Chase frowned as he slotted the key into the hole, listening to the click as the lock opened. He ducked into the room, shaking rain out of his hair, worry sinking his gut. Law hadn’t turned up at the festival in time for it to close, so Chase had to make up an excuse for him. There’d been radio silence all day, and Chase’s heart was fluttering with panic. He’d given Law this opportunity; he’d planned it all out and encouraged the younger boy to go. What if something had happened to him? It was unlikely, he knew, but Law was practical. He wouldn’t just ignore Chase’s messages…
He was surprised to find that the room was warm with steam curling underneath the bathroom door. Chase felt annoyance flash though him – why had Law put him in that position to lie to his teacher if he was back? – but as quickly as it came, it faded. He felt like his limbs were heavy and leaden. Something had gone wrong.
“Law?” Chase asked, shutting the door behind him and raising his hand to knock on the bathroom door. The shower wasn’t on, so Law must be close to finished, and his theory proved correct when Law opened the door before he could knock. The younger boy looked surprised, momentarily, but then his eyes lowered.
“Sorry,” he said meekly. “I hope I didn’t get you into trouble.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Chase said dismissively. “What happened?” Somehow he’d never believed that it wouldn’t go well. Law was easy to like, once you passed the quiet, private manner he had.
Law just shook his head, blue eyes darker than Chase had ever seen. He moved to step around Chase and, quickly, with his athletic impulses, he blocked the way. Law stared up at him in a surly manner, which was surprising for the mild-mannered teen. Chase held onto his upper arms with a frown. He knew Law didn’t talk about anything personal, but he didn’t want his friend to suffer in silence.
Law looked away and sighed. “There’s nothing much to say, Chase. She doesn’t want me.”
Chase’s heart stuttered at the solemn tone. “You spoke to her?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“Then how do you know?” Chase countered, victoriously. Law stared at him with sullen eyes.
“She has a daughter. I met her. She seems nice.” He shrugged a shoulder and succeeded in passing Chase. He pushed his dirty clothes back into the bag. He was already in his PJ’s; there was no way he was going downstairs for dinner.
“My sister’s hardly that much younger than me,” Law pointed out. “So my mum had me, left me with dad, and then went on to have another daughter who she was happy to take home. I have grandparents, Chase. And cousins, and aunts, uncles. And – and a half-sister!” He flung his arms up, but his eyes looked suspiciously wet. “But I don’t belong in that family. I’m not wanted there,” he said miserably, turning away again. He reached up to – presumably – wipe his eyes as surreptitiously as possible. Chase could tell he didn’t want to cry in front of someone, but he could also tell that Law needed not to bottle this up.
With a sigh he squeezed Law’s shoulders in comfort, guessing that the usually reserved teen wouldn’t appreciate anything more physical, like a hug. Law was blinking quickly, but no tears had yet been spilled.
“Law,” Chase said softly, “You don’t know that. So don’t tell yourself that until you know for sure.” Chase felt the familiar pain in his chest, memories almost making his own eyes sting. “Until they, themselves, tell you that, you can’t know it. And you shouldn’t talk yourself out of something that could be amazing.”
Law sniffed and continued to try and suppress his tears. “I don’t want to talk about it, Chase.”
Chase sighed and dropped his hands from Law’s arms. “Alright,” he said slowly. “But I’m not leaving you to mope here on your own. Get your clothes back on, genius. We’re going to have dinner and then we’re going to bless everyone with our karaoke voices.”
Law froze, comedic horror descending upon his face. “You’re lying. There’s not a karaoke machine here…”
Chase grinned wickedly. “Oh, there is.”
To Law’s chagrin, there was indeed a karaoke machine nestled in the corner of the hotel bar, and Chase pulled Law over with a delighted grin. Law couldn’t deny how his heart leapt to see it, despite how unsettled and lost he felt.
Law was never usually self-conscious, but it was hard not to be in the intimate setting with the patrons eyeing them as Chase happily picked a song. Law made a disgusted sound as Barbie girl came up on the screen. “No,” he said, shaking his head, trying to hand the microphone back to Chase. Chase laughed, pushed his hand away, and brought his microphone to his lips. He looked at Law coyly.
