“Oh my Gosh!” Jasmine’s shrill voice cut through the anxious internal monologue in Kane’s brain as he realised how underwhelming his kitchen/living space was, but when he turned to Jasmine she looked as if she’d never seen anything nicer.
“This is cuuuute,” she sang, her face still a picture of astonishment. Kane wetted his lips and looked out over his kitchen with its scarred and crumby counter, the overflowing bin, and an empty water bottle he had yet to get round to throwing into the recycling.
“Really?” he asked dubiously, voice little more than a mutter. Jas beamed and giggled.
“Oh, you should see the accommodation I’ve been living in for the past year. This is swish! Oooh, can I see my room?”
“It’s still got baby stuff – sure,” Kane finished with, as Jas had already spun out of the room.
Less than a fortnight later and Jasmine’s room was transformed into a dumping ground for her bags. Kane had discovered an IKEA dresser and had spent the better part of a day yelling at the walls while trying to understand the instructions – and the left over screws – and the bed was a charity shop find. Only the mattress was new, and that was what Jasmine bought herself. She refused to put up with another bad night’s sleep, she said, and Kane didn’t complain about her taking some of the cost.
Of course, the flat wasn’t his, and paying for cheap furniture should have been his landlady’s responsibility, but they both took a healthy disinterest in each other’s lives and he’d long since learned that doing what he could to prevent himself from bothering her with repairs or anything new meant it kept the rent suspiciously low for the area, and he wouldn’t complain about that.
Kane hadn’t lived with anyone since he’d left home – not counting the extended periods where Faye would crash at his – so he’d been apprehensive with this change. Still, after reading into co-sleeping like Jacqueline had recommended, Kane wondered why he’d never been doing it before. It was comforting beyond words to have Law snoozing next to him, even if the first week he had barely been able to sleep for fear of rolling over in the night. That, if anything, was the best thing to come from a new housemate.
Not that there were any real negatives. Having what was effectively a live in babysitter was amazing, and soon Kane was accepting several shifts he would have once turned down. Sure, she wasn’t quite the level that Cat was, but Jas read and played with Law, and had even started taking him to some group sessions that got children outside with nature once a week. Law’s progress had always been surprising, but Kane noticed another jump with that – both in language and in his motor skills.
Halving the rent was, of course, another amazing bonus.
But beyond that, it was comforting to have another person in the house, especially one that wouldn’t drive him to frustration or made him feel belittled. Jas was easy going and clean, and was always a ray of sunshine. Kane didn’t notice exactly how black the cloud could be hovering over him until she perked him up each and every day.
She loved to cook, and if Kane had a day shift she always had dinner on when he returned. Kane tried to do the same for her, but it was obvious who the talented cook was here and it wasn’t him. He instead baked every so often, letting her help herself.
They fell into easy companionship and became comfortable with one another, and sometimes Kane would come back home to see Jas in front of the oven, the radio playing low in the background, and Law playing with something that was only in his imagination. Kane would swoop his son up and come up to catch up with her, and if a good rock song came onto the radio they would both dance, Jas doing a respectable boogie while Kane swung Law around in his arms, both of them collapsing with laughter after the song came to a close.
“Hey, wait up!”
Kane turned over his shoulder to see Jasmine rushing to catch up, and obediently slowed down for her. His reward was to see her sunny grin, and she came into pace beside him.
“I’m going to take Law to the park, you tagging along?”
“Oh for sure,” Jas said, sweeping her braids over her shoulder. “I love this park. It’s such a good place for everyone. Do you think you’ll stay in this area?”
As usual, Jasmine’s excited stream of thoughts left her mouth with no communication with the rest of her body, and Kane often wondered if he’d have to remind her to breathe. She pulled out her phone from where she was hiding it (her bra? Kane tried not to think about it) and began to take snaps of the too-bright day to share with her friends.
“I dunno, people in Glasgow are super friendly.”
Kane made a face. “There’s a lot of areas in Glasgow I wouldn’t go.” Since he knew the stuff his family was involved in, and what exactly their work entailed, he was less than enthused by the prospect of venturing into those areas which, he knew, weren’t far off the beaten track in cities.
“Whaaat, why not?”
