Saturday, I went shopping for a phone. Nothing special just a cheap Pay As You Go. I told the salesgirl it was a present for someone and got her to wrap it up. All I needed was the address from Edmund and it was all set, Jonathan would drive me there on Sunday. After the Vodafone shop I went to the cash machine and more or less emptied my savings account. On the way back home I got a call from Edmund.
"Edmund," I was hoping he'd come through with the address. "Did you get it?"
"Yeah, no problem. Well it took a little persuasion."
"Great, can you text it to me?"
"Sure, but I haven't got their phone number, only the address."
"That's all I need. I couldn't phone there anyway, I'm sure they wouldn't put Matty on."
"Guess not. Are you gonna go up there to see him?" Edmund asked.
I didn't want to get him into trouble, but neither did I want to keep him outside of things, he was Matty's friend. "I've got a plan. First yeah, I'm gonna try to talk to him, go and see him and then it depends on him, but my idea is not to come back."
"What do you mean, not to come back?"
"I mean that we run away together."
"Yes, but like I said it depends on Matty."
"But where would you go?"
"Don't know Edmund. One thing at a time."
"Well good luck. I hope things work out."
"Thanks, and thanks for coming through with the address."
"Okay, see ya Alex, stay in touch."
As I got in I saw Michael was home and I decided he should know what's going on. It kind of affected him as well. I went straight upstairs and wrote the address along with Matty's name on the mobile phone package. I was about to go and see Michael when he stuck his head round the door. He never did knock, which most times was annoying, but not now.
"Come in!" I called out.
"What's up?" He asked, standing inside the door and looking around.
"Close the door and sit down."
"There's no one home. They've both gone out."
He walked over and sat on the bed next to me. "Any news about Matty then?"
"Actually yes, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. I've got his address from Edmund, and Jonathan, Brandon's cousin, is taking me to see him tomorrow. The thing is Michael..." I looked him in the eyes. "I'm not coming back."
"You heard. I'm staying up there and gonna see if Matty and me can't be together somewhere."
"I thought you'd understand. I never should have told you. I trust you not to say anything."
"I won't say anything. You don't even need to ask that, but it's a crazy idea. And this Jonathan guy, Brandon's cousin, he knows what you’re doing?"
"No, he knows I want to see Matty. That's all, not the rest."
"He could get into trouble you know. What do think will happen if you disappear? Mum and dad will call the police. Jesus, Alex, they might think you've been kidnapped, had an accident, who knows."
"I don't care. I'm going and I'm not coming back. That's it."
"You know I'll have to tell them where you've gone, if they don't guess. I can't let them think something terrible happened to you, can I?"
"Yeah, well just don't say anything too soon. Not before, Tuesday. By then we'll be gone and it won't matter."
"I always thought you were the sensible one," Michael stood up.
"Well perhaps I am. But if sensible means having to live apart from the boy I love, and not being allowed to see him or talk to him, I really don’t give a shit anymore. Everything, everyone is against me."
"I'm not, and I don't suppose Jonathan is, or he wouldn't be taking you."
I didn't reply, there was nothing left to say. I was going, now he knew, that's all there was to it. He walked out closing the door behind him and all I could think of was getting my stuff together for tomorrow. I couldn't be concerned about what other people thought, not even what Michael thought.
Sunday morning I left the house early, Jonathan would pick me up outside the cafe. I told my parents I was going to see John Boy and had been invited to stay for Sunday lunch. I don't know why I chose that story, I suppose because it was plausible. I never thought that now I'd get John Boy and his family involved too.
It was cold standing around waiting, I had both hands stuffed into my pockets and my hoodie pulled over my head. When Jonathan's red mini pulled up, I let out a sigh, relieved that he’d shown up. I thought he might have backed out after I told him where Matty was living. Opening the door, I threw my bag over onto the back seat, sat down and pulled the seat belt across. At the same time looking over at Jonathan, I smiled, "Thanks for this, I really appreciate what you're doing for me."
He looked in the mirror and pulled away. "It's a four hour journey, you know?"
I didn't, I never even thought about it. I didn’t realise it was that far. Then I wondered why he was doing this for me. When I first met him he'd offered to be a friend to talk to, but I don't know him very well and now he was driving me halfway across the country.
"Thanks Jonathan," was all I could manage by way of a reply. "I can give you some money for petrol, if you want?"
"How about you buy the coffee when we stop, okay?" He gently patted the top of my hand.
"Deal," and with that I settled back in the seat and idly watched the cold world outside passing by.
It wasn't long before we were on the motorway leaving behind the urban streets where the city dwellers were slowly waking up to a chilly Sunday morning. We were following the large blue and white panels that plainly announced 'The North' like it was a place and a destination in itself rather than a journey into uncertainty.
The large clock on the wall of the motorway services announced 10:05, two hours we'd been on the road. The radio station Jonathan had tuned in had played music that deadened the journey and blocked the noise outside. Entering the large building through sliding doors, different music, rather more insipid, pervaded every corner. It was almost as much a part of the fabric of the place as the glass and metal, and plastic tables.
Jonathan took a tray and moved to the coffee machine taking two large white cups from the stack and two matching saucers. I was following behind like a zombie, seeing but not reacting, but I was aware enough to pay when we reached the man at the checkout till. I even noticed his long unkempt hair, he wasn't young, more overweight, and didn't smile. Neither did I when I handed over the cash. We found a plastic table and sat down, it was quite empty, there were only a few people about.
"You okay, Alex?"
"Yeah fine, just thinking. Guess I'm not great company."
"Not a problem. I'll just leave you here and pick up that cute hitch hiker I saw on the way in."
"Yeah okay, that's good,” I told him, sipping the hot coffee.
