasn’t limited to the working classes any more.  A young man like Ryan could easily be swayed.  A young man like Ryan could probably afford to indulge more than your average smack-head actually.  Drugs were a slippery slope, Denise knew that. It started off with a cheeky toke on a joint, and before you knew it, where once stood a righteous human, lay as bruised heap on the floor, decorated in a dot-to-dot of track-marks.  But Ryan wasn’t a druggie.  A mother would know.

            Two hours ago, this mother would never have thought that her son was a murderer either.

            Birmingham was fast approaching, the next major city to backdrop this hellish journey.  No mother should have to make this trip.  In the same way that she had revered her parents in her youth, her own spawn had taken on an infallible innocence that she had never expected to see diminish.  Denise had been careful not to dig too deep into the intricacies of Ryan’s adult life, fearing that too much information would be detrimental to their otherwise positive relationship.  There were so many ways to screw up motherhood, that she had always avoided intrusion as she deemed it an easy route to conflict.  She had tried to be a good mother – she really thought she had been a good mother.  He had been doing well at work, had some good friends around him and appeared to be developing into a pleasant young man. 

            Ignorance had been bliss.

            Was this the first person he had killed?  Or was it the first person he had been caught killing?

            The radio was still full of it.  The painstaking analysis of a fresh and inexplicable incident echoed around the car.  Denise wanted to switch if off., but if they were saying all of these things about her son, she couldn’t just ignore it. 

            “The identity of the victim is as of yet unknown.  Eyewitnesses claim that he was in his early twenties, tall but lacking stature, and had long hair with blonde highlights.  That appears to be the most consistent image.  Naturally, people around here are confused, and are just giving us what they can – but most say that he appeared to be here on his own,” the reporter at the scene announced, devoid of real information.  This wasn’t news – it was rumours. 

            “A mystery indeed,” the newsreader replied glibly, lacking anything of meaning to add to the discussion. 

            “Police on the scene are still taking statements, and are calling for anyone who may have any information to come forward as soon as possible.  The over-riding feeling down here is that it’s an open-and-shut case.  There seems to be very little doubt that the police have their man – it’s just why he killed a fellow reveller that is a cause for intrigue.  From what we saw as he left the building, he doesn’t look like your average murderer.”

            “She means he wasn’t black,” Rachel remarked.  “A load of hearsay and rubbish,” she dismissed the report as she switched the radio off.

            “Leave it on,” Denise insisted and Rachel obliged.  “It’s as close as I can get to my son right now.”

            “You know they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Rachel tried to reassure her.  “It’s always like this – they have to say something, so anything will do.”

            “They know that it was my Ryan who did it,” she said.  “There’s no question of that.”

            “Denise, I really don’t know what to say,” Rachel conceded at last.

            “Then say nothing,” Denise snapped. She had tired of Rachel’s false and quite frankly pathetic optimism shortly after they had commenced their journey.  Everything was not going to be alright, and the positive words Rachel was force-feeding her could not have proved more empty.  Deep down, she knew that Rachel meant well, but now was not the time for rational thinking.  Never in her life did Denise expect to be travelling half way across the country to find out who her son had murdered in cold blood.  Not many mothers could expect that.

            People would blame her – they had to.  It was the parents that got blamed more and more in the age of pop-psychology, as if it were possible to cocoon a child from the world and outside influences.  Denise couldn’t even remember discussing guns with her son, unless there had been something related on the news.  And she couldn’t control the news. 

            Rachel pulled into the next service station without consulting Denise.  She was sick of being shouted at, her tolerance being pushed to its absolute limit.  It wasn’t her fault – she was doing right by her friend and she too was concerned.  Ryan hadn’t given her any indication that he might want to kill someone and Rachel thought that they shared all of their secrets – their biggest secret being each other. 

            “Why are we stopping?” Denise demanded.

            “I need a coffee, I’m knackered.”

            “I just want to get to London.”

            “I know you do!” Rachel yelled, obliterating any attempts to stop herself from losing it.  “I know this is shit, Denise.  I know you don’t want to be doing this, and I can assure you I certainly don’t.  Thing is, we’ll be a lot more use to Ryan if we’re not lying dead in a ditch won’t we?”