“Are you Barbie or ken?” he asked, cocking his head.
Law groaned and resigned himself to his fate. Besides, it was hard to say no to Chase when he looked at Law like that. “I’ll be Ken,” Law decided.
Chase nodded and made a dramatic show of clearing his throat, using his squeakiest voice to sing Barbie’s parts, while Law alternated by trying to make his voice deeper and laughing too much to sing in the first place.
The shock of meeting Echo – and being confronted with the realisation that his mother hadn’t reached out to him for a reason – still weighed on his heart, but Chase made everything lighter, and Law couldn’t tell himself that he was completely unwanted. He had his dad, and Jas, and some very, very good friends.
“Can I choose the next song?”
Chase grinned brightly. “Oh, you’re getting into it! Of course.”
With a smirk, Law picked an Eminem song, patting Chase on the shoulder as he put his microphone back in its stand. “Good luck. I’m going to get some coke.”
Chase spluttered, both in indignation and from laughter, as the opening words for the fast paced music began.
“It needs work,” Kane said with a faint frown, while Law shoved a hand in his pocket in search for any more boiled sweets he’d stuffed there before being dragged out to see houses.
Jasmine snorted. “What house on our budget won’t?” She gave him a sunny smile. “Besides, it’ll be fun. Decorating and making it our own…”
Kane shrugged. “I’ll leave that work to you.” She nudged him and said something too low for Law to hear, but it made his father laugh, the tips of his ears turning red, and Law rolled his eyes and stared at the brickwork next to him instead. It was a faded yellow colour, which at first glance Law had detested, but after a tour of the house he had warmed considerably to the place. He kept his mouth shut, though, because he was fully aware that he’d be flying the nest within as little as two years, chasing some university degree (or, if his biology studies continued at their current pace, he could possibly skip to a PhD) at seventeen. This wasn’t going to be his family home for much longer, so he might as well let them choose whatever place they wanted to make their new home, for any new family they decided to add.
Law narrowed his eyes absently at the ugly feeling of jealousy stirring inside him. Rationally he understood why the envy was twisting inside him. Of course it would be weird to have a younger sibling – he inhaled sharply as he remembered that he already did – and Kane glanced over his shoulder to frown at Law.
“Alright?” he asked, studying his son. If Kane had noticed that Law had been subdued in the days since his physics trip, he said nothing about it. Law mumbled something and shrugged, so his father turned back to teasing Jasmine. Law grit his teeth against the unnerving feeling of losing the person closest to him, telling himself that he was only sharing him, and besides, it wasn’t like Jasmine had only just come into their lives.
He was being ridiculous, and he knew it, but understanding that didn’t change what he felt.
He brushed his hand over the old bricks and the climbing plant digging into the mortar as it rose to meet the sun, and was pulled from his thoughts as his father nudged him to let him know they were moving on to look at the next house.
And so it went for the rest of the day. They had queued up several viewings and both of them insisted on Law being present, but he found it pointless as he spent more time lost in his thoughts than listening to the estate agent giving them the tour. He hadn’t said more than a few words during the course of the day, and felt like he was a ghost, drifting behind the blissfully happy couple.
Inside, both Kane and Jas had made all the right noises, but Law had found himself wrinkling his nose at how cramped the house was. The first one of the day hadn’t been much bigger, but the space was used better, and there was a space for a third bedroom. Law didn’t want to heed the internal pessimistic voice, but he had to wonder if he would be expected to share his room with a baby and be downgraded to a guest bed whenever he returned from university later in life.
He shook his head at himself and sighed. Stop, he told himself firmly. This was their happiness, and they should choose whatever was right for them. He’d work around it, whatever it meant for him.
“What do you think, Law?” Kane asked, peering behind Jas’ shoulders to meet Law’s gaze. Law took a moment to realise he was being asked a question and gave a dazed blink, shaking himself from his internal monologue, and saw that his father was looking at him with concern.
