I’m supposed to meet Nick at eleven, but I’m an hour late because Maggie didn’t show up again and I finished a whole pot of coffee while I waited for her, even though I’m pretty fucking sure she’s gone for good this time.
When I get there, it’s raining and I’m soaked through, but Nick’s waiting outside, in a little world of his own.
“What the fuck happened to your eye?” I say.
He shrugs. “It’s nothing.”
“It doesn’t look like nothing.”
It’s a mess. Couple of days old. Red, black, blue, a smudge of yellow.
“Him again?” I say.
He looks down at the puddles at his feet, and nods.
I want to hit someone, anyone, but Nick says, “Come on, let’s get some coffee.”
We find a table in the corner. I sit with my back to the wall and watch Nick — tall, gangly, all legs and arms — walk over to the counter to order.
He’ll probably ask about Maggie, tell me to talk to her, straighten things out. He’s good like that. Always has been. The sensible one. We couldn’t be more different, the two of us, and I sometimes wish I was more like him. Normal. Nice. But then I see him returning with the drinks and I see his eye and just for once I wish he was a bit more like me. Not the kind of guy who lets another guy give him an eye like that.
I wait till he’s sitting down and I say, “You need to tell me what happened.”
His shoulders slump a little, and he tells me about John Lennard.
I should have sorted that fucker out two months ago, the moment he moved in next to Nick. Should have kicked the fucking shit out of him right there and then, even before he laid a finger on my little brother.
But I didn’t. Not even the second time. Nick, missing a tooth, telling me it was nothing, just a misunderstanding. I’d heard about Lennard, heard he was a big cunt with a big reputation. Nick didn’t want any trouble. Said he was fine. Said he wasn’t a kid anymore. Couldn’t have me fighting his battles for the rest of his life. Said I’d only end up doing something really fucking stupid anyway.
So I did nothing.
“Come on,” I say, getting up.
Nick knows what I’m like, knows me better than anyone else in the world, so he doesn’t try to stop me this time.
It’s a couple of miles to his place, and we drive there in silence.
When we get there, Nick says, “You don’t have to do this, Charlie.”
But I’m already getting out of the car, jumping over Lennard’s fence, kicking his front door.
There’s movement inside the house, a big black shape on the other side of the frosted glass. Lennard opens the door and he’s there, towering over me. He really is a big cunt, but I punch him in the throat and he goes straight down.
I get down on one knee and punch him again and again till my knuckles hurt, till Nick grabs me and pulls me away.
I stagger backwards, my head still thumping, but the moment has gone. I look around. Lennard is still down, not moving. Nick looks at Lennard, then me.
“What?” I say, wiping the blood off my hands and walking back to the car.