            Rachel virtually leapt out of the car and strode into the service station, her anger not relenting, leaving Denise reeling.  Hopefully that would be the end of it, Rachel thought – no more snapping and the journey could be so much easier.  By the time she reached the cafeteria, devoid of people at this time of night, bar a resting trucker and a family up way past their bedtime, Rachel had started to feel guilty again.  The same guilt she felt the first time she had seen Denise at work after she had slept with Ryan.  It hadn’t been planned. It was a typical problem page scenario.  Rachel had gone round to drop off some work related paraphernalia to her colleague and she had been out.  Ryan had been in and offered her a cup of tea.  They had talked for a while, and Ryan had asked her why she did so much for his mum.

            “I like her,” had been the simple response.

            “Yeah, and she likes you, but you don’t see her running around after you,” he had responded, and Rachel had been alarmed by how astute he had seemed.  “You’re a nice woman, Rachel, don’t let her just walk all over you.”

            Rachel had been embarrassed, not really sure what to say.  There had been no attraction at that second.  “I don’t mind,” she insisted.  “Your mum does a lot for me as well.  She’s been a very good friend to me over the years.”  And she had.  Denise had worked hand-in-hand with Rachel for six years and had proved very useful on a day-to-day basis.  Granted the grander gestures came from Rachel, but she had always kind of believed that things evened themselves out.

            “Well you’re too good for that,” Ryan concluded, swigging from a can of Fosters.

            It was at that moment that she’d had a pang of attraction, despite the perceived tackiness of lusting after a friends’ son. 

            “Don’t be daft,” she giggled like an adolescent and Ryan had grinned and the attraction had increased from a pang to a whole feeling.  She’d shaken her head and thought of something else.  “What time is your mum back?”

            “Not sure – she’s out with my Dad at the moment.  I think it’s some sort of anniversary.  One of those days when they pretend they still love each other.”

            Rachel was shocked – the other side of a well-told story suddenly opened up to her.  On numerous occasions, Denise had sounded Rachel out about the decline of her feelings for Trevor, but had always been adamant that Ryan should not find out.  To think that he knew all along opened a whole different side to him – he was an adult, and not the naïve sixteen year-old she had met many years ago. 

            “Don’t look so stunned, you know it as well as I do.  I look at the way I was when I was in love and I compare it to them – it’s nostalgia.  I’ve grown up now and the only tie they’ve had for over two decades is going it alone – now they’re trying to remember what it is they liked about each other, and it’s obvious they’re struggling.”

            “You’ve got it all sussed,” she smiled with admiration.

            “No, I’m just not completely stupid,” he smiled as well.  “You know all this stuff, don’t you?”

            Rachel didn’t answer, loathe to break Denise’s confidence.

            “Well your silence speaks volumes,” he continued.  “Want a beer?  Your tea’s gone cold and you didn’t much look like you wanted it.”

            It was un-nerving at first, being so comfortable with her friends son.  Even more excruciating was that she fancied him, and if he could tell that his parents marriage was falling apart, then he could probably see it written all over her face.  When he returned from the kitchen with two cans of decidedly cold lager, even being chivalrous enough to bring her a glass, she was more composed and ready to learn more, despite her gut instinct that she should be running a mile.

            “Does it not bother you?”

            “What?”

            “Your parents?”

            “No, not at all,” he said matter-of-factly.  “People can fall out of love.  They wouldn’t be the first.  I’ve had a good childhood, you know, so I really can’t complain.  I’m all grown up now, I just wish they’d focus on their own happiness.  But they’re scared – they’ll stay together because that’s what they’ve always done and they don’t know how they’ll cope.  I think our generation is more selfish, don’t you?  We wouldn’t give a second thought of giving it all up for our personal happiness.  Fidelity isn’t a given any more.”

            Our generation!  Rachel had almost burst out laughing on the spot.  Ryan saw them as being part of the same generation. 

            “We just do we what we want,” he carried on.  “Fuck the consequences.”

            He was staring at her directly now, his intentions clearly typed across his face – no ambiguity.  He leaned in and she didn’t flinch.  Their lips were centimetres apart when she had a second thought.

            “Did you just orchestrate this?” she asked.

            “Did you?”

            Even now, Rachel allowed herself a little smile as she thought about that first kiss.  It had been so unexpected, and so much one of the best things that had ever happened to her.  Which made the journey all the more painful – she felt as betrayed as Denise did.  She just wasn’t allowed to.

            Deciding that it was a good time to start smoking again, Rachel took her polystyrene coffee and went to buy some over-priced cigarettes, not even half way on the most painful of journeys.