Mikey is finally on his own - and he doesn't like it.
All the other children seemed to be completely ignorant of the fact they were leaving their parents behind to an imminent death. They were screaming with excitement and laughter, whereas I sat in the corner of the train, trembling and crying gently into Gerard’s woollen jumper, which was now sodden with my tears. It still smelt like him, and I wasn’t really sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Every time I breathed in I remembered yet another memory.
It was incredibly freezing in the house. We didn’t have heating in the house, we never could afford it; we had a small fireplace in the living room which provided us with a little warmth. My fingers were going purple in the cold, my toes stinging and my breath clouding in the air.
Despite all of this; I hadn’t been this happy in a long time. It was Christmas Day.
I knew that when I got back to school, the others would be bragging about the fancy presents they got and how much money they have – but I didn’t care. I never had a Christmas with proper presents. Only hand made items and drawings. I sat down cross legged on the wooden floor, beside the unlit fire. Gerard ran into the room, his hands full: a box of matches, a small package, and a woollen jumper in his hand. He was grinning excitedly at me. He knelt down next to me, placing the items in front of him before lighting the fire. He pulled the jumper over my head. It was far too big for me, since it was Gerard’s, but it was warm and comforting. He held the delicate package in his hands before beaming and passing it to me.
“Merry Christmas, Mikey.” He whispered. I stared at it, bemused. I had never had a christmas present. He watched me with intent, as I passed the package from hand to hand, rubbing my thumb over the bumps of the package. I found it incredibly exciting – I wanted to savour every moment of it, knowing I would probably never have this experience ever again. I slowly untied the thin string and rolled it up. I thumbed the edge of the package and tore a corner of the paper. I slowly tore it, taking extra care, determined to experience every moment. I pulled it back, far enough to see what lay inside: A small, silver key. I looked up at him and saw him grinning widely at me.
“A key?” I asked. He nodded at me.
“Yes.” Before I asked what for, he pushed a finger against his lips and jumped to his feet and left the room. He returned several minutes later, carrying an even larger box, two mugs, spoons, and some cocoa powder and milk. I gasped as he walked in – was I dreaming all of this? He laughed endearingly at the shock on my face, putting the box in my lap.
“Gerard?” I asked, laughing nervously as I ran my hands all over the box.
“Open it!” Gerard giggled, preparing the hot cocoa. I opened the box carefully, staring open mouthed as I pulled the contents from the box. Inside, was an old, brown suitcase. It was slightly worn, decorated with patches depiciting eagles and soldiers. I loved it. It was made of leather and some of it had cracked a little around the handle.
“Do you like it?” Gerard asked, his head tilted and his face beaming. I nodded, grinning. I hugged it to my chest, hearing something clunk around as I pulled it towards me. I immediately glanced up at Gerard, who was smiling at me, almost not concentrating on the boiling hot water he was pouring into a mug. “Go on. Open it up.” He encouraged.
My hand reached for the metal latch, shaking, key in hand. I opened it up, and inside, was a pair of shiny, red boots. I looked up at Gerard, ecstatic energy flowing through me. I’d never received a Christmas present before – now I’d received three. I wasn’t ready to speak – I was overcome, overcome with excitement and happiness and every good feeling I had known. It was evident to me that Gerard could tell all of this, simply from the expression on my face. How a fifteen year old could have possibly saved up for all of this confused me.
“Gee – How – I?” I stammered, running my fingers over the smooth, shiny boots. He simply laughed whole heartedly and passed me a mug of hot chocolate, tapping his nose.
“You let me worry about that, Mikes. Drink your hot chocolate. It might get cold.” I took a sip of the hot chocolate, breathing in the hot, chocolatey steam. I thought about the present I had made for Gerard and sighed. It would never compare, not now. His present was so much better. I pulled the tiny package from my pocket and handed it to him.
“I’m sorry, it’s not very good, Gee.” I said, shaking my head. He beamed as he saw the small package, taking it in his hands and opening it slowly. I had, foolishly, given him a small rock I had found on the beach.
Our mother had taken us there before she died – and whilst Gerard kept our mother company, I scoured the beach, searching for treasures to bring home with me. Of course, I found nothing, right until the very end. It was a small green rock, which glimmered and glinted in the soft sunlight. You could see through it slightly, and inside were smaller flecks of blue and purple. I thought it was incredibly pretty – and decided I would keep it. It was only recently I decided I would use it as a Christmas present.
