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If only, p.2

If Only..., page 2


If Only...

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  “Hey,” says Steph. “You okay?”

  I nod and quickly wipe my eyes before anyone else sees. I don’t look up but I can hear that they’re talking amongst themselves. “I’m fine,” I whisper. “I just wish he were here with us. With me.”

  She nods. “I know you do, babe. Have you been to the grave this time?”

  “Yeah, I travelled back up there last night and stayed over with Mum. We went to the grave together this morning and then I got the train back down.”

  “How is she?” Steph asks.

  I shrug. “I never really know, to be honest. The care assistant says she’s doing well, but to me she’s awful. I’m just not used to seeing her like that. The woman that I go and visit isn’t really my mum.”

  Steph pulls me into a long hug and brushes her hand down the back of my head.

  “I miss him,” I say as a huge sob escapes me. “I miss them all.”

  “You know what Nico would be doing if he was here now?” asks Trent loudly.

  I let go of Steph and sit up straight.

  “He’d probably be stripping off and dancing on the tables.” I laugh and wipe my face with a tissue. “Mum was always telling him to put his clothes back on when we were little,” I tell them. “He’s naked in nearly every photo we have of him between the ages of two and six.”

  “He was a great guy,” says Trent as he quickly wipes at his eyes with the back of his hand. “The best.”

  Just then, Clive stumbles in through the front door. He has a bead of sweat just above his eyebrows and his face is bright red. His dark blonde hair is flat, wet and stuck to his head. He smiles when he sees me and waves as he shuffles around the other tables. When he gets to us, he takes off his khaki mac and pushes his almost-square glasses back up his nose that have misted up from the change in temperature.

  “Sorry I’m late,” he huffs. “Chess club ran over.”

  My eyes slide over to Aiden. He raises his eyebrows at me and nods down towards the stick people that are still bonking on the table.


  Eleven years earlier

  I push open the doors and step out into the cold, wintery storm. In my rush to get out of the house this morning, I forgot my coat, so all I’ve got to keep the sleet off my skin is a thin white shirt and woollen jumper. Fucking great.

  “Cole! Wait up!”

  I turn around and watch my best mate bound down six icy steps in one go.

  “Where have you been?” I ask, shoving my freezing hands into my pockets.

  “Detention,” he huffs. “You?”


  He laughs. “When are you ever not in detention, Cole?”

  I shrug. “This school is a joke. They’ve stuck me in a class with a bunch of morons, expecting me to only be able to count up to a hundred, but then punish me and call me disruptive when I complete my work half an hour before the rest of them and get bored.”

  “So get Joan and Simon to ring the school.”

  “Nah,” I say, shaking my head. “They wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

  “Well then, I’ll get my mum to ring,” he says. “They’ll definitely believe her.”

  I don’t say anything. The truth is, Nico’s mum would probably march down here in her stilettoes and demand that I be tested and put into the correct class if she knew. The only problem with that is she’s not my mum and I’d look like a dick if anyone found out. “I’ll be alright,” I say.

  “Speaking of my mum, she wanted me to ask you if you have any plans for your birthday.”

  I frown at him. “What? Why?”

  He rolls his eyes. “It’s Mum, isn’t it? She probably thinks your foster parents beat you and keep you locked under the stairs in a cupboard. You’re her Harry Potter and she’s your Dumbledore or something.” He smirks and then shrugs. “She just wants to make a fuss, and if I were you, I’d let her.”

  I kick at some sleet that’s piled up at the side of the pavement and head towards the bike sheds. “Why would she think that? She has Joan and Simon over for dinner.”

  “She doesn’t really think that. God, lighten up, Cole,” he says, laughing. “She just wants to know if you want to come around ours for your tea or if she should book a table out somewhere. She says Joan and Simon are more than welcome too.”

  “I dunno,” I say. “I can’t imagine Joan and Simon would want to go out on a weeknight. You know what they’re like.”

  Nico snorts. “Yeah, they’re like hermits between Monday and Friday. But come on, it’s your sixteenth. You’ve got to insist that they make an effort this year.”