Kane’s eyes cut sideways to her. “There are bad people in Glasgow,” he said.
“Well sure, there are bad people everywhere, but it doesn’t mean you should be afraid.”
Kane snorted, knowing exactly how wrong she was, and quoted something he’d heard his dad say once. “They don’t do subtle over there. They do pisshead bampots killing girlfriends in paranoid rage after drinking for two days straight, or coked up neds jumping on a dude’s head outside a club ‘cause he looked at them funny, or drug dealing gangsters shooting another as a comeback to the same thing that happened the week before. It’s straightforward and obvious, not a who-dun-it. More people to be wary of, more people to get caught up in the crossfire.”
“Let’s let Law ride the ship see-saw!” Jasmine enthused, apparently forgetting their darker discussion a moment ago. Kane smiled and picked Law up, who was squealing with delight, and let him sit on the ship. After a moment, Jas said, “Hey, why’d you call him Law? It’s a nice name, but the only time I’ve heard it before was on some fighting game.”
Kane laughed. “I dunno. It felt right. I didn’t want him to have a boring name, one that was too common, you know?”
“Well,” Jas said warmly, “even if he was called John, he’d stand out. I was an live in nanny in Italy for a bit, and Law is way ahead of their youngest. He’s such a good kid,” she said fondly. Kane glanced over his shoulder and grinned at her, the compliment summoning his fatherly pride.
“Play again?” Law asked, his sweet eyes almost making Kane cave. He steeled himself and shook his head, because he’d promised Alicia he’d catch up with her at the tail end of her shift in the café on site. Law pouted but didn’t start crying, but that was typical behaviour for him. Law wasn’t much of a tantrum-child, which often made Kane wonder what he’d done right to avoid that.
“I sometimes worry he’s too quiet,” Kane murmured to Jas as they made the rest of the trip over. Jas looked over to him in surprise, so he elaborated. “I know he’s capable of stringing words together, and he listens, but he doesn’t usually talk much – especially when he’s outside.”
Jas shook her head and pointed to Law’s head, which was turning all the time as he found something new to look at. “He’s busy observing the world, or whatever’s close enough for him to make out. I think he’s just a quiet, intelligent kid. Nothing to be worried of.”
They settled into the café which smelled pleasantly of old books and patchouli. Alicia gave them two drinks on the sly and they settled down at the back, perching on surprisingly comfortable slatted chairs while they waited for her shift to end. Jas slurped at her ridiculously complicated and creamy drink, eyes roaming over the covers of books around them.
“This place was my favourite to chill in before I left,” Jas said, after a long pause, voice melancholic. Kane raised his head from where he had been pressing his lips to Law’s head, noticing something different in her tone. His surprise must have been obvious because Jasmine turned to him with a raised eyebrow.
“You’re usually more upbeat. Are you sad to have left?”
At that Jasmine laughed, and stood to drift over to the bookcases pressed against one of the walls.
“I needed to leave. I needed some space to think. I love my mum – God, she’s amazing – but we’re very different people. It’s hard to see each other’s side in things, sometimes. I think I’m a lot more like my dad despite how much I look like her.”
Kane watched her and waited, sensing that she wanted to continue speaking. He wasn’t wrong.
“I know what people probably think about me when they first see me.” She laughed, and it sounded like she didn’t have any hard feelings about the matter. “I’m a lot to handle, and I guess I’m that typical millennial girl who spends too much money on avocados and too much time on her phone.” She raised her finger to run it down the spine of a book which was embossed, eyes faraway.
“Everyone has their own complex war they’re fighting on the inside,” she finally summed up, though she still wasn’t meeting his gaze. “I decided life was too short to be anything other than happy, but getting there was hard. Do people realise that’s why I’m like this?” She snorted. “No, of course not.” She turned around then, catching his gaze and pining it with her own. “Everyone has their own story that you only see a glimpse of.”
Jas’ attention was still refusing to let him turn away, and her usually affable nature was replaced with something much more insightful and piercing. “Do you really understand that, though?” she pressed. “I think once you do, you’ll let go a lot of the burden you’re holding.”
Kane was taken aback at the out-of-nowhere assumption, and even though he knew it was true (probably because it was true) he felt heat flood his cheeks and sucked in a breath to snap at her.
