This story starts with a little boy covered in blood. One supposes that is enough of a disclaimer, is it not? [You stuck up twat, the fuck have you done now?]

The location of my fateful meeting with this boy was a graveyard. I spent quite a lot of time in this particular graveyard as a child [Not enough jacking off privacy at home?], but one can rest assured that it was not nearly as morbid a practice as it sounds. [Fucking liar.] After the eight AM Sunday Eucharist service, my parents would go to the front of the church to chat and socialise with the adults [And leave their five year old child completely fucking unattended, brilliant!] until the ten o'clock mass. During this time, I went to the back of the church to play with the other children amongst the weather-battered [As opposed to what other kind of fucking battered? Beer battered, maybe?] headstones behind the cathedral. My parents would give me a few pence to buy a treat and send me off.

"Be good, Gregory," Mother would advise, as she patted the top of my head. I never knew why she felt the need to remind me so often [Hint: She's a condescending cocksucker.], as if I were some sort of delinquent who required regular mandates for proper behaviour. Mostly, once separated from my parents, I stood around and kept to myself. I ate (as neatly as possible, so as not to drop crumbs all over my Sunday trappings) [Your fucking what?] whatever sweet the nuns had to offer in exchange for a small donation to the church. [Nobody gives a shit about that fuckface God so they had to resort to bribing kids with candy.] I did not often speak to the other boys, for they honestly bored me by carrying on about trivial matters such as "Chinpokomon cards" [THOSE WERE NOT TRIVIAL, YOU FUCK] and fart-joke-based television shows—meant for an audience that was, at best guess, utterly brainless.

The day I met the boy was not exceptional; [and yet here you are writing at least a hundred fucking pages about it] I was up to my usual [wanking] when he came down the footpath through the grass that lead to the church's back door. Behind him, he dragged what appeared to be gardening equipment. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that it was in fact a large shovel—nearly as large as he was. [Buy me a drink first next time, dickface.] This was a curiosity; one cannot help but wonder why on earth anyone would want to advertise the fact that they spend any amount of time toiling in the dirt. [Says the guy who spends all day every day going OOH LOOK AT ME I WENT TO FUCKING PUBLIC SCHOOL AND CAN TALK ALL PROPER LIKE, I HAD A STEEL ROD SURGICALLY INSERTED INTO MY ANUS AT AGE TWO AND NOW IT FUCKING DEFINES ME. You keep on advertising that, I'll keep on advertising that I'm a bit closer to fucking normal.]

More to the point that the shovel as well as the boy were (as I said) splattered in blood. [No, you fucking said covered. Splattered implies a small amount, covered means I've fucking bathed in it.] It clotted, red and sticky [as opposed to blue and mushy, obviously], in his hair, dark and thick and matted into the filthy brown of his shirt. [You're a charming little cunt aren't you?] Blood flecked what appeared to be tattered trousers dug out from the bottom of a landfill. [Scratch that, you're just a little cunt.] One admits, it was not much of a first impression. [Fine. Massive cunt then.]

The boy dragged the shovel-blade, producing a terrible ruckus. [It was loud. Three small words. That's all you fucking need.] The clattering and clanging of metal bumping against the stones of the pathway caused the young denizens [Excuse me, but what?!] of the graveyard to become frightened and scatter. Or perhaps it was the all blood. Rather fittingly (we were in a graveyard, remember), it was as if my fellows had seen a ghost. [Your skill at metaphor truly is unrivalled. Stand fucking back, everyone, we've got a Jim fucking Theis on our hands here.]

But I was not one to flee at the sight of blood. [You shat yourself and you know it, you lying rat.] Especially as it was not my blood. Furthermore, I was unaffected by the general consensus of fear. I, of course, considered myself above the petty, irrational flight instinct. [This explains so damn fucking much.]

I was a bit affronted, if one is honest. The oncoming boy was quite dirty. [You are so tirelessly repetitive, it's painful.] One recalls the rather strong urge to ask him if he knew what a bar of soap was. It seemed a perfectly reasonable question to ask of someone who had apparently never seen one. [News Flash! Deep down you're just as rude of a shithead wanker as me. Ever notice?]

The boy ignored the panic and terror of the other children and glared at the chancel. His face seemed too old for the small body to which it was attached. There were premature lines and dark bags under his eyes. His hair stood on end, as if he had never so much as dreamed of a comb. [Explain to me how fucking dreaming of a comb would untangle hair in the real world.] It was immediately obvious to me that he was one of the street urchins whose presence would have caused Mother to clutch her handbag closer. He was a sight. [What the fuck is it with you fucking English people and managing to make politeness rude?] I could not help but to feel somewhat fascinated with the mean, starved look about him as he sneered at the high, noble [Please] arches of The Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul [Because just "Northleach Church" is too simple for the posh cocksuckers of this world, isn't it?], and also, to wonder how a building had seemingly managed to offend him so.

"Dieu est mort."




I started in surprise as he said this to no one in particular. I did not approach. Truthfully, I worried his filth was contagious [I FUCKING KNEW IT.], and so I stood a polite [Here meaning large.] distance away from him. One is taught from an early age not to speak unless spoken to, so I did not breach the silence. I had also been taught that it was very rude to gawk, and I had no reason to assume that the fact that he was smeared with viscera [Viscera. It was a bit of fucking blood, there's no need to be a fucking drama queen.] constituted an exception. I restrained myself to cursory stolen glances in my peripheral vision. I was proud to have my manners. [Oh, yes, pretending not to look at someone when you're secretly staring at them is perfectly fucking polite now, isn't it?]

He did not, however. Have manners, one means. I had a French tutor in my youth, and had additionally witnessed much conversation (not participated in, but overheard) between other boys my age. [So, spying's always been a bit of a hobby for you then?] So I had a rudimentary understanding of the things he mumbled under his breath, scowling at the towering steeples and buttresses. [Hah. Butts.] Suffice to say that he did not believe the All Merciful Father [Fuck you, I had drink in my mouth when I read that.] was much more than a "cocksucking asshole" and moreover, the boy implied that God actively intended to make his life miserable. [Ah, so then are you implying that he has not fucked me over many times, now?] To this end, the boy drew some rather disturbing imagery of God as a cruel tyrant who regarded human beings as so many ants on a windowsill. [Nope. He doesn't think so fucking highly of us.] He dared God to crush him under His thumb; he swore—and this is a rough translation—that he would never "get on his knees for such a fucking twat." [Closer translation: "I will never get on my knees for such a fucking cunt." I don't remember it, and you sure as fuck don't, but if I'm talking about that sky cunt then I'm going to call him out for being as much of a cunt as he looks, sounds, acts and is.]

I had never heard blasphemy as such in my life. [Oh, boo fucking hoo there, Bishop fucking Myriel. Maybe you could get on your knees and pray to God to smite me off the face of the damn planet and once he's jizzed all over your pretty little face you might be more fucking willing to join in.] I was shocked. But still, I said nothing. I merely waited for God to strike the boy down instead. I would have, if I were the All-Powerful, and someone insulted me in this way. What kind of self-respecting deity would suffer these insults and insolence? [One who's comfortable in the thought that He's apparently so much fucking better than us maybe?] And yet, God did not seem to care what the boy had to say about Him. ...One wonders, if no one hears our curses, by the same token, does no one listen to our prayers? [You are learning.]

I cleared my throat loudly during a long silence, as I had often seen my mother do. I knew this was the least intrusive [And most fucking rude] way to make someone else aware of one's presence without directly addressing the person in question. I was not sure up to this point if the boy had even noticed I was there, but it grew difficult not to look at him. He said some fairly hard things to miss, after all.

Only a few seconds later, I got what I wanted. The boy looked at me when I coughed, surely enough only just noticing I was there at all. He stared; I held his squinty gaze; we stood like until it became uncomfortable. [Ooh, look at me, I'm Public School Greg, I know how to use fucking semicolons.]

"T'as un feu?" he asked at last. One reiterates: this spectre of Nietzsche was rude. [As if you knew who fucking Nietzsche was at age fucking five.] It sounded more like an accusation than a question. I pondered his impolite use of the familiar in French (we were peers but utter strangers ) [All the things I'd said up to that point and THAT'S what you took personal fucking offence to?], and I rocked back and forth on my feet, creaking slightly in my new leather shoes. One side of my upper lip twitched into a slight grimace at his rudeness. [You don't fucking remember that much detail.]

...A moment passed, and I realised he what he wanted. He had asked if I had a lighter.

(An aside: It took me a moment to translate what he said because I will admit here that I was not a particularly good student of languages. Perhaps I had no natural aptitude for the subject, but the more likely cause of my poor scholarship was my hatred for my French tutor. [No, you're just a dumb fuck.] I paid nearly no attention to Ms. Moreau, for she had terrible breath and a habit of calling me, "Young Master Greg." I despise the name "Greg." It is "Gregory" or nothing, thank you.) [Shut the fuck up, Greg.]

"...I do, actually," I told him. And I did. In an instance of perfect kismet [what in the fuck is that supposed to mean?], it had been just that morning that I stole my father's lighter from his trench coat pocket. It cannot be argued that Destiny does not make house-calls. [It makes house calls, it lights a bag of shit on your doorstep and runs the fuck away.]

The boy[the boy, the boy, the boy, the boy—my vocabulary is astounding!] held out his hand expectantly, and I searched my jumper for what he wanted. It struck me as deliciously grown-up to be able to offer a "light," as my parents did for visiting guests. This kind of ritual [This is a ritual to you? You pompous fuck.] was a privilege that only grown people had, and that young children naturally covet for this reason. [This doesn't fucking make you Prometheus, alright?] I partook in it greedily. Feeling very mature, I pulled the fancy, gold-plated lighter from my pocket. I enjoyed the important heft of it in my palm. In fact, I was so taken with how wonderfully adult it felt to be able to offer someone a light, I did not question why he—a child no older than myself—wanted it.

[Next time, fucking question it. I was going to smoke fucking all of them, see if it killed me. I wasn't having a particularly fucking good day, and people seemed to make them sound bad. However many fucking years of chain smoking like a mother fucker later, I now know those to be lying fucking bastard sons of whore bitches.]

The question was resolved soon enough, however, without my asking. The boy set down his shovel, and he took a pack of cigarettes from the bulky pocket of his horrid trousers (which were falling apart and ill-fitted besides being utterly unhygienic). [Fuck you.] He plucked one of the slender, cylindrical things from the lot. [Oh, holy fuck, you actually are turning into fucking Jim Theis.] He put it to his lips, and to my utter disbelief, used my lighter to set the end to flame. I had never seen a child do such a thing.

"Now give me my lighter," I insisted when I had recovered from my surprise. I mimicked his gesture earlier and held my open palm out to him."My father will be angry if I do not put it away before he notices it is gone." [Don't steal the gold plated one next time, you fucking idiot.]

He swatted my hand." not care what père thinks, bête , et. ..I am happy to tell him so. You go away." [And after that display, for some fucking reason, you stayed. I guess it worked out pretty well for me, didn't it? Thanks, I guess.]

I retracted my hand, injuriously. I sucked in a deep puff of air as if hoarding oxygen from the boy who had offended me. [Still got that sweet cancer though.] My chest swelled to its fullest with the injustice of it all. The boy did not seem particularly moved by my indignation.

"Rogue! That is stealing! Hand it back over this instant, you mannerless peon!" I demanded. [As I recall, what you actually said was "Give it baaaaaack" in a whiny little shithead voice. You really think you were that fucking verbose when you were FUCKING FIVE YEARS OLD?] It seemed my mother had been right about the street ruffians. They were clearly looters and thieves! [And you ignored her. Great job, dickmuffin.]

He merely coughed as he smoked, clearly no veteran of the activity. He kept trying, however, as I stood there and waited for him to return of my property (technically my father's property, but I considered myself the rightful trustee, naturally) [YOU FUCKING STOLE IT. BY YOUR OWN ADMISSION SEVEN FUCKING PARAGRAPHS AGO.]. He hacked and choked fit to upset his stomach. One cannot fathom why he felt compelled to do it, as it was clearly uncomfortable, but he worked with a masochistic determination.

"Do not look at me!" he demanded, voice high and whining. [I sound so fucking attractive. Thank you. Cunt.] "C'est pas tes oignons! On t'a bercé trop près du mur?"

I crossed my arms testily. "Vous...êtes stupide. " I frowned."And I am not moving a single muscle until you return my lighter!"

He turned his back to me as if he wished there were a door to slam."Brûle en enfer," I thought I heard him grumble. [Oh, you did not think it.] I tapped my foot on the ground impatiently so he would not forget I was still there.

He did not stop this nonsense (despite my incessant complaints [Whining]) until his slightly shaking, inexperienced hands dropped a bit of burning ash over the soft inside part between his thumb and forefinger. I heard the sizzle, but before I could register what had happened, [How long does it take for you to realise I've fucking burned myself?] the boy became a flurry of movement. He shook his hand to free it from the offending source of pain, then stuck the injured area in his mouth. He cursed God some more, he cursed himself, he cursed me, and then he burst into loud, wailing sobs. [Did I seriously fucking cry? Fuck me, young me was a fucking wimp.]

He sucked on his injured hand as great dirty tears rolled down his cheeks, [Don't you dare fucking rub it in, cock juggler. I will have your fucking intestines for a scarf.] streaking through the grime covering his face. Then he turned. It was disturbing, actually; he kept on staring at me through his crying, as if expecting that I do something about his predicament. I, of course, had no idea what to do. I had (obviously) never dealt with anything like this before. [Useless twat.] So I merely stared back for a time, trying to figure out what the social protocol for such a scenario might be. There were no applicable default rules or suggestions I could recall. [Run under cold water for ten minutes should have fucking sprung to mind.] However, I assumed it would be rude to simply demand my lighter back once more.

So, for lack of knowing what else to do, I imitated Mother's typical reaction to me when I cried from injury. I snatched up his wrist, and examined the hurt area with critical eyes.

"Hush, now. You are carrying on like you have been half-beheaded. There is no need to squeal so," I scolded him. [Truly your parents were complete fucks. And like fuck you were talking like that at five.] I plucked the small handkerchief I carried in my pocket. Then I shoved it into his palm, so that he might wipe the tears from his face. When our hands touched as I passed it along, he flinched and scowled at me. I scowled back, of course.

"This just needs to be run under cold water, cleaned and wrapped with a bit of anaesthetic. [No suggestions sprang to mind, huh? You fucking liar.] Then, you will have to wear gloves for a bit, even indoors, so people do not ask questions [As if anyone but you would give a flying fuck.]. And you can use cocoa butter when it heals, so it does not scar quite so noticeably. I believe there is still some under the sink at home, if you would like to borrow it." [Implying you'd want it back after it has been on a fucking burn wound? That cocoa butter, it tastes nice, all it needs is a bit of fucking cauterised flesh to really bring out the fucking true colours.]

He sniffed and peered at me with watery eyes, and he nodded in response to my authoritative tone—first slowly, and then with more ease. Apparently somewhat calmed, he scrubbed his face with my handkerchief. He did not try to return it to me afterward, and instead merely tucked it into his pockets, presumably for safekeeping. At least thievery was a theme to be expected with this cretin, I thought. [You're a fucking cretin.] Though truly, one cannot consider this a loss. My handkerchief had been rendered to little more than a grimy, befouled rag by this point. [Amazing.]

Encouraged by his acquiesce, I continued in the same vein, affecting the behavioural model of my parents: "You are so much trouble. Sometimes, I think you misbehave on purpose, as some sort of personal punishment for me. Do you mean to cause the hassle you do? What a naughty, terrible child you are! Always making trouble." [You must be quoting your mother here because what you actually said was way fucking ruder than this shit. Also your parents were terrible.]

At my reprimand, the boy yanked his hand away. He looked so confused and offended that I knew I had erred somewhere. [I just told a grimy blood splattered child I just met that he's always caused trouble for me and now he's taken offence. Where possibly can I have fucking gone wrong?] The thought caused my cheeks to flame—though even at this age, I was no stranger to social embarrassment.

"Non! Pas de quoi! Je ne comprends pas! Ce n'est pas ma faute. Ne me parle pas comme ça! Arrêtez!" The boy shouted, holding his hand away protectively.

"Now, wait just a moment, I—"

He shoved me back and groped about for his shovel, as if preparing to defend himself with it. He looked angry—and now it was directed at me.

Before I could get in another word, he had raised the tool over his head, ready to strike.

I faltered here. I had only been shouted out maybe twice in my life up to this point. My father prided himself on his stiff upper lip. [Limey bastard.] My parents were both of them far more prone to dry cruelty than screaming. And when they broke tradition, I could expect nothing good to come of it. Nothing good at-all. Moreover, he had a weapon, and I had nothing. [Coward.]

"P-please," I held up hands, shielding myself, my face. I hunched away from him, cowering, trembling."P-please. Don't! I didn't— I didn't mean...I-I-I—"

"C'est une lâche," he took a deliberate step closer and I nearly fell over trying to recreate the space between us."Amené ta mère pour que je te refasse!" [As if I were that fucking verbose.]

I could not make up proper words for a moment or two after that. I was too busy all-but-crawling to get away. Instead, I descended into pathetic whimpering and babbling as I buckled at the knees. I could feel my bodily control slip under waves of tidal panic. I nearly wet myself in fear. [The word "nearly" makes this a lie and we both fucking know it.]

"Don't shout at me, don't—" I plead."I-I'll be good, I will, just—don't, oh don't—I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry—"

But now it was the boy's turn to look surprised. His brow furrowed as he watched me melt down there under the impassive gaze of the stone saints etched into the gravestones. [Even for a weakling you're pathetic.] I tried to contain the sheer terror the blood glinting along the blade of the shovel caused to well in my throat, but to no avail. I wailed and covered my face, both to hide my shame and fear.

Quel est ton problème?"

Now I'll never be a famous architect!" I moaned, miserably. [Of all the answers to my question this is one I could not have expected. I also take issue with your use of the word miserably - I'd use something more like hysterically. Or maybe pathetically. Dick.]

...Quoi? "

It was no use, naturally. Logic had fled me. I lamented the loss of my bright future and noted the irony of dying in a graveyard, [You didn't have any fucking concept of irony at age five you stupid twat.] and he glanced from side to side as if deciding whether it was really worth it to kill me after all, considering the fuss I was making.

Goodbye, cruel world, I was not meant for you! Here ends the tale of Gregory Marcus Timothy Roger St.—" [You also didn't have any of that kind of fucking verbosity. And what the fuck even is that shitting name?]

"Arrêtez!" He thrust his shovel aside and knelt, for reasons I could only assume had to do with throttling me with his own hands. I did what is best described as "attempted rather pathetically to roll out of harm's way." [You fell on your fucking face.]

But as I lost myself to tears and rambling, he chose a new course of action altogether.

The next thing I knew, his arms were around me. He bundled me up without mercy, arms tight about my torso. In fact, it was entirely too tight, and I struggled for a moment, crying out in alarm. [You fucking weakling.] I was not very accustomed to being handled by strangers. But he held fast, clinging onto me like one of the large, constrictive tropical snakes I had seen in my picture encyclopaedias. [No, because then you would be fucking dead.] It did not matter how much I fought. He was stronger, and more determined, and I had been conditioned not to resist. I eventually went limp as a wet rag, and he held me a long while.




When I ceased wriggling at last, he patted me. [PATHETIC.]

"Y'a pas d'mal, minette," he murmured, half-mockingly, [Not half.] but his hands were surprisingly gentle. "N'aie pas peur."

I snuffled, comforted in spite of it all. The smell of metal rose in my nostrils, and it occurred to me dully that we would both come out of this looking like we had been engaged in a violent battle. Though, I supposed, fighting was almost certainly not what we were doing. That, however, raised the question of what exactly we were doing. Hence my follow up question: [Literally never hugged as a child.]

"Um. Wh-what is this?"

...I liked how it felt to be held this way, but I had no idea what it was supposed to accomplish. I did not even put my arms around him to return the embrace. I simply stood there, stiff with uncertainty. I had read in my story books about "hugs" of course. But having never experienced one, I suppose I did not connect the idea with the reality. [ACTUALLY literally never hugged as a child.]

He hesitated to answer me, struggling with his English."Je suis désolé. ..I-I do not know the word..." he said. Then he thought awhile longer, "...étreinte. This is étreinte. " (One might like to know [No.] that he sounded more like "Dzees ees étreinte." But I am not so cruel as to subject my audience to the phonetic-terror that is the French accent.) [You fucking racist bitch.]

"E-trant," I pronounced, poorly.

The boy [The girl. Change it up once in a while. Bring some real spark back to the story, fuck knows you can't do it. What the fuck?] released me at last, nodding. "Oui."

We broke apart and stood, regarding each other. Our faces were both a mess, tear-streaked and snotty (though his was significantly dirtier [That's not the only thing about me that's fucking dirtier.]). The étreinte calmed me down a small bit however, and so I gathered myself and extended a hand to him in formal greeting. Somewhere it occurred to me that this was a first-meeting, and not introducing myself was unforgivably rude. [THAT'S what was pissing rude!?]

"My name is Gregory Marcus Timothy Roger St. Clair, the Third," I informed him, reciting my name with importance. [Remembering that bullshit must have taken a long fucking time.] The effect was somewhat ruined by the following sniffle, and the fact that I felt need to wipe my nose with my jumper sleeve directly afterward."It is very nice to make your acquaintance."

He shied away from my hand and did not take it. I could hardly blame him, after the used-my-clothing-as-a-napkin incident, really. [Did you fucking see the state of me? That wasn't the reason, I had no idea what the fuck you were going for.] He backed up a few steps instead, and resumed sucking on his injury, eyes downcast."Oh."

I then theorised [Theorised my fragrant French arse.] alternatively, that perhaps no one had instructed him about these things. Perhaps, it dawned on me, the reason he was so unkempt and strange was that he had not anyone to teach him better. So I took it upon myself to share my vast wealth of knowledge. [See, this is your fucking problem, you think you're so damn much better than everyone else just because you were taught how to fucking wipe your arse like a fucking gentleman.]

"No, see? You shake it, like this," I explained to him patiently. I imitated a handshake best I could between my own two hands."It is how two people say ‘hello' sometimes. Now you try."

I proffered [That's not even a real fucking word.] my hand once more. This time, reluctantly, he took it. He shook my hand just a little harder, with a wider range of motion than is strictly recommended. [Oh, piss on you.] But I accepted this without correction. It was good enough, for now. We would have time, I assumed.

"Precisely. Very good," I praised him."What is your name?"

"...Christophe," he said at last. [Note how long it took you to fucking ask.] He let go of my hand in favor of putting it right back into his mouth. I frowned and shook my head at him slightly as I wiped my hand down the front of my jumper. [Where the fuck are your manners now?]

In response, he made a scrunchy face at me. I laughed, which made him laugh.

"...I am pleased to meet you, Christophe," I replied, displaying all the gaps in my smile. I had only just started losing my baby teeth."Now you say it back."

"Please to meet you, Gregory Third," he said this obediently around his injured hand. Then, finally, he cracked a shy smile back at me. He too was missing teeth, I noticed. But then I scowled a little, because not only had he botched my name, but his pronunciation of my nominal legacy rendered the word "third" to sound like "turd." Thus, "Gregory, the Turd. " [Actually that one was deliberate.]

Christophe observed me, and he giggled. Apparently, the utterly unfunny thought amused the little plebeian.

"No, no. " I drew myself up, eyebrows pinched."It is Gregory Marcus Timothy Roger St. Clair, [Also what kind of twat has a fucking St. in their name?] the Third. " I over-pronounced the "th" in Third."Like so. " [You were a fucking whiny little spunk bubble weren't you?]

His shoulders hitched up and down. I fought the urge to smack him for his insolence.

We stood there, and we watched each other carefully for a time. When I was finally forced to glance down, overwhelmed by awkwardness, I was reminded of the new problem I now faced: my Sunday jumper was soiled with blood and dirt from the étreinte, and mucus from the crying. I tried not to panic anew, [Oh no! My Sunday best is slightly dirty! IT'S THE FuCKING END OF THE WORLD!!] as I plucked at it and considered my options.

"...I need to ask you a favor, Christophe," I said after a pause for thought. I chewed my lip, and he looked at me curiously but said nothing. I took it as an invitation to make my request. So, I looked around quickly. At some point, unnoticed by either of us until this moment, a few of the children had begun to filter back into the graveyard. They stood a good distance from us, but still, I leant into Christophe to whisper in his ear.

"I need you to punch me straight in the nose."

"...Pourquoi? " Now, Christophe looked suspicious. [Looking back on it I don't know why I didn't just fucking take you straight up on the offer.] He glowered at me and took a healthy step backward, his injured hand clutched against his small chest.

"Because! If I tell my father I got into a scrape with one of the boys, he will not be as angry about the mess. Obviously." [Still weren't this verbose, Gregory.] I tugged imperatively at my own clothing, to hurry him on.

Christophe remained doubtful and hesitant, likely thinking I intended some sort of entrapment.

So I closed my eyes and put my face at closer range to make the task easier."Come on, then. Remember, my nose has to bleed so it is believable."

I waited for the blow for a few long moments. Nothing happened, so I opened my eyes. When I did, I was shocked (and mildly irritated) to find that Christophe appeared in the throes of revelation (rather than preparing to do what I had asked). [You'd think you were a fucking masochist. HEY YOU FUCK, BREAK MY FUCKING NOSE RIGHT NOW!]

"Attendez ici Gregory. I have a...idea. I will...come back." Christophe turned away from me, and hurried in the opposite direction, to the side of the church where the teenaged members of the congregation often skulked. One normally becomes frustrated and petulant at this sort of mutiny [Mutiny !] against the very simple things one asks of another. But just then, Christophe sent reassuring smile in my direction, over his shoulder as he disappeared around the corner of the church.

I could not have explained why, but after that...I did not worry anymore. [I'm a fucking wizard, that's why. Obviously. I don't know how you didn't fucking conclude this by now.]

I also could not help but to be distracted by Christophe's response to my request. It was very odd indeed. Perhaps that is why I did not protest; I was merely too surprised. ...None of the schoolchildren with whom I attended Yardale ever hesitated to shove me about and thrash me, even (and indeed especially) when I did not quite literally ask them for it. [From what you told me you definitely fucking did.] Yet here was this strange child, refusing to strike me when I needed him to do so.

One posits [You do realise fucking just referring to yourself as "one" makes you fucking look like an enormous fucking twat right?] that he could have left me there waiting in the graveyard, and there would be nothing for it. But that is not what happened. Instead, he returned momentarily with what appeared to be someone else's blazer, draped over his arms. It was so large that it dragged slightly on the ground. [These details are so fucking important, aren't they?] He came to me, and held it out as an offering.

"To cover." He pointed at my soiled jumper indicatively. I accepted the jacket, and I admit that I felt a sense of awe at Christophe's cleverness. To say the least, he surpassed my expectations. [Given what you've said about me so far that's practically a fucking insult.] As I slipped it on, I broke into a slow grin.

"That is brilliant!" I wriggled about as I buttoned the jacket up the front."How did you get it?"

He fished the now-half-empty cigarette carton from his trousers once more and flicked it open. He shook it around to demonstrate the empty space inside it."The...older" [Cost me a dozen fucking cigarettes, I hope you realise how fucking pissed I was.] He spoke very slowly and painstakingly, every word a struggle. He ducked his head down afterward as if ashamed of his efforts.

"Thank you," I said, as warmly as I could manage it. I meant this, but the sentiment felt lacking. A thousand times a day I used the same words as an automatic response to various interactions with my parents, my tutors, the servant. But this act of heroism [Your standards for heroism are fucking pitiful.] from Christophe was a world away from that kind of polite, meaningless exchange. This was not some courtesy extended to me out of social conditioning or feeling of obligation.

Christophe did not seem put off by the underwhelming expression of my undying gratitude. [Would have been tough to have been put off, my opinion of you was already rock fucking bottom.] He only nodded, grave and quiet as ever, and reached for another cigarette. From his shyness...I got the strange idea that he was not used to being thanked at-all. It was curious to say the least.

Still, I wanted more specific words to express my gratitude. The dearth in my vocabulary irritated me, but I sought to correct the problem with a gesture. [You finally recognize you are not the linguistic master you think you were.] "Do you want to come to my house?" [Most people would offer a drink first.] I asked this quietly, hopefully.

He paused, surprised. He exhaled a long, thoughtful plume of smoke as he scrutinised me. But then he said: "...D'accord, want."

Before the words had even fully left his mouth, I was off like a shot. [Not the only fucking thing that's gonna get shot before I get to the end of this fucking essay. Say goodbye to that fucking ugly-as-sin, hand-me-down fucking wardrobe you love so much, pissy tits, because there's just gonna be a fucking pile of splinters and lead by the time I'm fucking finished.]

"You will? Oh, that is excellent!" I chirruped, all but prancing around him."Let me...oh, let me let my parents know. I just have to tell them...I... Do you think it is terribly wicked to lie, if...the lie does not hurt anybody?" [I reiterate: PATHETIC.] I asked him with no small amount of uncertainty. I often lied to my parents; this was a fact. But this would be the first time I had ever done so in front of a third party. Such a thing makes one fairly self-conscious.

But Christophe just shrugged, scuffing a bare foot over the remains of his cigarette. [See? You shit yourself over pissy little lies, I stamp out cigarettes barefoot, bitch.] It was not much for feedback, but I took it as a cue to try to explain myself and lighten my conscience.

