Aled stayed overnight. He was sitting at the table drinking tea with Gareth when I came downstairs. The first thing that crossed my mind was where did he sleep? We greeted each other. Gareth offered a cup of tea, but I said I preferred coffee. After boiling the kettle I poured a mug and joined them at the table. I had left Matty sleeping.
"I'm going over to see Steve later on," Gareth said. "Should be back in the evening sometime. Aled's staying here."
I nodded and gave a weak smile. I was still in the process of waking up.
"Maybe you could cook another stew for tonight?" Gareth asked.
I was only half listening, and looking around the room, still wondering about Aled.
"Cook something?" Gareth repeated, staring at me.
"Oh yeah, sure... sorry I'm not quite awake... After last night, you know, not used to that, two nights in a row."
"You must have lived a very quiet life then," Aled chipped in.
"Hey, remember we're a few years younger than you two."
I quite liked Aled, I couldn't say why, maybe just because he was laidback and easy to get on with. He wasn't bad looking either, a bit thin though.
"Well I'm off," Gareth announced. "See you all tonight."
He got up and put his mug next to the sink, grabbing his jacket as he went out the backdoor. As he was closing it, he turned and smiled.
I listened to his bike start up and roar out of the yard. As the noise faded, I heard the wood creak and turned to see Matty coming down the stairs. It was then I noticed a sleeping bag rolled out on the sofa. So Aled slept on the sofa last night, not with Gareth. I had wondered, you know with Gareth being cool about us and Aled also taking it all in his stride. Don't get me wrong, it was neat that nobody cared about us being gay.
Matty wiped the sleep from his eyes. "I could use some coffee.”
"Sit down," I told him, "I'll get it. Kettle’s just boiled."
When I came back Aled posed a question. "You two been together long?"
"Well, we've known each other for ages," I replied, "but actually... ah, like together as in a couple... well not long."
"Yeah," Matty added, "it was me had to tell scaredy first. I reckon if I never told him he'd still be in the back of the closet."
Aled chuckled at that. "I suppose I would," I replied.
"Yeah, so well buried inside we'd never even see you if we opened the door." Matty was smiling, but seriously, he was probably right.
"Ha ha ha, very funny," I was looking at him grinning. "And if I never came up here to get you... you'd still be a prisoner of your Aunt Alice."
I asked Aled if Gareth had said anything about us. Only about finding us in the cottage he said, that was all. That morning we sat around a newly lit fire after breakfast, washing up, and bringing in some more logs. Matty and I told him our story. Not in every tiny detail, but enough for him to know what happened and how we ended up here at the farmhouse.
Aled was a good listener, but he didn't do much talking. Maybe the one explained the other. He did say that like Matty and me, he'd known Gareth since they were little kids at school together. He also said that Gareth was a loner, but that was kind of a given I thought, least ways, if you live on your own in the middle nowhere.
When conversation between us drifted to silence I thought it was time to look at the phone messages. There had been two more missed calls since yesterday and one new message. That last message was my parents again and the missed calls were our home number, so that must have been them as well. The texts from my mum and dad all said the same thing, that I couldn't solve things by running away. That I could end up in worse trouble, something terrible could happen, and the least I should do is talk to them. They were worried about me, and about Matty. The message from Jonathan was to ask how we were, to contact him if we needed help. My little brother just texted, 'miss you, both, please come home.'
My mum had left a voice message and listening to her voice was a bit emotional. I didn't want to hurt her, but they'd both done nothing for me and Matty, and that hurt me. I got to thinking about them and sent a text to say everything was fine, we were staying with a friend. I didn't think I could come home, and I was sorry but my phone had died and there was no way to recharge it, so sorry for the silence. Anyway, I was thinking, I'd texted from the train on Sunday, so they knew I was alive. I wasn't about to go back, no matter what they said. I replied to Jonathan to say thanks, and told Michael not to worry about us, everything was great. I hoped they'd all believe me and just leave us alone.
We had a sandwich for lunch and Matty and I prepared another stew for when Gareth got home. I asked Aled if Steve was coming back.
"Nah," he replied. "Gareth is just picking up the stuff."