She only smiled brilliantly and waved over to Alicia, whose shift had finished at that moment. Kane narrowed his eyes at Jasmine but said no more on the subject.
Alicia raised both her brows and glanced over to Jasmine, who seemed to be comfortable in her odd position lying on the floor, though how Alicia didn’t know. The girls had got on so well at the café the other day that they’d exchanged numbers, and now Jas was taking advantage of having someone in the know around.
“Nosy much?” Alicia teased, once the out-of-nowhere question sunk in.
Jas grinned in return and nodded, knowing Alicia could never turn down an offer to gossip.
She raised herself and slumped down onto the beanbag chair – the only other piece of furniture that Jas had put in her room – and wriggled around until the beans sat comfortably underneath her. Jas, in turn, rolled over onto her back and craned her neck painfully to keep Alicia’s gaze.
“Okay, so, Faye gets the spare room at mine and it’s pretty much fine. She’s, I dunno, a bit self absorbed and doesn’t really get the world, but she’s fine company. Shallow and no ambition, but that’s just some people, you know? Everyone has different speeds of doing everything.”
Jasmine nodded impatiently, making a get-on-with-it gesture. Alicia snorted, sweeping her ginger hair back over her shoulder in a very hair-advert type of way.
“She worked with Kane, and Kane’s – bless him, Kane doesn’t really get close to people outside of work, and his family… well, that’s definitely his story to tell.”
Jasmine arched her eyebrow at that, wondering.
“So Kane tends to have his friend group the same as his work group, which is how he and I know each other. Anyway, he and Faye get it on without really getting to know each other, which y’know is fine, cause tonnes of people do it. What wasn’t so good is that they didn’t really work together, their respective issues clashing a lot, and then Faye has a miracle baby.”
“Law,” summarised Jasmine, watching Alicia nod. She reached out and touched the girl’s black boot, humming thoughtfully. “I like your shoes.”
“And she took off?”
“Uh-huh. Cut all ties. Sometimes I wonder what she’s up to, but her social medias are all on lock down. Whatever she’s doing, I hope she’s learning more about herself. I don’t think she’s a very happy person.”
Finally deciding that the floor was becoming too uncomfortable, Jasmine twisted around to lean against her drawers, the corner pressing into the side of the spine and massaging her knots quite effectively. Jas fidgeted and felt her muscles loosen after the flash of discomfort.
“Not a lot of people are, all the time,” Jasmine said eventually. “Especially those that don’t really know themselves.” She went silent, thinking, and then sighed. “Kane’s one of them, isn’t he?”
Alicia shrugged. “He’s better than he was. Law’s really… really changed him. I think the worst thing for him is loneliness. He never got on with his family, and he’s never let anyone really get close to him. I used to worry about him a lot,” Alicia admitted. “I mean, I still do, but less now with Law.”
Jas nodded, chewing on her bottom lip as her eyes trailed over her bare room. She was sure with some prodding Kane could be helped. It was just knowing how much prodding was too much…
“Hey sugar-kane,” Jas grinned, coming to sit beside Kane. He rolled his eyes and gave an exaggerated groan at the nickname she’d taken to using though it was all for show. He muted the TV he had been half-watching and waited for her to settle down next to him.
He could tell she was about to broach a topic with him, because otherwise she’d have stayed standing to burn off all the excited energy she always seemed to be full of. Plus she had a habit of pulling her right earlobe whenever she was nervous, and he knew her well enough just to give her the floor at this point.
“I was talking to Alicia…”
Kane did groan – for real this time. “That’s not a good way to start a sentence.”
“I think you should talk more about Faye.”
Kane had suspected it would be something along these lines, and at first he misheard her. “Talk to Faye?” he spat out. “She doesn’t –“
“No, no,” Jas said hurriedly, tugging at her earlobe. “Talk about her. In fact I think you should talk about a lot of things, more than you do.” Despite her dark skin, Kane could detect a hint of red across her cheeks, or maybe he was projecting since his face felt beet red.
Kane quickly bit down on the retort he wanted to fling at her, succeeding on biting the edge of his tongue as his jaw snapped shut. The pain distracted him, so when he next considered what she said, he wasn’t as gut-reaction-hurt.