"...My parents are going to stay for the second service," I rushed on, though he had not asked."If I tell them I have not finished my homework, and need to dash off home to do so, [Now we are back to the self-delusions. You were doing so well!] we will have more than an hour to do as we please. We can clean ourselves up, and I will show you my barricades!" [You're going to go into the fucking barricades? Oh, this shit's gonna get fucking great.]

I all but squeaked at the idea, my feet tromping anxiously on the dewy lawn underneath me. I had never shown a single soul my so-called "barricades," [I will never need to ask why.] and the idea of having a friend with whom to share them was nearly too much for my five-year-old self to process properly.

Christophe nodded, listening, but still had no further input. [Christophe 's further input: Fuck you and fuck your favourite vegetable, you fucking shitface wanker.]

"The thing is, I have finished my homework. What is more, [I'm a fucking nerd and you should make my life a living hell for the next two decades!] I have told my father so. So I will have to say I was lying then, only I will really be lying now. " I spared a glance at the serene, granite face of the Archangel Michael carved atop a headstone. He certainly did not seemed too perturbed by the idea of this small, harmless lie. [Because he is a fucking statue.] I skipped my gaze back between Christophe and the immobile bust once or twice, and between the three of us, I felt the consensus was clear enough. [STATUE SUFFRAGE NOW! IMMOBILE SLABS OF LIFELESS FUCKING ROCK SHOULD GET A SAY TOO!]

"Just a moment, Christophe. Wait here."

So, off I went, to confirm my afternoon plans with my parents. I did this with a light heart, but lead in my stomach. The solid ball of heavy-metal weight grew colder and denser still [What, are we up to berkelium levels now? Don't torture the poor fucking analogy, Gregory. And never make me look up fucking periodic fucking table stuff ever again.] when I located my father in the crowds out front. As usual, he stood amid the socially elite in their demure Sunday best, my mother at his side. She wore earrings, and his shoes gleamed like polished stone. They made a lovely picture together. [I'd happily fucking burn that picture.] Even now, one can see them in mind: the grey streaks at my father's temples, the cinched middle of my mother's floral dress and her distinctive jaw and cheekbones.

I swallowed, squared up, and approached them. To someone unfamiliar, my father [Felcher extraordinaire.] did not appear to notice me, but I knew he had from the tense little jerk by which he inclined his jaw. I waited patiently for the conversation he and my mother held with an older couple to come to a pause. Then, and only then, did I interrupt by tugging gently on my father's coat sleeve. He quickly and subtly yanked his hand away from me: unspoken chastisement against touching. [Your parents are somehow even bigger bitches than you.]

"Not to intrude." [As if you knew the word intrude.] I fought to keep my pitch down and even."But I need to speak with you about something."

"Now, Gregory," my mother chided. She did not look at me when she spoke. She seemed to prefer instead to point her face in my general direction, but ultimately to exclude me from the conversation by refusing to make eye-contact."You should be in the back with the other children." [Fucking rebel you are.]

"I know, Mother," I said quickly, ducking my head a bit."But I need to speak with Father, for just a moment. Please. "

At this, my father sighed. He regarded me as one might regard a boring television advert."Yes, yes. Do not babble, boy. Out with it."

"Well, you see," I glanced over my shoulder in the direction of the graveyard. Then I swallowed dryly, my heart lodged in my throat, and I shoved my hands in the pockets of the over-sized blazer to hide the slight tremor."I told you I had finished my homework due Monday, but I have not."

I cringed, squeezing my teeth together. Though I did not dare look up, I could feel my father's gaze like ice-prickles at my nape.

"So, I was wondering, if instead of attending the second service, I could go home, and—"

"Yes, go," my father told me. Gratefully dismissed, I turned to make my retreat. [Run home, little princesse.] But before I could escape, my mother's voice stopped my exit.

"Why are you wearing that dreadful blazer, Peaches?" she tittered."It does not fit you a bit. I know I did not buy that awful thing for you. "

"I was cold. An older boy took pity," I lied (partially) [Wholly. I'm not older than you and there was no pity.], smoothly—whirling to show her the contrition in my expression. The overlong sleeves swished at my sides as I did. "...I am sorry. I will return it straight away."

My heart pounded for a moment, so loudly I could feel the pulse in my ears. I hoped desperately there would be no further questioning, but even more imperatively, that my father did not once again join the conversation.

"Do," Mother said, attention already back on the conversation I had interrupted. [Parents suck fucking balls. Always fucking have, always fucking will.] From her tone, I knew the exchange was over, and my father seemed to have no further contributions. I resisted releasing a deep, relieved breath.

"...Excuse me," she told her companions with an airy laugh."Children are an enormous responsibility, as you know. But God never gives us more than we can handle, does He?" [That cocksucker wouldn't DARE do that, would he!?]

The elder couple waved away her apology, and they nodded along with my mother's sage observation. [Sage my skidmarked arse. You're the exact kind of japseye that even I could say literally fucking anything to in that fucking gay wistful tone and you'd buy that it's deep or some shit.] My father said nothing, but gave me a small shove on the shoulder that meant I was to scamper immediately. So I did. With a skip in my step, I went back to find Christophe, our plans secure. I wove and dodged through the adult crowd, hastily crossed through the empty church, and burst through the back doors once again.

"You are still here!" I noted happily [You squealed like a pig.] when I located my quarry, standing just where I had left him by the back church steps.

"Ouais. I wait for you."

"The jacket bit worked gorgeously," I informed him, and I beamed at our small success. We were quite the team, he and I."Like a charm." [You neither knew the word gorgeously nor the phrase "like a charm" when you were, as I remind you, FUCKING FIVE.]

Christophe broke his gaze from the cobblestones at the church's back entry for a moment to offer me another crooked smile."De rien. "

"Shall we then?" I did not wait for his agreement, though. Instead, I greedily took his hand, as if snatching opportunity from the air, and I led him along.

I looked at Christophe, his hand in mine as I tugged him past the drab stone buildings down Church Walk. We turned onto Mill View, and then again on Town Row, [Because the street names are so fucking important to the narrative aren't they?] where I lived amongst the resident cottages. [Resident cottages? You mean those shitty little stone huts you called fucking habitable?] All told, it was a very short walk, but Christophe was a quiet soul, it seemed. And so as we traversed the short distance, I was left to my thoughts. I could not help wondering if "lying" to Father was worth what it would certainly cost me. My free hand shook in my pocket, but I closed it firmly to cut that off.

And by the time we reached my front door, I had concluded that it was. Worth it, I mean.

(For the record, I was right.) [And I got to put up with your horseshit for a lifetime. Fuck you.]

Christophe stashed his shovel under the gardenia bushes in the yard. Then he came round front and wiped the bottoms of his shoeless feet on the mat before entering.

"You can not smoke in here," I informed him as soon as he was indoors. I was not supposed to have a friend over, and I had already conceded to lying. I did not want to compound and increase my father's anger [In what fucking universe does compounding not be a fucking synonym for increase anyway? Don't labour the fucking point.] by letting on that I had deceived him doubly. It was a lucky thing that it happened to be a Sunday, as it was the servant's day off. [SERVANT!? She was your fucking nanny!]Thus, there were no witnesses to our misdeeds.

Now, from the outside, our house was much like those around it, if somewhat larger. It was built of grey stone and constructed in days of yore. [Ooooh, look at Gregory's fancy fucking words.] Indeed, there was not much glamourous about the family home from the street view. But Mother liked to collect artifacts and artwork as decoration, and was an aspiring interior designer to boot. Thus, the inside of the home was rather lavish: plush carpeting and mahogany floors, Impressionist works (instead of family photos) on the walls, hand-carved mouldings by the ceilings, and a magnificently modern, sweeping glass staircase. [The juxtaposition did not fucking work. I don't give two flying shits what your interior decorator whore of a mother has to say about it.]

Now, Christophe seemed, for all intents and purposes, to simply ignore what I had said to him. A burning cigarette remained in his hand, and he stood there dumb and mute. I huffed, but did not air the minor grievance, as after a moment of consideration, I concluded that he meant no offence. His unblinking, unmoving silence as he took in his surroundings indicated that he was...somewhat overwhelmed. [I didn't so much as have shoes, what did you fucking think was going to happen?] He seemed to shrink when he stepped inside. His shoulders hunched, his free hand burrowed into his pocket, and his head sunk down on his neck, as if he were afraid to touch anything. This was a good bit of luck, really. My parents certainly would have noticed bloody fingerprints on their otherwise-pristine walls and banisters. [As you well fucking know, it would have been dried by then.]

" here?" he asked. There was both wonder and fear in his tone as he cast his gaze around the entry.

His reaction confused me."Why, yes, of course," I told him, a touch snappy because he asked an obvious question. Tired of waiting for a response to my demand, I plucked the cigarette from his hand and marched over to my father's designated armchair to put it out in his ashtray. Presently, however, I remembered that if Christophe did not know how to shake hands, he also likely did not know better than to be redundant. ‘Poor, uneducated lad,' I thought. Mother always said to have patience and pity for the lower-class. [You posh fuck. Uneducated and lower class aren't the same thing. Remind me what your so called Prince Harry's A-levels are again, a B in art and a D in geography was it?]

"Well, where do you live?" I asked him upon my return. Luckily, Christophe had not resumed smoking in my absence [No fucking shit, I just got told not to. Do you think I am a goddamned dog?], but had instead taken to staring rather fixedly at an enormous, fantastic Morisot my mother had mounted in the lounge.

He chewed his lip and after a pause, turned his attention to me. His eyes flashed, and though I could not have known how merited my reaction was back then, the look on his face made my stomach twist. [I can't remember how I reacted, so here's how I reacted. Makes fucking sense.] In fear, in sympathy—one shall never know which. But it was enough to silence me.

"I live...merde, how you say...?" He trailed off, a frustrated wrinkle in his forehead. I waited patiently for him to finish the thought.

"...No where," he said after long, decisive moment.

" you mean to say that you are homeless ?" I asked, in shock. I had never known a homeless person before. [Oh yeah. Don't fucking touch me, whatever you do. I'll infect you with my homelessness, your house will collapse around you and your clothes will just spontaneously rip and grubby up.]

He nodded."I run away."

I was speechless for a few ticks. One realises now that there was no logical cause for my surprise. The boy was barefoot. No kind of parent I knew would let a child walk about without shoes like a God damned barbarian. It was not civilised, not to mention the ringworm risk. [The homeless person covered in blood comes in your house and you're worried about ringworms and the fall of civilisation? Fucking holy SHIT. Priorities.] However, at the time, this bit of information regarding his status was utterly stunning—unfathomable— to me.

"But...surely, your mother and father must be worried," I ventured when I had recovered a bit."They will call Scotland Yard [Now I do actually believe you said this, and you're only putting it here because you're fucking ashamed of it and that's why you remember. But if you are a fucking retard, allow me to remind you that Scotland Yard is the fucking Met Police, you lived in the fucking Cotswolds.] and bring you back home again eventually, will they not?"

He shook his head."No father," he shrugged."Et maman..." He stopped, and that furious look came over his face once more. Then he fell quiet, seemingly preoccupied with his attempt to remove a hangnail from his thumb with his teeth. Lovely. [What else would you propose I use? The jaws of fucking life, maybe?]

"But where will you go?" I asked. I removed my own shoes as I did. I knew well by now that if I left rubber scuff-marks on the hardwood, I would be forced to clean them with my tongue. [I still don't believe this. Your parents were enough of stuck up twats to know that you need fucking polish for that shit, spit won't do jack fuck all.]

He looked at me. Sometimes, Christophe seemed so strange Worries beyond his years lined his face, and one could observe very little innocence in his gleaming, feral eyes. But just then, as he stood in my foyer for the first time, he had no place at-all to go. It was obvious; why else had he followed me? I tried not to look at him.

"Je ne sais pas," he admitted, very softly.

"Oh," I bit my lip. I thought of asking my parents what to do about that, but I knew exactly what would happen if I did. At best, Christophe would become a resident of one of the charity projects Mother's well-publicised foundation helped build. [I'm Gregory, look at how fucking huge my goddamn fucking charity dick is, make sure you don't get fucking twatted with it when I shake the last of the piss off it.]

But the inevitable conclusion was simple. In the end: no scenario in which we went to my parents about this would result in my seeing him again.

"...Listen, Christophe, I have a plan." My heart beat fast in my chest when I told him. One knows it sounds foolish (just reading it back makes one shake one's head), but right then? It felt as if I had waited my whole life to say those words to him. [Gay. Also, five years is not that long a life.] It felt as if a thousand things made sense only in the context of that moment. [Bollocks.] It felt as if the immutable hand of Fate had plucked Christophe up and placed him there before me, and what I said to him was writ in the stars before I was ever born. [There is nothing I can add to this that will make it sound more fucking stupid.]

(This is all very grandiose, metaphorical language for a child, and my thoughts at the time are hardly worth taking seriously. But it is the truest way to explain what I felt: a call of numinous origin, too great and important to be ignored.) [You've said it like five times already! We get it. But, really. Thank fuck you realise you're talking total bullshit.]

Christophe, for his part, regarded me with the appropriate scepticism."...What plan?" he demanded. I got the impression that he suspected I wanted something from him, and furthermore that he had no intention to give me whatever it was.

"Let us talk about it in my room," I told him. This was a matter of utmost importance. I wanted to discuss it behind closed doors. [Because we weren't alone in the house, right? We also had the fucking Ghost of Christmas fucking Past listening in?] Now, as one has said, at the time, we had a very modern staircase—an art-deco sort of thing, made entirely of steel and glass. It was a bit hazardous if one were not careful, as it was very slippery and the steps were quite narrow. I had a chipped front tooth, in fact, that matched perfectly to a small ding in the edge of third-topmost stair. [You've got a small fucking ding.]

The staircase was familiar to me by this point, however—obviously, as it had been there most of my life. [Obvious things need pointing out to the plebs, don't they? Who is even the target audience for this, anyway?] Thus, I thought nothing of it anymore, and I all but sprinted up the steps in my haste. But Christophe took a good long while before he would even toe the very bottom stair. He eyeballed the step, incredulous and unwilling to put his weight on the glass. He seemed to regard it as if it were a thin layer of ice, through which he might fall at any moment—straight into some imagined abyss. [Or a hard wooden floor.]

"Nothing to fear," I assured him."It is quite sturdy. Look."

To demonstrate, I jumped on the top stair, and stomped hard when I landed. It caused the whole metal structure to vibrate and clink. Christophe's eyes became wide and round with fear, apparently not convinced in the slightest. Not a very logical position, one would think. It made scary noises, perhaps, but I had made my point. It was quite sound. [Or maybe I was hoping the silly blond twat would shatter the glass and fall hilariously in a shower of shards and blood and I could laugh at your dead arse.]

He stared at me from the foot of the stairs, and there was something imploring about his look. He chewed fixedly on a fingernail that was already no more than a nub. I waited for him, tapping a finger on the handrail.

One remembers that I felt very frustrated, and it was not only impatience that made me so. Christophe needed the sort of response I did not know how to not give him. All I could do was slam my heel against the stairs to remake my point, and frown.

"Hurry up!" [Petulant shite.]

Christophe's lip trembled for a moment. I thought he might cry. Instead, he held out his hand for me.

" Gregory. ...S'il te plait."

I made a noise of irritation, but in spite of myself, I came down the steps. I stopped one stair above him. I did not take his hand.

"This is ridiculous. I do not see a point," I complained. [Some fucking friend you were.] I was reluctant to touch him this time; perhaps it was the way his grubby fingers looked under the specks of reflected light from my mother's imported chandelier.

If he were offended by my hesitation, he did not show it. He merely pushed his hand closer to me, insistently. I rolled my eyes, but I finally reached out to take the hand proffered. [That's fucking twice now. I am really sure proffered is a word you've just fucking made up.] I laced our fingers together, and it felt so strange that I became instantly shy. In an odd mirror moment of the one we had shared in the graveyard not so long ago, I asked him, in a quiet, tentative voice:

"Like this?"

He nodded."Ouias. It is like this. You keep me this." [You're making this up for dramatic fucking effect, you fucking fraud.]

"How?" I asked him, doubtfully.

"I fall, you catch. You fall, I catch," he told me, as if it were the simplest matter in the world. [It is.] "Safe."

Well, that sounded fair enough to me. So, up we climbed, hand in hand. Christophe kept looking down, testing each stair with his foot before putting full pressure on it. But every time he squeezed our clasped hands a bit tighter, he seemed reassured. [You fucking dense fuck.] Unbelievably, I thought: In a universe of eternal complexity, who would have thought that additional components, could, on occasion, alleviate difficulty? [YOU FUCKING DENSE FUCK.]

And...I quite liked being relied upon, if one is honest. It makes one feel important, valuable.

We reached the first floor at last. My room was at the end of the hallway, and at the time I had a Jet Li Fist of Legend poster on the door. (One has no idea why a stranger might be wandering the halls of my home, but it would have made my room simple to locate amongst all the austerity). [Because that's fucking important, isn't it? We wouldn't possibly understand the complexity of this session you're having of jerking off in front of all of us about how fucking great you are if we didn't know about your Jet fucking Li poster.] There was no need to hurry, really, as there was no one else about. But we got inside quickly. I was too excited to wait. I am sure I nearly pulled Christophe's arm off in the process of dragging him behind me, though he never complained. [That would mean you're fucking wrong.]

Winded and giddy with the distinct pleasure that comes from doing something not strictly sanctioned by one's guardians, [That until this point you had never known because you were a fucking wimp?] I sat down at my desk. There was only one chair, and perhaps it would have been more polite to sit on the bed or floor, so that Christophe could sit beside me. But I had been raised to sit only in chairs, especially in front of company. [Possibly the most fucking snobbish thing you've said so far.] So it never occurred to me. Besides, I could not have anticipated the logistics of having a guest in my room. There was no precedent for such a thing.

Christophe seemed perfectly content to arrange himself by my feet, at any rate. The blood had begun to stiffen and brown in his hair, [Only now? It would have practically been dry by the time we met, you fucking idiot.] and it cracked where it had dried in streaks on his neck. Small flakes of it fell to the carpeting when he scratched. He reached over to pick at my cottonwool sock, [Cotton and wool being two completely different things.] removing little balls of lint and flicking them away. He had very little concept of personal space, I noticed. ...Although I did think it was good of him not to contaminate [You rude mother fucker. What am I going to be fucking contaminating them with, my poverty?] my bedsheets or furniture by sitting upon them. A sense of anxiety crept upon me like a strange breeze; it was all so odd. A person in my room. A person who'd come to the house to see me, rather than my mother or father. A small, [Don't know if you've noticed but kids tends to be fucking small.] homeless person with nowhere to go, playing with my foot. I furrowed my brow in consternation, and I puzzled over my predicament.

"Christophe, I think we ought to make a pact," I told him when we settled.

Silence followed. He seemed to be merely waiting for me to continue. [You expected me to fucking know what a pact is at that age with barely any knowledge of English?]

"Well, I think we ought to have an understanding," [Don't know what a four letter word is? Let's escalate it to thirteen!] I continued after a beat, and I spared a somewhat nervous gaze down at my lap. I wanted at least one thing of which I could be sure.

This in mind, I managed to look up again and meet his eye."That is, I think we ought to have an agreement, between the two of us. We should operate under terms, yes? [You expect that YOU would have this sort of vocabulary? How many fucking times have I fucking said this now!?] To make things official, so our...methods of engagement are clearly defined." [A clue: Fuck you.]

He looked somewhat embarrassed and shrugged. He went back to extracting bits from the seam of my sock. He was at once intent on this task, and after a time, I got the idea he had not understood all of the words I had just used. So, with a little sigh, I sought to simplify.

"Christophe, I...what I am trying to" I said the next part in a single rushed breath, "that I think we should formally agree to be friends. Um. Forever. " [This is all you had to fucking say.]

Being five years old, to me these seemed perfectly reasonable terms. I had a poor understanding of time, and an equally poor understanding of friendship, of obligation, of commitment. [Of the vocabularial limits of a five year old too. And I freely fucking admit that that's not a word.] But perhaps because he was no better off than I was, Christophe barely hesitated to consider my offer. He did not so much as glance up, but almost immediately, he nodded.

"...D'accord," he said, softly."Oui, Gregory. Amis. Toujours. " [I didn't mean this at the time, you know. You were weird, I was curious and ready to fucking humour you. But I ended up keeping my word anyway. Somehow, you fucking earned it. I can't fucking figure it out.]

A thick sensation welled hotly behind my sternum, and I sucked in a deep breath as I tried to expand my ribcage and accommodate it. [I was happy. That's all you had to fucking say."I was happy."]

"Yes. Good, then," I said, cheeks going pink with pleasure. I always did [Do.] love getting my way. [Understatement of the fucking millennium.]

I cleared my throat."...Very good. Now, do you know what friends are meant to do, Christophe?" I asked him. [Fuck each other until their arses bleed.] My voice was so utterly serious that he finally looked up at me. His brows knit at the centre of his forehead. Again, he appeared to be trying to see through my words into some ulterior motive. Eventually, he shook his head, much in the wary manner of a stray dog crouched beneath a dumpster.

I lowered my voice, as if imparting an essential and sacred truth: "They stick together." [To be fair, we always have. Mostly.]

He canted his head, and his fingers finally ceased in their quest to de-lint my socks.

"That is my plan," I explained, placing a fist over my chest as if swearing fidelity. [You're a fucking drama queen and you know it.] " going to sound a mite radical, I warn you. But you ran away from home, Christophe! You have not given me much with which to work! Drastic times call for drastic measures; do you not agree? What we do not want, is for you to end up in one of those boy's homes. They will never let us see each other! If we are going to be friends, we have to see each other." [No. What you said was "I don't want you to go to an orphanage." None of this flowery purple prosey crap.]

He nodded and began to gnaw upon his thumb."...I stay here, then? With you?" [Hello, Meal Ticket, you fucking beauty, my name is Christophe.]

I grinned at his easy acquiescence, pleased he had been persuaded by my obviously infallible logic. [When you get back maybe I'll slice little bits of your ear off with a rusty nail, then you can look like Spock too since you're so fucking eager to be him.]

"Precisely." [I can only imagine you saying this in fucking Scar's voice. Honestly, I've got to do that sort of shit to lighten up this endless fucking diatribe.]

The first order of business was to get Christophe clean. He was, after all, indecently filthy, and besides he kept complaining that the blood on his skin was terribly "itchy." [You try having hours old bloodstains covering you, you fucking clean freak.] A quick look at the posh glass grandfather clock in the lounge (something old and something new at the same time, Mother liked to joke) determined that we had a little less than an hour until my mother and father returned. So, it seemed clear that a bath was in order. [I could have fucking done it with five minutes, some fucking Fairy liquid and a scour.]

I led Christophe to the wash chamber. It was across the hall from my room, and my parents recently had it redone with mirror-smooth black tiling and a separate shower and bath. [Such vital fucking detail.] Pausing only to pull the light cord, I led him in. Then, as I did not know how to operate the shower, I filled the tub for him.

In my bottom drawer, I found an old jumper of mine, and a pair of trousers I had outgrown. As he obviously did not have a change of clothes, I selected these for him (along with some underthings and socks to borrow), and folded them on top of the linen bin. [So even though we're fucking best friends forever now I still get the shittiest items in your drawer? Fuck you.] I procured a fresh towel from the hall closet and placed that with the clothing. He watched me do all this silently, lips pursed as he trailed behind me.

"Right then," I said when the bath was halfway full. I turned the tap to shut off the water, [WHAT ELSE IS IT GOING TO FUCKING DO?] and then faced Christophe."The shampoo is in the blue bottle, the soap is the green one."

Christophe shook his head urgently before I had so much as looked towards my exit.

"...Stay?" he plead. [Admission time. I wanted to see you naked. Get a nice taste of the lithe and supple form I'd get to stick my dick into one day.]

Of their own accord, both my brows rose."You want me to remain in the room with you as you clean up?" I said, slowly."Why?"

He shrugged, and sunk his yellowed teeth into his lower lip. [My dental hygiene was flawless, fuck you very much.] But he looked so worried that one could not help but relent.

"Well. ...All right," I told him."I shall stay." I sunk down and sat atop the closed hamper lid, so that I was perched upon the clothing and towels. [No! Don't sit on the clothes, Gregory! You'll CREASE THEM!!! Dick.] I crossed my arms. With a small frown, I let him know that I felt his request was completely irregular.

He watched me in an uncertain manner for what felt like a long while. He toyed with the hem of his torn shirt and stretched it. He just stood there, yanking at the threads until they popped, but he did not lift the shirt over his head. I had little concept of privacy at the time [And yet it seems so wrong watching another person wash. You're a stupid fucking bitch, you know that?], so I remained as I was, waiting patiently. [Patiently my fucking arse.]

"You too," he demanded after a time he seemed to spend deliberating. He pointed at me—or more specifically my shirt. It took me a time to deduce his meaning; I thought he might have been indicating I had a spot of some sort.

But once I understood what he intended (and determined that of course there was no stain) [In the grubby condition you've made a massive deal out of pointing out I was in, you think I give a shit about the fucking cleanliness of your clothes? I wouldn't have pointed out a yellow cuntstain if I'd noticed it, you entitled twat bubble.], I was a bit put off. Still, he had agreed to be my friend forever. If he wanted to do things together, one supposes it was only natural. Besides, I wondered if he were unsure of how to go about bathing. I never bathed myself, after all. The servant always helped me. [Yeah, you keep calling her a servant, you upper class twat.] Perhaps Christophe had never bathed alone either. And so I got up, and we undressed. We shucked our dirty things and tossed them in a heap. Then we climbed into the tub together, giggling at the sound the water made as it sloshed against the sides. [No we didn't. And if this was a fiction I'd fucking bend you over backwards and fucking stick drawing pins in you because I swear to fuck I'm out of character already.]

Christophe, I noticed in a sidelong gaze (as I have said, I tended to avoid staring), [So you try to take glances without people noticing. Is this more fucking polite?] was not much cleaner under his clothes than he had appeared whilst wearing them. His skin was practically grey with dirt, [Dirt is normally brown you colourblind fuck.] and further discoloured with various bruises. Most of these bruises clustered around his narrow hips, like the thumb-shaped pockmarks of some unknown disease. Dried and blackened blood [Explain to me how the blood can go black.] smeared across his neck and chest, and when he straddled the side of the tub, I could see that there was a dark stain even in the small gap between his pale, skinny thighs. [And if you're planning on publishing this shit I'm going to make sure there's a fucking bruise between your skinny fucking thighs for including that little fucking detail.]

"...Is any of that blood...yours?" I asked as I reached for the washcloth, to help him.

"Non," Christophe informed me as he balanced on his haunches in the warm water. He winced a little in discomfort as he arranged himself. Then he paused, before saying, "Mmm. ...Un peu. "

"I see." I motioned that he turn his back to me, and he did. I rubbed a pearl of soap from the green bottle into the terry cloth [What in the fuck did I just read?], and then gently took it to the nape of his neck. He shied when I touched him, and the water surged against the walls of the tub as he started away from me. I lowered my hand.

" is all right, Christophe. I shan't hurt you," [This is literally the only time you've ever vocalised an apostrophe. Normal people would use the word "won't" you twat.] I promised him, because it seemed he was afraid I intended to do so. The notion troubled me greatly."We are friends now, remember?"

He looked at me quickly, and I nodded in what I hoped was a reassuring manner and smiled. I held up the flannel for his inspection. This was a gesture intended to reinforce to him that I meant no harm.

"I just wanted to help you get your back. It is a bit tricky to reach. That is all," I said, and only then did he relax, just minimally.

After a beat or two, he released a long breath. "J'ai confiance toi." [You've just used Google fucking Translate haven't you, you lazy fucking pleb?]

Oddly enough, it seemed more as if he said it to himself rather than me. "Amis," he muttered, and then he repeated, "amis."

I gave him a moment. Then I tried once more, reaching for him. This time, he let me.

I soon became methodically immersed in lathering an even blanket of soft, white suds between his shoulders and down to his mid-back. [I hated soap and still do but you do give the best back massages. Guess I'm pretty fucking lucky to be the recipient every damn time, hm?] True to what Christophe had told me, when the dirt and blood cleared, it revealed no serious injuries. [I am not a fucking liar, you fuck.] I hummed as I washed him, much in the manner in which the servant washed me: firm, circular motions with the hand towel, until the skin was pink and new. [Not how biology works, moron. Pink means hurt, not new.] The water soon became unpleasantly opaque, but in a strange way, it was satisfying to help Christophe transcend his filthy state, even though it meant my stewing in his waste-water, which was a purely horrific thought. [I produce much worse wastewater—I think you'd rather this than that.] I tried my best not to dwell on it, and instead forced myself to ponder what we might do when we were finished in the washroom.

[You know, you've sent me down memory fucking lane. And here's the thing, it just occurred to me that, like, the last bathtub I was in? Before this one? I was sharing it with a guy I'd just fucking brained with a shovel. So comparatively this was quite a fucking turnaround, no?]

"...Do you want to see my storybooks when we are done?" I drew a smile in the soap on his back with a fingertip, and watched it droop.

"Pourquoi pas ?" Christophe seemed to find this funny."Boring rich boy," he concluded with a small laugh. I drew up, thoroughly offended.

"I am not! I will have you know; my books are illustrated. [Oh yes, the illustrated children's version of Les Misérables.] So even a proletariat like you can understand them." [YOU HAD NO FUCKING CONCEPT OF MARXIST THEORY AT AGE FUCKING FIVE YOU LYING SLUT.]

He snorted, and turned partially around so as dip a flat hand to the water and send a well-aimed splash in my direction.