  “I wouldn’t hold your breath, but I guess I should see if they have any plans before I agree to anything with your family.”

  Nico looks at me as if to say, why bother? I’m not complaining though. As foster parents go, Joan and Simon are the best I’ve had. My birth parents were heroin addicts, and I was taken away from them after social services found me still wearing nappies and drinking from a bottle when I was five. I was placed into foster care and then moved from one family to another until Joan and Simon took me in when I was eleven. By fostering standards, four years is quite a long stretch.

  They’re good to me in their own way, but they’re not as good as Nico’s parents are to me. Joan and Simon don’t have much money, but I think they give me what they can. I have brand new uniforms and a proper football kit at the start of every school year. It’s just that most years I grow out of stuff by the spring term.

  And that’s where Nico’s mum comes in. If I turn up to their house wearing a jumper that’s riding too far up my arms, the next time I go there’ll be a brand new one waiting for me.

  “So, have you got any plans for Christmas Day yet?” he asks.

  We round the corner by the bike shed and get sideswiped by a gust of wind. “Fuck, that wind is cold,” I say through chattering teeth. “And no, I don’t think so.”

  “You could come around ours,” he says, watching me as I pull a pack of fags from out of my pocket. “I’m sure Mum wouldn’t mind.”

  I hold the lighter up and cup the fag with my hand. Just as I flick the flint, I hear someone laughing behind me.

  “Has the foster fucker got nowhere to go on Christmas Day?”

  I drop my hands, letting the cigarette fall too, and curl my fingers into a fist.

  “Cole,” warns Nico, “don’t rise to it.”

  “Yeah,” says Gary, “don’t rise to it, Coley boy. Did they call you Cole because you looked like a little black shit when they found you? I bet you were filthy, covered in your own piss, and surrounded by AIDS-filled needles while your skanky mother sucked off some fucking scumbag druggie.”

  I don’t remember my real parents and I don’t give a shit about them, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to punch this wanker since I heard him talking crap about Evie the other week. So without thinking, I pull my arm back and slam my fist into his face, hearing each of my knuckles crack as they connect with his cheekbone. “Fuck you,” I spit. Gary stumbles backwards, holding his bloody nose.

  “Great comeback there, Cole,” mumbles Nico. “And you wonder why they put you in the bottom class for English?”

  Before I can respond to Nico, Gary launches himself at me and wraps his arms tightly around my waist, pushing with all his might until I slam against the cold concrete wall of the shed. He pulls his arm back and throws his clenched fist into my stomach, knocking all of the wind out of me. I hear myself groan before I send an uppercut to his jaw.

  “Oh, fucking hell,” grunts Nico, jumping onto my back. “Stop it, Cole.”

  “I hear your foster mum is fit,” huffs Gary. “Do you fuck her in the night because you’re desperate and she’s an easy lay?”

  “Shut up,” I hiss, throwing more punches at him. I swing both of my arms into his rib cage until he yelps and loosens his grip from around me.

  “It’s not your mum you want to fuck though, is it? It’s little Evie Romano. You can forget it thou
gh, because, let’s face it, you’re scum that even your own parents didn’t want. And I’m telling you right now, it’s gonna be my dick she’s sucking first, Coley boy.”

  “Oi!” shouts Nico. “That’s my sister you’re talking about, you piece of shit.”

  “It’s not me that’s been cracking one off every night to the thought of getting into her knickers,” he says, laughing. “Well, I have actually, but it’s Cole who’s obsessed with her.”

  Fire ignites throughout my whole body as I propel punch after punch at him. I kick his legs until he falls onto his knees in front of me and then I slam my elbow into his face.

  “Get off him, Cole,” orders Nico, who has been constantly pulling at my arm the whole time. “You’re gonna kill him, man.”


  “Cole!” he shouts, yanking my arm hard enough to make me stumble back and away from Gary. I surge forward, ready to punch Gary again, but Nico tugs harder, stopping me. “Is it any wonder Evie hasn’t looked twice at you all this time?”

  I freeze and feel the fight drop out of me as his words register in my head. “What?”

