A few things for this chapter:
Eilidh is pronounced A-lee. It’s a Scottish gaelic name.
Tory is a nickname for the Conservatives political party, which are right wing.
And finally Scottish grades, at least when Kane was in school, went from Standard Grades (15-16 year olds, with three levels going lowest to highest: Foundation, General, and Credit) to Highers (17 yo) and then Advanced Highers (18 yo). Also in Scotland you can leave education at 16, and leave home with parental permission.
Jasmine’s laughter entwined with Law’s as she watched Kane play with him. He was a sweet kid and it wasn’t hard to like him, and she wondered if he’d be as popular in school. “Are you going to throw him a party?” she asked, leaning over to the table to pick up a pencil and a small notepad she used to write her shopping list in.
Kane screwed up his face. “I was just planning on going out to the park. Having a party is a waste of money when we won’t remember it anyway. Right?”
Jasmine shrugged, hiding her smile. “I don’t remember mine, so I guess not.”
“Oh,” Kane’s brow furrowed. “Yeah, that’s true. I didn’t think of that –“
Jasmine waved his concern away quickly. “Not for the party, just maybe in general. Hey, why don’t you see if the single parent’s group want to do play-dates or something? I’m surprised it hasn’t been suggested yet.”
“I think it’s more the headache of organising it that’s putting people off,” Kane said, running his fingers through Law’s hair. His eyes drooped half-shut in contentment. “But I’ll suggest it.”
Jasmine nodded and pushed thick braids behind her ears. “Do you want anything from town?”
Law’s brow furrowed thoughtfully. “Please?” he asked, presuming it was what Kane wanted. Kane laughed and hugged him tightly.
“Maybe get some chocolate chips. I can make pancakes for us later.”
Jasmine smiled brightly. “Oooh, that’s exciting, isn’t it Law?”
Law’s eyes lit up at the mention of chocolate and he nodded eagerly. Jasmine ruffled his hair before rushing out to the shops, missing Law’s attempt to reach out to grab her hair back. Kane chuckled.
“Shall we go to the park then?”
Kane had long since realised he was a simple guy. He didn’t need anything fancy or expensive to get through the day, and before Law he was happy to chill out in front of the TV with some easy food and good friends to message. He didn’t know if that was the absence of ambition or just because he took life as it came, but he knew that some people – like Faye – wanted something more.
Now that he had Law, his happiness became even easier to chase, and all it took was an endearing smile to lift his mood.
That wasn’t to say that Kane was immune to rainy days, and his foul mood often came about as a result of a shift with a lazy co-worker or rude customers. Usually on those days he’d stomp home, playing some loud tracks that had been on his scratched mp3 player since his high school years, the heavy drums matching his pounding feet and the screaming lyrics echoing the frustration in his head, and often he’d follow the spiral of anger all the way down until Law’s trusting and pure smile melted the anger inside him like boiling water poured over ice. There was something about another life relying on Kane so completely that still got to him two years later.
Of course, he didn’t always get to go home straight after his black mood was consolidated, and he stomped his way into the town hall, Elspeth’s quiet sigh souring the ire inside him further.
The polite and irritatingly necessary small talk came first as he all but collapsed into the closest chair, rejecting the opportunity for the hot flask of tea to be passed around to him with a sharp flick of his hand, pissed off internal monologue only having more fuel to burn when he was told by an unapologetic Jacqueline that she’d already eaten the bowl of crisps set out for the group, even though he wouldn’t have taken many anyway.
He had the foresight to apologise for the mood, at least. If living with his so-called father had taught him anything, it was that knowing you weren’t the sole purpose for someone’s turbulent emotions helped lessen any impact of what was said in anger.
“Oh no, you’re in a bad mood!” Charlotte said in dismay, as if repeating what he said would add to the conversation in anyway. “How come?”
“Oh no,” Charlotte said again, seeming genuinely distressed at the news. “Bad customers?”
“Yeah.” Kane slouched further into his chair, cheeks still heated as he recounted what made him so frustrated. “You always get them though. People who think they can talk down to you just ‘cause you’re serving them. Rich pricks.” He scoffed and side-eyed Elspeth as he said it, though she was too busy scratching off a rogue fleck of nail polish which had been painted onto the skin at the side of her nail.
“All the fucking time,” Kane snorted.
“Language,” Elspeth said, as if he were a child she could scold. His face flushed at the reprimand, even though it wasn’t like there were any children present that she had to protect from his foul tongue. Before he could snap back at her – and he was sucking in a breath to do so – she finally glanced over to him with an expression of cool disdain. “If you dislike the job so much, why not find another one?”
And suddenly the wind was gone from his sail.
“Find… another one?”
“Yes,” she said slowly, with the kind of tone that suggested she thought her suggestion should be obvious. “A better job, such as one that you can’t complain about every time you come in here.”