Water dripped down my front, and I spluttered, eyes wide with horror."Some of your wet residual dirt got into my mouth!" [How DARE you, a homeless ruffian, splash me, a posh git, with your dirty water! That is uncouth! UNCOUTH I SAY!!]

Rather than subdue him, this made him chuckle outright. He swivelled fully to face me, and splashed me again. I shut my eyes against the water and huffed.

"You scoundrel !" Not to be outdone but not wanting to sink [If that was a pun then you're fucking dead.] to his level, I retaliated by lathering up a good amount of soap between my hands. Then, without warning, I slapped two foamy hand prints to the centre of his chest.

"There! Now you look like the savage that you are!" I grinned triumphantly. [Racist. You are a FUCKING RACIST BITCH.]

He looked down, paused."Salope. I will get you!"

With an impish twinkle in his eye, he lunged for the other soap bottle. I did my utmost to ward him off and block his attempt to arm himself. Thrashing, he threw himself against me, and I giggled as I squirmed to knock the bottle out of his reach.

"Surrender, cretin! I will be victorious!"

"Non. I will win! Cocksucker!" [I do not recall a splash fight this fucking dramatic. I've a feeling you're fucking extrapolating.]

"You will not!"

"Will so!"

We were mad with laughter by the end of it. Everything, the two of us included, ended up absolutely covered in an impressive amount of bubbles, and the washroom floor was the site of a flood-zone. [That's the Cotswolds generally, really.] The tub had less water inside than out of it, I am afraid, but we paid no mind, too pleased with ourselves to care about the wreckage we'd caused.

"Christophe! You look like a wizard!" I told him. The soapy "beard" he sported was even pointed, and it gave him a chiseled, distinguished sort of look, I thought.

"Quoi ?" he asked, forehead wrinkled in bemusement. [You expected me to have any concept of magic? You fuck.]

"You know." I fumbled a bit, having never attempted to explain something that I felt I had always intrinsically known to someone else. But he clearly did not know, and so I withheld my exasperation."The...old, wrinkled fellows? The ones who do magic ? They have wands...old books... pet owls? They enchant the knight's sword so it is unbreakable, [Was it really a big surprise I wasn't entirely up on the fucking Arthurian legend?] and give advice on how to slay the dragon or thwart the evil enchantress' spells? Is any of this ringing a bell? Yes?"

For all the world, he looked as if I had spoken in Tongues. [Oh holy fucking shit you actually capitalised tongues.]

"Hold on a minute," I told him. With a sigh, I reached over his shoulder for the faceted crystal [Look how fucking rich I am, my cups are carved from diamond.] cup that sat atop the tile platform into which the tub had been built. I filled it with water. We had to finish our bath presently, if I wanted to have time to clean our mess before my parents arrived home.

"You will want to cover your eyes." I told him, lifting the glass over his head.

He complied, and obediently placed his hands over his face.

I poured bath water over him, [Not fresh stuff from the tap, no, only the fucking dirty water will do for filthy vagrant, won't it?] then dunked the cup into the tub, and lifted it to repeat the process.

"You would know this if you bothered to open a good book, you know. Have you never read a fairytale, Christophe?" When his hair was thoroughly wet, I set the cup aside. Then I leaned in for the shampoo bottle, awkwardly manoeuvring myself around Christophe as I did so to pluck it from where it floated post-soap-war. [The greatest war the world will ever not give a shit about.]

He shook his head, eyes still hidden behind his hands.

I paused here, realisation running like a tremor up my spine. [Don't let it paralyse you, Gregory, I want that pleasure myself.] "...You, can you not?"

So quietly I could barely hear him, Christophe answered me: "Non. "

"Oh. Well. ...That is...nothing to be ashamed of," I reassured him as soon as I regained my bearings, though it certainly was. [You know what else is something to be ashamed of? Being bad at lying.] Even the nursery-aged children I knew could read! But even worse than his obvious, general embarrassment for being unable to perform such an elementary function... [FUCK. YOU.] I could not imagine a life bereft of adventure stories. They were my most favourite and sacred pleasure in the world, and my life hardly seemed worthwhile without them. I wanted to weep for Christophe; the things he had been missing!

"Listen, I shall teach you," I decided, "it is not so hard. You will see." [I didn't believe you, okay? I didn't entirely see how you would want to spend any amount of time with a homeless little ruffian git like me. The fucking attitude you conduct yourself with and all. But I guess I didn't know you're a stubborn little fuck, aren't you?]

"...Mouais," Christophe peeked at me through his fingers, and I met his gaze very solemnly. This was a promise I intended to keep unless death itself prevented me. [Stop being so fucking dramatic already!] I do not know how he felt about my vow, because he only stared back at me as if I had something odd on my face.

"Right then," I said briskly, and I squeezed a dollop of shampoo into my hand."Keep those covered, now." I made a V with two fingers and swooped them as if to poke out Christophe's eyes."Getting suds in your eye stings wickedly."

The gaps between his fingers immediately disappeared, and he hunched a little lower, so that his palms became his primary shields against the soap. [My secondary shields were electromagnetic. Obviously.]

I set the bottle back on the platform. A little uncertainly, I put my hands into Christophe's sopping hair and began to work the shampoo through the nest of wet tangles. I am sure I was clumsy, and my unpractised fingers scratched and dug into his scalp. But he bore my ham-handedness with patience. [It should be clear I have dealt with worse.] I scrubbed until the soap-foam turned pinkish-brown and ran down his back. Then I plucked up the cup to rinse.

"All done," I told him when I managed my task."Clean as a whistle. [You never explained this fucking analogy to me.] Now, does that not feel better?"

"Je ne dis pas non."

He actually smiled at me a little bit, poking his tongue through the hole where a left incisor ought to have been. [Impressive knowledge of dental hygiene for a five year old limey.] He sobered rather quickly, though. He looked down and splashed his hands around in the water. From his hesitation, I got the idea that he wanted to say something, but was fighting back some rather insistent misgivings.

"Hmm. Is something the matter?" I had mercy and pressed him."Do not tell me you prefer your previous state of hygiene." I sniffed a bit. It would hardly have surprised me if he said yes. Christophe was an odd sort of person. [Rude fucking dickhead.]

"You...hurt, Gregory." He put two fingers into his mouth immediately after he said it, as if damming back a torrent of similar sentiments.

I drew back a bit, thoroughly nonplussed. Suspicion crept in a coil, tight and low in my stomach."Do you mean that I hurt you? Did I get soap in your eye after all? Did—"

"Non," Christophe appealed, pulling his fingers from his mouth with a ‘pop.' Heedless of interrupting my next question, he clamped his other wet hand over my mouth to prevent me from speaking again. Then he peered at me intently. His eyes were nearly the same color as as the dirty bath water in which we sat. [You fucking flatterer, you.] "You. You hurt."

To demonstrate, he pointed with his free hand, over his opposite shoulder."Hurt bad."

Instinctively, I crooked an elbow to put my hand behind my back and touch the underside of my own shoulder blade. The skin was rough, mottled under the pads [Shut up, Gregory. Not everything needs a fucking adjective.] of my fingers, and feeling the ridges of scar-tissue made my face burn with shame. I looked away, for I was suddenly unable to face him. [Let me be clear on this one. You had absolutely fucking nothing to be ashamed of. Ever. Least of all around me.]

He removed his hand so I could answer his implied accusations, and he urged me to speak by pushing an insistent finger at my submerged knee.

"...Stop that! It is nothing! " [Just an incredibly obvious scar I've made no effort to hide.] I told him. My voice was harsh, defiant [whiny and shrill]. My throat felt too small.

"Amis," he reminded me, gently. "Toujours."

It was my turn to shrug him off. I made my tone as hard and final as I could manage: "Let us just get dressed." I retreated, and then I started to get up. I was eager to end this conversation, and the bath water was tepid—just bordering on cold. My parents would be home soon. There was no time for this anyway. [Your excuses are fucking awful.]

[You know, everything you risked to get to play with me for an afternoon (or whatever your fucking endgame was)? I'd call it fucking idiotic, but that'd be rude to the fucking idiots. But I'll admit, it kept me from holding a shovel out in front of my neck handle first and charging into a fucking wall that day.]

Christophe did not hound me anymore as we dried off and got ourselves in order. I could not look at him as I tugged on my shirt as fast as I could, and buttoned it with unsteady fingers. Thankfully, the matter seemed to drop. At least, I supposed that much, because Christophe was silent as I drained the bath and rinsed away the leftover suds and the faint copper ring left round the tub. [Truly vital to the story, knowing that you cleaned the fucking tub when you were done.] I mopped the water from the floor with the towel when Christophe was done with it, then tossed it in the hamper.

As I cleaned up, he went to the mirror and yanked my comb through his hair a few times (this did nothing to tame it, and indeed may have made matters worse). The clothes I had outgrown were still too big on Christophe, but he did not seem to mind much. He transferred everything that had been in the pockets of his trousers into those of the jacket he had gotten for me—as we deemed it should become his from then on. [Damn right. I fucking paid for that.] He had bought it with his cigarettes, after all, and my parents would never let me wear the thing. The blazer was ridiculous on him, of course. He appeared scarecrow-like, spindly legs poking out from where the coat ended at his knees, and hands completely covered by the sleeves. [It didn't fit. Three words. You only fucking need three words. AGAIN.] But he seemed happy enough with his poorly-fitted attire, and so I made no comment. I did, however, hope I had not looked so patently absurd in that flopping jacket.

When we got outside the washroom, and I flicked off the light. But before we even got back to my quarters, [What, are we on a fucking boat now? All aboard the HMS Gregory Marcus Roger Timothy St. Clair the Third, unless you're poor or otherwise lower class. Wouldn't want you tossers scuffing up the fucking gold plating now.] Christophe grabbed my wrist. I turned around in surprise, and he leaned up on his toes to put his hands on either side of my face dragged me down a few inches, to his level.

"No more, Gregory," he said, vehemently. His eyes were bright and serious."Jamais. " [Still true. Not if I can fucking help it. Unless it's me. I mean, obviously. I'd have no fucking fun otherwise. Not to mention you rather seem to enjoy it too, no?]

As I gazed back at him, a hot feeling, like pressurised groundwater, sprung forth in a tiny spurt up into my stomach. His warm, pink and wrinkly hands smushed [Oh, so after all this fucking stuck up twatty talk you've come out with, the word smushed is fine? What the fuck is your standard here!?] my cheeks a bit and so when I tried to talk, it came out funny.

"Um, thank you, Christophe." (Except it sounded more like "Chrishtophe. ")

He nodded, and let go of my face to take my hand. Once again, I found the sentiment meant to express gratitude severely lacking.

"Barricades, is mean...closet?" [OH HERE WE FUCKING GO!]

Christophe seemed boggled when I tried to explain. He regarded the empty space inside my closet with a squint, and one brow wriggled down as he struggled with my meaning. [And this is why I've been looking forward to this through TWENTY FIVE FUCKING PAGES. I could have fucking done it in a sentence."I met a boy covered in blood in a graveyard, took him home and washed him." There.] Perhaps I had made it all a bit too complicated for him. [It is not the only thing you have made too fucking complicated, Gregory.] Christophe nudged the open closet door a bit wider with his foot, his brow scrunched with the inquiry.

"No, no. That is—have you not re—" I very nearly asked if he had not read Les Misérables but caught myself before posing this moot question. [What manner of fucking five year old has even fucking heard of Les Misérables ? Unless you watched the fucking movie or some shit, and I don't think it was out when you were fucking five. Hell, I don't think that one with the guy from Schindler's List was out at that point. What I'm saying is either you are a dirty fucking liar or you had absolutely no fucking friends. And to be fair I'd sooner believe the second one.]

We stood together in my room, side by side, peering into my small closet (two by two metres in area, roughly [WHY DOES THIS EVEN FUCKING MATTER!?]). It was auspiciously [What?] empty of clothing, aside from two navy blue blazers, hanging there like two lonely passengers waiting for a train. A small stack of books sat in the corner.

"Barricades are..." I fiddled with the hem of my shirt as I considered how to tell him—and to explain to him."Well. Barricades...are meant to keep the baddies out." [No fucking shit. And they clearly weren't what you thought they were either so fuck you.]

Christophe looked at me for just a moment too long. I was acutely aware of the ripples of scar tissue under my shirt, a series of raised ridges against the cotton of my underthings. [Is it a fucking sin in your posh universe to directly refer to anything that touches your knob or something?]

"I switched the door knob around, you see, so it locks from the inside," I explained to him. Somewhere in my room, I thought I still had the screwdriver. I could not remember if I had yet had the time to slip it back into my father's toolbox.

I went to my dresser, and from a badly-sanded cigar box I carved from cedar wood in woodwork class, I drew a tiny brass key. [Okay, I'm gonna take a minute here, let's just have a look at that sentence. Firstly, what manner of fucking five year old is allowed in a fucking woodwork class to begin with, because of, to take a few examples, the fucking hacksaws and power tools that an irresponsible little bitch like you would fucking kill yourself with without knowing what your were fucking doing. Secondly, fine, let's say a fucking five year old is allowed anywhere NEAR resistant materials groups. Why the fuck are they allowed to do their projects using goddamn fucking cedar wood and not the cheapest fucking two by fours the teachers can find? Thirdly, alright, so you, a five year old, are allowed into woodwork and to make a box of any kind, out of cunting cedar wood of all things. Why is it badly sanded? It's fucking cedar! You're not going to fucking waste materials like that, the teacher wouldn't allow it in your stupid fucking Posh McGitterson school. And finally, as you pointed out, it's a FUCKING CIGAR BOX. WHY ARE YOU USING IT TO HIDE A FUCKING KEY? There are so fucking many more better fucking uses for a cigar box than hiding a miniscule fucking key, like, I don't know, FUCKING CIGARS. Honestly, this has to be one of the fucking dumbest things you've written so far, and that's fucking saying something.] I held it out to Christophe. When he took it, I pressed it tightly into his palm, deep into the fleshy centre. [I'll go deep into your fleshy centre, bitch.] Then I stepped around him. I entered my closet, and I pushed the blazers to the wall, so I could stand inside it.

"Nothing can get to you in here. Especially if no one knows to look."

To be honest, I do not know if he took my meaning (his English was rather weak, after all). [You're rather weak generally, fuckface.] But he took the key.

He only had one question."Gregory. Bad people" He squinted at the closet, as if watching it closely for a potential ambush."We hide from them? In the closet?"

"No, Christophe. I promise, there are no bad people here," I said [Liar. Fucking liar. You don't need to make excuses for your twatty parents anymore, you Stockholm inflicted bell end.]. "But I should think there is no harm in being extra secure," I sat on the floor, and patted the ground to indicate that he should join me. The first time Christophe set foot in my closet was also the first time I ever saw him truly relax. He sat, his shoulders drooped, his hands set neatly and quietly on his knees—it was only then, in juxtaposition, [Shut up.] that I even noticed how tense he had been.

"...Ouais, " he agreed. Then he sprawled out and slouched back onto his palms. He tilted his neck back to gaze thoughtfully at the square air vent on the ceiling. [What kind of fucking house can afford a fucking vent system anyway? It's either mostly cosmetic or your family liked their fucking climate control. Either way they're not standard back home, so it had to be put in out of their bank account. Who cares. Worked out for me.]

"Also," I hesitated."They cannot take you away if they cannot get to you."

He cut an indiscernible look to me, his mouth twisted into a sort-of frown. It was short-lived. He soon seemed to prefer to simply lean against my shoulder in silence. [How disgustingly romantic we were even then. Excuse me while I fucking chunder.]

After a time, I felt the lack of conversation become pressing. So I wracked my brain for suitable topics, but could only default to a previous subject we had discussed.

"Say, Christophe, did you ever hear the story about the princess who slept for a thousand years?" I asked him."The ending is emotional drivel, [Oooh, look at Gregory the literary critic. Such a shame he was absent when you were writing this crap.] but there is a dragon!"

"Ahhh. Je vois. " Christophe looked at me for just a second or two too long. Then, he nodded with enthusiasm and slowly tried to form words: " barricades. Keep you safe." [I don't, however, like fucking princess stories. Fuck you. Only good I ever fucking got out of it was a nickname for you. I also don't like your fucking parents. Fucking cunts.]

"Precisely." I agreed, pleased, and I could not resist proudly regarding the interior of my closet."Of course, this is not the impressive part."

Christophe said nothing, but I knew he was merely waiting for me to tell him to what I referred. I grinned at him in response, intentionally mysterious as I kept him in suspense. [Arsehole. You 're a fucking loaded upper class twat and you still need to be fucking made to feel like you're important.]

Stubbornly, he began to hum (Fais Dodo, if one is not mistaken). [YOU DO NOT REMEMBER THIS FUCKING SHIT.] But I did want to show him, so there was no way to win. I heaved a sigh and gave in.

"Come, I will show you," I knelt and crawled beneath my blazers hanging from the top bar. I heard Christophe draw to fours and follow suit. My heart hammered, because I had never before revealed my "barricades" to a single soul. They were my greatest secret, [Fucking pitiful. I've got a much better greatest secret and it's kind of fucking obvious. Do you even read into what you're writing?] and I could only hope that Christophe would not turn me in for my trust. [You climbed through the vents, you prat, what the fuck is there to turn in?] The only argument I had in his defence was, of course, that he had already proven himself to me. He was wearing the evidence of that, currently. I had to take the rest on faith.

At the back of my closet was a large vent. Our home had an old-fashioned ventilation system, and thus the heating and cooling apparatus [There are much more fucking efficient ways you could have put that.] was large (as a relatively small boy) enough to crawl inside. I had long ago loosened the screws that held the protective grate in place. Now, I undid them, set them carefully aside, and pulled the grate loose.

"In we go," I told Christophe, chancing [The fuck is there to fucking chance!?] a peek back at him over my shoulder. I thought he would be afraid, really. He was afraid of the stairs, and a deep, dark tunnel [It wasn't really either of those things.] into the house certainly seemed like a more intimidating ordeal than that.

Christophe, however, was not so much as vaguely phased, apparently. Instead, he looked rather excited, and when I turned back to check on him, he merely urged me:

"Hurry, Gregory! Maintenant! "

He seemed only a moment or two from outrightly shoving me along, and so I made haste. But I did so gladly, because, as one surely knows—it is always best to have an enthusiastic companion when endeavouring upon an adventurous undertaking. [Did you just have a fucking thesaurus open next to you while you were writing this?]

We crawled along the vents. I knew the way well—by feel alone. Christophe reached out to touch my foot from time to time as he kept apace: a means of staying quite literally in-touch. [Was that meant to be word play? If it was it was fucking shite.] The faint light from the attic window fell in striae, segmented by the air vent, which was our exit. When I reached it, I carefully jostled it aside, and then climbed through. I held out a hand to help Christophe out of the vents.

"Mind your head," I warned."The ceiling is low."

It was certainly that. The roof made a space sloped on either side; the highest point still afforded a crouch for a boy my height. At the low-ends, one had to sit hunched into a ball. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light—dampened by foggy glass of the-never-cleaned outmost window in our home—I groped for the small electric camping lantern I kept tucked in the angled cubby [FUCKING WHAT IS A CUBBY!?] the roof made where it touched the floor.

When I turned the tab and filled the space with the familiar warm-yellow glow, I finally dared to gauge Christophe for a response.

He gazed around, lips pressed together. His stare lingered on the pile of folded blankets in the corner, next to my small stack of most-precious books. On the ceiling, pasted over with stickers I collected from school lessons. On blueprints scrawled on stolen pieces of butcher's paper, posted on every available surface—some half finished, some fantastic, some pathetic. [Mostly pathetic. And yeah, you fucking abuse that rule of three. You did a rule of three inside a rule of three. That's fucking cheap.]

I cleared my throat. "Well, it is a bit small, and cramped, and—"

I looked to the floor, inconveniently out of words mid-sentence. All was still, including Christophe. He was as unmoving as he was quiet.

"—Je suis rentré."


"Home." Christophe sat on the floor and beamed at me. "This shithole? Is home." [Alright, I remember that. I'll give you that one.] He ran a hand along a blueprint just above his head, causing a soft crinkling sound as the paper pressed into the woodgrain. It was the floorplan of the Vatican, which I had drawn after my family summered in the City in Italy. [In fucking Crayola if I recall correctly. Guess even the fucking snobby posh fucks can't have the fucking forty grand pens, can they?] He looked at it as if understanding intrinsically the wonder I felt the day I saw the building by which I had been so inspired, as if committing the sight to memory. I knew he felt what I felt—the close greatness, the crowds gathered to witness, the ancient quality of untranslatable marvel. He looked at me. [I had never seen anyone so fond of pointless old buildings only good for having a dangerous, marginally public shag in. I was wondering what the fuck was wrong with you.]

"A fine thanks I get," I rolled my eyes and scooted over to sit beside him, and I reached for the pile of books. afterwards, I cleared my throat, and he leaned over me to look at the pictures on the pages.

"Now. The first thing you ought to know about this princess is, she had no idea that she was royalty. That is because her parents forgot to invite the Evil Faerie Queene [Have you even looked up the spelling of those words in, say, the last two fucking hundred years?] to her birthday party. This constituted an act of war, and, well. Let us just say it would have been less trouble for everyone to just invite the vengeful creature." [Your vocabulary was not... you know what, fuck it, who am I even talking to anymore? You can't fucking read this.]

The last few minutes before my father got home were the worst.

Christophe fell asleep as I read to him. By the end of The Tale of the Sleeping Beauty, he was (rather appropriately) [Fuck off.] curled on the pile of mats I kept by my stack of reading material. He clutched a spare pillow, which I had filched from the guest room, to his chest. One notes that he looked much smaller unconscious. His hair was still wet, but without his perpetual scowl, there was something...I am not sure. Sad, perhaps, is the right word one might use to describe his expression. [Wow. Only sad? Not some fancy shit word like melancholy? Were you fucking ill when you wrote this bit?]

At any rate, once again, he demonstrated appalling manners [Oh yes, I was rude for falling asleep after what you know happened to me that day. Genius.], but it was just as well. It gave me an excuse to leave off in my hosting duties to tidy up our mess. I wiped down the bathroom and put the towels with the dirty linens (by the machine in the kitchen). [Pertinent detail as ever.] I put Christophe's filthy clothing down the garbage chute, [Recap: You were still in fucking Northleach at this point. Your home did not have a garbage chute. Your home had a dustbin, where you would put things into black bags, which you would store in a wheelie bin for it to be collected weekly by dirty fucking commoners in a dirty fucking bin lorry. You've been in fucking America for way too long.] where I believed it quite honestly belonged. I strew my homework across my desk so as to appear that I had been hard at it whilst my parents were away. I even generated eraser shavings, strategically scattered over my answers to add to the illusion of "recently done."

I paced around the entry, at odds and ends with nothing to occupy my quivering hands. I strove to think of anything I could have missed that might tip my parents off to Christophe's presence in the home, to Christophe having ever been in the home. I could think of nothing except the shovel, but in the unlikely case they found that, it could be easily blamed on the gardener. Let the old puttering fool explain the blood. It was hardly my concern. [Your disdain for normal people is as fucking revolting as ever.]

As I checked for footprints on the glass steps, my heart would not settle; it rattled in my chest. I could feel the birds outside watching, and irrationally wondered if they would somehow let on. It was not that I never disobeyed my father. Obviously, I had. But I shivered (literally, one is afraid; [You're very fond of the "one" pronoun, aren't you? Remind me to keep kicking you in the face until you break that fucking habit.] I distinctly remember not being able to keep still) to think of the consequences that awaited me this time. The degree was beyond reckoning. I strove to keep myself busy to avoid thinking on it.

I recalled that Christophe's cigarette in the ashtray was burned past the brand. That meant it was indistinguishable from the rest, unless my father counted them. Or did he count his cigarettes? Did some cigarettes smell different than others? Would he notice? Would he think I had smoked a cigarette? [You have fucking anxiety issues, Gregory. I should kick those out of you too.]

Panicking, I skittered to the living area and rifled through the ashtray for the stray butt that had belonged to Christophe. But for the life of me, I could not remember which it had been. I considered dumping the whole lot, but what if he noticed I had done it? Would that not raise more questions? [Clear the ashtray, say you decided to clean as fucking reparation for not doing your homework. It's this fucking simple.] What lie could explain the spontaneous need to empty the ashtray, except cleaning the entire house? I did not have time for that! My parents would arrive back at any moment! [SO YOUR HOMEWORK TOOK A LONG TIME AND YOU ONLY JUST FUCKING STARTED.]

"Oh, no," I moaned as I rifted through the cigarette ends. My heart rose and felt as if it were beating thickly in my throat. Luckily, my mouth was dry, as I knew I could not swallow past it. Cold sweat gathered at my collar, and then I worried for that too. Stress-sweat gives off a particularly nasty odour. [Yeah, sweat will do that, you fucking idiot.] I did not want to appear as nervous as I was, of course not. Did I have time to change my shirt again? Would all the extra laundry look suspicious? There was already so much extra laundry; would they really notice just one more thing?

I wondered if I should just confess. I wondered if I should lead my father straight up to where Christophe was hiding and come clean. Surely, my punishment would be less if— [And for considering that I'm going to slice off one of your limbs with a fucking mallet.]

At the door I heard the key scratching at the lock. My mother's voice tinkled, [Don't think that's the word you wanted to use.] slightly muffled, through the door. The snow guard shuffled over the hardwood. I put down the ashtray and wiped my hands on the insides of my pockets. There was nothing for me but to hope upon hope; all I could do was greet my parents at the door and pray that they believed nothing was awry. So, that is what I did.

Dear Father in Heaven, if You exist at all, please let me off, just this once? I am sure helping a homeless boy off the streets counts as a good deed. If You think on it this way, with all due respect, Sir, You owe me, frankly. Amen. [Unfortunately the arselicker does not smile upon sass. Nice try Gregory, see you in hell.]

My father noticed me at my post by the door, and as soon as the door closed behind him, he turned to face me. This was a formality. He did not look at me. Most deplorable of all is the coward. [Gregory the critic, Gregory the philosopher. Gregory the obnoxious little limey shit who needs to learn when to shove a dick in his mouth and shut the fuck up.] But I could feel my body condense, tightly and uncomfortably, so that my heart seemed to drum in my brain. I squeezed my thumbs tightly beneath the other four fingers, [That is not how you clench a fist, dickface.] knuckles pushed up against each other. I ground my molars as if staying myself for a blow that might take me off my feet. [But your incisors got a free ride on the grinding. What makes them so fucking special?] My toes curled stiffly. I had to focus every iota of energy into breathing slowly through my nose so as not to hyperventilate.

"Hello, Father. Mother." I nodded to them. "I. Um." I cleared my throat to keep my pitch down. "I have finished my work as promised."

I am proud to say, I did not even flinch even when Father addressed me directly. It was a practised art.

"Did you?" He removed his coat, and Mother hung it for him. "Good, then."

"Why don't you go back upstairs and play, Gregory?" Mother inclined her head towards me as she took off her own coat. A gold curl slipped from her tidily-managed updo and fell beside her neck, so she tucked it behind her ear. [Such. Important. Detail.] She removed her shoes and placed them in the cubby hole. [She's got a deep wet one then?] "Your father and I are exhausted. Dinner will be ready in a few hours. I will send for you."

I looked immediately to my father for direction. He seemed occupied staring vacantly at the Morisot, hands at his back and feet apart (as was his customary stance). But until he dismissed me, I was rooted in place.

"...Listen to your mother, Gregory," [You are the last person who needs this advice, little Momma's boy, parroting her all the time.]was all he said, gruffly, after a pause. "Run along."

I choked on my surprise and good luck and all but tripped over myself to obey, of course. [Of course. You're a fucking coward.] Though the dark pit of dread in my stomach warned against celebration just yet (there was time for his outrage over my lie to catch up with him yet; I knew), I could not resist a slow, controlled exhalation of relief.

"Yes, Father." I went, lightly, to the safety behind my closed door. [Because he couldn't possibly open it again.]

Thank you, Almighty Lord. ...It seems You were watching after all. I apologise. Amen. [Puke.]

"Christophe. Wake up."

He did so as if I had dumped ice upon him. I flicked on the electric lantern, and I might as well have electrocuted the boy. [We're going back to fucking this!?] He rubbed his eyes after he sat up. And then he whirled on me, harsh and sudden as if preparing to bolt. [It is, of course, a wonderful fucking idea to wake up suddenly a boy who earlier on was covered in fucking blood.] I wondered where on earth he thought he was bolting to. We together inhabited all of seven-by-five metres of space or so.

"Quoi?" He wondered this as he blinked, adjusting. He got to his knees and looked wildly about, shaking his head, dog-like [NO.], as he fought to see in the semi-darkness. His gaze landed on me."...Gregory?"

"Yes." I kept my voice low. It was late, and all the lights in the home were dimmed. I had taken the liberty of installing a large piece of black cardboard over the window: an old habit borne of many nights dedicated to secret midnight reading. [Which you couldn't do in your room, what with your incredibly fucking proper parents who would have been in fucking bed at that hour.] "I have brought you some supplies. Just the necessities. I assume you have not eaten, for example."

He sat up straight at that, and one hand slid over his hunger-bloated belly. [Explain how hunger fucking bloats the belly. Twat.] His eyes glinted, hard and angry in the yellow glow of the lantern. I took a wary half-scuffle back from him, admittedly scared he meant to lash out. I was three quarters of my usual height on my knees and felt it. [And I wasn't on my knees too at all. Nope. You fucking twat.]