  He shrugs. “I know you like her, but she doesn’t like the things you do, Cole,” he says, nodding at Gary’s bloody face.

  Gary huffs out a laugh, so I slam my shoe into his stomach one last time before storming away from him.

  “I’ll take a little video of her,” he croaks. “When she’s sucking my dick.”

  “Yeah,” I call back, “you do that.”

  I stride across the grass so fast that Nico has to jog to keep up with me. “He’s a dickhead,” I say. “A fucking dickhead.”

  “I know he is,” agrees Nico. “And he deserved a shoeing, but you have to stop all of this. I meant what I said about Evie.”

  I shake my head. I can’t believe he’s being so cool about this. I’ve dreamt about being with Evie since I first saw her, but I always thought Nico would be against it. He’s my best mate and has been there for me through some of my worst times, and he’s stood by me when no one else has. I love him like a brother and I didn’t want to do anything to risk our friendship. “How did you know?” I ask.

  “Really?” he pants while rolling his eyes at me. “I’ve seen the way you’ve looked at her over the last four years. It’s been obvious, but I just thought she was too young and you were just getting itchy balls or something.”

  I laugh as we march across the playing fields. “And now she’s not too young and my balls aren’t itchy?”

  He sighs. “Who am I to talk? We’re nearly sixteen, and I certainly wouldn’t want her telling me who I can or can’t date. Plus, if it’s a choice between her dating Gary or you, then you would win, hands down.”

  I turn to look at him out of the corner of my eye. “Are you messing with me?”

  He smiles but shakes his head. “I actually think she likes you too, but you scare her with all your fighting and smoking and stuff. She doesn’t understand why you have to act like a thug when we all know that you’re not really like that.”

  I raise my eyebrow at him. Evie thinks I act like a thug?

  “So why do you?” he asks.

  He’s right . . . that’s not who I really am. Sometimes it’s just easier to act that way. Less chance of getting hurt, I guess. “I don’t know,” I say instead. “It’s just what I do.”


  When I open my eyes, I notice that the room is still clinging onto the darkness of night and that my phone is ringing on the bedside table. I punch the answer button and sleepily pull the phone to my ear.

  “Hello?” I mumble.

  “God, your sleepy voice is sexy.”

  I smile and slip back down under the covers, trying to ignore the pounding in my head. I definitely shouldn’t have done those vodka shots at the club. “What the bloody hell are you ringing me for at this time, Aiden?”

  “Running,” he says. “Are you going?”

  I rub my face and peek up out of the covers at the clock. “Yeah, why?”

  “Fancy a partner?”

  “I suppose,” I huff. “I’ll meet you outside my apartment in about forty minutes.”

  “Okay,” he replies. “And Evie?”


  “Do me a favour and tell me what you’re wearing.”

  I look down at my vest top that’s just the wrong shade of grey to still be called white and my black pants that Bridget Jones would be proud of. “I’m wearing a lacy black thong and matching silk nightie.”

  “You’ve got your fat pants on and your shitty vest top, haven’t you?” he asks.

  “Forty minutes, Aiden,” I say smiling. Then I end the call and set the alarm on my phone to go off in ten minutes.

  I pull my hair away from my face and braid it into a single plait that drops down my back as I walk down the stairs and into the lobby.

  “Good morning, Miss Romano,” says Nigel from behind the reception desk.

  “It’s Evie,” I tell him with a playful roll of my eyes. “And good morning to you too.”

  He glances at the huge clock on the wall that reads just before seven and shakes his head. “You’re out of bed, about to go running at this ridiculous time of the morning on a Sunday, and you didn’t even get in until after two. I wish I had half your energy.”

  I bend over and tighten my shoelaces. “You know you sound like a creepy stalker when you say stuff like that to me, don’t you, Nige?”

  He laughs and shoos me away with his hand. “Go and run, you crazy girl.”

  I laugh and buzz my way out of the main doors and into the muggy morning air of London.

  “What’re you laughing at?” asks Aiden as he turns his back to me.