At her words, Kane felt his fire reignite, and burst up to his feet. Jacqueline opened her mouth to intervene but already Kane was spewing out words, the pent up rage burning away any brain-to-mouth filter he had. “What other job am I qualified for? Not everyone had the kinds of opportunity you did, Elspeth, so don’t get on your high horse at me.”
Slowly, her chair was drawn back and she matched his height. “Excuse me?” she said pointedly. “The only things you need in life to succeed are ambition and motivation. You can only blame yourself if you aren’t where you’d like to be in life.”
Kane spluttered in shock. “Spoken like a true Tory!” he laughed, flinging his hands up. “I had to leave home at sixteen and stand on my own two feet. Tell me, where was I to get the money or time to continue my fucking education?”
Elspeth regarded him calmly. “There are opportunities out there for everyone. Night school. Online college classes. Apprenticeships. A hard life is no reason to accept the lot you’re given.”
“Actually, Elspeth, sometimes those opportunities are really hard to find or meet the criteria of.” She fidgeted, the nail of one finger scratching nervously against the edge of her thumbnail. “They are there,” she said quickly, placating whatever Elspeth had been ready to throw back, “but it’s not as easy as you think. There’s a reason the class divide exists, and it’s not usually because of any lack of trying to breach it.”
Kane threw her a grateful look at the unexpected back up and fought to regain some sense of calm before his blood pressure could skyrocket.
“Okay,” Elspeth accepted, though Kane could hear the iron underneath her words. “Then perhaps we should find some of these opportunities for you instead, so you can take them, since it is apparently so hard.”
“My problem is that there are far too many people in this world that sit back on their heels and tell themselves that they cannot succeed or progress, so they do not even try, resulting in this infestation of lazy people taking advantage of the welfare state.” She shook her head in frustration. “I am a teacher, Kane, and I see teenagers every day that are happy to make a nuisance of themselves and commit to a life like that rather than give a damn, and that’s exactly what you have proved yourself to be from day one.”
“Because of what?” Kane yelled. “I didn’t get any good grades because I was lazy, I got them because I had a shitty place to call home and no damn teacher gave me the time of day. They didn’t give a shit if I failed. No one did. Don’t hit me with this crap because it’s obvious you don’t try to understand why those “nuisance” teenagers don’t do well.”
“So because you had a rough upbringing you’re entitled to blame everyone but yourself for where you are today? Yes, I agree, the world is a harsh place and many people learn that far too young, but using that as an excuse not to try and better yourself is merely cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
“I’m not using anything as an excuse!” Kane snapped back, nails digging into the palms of his hand. “I’m not sitting here and saying ‘oh, poor me’, I’m just stating the fucking facts – I’m not qualified to get a better job, and I’m in no position to get a better qualification -“
“Come on now,” Jacqueline stepped in, her face a picture of motherly disapproval. “This is quite enough from both of you. This is an emotional discussion for you both and clearly you cannot have it in a civil manner. Now I know you two find it hard to get along, but we are all adults in this room. Can we act like it and debate this, rather than yell ourselves hoarse?”
At her firm reprimand Kane felt shame wash through him. She wasn’t angry, she was disappointed. How many times had he heard someone say that as a joke? Only now he realised how much worse it was to have someone you respected to be disappointed in you, rather than join in the shouting match.
Elspeth, too, seemed to have regained some of her senses. Spots of red appeared on her cheeks and she murmured something that may have been an apology.
Kane shook his head and held out his palm in the universal sign for stop. “We should just get back to the meeting,” he said. “I’m not sure I can talk about this without getting mad.”
Elspeth tucked loose hair back into her buns and then smoothed her palms over her sweater. “How about,” she said instead, “I tutor you.”
Kane blinked. “Excuse me?”
“As I said, I’m a teacher, and a fairly adaptable one at that. Primarily I teach business and computing subjects, but I have also filled in for others, such as modern studies and history. If you would like an opportunity to get those qualifications, here you are.”
Kane didn’t like the idea of spending more time with Elspeth than necessary, but she had also accused him of being lazy and passing up opportunities not a minute before. He could hardly say no now, without proving everything she had accused him of being.
“Um,” he said, feeling about two inches tall. “Alright. Sure.”
And that was how Kane ended up spending his Saturday mornings around at Elspeth’s.
She had instructed him to bring Law so that he could keep Eilidh company while they worked, and with Jasmine’s recommendation for Law to be around more kids in mind, he agreed. Following the winding roads around the rich part of town was unsurprisingly awkward, like everyone was looking out their windows at Kane trudging up the hill with a pram and knowing – as he did – that he didn’t belong here.
It took him longer than he expected to find Elspeth’s house, primarily because there was no rhyme or reason to the naming theme and there weren’t even numbers to help him out. In the end he let google direct him and ended up at an intimidating house whose sheer size almost made Kane turn around.
But he couldn’t prove Elspeth right, and he also couldn’t be late, so he dutifully made his way to her door and rang the bell.