"...If, um. If you would like, that is," I amended. I was ashamed of my fear, and I strove not to hang my head. But being in an enclosed space with him felt like sharing a cage with an animal. I wondered for the thousandth time if I had not erred in bringing him back with me. Mother would not let me adopt strays when I pitied the street dogs; I imagined she would approve of this even less. [Clearly I was not your intended audience, comparing me to a fucking tick.]

Nonetheless, I had stolen some things from the kitchen. Besides smuggling about half of my dinner in a napkin, I managed to ferret out some packaged snacks and treats from the pantry, likely from the servant's stash of personal food. [You continue to be a rude mother fucker.] I emptied my pockets and removed the items from under my shirt for his inspection.

"I will find a way to get you better things to eat later, but tonight, I had to improvise," I explained as I set the offerings on the floor before me. He watched me with his eyes that glinted, and his mouth twisted in a defensive frown. Or perhaps he was not pleased with his food choices. One cannot blame him, I suppose. The greens were wilted from being in my pockets, and somewhat lint-y besides.

"I forgot utensils," I babbled when he did not reply. "Which is idiotic of me. But I did not think of it. Next time, I will get you proper things off which to eat. And, um. Water bottles. I could not find any in the home, for the moment, but I could likely smuggle some from my tennis instructor tomorrow. [WHAT MANNER OF CHILD PLAYS TENNIS AT AGE FUCKING FIVE? I mean, at least it's not fucking badminton but still, FUCK.] Then I can regularly refill them for you as a long term plan, and—"

He edged towards me, and I backed away. He was an enormous crawling spider—all sharp angles and jutting limbs as he approached, deadly and silent. [No I fucking wasn't.] Words died on my tongue and tasted of sawdust. But I bit my lip and tensed each muscle to the point of pain; I could not stop my pupils from dilating, but I could certainly prevent trembling lip. Bravery in the face of adversity: always. [Except if it's your fucking parents.]

We faced each other, each kneeling/crouching below the sloping roof, [Oh yes, use of the forward slash in the course of the narrative is absolutely good form, isn't it? You fucking hypocrite.] and the stand-off only ended when he picked up a package of biscuits from the pile. The crisp rustling of cellophane seemed inordinately loud. One feels it most honest to report that the only semblance of thought in my head was the certainty that Christophe was going to fling the package at me.

Instead, he turned it over in his hands, silent. And then he looked up at me and said simply, "Merci. Gregory. Yes. to eat." [See, at least I can pretend to be fucking nice.]

With that, he tore open the package, flopped into a sitting position, and began eating as if he'd been utterly starved. Which, one supposes, he had been. [NO FUCKING SHIT!]

I naturally I resisted staring, but I could hear him. Thus, I had to get a look, and when I did, it was far from a pretty sight. It was fascinating, and I was both entranced and mildly horrified. At least, as it turned out, the lack of utensils did not bother him. In fact, I felt a fool for thinking it would make a difference; he had no shoes for Chrissakes. [You finally put that one together huh?] I watched him as he demolished all that was before him; he did not hesitate once he had started. He ate and seemed to be inhaling the food. [Yeah, I just have blending apparatus in my nasal passage. Fucking moron.] We had eaten brussel sprouts, couscous, tomatoes and flounder that night [YOU. DO NOT. REMEMBER. THIS SHIT.], and I had found the meal barely edible. [You posh fucking TWATWAFFFLE.] But he stuffed it into the pouches of his cheeks and shovelled handfuls of my dinner into his gullet as if preparing for hibernation. He grunted, too, while he ate. Food decorated his face in smears, wrappers littered the floor—he had no particular order as he selected items for consumption. His only pattern seemed to be "what is in closest grabbing range." [The logic of the famished. Truly it's a fucking mystery.]

Christophe smacked his lips and swallowed; the sound was like marbles through a wet vacuum tube. [And how do you fucking know what that sounds like?]

I had to find a way to divide my attention so as not to behold the disgusting spectacle. So, between cursory checks on my guest, I studied my sketch of the Vatican. I sought the imperfections. I could do better, I thought, but I would want to see it again in person. More information could produce a better likeness, and perhaps I could capture the feeling of grandeur, and of being so miniscule in comparison. [With fucking Crayola on paper?]

As a child, I felt like Michelangelo or Frida Kahlo when I drew. Sometimes, I even affixed a drawing page to the ceiling and sketched whilst on my back in childish imitation. Charcoal pencil poised (a favourite Christmas gift from my mother), I let bits of pencil dust rain on me without a care. [I remember you yapping on and fucking on about it when you got that. Ergo you didn't fucking have it yet.] In the mirror, I would see the blackened face of a miner, but in my mind—it was instead the face of the Future.

Christophe finished eating as I was admiring my working and making my plans. Apparently, he turned up empty in his search for a napkin, so he did the only "reasonable" thing and wiped his hands on a nearby sketch.


Grease streaked across the paper: four perfect translucent treads that smeared the charcoal, and a palm-print like a signature at the end. [Not like you couldn't just fucking draw it again.]

‘How-how could you?' I thought rather than said. I was too appalled to speak. As I gaped, Christophe examined his hands.

"Gregory hates dirty," he proclaimed. He pulled a rendering of my own design—a greenhouse, constructed, speculatively, from panels of sparkling glass—and balled it. The crinkling sound was daggers to my heart. [You were a fucking child, you fucking shithead. I don't think it was that fucking severe.] He proceeded to rub the ruined work between his flat hands as if it were a mere paper towel, and then discarded the work carelessly over his shoulder. He proffered me his hands for inspection then, which were, to be fair, grease-and-crumb free. But they were also absolutely graphite-grey. I glanced at them, but could not help staring mournfully after the remains of my artwork. [See, I try to do something nice for you and you fucking blow me off.]

"Clean." Christophe grinned.

I might have fainted. "I. I. M-my...oh."

" Avec plaisir. " He looked entirely proud of himself. "Et. Merci. For the food."[You gave me your leftovers like I was a stray dog you felt sorry for. But I guess it was actually in date. And it didn't have any fucking broken glass or any shit like that in it. So. I guess I meant it.]

I spluttered, clearly in horror, but he paid me no mind. He, instead, went to my pile of books, no doubt to defile more of the things I counted as precious objects. [Yeah, you put me, a known ruffian, into a room with your prized possessions. What the fuck did you think was going to fucking happen?] He sat down beside the stack as I watched, and plucked a book from the top. He held it between two fingers as one might hold something somewhat unpleasant: far from his face, with a limp wrist. The pages trickled open, fluttering.

"I—" I finally got the wherewithal to scold him, but he interrupted me again.

"You read me this," he said, face pinched. "I want...more dragons." [Even I got to admit Toothless isn't entirely ugly, alright? Dragons are fucking awesome.]

With the patience of a martyr, [You fucking drama queen.] I went to him. But first, I collected the drawing he had ruined and smoothed it as best I could. As I fretted, he brought the book under his nose for inspection, opened to a random page.

"This one," he declared, alighting on the depiction of Rumpelstiltskin stomping upon the ground so hard in his frustration, that he burst into a million pieces. [Faerie tale logic makes way less sense in hindsight, doesn't it?] "I want to know."

I held out my hands to take the book from him. "Well, all right." I am sure I sounded cross, but he nestled into my side, either oblivious or uncaring. "This is the story of a little man who thought he was clever. But actually, he is merely a pain in the side." [Sound fucking familiar?]

Each day went like this:

I would sit through the interminable hours that constituted my school day. I would bear on through the lectures packed into stuffy rooms with the mongrels in my peer group. I diligently took my notes, chatted when absolutely necessary with the uninteresting half-wits [You're so fucking proud of yourself aren't you?] when it was unavoidable. But as soon as the bell rung, I dashed straight home at top speed. In the rain season, [Or as the rest of us call it, winter.] I had splash marks half-way up my trousers by the time I arrived—out of breath—at my front door.

[Confession time: Each day, for me went like this: I hung about, and I waited for you. Eventually, I realised I did not have to wait for you to come home. I realised I could leave if I wanted to. You never forced me to stay, only gave me a place to if I wanted. And so even after I realised I did not have to, I waited for you to come home. Even though I knew you would torture me with your fucking school books.]

But after a time, the servant noticed the change in my demeanour. [She was more of a fucking parent than your parents ever were, and she noticed the shit parents should notice, yes.] She was a shrewd woman, round from top to bottom and perhaps young. One cannot say it with confidence; her age was indeterminate to me. Her wrinkles did not age her much, but seemed empirically to be evidence of years passed. [NO FUCKING SHIT!]

"You're a right sight," she chided when I was particularly unwilling to wait. She shook the water from my umbrella as she took my coat. "Go and change your trousers, Gregory, and then we'll have a snack in the kitchen."

What a bossy woman, the servant. [She was your fucking nanny. Not a servant. Nobody fucking has servants these days other than the fucking Queen. I can see why you're getting fucking confused though.] "Oh, go and bother someone else." I stored my shoes in their proper cubby holes, and made to steal off to the kitchen for snacks. In my estimation, there was no use in speaking to her. I resented her presence in my house—this person who acted like a parent but was not one. [THAT IS WHAT SHE IS FUCKING PAID TO DO.] I missed the manservant. He at least played the part. This one liked to fuss and chide in a way one imagines mothers of less privileged children might. [It's official. You're fucking trying to be an arse.] Her hands were large too, and very warm, with thick knuckles as if she would be very good at gripping things.

"Manners." She said this over her shoulder as she put the umbrella away in the decorative vase stationed by the door for exactly this purpose. Her way was different than when my mother or father would say it: less of a command and more of a simple (albeit, irritable) reminder. [This is called politeness. Most normal arseholes exhibit it occasionally.]

"...Are reserved for betters and equals." [No self awareness and no shame was to be found in Gregory that day.] I turned my back to her, swiftly. I was going to the kitchen and that was that. "And I do not think you ought to speak to me that way. I am your employer!" [No. That would be your mother.]

She rolled her eyes (I assume, because I could not see her, but she was forever rolling her eyes). "Shut it, you. Come on then, hop to it. Clothes, snack, then homework. You know the drill. We need to get you ready before your fencing tutor gets here." [Tennis, fencing, fuck you this is fucking stupid.]

"I will not!" I began walking towards the kitchen, and when she physically reached out to grab and stop me, and I batted at her. "Unhand me!" I cried, incensed. [God forbid a lowly fucking commoner touch you, Your fucking Majesty.]

"Oh, quit your whining," she laughed (I, of course, took this as an insult). [Here, I'll show you a real insult: Cunthead.] "Upstairs, if I have to drag you!"

"I am not employed at ‘Whining.'" (I thought I was very clever). [Key word: thought.] I tried to twist away from her, but soon gave this up. Strength-wise, she was an adult and more than my match. "Therefore I cannot quit."

"Could have fooled me!" She ruffled my hair, messing up the careful slicking I had done that morning. I attempted to defend myself, but was also at a significant disadvantage height-wise. [Very fucking astute.] Twisting, I finally freed myself and was able to put distance between us. Then, I finally got the chance to fix my hair situation, as I marched in the opposite direction from where she wanted me to go.

"Gregory, where do you think you are going?" she demanded. Admittedly, her tenor made me pause. I huffed then, because she took advantage of the pause and herded me up the stairs with two shooing hands. "Didn't I just say? Upstairs, then snack! Something wrong with your ears?"

"Would you cease?" My voice went up a pitch or two. "I am in no mood." [It must take a goddamn fucking masochist to be your nanny.]

We reached my room, and petulantly, I shut the door as loudly as I could. She merely began to hum as she selected dry clothing for me to wear. "Ducky, if I had to operate on a schedule slotted according to your moods, your parents would have to pay me loads more." [More than even their abnormally inflated fucking wallets could afford, I'd bet.]

There was no choice but to do as she bade. My hurry to see Christophe [Aw. Of course you miss me, fuckface. I am damn well the best thing about your life and always have been, and always will be, so fuck you and fuck your perky little butt cheeks.] would only be frustrated by attempts to argue. Once she had left, I shucked my rain-wet things and dumped them in the hamper, repaired the damage she had done to my hair, put on the things she had left me, and got back downstairs in time to catch the tea whistling.

The kitchen was a happy place. Mostly this was because my parents never entered it. The servant did the cooking when she was about, and when she was not, we ordered in. [Cooking for yourself? You fucking peasant!] But however cheery it might have been, the kitchen was without style. The appliances were old; the stove was crusted; the chromey toaster that matched nothing sat like a behemoth next to the sink, and the hideously mint green refrigerator looked to be a part-time safe room. The washing machine forever emitted a dissatisfied, churning and grumbling noise, accentuated by the chink of buttons against the tumbler. Coupon clippings [Oh, fuck off. Your family ate fucking caviar and shellfish on a daily fucking basis, your yearly food expenditure was more than the GDP of a minor fucking nation, you did NOT use fucking coupons.] and utensils and opened jars of marmite strew the countertop. The dishtowels sported reindeer in mid-February.

"I want extra biscuits today," I informed the servant. I sat at the miniaturised table set in the corner, installed especially for me. The seats bore heart-shaped carvings in the backs, and the whole thing was the honey-wood color of playhouse lumber, sticky with bad varnish. It was ghastly of course, and rightly would not have been allowed anywhere polite company might have laid eyes on it. [You have your own special table and it's not fucking good enough? Twat.] But the servant thought it quaint and convenient. So that is where she fed me.

"I am famished." [You have no fucking idea what famished means, you overfed fucking posh fuck.]

"Your mother says you're to eat more fruits," she sounded apologetic about it as she set a plate of sliced apples before me. "But if you finish them, I'll sneak you something better."

Her placation hardly mattered, of course. I was not fussy about what I ate. But her thinking I might worked to my advantage. [Your cognitive function was not this developed at age five. How many more fucking times will I find myself fucking saying this?] I would have more food to sneak back to Christophe. "Thank you," I told her. "That will be just fine."

I settled some at the horrid table and tried to avoid touching it much. My fingertips would not come off easily if I set them down upon the tabletop. The wallpaper remained from the previous owners of the home. One supposes it was once white. But no longer; now it was the colour of old porridge and torn just near the ceiling and slightly down where the different sheets met in a part. The part itself was undefeatable-y grey with old dust, and of course, to add taste to the whole ordeal, what appeared to be renderings of fruits of various sorts were spaced against it. It was like a map of constellations composed entirely of complex, colourful carbohydrates. [Jesus Christ, who cares. ]

The servant made tea, and I munched apples (apples that were not hideously drawn onto the walls for no obvious stylistic reason ). [What?] I also tucked a few slices into my pockets. The sticky juice would be an unfortunate side effect (at least any stains would be hidden), [You could piss yourself and nobody would know.] but it could not be helped. There was no where else to hide them, and so Christophe would have to forgive his food's recent proximity to my laundry.

"So how was school?"

I sighed, longsufferingly. "Mother says there is no need to socialise with you."

"Oh, does she?" the servant laughed as she poured. She bumped a hip to close a nearby drawer. "She would." [I still like this woman.]

"I want the old servant back." I glared at her. "He was significantly less irritating. I shall put my request in for your termination on the grounds of unprofessional behaviour." [What exactly has she done?]

She brought the tray to the little table. We had, of course, had this talk. She usually merely insisted I would "warm to her," but this time, after placing the tea, she sunk to my level to meet my eye.

"Gregory. You aren't to speak to me that way."

My throat tightened, and I crossed my arms. "Are you going to tell my father?" [She would never. Paloma is a better human being than you are.]

She paused. "No." [See?] She decided this, and pushed some dark hair from her broad forehead. [As opposed to pushing some light hair out of her thin one. Fucking idiot.] "It's just not kind. You should speak to people with respect."

"People of your station need to be disciplined." [We can't possibly allow a dirty common pleb to think they have any power, otherwise they'd want more, wouldn't they? They'd realise we only have power because they allow it and we'd lose everything! Oh, we're so fucking insecure!] I recited it as I glowered at my lap. For some reason, I was furiously red and having trouble meeting her eye. [You hide that fucking stiffy, Gregory.] One remembers how I loathed her thick eyeliner, the obvious rings around her eyes were intimidating up close. She was like a looming raccoon.

"Hey. We're friends." She said it, and before I could correct her, she barrelled ahead, louder and quicker than before. "Or we will be. And if you'd like that, if you'd like us to be friendly, you have to be kind." [You have your own strange and completely socially fucking incoherent way of being kind. So you're probably going to be completely fucked in this situation.]

I could have refused her offer, but there was something...older, and wiser in her voice. [So now we know: you have a thing for common vagrants and older women. Alright.] She watched me intently, and it was very much like being tested. Her thick makeup, the obvious pencil-filling in her brows—perhaps these intensified the power of her look. I was annoyed to find myself giving under it. [A COMMONER HAS POWER OVER ME! AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGHHH IT'S FUCKING KRYPTONITE!!!]

"...All right." I was impressed then, because she did not smile in triumph or joy. She merely gave a very serious nod. I fixed my eyes down at the table top and felt unable to lift my head.

"Good then." She rose, and patted my head, which made me lower it further. "Finish up your snack, and we'll go and get your maths out of the way." [The idea of the fucking nanny actually having power over you is not one I will ever EVER let you fucking forget.]

"Now, what do you want to learn first, the Latin alphabet, or the conventional letters?" [The difference being? Is one actually fucking Cyrillic script?] I asked this of Christophe as he munched on the apples from my pocket. He had long devoured the biscuits, and had the chocolate stains on his every tooth to prove thus.

He merely shrugged in response to my question. His shirted rucked up to his belly, and his feet splayed on opposite walls at 90 degrees, one on each of two drawings I had done of streets in Paris (from a book, as I had never been). [They were inaccurate by the way.] This was how Christophe celebrated the fact that there was heating in house for once; winter had just set in in earnest, and the chill required my stealing extra blankets for him whenever possible. The heating situation made it trickier to climb through the vents of course; one risked getting burnt. We managed by wearing snow-clothes with lots of insulation, and by quickly wriggling through. In a pinch, we could use the conventional entry, up the ladder and through door atop the kitchen pantry. [Oh yes, much more fucking conventional.]

"We could do a story first." I smiled, tensely, as I made the compromise. "Though, do not take a note. You are not Snow White, and therefore I want you to pay attention and not fall asleep after you eat your apples."

[You brought your books home every day and taught me what you had learned in school that day. I fucking hated it at the time, and I know perfectly fucking well you did too. What the fuck, Gregory? What kind of five year old has the patience to do this? What child would even be inclined? Why didn't you give up? Why did you fucking help me? I have been wondering for twenty years and never asked you. I should have asked you. Not knowing makes me feel like I don't know you, and I fucking hate it.]

"What is Snow White?" Christophe rolled a bit, restlessly. He seemed determined to imitate a pig in slop, thrashing about as he did. His words mushed into the floor. "It sound stupid." [And it turned out it fucking was.]

"She is a princess. She was supposed to die, but instead she slept until true love's kiss awakened her." As my patience eroded, my voice rose slightly. I could feel it, high and tight in my throat. "And would you sit up, please?"

"What is princess?" He did sit up, tufts of hair sticking up in every which direction. [As opposed to being neatly fucking combed when I was slumped. When I sit up my hair just fucking goes SPROING, it's a French thing.] But one could hardly expect that his cessation would appease me. He also took to making the most horrendous clicking sounds as he picked at his nails. It was no wonder they were always so poorly manicured.

"Oh, here!" I snatched the the fairytale book off the top of the stack. I opened it to about a quarter of the way through, and after a some paging, located an illustration of Rapunzel. She sat in her tower, looking down with the mesmerized pastel tranquility of certain old drawings. I offered the book to Christophe as an explanation, pointing. [Because "She's the King's daughter" was just too fucking easy for a butthole like you?]

"There. That is the princess. She will be the one waiting at the end of the journey. [But you were already right there.] The one who needs rescuing. The one worth riding steed for and donning a sword for, I suppose. All that."

Christophe first looked at the book glancingly, but then he reached over to take it from me. His face became an almost comical expression of his interest. What is more, for once, he shut up. [Oh, fuck you, I'm not the one who wouldn't shut his fucking mouth for two fucking minutes.]

"What is it?"

He looked up. "You. You are princess." [Princess Gregory. You're not fucking living this one down.] His grubby finger stabbed at the page as if to highlight his point. He pointed to me afterwards, as if I were confused as to whom he referred. I might have been. He was not exactly making sense.

"I am not. Princesses are girls." [You ever look in a fucking mirror?]

His lower lip poked out as he pouted. "But, you have..." He plucked at my hair with those blunt, nubbled fingertips."...And, I save you." [There it is again. Childhood romancing. Fucking gay.]

The air I pulled in to tell him off deflated from me nearly as soon. ...He had, is the thing. [I'm right, and you fucking know it.]

"...But I am not a girl," [Debatable.] I insisted. I crossed my arms as if to steel myself into my position. "Certainly not."

He dug around in his pocket and then flourished the handkerchief I had offered for his use. "You have this, like the princess," he argued, squinting at the page. "She has, too." [My logic is fucking perfect.]

"That proves nothing! Gentlemen carry handkerchiefs!" [But in your case, princesses do.] My voice rose again with irritation. I would give myself a migraine if I was forced to continue to deal with this, I thought.

He shrugged (he was forever shrugging me off; it drove me mad. I remember once, I pushed him into a pond for it. Of course, right afterward, he flung a heaping pile of pond scum straight into my face, so one supposes, in retrospect, I might have controlled myself better). [You fucking think so?] "Shut up, Princesse. "

[I suppose in some ways I was the princess too. Briefly. You saved me. Then you hid me in your castle, sat on your fat arse, and farted around all fucking day waiting for me to track you down and save you because you're a fucking useless twat. Fucking princesses.]

"For that, we will go straight to your lessons!" I slammed the fairy tales book shut with a flourish. "I am rescinding your privileges. Latin it is!" [Fucker.]

"I want to play," he whined, and kicked at the walls. "I hate inside!"

"You hate everything that is not dirt, candy, or harassing me to my wits end," I said this with dignity to contrast his embarrassing tantrum. [Oh yes, of course, you intuitively fucking knew at age five that one day you'd need dramatic fucking juxtapofuckingsition. THAT'S why you fucking did that thing.] "Now, I promised I would teach you to read, and I will. Whether you feel like cooperating or not."

"Gregoryyy," he rolled over and moaned into his hands. "Reading is for pussies! I want to go outside!"

[I didn't like being imprisoned, okay? I'll accept it's not your fault, but I'm still fucking holding it against you. It was my whore of a fucking mother's fault. Why do you fucking think I didn't know any fucking English? So. That's why. Being difficult with you was merely a bonus.]

That, anyway, is a rough approximation of what he might have said. I could not tell you for certain. His pronunciation was poor, and his delivery (into his hands) left much to be desired. [And also YOU STILL DO NOT FUCKING REMEMBER THIS SHIT.]

"Stop that!" I commanded. I pulled my reader from my school satchel and dropped it to thump against the floor. "Pay attention now, as I have not got all day. Cease your rogue-ish behaviour, Christophe, [Something fucking something vocabulary.] because I need to have dinner in about half an hour, so there is not time for your hissy fit!"

He sat up again and glared at me. "I kill you," he warned. But he threatened me with worse on a regular basis ("I stuff your intestines with eggs!" "I put my shovel in your ass!" [You know exactly what I meant by shovel.] "I bite your face off and eat it!" etc.). So I merely rolled my eyes at the ceiling. God alone knew my strife. [And he did not care, because God is an asslicker.]

"A bit dramatic, do you not think so?" I picked up the reader and got closer, and I positioned myself so that he could see the pages. "Now. Do you know the alphabet? Or do we have to review that first?" [Does the boy who can't read know the alphabet? Hmmm. No. No he fucking does not. You fucking retard.]

Christophe examined the page for all of ten seconds. Then he got a little twinkle in his eye, akin to the gleam of a new shilling half-buried in a mound of fresh mud. [Oh, yes, because you were alive when they were still fucking legal tender, weren't you? What would your age have been on Decimal Day in fucking minus years?]

I caught this, of course, and felt alarmed. So I watched him with caution. He appeared to me like a cat about to leave something dead upon the living room carpet. I subtly shifted my book away from him.

"Christophe, what is going through your—"

He reached over in a single swift motion and knocked the book straight from my hands. [I'm a fucking ninja, bitch.] My drawings rustled when he moved, like so many leaves shaking on a tree. A few dropped and swirled to the ground to be crunched beneath his knees.

"No study!" he declared, gleefully. He reached over and seized my shoulders, and his hands inched under the sleeves. His grip was tight, his fingertips blunt as they dug into my muscles. I squirmed; one recalls the perhaps counter-intuitive urge to ask him what was the matter? The look on his face was not right, and it unsettled my stomach. I did not laugh; one wonders if it would have helped if I did. [You're a fucking idiot.] Maybe it was merely a game I did not understand.

"What are you doing?" I asked and tried to pry him off, to no avail. "You are hurting me. Stop at once!"

"Play, Gregory!" He shook me. He was stronger than I, and I could feel it in the way he handled me, effortlessly. A boy on the playground often did a similar behaviour, and I never had any defense from him when he wanted my lunch money. In such close quarters, and with the requirement in mind that we had to be quiet, I had even less now. [You're still a fucking weakling.]

"S-stop," I batted at him, pushing to no avail. Christophe's scrawny chest felt knit from cables of steel. [Oh, you only just noticed I'm fucking Iron Man?] "Stop now, I—"

He let go with one hand, and this I will never forget. This hand slid up my shirt. It hurt, a little, as his semi-sweaty palm skid over my chest and bunched and stretched my skin as it pulled flatly upward. His breath was clammy and stale-smelling, unsavoury like it had sat in his mouth too long. He watched me with a calculative look, and the lines around his eyes were dark and deep. I had often felt afraid of him. But the cold terror I felt then was not that he would hurt me. [This has to be the gayest thing ever written. Fuck you.]

"Little cocksucker," he cooed. The accent was strange; he sounded like someone else.

"Stop!" I said in a louder voice. At this point, I was heedless that we might be overheard. Then, I reared up and bit him as hard as I could. The green t-shirt he had borrowed from me scraped my tastebuds raw, but I sunk my teeth in until he released me, and then I kicked him as I scampered away. [‘Holy shit you can actually fight back' was pretty much all I was thinking, probably.] He cried out, gasped and cursed.

As soon as I was free, I scuttled, crab-like, to the opposite end of the attic. I had stripped off the snow clothes, and if I made for the vents, I would be burned almost certainly. I did not care. I reached for the vent to pull it aside, and I looked over my shoulder the whole time in case he lunged for me.Even as I prepared for my escape, I made ready to defend myself—to kick him again, hard, if I had to. [Arsehole.] I still felt the last time I had kicked him, remembered the warm cast of his stomach against the hard bones and tendons of my foot.

"I hate you!" It was the first time I ever said it back to him. (There would, unfortunately, be others.) "I hate you, I hate you! I hate you!" [You love me really though, right? I only massively fucking inconvenience you at every turn.]

I do not know why I said it, at the time, only that it felt true. [Okay, look, I know that it did. I felt it too.] Tears welled in my eyes, and my body felt alive with crawling legs, leaking from my pores and threatening a march down my back.

He did not come after me but watched with a shocked expression upon his face. Hips lip quivered, and I thought he might cry as well—not that I cared. But I thought it strange; what reason had he to cry? [I fucking wonder.] I fumbled about for the snow jacket, hands blindly scrambling as I dared not take my eyes off him.

"No hurt, no more, Gregory." He sounded so small and apologetic. "Promise. now?" [For what it is worth, I'm sorry about this one. You know those times you remember you did something fucking dumb as a child and you remember it the rest of your life, you brain just fucking reminds you of it at random moments and you just fucking cringe? It's one of those. And since you went and fucking brought it up, there it is. I'm sorry.]

My wet bite mark circled his shoulder, I could see it even from where I was, and he rubbed at it with his hand. One wonders if I drew blood; the shirt was too dark to tell. [I'm pretty sure you did. Cocksucker.] I had every intention of ignoring him. He could teach himself the bloody letters, for I was sure I would never return to that attic, not ever. [Anyone else wouldn't have. But as we've established, you're a fucking idiot. Thanks, I guess.]

"I am never coming back," I informed him. "You-you ought to find a way to fend for yourself now. I should never have taken you in. You are a terrible ruffian, [Oh, what a dramatic fucking insult.] and I never, I just, I—"

"Tu pouvoir m'aide," he bleated [Am I a goat? A dog? A cretin? The boy ? Make up your mind, what the fuck.], still unmoving, staring at the wall now. His large hands clutched at the nape of his neck. "Sil te plait. Gregory...M'aider."

He sounded so sad and so lost, and I felt so scared of him still. [I will insult you, I will fight you, I will outlive that cocksucking god of yours for an opportunity to piss you off, but you will never fucking need to be afraid of me. Okay?] I only wished I knew why. All of this together finally made me cry, which made him cry, and until the sun ceased to be a sliver through the black cardboarding, we wept together for things we did not understand. [Oh, the trials and fucking tribulations of being a friend.] I missed my dinner that night, and as a result, so did he. When the vents finally cooled, I crawled—red-eyed and sniffling—back to my room. But even as I lay in bed all through that night, I could hear him weep, and also (perhaps I imagined it, as the sound had to have been too soft to hear, but emotion occasionally [OCCASIONALLY!? Have you even been reading what you've written?] distorts memory) turn the pages of my reader. [The one bit you acknowledge memory isn't perfect on and you get it fucking right. Fuck you and fuck your mother.]

The stupidity of children always amazed me, even as a child. [Read that sentence and understand why I'm trying to keep from laughing right now.]