“Mikey..” Gerard stared at the rock in awe, holding it between his fingers. “This is beautiful!” He exclaimed, examining it closely and grinning as the light shimmered through it. “Thankyou.” He leaned and put his arm around my shoulder, and kissed my forehead. We sat and drank hot chocolate as he stared at the green stone, mystified, whilst i stroked my boots and hugged them to my chest.
After several long hours of children's’ screams, the train pulled into the station, and they all filtered out. I waited several minutes, hoping that I could stay and ride the train all the way back home – but the conductors found me, and brought me back to an elderly but stern looking woman who was currently being swarmed by children.
“You’re Michael? Michael Way?” She barked. My throat caught and I nodded. “Right then, off we go!” She walked fast, and the children followed obediently. Suddenly, they weren’t quite as excitable.
She led us from house to house: a child, some times more than one, was picked to go and stay. Siblings were torn apart, little children screamed and cried as they were dragged away from their elders. It took all my heart to not break down in tears, considering I’d already faced one heartache this very same day.
The group got smaller and smaller, the sky getting darker as the elderly woman pleaded for someone to take the last remaining runts. We arrived at a slightly run down house. It was dirty and soot laden – though a little of It’s old grandure could be seen.
The elderly woman knocked on the door aggressively. Now, there were only two children, including myself, left. The other boy had jet black hair, hazel coloured eyes and a shy demeanor. He hid his face from me and only shared the tiniest amount of eye contact. A girl of around 16 answered the door. Her hair was also jet black and her lips were bright red.
“Can I help you?” She asked, looking down at us with worry.
“Yes.. These two Evacuees. This household are obliged to take at least one – who is in charge, here?” The elderly woman croaked.
“Oh, I’m just the – um, I just live here, no, I’ll go get Mrs Waters..” The girl fumbled and immediately disappeared. After a few minutes, an older woman appeared. She looked down at us both and put a hand on the shoulder of the dark haired boy.
“My… Daughter, explained this to me. I’ll take this boy, alright?” She nodded, ushering the young boy into her house. I stood awkwardly, staring at the ground. I was always the last one to be picked in sports at school – now I didn’t even have a place to live.
“We would be so very grateful if you could..”
“But he is a runt, miss,” A man’s voice cut in. “How could I have a runt in the house?” I looked up at him: he had whispy grey hair, glasses, and bore a worn expression. The elderly woman sighed; she’d had a long day, surrounded by little children. I felt the same, and I was one of them.
“Please Sir. He has no where to go.” He looked down at me and huffed.
“Fine. Come in,” He pulled me towards him, almost falling onto the dark haired boy.
“Thankyou, for your time Sir.” The elderly woman never looked back, as the door shut behind me.
“Lin!” Mr Waters shouted. The young girl appeared again timidly, at the bottom of the stairs.
“Yes?” She asked, innocently.
“Take these two boys to the attic.” Lin nodded and picked up mine and the dark haired boy’s suitcases.
“You don’t need to carry those,” I told her as we walked up the stairs. She shook her head and smiled.
“Don’t worry sweetie. I have it covered. What are your names?” She asked. The dark haired boy spoke up first.
“Frank, miss. Frank Iero.” She grinned down at him and ruffled his hair.
“Great name, Frankie! But you don’t need to call me Miss, call me Lindsey. And you?” She looked at me expectantly.
“Oh – Michael. Way. I mean – M-mikey – I..” I stuttered, damning myself inside. She simply laughed and rubbed a hand through my hair too.
“Mikey. Alright,” We arrived at the attic, where two very small single beds stood at either side of the room. “This is your bedroom. I’m just across the hall, in case you need me in the night, or anything.” She smiled, shutting the door behind her.
I walked across to the bed next to the window. I liked looking at the stars and space, but in the city, the fog was so thick that you could barely see anything. Out here in the countryside, the stars and moon were incredibly clear. I put my suitcase next to my bed and pulled out the woollen jumper from Gerard and pulled it over myself. It was still far too big for me but I wore it regardless. I sat down on my bed, pulling the sketchbook from my suitcase and looking through the world Gerard had brought to life just through paper. I could see Frank watching me from the other side of the room, but I got the feeling he wouldn’t be speaking to me for quite a while. The drawings made me miss Gerard more than I anticipated, and I was sure that Frank could hear me crying into my bedsheets that night. At around 1am, I was sure that he whispered something to me, but I couldn’t tell – my ears were filled with fistfulls of bedsheets, attempting to block out the noises of machine guns and bombs that were crashing down in my head.
The next two years would be the hardest of my life.