"You really should pay attention, I said I could leave you here."
"Alex darling, you're on another planet this morning. Never mind."
A bizarre conversation in a surreal environment. He was right, I wasn't listening. I felt myself getting further and further away, and not only counting the distance, but from reality. It felt like I had to turn everything off in my head or I'd never make it.
I was staring at frosty fields broken by hedges or wire fences. It seemed the further north we got the colder it looked outside. The constant hum of the engine mixed with the music from Kiss FM hardly altered as time drifted on. We were now heading towards 'The North East' like some twin part of that earlier destination, but still no clearer in it's description.
"It's twelve and here are the news headlines this Sunday..." announced the radio, which jarred me out of my stupor. We pulled into a large car park in front of a pub restaurant, 'The Fox and Hounds.' A banner slung underneath the pub sign read 'Sunday lunch special'. We must have left the motorway some way back, I'd not paid attention.
"Come on," Jonathan was talking to me. "Let's get lunch before we try to find out where he's living." I didn't object. I followed him into the restaurant and we waited to be shown to our table. "Hello and welcome to the Fox and Hounds," a clean good looking young man greeted us. "Table for two?" he smiled, and we followed him to a small table in a corner of the busy restaurant. He was just about to hand us the menus when Jonathan interrupted and looked up at him smiling back. "We'll have two specials please, a beer and a coke, thanks." The young man looked at Jonathan, I thought something might be going on there, but he just nodded saying. "Certainly, I'll be right back." He turned and left, carrying the menus with him.
"I think we need to talk," Jonathan was addressing me now.
"Yes we do. What exactly is your plan?"
"I suppose..." I was thinking as I spoke. "We find where Matty lives, you call and deliver the phone, then I will call him."
"Yeah well the first part is fine, but what if he doesn't answer straightaway, if he doesn't get the phone immediately, if he's out?"
"No problem. He'll pick up sooner or later."
"So we'll drop the phone off and head back?"
That was a tricky question, I hadn't told him I was staying here. What to say?
"Yeah, I guess." Was that non-committal enough?
We were interrupted by the waiter returning with our drinks and Jonathan was once again distracted. I sipped my coke sort of hoping he'd drop the conversation or talk about something else, but no. "If he doesn't answer straightaway you can leave a message and, well, it's four hours back so you should hear from him before we get home." Jonathan's expression seemed serious, or perhaps he was tired. Then it occurred to me. "We could hang around a bit before heading back. I think maybe you could do with a nap first. It's a lot of driving."
"Such a considerate boy," he smiled, "but I don't want to get back too late."
The good looking young man was back with our Sunday lunch. He looked at me and was smiling. Jonathan's eyes followed his movements, he only looked back to me after he'd disappeared.
"Nice, isn't he?" I said as I started eating.
"Oh my yes, he is," Jonathan smiled again.
The rest of the meal passed in relative silence. I realised that I was really hungry once I started eating, and polished off the Sunday roast in no time. The waiter passed our table a third time carrying empty plates and looked over. "Help yourself to a dessert from the counter, it's included," and he carried on walking. Was it the black trousers and white shirt that made him look sexy or the way those trousers showed off his neat little arse? Whatever, Jonathan seemed hooked, but for me, my mind kept going back to Matty and what I would do.
When dessert was chosen and eaten, just before getting up to leave, Jonathan called the waiter over. "Would you happen to know how far away is Kingswood Close?" That was the address Edmund had given me, 4 Kingswood Close.
"Oh, that's weird," he replied.
"Weird, how?" Jonathan asked him.
"’Cos that's where my mum's best friend lives."
"She's called Alice!" I chipped in, more as a quip than being serious.
"Yes, Alice Morrison."
"That's impossible." I said in total disbelief.
"Can you give us directions please?"
Jonathan smiled, ignoring the impossible coincidence. I was stunned, practically speechless. The waiter took a napkin from the table and a pen from his pocket and quickly drew a plan. "I have to go, the boss is watching," he pushed the napkin across to Jonathan and left quickly. Jonathan looked at the plan, all I could do was sit there trying to figure out how that just happened.
"It's not very far," Jonathan broke into my confused thoughts. "We'll go around there, deliver the phone, then come back here and have a chat with Sean."
"Sean?" I asked bewildered.
"The waiter," he replied. "His name is Sean." Jonathan turned the napkin around and tapped it with his finger. In the bottom corner, underneath the scrawled plan, was written 'Sean'.
It was only fifteen minutes, maybe less, and we pulled up outside the house.
"You stay in the car, okay," Jonathan said. "Give me the package, please."
I handed him the phone and watched as he walked up the path to the house. It was a small road with a turning circle at the end, half a dozen detached houses, each with a short drive and garage. A woman answered the door and I could just make out the conversation.
"Hello. I have a courier package for Mr Mathew Tetherton."
"Oh!" I heard her reply. "I didn't know you worked on Sundays."
"I'm a student, I only work the weekends, to help pay the fees."
"Yes, they are expensive aren't they?"
"They are. Would you sign here please." Jonathan presented his phone and a stylus.
The lady, I presume was Matty's Aunt Alice, duly signed. "Thank you," she said, taking the packet.
"Enjoy your Sunday afternoon," Jonathan replied turning and walking back to the car.
I watched her go inside the house and close the door.
"What now?" I asked Jonathan as he turned the key in the ignition.
"We go back to the restaurant and wait for Sean to finish work."
That seemed like a good enough plan for now. I decided to wait until we spoke to Sean before trying to call Matty. I was wondering if this totally crazy encounter which was about as likely as winning the lottery would change things. Maybe it would. Maybe someone up there was looking out for me!