“I mean,” Jas went on quickly, interpreting his silence as something far angrier than it was, “Kane, your heart’s in the right place, but from the stories you’ve told me, sometimes – I mean, I just think…” She trailed off, and this time Kane could see that Jas’ cheeks were red. She tilted her head down and let her hair provide a safety curtain between their gazes. “It would help you a lot to open up about stuff. People in general could do with talking more, really, but I don’t live with them.” She laughed a little, a shrill edge to it, and let her words hang in the silence.
“I’m not good with words,” Kane mumbled. “And it’s hard to talk. Guess I’m used to people not listening.”
Jas turned to him with a hard look in her green glass eyes. “You probably have every right to self-deprecating instead of reaching out, but choosing to do that means you can’t blame anyone else when they don’t try to fix you.” Her gaze softened. “Only you can help yourself, Kane. But you do have friends that’ll support you.”
Kane flushed again at the quick reprimand and struggled not to snap at her, but eventually settled for a non-committal shrug.
“Think on what I’ve said?” she asked hopefully, looking up through her eyelashes. And, with a tight chest, he could only nod.
“Come in,” Jas called, and Kane slipped into her room. He cleared his throat and was about to greet her when he noticed the obviously cold burger sitting by her side. Obviously, because it was nine in the evening, and he’d seen her make it at five.
“Why do you always sit on the floor?” he asked instead, blinking down at her. She glanced up quickly from the book and flashed a dimpled grin.
“It’s comfy!” she chirped.
Kane shook his head – both in disagreement and wonder – and nodded at her book. “Whatcha reading?”
He could tell by her tone that she was teasing, and humoured her with a snort.
“Ha-ha. I was just going to ask if you can look after Law tomorrow. Work’s asked me to cover a shift.”
“Yeah course,” Jas said absently, before cutting her gaze away from the book and giving him a firm nod. “Sorry, but this is really good.”
“Who’s it by?” Kane asked, only because he knew that was a common question when someone was trying to recommend a book to you.
“Oh, um, Uma and Summer Williams.”
It was lucky that Jas was so entranced by the book. She missed the double take that Kane did, and the pregnant pause while he fumbled with his lacklustre response. He eventually mumbled out some string of words that Jas barely noticed anyway, and then ducked out of her room to press himself against her now closed door. He heard her bright delighted laughter at something in the book, and slowly let out his breath. He didn’t know why it had surprised him so much, made his heart skip a beat in panic, and he went back to his room surprisingly shaken.
Curiosity got the better of him and after a quick check on Law, Kane pulled his phone out. A quick internet search showed him the graphic novel – simply titled Torchlight. He scrolled through the Amazon listing of it just to make sure it was them (as if there could be another Uma and Summer Williams around) and viewed the first few pages. Summer’s other novels were listed there, and Kane was surprised to note she’d published a trilogy, and his eyes strayed to the second page where he could see a dedication – to my wonderful niece Echo.
That made him curious about the rest of the siblings, wondering which one of them had a kid now, but after a quick sneak on Skye’s facebook page he could only see various travelling photos of her and Felix. He skipped over Faye’s entirely and remembered that they also had younger brothers, and glanced through Liam’s page. There was a baby with wisps of black hair who he assumed was Echo featuring in some pictures with another man and a woman. Stung by the pure joy on their faces, he backed out and then failed to find Loxley’s page.
From what he knew of the guy, he wasn’t the type to bother with social media, but now that he had started Kane couldn’t help himself. He typed his name into the search bar and wasn’t surprised to find articles and various search results about his findings. Kane shook his head in amazement, wondering how that family had been so fortunate and smart.
Well, all except for one…
Kane glanced over at the snoozing Law and smiled slightly. “Maybe that’s where you get your genius from, kid,” he murmured.
A/N: The bit about Glasgow was a paraphrased quote from a book by Christopher Brookmyre, because I could never claim to be that witty and truthful about the damn city. Though if you ever happen to be in Scotland, just remember that Glaswegians are incredibly friendly (way more than those who live in Edinburgh). But maybe don’t wear the colours of Celtic or Rangers football teams on match day… or ever…