“It’s nice,” he said with a noncommittal shrug.
“Ah, the genius boy with the vocabulary of immense proportions says it’s ‘nice’. That can’t be good.” Jas squeezed Kane’s hand and threw a teasing grin over her shoulder, but Law didn’t take it in his usual good humour. He made a face at the ground.
“Yeah, it’s fine. You guys have good taste.” He fiddled with his phone in his pocket. He’d been talking to Chase almost constantly since returning from the trip, and while Law knew it was because Chase felt bad and wanted to keep checking up on him, he couldn’t help but hope the older boy genuinely didn’t want to go a few hours without talking to him.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jasmine and Kane share a look, and Law focused on breathing instead of pushing past them like he suddenly wanted to.
Towards the end of the day they had planned a picnic, easing their exhausted bodies down onto the blanket that Jas had set down on the ground with a flourish. Law folded himself onto it silently, checking his phone and sighing when he saw there was nothing new to distract himself with. Kane made a grabbing motion with his hands, reaching for Law’s phone, but thanks to his martial arts his reactions were too quick. He tucked the phone out of sight and scowled at his father, who grinned back at him.
“I know that kind of sigh. Girl problems?” He nudged Jas, who stretched her legs out in front of them. “I bet our boy’s going to break hearts if he hasn’t already.”
Law felt himself blush, which only made Kane’s grin widen. He found it odd that the use of ‘our’ suddenly made anger flash through him, but he was wise enough to keep his mouth locked closed. Perhaps it was because of his recent trip. It had certainly never bothered him before, on the few occasions Kane slipped up and referred to Law as such.
“I don’t know,” Jasmine said, eyes sparkling. “You’re nicer than to go around breaking hearts, I hope.”
“I’m not breaking any hearts,” Law grumbled, barely restraining himself from snapping at her.
“What’s her name, then?” Kane chuckled at Law’s disgruntled look. “I don’t exactly have much dating advice, but maybe your friend could be your wingman. What’s his name? Rhoan?”
Law made a choked noise of disbelief, which made Jasmine laugh so hard she clutched her belly. It didn’t help with Kane flicked a stray crisp towards her with a chiding look.
“Law’s not getting into anyone’s pants until he’s at least sixteen, which is a whole year. Right, Law?” Kane said, raising an eyebrow at him. Law felt his face flush, but it was more with annoyance and frustration than embarrassment.
“Oh my God!” he spluttered. “I’m not talking to a girl! I’m talking to my friend. Just drop it.” He didn’t mean to let as much venom bleed into his voice as it had, but Jasmine and Kane just shared a knowing look and a giggle. Law felt his hands curl into fists. He wished he had a training dummy or, even better, someone to spar with in Aelview, because he really really wanted to hit something.
Jasmine nudged Kane with her foot to not-so-secretly get him to drop the topic. “Houses, then,” she said brightly. “What do we think?”
As one they turned to him, raising their eyebrows expectantly, and Law wondered how they’d planned to corner him like this without him realising.
“I said they were fine,” he forced out.
“Fine,” Kane relayed to Jas. “They’re fine, apparently.”
“Can you stop being such –“ Law cut himself off before going any further, the abruptness of it reminding him of the time Elspeth had slammed onto the brakes to prevent them from hitting a deer when driving through country roads late one night. Everyone inside had jerked forward like the car was suddenly on two wheels rather than four, and that was a bit how he felt now. Both Jasmine and Kane were looking at him in surprise. Even though he hadn’t finished, it was clear why he’d censored himself, and given that he never dropped rude words it had certainly got their attention. He sighed. “I’m going to go to bed,” he decided, standing up and making sure the spare keys were still in his pocket.
Kane was already half up. “Wait, no, Law –“
“It’s fine. I’m just tired.” He stomped away before Kane could say anything else, and somehow resisted the urge to look over his shoulder at them.
“What a moody teen,” Eilidh giggled as Law relayed the story to her. Rhoan, who had been crouching down to tighten Eilidh’s laces after the girl fluttered her eyelashes at him, glanced up at his friend with a teasing grin.
