Eric put down the crate and stretched his back. ‘Blimey, this is heavy!’ he thought. How could anyone fill a whole crate with books, nothing but books? He knew who he was dealing with, but still… He breathed deeply. The flat smelled of bleach, of paint and of cardboard boxes. But also old, somehow. Well, the house had been built sometime before the war, it was one of the few that had survived. The damp walls offset the high ceilings, so it was affordable.
‘Andrew, what else needs doing?’ he called.
Andrew stomped in, carrying another heavy crate. ‘Well, we got all the crates. We did the kitchen yesterday, the sofa’s up too… The shelves and stuff, mainly. Oughta get ’em done before the girls arrive. We can unpack on Monday, it’s not like we got anything better to do… ‘
A few hours later, the shelves and cupboards were up. The crates still stood about, accusing almost. Eric sat down in the kitchen to have a can of beer and a cigarette. Andrew was in the bedroom, doing his thing. Best not to think of it.
There were steps on the stairs, then the key in the lock. Little Jackie came in first, her stubby little legs propelling her into Eric’s arms.
‘Princess Jackie, how are you, luv?’ Eric spun her around like a toy, nearly bowling her into Dani and Luna. The little girl giggled with joy.
‘She’s been really helpful, haven’t you Jackie?’ Dani was visibly tired, and tense. ‘But come on now, darling, go and wash your hands.’
Reluctantly, Jackie let go of Eric and gave him the chance to finally kiss Luna and say hello to Dani.
‘You never really see how filthy a flat can get until you move out,’ said Dani, her eyes searching. ‘Where’s Andrew?’
‘In the bedroom.’
‘Screw him -I told him to wait. Well, I’d better go join him…’ Why contradict her? She’d have gone anyway, and it was one discussion Eric wasn’t particularly keen on having. If nothing else, Luna’s eyes told him it wasn’t the moment.
By the time Jackie came back from the bathroom, Dani had disappeared. The bedroom was closed, and Jackie didn’t ask.
‘So, how was your day, princess?’
‘What’ve you been doing? Come on, tell him,’ Luna intervened.
It took a while until Jackie snapped out of the one-word sentences. And when, finally, Dani and Andrew came out of the bedroom, she went back into short-answer mode for a while. But kids will be kids, and after a while she popped the question: ‘Mom, what’s for supper?’
Supper was frugal: bread and cheese, cheap beer in cans for the adults. Well, Eric was almost eighteen. Jackie had toast, Nutella and milk. It wasn't long before the sticky stuff had reached her ears.
Eric caught Andrew looking at his bare forearms, with wistful eyes.
‘If only I had veins like yours, dude…’
‘Yeah,’ Dani’s voice sounded almost dreamy. ‘Such lovely veins.’ She sighed.
Luna squirmed, uncomfortable, somewhere between embarrassed and scared, if those were the right words. Before Eric could say anything, she stepped on his foot under the table, glanced at Jackie. But the little girl hadn't been listening, it seemed. She was licking chocolate spread from her stubby little fingers, an intent look in her eyes. She looked happy.
After dinner Jackie was tired, moping a bit. Tired, but not exactly sleepy: it took quite a time to get her cleaned up, and then she protested being put in bed. Finally she complied. The adults went back to the kitchen for a nightcap, but Dani and Andrew soon excused themselves. They’d been testy for a while. Eric knew the score, of course, but what could he say? Truth to tell, he was glad he could finally be alone with Luna, and putting a wall and door between themselves and that specific version of Andrew was a big relief.
Andrew had brought a little something for Luna and Eric. Himself, he hadn’t had any for years of course, but Andrew sure knew where to get some decent weed. And he had a gorgeous hookah, left over from his teens. Clear white glass, just the right proportions -it wasn’t only functional, it was beautiful.
So, Luna and Eric put on some nice music, got rid of superfluous clothes -just about everything, in fact- and started smoking. That weed really did blow your mind -mellow in taste, strong in effect. Dreamy and cheering at the same time. It made you fly with that bass line, get lost in the lava lamp that was the only source of light in the room, really dig the funny bit of that joke that hadn’t been one… Eric hugged Luna, they kissed between laughs, giggled between kisses…
The door creaked open. A tiny, slender shape outlined in the light light flooding in from the corridor.
‘I can’t …’ The little voice trailed off, suddenly doubtful. Big blue eyes widened, a tiny button nose taking in the smells. ‘But, … but… Luna, Eric? What…?’ Realisation dawned. That small voice was tiny now, faltering.
‘But that… that thing… that thing that mommy and Andrew do… that thing with the needles… You don’t do that too, do you?’
There were tears in Jackie’s eyes, broken glass in her voice.