"Gregory, do you want to skip rope with me?"

She was a mongrel of a human being. [That's fucking racist.] Plastic glasses and lace around the tops of drooping socks: I knew within moments of laying eyes on her that being seen with her could result in nothing but family embarrassment. Perhaps I was in a beggars/choosers situation regarding friends, but one could easily make the calculation that no friends at all would be better than associating with such a beastly specimen. She wore a plastic watch for God's sake. [You really are a fucking twat, aren't you? And an idiot. You're associating with a homeless Frenchman but someone who wears plastic? That's not fucking allowed. Where's the fucking line here?]

"Go away," I commanded her. I lifted my copy of The Count of Monte Cristo [That you would not have been able to read at all at that age.] to demonstrate my lack of interest in her suggested activity. "Jumping rope is for women and children."

"That's a sexist thing to say." [AND ENTER MY FAVOURITE FUCKING CHARACTER.]

Now, it is rude to invite one's self into someone else's conversation in which one is not initially involved. [It's also rude to fucking act like you're better than everyone else. Never fucking stopped you.] But when this third person introduced herself (or failed to, rather), I was too shocked to chastise her, for two reasons:

First was that perhaps the only cause I had to look up was a voice I had never heard before, and an accent I knew only from films. Her ‘A's' were as flat as Belgium. [Very random analogy there.] And I would have bet money that only dogs could hear her upper register. [Rude bitch.] Also, I had never heard the word ‘sexist' before, and as the vocabulary of my peer group was mostly unimpressive, this was odd enough to merit notice.


The girl [Aha! You do this shit to every one of your bastardized literary versions of your so called friends! Fuck you, cunt!] approached, and I wondered if I were actually in France,rather than good old Mother England as I had always assumed. Between Christophe, and the fact that this stranger wore a beret, [Gregory the fucking racist.] the cultural geography of my world seemed a questionable thing as of late. Her face was unpleasantly pinched; her school uniform appeared large and ill-fitting. But the way she walked was sure and steady and reminded me, for whatever reason, of Achilles stepping onto a battlefield. [Which there is no way you fucking knew about at the time.] Is the implication that she was brave and powerful even in that first impression?

Yes. One believes so, and it will soon become clear as to why one cannot help but to remember her this way. [I look forward immensely.]

"I said that you're being sexist," she repeated, hands on her hips. Her condescending tone, admittedly, grated on me. [I'm not the only one who will happily fucking rip you down a few hundred pegs.] But I still lowered my book to peer at her, as skeptically as I could manage.

"I am not!" I retorted, because though I didn't have a clue what she meant, she made it sound like it was a bad thing to be. [Yes you were. You were a fucking racist, sexist pig of a five year old.]

"You are!" she declared. Her already ear-piercing voice went up in tenor, [You've made abundantly fucking clear she's soprano, you fucking idiot.] and she pointed straight at me, as if I had previously been confused as to whom she was speaking. "You just said that jump roping is for women and children, and so you don't want to do it! That means you think some activities are below you because girls like them! That's sexism ! You're being a pig! " [Observe, Gregory, buddy: Logic.]

"A pig?" I cried; my pride was injured, so I stood. "How dare you? I would defend my honour by trouncing you, wench, but I do not hit girls! See? I am not sexist! I am nice to women! Hah! You are WRONG!" [In the same fucking sentence as the one where you called her a fucking wench. You fucking idiot.]

My heart beat quickly in my ears; I do not think anyone had ever infuriated me so quickly. This girl set a record. My calm demeanour dispersed like marbles—dropped, and rolling away on the tarmac. I leaned forward and shouted in my outrage, and she matched me, never falling back a step. We were so close I could smell her cheap, sugary, Poundland perfume [As if you knew with that kind of fucking specificity. You've never set foot in a fucking Poundland.] and see her tacky body glitter.

"If you don't hit girls just because they are girls, you're still sexist," she said, or perhaps crowed is the proper word. [That's how you know you fucked up.]

We were making a scene; some of the other children on the playground ceased their games of hopscotch or whatever it was they found diverting to crowd around us. I suppose it was a break from the usually scheduled programming: today at 1:30PM, Gregory gets thrashed, [So the usually scheduled programming then.] but this time, by a girl! [Sexist.] Joy of joys.

"I do not hit girls because they cry! Women are emotional! [Oooh, you're in for it now, arselicker.] Everyone knows that!" Honestly, had this creature [Have mercy on my sides.] never read a book?

"What? What are you talking about? Have you ever even talked to a girl?" she fired back, and a few flecks of spit landed on my face. I wiped them disgustedly and glowered at her. A few kids around us muttered, "oooooh," which was ridiculous. As if her juvenile, ad hominem [Not what that means.] jab merited any sort of applause!




"TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT, DICKFACE, I'LL MAKE YOU CRY!" [Maybe I will marry Wendy instead. We have some shared interests apparently.]

The silence around us was palpable. The football game on the field had paused to gather round, and no one chattered—their anticipation was silent as they doubtlessly hoped we would soon start swinging at each other. The patter of feet, the laughing and chewing and chasing and yammering had all ceased as we became de facto playground theatre. It would have been a nice change of pace (the quiet, I mean), were I not in the midst of what looked to be shaping up into a rather unfortunate mishap. [Your arse is about to get fucking whupped.]

"Be reasonable," I lowered my voice and hissed at her. "Is it really worth the trouble of fighting? Just admit you were incorrect in slandering me, and we can move on." [Be reasonable. In what fucking universe did you expect this to fucking work?] She rolled her eyes at me, and my temper rose again.

"Ugh! You really are an unruly, uncouth vagabond of a woman, and you don't belong in a schoolyard so much as a barnyard !" I burst out, stamping a foot. It was obviously not in my best interest, but I could not seem to help myself.

"And YOU are an arrogant, ignorant, condescending misogynist. I don't like you at all! Come here!" With that, she grabbed my shirt collar. In a single fluid motion, she seized the advantage: [That's not seizing an advantage. That's striking first like a reasonable fucker would.] she easily set me off balance, caught me off-guard, and restricted my ability to breathe. Though in height, she was smaller, it was terrifying (admittedly) to be dragged down to her level. [You're a posh snobby fuckface, that's to be expected.] Those dark eyes held fire and fury, whose flames I had clearly stoked. But I doubted an apology would cool them now. In such situations, one ponders his bad luck, no? [No. One ponders his bad fucking tact.] One has no idea how I got myself into these things. [By being you. It's just who you are, Gregory. You're the twat that does silly fucking things like this.]

I fought to stay upright, and dug my nails into her fingers in effort to encourage her to release me. My lip curled in anger, but tears threatened, and I gasped a bit as I spoke through her vice-grip. "Unhand me, you unwashed— " [See what I mean?]

"That's enough!"

The chorus of "awww," from our peers did not include my voice. For the record, the girl did not release me until the head yard duty person and two other monitors pulled her off. And she got several kicks and a fairly nasty headbutt in before they managed to separate us. It was shocking; [Not to me.] she was a sack of feral cats with a large vocabulary. Needless to say, I had never beheld anything or anyone like her before. Screaming previously aside, I was speechless.

Which is why, though my eyebrow was split and bleeding, [That wasn't the only thing that was bleeding. Your face was a fucking mess.] the deafening cheers of my classmates made a mockery of my misery, and I was sure my behavioural record was in ruins post-dating this event, [Do you fucking think so?] I still told her as they took us away:

"All right, I was wrong. And, um, sexist. Women do not cry more than men. I am sorry."

She turned to me, incredulity making her large eyes practically buggy, her pink hat askew. "What did you say?"

"I, um," I glanced down at the speckled tiles as we shuffled for the principal's office. Someone in an orange vest handed me an icepack wrapped in paper towels, and I pressed it to my bleeding forehead, wincing. "...I said I am sorry." [How many planets, moons and stars had to align for that to fucking happen?]

"Apology accepted," she said, immediately. For the first time, she smiled, and displayed a tiny bit of a crooked underbite. [Explain to me how she can possibly have developed fucking underbite.] But she also had dimples, I noticed, which was nice. "But don't ever belittle women again, or I'll kick your ass for real. Hey...what was your name again, kid?"

"I...I am [Snobby Snobby McSnobberson Posh Git Twatwaffle] Gregory Marcus Timothy Roger St. Clair, the Third," I said, reeling. Who was this strange person? [A five year old girl named Wendy. A human being. Like you.] Together, we hesitated before entering the headmaster's office, both (I think) a little reluctant to endure the lecture we would have to bear through, at the very least. I held a hand out for her, and she took it, shaking. Her knuckles were chapped, and her blue fingernail polish was chipped. [You think you are being cruel, describing these things, but whether you remembered this or you're just embellishing like you fucking are, this attention to detail reveals your true feelings about this subject, Gregory.]

"And yourself?"

"I'm Wendy," she said, cheerily—too cheerily, probably, for the circumstances."Wendy Testaburger." [Finally, someone to lighten this bollocks up.]

"Pleasure," I said, and then paused."Regardless of context, of course."

She giggled, and lowered her voice to a whisper. She leaned over and cupped her hand to my ear.

"Hey, Gregory? ...How much trouble do you think we're in?" [ALL the trouble.]

"Gregory, Pussycat [Woah, oh ooooh!], what have you done?"

The servant, regrettably, had a point. My scuff with Wendy left me with her boot prints on my trousers. I had a dribble of blood remaining on my freshly starched collar. Also, a pen had exploded on me [You used a fucking fountain pen. Of course you fucking did. Jesus H. Fuck, you actually could afford the fucking forty grand pens.] during World Civilisations, [Which you were taking at age fucking five. Of course.] which was unrelated to all the action that day, but did nothing to decrease the perception that I had had a time of it.

"Just get me some fresh things to wear," I snapped. But the way her lids lowered and her head tipped to the side—purposely disconcerting her symmetry—reminded me that unless I wanted yet another lecture on manners today, I would have to recant a bit.

" ...Please," I added, belatedly, lamely. [Holy crap she fucking knocked you down a fucking peg. I like her even more now.]

Her head snapped back a-right, and she beamed."Of course. I won't be a moment."

I followed her up to my room. Since my first encounter with Christophe, I had been paying an inordinate amount of attention to the glass staircase. I now could not help but to see it through his eyes. I never contemplated before how impractical it really was. [YOU ADMIT IT! I FUCKING SAID SO!] It was impossible to anchor a carpet onto the glass, however thick the glass, as drilling holes into the surface would disrupt the integrity. [Here meaning: Completely fucking compromise it.] There was a rectangular, frosted section in the middle of each step for traction, but one still had to be careful. Though socks are the essence of civilisation, barefeet were most advisable for climbing those stairs; certainly shoes made it more hazardous. [Did your shoes just have no fucking tread on them? Too plebby for Posh Little Gregory?] (By the by, I never took off my socks to go up the stairs, but I was careful. I had been warned).

Now, it is unforgivably impolite to wear shoes in the upper levels of another's home, but the threat of injury should one fail to adhere to this code of good conduct seemed extreme to me then. [I had to read that sentence five fucking times to figure out what you were saying.] I pictured ladies tumbling down in their heels, clinging to the bannister each time I ascended now. I pictured them in cartoonish flight, bouncing—ricocheting—like metal bearings in a pinball machine as they slipped and crashed down the stairs. I pictured Christophe moving up, dodging between them with his bare feet. He was, of course, laughing. [I would laugh, too. Especially when they cracked their stupid posh skulls open at the bottom. Haha! See, I'm laughing just thinking about it. You know me so well.]

The problem was that I was afraid to go back to the attic. [And why would that be? I don't fucking bite.] I looked up at the ceiling as the servant rifled through my drawers and clucked at me for ruining my school things. The old pipes banged in the walls, and it made me flinch.

"...It's good you've made a friend, though."

I caught the tail-end of the servants thought as she selected a soft, blue sweater vest [What are you, a fucking geography teacher?] for me from the bottom dresser drawer.

"Sorry?" I asked her. Then I decided honesty was the best policy."I had not been listening. ...Um. Please forgive me. A new friend? To whom do you refer?"

She whipped the vest at me, and I spluttered in shock when it hit my face. Then I gazed at her over the fleece folds while she snickered. Honestly, what right had she, ever to criticise my manners?! [No, you just look funny when you think you've been fucking slighted. You better read this with face cam, you fuck.]

"Wendy!" She told me."Honestly, you're not going to pull this schoolyard crush nonsense, are you, Gregs? It's below you, I think!" [Little did she know Wendy was going to pull you kicking and fucking thrashing down to her level. You'll be common! WOE!]

I huffed as I changed, back to her. This was an advantage as she could not see my blush."I have no idea what you are speaking about now." I nearly added ‘you uneducated cow,' but. Personal growth. [You sound embarrassed about it. This is fucking gold.]

"You said she was an exchange student?" The servant ignored my obvious desire to foreclose the subject and came to help me do my tie. I always had trouble with the knot. She sunk to her knees to do it straight for me, and I rolled my eyes so I would not have to see the eye-goo collected in the corner of her eye and mixed with her black mascara."An American, eh?"

"She says she is here for a few months from Colorado, yes." I sighed this, as if it were passe. My father used this tone with difficult clients, and it never failed to take the wind out of some pompous sails. [I'll be sure to use it more with you then.]

"Well, then you must strike while the iron is hot!" [Your nanny just suggested you pursue sexual relations at age fucking five.] My tie finished, she stood and patted me. I shrugged her off because, how absurd! Pats are meant to comfort or condescend, and I was in need of neither sentiment. [You always fucking need the second.]

"You realise," I cleared my throat and (needlessly) adjusted my lapels, [It's a fucking sweater vest, you fucker.] "that Wendy, and my entire fight, was about whether it was wrong to refrain from striking women on the basis of their gender?"

This was intended to wither. The actual impact it had was inspire fresh gales of laughter that practically shook the walls; my toy boats trembled in their glass bottles on my shelf, [Not fucking literally though.] and it seemed a Goliath had entered my model Colosseum. She actually choked on a hiccup, which I was not aware could happen in real-life.

"Gregory, you peach! You adorable tiny nerds !" [She's not wrong.] She reached for me, and I was afraid she meant to mess my hair again, so I dodged. She wasn't to be denied, however, and soon she had me in her grasp.

"Oh, come here, you!"

It was as I feared. She not only dug her overlarge knuckles into my scalp (undoubtedly causing my gel to flake), but she also enveloped me in what I believe is called a "bear hug." What merited the sudden outburst of affection that was entirely disproportionate to our relationship, I will never know. [She, unlike you, can fucking feel.]

I stood there in her grasp, while she laughed and ruffled my hair and cooed at me. All I could think, as I regarded my Yo-yo Ma poster, was that perhaps the lack of education that made "live-in nanny" her best job prospect also made her act more simian than her betters [How are you even fucking real?]. Perhaps that was how society was divided. Yo-yo watched my shame—perhaps if I learned to play the cello better than anyone else, women would not touch my hair. [It pisses you off. It's never going to stop.]

"You should have her over!" the servant relinquished me at last. I do not know what inspired the new people in my life to grab me, in affection and violence, but it was a tiresome theme, a bit like falling into a nest of anacondas, one imagines. [Pythons. Pythons are the biggest constrictors by nature. Dumbass.]

She continued with excitement: "I'll make you biscuits! Or better still, I'll make the dough, and you can roll your own biscuits!" [Oh no! A genuinely fun and age fucking appropriate activity for children! The horror!]

"That sounds like servants work. And I do not think it is hygienic to touch raw food. What about the salmonella?" [You didn't even know what that fucking is.]

I marched straight to my mirror for my comb and gel. She had helped me change and also single-handedly rendered me unfit for company. Her contradictory efforts were not appreciated. [You never fucking appreciate anything.]

"Oh, Gregory." She clicked her tongue and followed me."You can't just sit her in the livingroom for chess. She'll think you're a social invalid!"

"...Do you think she plays chess?" I asked, for the first time feeling excited about the prospect of possibly having her over.

"You plum," [You and your British insults. Fuck you.] she insulted me, and yet she sounded pleased with me. It was the oddest combination."Go and get me your student directory. I'm going to arrange a playdate with this Wendy, and then I'm going to think of some marvellous games for us all to play, and you're going to participate without complaining." [FORCED ON YOU, BITCH!] She gave me a little shove out the bedroom door, towards the stairs. Light from the window glinted off them and through them. Fragments of light and tiny prisms scattered the walls. I thought, for all the lack of safety precaution in their design, they were certainly beautiful. [Why does that matter?]

"Let's have a big snack and then go and meet Ms. Moreau." She took my hand to lead me down. I was not afraid, but I took it anyway."She says your conjugations are getting better. Have you been practicing?" [You're not the only one who had to teach his clueless friend a thing or two. See what I mean about being ungrateful? Youdon't even directly acknowledge here that I did you the favour. And you, unlike me, are still fucking cack at it. I know fucking Google Translate when I see it and you've fucking abused that fucker.]

I wanted to avoid seeing Christophe, after the incident. [You just got to ask yourself one question, do you feel lucky?] Honestly, I hoped if I did not come up, he would simply disappear. [Is that so.] I also hoped that I had dreamed that I had ever brought him home. He did seem a bit like a dream sometimes, for I am sure if I tried to describe him, no one would believe I was not exaggerating. [Oh, that's so cute I just fucking threw up a bit. You're fucking cleaning it up.]

But I had to feed him. It was not right to leave him alone with no food or company, no matter how I shivered when I thought I heard him banging up the metal vent. [You heard me whacking off then? Perv.] I had this worry that he would turn up in my room, big-eyed and demanding I play with him in the middle of my Latin tutoring session. [I could never get the fucking timing right.]

Regardless, I stuffed my pockets with half my supper and half my snacks as usual. I grabbed my uneaten sack lunch, selected a new book from my shelf, and put the lot of it in a backpack. Then I headed for the vent. Some children grow up with puppies or kitties for whom they are responsible. I had a terrifying most-probably-a-murderer. [Most definitely under most reasonable definitions.]

During my crawl, I fretted. I rehearsed what I would say to him: [YOU FUCKING REHEARSED!! I knew it!] "Christophe, I am only here a moment. We will do a reading lesson, and then I am off." "Christophe, you are not to grab me ever again, do you understand?" [I've done way more than grab you since, fuck face.] "No, no, sit down and pay attention! You can go out and play when you become literate!" [That would probably count as false fucking imprisonment, with your definition of fucking literate.] "I could throw you right out, you know; I do not give a toss [GASP! HOW DARE YOU USE SUCH LANGUAGE YOU POSH SHITE!] if you have nowhere to go! That is not my problem, is it?"

I reached the end of the tunnel, still muttering. As I pushed through the door, I observed the room for him. The evening light was low, and shadows inked the floor in stark and exaggerated reproductions of the bumps in the floor. It took me a moment to notice that for some reason, the black cardboard light-blockers had been taken down. [You can't say I don't clean up after myself.] Then, I saw that my reader (plus a few other books), the blankets and towels and pillows, the camping lantern and quite a few of my drawings were missing. [Look, I meant to bring it back, it's not technically stealing.] The room was empty of so many things that I had placed there...not the least of which was Christophe. [Surprise, mother fucker.]


I called out a bit louder than I usually dared."Christophe? I have brought you dinner."

It was not as if there were any way to hide in the cramped little space up there. Still I said: "If this is a game, it is not funny. Come out here at once!" [Plot twist: I was on the roof all along. You didn't look hard enough.]

If there had been a balloon inside my chest, it would have deflated a little (also, I would require surgery to remove the balloon, obviously. Cannot have that in there). [Your command of metaphor is fucking shambolic.] Things got so quiet one swears I could hear the sounds of a cat across the street, yowling for a mate, and the patter of passersby, as well as every page I had drawn on, [Except my fucking mementos.] shifting slightly as I breathed. I did not need to repeat it, but I did anyway.


I took off the backpack and knelt on the floor, waiting for him to appear. I do not know how he could have gotten out. Someone would surely have seen or heard him if he had snuck through the house; there was at least one person home all day. He could not have jumped out the window, as the house was fairly tall and the rain gutter was too far to make a convenient pole to shimmy down. [So why were you fucking waiting?]

Panic rang like a bell in my head, one clear and painfully loud note that reverberated in my skull. Had it been a dream? [No, you silly twat.] I whipped my head so as to survey the room again quickly, as if this might change the results of my observation. Had I lost the ability to differentiate reality from fantasy? [You blew the opportunity for a Bohemian Rhapsody reference, you massive gay lang="DE">SHITE. ]

"Christophe? Hello? Christophe? "

I sniffed the air, and it smelled faintly of cigarettes, I thought. This I used as proof that I was not insane. But perhaps my nose was playing tricks on me. [Oh, don't you fucking start going fucking Descartes on us now. I'm the fucking Frenchie.] I began to crawl around, in search of a note or some indication that he would return, or at least that he had gone, had been there at all. I found nothing. Not even a dirty scrap of paper or an old sock. Everything I had given him was gone, as well as a few things I had expected to get back. [Well we all want a lot of things, don't we?]

Everything except a gold lighter. [Not the same one, obviously. Otherwise you'd just need to say "Everything except my lighter." Of course you've got to write it like that, I mean, you only fucking complain about it every time we fucking read fucking anything. You fucking hypocrite.] I noticed it sitting on the windowsill as I made a fool of myself on all fours, and so I got up to snatch it. I picked it up and shook it. I think I was attempting to discern if it were really there. The metal was warm as I held it in my hand, from sunlight or body heat. [I kept it up my arse. Sorry about the residual fucking heat.] I clutched it between my fingers and watched the street below.

I did not know what to do but wait. For some reason, all I could think about was the fact that we had not finished the book of fairytales. [You fucking pansy.]

"Do you want to be partners?"

One will never understand why schools feel the need to force students to work together in the classroom. There is some pedagogical nonsense about fostering a group work ethic and leader/management skills, as well as allowing students to develop social skills. But one does not believe it. The value to be had from forcing intelligent, motivated students to work with those at the developmental level of simians (roughly) is negligible, and the outcome is merely an exercise in futility. At best, it strong-arms students like myself to develop superhuman levels of patience. I nearly always sought an alternative. [I've spent ten minutes reading this paragraph and, you know what, it's completely fucking incomprehensible. I give up. I will never understand your fucking target audience.]

But Wendy presented a unique opportunity. Though I still dreaded and abhorred the idea of forced cooperation with a child, [YOU WERE A FUCKING CHILD!] I had the notion that perhaps despite being American, [You fucking racist.] Wendy might be an improvement upon my previous partners. She knew large words and could hold her own in (what could almost be called a) debate.

She looked at me oddly."Everyone else is pairing girl-girl or boy-boy," she said. I got the idea that she was uncomfortable; she capped and uncapped her pen with her thumb and looked down at her desk. One is sure this was not because the crude graffiti vandalised into the wood caught her interest. [Look at her. She probably fucking made that graffiti.]

Her observation was true, but it still struck me as not-right that she would make it.

"Is that not, um. Sexist?"

Now she looked at me in earnest, large dark eyes zeroed in on mine like two laser-accurate pieces of weaponry. [That was a shit metaphor, Gregory. Or simile. The difference is fucking inconsequential.] "What?"

I faltered."Sorry. I only meant. If you discriminate against partners based on gender..." I coughed. I was correct, I was sure I was. But for some reason, I felt awkward pointing out the obvious.

She blinked, which should have provided relief from her insistence on watching me. [How dare she look at the person she's fucking talking to.] But all it did was make me wish I could take it back, as she gave the impression that the message had been received but not necessarily that it had been received well.

"Oh." She looked around again. The bustle of the classroom had dulled to a faint grumble as students discussed work-duties (or pretended to, I am sure) and settled into their project groups. Wendy was alone and talking to me had reduced her options as other available people paired off."I...guess you're right." [For once in your life.]

Smugly, and I sat up straighter."Of course I am. I am very intelligent for my age, you know." [Liar.]

It was another obvious [Wrong.] observation, but she took this one less well."Okay." Her use of verbal irony seemed uncalled for."Well..."

She cast her gaze around one last time. I found it insulting, because I got the distinct impression that she was searching for alternative routes of action. And finding none, she sighed and settled upon me once more.

"You need not act like you are standing before a firing squad!" I tried to pitch my voice to sound less like whining. [Good fucking luck with that.] "I am perfectly pleasant company despite my being a boy!"

"I'm sure you are." Wendy waved a hand as if dispelling vapour from atop a steamy drink. [How fucking important.] Her stone-faced acceptance was grim, which was quite rude. I was doing her a favor. No one else in the room seemed willing to brave working with a filthy Yank.

"Gregory, Wendy?" The professor—a rather fat man called Mr. Preston—interrupted us from the front of the classroom. [There once was a man named Preston who tried to drive to Heston, the sign wouldn't rhyme and he plowed into the back of a juggernaut.] "Are you two working together this time?"

"I believe we are," I reported."If that is all right with Ms. Testaburger here."

Wendy nodded, and sunk her chin on her palm. Her elbow rested on the desktop to prop her there, displaying her poor upbringing. [What is so fucking wrong with elbows on tables, you bastard?] "Yeah. We're partners."

"Lovely." Mr. Preston beamed."It will be nice for you, Gregory, to work with a classmate this time, instead of with me. It should be fun!"

"Hardly." I sniffed. Wendy echoed my sentiment by saying exactly nothing, merely reaching for her purple plastic pencil case [Not as proper your fucking solid gold one, hm?] and retrieving a multicoloured pen. Her silence spoke to agreement with me, I thought, which was nice. [All your fucking prose and the best you can come up with is "nice"?]

It was difficult to subtly search for Christophe. After dinner I made the excuse that I required a walk to aid my digestion. To avoid the questions, I timed my first search mission [Mission my arse.] so that the servant had just left, and it was two and half an hours until my father returned home. It was very clever, I thought. [Not really. It's not exactly putting a man on fucking Mars now, is it?]

I took a torch, as I planned to be out through dusk. I also took an umbrella, for obvious reasons. I packed a knapsack full of food in case I found him; I could only imagine how hungry he had been.

"Do not catch cold, Peaches," my mother told me when I told her I intended to go out."Sniffling is dreary. Though, you do look adorable with the red nose." [Greggy the red nosed dickhead.] She touched the tip of the feature she had indicated, [Boop.] and the tip of her manicured nail felt like plastic. Perhaps it was. (One cannot help but wonder what the utilitarian value of long, painted fingernails is anyway.) [Looking like a hooker is all the fucking rage, didn't you know?]

I adjusted my lapels and drew myself up."Thank you, Mother." I accepted the compliment with appropriate sarcasm as acknowledgement of her mocking."I will not be long."

"Be back before your father arrives," was her only missive, before she disappeared up the stairs to retire to her room. Mother forever retired early to bed; I think her job exhausted her. [You fucking think so?]

"As you wish!"

A wind blew the rain in my direction, and I had to tilt my umbrella to block the brunt of it. Sopping newspapers littered the driveways of our lazier neighbors, and the leaves that had recently fallen from the trees were limp, wilted and wet underfoot. [Oh yeah, that rule of fucking three there.] The hazy sky above made it hard to tell time, and I did not want to ruin my watch by exposing it. So I trekked and merely hoped for luck.

"Where could you have gone?" I asked this of no one, to help me organise my thoughts. The train station seemed a fair place to begin, [The one fourteen fucking miles away?] though if he had gone there, he could have been in Timbuktu by the time I had gotten around to looking for him. [No I couldn't, you fucking idiot. Timbuktu is in fucking Mali, at best I might have been in fucking London.] Still, the boy had no money (unless he had stolen some, which was—knowing him—not entirely unlikely). [You imply me to be a thief? Fuck you.You're not less of an arse because you're right.] Perhaps he had made like the many sad-looking individuals haunting stations I had seen, begging in the corner for fare and staying in the station to avoid the rain.

The station was a walk from my home, and as I walked, I peeked under bushes and even stopped at the old church, hoping to catch a glimpse of my friend. It was a matter of principle that I find him, I decided. He had promised never to leave. We had vowed to be friends for always. If he were a man of his word, he would turn up, else doom himself to a reputation as a fraudulent cad. [Do you really think I gave two flying fucks about my reputation?]

I did not bother calling out, but I asked the nuns if they had seen a dirty French boy. [Rawr.] They had not, not a one, but promised to let me know if they saw one.

"He will be rude and probably call God bad names," I told them, helpfully. [You don't deserve friends you cunt.] "That will be the best way to identify him. ...That, and the horrible accent." [You fucking racist.]

I left them with my information and their solemn promise to contact me should Christophe return to the premises. I had low hopes, however. There was not much of a chance he frequented churches, considering his predisposition on God and by extension, probably, religion. [And yet you came across me on fucking holy ground.] So I made my way from the church to the park. I had been told that less educated children enjoyed playing on public property designed with moronic toddlers in mind. [You're a real fucking spunk bubble of a cunt aren't you?] I thought Christophe perhaps intrinsically understood what had to be explained to me.

The sky darkened from white to grey, and the large green gates of Sanford Park yawned open like the doors to a haunted mansion. They seemed so tall then; I stood and looked up at them, but I remember I returned to the park as an adult and thought the same structures were rather low and small. It is all perspective. [Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Captain Pissing Obvious!] But as I entered the park, I remember the sense of enormity: I had no idea where to begin looking.

That is probably why I began to call out in earnest. There was no point before, in screaming to discern Christophe's whereabouts. But now there was no one about to ask for clues. The trees and shrubbery seemed endless as a forest. [What a witty fucking metaphor.] Dark was fast approaching, and a spotlight search with my little lantern seemed so unlikely to yield results. So I called out.