  My eyes fixate on his bum as he bends down to touch his toes. Aiden is a beast of a man. He’s just over six-and-a-half-feet tall and he’s as wide as two of me put together, yet his waist his probably smaller than mine and he has muscles on top of muscles. His dark hair is unruly at the best of times, but today he’s tucked it all behind an elasticated headband. On normal guys this would look a bit girly, but Aiden manages to pull it off. He has skin as smooth as a peach, amazing blue eyes and a trimmed, dark beard that covers the bottom half of his face.

  When he turns back around, he catches me looking and grins at me. He reaches to stretch his tattooed arms above his head, forcing his running top to creep up just enough to show me the bottom of his eight-pack and the bit of his body that’s enough to melt me all on its own: his deeply carved ‘V’ that slides around the top of his hip before disappearing down into his running shorts.

  “Seen something you like there?”

  I realise he’s stopped stretching and is standing with his toned legs wide apart and his hands on his hips. “Not really,” I say with a shrug.

  His mouth twitches as I move to stand next to him. “You look well considering you were shit-faced five hours ago. Did you take that sachet before you went to bed?”

  “Yeah. It tasted like crap, but it seems to have done the trick. Just a little headache now, but a bit of fresh air will clear that.”

  “I didn’t take one,” he says, handing me a bottle of water, “so do you mind if we just do a steady one today?”

  I nod and turn my face up to the morning sun. “Sure, what’re you thinking?”

  “Hyde Park and back?”

  I chuckle to myself. Aiden’s ‘steady one’ is a six-mile round trip. “Race pace?”

  He nods. “Of course.”

  “Keep up then, slow coach,” I call as I set off. He laughs but catches up with me in about two seconds. He’d definitely still outrun me, even if he were sedated. Aiden does Ironman challenges, marathons and goes to these mad circuit-training things four times a week where they have to flip tractor tyres and do burpies and sit-ups for an hour.

  “So I take it you didn’t bring boring Clive back home last night?”

  I click my tongue. “Not that it’s any of your business, but no. And you need to stop calling
him boring.”

  “Why? He is boring.”

  “He isn’t.”

  “Evie,” he huffs. “He’s boring. Everyone says so. Why does it seem that you purposely only pick geeky, boring men to date?”

  Boring is safe. Boring won’t break my heart.

  “Maybe I happen to like nice and normal. Have you ever thought about that?”

  “They’re boring, Evie. I can be nice and normal, but I can also excite you to the point that you think you’re about to explode.”

  My stomach flips at the thought of Aiden making me explode and I feel myself blushing as I think about what he’d be able to do to me. “Can we talk about something else, please?”

  “Sure,” he fires back, slapping my bum. “Lets talk about how fucking good your arse looks when it’s bouncing up and down in front of me.” He laughs and slaps it again, making me shriek and run faster. “There we go,” he says. “Race pace.”

  What a tool.


  Don’t fuck it up, Cole. Don’t fuck it up. I repeat this over and over as I walk out my back gate and across the grass. I wrap my scarf around my neck and fasten my thick coat. It’s February half-term and I’m finally going on a date with Evie. Valentine’s day was yesterday, but I didn’t want to be the cheesy bastard that arranged a first date on Valentine’s Day, so we’re doing it today instead.

  I smile when I see her waiting under the oak tree. I purposely told her to wait there for me because it’s the place where I first saw her. The place where I’d always imagined she’d be waiting for me.

  It was my first night in my new foster home, and Joan and Simon had told me to go upstairs to explore my bedroom. When I entered the room, I ignored the TV and the PlayStation and walked over to the huge window that overlooked a playing field that was bigger than a football pitch. My eyes widened as I watched groups of boys playing football, but then I looked at the huge tree that sat smack bang in the middle of the grass and saw a group of girls. They were twirling around, playing some stupid girl game, but they all looked to be around my age. One of the girls was laughing so loud I could hear her giggle floating along the summer breeze and in through my window. I inhaled, as if I could breathe it in, because right there in that moment, I felt at home for the first time in my life. I carried on watching her tanned skin glistening in the sun as she spun around and around. Her long black hair was straight but curled slightly at the bottom where it touched her bum as if she’d sat on it. Her giggle was all that I could hear. Her smile was all that I could see.

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