He’s been standing outside for the past 15 minutes.
He doesn’t knock on the door.
He doesn’t know that I know.
I finally grab my cardi and the old exam notes I’ve been meaning to put out for recycling. I walk downstairs slowly: not wanting to be out of breath, not wanting it to seem like I rushed. I turn the lock on the door, my head bowed as I step outside. I feign surprise on looking up to find his face.
‘Oh, hey. What you doing ‘ere?’ I scrunch up my face – just enough to reveal slight curiousity.
‘Waiting for ma mate.’ He’s lying.
‘Why don’t you wait inside? I could do with the company. I’m home alone.’ I pretend not to see the look of relief in his eyes, I throw the trash away instead.
At first he doesn’t want to sit but he can’t find anything else to do with himself, so he acquiesces. His left leg doesn’t stop bobbing up and down. I hand him my plate of food; he eyes the clock. I know what he’s thinking: what if she’s home soon? What if she asks where he’s been? What then? He declines the food because his friend might be here soon. Might be.
I put the plate in front of him anyway, and leave the room. I almost collide into him in the landing. He’s off. His mate’s here.
‘Wait,’ I call out. He turns to face me, her eyes look into mine. ‘Here.’ I place my hand in his and let go of the cold piece of metal. He closes his fist around it; refuses to meet my eye.
I watch him leap up the garden steps and wonder when I’ll see him again. I wonder, will he lose his keys again or will I lose my brother this time?
When I return to it, the plate is empty.