"Christophe? Christophe? It is Gregory! Please, come out!"

The pattering rain and whipping wind were my only answer. There was a faint creaking where a breeze caused the gate to swing on its hinge.

"I have biscuits! [Truly the fucking deal maker.] Christophe! It is not funny! Come out!"

Birds or bats flapped overhead. I felt cold to the bone, especially where my trousers were a bit wet at the bottoms. The park was empty; the road was empty.

"Christophe!" [Given that the park and road were both empty, what did you fucking expect to happen?]

I felt my throat growing hoarse as I began my search, still yelping. I got on my knees to check beneath the bushes, shining my light to investigate those nooks for signs of life. The ones I found were mostly rodent, unfortunately. [Given what you clearly thought of me surely that's a fucking good sign.] And I grew muddier and colder by the moment.

"Look, I am not angry with you." It seemed I said it to the rain, which was the only source of chatter about."I just want to go home. I want you to come with me. I forgive you for being abrupt before! [I was being abrupt?] I just want to be friends! I still want to be your friend, Christophe!"

But soon, the moon appeared through her gauzy veil and the stars winked through the smeary light that faded from sunset-purple to black in minutes. [Oh, piss off, you're a fucking shite poet.] The rain let up, though it hardly mattered. My skin crawled with chill, and my hair stuck in wet clumps to my head. [Feel like one of those normal plebs yet?] I plucked a leaf from it as I stood.

Only then did I realise that I had lost my umbrella. [You fucking idiot.] I chanced a look to my watch and found that I had run out of time. There was only ten minutes to get home, and I would never make it to the train station. [BECAUSE IT WAS FOURTEEN FUCKING MILES AWAY YOU TWAT.]

The trees gossiped amongst themselves as I trudged out in defeat. [Yeah. Those trees fucking hate you. They won't talk around you, Greggy boy.] The leaves fluttered like so many plastic bags, a car swooshed by, and for some reason, I remembered I had not returned the lighter.

But I also had not been asked about it, so I assumed it was moot. Everyone else had abandoned it, and the lighter was mine for the keeping, I decided. [Fucking thief. Thief-hypocrite-cuntface.]

I sniffled pitifully into my handkerchief as Wendy showed me the progress she had made on our project. [She. Not the two of you jointly. She. Fucking freeloading bastard.]

"Are you sick?" Wendy asked me when I had to blow my nose.

"Yes, obviously." I admit I was not in the best mood. [I wonder why.] My wet, late appearance had gotten me punished in more than one way—including by my own biology."Do not fret. I will not sneeze on you."

"Thanks." She did not actually appear grateful. [I wonder why.] "That sucks, though. Sorry, Gregory."

"What is ‘sucks'?" I asked her."Is that some sort of dirty euphemism?" [You're only writing this with your twenty twenty fucking hindsight. You didn't know the first fucking thing about dirty euphemisms at the time. That was my department.]

She sighed as if I were annoying her (though I cannot imagine how I might have been. [Oh, I can imagine it.] It is natural for a child to be curious). Then, she began rummaging in her backpack instead of bothering to answer my question. I wondered if American conversation etiquette lessons were different than English ones. [They're less fucking condescending and snooty, that's for fucking sure.]

"Anyway. I drew the table out. I used a ruler, so the lines would be straight." [I sense an embellishment on your part. Wendy gives people enough credit to know what a fucking ruler does.] She showed me her Periodic Table [Learning the periodic table at age five? Fuck off!] thus far uncoloured but quite neat. She had pulled it from a folder featuring puppies and kitties and ducks that not only seemed engaged in a very unlikely friendship, but bore colours certainly not seen in nature—whoever "Lisa Frank" was, she was certainly not a biologist. [Oh, take the rod out of your fucking arse for once.]

"I thought you could colour code it." She pushed the drawing over to me."Since I did the hard work already, with the labeling."

I nodded and took the assignment from her.

"This assignment is pointless," I confided, lowly, so Mr. Preston would not hear me voice my complaints about his methods."I am not sure what we are supposed to learn."

"I like drawing and colouring," Wendy shrugged."It's fun." [If learning is fun then people want to do it. Don't you know that, public school git?]

"But school is for learning," I insisted, horrified that I was the only one to notice such a simple omission from the curriculum.

"No, it isn't!" Wendy actually laughed, causing several students to look at us strangely. I am not sure why, perhaps because I had far too much decorum [You were too much of a fucking snob.] to hold humorous conversations in the classroom, generally.

"It— "

"Back home, we ‘learn' about soap operas or Mr. Garrison's love life if we learn anything at all," Wendy made an unhappy sound, and I could not blame her.

"How horrific," I sympathised, genuinely. I thought of patting her shoulder but decided I had better not."That man ought to be fired! Or shot. [Probably the second one.] It is completely irresponsible!"

"I know, right?" Wendy's enthusiasm for the conversation surprised me. It was good, admittedly, to speak with someone who shared my passion for good education. [And is also a likeable person.] "It's disgusting! I don't know he keeps his job! Hes so..."

"Incompetent? Idiotic? Unqualified?"

"Pick your adjective! Any of them! All of them!" Wendy's hands were up as if she were aggravated by a swarm of flies, but her eyes were bright and alive and focused. It was like our fight on the playground, I thought, but the animosity was not directed at me this time. [She likes her a bit of animosity, does Wendy.] It was a good feeling, because on the same side of the felt like we were allies.

I laughed, a little bit, because she was a sight all riled up this way, and she caught me and joined in. Laughing together felt like toppling down a hill, but...not in a negative way, if one could believe it.

"Mr. Preston seems o.k.," she told me when she had calmed down. [I don't think she actually fucking knows how to calm down.] I was inclined to agree; to be honest, I might have been with anything she said. I was enjoying the conversation, and her company. It was a rare feeling."The work is easy. But it's better than home."

"A low bar, to be sure," [Is actually being nice possible for you? I don't mean being polite, being fucking nice. There's a fucking difference here.] I said. But a small burst of intuition made me continue, "but I take your point. I suppose it could be worse."

She looked at me sideways as she fixed her beret. I thought she ought to take her hat off indoors, [Fuck you and your hatred towards French hats you fucking racist shitface.] but I did not say so.

"Yeah. So. Were you thinking of colouring it with crayons? Because I don't think that would look very good." Wendy turned her attention back to the work at hand, and I found I appreciated this. [You want people to fucking hate you, don't you? You do a real fucking good job of it.] I knew so few task-oriented individuals outside of myself. I was even becoming used to her obnoxious sugary Chapstick scent [YOU'RE FUCKING OBNOXIOUS!]—the pungent odour of artificial strawberry lingering all the time around her.

"I would never endure the indignity of crayons," I made a face and folded my hands in a dignified manner."Coloured pencils should do nicely." [Fuck. You.]

She tilted her head when she listened to me. It was strange as an affectation, because as far as I knew, one did not need to adopt a posture to properly hear someone. [Not everything's about fucking etiquette you dumb shit.] "That sounds good." She smiled with only half her mouth, which was an expression I did not recognise and so could not interpret."For decoration, I was thinking glitter pens. Thoughts?"

"Never." I vetoed the suggestion immediately."...But I could improvise. I. Um. I like to draw."

Her eyebrows disappeared under the fuzzy brim of her hat. [As opposed to the brim that wasn't fuzzy. This was a fucking unnecessary detail.] "You do?" She asked the follow up like the fact that she had to surprised her."Huh. I never would have thought."

"Yes." I bit my lip, because I was self conscious, and I found I could not help it. The nervous energy I felt under her scrutiny made me fidgety."I want to be an architect someday, so..." [Who would have fucking guessed?]

"I want to be be the President," Wendy told me immediately. She looked so proud as she announced it. I could not help but to feel impressed by her ambition.

"I think people would vote for you," I said it because if I had had the misfortune [PFFT!] of being born in the colonies, I felt I would. I did not think much before stating what to me was a simple truth. But she took it as a compliment, [WHY WOULD SHE FUCKING NOT, YOU SOCIAL FUCKING AUTIST?] and I knew she did because the first thing she responded with was:

"Thanks!" Her brightened manner, continued positive attention, and willingness to speak to me without my desperately casting around for subjects of interest were...nice. [Because Greggy never knew how to have friends.] I was pleased with myself. It was the best conversation I had had with someone my own age since...

"Let us get back to work, shall we?" I tried not to think of unpleasant things, so I would not flatten the mood.


Luckily, Wendy's behaviour was professional, and allowed me a welcome distraction. [These were not the thoughts you'd have been fucking having at age fucking five, you fucking twat.]

I woke with fever. [No fucking shit.] My body felt thick with heat, slow and oversensitized even to the touch my blankets. My head swam when I attempted to sit up. My ears felt stuffed with cotton—all the way into the canals. [Lovely image there, you cunt.] I could not even begin to breathe through my nostrils, as they were filled with muck. [EW.] It was only under these fairly extreme circumstances was I allowed to miss school, and the servant [Nanny, you fucking div.] commissioned to tend to me.

"Ducky. You're burning up." A hand fell on my forehead. I would have turned away, but it felt cool, so I let it remain. Words seemed an extreme effort, so I made a noise meant to dismiss the concern. I knew my temperature: 39.5 C. My father had taken it just that morning as a litmus test [What the fuck makes the word litmus in any way needed you fucking idiot?] to see if I really was ill enough to miss school.

Shifting, and then a command."Sit up. I need to give you something to bring the fever down."

I choked down the calpol with great difficulty. It burned going down, filled my throat and nose with a bitter taste like melting plastic, [Fuck you, that stuff tastes alright. There's a reason it doesn't come in fucking caviar flavour.] and left the taste of ashes and rubbing alcohol behind. I downed half a glass of water in one go as a chaser despite the pain in my esophagus. I felt I could have drank the Thames dry, after the debacle was through. [Oh, piss off.]

"You'll feel better now," the servant assured me. I doubted her, but laid down and let my eyes fall shut instead of answering. The longer I was a-right, the more the room seemed to tilt. It did not improve how off-kilter and dizzy I already felt.

I remember drifting in and out. Days spent in bed make time pass in a very particular way, as a clock underwater, I imagine: sluggish and silent, faint, warped sound and pressure everywhere that seem to slow down and distort the beat of the minute itself. [Oh aren't we a fucking poet. Three words is all you need."I was sick."] I felt the sun on my face, and this prevented me from sleeping sometimes—as it was a very unfamiliar sensation. [Had you never been fucking sick before?] But other times, I was not sure the red of my eyelids was dream or fevered reality, whether the hands brushing my face or adjusting my pillows were fiction, or the voice singing to me was a comforting mirage from my subconscious meant to lull me to rest. [No, it was trying to possess you for being a whiny little cunt.]

I also half-remember a conversation. When one says that, what is meant is that it is only somewhat certain it happened at all. It is fair to doubt the memory, as it was addled by drugs and sickness. [Fuck off.]

"How are you feeling, Gregory?" The voice held so much concern that it began to concern me too. But I had bigger worries. I had just concluded a terrible dream, wherein I was pushing a box. [My terrible dreams involve being slaughtered and raped, but sure, pushing a box, truly that is the fucking worst you yellow bastard.] Loud sounds and colours blasted through and against the walls, and the box was terribly heavy. But Christophe was inside it, and I had to...

"I have a secret." I had no one else with whom to trust it, and in some subconscious depth, I knew I needed an ally as I had become invalid."Can I trust you, servant?" [If you actually said that I'll eat a live fucking tiger.]

A murmur of approval, muffled by sinus infection in my ears and pillow would have to do. The murmur was soothing somehow, so there was that at least.

"There is a boy." I was probably mumbling. I hoped she understood me."A boy in the attic. I...lost him. Could you..."

"Shh, shh."

"His name is Christophe." Someone was touching my hand. I could feel the rough finger pads [There, you fucking said it again. What the fuck is this fucking term you're using?] against my knuckles. I felt too weak to pull it away."He might be smoking. Could you climb the pantry ladder? Could you check to see if he might have come back? And see if he is hungry? I do not think he has eaten..."

"All right, Gregory." The acceptance of my request filled me with relief and joy. [That's actually kind of touching. Seriously, I'm welling up. You're going to come home and fucking drown in my tear water. Prick.] Something knotted in my chest untied itself, and the steely coils of anxiety relaxed around my poor, foggy brain.

"And do not...tell my parents. If he is there. If he has come back. Keep it a secret." I felt the tugging deep inside the center of my forehead, dragging down, dragging me down into the depths of sleep. But I had to tell her."Please. They will not let me keep him." [So I'm a fucking pet now, am I?]

"Of course, little love."

I did not like the nickname, but I felt at peace. There was a banging in the pipes and a tapping on the glass as the rain fell outside, and I imagined it was Christophe, [I'll give you a clue: It wasn't.] climbing the side of the house and back into my attic, where the servant would find him.

"And bring him a blanket." I drew mine up from shoulder to neck, shivering."It is freezing..."

I missed three days of school, but when I returned, I still had to serve detention. [Yes. That is how detention fucking works. Idiot.]

"This is my last day," Wendy reported to me as soon as our monitor left us.

"It is not polite to brag." The bite was without venom, one is afraid. My nose was still a touch runny, which mitigated any chance of seriousness. [As if anyone could take you seriously to fucking begin with.] I sounded like I had been born part goose. [You weren't? Fucking news to me.] Miserably, I sank onto the desk. My catch-up work was depressingly substantial. There was much catch-up colouring [OH BOO FUCKING HOO.] to endure, and very easy sheets of math facts. My tutor and I were covering geometry on weekends, for Christ's sake. [Liar.]

"I wasn't!" Wendy had the decency to sound embarassed, at least. [That's because you're a dickhead.] I made no reply, but she seemed to reconsider."...Agh. You're right. I'm sorry." [Dickhead.]

"It is quite all right," I honked through my handkerchief wearily. [Apparently you had morphed into a fucking goose.] "Suppose there is no need for the both of us to endure this torture for longer than is required."

"You sound really sick." Wendy sounded like the servant. ("You sure you're all right, Gregory, darling? Do you want a thermos full of tea for today? Are you sure you don't want another day to rest, ducky?" Ugh, simpering, over-attentive buzzard). [The one person who actually gives a fuck about you and you hate her fucking guts. And she's still not a fucking servant, you fucking cuntfart.] Her eyes were even big and soft, just the way the help's became when inquiring into the recent status of my health. [You know that's a thing people fucking do when they know you've been sick, right?]

"It sounds much worse than it is, thank you." I hoped that would be the end of it. I could stand no more calpol. [WHY NOT? IT TASTES FUCKING NICE!] "I apologise for missing the deadline on our project, by the way. I hope I did not damage your GPA." [As if you fucking had any concept of what a GPA was in FUCKING BRITAIN.]

"It's cool. I read Yardale's policy on sick days and group project. We can still turn it in." Wendy grinned at me, and I tried not to be too impressed by her foresight. [Neither of you had this level of care or foresight when you were fucking children. Stuck up git.] "Do you have it now?"

I reached for my satchel to remove the table for her. I had put the finishing touches on it just this morning, [Bit last minute, no?] and I was proud of the work. I felt somewhat shy even as I handed it over. I had illustrated each element with a tiny icon of a larger item that came to mind, evoked either phonetically or by cultural association. [For fuck's sake if you didn't put a pair of tits on the titanium space I'm going to have to just mercy kill you.] It had taken a lot of time, but it had been a welcome distraction as I rested—too ill for more taxing work.

Wendy was quiet as she observed, and careful with the paper upon which I had done the work. Though, I am not sure it was out of respect, or whether she was unhappy about the prospect of contamination by snot or germs. [She's American, she doesn't give a shit about getting germs and shit.] I could not say I would have blamed her for the latter.

"...Gregory. This is way better than glitter pens." She sounded suitably impressed, [You entitled fuck nugget!] and my face flamed. I was very much not used to complimentary notes. [Because you don't fucking deserve them.] Receiving one made me simultaneously want to puff with pride, and shrink right under the table.

"I thought so."

"It's really neat," she continued, carefully taking in every detail. I had worked in coloured pencil, as suggested, but done the hard outlines in my favourite thin black felt pen. [How could you have a fucking favourite? It's a fucking pen.] She touched the page as if retracing my steps."You're good. Did you take lessons?"

"No, I practise when I have free time. I found a book on building planning, [You did fucking not.] and I know I am a dolt when it comes to drawing anything but floor plans, but—"

"Oh my gosh, did you draw a tiny Superman for the element krypton? That's so clever!" [That's not fucking clever, you retard shithead. It's about as obvious as you can fucking get.]

One cannot disagree with praise like that. [Fucking watch me, you limey cunt.] So I let her go on. I tried not to let it get to my head, but honestly, I loved the attention. She commented on all the right things, too. [Just such a shame about your dick size.]

"Oh, it's a Whole Foods! For carbon! Because it's organic!" Wendy sounded delighted. [You've been in America too long you silly cunt, there are no fucking Whole Foods in FUCKING BRITAIN.] She even laughed."And, of course, Rosalind Franklin for radon. That's a little dark, but I love that reference! I read about her in National Geographic: Women Snubbed by Science!"

"Yes. Because of sexism," I reported this somewhat proudly."I um. Thought you in particular would appreciate that one." [Oooh. Someone's got a crush.]

She hesitated in her pouring over my magnificent work (it must have been hard for her). [FUCK YOU.] "Hey. Gregory?"

The empty classroom seemed full, to me. It was lively in a good way, for once the harsh light seeming friendly and yellow rather than austere and over-bright. [And cyan, presumably.] I even found the rows of books on the shelves charming instead of stunting and juvenile for once. Even though I would have to throw out my handkerchief, it seemed like a good day, overall. [Oh no, I have to throw my handkerchief out, I'm ruined. Grow the fuck up or fuck the fuck off.] My work would be done and I was not too behind. And I had done a very excellent project.


"I can probably keep you company." Her toes clicked together under the desk, as her feet did not touch the floor when she sat."I mean. It's my fault we fought. I shouldn't have yelled at you. You didn't know. ...You don't seem like you're really a sexist misogynist." [Oh did she have no fucking idea.]

"It is a little your fault," I agreed with her."Well, all right. That sounds fair."

She nodded, silently, and seemed content to study my drawings for a while. She had slung her badly fitting blazer around the back of her chair, and her skirt was wrinkled, and her hair seemed unable to decide if it wanted to be straight or uniformly curly. Plus, her jewelry was cheap and childish and her hat matched nothing else she wore. And she was healthy; this was how she looked on a good day. [And this matters why? I get it, you hate how she dresses, but this doesn't fucking matter.]

...But as one suggested earlier. Children are idiots, and I was no exception. [At least you're self aware. Be nice if you could fucking do that more often.] Who knows why I was excited by the prospect of her company in the coming days.

"Come and help me with my lamé."

I set down my fencing foil [Fencing. Fuck you.] atop the horrid little kitchen table and followed it with the mask I had tucked under my arm."Hurry, please," I added when the servant failed to comply quickly.

"Gregory. Manners." [I'd have paid her everything I owned if she beat the crap out of you. Just once.] She moved to help me nonetheless, of course."How was your lesson?"

"I have grown shabby in my technique since falling ill," I confessed."Practise was dreary. I do not think I ought to enter that junior tournament this spring after all."

"Aw, Gregory. You'll have gotten it back by then, don't you think?"

She removed the gear for me and took it to the washer. I watched her turned back for a moment, but soon had to retrieve a paper towel from the counter top. Physical exertion made the dripping business even worse than usual; how I wished illness were not so disgusting for so long. [It's a fucking cold. Get the fuck over it.]

"Yes," I said more to acknowledge than to agree. I sniffled."In any case, I am not sure how to disinfect my mask. I sneezed into it several times, and I do not wish to re-infect myself." [You wouldn't. Idiot. It'd fucking dry up.]

"Don't you worry about that. I'll fix it." She winked at me as if she were not merely stating one of her obvious duties in my parent's employ. Honestly, how she kept her position for as long as she did was a mystery to me. [Because she's the only fucking nanny in the Cotswolds willing to put up with your bullshit for more than a couple of microseconds?]

As I removed my glove and went to put my sabre away in the hall closet, I thought about the story, wherein the little boy refused to grow up. It was a story I never strongly related to. But now I recalled that the female character's name was Wendy. The name had been invented by J.M. Barrie, [Urban myth. You should know that, Smarty McSmartcunt.] and so the Wendy I knew had to be named for her. [Nope.] It was an odd thought; I wondered if Wendy was aware of the fact.

"Am I to have a snack before my French tutor arrives?" I called out before I entered the kitchen. It was a rude habit, and the servant started it by normalising communication via screaming like howler monkeys. [No. That's normal. You're not fucking expected to walk halfway across a fucking building just to ask a question, you twat.] I was but an impressionable child.

"Yes. I made extra, too! In case you want to take some up to Christophe."

...There are some moments where the heart is simply too big in one's chest. These kinds of preemptive joy do not feel good. They merely ache. [That moment when everyone thinks your only friend is completely fucking imaginary. Greggy No Friends.]

"He—" I could not believe it."Is he. Upstairs?"

"In the attic, right?" The servant pointed up, and my swollen heart galloped. She had a very conspiratorial smile, and it was only then I even recalled I had told her about Christophe. [Your imaginary foul mouthed French fuck buddy.]

"Yes! Um. You did not tell—" I had already snatched the two brown paper sacks she had left beside the sink. I grabbed my satchel off the floor by the small table to stuff it with the food. I knew it was impolite to talk whilst in motion, [Oh, piss off.] but I needed to get up to see Christophe straight off—to scold him, mostly for running off without saying—

"Of course not. Your secret is safe with me."

I could not have told you then why she sounded so fond. Perhaps I should have caught on to the humouring tone, though. [You think?]

I went to the pantry and looked up as an indication. The tiny door above was barely visible in the shadows."Say, could you, maybe help me with—"

I pointed up, and she obliged me."Of course, of course."

Once I made her pull the ladder down, it was a long climb, up a frightening looking metal chute. I did not hesitate or dwell, however, because I had larger fish to fry so to speak. [Those basking sharks don't just fry themselves, do they?]

"Thank you, for keeping it between us!" I called down as I went. [More calling? How fucking dare you!] "I really do appreciate it!"

"Naturally, Gregory! You can trust me!" Her voice echoed like a tinny recording on an old device through and up the chute. I reached the attic, and it was a wonder I did so in one piece. [Not really.] I was scrambling, and the ladder was slippery with dust from disuse. My hands were raw and dirty when I vaulted myself into the attic, and I half-tumbled over myself to get inside. [That's what happens when you try a vault when you don't know how to do fucking gymnastics.]


The attic looked the same as I left it. I took off my satchel and dropped it on the floor (after disentangling myself from the strap, of course). [NO FUCKING SHIT.] On my knees, I took a good look around. A lecture had formed in my brain, something along the lines of "you should not make as if break promises and run off that way! It is the epitome of rudeness! Have you at least been keeping up with your lessons?" But the words mixed with other sentiments, and the exuberant, trilling buzz in my ears that was probably akin to what other children my age felt on Christmas morning. [No, that's just fucking tinnitus.] I could practically hear the sleigh bells and taste the cocoa—in other words, one supposes what is meant is that I was happy to see him. [Oh, so you CAN sum it up in less than a hundred thousand words? Please do that thing more often, won't you?]

Except, as I looked around, I did not see him at all. My drawings [The ones I hadn't borrowed.] hung as they always had, papering the walls with their familiar whorls and angles, lines and matrices. The blankets and towels remained folded in the corners. My constellations of stickers with a few missing ‘stars' decorated the sloping ceiling. My books sat in their watchful positions, [What the fuck would they be fucking watching!?] casting stubby shadows in the late noon.

And that was all. A car whistled and growled as it passed the house. [If it was whistling that's probably not a good thing.] I waited for other sounds—any answer to my exclamations but the ambient noises from outside. But I was alone. The longer I looked, the more unavoidable the conclusion. [It was a tiny fucking box room, how long did you have to fucking look for?] It was awful, because the realisation seemed a thousand times worse than when I had first realised he was gone.

"Christophe?" I bleated."Are you here?" I already knew the answer. [If a voice had actually replied no, what would you have fucking done then? Probably shat yourself and ran like the syphilitic pussy you are.]

In defeat, I wearily made my way down the ladder at a quarter of the speed with which I had made my way up. Once I touched-foot on the kitchen floor, I released the ladder. [What kind of house has a fucking attic entrance in the fucking kitchen anyway?] The spring loading made it bounce halfway back up, and I assumed the servant would shut the door after me when I retired, which I was just about to make my way to do.

She was humming as she did the dishes. Perhaps her joke put her in a good mood, or else she merely enjoyed the menial labour of the uneducated. [Or, she thought, and frankly I think this is a fair fucking assumption, that you, the pissant stuck up Greggy no friends, had an imaginary fucking friend to make up for the dire lack of real ones.]

"Did you and Christophe want to eat your snacks down here?" She asked it without turning her back, and for a moment I was genuinely confused.

"He is not here," I watched the ladder bob for a few moments, before shaking my head and refocusing upon the servant. Bowls clanked, hollow and thunking, [Couldn't think of a more stuck up sounding word than that, hm? I'm disappointed.] as she submerged them in lukewarm water."I... do not believe he ever was." [You really were a fucking fool weren't you?] My voice became suspicious before my mind did, but once I was all caught up, it manifested in a throb of pain and anger behind my temples. I dug a fingernail into the opposite knuckle and grimaced as I twisted my hands about.

"No?" She sounded sad, but...disingenuously. As if we were playing a game, or putting on a show, and she had to make a scene of the emotion. [YOU FUCKING THINK SO?] "But he said he missed you soooo much when I talked to him, and he hoped you felt better and could play with him!"

Now I knew she was lying to me. Imagine; Christophe wishing a thing like that for me? The very idea! [Yeah, I'd probably talk about mercy kills before I even fucking thought about wishing you get better or any of that gay shit.] "Why are you...saying these things?" I could scarcely choke the words out; my throat felt quite swollen."It is not funny!"

I stomped my foot against the ground as if to snap her into a more serious mode. She responded by turning around and eyeing me oddly.

"All right. I'm...sorry, Ducky." Her concerned face and the way she hunched to come to my level, approached with the caution of one approaching a deer in the woods, [Nah, you're more like a squirrel. Way more fucking annoying, way less dangerous, and considered a fucking pest in many parts of the world.] made me angrier for whatever reason. I wanted to spit.

"It is not funny," I repeated. To my horror the words sounded hoarse, as if they had caught on something in my throat and torn it coming up."He is not there. Was he, did he ever—"

When tears threatened, I had to stop. My voice rose to a an embarrassing, keening pitch, [Because your balls hadn't fucking dropped yet.] and I knew no good could come of finishing my thought. I did not want to make a blubbering arse of myself. [And yet you always do.] I do not think the servant missed the near malfunction in my emotional discipline, however.

In moments, and without warning, I found myself encircled within yet another étreinte. [You really were brought up by dickwads weren't you?] It was probably supposed to comfort me, but instead it broke the dam. I ruined the servants top that day by crying straight into it, and she had no one to blame but herself for that. Snot dribbled onto the material, and it served her right. [For not having you fucking committed on the spot, presumably.]

"I'm sorry," she murmured, not seeming to notice the mess I was making of her outfit."Gregory, truly. I suppose...I was mistaken. I was...making a bad joke. I didn't know you'd take it so hard."

Large, gentle hands traced the line of my spine, [As opposed to the ellipse of it.] and I let myself fall limply beneath them.

"Why would you?" I am not sure I even meant for her to hear." Christophe and I...We were hardly friends at all, it seems." [Rude.]

At noontime, while sitting at the snack tables, I pondered the proper way to ask whether Wendy wanted to come to my house after school. The servant warned against formal stationary, [Holy shit you were hopeless. And you still are.] so I was at a loss. I suppose I was quiet for too long as I turned the matter over in my mind, because Wendy cleared her throat to break the silence.

"So, how are you today?" she asked. Brilliant. Why had I not thought to ask it first? [Because you're an awful flirt.] Social conventions required too much multitasking for my liking. [You lazy fucking git.]

"Quite fine, thank you, Wendy." I told her, maybe too loudly. I lowered my voice to finish the rest of the scripted response: "And yourself?" [The scriptwriter was a lazy fucking spunk bubble, apparently.]

"Very well." She picked at her bologna sandwich, and I got the feeling I had failed in some way—to engage her, perhaps. [Because you're a terrible fucking flirt.] This thought filled me with slightly acidic terror. [Oh no! I'm never going to get fucked!] That phenomena (obviously) did not help me to think of appropriate conversation topics. I looked to her, in a desperate attempt to locate a clue as to what I might say next. Her earrings dangled an caught my attention; I reacted without thinking.

"...You. Um. You have very strange earrings." [Wow. Even by your standards, that's fucking pathetic.]

Wendy gave me a strange look from her side of our lunch table."That's not nice to say," she scolded, and tipped her nose skyward."Don't be a butthole, Gregory." [She didn't know at the time. That's just who you fucking are.]

My stomach sunk lower in my abdomen, and the contents seemed to turn from liquid to solid. [That tends to fucking happen. It's how digestion fucking works.] I crossed my arms defensively so she would not guess how out of my element I was.

"Well! They do not match!" I pointed this out in defense of my honour. It was true, and therefore could not be rude."Earrings are supposed to match!" [Yeah, you dig that hole, retard.]

"For your information," she unclipped on from her lobe and slid it across the table for my inspection."I made these."