“It’s ‘cause he takes himself too seriously.”
“No,” Law snapped, narrowing his eyes. Then he sighed. “Maybe,” he admitted. “I don’t know, I never used to feel this angry all the time.” As Eilidh’s mouth opened, he gave her a sharp look. “Oh my God, I get it, hormones, sheesh.”
Rhoan chuckled, but he finished tying his knot and then stood up, lightly punching Law’s arm. “I mean, there’s a lot of shit going on for you right now. Finding your other family, Jasmine and your dad getting more serious, moving home… You know you are allowed to have emotions, right?”
“What are you now, my therapist?” Law said dryly.
“Ooh, this one I can answer!” Eilidh said, cutting Rhoan off before he could. “Rhoan has been telling me all about how guys don’t like to have emotions or whatever.”
“That is absolutely not what I was trying to say,” Rhoan groaned, scrubbing his hands over his face. “How did you get it so wrong, seriously, Eilidh?”
“Well, maybe it’s so you can keep talking to me to explain it again?” she said sweetly, clasping her hands together as Law rolled his eyes and moved over to the dartboard.
It had already been explained to him that Eilidh and Rhoan had been texting and talking most nights, and despite how he was feeling about Jas and his dad getting closer than ever, it was nice to have Rhoan and Eilidh befriending one another. It was like his two groups were finally joining, and even though he was very obviously the third wheel, Law didn’t mind. Neither of them were being difficult about it, and both of them had wanted him along to prevent any awkwardness between each other when they met up again.
“Okay, I can’t argue with that,” Rhoan said, hooking his foot around a chair to pull it around. He tugged one over for Eilidh too so that they could both watch Law practice with the darts. “I’m just trying to educate your small-town mind,” he said, reaching out to pinch Eilidh’s earlobe teasingly. She stuck out her tongue at him.
“And what was the lecture?” Law asked absently, feeling the weight of the dart in his hand.
“I was paraphrasing my mother’s lecture on feminism,” Rhoan shrugged. “She got annoyed at something she saw on the internet and went off on one. Then Eilidh asked me about it when I was telling her that night.”
“What does feminism have to do with emotions?” Law asked, screwing up his face in confusion and momentarily forgetting the dart. He shook himself out of it with a frown; usually he found it no problem to focus entirely on something, but his mind had been all over the place since returning from the trip, for all sorts of reasons.
Law snorted and threw the dart, giving a shrug when he ended up on the inner ring. Not bad, considering. He took his second and rolled it between his fingers thoughtfully. “Enlighten me, then.”
Though Law was focused on the board, he could imagine Rhoan puffing himself up as he got ready to do just that. “Okay, so the basic dangerous belief that has permeated through society is that emotions are bad, because they’re feminine and for woman, i.e. weak.”
Eilidh wrinkled her nose. “Whoever came up with that clearly hasn’t dealt with cramps.”
Rhoan snorted. “Well, no, because it’s clearly dudes that came up with that. Y’know, that damn patriarchy.” He shook his fist at the sky for good measure, laughing.
“Right,” Law muttered distractedly, throwing his next dart. He gave a pleased smile when it landed in the bullseye. He picked up his final dart.
“Right,” Rhoan repeated. “You know, it’s pretty relevant to you, dude. You don’t exactly express yourself, you know? That’s not really… great for you.”
Law loosed his final dart and scowled as he barely hit the outer ring. “I’m doing fine,” he said mildly, and ignored Rhoan’s disbelieving snort.
“That’s fine, we can continue this riveting conversation,” Law said, giving a roll of his eyes so his sarcasm was extra obvious.
“What’s riveting mean?” Eilidh asked, scratching the back of her head comically.
“Fascinating,” Rhoan replied, his fingers brushing hers. “But he was being a sarcastic little shit, so.”
“Hey,” Law said in protest, digging his elbow into Rhoan’s ribs. The other boy grunted and jerked away, knocking into Eilidh who steadied him with a laugh.