He followed her inside and was surprised by the decor of the house – the surprise being that it was stuck somewhere in the last generation, and even the paintings on the wall looked totally out of place for Elspeth’s character. Kane eyed the planes on one wall, and the technical drawings on the other, and with a befuddled shake of his head he followed Elspeth into the kitchen.
“It was my parent’s house,” she explained, seeing him eye the old lampshades. “I only moved back in when I split with my ex-husband.”
“Oh,” Kane mumbled. “Do they mind?”
“They don’t live here anymore,” she said, in a final tone. Kane took that to mean they didn’t live anymore and didn’t chase it up with more questions, the awkward atmosphere settling in on his shoulders.
Elspeth pulled over a playpen and let Eilidh down into it. Kane followed suit and Law immediately moved over to his new friend as she picked up the drumstick tied to her musical toy and began to show him a nonsensical tune. Satisfied that Law would be preoccupied, he turned to Elspeth who gestured to the table.
Kane felt an anxious twist to his stomach when he sat down and in front of him waited a new pad of paper and a pen. A heavy textbook sat off to the side, and printed sheets of nonsense were highlighted underneath Elspeth’s folded hands.
“The national curriculum specifies what must be learnt in each subject, which is what I’ve got here. We’ll refer to it every so often to keep us right, but mostly I want to teach you a broader knowledge of subjects that will stand you in far better stead for life.”
“What standard grades did you get?”
The blunt question made Kane fidget. He was sure his face must be burning, and almost wished Law would make a fuss to give him an excuse to leave. Law, of course, was far too interested playing with his new friend, and his happy sounds and imaginary game grounded Kane.
“Uh, nothing great. The usual stuff at General grade, Maths and English, religious studies, German, IT, Tech education, and PE at general. I, uh, only got foundation level for physics.”
Elspeth nodded, her expression giving none of her thoughts away. “And do you know what you want out of this?”
Kane blinked, his mind remaining stubbornly blank. “Um,” he stalled. “No… not really. I guess I never thought about it. No point entertaining a pipe dream and all that.”
Elpseth linked her fingers together on the table and leaned back. Still, her expression was unreadable. “Okay. What did you enjoy at school, or what do you have an interest in now?”
Kane tried to think of what his hobbies were and realised that it was really just Law that consumed his thoughts. Casting his mind back further, to school, also proved fruitless: all of his time then was spent dreading every second of the day, rather than enjoying any subject.
Seeing the panic on his face, Elspeth sighed.
Despite their less than sunny relations, Kane hated to disappoint her. “You know I actually do like working,” he said quickly. “I like being independent and knowing I’m doing a good job. The shitty customers don’t always get to me. Only if I’m having a bad day. Most of the regulars are a riot, you know?”
Elspeth pursed her lips. “Why don’t you progress there, then?”
Kane screwed up his face in confusion. “Like, be a manager?”
“Absolutely. Why not?”
“I mean, I guess I never thought about that either. The current manager has been there since well before me though. I think she’s pretty set in it.”
“Do you think you could manage a business like that?”
Kane blinked. “I… guess? If I knew how to, I wouldn’t mind doing it.”
“Right. A starting point, finally.”
Kane felt himself tense and was about to reply with a scathing comment of his own until he saw the little tilt in her lips, and realised that this must have been her sense of humour. It was dry, and easily mistaken for a dig, but he found his gathering anger was dispelled anyway.
After almost two hours of discussing business and what a managerial position would entail, Elspeth agreed to help Kane reach a formal qualification for business studies, even though she did emphasise that it wasn’t necessary to move up in a position, particularly in one he had already been in a while. Still, since his manager didn’t look like she was leaving until she retired, a formal qualification could be handy in getting him in a position elsewhere in town.
Kane didn’t realise how tired he was until Elspeth stood from the chair. He yawned at her back, not bothering to cover his mouth since she wasn’t facing him, and wondered at the time. His stomach grumbled and he realised it must be close to lunch time.
“You’re welcome to stay for lunch,” Elspeth said politely. “I actually wanted to become a home economics teacher first and foremost, so I know a fair amount about cooking. If you ever fancy becoming a manager at a restaurant, knowing about food will be helpful also.”
Kane nodded and offered his skills up, though there wasn’t much he could do to help. Mostly he watched as Elspeth prepared what was – to him – far too fancy a lunch, and she was animated as she spoke about complementing flavours and cooking secrets. He did the washing up as she spoke, listening to her chatter and to Law and Eilidh playing with a teddy bear.
Eventually he could escape home, and surprised himself by admitting that it hadn’t been as terrible as he had assumed. In fact, it had been pleasant – to use a word that Elspeth would have used. Law was happy with his new friend too, and Kane was grateful that he could kill two birds with one stone. Besides, if it helped him get a manager’s position in the long run, that would mean more money, which could never be a bad thing.
I am so ready for Law to be a kid. Next chapter, woo!