I picked up the thing between two fingers and brought it close to my face so as to see it properly. I did not say so, but hers was hardly a worthy brag. [She made earrings at age five and you're just there with your disapproving fucking face. Fuck you. That's a fucking nice thing to do isn't it, a kid fucking does something pretty fucking creative and your reaction is to glower disapprovingly and tell them there are people their age in China that can make shoes. Fuck you and fuck your fucking classical fucking education.] What she'd drawn could only be described as: a blobby, uneven star that shamed the many-hued magic markers with which it had been drawn.

"...I see," I handed it back to her. I did not roll my eyes, but it was a struggle.

"Butthole," she snatched it and replaced it on her ear."I bet you've never even made Shrinky Dinks."

"Am I missing out?" I chuckled."Oh dear. I feel so deprived." [Your sarcasm was not fucking evolved that much at this point.]

"This is why you don't have any friends." Her nose wrinkled as she gestured vaguely around us."No one wants to sit with a snob. " [SEE? I'M NOT THE FUCKING ONLY ONE.] She plucked the large, soft purple unicorn seated beside her and tucked it under her arm."Come on, Mr. Plimples. We already have to spend an hour after school with this butthole every day this week. I don't see why we should double our time." [I like it but adding some comments about fucking skidmarks in there would have made it better.]

She proceeded to climb off the bench. Her short legs dangled for a moment before her sneakers hit the dirt."Have a nice lunch, Gregory." She tossed her hair haughtily."I guess I'll see you after school."

I wanted to shout with frustration. Why were the women around my person so difficult? My luck was rotten; never in my life had I met such clucking hens. [Were guys just easier to deal with? Is that why you turned out so fucking gay?]

I should have been glad to be rid of her. Insolence is hardly tolerable company. But, manners and attitude aside...she was the most intelligent conversation available on the playground. [Other than talking to yourself like a Greggy-no-mates.] I made a quick calculation and adjusted to my result before she could flounce out of earshot. [In short, you fucking shouted.]

"...Wait." I called."Wendy, I am...sorry."

She paused. I had not expected her to, one supposes. When she turned, I forgot what I had been about to say.


"I, um." I clamped my teeth together, and my brows came down on my forehead as a grappled."That is. Well." I thought hard."I. Need your help." [Watch him fucking squirm as his pride just crumbles.]

She faced me fully. The resentful squinching of her mouth, the skeptical arch in her eyebrow—both flattened. Her face was open and curious for the first time I had ever seen. I wanted to preserve the expression, and so I needed to think faster. [You suck so bad.]

"Yes." I decided. I reach subconsciously into my pockets for inspiration. With blind fingertips, I found a page, folded and torn out of a library book with illustrations of old churches. There was a plastic dinosaur (that doubled as an eraser) [We will rule over all this land and we will call it...this land.] that I had filched from a smug bastard in my maths class. He prized it, and I thought he deserved to be taken down a peg [You are a worse klepto than I am, you hypocrite!]. There were two pence left over from my milk money. ...And the lighter, reclaimed from Christophe. [YOU STILL HADN'T GIVEN IT BACK!? KLEPTO!] My eyes widened when I lit upon it, [Oh ha fucking ha.] and I pulled it out to show Wendy. I was inspired at last.

Relief flooded up from my stomach and into my chest, relieving the tension that had been there from the moment she sat down at my table."I have lost a friend," I told her, speaking perhaps too quickly—still reeling as I trailed on the heels of my brilliant [Nope.] impromptu thinking."And, I was wondering, if you would like to come over after school some time this week, to help me find him?"

She looked at the lighter; she looked at me. If she had been me, she would probably have pointed out that it was technically contraband on school grounds. Then, she might have asked what on earth I was on about and wondered what a lighter of all things could possibly have to do with it.

But she was not me. [Read: Not a butthole.] And so, all she asked was: "How did you lose him?" [To be fair, it's a good fucking question. Anyone else and the answer might be interesting, you're just a fucking arsehole though. You couldn't keep friends if you tried.]

For once, it was a warm autumn day. [It was Britain. You're lying.] The month had been brutal with rain, [Because it was Britain.] but today Wendy had a purple bandage on her knee from a nasty skateboard spill (about which she'd been remarkably calm, one might add). She offered to teach me, but I naturally declined. Americans and their undignified and dangerous sporting held no fascination for me. [But it might have made you look at least a little bit less of a fucking loser.]

Now, Wendy examined my drawings as I read over our assigned texts. The yellow light from the unboarded window [As opposed to the magenta light from your fucking arse.] made the space brighter and cosier than it usually felt, and we were in good spirits as it was to be a long weekend. Wendy flung the window open as soon as we arrived, and so I could smell the damp air—cool and fresh as the sun shone. Wendy squirmed out of her purple coat [I think she might have just fucking taken it off. No fucking squirming necessary.] and set it down as she made herself comfortable. My parents were out for the afternoon, and we had the place to ourselves (aside from the servant). In spite of the relative privacy, my attic had become our preferred place to hang about. [You fucking traitor.] I sighed with satisfaction and listened to the birds shrilling outside. They sounded far away.

"This one is pretty good," she touched the rendering of my glass greenhouse with her index finger. [The knowledge of it being her index finger as opposed to any other is incredibly important. But which one was it? Left? Right? YOU'RE NOT GIVING ENOUGH DETAIL YOU FLOWERY CUNT.] I always enjoyed steel framing that was almost sculptural, and I remember when they installed our staircase, how fascinated I was with the use of glass. The transparency revealed the bones of the work. Beautiful. [Ponce.]

The drawing, unfortunately, still bore the greasy smudges from Christophe's fingers, the creases from when he had balled it up after using it as a napkin. One supposes I should have disposed of it, but I was proud of the design. [Fucking trace it onto other paper so you have it clean, you fucking fool.]

She turned to grin at me, and in the process revealed a crooked, jagged-toothed smile."I can practically see it in my garden back home. I think my dad would want to grow begonias [Whatever they are.] in there."

"I was thinking more that it could display rare specimens in a state garden of some sort," I told her."I did not design it for pedestrian purposes." [Arse.]

"Learn to accept a compliment." Wendy did not sound exasperated this time, merely amused. [She's right though. You cannot do that thing she said because you're a fucking cunt.] She clasped her hands behind her back as she perused, and the sparkles on her fingernails caught the light and cast specks of light on the floor.

"Did. Um. Christophe like them? Your drawings, I mean?" she asked. [See? She's considerate. Really, she could have fucking turned me.]

"He never said." I shifted my weight so as to lie more comfortably. I had to reread a sentence in my book, as I lost my place in answering her question.

"We could look for him at the homeless shelters this weekend." She offered it with a strange voice; sounding simultaneously like she wanted to make sure I knew the offer had been extended, but that I would not accept it. [Or maybe it's because she, like many others, assumed that I was a figment of your deranged fucking imagination.] "Since, we have a few days free. We could...see if he took a train down to Sussex or..." [Why on earth would I ever want to go to fucking Sussex?]

"No." I looked at the wrinkled drawing, which fluttered in a breeze from the window.

She waited for me to elaborate, but I did not." giving up?" she pressed, gently.

"There is no point," I read the sentence for the third time, but found I still had no idea what the author was trying to say. So I looked up at Wendy instead, because it was apparently pointless to attempt the multitask."He is gone." [We fucking agreed, you traitor.]

"That's good." Wendy's voice was tender—I knew because it was quiet, and she looked at me the same way she looked at the boy in our maths class who was particularly bad with his multiplication tables: with a tiny bit of disdain and curiosity.

"Why do you say it like that?" [Because it shows you're not actually a hallucinating psychotic.]

Her head swiveled, in one quick motion, my way."I just. Well." She bit her lip. For some reason, her reluctance angered me, balling an iron fist in my diaphragm.

She did not give me a chance to snap her, though, as if sensing the impending blow."Yeah. Anyway. If you're sure you don't want to go look, my exchange family is taking me to Alton Towers this weekend. [Ooh. Fancy. Fifty plus opportunities for Greggy to piss himself and cry.] And I was wondering if you'd maybe want to come."

"Are you trying to change the subject?" Irrationality rose as a fever in my brain."I—"

"No, no." Wendy shook her head quickly and her fingertips splayed forward in a "stop, stop" gesture. "I just thought you should...get your mind off things. I know you've been worried."

"Nonsense. I am sure he is fine." [Liar.]

Wendy went to the window, and she seemed out of comments, which was fine by me. I went back to my book. The birds seemed quieter, though the day was still mercilessly bright. The binding of my book cast a sharp shadow across the words, casting half into dark. [Turn it around then, moron.]

"The servant was going to make biscuits this afternoon." I said, after a few minutes ticked by."If she has not started yet, we can go and offer to help, if you like. She said you might enjoy the activity."

"All right." Wendy still peered outside, down the street."And about—" [Trivia: She was actually going to lay into you for calling her a servant. Because she's your FUCKING NANNY.]

"Also, I think amusement parks are immature." I squinted at the blinding light reflecting off my book. It made my eyes water slightly."...But I have never been to one, and I suppose it would be foolish to pass judgement before ever experiencing the event." [It's a fucking date? You managed to get on a date? Still. It's going to be fun when you talk about it.]

"Are you—"

"I— "

We laughed an awkward moment, but after that, the quiet felt more amiable.

"Wendy, you have to convince him that play-clothes are not undignified on children."

"You two ought to be ashamed, uniting in a front against me." I glowered at Wendy and the servant, who walked arm in arm ahead of me at the Regent Arcade Shopping Centre. I trailed them like a most unhappy caboose. [A fucking what? Like the mentally deranged guy who doesn't make any sense?]

"You think he listens to me?" Wendy laughed."Paloma, please, he still calls me Ms. Testaburger!"

"It's better than servant." Paloma (apparently) [Dick.] turned to me and winked."Consider yourself lucky. And I know he listens to you, love. Do you think just anyone could have talked him up on that rolling thing of yours?"

"I had to appeal to his sense of honour." Wendy spoke conspiratorially despite the fact that I was standing not ten paces off. "He'll do anything if you imply he actually can't! [So that's how I can get you into fisting.]

"Stop it, you! I will not! Stop spreading lies!" My protests were met with giggling, which was not encouraging. [You're the exact kind of fucking country squire bumpkin fuck that led to the Peasants' Revolt, you do know that, right?]

"You are a clever one!" The servant was in good spirits, and Wendy apparently did not mind being seen arm in arm with the help. [Because that's fucking normal.] They all but skipped along."Do you think you could convince him play clothes are the appropriate attire?"

"I don't know about that," Wendy told her."But maybe the argument that going to a public place where he has to sit on something a million other people have sat on will convince him he needs something disposable to wear, you know? So he doesn't mess up the good clothes?" [Oh, she's good.]

"I think you're going to be a rocket scientist someday, peaches!"

"I am going home!" I announced loudly. It was an empty threat, as I had no intention of taking the filthy and likely hazardous-to-my-person train on my own (the servant insisted it would be amusing to utilise public transportation, more so than taking our private car for whatever reason). [Also you're five years old, you wouldn't get out of the shopping centre before you got asked where your fucking parents were.] "I cannot endure this slander and humiliation any longer!" [Most of those words were not in your fucking vocabulary.]

They seemed to decide summarily to dismiss my complaints. Cruel vixens.

"Wendy," the servant stopped in front of a large shop window, and they ogled the display together. Two mannequins stood in frozen wonder, peering into the abyss. They wore hideous pastels."Do you think our Gregory has a crush on you?" [Yes. And because she could so royally get on your tits, I can see exactly why.]

Wendy pinked, but otherwise kept her composure."Well, I'm going back to Colorado when it's summer."

It was a bit of a non sequitur, but I understood her worry. I pictured us, begging our parents for change to make long distance calls on public telephones. The image was somewhat tragic. [Quite apt for you then.]

"Yes. Let us cease this ridiculousness and focus on the task at hand. I need appropriate attire for the theme park. And I will not wear polyester no matter how you beg and plead. [Yes you will.] Either of you. Both of you!" [All three of us.] I tried to lead them away from the window. I highly doubted Tommy Bahama was even a real person.

"He said the same thing about eating raw cookie dough," Wendy ‘whispered'."But we ate soooo much! And I saw him sneak one of the sections you plastic'd off into his pocket!"

My stomach ached at the memory. But I was not sure it was because of how I had foolishly stuffed it with uncooked pastry (very foolishly; I had stomach troubles for hours afterward), [Worth it though. That stuff tastes fucking sweet.] or because I had half hoped I would climb the vents that night to share the rest with Christophe. Obviously, I had not. [Could have left it in the fridge for me. Dick.]

The last time Wendy and I looked for Christophe was a Wednesday. We walked home from school together and after homework and snacks, we went to my attic as usual.

"Whatcha reading?"

"Republic," I told her."Reading the classics nurtures the mind." [Or at age fucking five it burns it right fucking out.]

Wendy wrinkled her nose."I read Walden Pond. But I had to, to make sure Eric didn't cheat. It was boring."

No mention Wendy made of Eric Cartman gave me any inclination to meet the boy. I knew it was impolite to gossip, but in this case, one thinks of it more of a warning: avoid at all costs. [Agreed. Holy fuck.]

"American literature is hardly that," I said this without second thought."My father says that American intellectualism is in its infancy." [Like father, like son. Both major fucking cunts.]

Wendy drew herself up. Her eyes grew cold, she over-pronounced her syllables, her voice got louder, and her hands flailed in emphasis of her words. I knew these affectations and postures well; [I bet you did.] they sent a thrill of competitive eagerness through me.

"That is ridiculous," Wendy's lashes near-rested on her cheeks with the narrow-eyed look she gave me."Grapes of Wrath? The Great Gatsby? The Sun Also Rises? What are you even talking about??" [Fucking racist.]

"A few aberrations does not a literary scene make," I folded my hands on top of each other and enjoyed the fearsome struggle she underwent to keep herself from bursting out on the behalf of her countrymen."Just because we can observe an exception here and there does not make the entire country relevant. [Could say that about some of the vile spew that your country came up with. I'll remind you exactly where Les Misérables came from, bitch.]

(I was lucky, as it happened. Our family had recently had a guest over with a similar view to Wendy. I could essentially parrot my father's part of the conversation and feel confident that it was a sound position.) [A horrible mistake, really.]

"A few aberrations?" Wendy all but choked on her outrage. If I had any complaints about her academic practice, it was that she was far too emotional. [Yeah, you only insulted her entire country. Not like she should be mad or anything. Cunt.] She stood now, over me, and she had to hunch slightly under the roof."Ralph Waldo Emerson? Frederick Douglass? Harper Lee? J.D. Salinger? I think it's more like English writers haven't been relevant for almost a century, and you're jealous!"

"How dare you? Salman Rushdie? Kazuo Ishiguro? Do you even read, woman?" [An Indian and a Japanese guy. It is very enjoyable that the UK is so lacking in homegrown talent that it has to fucking import it from elsewhere.]

Wendy paused here. The frustration and fast-thinking focus drained from her pointed little face."Actually. I think we both read too much. Kids our age usually watch TV instead, I think." [YOU FUCKING THINK SO?]

I was so shocked that I could not resist laughing. My parents did not even own a TV. [Aren't your parents supposed to be fucking loaded? How do they keep up with the fucking news?] "...My father read the autobiography of John Stuart Mill. He thought the parenting methods be admired." [Bullshit.]

Wendy joined me with a bubbly giggle. It was a rare sound, like tiny bells sewn to a Christmas ornament. [An impressive sound to be made with your voice, no?] She came to sit beside me, placed a hand on my arm."Mill had a mental breakdown at seventeen."

"He came out of it!"

"By reading romantic poetry." [Pathetic.] She smiled some more, and her plastic earrings swung in frantic circles and tangled in her hair from all the movement."Should I keep some ready? For when you need to be pulled out of some future existential wormhole?" [It's far too late for that.]

I smiled back. It occurred to me that I was extremely lucky to meet someone who understood the Mill reference; this conversation would be impossible otherwise."Oh, please. Poetry is emotional drivel. My existential crisis will require something far more...impactful [Is not a word.] if I am to heal."

She tucked her hair back and leaned into my side. [Ooh. Kinky. You'll be telling me there was eye watering anal sex involved next, she seems like the type to be into pegging.] "I bet it will."

I eyed her quickly, but felt a strange...quickening. [Don't you dare get fucking mushy.] So I did the only thing I could think to do, and I picked up my book again, to read about Plato's erotic theory of movement: everything in the universe pulling closer together, infinitely charged by the same sensual desire that drives lovers together. [Sounds like total horse shit.] I was not sure what I wanted, but I felt the pull, and, as always when I thought of the nature of the Universe, I thought of God. And then (inevitably) I thought of Christophe.

"Did you know that Christophe did not know how to read?" I told Wendy as she adjusted herself on my shoulder so as to read along with me."I was teaching him."

One supposes she was surprised. I had told her nearly nothing about Christophe, except that he was missing, and I was trying to find him. [Explaining nothing about me is probably why everyone thinks I'm fucking imaginary.] Her hand had previously been wound round my arm to anchor herself. She released it now, to pat my knee.

"Why didn't he know how to read?"

"He never went to school, I suppose." [You think that might have something to do with it? I don't know, I think it might have been something else, like my shovel. OF FUCKING COURSE IT WAS.] I frowned as I thought on it."I do not think his parents were particularly nice people. He said he never had a father."

"Um. Gregory..." Wendy seemed about to tell me some troubling piece of news. [You're fucking mental.] But subtly (with a bit of estimation on my part as to her mental processes), she cut herself off and changed tacts."Do you think you'll ever find him?"

"I am not sure." I looked at my achievement stickers. [You're a piece of fungus with six achievements.] Some were missing—the sparkling ones, mostly. I suspected Christophe's kleptomania, certainly, but had no way to confront him now. Strangely, the thought made me...very sad. And that sadness encroached like a cool, rolling fog bank over my consciousness. [As opposed to encroaching like a block of cheese.]

"I do not know what I did to drive him off. He just...disappeared." I looked searchingly to Wendy." you think he would do that?"

"Sometimes," Wendy spoke slowly and carefully. Evening had begun to fall (early, as winter approached), so all the shadows in the room seemed softened and blue. [Hardened and pink is more my taste really.] "When...someone makes a real friend, [PFFT.] it, um. Makes you grow up a little bit."

A prickle of annoyance itched at the back of my neck."What are you on about?"

"Hey, I used to do it, too." It made the itching worse that her voice did not rise. She was soothing instead."Remember Mr. Plimples? I used to talk to him like he was a real person. But the...I met you!" [I'm not entirely sure someone as fucking stuck up and rude as you can be real.] Her elbow nudged my ribs.

I found my voice hoarse."I do not appreciate what you are attempting to imply, Wendy." [Neither do I, but the difference is I can see that it's fucking understandable that you might be completely off your fucking rocker.] She gave me a look that was paradoxically patient and impatient, and she opened her mouth to retort. I, however, felt I could not hear it.

"You can't—"

"—-You know. I think you ought to go home, Wendy. Right now."

"Oh come on, Gregory. It's harmless. Lots of children do— "

"Out. Now." [Mine was called Marion. She was the voice in my head telling me to kill.]

She stood as if to obey me. It was strange when she did not attempt to argue with me. I was not at all sure I preferred it but was too perturbed to dwell on the odd, ache in conversation where her rebuttal ought to have been. She stopped to scoop her coat into her arms, and when she peered at me, her eyes were strange. [I wonder why, Mr. Terrible Fucking Host.] She looked perturbed, pitying—all the things I could not bear to see, hence why I was throwing her out—but also a very profound...pleading. One cannot guess what she might have been pleading for, but...

"I think you misunderstood me." She said quietly, as she held my gaze."I um. Was only...trying to say you should try to move on. From your...Christophe. If he's never coming back here, you can't be waiting around forever." [She's not wrong. Though I still maintain at age five she probably didn't word it so eloquently.]

There was no room for pacing, and one is sure we looked ridiculous in our slightly hunched positions under the roof. [I'm sure you looked ridiculous.] My frustrated energy's only channel was my withering tone."Just what ARE you suggesting then, Ms. Testaburger?"

She sighed."Just that we go looking. One last time. And then you let it go."

I could feel the crystalline clicking of the wristwatch my father had given me for my fourth birthday against my inner pulse point. [Why does a four year old get a fucking wrist watch, fuck you.] Somewhere in the fight, the watch had gotten turned around. She never looked away, and I could feel her searching me for any part that wanted to cooperate with her. It was too vulnerable to endure, and so I bowed in. I just wanted her to stop looking at me that way, honestly. [Like you were fucking insane because you fucking are?]

"Fine. Where do you propose we look?"

I was not allowed out past eight o'clock, and neither was Wendy. [Most five year olds would be in bed by fucking six.] The streets were shockingly busy; as a child, I always assumed they cleared out as soon as the sun went to bed—everyone relegated to bed as soon as I was. This illusion was shattered at the sight of people rushing beneath the streetlights in front of the bus station.

Wendy met me exactly where she said she would. The fountain a half-block from the park was exactly halfway between our homes, and so seemed a fair destination. She had on her pyjamas under her purple coat. I could see the fleece-y lambs on her trousers, and I assumed, anyway. Who would wear animal-printed polyester for any situation but sleep? [The fuck do you have against polyester?] ...Who would wear sleep clothing out on the street was an even more salient question, [Yes, it is, you polyester hating fucktard.] but one knows we had higher priorities at the time than discussing the matter.

"I have not checked the bus station yet." I told her this as I watched the water spill from the tip of a bronze man's umbrella. Someone had recently removed pennies, I noticed, because coppery-green rings stood out starkly in the swimming, lighted blue inside the upraised cement ring. One black ten pence piece remained all but fused to the floor by the submerged metal basing below the mounting platform of the statue, there so long it was practically a fixture. [How fucking enthralling. Now what about fucking me?] "Should we look there?"

"I don't think so," Wendy shivered slightly, looking about. Then she reached over to grab my elbow and drag me aside, into a gum-strewn nook out of the public view. That was a smart executive decision, probably. [Probably? Fucking idiot.] Two small children unsupervised in the middle of the night was bound to cause suspicion, and the last thing I wanted was to be escorted home. [Also you wouldn't want to get fucking beaten to death now, would you?]

"Then where?" I instinctively lowered my voice as we tucked ourselves away."Do not tell me you want me to retrace my steps and go to the last pace I saw him. I have already done all that!" [I can move as well, you fucking moron.]

She shook her head."I've been doing some research. Homeless kids go to the youth center. It's a bus ride and train ride away from here." [Good idea for two five year olds to do that at eight on a fucking winter evening.] She put her hands in her pockets and swung her body side to side a little, swivelling. I think the constant motion was meant to keep her warm. After a few moments, thought, she gave it up and brought her clasped hands to her mouth to blow hot air through them, and then rub them together. [When has a child ever done that?]

"I. Do you think he went there?" I asked, and I tried to keep a lift, rising in my chest, down. I imagined flattening it with my hand, forcing it to the recesses of my stomach. But it only bubbled brightly there. [What?] "Do you really think he would know to go? His English was not very good, you know?"

"Even if he didn't, sometimes cops bring kids who have no homes." [Her American knowledge completely fails her this time.] Her teeth chattered; she kept her mouth slightly open and tensed her jaw to reduce the clatter-clatter sound."There is food there. And they give the kids beds. I think he would figure out to go."

"Oh, I see." I nodded, and clenched my fists tightly into my pockets."That does sound like a good place to look." [Yeah. Didn't think Mr. Stuck Up Twat would think to look there. You probably didn't even know homeless people existed.]

"Yeah. Let's get to the bus station. It's only a few minutes from the train station if we take the northbound." She peered around the wall to see if we had been noticed, [Idiot.] but luckily, no one bothered us or even really looked our way. [You know how I got away with waltzing around without parental supervision at that age, right? By not acting really fucking suspiciously. I knew a guy stole an entire rack of clothes by just dragging it out of a store, nobody stopped him because he acted like he had every right to fucking do it. You're only ever as suspicious as you fucking look, tosspot.]

So we traversed the dark streets and tried to avoid notice. One supposes I knew, deep down, that there was only the faintest chance Christophe would be where she said he might be. [Oh, do you think so?] I knew that getting my hopes up was foolish. I knew that Christophe might have gone home to bleeding France for all I knew, and I would never be able to find him again. [Never is a strong word. Someone as fucking rich as you could have tracked me down, I'm sure. Fucking stalker.]

But I could not help imagining his face when I showed him the green marble I found in gym class, just sitting wedged between two sides of a large cement crack. [FUCKING MARBLES.] I thought I would share it with him, if he wanted. It was perfect, not a single scratch on the glassy surface. [Despite being wedged in a cement crack? Your memory is fucking shite.] He was fascinated with dinosaurs and all things prehistoric; I had shown him just one book with drawings of the things, and when I was away at school, it was the only thing he read on his own. I had found another at the library just this week. If he came home, I would show it to him. It was on my desk back home, just in case. [How considerate.]

No good things can be said about public transportation. [I can't argue with that one.] One observes that it is truly the plight of the impoverished, to be reduced to relying on these methods of movement. [Or the environmentally friendly, you planet killing shitface.] Wendy and I were jostled about on the plastic seats for a seemingly interminable amount of time. Our fellow bus-residents were a motley crew; I felt compelled to wonder whether their probation officers knew their whereabouts. It was too cold for summer clothes, but a woman near us wore a dirty sundress. [You've got nothing good to say about anyone, have you?] A man held a brown sack, crunched around a bottle, and I am sure it fooled no one.

"Don't worry, Gregory," Wendy whispered to me as we rode."It's safe."

"There are no seatbelts, Wendy," I griped back at her."You are empirically denied."

Little did I know, soon I would long for the recycled air and imbalanced swerving of the bus. [That's sort of how swerving fucking works.]

The train station smelt of piss; [OH MY GOD HE SWORE!] it was a good thing the servant had taken us before. Otherwise, the stench and the endless stretches of echoes, bouncing from cavernous ceiling to endless, grey-tiled floor, might have seemed daunting. [The little posh fuck can't understand the plebby world of trains.] Now, it merely posed a logistical problem: every direction and corridor and way looked roughly the exact same.

"Wendy, do you know where we are going?"

It seemed unfathomable to me that she would. [In the world before Google Maps? OF COURSE IT FUCKING DID.] Yet, she breezed past the posters for musicals and theatre productions like they were guiding lights, and ever sure-footed step seemed "towards," so it was a bit hard to assume she had no clue as to where we ought to head. Homeless people dotted the halls, often leaning into the arches of the architecture as they sadly jangled their previous donations in plea for more. [You've definitely been in America too long. The poverty situation in the UK is nowhere near as bad, I think your memories are just tainted by the hordes of beggars they have over in this shithole. And the beggars they have in the UK definitely aren't in the fucking Cotswolds. That or you really are just that much of a stuck up cunt.] I tried not to look at them; I needed to save my incidental funds after buying a train ticket. I had no idea where we might end up, and it was a form of insurance that we would be able to pay our way home if need be.

"Station D. Outbound for Ashford." Wendy did not so much as turn her head to say it to me."And hurry. The schedule said the train would be here in two minutes."

We swiped our cards and headed through the rotating metal turnstiles together. I had to admire how quickly she moved; one would not think such short legs could power-walk at her rate. It was lucky the station was at low traffic (just the usual few drunken students, straggling over-tired business people, and the homeless), because I was certain Wendy would bowl over any who stood in her path. [At age five? Look, she could try but even her I'm not sure about bowling people over at age FUCKING FIVE.] The rumbling trains screeching on their tracks, the hissing pressurised sound from the brakes, and the cold and stale air below made me feel I had entered the realm of the Mole People. [A worm person in the realm of the mole people? This won't fucking end well.] This conclusion made it seem more likely I would find Christophe here, so I could not help looking amongst the scruffy dwellers for his face. [I bet you thought that was terribly fucking clever when you wrote it, didn't you?]

"Gregory, this way!" She pointed up a flight of stairs that lead to the platform. The chill from the cement (of which the entire structure was built) ran up my shoes, [Your shoes were piss poor insulated then.] and the lights seemed to dangle and swing above us. [Unlikely.] I hesitated to climb behind her, though I do not know why I did so. We had not time to dawdle, and it was unlikely Christophe was there in the station. So lingering served no purpose, yet, I merely gaped at Wendy as she laid her foot on the first step, still a few paces ahead of me.

"What are you waiting for?" She wanted to know."Gregory! Hurry!"

When I did not move, she came for me. She grabbed my hand, and began to tug me along behind her like a child on one end of one of those hideous leashes that were meant to restrain the most mongrel of my kind. [You really could have fucking done with one then.]

"Come on! We're going to miss it!" [What's going to happen if you miss it? You have to wait all of three fucking minutes for the next one!?]

I did not protest, though she was not gentle as she yanked on my shoulder joint. [Not just the shoulder - the fucking joint of it. How vital.] I let her lead me up, though I had no way of knowing is she had any idea what she was doing. America did not (and does not) have much of a public transportation system. By no logical route would a person arrive at the conclusion that she ought to have been acting based on good information or experience. [Still knows more about it than your fucking stuck up chauffeured arse though.]

Yet, when Wendy and I boarded the train, I did not ask her how she knew which one it was. Her cold little hand in mine finally slipped out as we sat to watch the light-studded walls whiz by until the lights became singular streaks of illumination in the dark. [That happens when you move at speed, dickhead.]

"I hope we find him," I admitted. I do not know if she heard me, however, and she did not take my hand again. One confesses, that just then, I rather wished she would.

"Gregory! Get in here this instant!"