There was a pause and then, in a sombre voice, Rhoan glanced over to Law. “It’s serious though. I mean, you know the biggest killer of guys in most age brackets up until, like, fifty, is themselves? All because they just don’t fucking talk, you know?”
At this, Law laughed. “Somehow I don’t think some changes and anger issues are going to result in me offing myself.” He decided to ignore Rhoan’s disapproving look at the comment. “Come on, let’s go to the grass.”
As they walked onto the grass, Eilidh hung back and then successfully tripped Rhoan up after a few tries (Law was sure that Rhoan had let her do it on purpose, and shook his head in amusement. He really had it bad). He rolled over and swore at her, which made her giggle, and she came forward to perch on his knees. Law stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked down at his friend.
“Well, we still have fifteen minutes, and I’m comfy,” Eilidh said happily. “Law why don’t you share with us your problems?” She made a show of twiddling her thumbs, though when Rhoan shifted beneath her she squawked and flailed her hands out for balance. He laughed and grabbed her hand to steady her.
Law pursed his lips together. There was a lot on his mind – his growing crush on Chase, his mother who had happily abandoned him, his father and Jas who were planning a life that didn’t involve him, exactly, and add in to that their sudden interest in his love life which had to revolve around a girl and he did have a lot on his plate. But it was nothing that wouldn’t pass, either by time or when he got used to the new status quo. Besides, sharing out his problems with them felt… uncomfortable. He didn’t like the idea of opening up to show them his insecurities and vulnerabilities, even if they were best friends.
“I’m good,” Law smirked.
“This was fun,” he told them both, and then his eyes drifted over to Eilidh. Law was already walking back, hands stuffed into his pockets for warmth, but Eilidh was walking backwards and looking expectantly at Rhoan, a pleased little smile on her face that made Law warm and happy inside.
“Yes?” she said, twirling hair around her finger.
Rhoan fiddled with his jacket nervously. “And you wanna do it again? Maybe without a chaperone this time? No offense Law; your company is lovely.”
Law huffed a laugh at this, seeing Eilidh blush out of the corner of his eye. “I think that would be lovely,” she said, putting on a posh accent, though it failed halfway through when she giggled. “You can text me a time and a date sometime.”
Rhoan gave a mock bow. “Certainly. Until next time, folks.” He saluted them and turned on his heel to wave the bus down. Law shook his head and nudged his friend.
“I hope you’re not about to go breaking his heart,” Law smiled. Eilidh hooked her arms around Law’s.
“Not planning on it. If he breaks mine, do you promise to beat him up for me?”
Law laughed. It wouldn’t be hard; Rhoan’s idea of fighting was usually flailing rather than coordinated punches. “I don’t think you’ll need any help with that, Eilidh,” he said, patting her hands.
The next night Law was skimming over an interesting book, where the beautiful watercolour illustrations had been incorporated wonderfully with the text, and he was utterly entranced. The book was translated from French, but no less beautiful for it, and Law had to wonder who had done the work. It certainly felt like none of the meaning had been lost.
At his side, his phone buzzed, drawing Law out of his focus. He’d read somewhere a theory of learning which spoke about the flow state, wherein the learner’s skills was closely matched to the difficulty of the task, and so the task absorbed them fully, and ever since then he’d noticed how often he found himself immersed in whatever task he was performing, how in this zone he could become, so much so that he struggled to understand how so much time had passed, and why he was suddenly so hungry.
It was for this reason he forgot to answer his phone right away. The book drew him right back in, the evocative images filling his mind, and it wasn’t until his phone buzzed a second time that he remembered that he hadn’t looked at it. He twisted around to retrieve his phone, the book sliding off his lap with the movement, but it settled perfectly on the page he had been reading so he decided to leave it where it was for now.
And then his phone immediately garnered all of his attention.
He unlocked his phone and scrolled down the long message, his eyes skimming the black text, thumb smoothing over the screen to pull more of it into view. His heart began to speed up, adrenaline coursing through him without him really realising why, and as he got to the end he let his phone slip onto his lap and then leaned back, craning his neck up back to stare blankly at the ceiling.
