Outside rain was still falling. It made the pavements smell stale and the air feel even heavier than usual. Realising he'd been storing it up, Simon let out a long breath. His hand was tingling from punching Pa and Gary.
I'm not afraid of you anymore. He'd said it, and it was true. They were nothing and their lives were nothing and they couldn't touch him where he was now. He was free an odd kind of free that made him feel like he'd aged a thousand years, but free none the less. And that tiny four letter word meant everything.
Hesitantly, he looked across at Lindsey. His employer was wearing his poker face. Shit, thought Simon. He's not impressed... He opened his mouth to try and explain, but Lindsey spoke first.
"Is there a bus into central Dublin we can get? I don't want to arrange to fly tonight and we ought to move on from here."
Shit, Simon thought again. Without a word he took Lindsey through to the next street where they were fortunate enough to catch the right bus immediately. As it took them away from Kittalown, Simon kept glancing at Lindsey. He was really worried now; worried of being judged, worried of losing respect, worried he'd ruined the friendship they'd started to build. He badly wanted to hear Lindsey say it was alright, but Lindsey wasn't saying anything at all.
Damnit, if Pa and Gary had cost him the best thing that had ever happened to him, he really would go back to the Claddagh and he'd do more than hurl out a few punches...
The bus terminated on busy O'Connell Street. Despite the traffic, the air smelt cleaner here, and the people passing in and out of pubs and bars looked relaxed and ordinary. On foot, the boys made their way to the nearest hotel. It was only once they were checked in and sitting on the beds inside the twin room they'd paid for that Lindsey really looked at Simon. Simon tensed, bracing himself for a telling off.
"I'm sorry," Lindsey said.
That wasn't what he'd been expecting; Simon leaned forwards, wondering if he'd misheard.
"Sorry? You? I'm the one who should be sorry! I dragged you here to meet my awful family. I hate that you had to see where I come from "
"I think I'm the one who dragged you here," Lindsey interrupted. He sighed, eyes flickering away a second. He looks vulnerable, Simon realised. It wasn't a demeanour he'd seen Lindsey wear before. Nothing phased his Lordship he breezed exams, everyone he met liked him, he didn't seem to have the little fears and insecurities normal people did. Yet this seemed to have had impact.
"What d'you mean?" Simon asked. "You didn't make me come. It was my choice."
"I think I did," Lindsey said quietly. "I... I didn't listen. You tried to tell me what your family were like and how you felt about them, but I did not want to hear. I thought you just needed a shove to give them a chance and then we would have happy families on our hands. Instead I made you go into a hostile environment you clearly have appalling memories of and confront people who treated you terribly...I made you feel all that pain again." He paused. "I shouldn't have been so naive. I shouldn't have assumed I could just... fix your life like that. It was demeaning and insulting and I'm ashamed of myself."
Simon only half-understood where Lindsey was coming from. "You had a point. And it's my fault for not being forceful enough in saying no. I knew they wouldn't have changed but I let myself be talked into going."
"That's exactly it. I talked you into it." Lindsey paused again. "I seem to have the ability to get people to do what I see fit very easily and that is rather a dangerous ability to have when your own judgement isn't perfect..."
"Your judgement is pretty good!"
"Is it?" Lindsey smiled faintly. "You see, Simon, I don't have parents. I have no family apart from my brother and sister. When you have everything else you become hyper aware of what's missing. Because I know I have missed out it makes me completely unable to accept that others who still have parents might have chosen to walk away. I impose my sense of loss onto others."
"You saying that if you'd got me to make up with my family it would have made you feel better about yours?"
"Selfish, isn't it? And here I am being even more selfish, because I am talking about how bad I feel when you must be feeling a thousand times worse."
Simon shrugged. Lindsey hesitated, then moved to sit next to him, though he kept his distance, as though afraid Simon was going to lash out at him.
"I really am sorry."
"It's fine," Simon said shortly. Then, because it wasn't, and he wasn't going to do Lindsey the disservice of lying, he said, "It's just a bitter reminder of what my life used to be. And I'm angry. Not at you, at the fact that I had to live through that..."
And that I never realised I deserved better at the time, he thought. To me that was what life was and I never dared hope it could be anything else... I put up with it. I kept taking all the abuse and the blows and I didn't fight back.
He didn't want to talk about it but somehow it was all coming spilling out.
"No kid should be told how rubbish they are every day and have all their sense of self-worth smacked out of them. I felt like shit as a kid and whenever something did good happen, it was taken away pretty damn soon. I was made to feel like I didn't matter and would be better off dead. You can only take so much of being scared and hurt."
And if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be so the screw up I am now. I wouldn't have wanted to fling all that anger and hurt back at people, and I wouldn't have joined up with Boxer, or done all the things I did when I was with him... And that was the worst part, Simon realised. Whether he liked it or not, Pa and Gary had made him like them, if only for the years he'd been one of the Bow Boys. That was something he was never going to forgive himself for. But it was, at least, in the past.
Lindsey was still looking at him. More quietly, Simon said, "I'm still angry. And I'm still sad. And I'm still going to be angry and sad as long as I live. Going back there reminded me of just how angry and sad I am."
"There are laws against this kind of thing," Lindsey said softly. "If it was something you wanted, we could look at that..."
"Wage a case against my parents? What good would that do? No," Simon shook his head. "This is one thing you can't wave your magic wand at, Lindsey!"
As soon as he said it he wished he hadn't; Lindsey flinched, a pained look crossing his face.
Horrified, Simon said, "I didn't mean that. I'm not angry with you, Lin, honestly! I know you well enough to know you want to make the world better; the moment there's one hint of anything that's wrong, you're straight on it. I dunno whether that's because you've got money and you're good at making people do what you want, or whether you just have tremendous self belief; whatever it is, kudos to you, because it's both mad and admirable and 'cause of that you're the best person I know. But this is over. Finished. Damage is done."
An odd kind of smile crept onto Lindsey's face. "You called me Lin. That's the first time."
What was he on about? Out of everything he'd said, surely that was hardly important? But then Simon saw, in blinding clarity, what exactly that meant. He'd been right when he'd said earlier that everyone liked Lindsey, and perhaps the reason for that was that Lindsey never really let anyone in. He was genial, smiley and fantastic company, but that was the level he kept it at. He had a million friends, but very few who really knew him. Just as Simon's default grumpiness was a defence to stop people penetrating his insecurities, Lindsey's friendly happy go lucky attitude served the same purpose. He'd been stupid assuming Lindsey was invulnerable and completely secure; no one was. Lindsey just concealed it incredibly well.
He was absolutely exhausted suddenly and wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and let it all go but Simon knew this moment was incredibly important. With a great deal of hesitation, he reached out and put his arm round Lindsey's shoulders. It felt really wrong; he didn't like touching men like this. But it also must have been the right thing to do, because Lindsey seemed to relax. He smiled a proper smile.
"Shall we go home tomorrow? Or would you prefer to stay longer?"
"There's nothing for me here."
"Then we'll leave. And when I say home... I hope you know I'm talking about yours, too. Because the hall is your home now. And it's nearly Christmas, and Christmas is a time for family. Would you not agree?"
They looked at each other, and Simon understood exactly what Lindsey meant when he used the words "family" and "home".
"Right on," he said, slowly. "It is."