Stuff? From Steve. "What stuff?" I asked him.
Obviously he didn't mean to say that, I guess it just slipped out and now he would have to clarify. "Ur... oh fuck, never mind, he's gone to score."
"Score?" Matty was in on the conversation now.
"Yeah..." Like I said already, Aled used few words.
Of course it hit me, ding, imbecile I thought to myself. "Dope."
"What else?" Aled grinned.
"George Clooney!" Matty exclaimed.
Then we were all three of us laughing. Sometimes absurd conversations do that. They crash the tension into laughter, and we weren't even stoned. Aled went on to explain that Gareth would get 'half a weight' of dope, cannabis, from Steve about every six to eight weeks. They would split it between them, each keep half of their share to smoke and sell the rest to pay for it. A real little business that most of the time kept them supplied, except for the odd occasion when there was a scarcity. I had to interrupt his account from time to time to ask what he meant. We found out 'a weight' was one kilo, so Gareth would be bringing back half a kilo.
For some reason it made me think of those US police series with the narco trafficants. Of course the reality was nothing like that, but even so, half a kilo was a lot of drugs. We also learnt that if you got stopped by the local police, they wouldn't do anything except confiscate the cannabis, if it was less than an eighth of an ounce. Which was about three and a half grams. But there is a big difference between three and a half grams and half a kilo. What would they do if they found that much?
That was the most talking Aled had done, and as if the effort had exhausted him, he decided it was time for a smoke. Promptly producing and lighting up a pre-rolled joint he had in a packet of Camel. Matty and I excused ourselves saying we needed some air before it got dark. We got our jackets to protect against the late afternoon chill and left Aled getting stoned.
The air was sharp with a definite cold dampness, but we set off anyway, walking quickly down the lane. It gave us some alone time and a chance to think.
"It's like a movie, don't you think?" Matty asked.
"No, it's real life, not like a movie at all."
"I don't mean the drug stuff," he replied. "No, I mean what's happened to us."
"Oh yeah, I see what you're saying. The great escape, the night in the ruined cottage, Gareth."
"Yep, all that. It's unreal."
"I think it's real enough," I told him. "But, yeah, a lot has gone on in just a few days."
"It's worked out okay though, don't you think?" He asked me.
"S'pose so, but I don't know for how long. I've got a ton of messages from my parents."
"Oh, I kinda forgot about that."
"Yeah, well me too. I didn't forget about it exactly, I'm just ignoring it. For now anyway."
"It's bloody freezing," was Matty's reply, and with that we turned around to head back to the farmhouse.
The light was rapidly disappearing as we reached the yard. Inside Aled was stretched out on the sofa listening to music...
And take a look in my face, for the last time,
I never knew you, you never knew me,
Say hello goodbye,
Say hello and wave goodbye,...
"That's an eighties group," Matty announced flopping into one of the armchairs. "You like eighties music? I'm a big Bowie fan."
"So who’s this?" Aled looked over at him.
"Ah, I don' know, but it's def eighties."
"I don't know either," Aled replied, "but your right on with the eighties... it's a compilation."
Take your hands off me, hey,
I don't belong to you, you see,
And take a look in my face, for the last time,
I never knew you, you never knew me,...
The chorus was playing again as I took the other armchair.
"What do you do?" Matty was asking Aled.
"What?" He replied.
"I mean, work," Matty clarified the question. He loved questioning people.
"Like more than twenty percent of youngsters here, fuck all. I'm on the dole, see."
"Oh, I see," Matty replied.
"I doubt it. I come from a mining community, apart from a few farmers like Gareth's grand da. My da, his da, the whole fucking family went down the pits... till they closed ‘em. Everyone's on the dole here. There's no work."
The conversation hung in the air like a great insight to local life had just been thrust upon us, for us to imbibe with reverence, because it was obvious Aled felt strongly.
It must've been pretty late by the time Gareth got back. We had waited for him before eating, but after Matty and I cleared the table and washed up, we left the two of them to sample their new supply and went to bed. I mean it was okay getting stoned once or twice, actually it was great, but I was getting the distinct impression that that was more or less all they did.