It was an interesting turn of events, and Law couldn’t figure out if he was happy about this or not. Echo – and it had to be that Echo, if not for the unusual name then for the Williams in her surname – had found him on Facebook and reached out. He had considered the trip put behind him. There was to be no follow up on his end, he’d decided, but he’d failed to realise that his half-sister had heard him say his name, and it wouldn’t have been impossible to track him down. Chase had shown how easy it was for someone who had been largely off social media for the best part of two decades, and while he didn’t bother posting much but interesting scientific discoveries, he wasn’t hiding. His profile might not even be private; he had no idea.
So, she had found him. And she’d reached out. He read the message again, mulling it over in his head.
Hey Law, I hope this isn’t weird but I want to know why you came to my grandad’s house the other day. I guess at the time it didn’t click but you said your last name was Williams too? I don’t really get what’s going on but I want to find out, and grampa James said that he thinks he knew your dad and would really like to talk to you too. Or you could just talk to me. Or neither of us, I guess, that’s fine too. Just message me back if you want to? I’ll leave you alone if I don’t hear back…. & If you do msg back I promise I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want me to. I just… Gramps won’t tell me what he thinks happened but my best guess is my mum is your mum too… somehow… so please just… reply?
Law took the phone in his hand and turned it around a few times, feeling the smooth plastic under his fingers. Echo wasn’t an idiot: she’d heard him ask after Faye, mentioning that he had the same surname as her family, and had put two and two together. Maybe her – their – granddad had said something that had clued her in too. Law couldn’t help but be curious. How on earth did he know Kane, if he was right? Law chewed on his bottom lip. It wasn’t like he had to reply to it instantly, and he could do with some time to digest the information. He would wait until after the weekend, at least. Enough time that he wasn’t going to rush into a rash decision.
Idly he tapped on her profile picture, which took him to her page. A quick scroll showed that she had a lot of friends, and was a surprisingly talented artist. It looked like she was trying to get into an art-focused school, or possibly being courted by one, which was interesting given that she was only thirteen. Law kept scrolling until a name caught his eye, and despite himself his jaw dropped. Echo was friends with a man called Loxley Williams, and if Law was right…
He clicked on the man’s page and, despite the high privacy setting, could access enough information to see that he was correct. It was the Loxley Williams. The renowned biologist. He returned to Echo’s page to find her listed family, and shook his head as he realised that her – and therefore his – uncle was this man.
Law pulled up his schedule on his phone and ran a hand through his hair. Yup, he wasn’t wrong.
Loxley was scheduled to give a lecture to the biology students at the school the week after next.
Long author’s note warning!
SOooooo I super hate these pictures, they seem lazy to me, especially after how much I was killing it in the last few, but I had to get this out or I never would.
Apologies for disappearing. I do that sometimes when I just have no energy and can’t face working on projects. It’s a spiral that’s a pain to break out of, and sometimes I just need to let my projects rest. I have too many things I’m trying to do, lmao, and when my brain is like ‘hey let’s not do anything because it’s time for you to be sad’ I just can’t argue. So if I ever take a break from commenting and posting that’ll be why!
I was also a bit unsure about how to take the story forward. At first Echo was going to run into Law in town while he was still staying, and then I thought I should leave it a while and either have her turn up in Glasgow or Chase try to contact her, but then I wrote the scene that immediately followed Law’s departure and realised James would not let this go without some answers after Echo repeated what Law had said, thus encouraging her to contact him, and I think this works out far better.
And just a quick reassurance to anyone that needs one – despite the serious conversation between Law and Rhoan, Law isn’t going to be struggling with depression/suicide. Emotions and expressing himself, yes, but not anything further. It was just because Rhoan always sees Law struggle with things in silence and wanted to try and encourage him to, you know, not do that. But I thought I’d mention it in case that wasn’t your thing and you were worried.
I’ll see you guys in the comments! Are you excited to see some of the family again? 😀