I froze with fear as I crept in through my bedroom door at roughly 6AM the next morning. [The fact that it was the next morning just wasn't fucking precise enough, was it?] But as the angry voice beckoning me was not, in fact, that of my mother or father, I almost immediately relaxed. It was only the servant, bidding that I hasten. [What the fuck does that even mean?] Her eagerly waving hands gave the illusion of urgency. I rolled my eyes at the affectation. I was fairly confident I had not been spotted, [You weren't spotted in your room either, cuntflap, that'd be the fucking problem.] and her fussing was entirely superfluous.

"Where have you been?" She whispered to me as I closed the door, silently and slowly behind myself. She rose to meet me in the middle of the bedroom floor. When she came to me, she began checking me over, inspecting and prodding me. I wanted to protest, but I was very tired. I wearily let her, instead.

Hers was a fair question, but I took my time getting around to it. I smelled like public transportation (alcohol, unwashed bodies, the misery of the commons [Oh shut up, boner breath.]). It was not, obviously, my usual aroma. It was also not my habit to leave the house unsanctioned, especially not at night. Truthfully, I did not know how to explain it to her. [Given up on the searching for the imaginary friend excuse, hm?]

"...Any chance you will accept the answer ‘in the toilet?'" I focused all my attention on a spot at the center of her forehead. This was a trick I had developed to avoid eye-contact when I felt small, apprehensive, or wanted to avoid a lecture on polite conversation. [You wanted to avoid a lecture? How fucking dare you.] As the servant watched me, I clenched my toes. I clenched them as tightly as I could, until they ached at the joints. Then I released them slowly. I did this a few times. It helped to settle me. [Sounds like it'd just hurt you. Idiot.]

"Gregory. I need to know if you're up to anything dangerous. I promise, I won't punish you. I'm not really angry. I just want you to keep safe, I— " [Will get fucking fired if you happen to turn up dead.]

There was a noise in the kitchen. This was odd, because outside of the servant and I, no one really used the kitchen much. Mother and Father had not the time to cook, and usually sent the laundry out. So when the sound of—one believes it was a cabinet, opening and shutting, followed by the clanking of metal implements against the sides of a drawer whilst it opened—echoed foggily up to my room, I was puzzled. [It was Opposite Day, didn't anyone tell you?] So was the servant. She paused mid sentence to listen.

My parents, at the hour, prepared to go to their respective jobs. The break in the routine was jarring. I looked at the servant, and she looked at me.

Their voices floated up to use through the floorboards, muffled and indistinct. But I caught a few words.

"—is not. We have time to—"

"—not about to tell you what I feel when—"

" —have to go, Katherine. This is a waste of time."

"If you would, for once—" [Domestic difficulties. Yay!]

I tiptoed to sit on my bed. The servant followed, and she wrapped an arm around my shoulder. I did not know why she felt the need to do it, and flinched the moment she touched me. [EW YOU'RE GOING TO INFECT ME WITH FUCKING COMMONER DISEASE LIKE BEING POOR AND DESTITUTE URHGHGH!] She did not retract that arm. I stared at the wall as I listened to my parents voices grow farther away. My exhaustion made the space inside my skull feel heavy and thick. I can clearly recall the grey light of the morning. The clouds obscured the sun, and so as it came in the through the window, it did not cast illumination. [I don't think you actually recall that, because that's how fucking clouds work. You just fucking know that.] Instead, the light seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, cool and quiet as the dewey air.

And the door opened, and it shut. Then someone in the living room sighed, and swore. The door opened and shut again. [How fucking exciting.]

The servant stroked my shoulder. When it was quiet, I found I wanted to say something. It did not matter what, but it felt like something ought to fill the soundless void.

"...I was looking for Christophe." I told her. I could not think of a proper lie anyway. Wendy had said it would be the last time we looked, so if she confined me, it hardly made a difference. [Nice to know you were only looking for me because you were doing it with fucking Wendy. You fucking assoholic bitch.]

"Oh?" She did not look angry. This heartened me even as I anticipated the shift.

"Wendy went with me. We took a bus. And then a train."

"All by yourselves?" Her eyes became wide and alarmed. [Didn't see that one coming now, did she?] I jammed my spine straighter and forced myself not to fidget.

"...Yes. I know it was dangerous." I bit my lip."For the record, I apologise. It was reckless. I should have known better. But to be fair, it was her idea to check the homeless shelters." [Well that makes it so much fucking better then.]

"Gregory, you are not to go wandering around after dark to places like that." Her voice was very serious, but still not exactly angry. It was more...grim, I suppose. As if she were issuing a warning. [She likes her job. Dealing with your shit. Must be mentally fucking disabled.] I nodded along, watching her. Waiting.

My heart felt so heavy. We had not found Christophe, obviously, and I was so tired, and I had not liked how my parents voices had sounded. I was used to hearing them speak harshly. But the strain to keep their voices down—and worse, ultimate failure to do was disturbing. I felt as if I had heard something I was not supposed to. [You're not going to fare well out of this divorce.] I wanted to confess, but if I tried, I likely would not have been able to word the admission.

It was very strange, and it made me feel very young, and above all, I just wanted to go to sleep. [I wonder why. Not like you were up until six in the fucking morning.]

"I shan't." I promised the servant. I hung my head."I know it was dangerous. I was a fool. [Was ?] I will never go again; I swear it."

I looked up at her again, and she smiled. This perplexed me, but she did not let me dwell too much. [She's a nice person, Greggy, you should try it some time.]

"Good then." She patted my elbow, and I watched her hand while she did it.

"We will talk more about this later, young man. For now, though, you get back in that bed." She sighed."You will need a nap, after the night you've had, eh?"

For some reason, grateful tears welled in my eyes. I did as I was told, and unfortunately... I forget whether I thanked her. [I can guarantee you fucking didn't. Because you're an arsehole.] I forget whether I ever told how much it meant to me that she did not turn me, let me sleep, did not yell at me for sneaking out like a thief in the middle of the night.

But it occurs to me now that I probably should have. [Oh, do you think so?]

I innocently minded my business as I organised my school things for the day to follow after breakfast. Each folder and notebook went in order of my classes. [And got mixed up the moment the bag was shaken in the fucking slightest.] I also stored a book for reading during breaks and my case for pens and other writing accoutrements in the frontal compartment. [You put your stationary in the front pocket. That's all you had to fucking say.] But I had scarcely finished this when I faced an interrogation.

"Is Wendy going to be over again this weekend?"

I had avoided speaking to the servant since the incident regarding her misinformation about Christophe's whereabouts unless I absolutely could not avoid the occasion. On some level, I knew she was likely mistaken or joking (as she claimed) rather than malicious. [Twat.] But I still resented her. I resented her to a rather unbelievable degree, to the near loathing-levels. I went out of my way to be cold to her, though she scarcely seemed to notice. [It's basically just your normal fucking mannerism. Dick.] Frankly, I enjoyed the quiet.

"I think so," I informed her after a healthy pause, to let her know for certain she was not forgiven.

"What are you critters going to get up to?" she asked me. [You don't want to fucking know.] I ducked the strap and placed my satchel over my shoulder, and then I tended to my shoes. I refused to look at her face. She had lost the right of eye-contact. [Like she ever fucking had it with you!?]

"I am sure I do not know." I sighed, airily. [But whatever happens, something's going up your arse.] "We will be taking tea in the garden when we first return, however. Do have it prepared, please."

"At least you remembered to say please," the servant had resignation in her voice, and a pang soured my stomach. I would say it was guilt, if I had not felt that she deserved every bit of my coldness to her.

It was a quiet ride to school. Somehow the day felt gloomy and tedious. Christophe used to call them "armpit days." The rain fell in a light drizzle, and it was brightly grey and foggy. ["Brightly". "Foggy". Ha. Ha. Fucking. No.] Everything seemed wet and murky; [Probably because it fucking was.] even the streetlights had a weepy quality. By the time we had nearly arrived, the silence between the servant and I had grown almost comfortable, expected. The rest of the world did not feel particularly chatty either, to my noticing. [That's just Britain for you.]

"When is Wendy going home?' the servant asked, a few minutes from the curb.

"She usually departs at around eight." I fiddled with the window switch a little."Why?"

"Not that." The servant corrected fairly gently."She's here on exchange, isn't she? When is she headed back across the pond?" [She expects you to know this vernacular?]

The car pulled to a stop, and my back touched the seat for a moment."Oh. Well, I suppose at the end of the semester." [And you fucking knew it!?] I fought off a frown."We had not really talked about it."

"You'll keep in touch though," the servant seemed to be trying to reassure me. One knows not why. I was hardly distraught. Why should I have been? I knew she was an exchange student; I do not know how I could have missed that this meant her presence was temporary. [Implying that you in fact did. Moron.]

"Likely." I said. I said it quietly as I pulled the door handle. Though, in truth, I wondered. Wendy liked to write, but would she write to me? [She's not a masochist.] I could not imagine asking my father for a phone card with which to call her. I had not a computer back then, as my parents believed it better for me not to have distractions before I had perfect discipline. [Well. They utterly failed there.] So letters would be the only way.

I did not know how to ask her. [Use those fucking words you're so sickeningly proud of.]

"Talk to her about it." It was the single most redundant piece of advice I received that day. Yet, the reason it annoyed me was not that.

"I will," I said, and closed the door rather too hard. I could not think of what to say. I did not want to sound sentimental. But the last person I had asked to be my friend forever had disappeared, [Not completely, you faithless fuckface.] even though he had promised he would not.

I suppose I was dreading history repeating itself.

I thought a gift would be the best way. And so I got her a gift. It was a thoughtful gift, borne of centuries of social tradition: to win the favor of a young woman, a stuffed animal and a box of chocolate were the ideal tokens. [You fucked up.] To avoid the humiliation of asking the servant's help, [If she was a servant then she wouldn't have judged or you'd have fired her. But she wasn't a fucking servant, she was your fucking nanny.] I paid off one of the young boys in my class to do the errand for me. The arrangement was, I gave him half the money, he procured the items and left them in my cubbyhole, [Your fucking what!?] and then I would give him the second half. It had the unfortunate side effect of having to deal with the same ruffian twice, [The horror! THE HORROR!] but dealing with a sniffling miniature gremlin was better than dealing with a lying, pandering servant any day.

I stashed the goods in my knapsack and kept them there until I had the chance to talk with her. I suppose from a certain perspective, it might have seemed I was attempting to bribe her to write to me. [That perspective would be mine. Fucking hopeless cunt.] But from my perspective, it was rude to ask a favour and offer nothing in return.

Wendy and I had our lunch in a quiet corner of the library. She had gotten on good terms with our (strangely, male) librarian; she said his name was Chutney, [Bollocks.] but I thought a better name for him was Sir Garlic Breath. [Fuck you, garlic smells nice.] In any case, due to his talks with Wendy, this Chutney looked the other way as we brought our foodstuffs into the library and sat by out-of-date atlases as we ate. [That continental drift, it makes those five year old atlases so outdated.] It was quiet. Without the bouncing of balls and shrieking of imbeciles, Wendy and I could converse much better.

"You know what I'm gonna miss most?" Wendy stretched her legs as she picked at her sandwich. Her foster family occasionally gave her Marmite, [But pa might not.] and she had not gotten a taste for it.

"Public healthcare?" I ventured. Mother had told Father about how the beastly Americans did not believe in helping the sick just a few nights back, over dinner. [Do you always just parrot off your cunty parents' opinions?]

She frowned at me."No," she said it like I should have already known."...I'm going to miss the weather."

"Why?" I asked."Do not be stupid, Wendy. Britain is not exactly acclaimed for its sunny skies." [A point I've been making for ages now, you're clearly fucking conversant with the fact, WHY DO YOU LIE ABOUT THE FUCKING WEATHER THEN? IT'S NEVER FUCKING SUNNY.]

"It's not stupid!" Her voice got pitchy the way it did when I upset her. [So like it was all the fucking time when she was around you.] As I still had that thing to ask her, I resolved to get her voice back down to a friendlier range."I just like it. I like the sound."

"What sound? People swearing at all the damned rain?" [Yup. That'll fucking work.]

She plucked a book from the shelf to whack me with it. [I hope it was a nice heavy fucking hardback.] It was barbaric, [And what you deserved.] and I reconsidered asking her to write me for a moment.

"Never mind." Wendy dropped it, likely because she knew her opinion was wrong. [Or because she didn't want to have to deal with your shit, you fucking cuntstain.] I did her the service of not labouring the point. But in the absence of her proposed topic, we fell quiet. I tried to think of a proper way to introduce my proposition to her, but found my mind annoyingly blank. [I imagine this must be a common fucking feeling for you.]

"Hey, Gregory?" I'm sorry we didn't find your friend." She beat me to speaking. Her shoes today had rainbow colored laces that did not tie, but merely stuck out, in two curly-cue antennae. [And why the fuck does this matter? Do we need to know for when they turn brown after she fucking shoves one of them up your arse?]

"That is a bit out of nowhere." I noted this, and replaced the book Wendy had taken down to whack me with. The library smelt of musty, moth-eaten paper and unshampooed carpeting. I looked at the ceiling, in which there were many ventilation holes. Someone had thrown a pencil so that it stuck in one. [So. Fucking. Important.]

"Still. I'm sorry."

"I know." I felt her put her hand on my knee. I did not look at her."But thank you for helping me try."

"It doesn't matter much, since we failed, huh." She was not asking it. This was spoken as a statement, both typical and true of her, as I was fast learning. [She's smarter than you and you fucking know it, moron.]

"Maybe we will do better, next time," I suggested. I wanted to avoid her feeling too negative about our mission. [Call this your first mission if you like, either way your first try was a fuck up. Not the only thing you fucked up first time either.] I suppose I cannot know why I wanted that. She was right. Objectively, we had not achieved what we had set out to. [You failure, Greg.] Still, I wanted her to feel something good about what we had done—good about what we had done together. [Like anyone would feel fucking good about doing shit with you.]

She squeezed my knee and retracted her hand."Maybe." She went back to not-eating her food, but instead rudely picking at it. Americans simply cannot avoid barbarism, one supposes. [Because you're so much fucking better.]

"Eventually, you will go home." (For the record, I had tried to think of a creative bridge in conversation from the point we had been to the point I wished to go, but I could not. So I brute-forced my way along). [That is because you fucking suck at both charm and romance.]

Wendy looked up at me, and her mouth fell a bit open. The orange, carrot-mush inside unattractively was displayed to me. [You deserve such disgusting fucking images.] Fortunately, she soon closed her gaping maw.

"Yeah." She said after she swallowed."Sure."

I blinked at her. "Well. What then?"

Her toes knocked together, perhaps nervously. [Or in thought.] I think the way I looked at her—full of what might have looked like expectation, but was in fact my hope that she would take the hint and finish this conversation without my aid—was the culprit. I was too intense, one wagers. [No, just too fucking pathetic.]

"Um. I guess, you stay here?" For a smart person, Wendy was acting incredibly dull. [Or she doesn't fucking like you.] I huffed with exasperation.

"Obviously." In my arms, there was a slight tingling. [You popped a stiffy.] I felt cool sweat break out on the back of my neck. [Pathetic little Greggy.] "What I meant was. What I am trying to say. Wendy. It is not that I want—"

In an instant, I remembered that I had forgone the gifts. So I interrupted myself, to unzip my knapsack. [Fuck you're awkward.] I pulled her gifts and all but shoved them into her lap. It was already rude that my overture was half made without them. My haste was to correct the mistake. Wendy's brows became two sharp, upraised arches. [Hair does not spontaneously fucking become Roman fucking architecture. You should fucking know this, Greggy Architect.]

"...Are you asking me to be your girlfriend?" Wendy plucked up the stuffed bear. It was a small toy, soft and of no practical use. [Why the fuck did you buy one then?] She seemed more confused than charmed by it, which made me want to get my money back from the sod who had sold it to me. [This terrible fucking idea was yours and yours alone.]

"What?" I demanded. I snatched the chocolates from her lap as if that could retract the misunderstanding."That is preposterous! No!" [Smooth.]

Wendy looked angry now. She stood, more quickly than is strictly advisable. If she had announced a headrush right after, one would not have been surprised. [You would have been deserving though. Prick.] She stooped to grab the remains of her lunch and her things. The indignant crunching of a paper bag made it all less dramatic than she likely hoped. [You can't even take defeat without being a superior dickhole.]

"You're such a butthole." Wendy threw the small bear at me then. She threw it with considerable force as well. The hard plastic nose winged me in the eye. [Oh, boo fucking hoo. It's a FUCKING TEDDY BEAR.]

"Ow! That is completely uncalled for, I will have you know!" I rubbed my face and rose to defy her "righteous" huff. She had no right to it. [Wrong.]

"You're so mean!" Wendy threw her backpack over her shoulder. [She's right.] "Why do you act like liking me would be the worst thing in the world? [It's a personal safety thing. If you like her, she'll like you, and if she likes you she'll be marginally less likely to fucking butcher you while you sleep.] I'm not...riff raff, Gregory! And if you think that, how can we be friends?"

"Stop insulting me!" I wanted to press my hands to my ears. [She wasn't insulting you. Like. If this is what she said, at fucking five years old, which it wasn't, but let's say it was, she was stating facts. There isn't an insult in there. Go back and read what you fucking wrote down personally.]

"Ahem!" Chutney's cough was cue enough for me. I quieted my voice, and gave Wendy a look that bid she do the same.

"Then you stop! With every word you say, you're insulting me! You're not better than me! I'm probably smarter than you are, Gregory!" [I wouldn't say probably.] She did not become less angry in a whisper. In fact, somehow, she managed to sound even more so.

"You are not smarter than I am! Do not be ridiculous! [You first, fuckface.] And I was not trying to insult you! I was trying to— "

"You know what?" Wendy took her foot and stomped upon the chocolates. Hard. I did not see the point of it back then, but it certainly served to cause further tension. [It's called making a fucking statement, moron.] My nostrils flared; my eyes widened.

"Now, see here! I—"

"I don't care." Wendy was already headed out."I really don't care." [That's how you know you fucked up.]

"Shhh!" Chutney chastised, entirely uselessly.

"Gregory, I am honestly beginning to worry for your health." The servant interrupted me with a tray of tea and biscuits as I studied my Milton. I scarcely looked up at her. My tolerance for interaction with anyone, especially her, was quite low. [Another ordinary day then?]

She set the tray down and came to my side to peer over my shoulder. I marked the scansion along the lines of the epic as I did my utmost to ignore her. She smelt of peppermint—due to a tonic she used in her hair, and of whatever she was preparing with dinner. If I was not mistaken, garlic was involved. [Isn't that a terrible smell combination or something?]

"Why haven't I seen your little friend around?"

I closed my eyes for a second, so that I could simmer without snapping back at her. The little game she'd played upon me just a few weeks ago was the reason I still had not forgiven her. [You're a fucking idiot.] I could not imagine why she would be so stupid as to think I would suddenly find it funny now! "Christophe was never—"

"No, Puss." She affectionately touched my hair. My lip curled in frank distaste."Your other little friend. Our spitfire, [Oh, I like that nickname. I'm fucking using it.] Wendy."

"Oh." The fierce anger was gone in an instant, and it left me winded in its wake."Back in America. She headed off just yesterday."

"No wonder you're so miserable!" The servant cooed."Did you get to say a nice goodbye at least?" [HAHA no.]

The way she looked at me, the way her voice sounded: as if she were placating someone very upset made me feel...well. Upset. And I had not been before. [Yes you fucking had.] This was obviously very annoying.

"Neither. I doubt I will be speaking to her again." I said it brusquely. My eyes felt hot and itchy. [Crybaby.] I stared down at my increasing blurred text work i frustration."Now go away. I am busy."

"Gregory." Her voice sounded very serious now. One could tell she was about to scold. [Or comfort, maybe? You're a presumptive fuck, work on it.] I very nearly got up and strode out. I could not bear anymore of her needling.

"I do not want to have this— "

"This is ludicrous. It's going to make you bitter in the end if you keep this up. Ducky, you have to make up with Wendy." The servant interrupted me. It was inappropriate to do so, and on top of that, her conclusion was specious at best, [You keep fucking telling yourself that.] but she barrelled on before I could correct her.

"She'll forgive you if you just apologise. No matter what you said, I'm sure of that." [As if you ever would do that.] She patted my arm and leaned in to force eye contact."What do you say, Greg? Shall I phone the school and weasel her contact information out for you?"

I did not bother replying. I merely crossed my arms and curled them underneath myself. I am sure I looked petulant and frustrated. I was, but also, I was trying very hard not to cry. [You're a twat. There's that too.] It was so much loss in such a short time, and when she spoke, she brought it all rushing to the surface. I hated her for the reminders; I simply hated her. I was fine until she started talking and ruined all my clever evasions. [They weren't that fucking clever. Stop giving yourself too much fucking credit, it'll be less of a shock when you're brought back to fucking earth.]


"Get out! I don't want you here!" I burst, all at once. It was as if all the fear and worry and anger and sadness and confusion rose like large bubbles from the bottom of the pot in a rolling boil, all at once, to throw the surface of the water into chaos. So long, only tiny bubbles had risen. No more. I could not stand it a second longer. [And also being called "Greg". Greg.]

The servant said nothing. She reached over again, to squeeze my shoulder or perhaps pat my arm again but I violently shoved her away. [Lovely.]

"Out! Get out! I want to you go!"

My voice sounded so young. I hated that too. [Kind of happens when you're FUCKING FIVE.]

"Gregory." Her tone was authoritative, and usually it would have cowed me.

"No, no, go away! Please just, go!" The hideous tears pouring from my eyes made me more frustrated still. [Emotions don't make you fucking weak, you know.] "I don't want to talk, I don't want to talk to you!"

She stood, and with a remarkable expression that could have been pity or perhaps was merely giving-up-signified, she went. She reached over to pat my arm one last time, which made me profoundly sad, and so I pulled away as if to blame all my sadness upon her. [It was all your fault though. Twat.] Then she got up, walked on, and closed the door behind her.

My room was small, and it had always been small. But being a boy, it always felt big enough for me. At that moment, it felt like a cavern. I could wander for days and never touch a wall, yet all was dark. [Fucking what?] The dripping rain on the window panes was like water dribbling from stalactites. The droplets disrupted the still and produced echoes. And it was all so loud, but my despair was louder. [You're not going to start writing fucking poetry next, are you?]

I wished the servant had not listened to me. I wished she had stayed. I could have called for her, one supposes in retrospect, but I had no voice. I cried, as I so rarely did, even as a child, and I say at my desk, hunched over the rumpled and soggy homework. [You should have used tissue paper you stupid cunt.] I wished for another etreinte. [Okay. Greg. Seriously. Fucking seriously. It's called a hug. You don't have to keep fucking using the French word for it.] I wished Christophe and I had gotten to the story about the handsome prince whose princess comes to him, neglected and alone, after wishing with all her heart for nothing more than to dance in his arms. [Oh shut up, princess.] I wished I had asked Wendy to write to me. I wished I had never promised her not to go looking for Christophe again. [Like she'd know about it if you did?] I wished I knew where to look for him, if I ever dared try. In my top desk drawer, I kept a second pencil case, in which I concealed the lighter. [It was gold, right? Had your dad not noticed its absence yet!?] I knew I would likely never be able to look at it again.

But most of all, I wished for better days. I asked God that night, my face raw against the pillow, if He could arrange something better for me. [I came back, didn't I?] I drifted off trying to imagine what that might look like.

[Wait, so Wendy's're not going into that Alton Towers trip you took? Okay then, I fucking will. You got to Alton Towers after booking entry in advance, you were crying as you were carried from the car, the moment your shoes hit the ground you bolted for a toilet and locked yourself in and cried in insurmountable fear for three fucking hours without riding anything, and it got to the point where Wendy's family just paid a janitor to stand there and make sure you were okay while they went and had fun and got a hell of a photo from fucking Oblivion. You then had to be taken home in fear. You're a yellow bastard and you fucking know it, and if you're going to write the world's worst fucking autobiography and get it published or whatever the fuck it is you're doing here, I'm going to make sure everyone else knows how much of a coward you fucking are.]

One very misty morning, I smelled mud. [Told you I came back.]

I had not slept outside, so I thought this was very strange. [No fucking shit.] Mud was not a particularly familiar smell to me at that. The almost-chlorinated stench of fresh organics and earthy rot seemed to open my nostrils wide. [No wider than usual, hopefully, I mean, fuck that would hurt.] I sat up, partially. I rubbed my eyes, cast a glance about my room.

The window was open.

That was also odd, because the servant insisted I would catch cold if I left it that way whilst I slumbered. As usual, we were having a rather wet season. [You could be talking about any season there.] And she believed the rain made the air "too wet to breathe." [Now that is complete bollocks.] She thought it would cool my insides and produce a fever. Obviously, the woman had never gone to medical school, but the result was as I said. The window stayed shut. [Except when I get my grubby hands all over it.]

I felt the chill slip down my pyjamas, and shivered. But when I reached down to pull my blankets up, I received yet another shock. The source of the mud-smell was my very own bed. Dirt was everywhere. [Not usually what dirty boy means, no?] My quilt looked like it had been dragged through the garden. [It had been. Who the fuck do you think you're dealing with here?] I shifted my weight, to get out onto the floor and investigate, but as I set my palms down to leverage myself, I felt warmth.

No, I had not wet myself. It was the warmth of a second sleeping body. Curled into a small ball, right against my wall, hair a familiar filthy, static mess...was a boy. [Sup, bitch?]


"Shut up, putain. "A groggy croak answered me."Is sleep now." [Rude mother fucker.]

"I will not shut up!" I was much too loud. I did not actually want to wake my parents, and so promptly, I lowered my register. [Not your volume though. You were more concerned about not fucking squeaking. Vain cunt.] "I. You. Christophe? What are you, I mean to say, well actually, I am a bit entitled to some sort of apology, after... Explain yourself!" [Smooth.]

I yanked at the blankets, and Christophe whined and clung to them. He strove to keep his shoulder covered, and I sought to expose him to the cold that he so rudely incurred on the both of us by forgoing shutting the window. [That's why the fucking quilt was there, you fucking dunce.]

"Gregoryy," Christophe moaned, sounding too exhausted to be angry, but just short of it."You talk too much. Sleep now."

"You have dirtied my sheets!" I complained. [Look, I can accept that there were many things about this situation that you could rightly be angry about. The sheets being a bit muddier than usual is not the one I would have fucking picked though.] He viciously grabbed the pillow, ducked his head under it, and slammed his hands on top of that. [You have a loud and annoying voice, fuck you.] "You worried me! You disappeared without any notice! You broke into my house! ...Are you even listening, Christophe? [I had a pillow over my head so what the fuck do you think?] Do you know how much trouble you have caused?"

Christophe finally sat up. His wild hair and the dark bags under his eyes made him look like he had been freshly dug from a grave. He looked even thinner than when I first found him. [You were kind of my food source.] Furthermore, the way he looked at me could have melted skin from a hog's backside. [I WONDER FUCKING WHY.] But I was too upset to care, oh hell—I was too upset to lower my voice this time.

"What do you have to SAY for yourself?"

He opened his mouth, but shut it in an almost-comical fashion. [I didn't know the English for cunt back then, alright?] Then he crawled over me and got down off the bed. He stretched his shoulders wearily, then ambled off towards the vent.

"Where do you think you are going?"

I got up to follow him, and he yawned as he opened the wardrobe. [Wasn't it a bit obvious where I was fucking going?] Then, sighing, he knelt to undo the screws holding the grate in place.

"Sleep now," Christophe told me, wearily."I barricades. Sleep."

"Not until you explain this to me! And help me clean this mess! " [You do know it was me you were talking to, right?]

But he, still wearing only a dirty night shirt, a pair of pants he had obviously stolen from me, and a thick pair of socks, began to crawl into the vent. He did not even bother to look back at me.


"...Gregory? Ducky? Are you awake? Are you having a nightmare?" [Arguably.]

My mother's voice drifted up from below, and one supposes it was a blessing Christophe had gone. She was bound to be up in moments. And I had no way to explain the dirt on my bedspread, [You violently shat yourself, maybe?] or the boots he had left (God only knew where he had pilfered those from; they were several sizes too large).

So, I panicked. As I heard my mother's dainty, slippered feet pad down the stairs, I seized Christophe's boots and my blanket, and I heaved them straight out the open window. Brilliant. [You fucking arsehole. That's no way to treat other people's things. Especially when they're not mine, either.]

I was entirely exhausted. The wind stung my cheeks red, and raindrops clung to my hair. I entered my empty house with an armload of dirty laundry (in the form of my quilt), and a pair of filthy boots. My parents were still asleep [So how was the house fucking empty?] (Mother went back to bed after standard reassurances that all was well), [Despite the conspicuous lack of quilt?] and I estimated that the servant would not arrive for a half an hour. I had that long to figure out the confounded contraption called the "washing machine." [Wow. Never mind the fucking Apollo rocket, this is truly the world's most fucking complicated machine - one you have to hit a button and it does the fucking rest.]

First, I had to find it. I was fairly certain of which it was, but I had a bit of a paranoid fear that I would mix it up with the dishwasher. [Oh, for fuck's sake.] They both washed things, after all, and I was not allowed to touch either of them. I tried to think of a distinguishing characteristic I might use to discern for certain which was which. [Fucking hell, you're awful.]

A light bulb went off in my poor, sleep-deprived brain: a tumbler. The round bit—laundry went round-and-round, so there had to be a round bit. I got on my knees [You slut.] in front of each floor-level contraption in the kitchen to inspect.

Soon, the search paid off! A circular window in what otherwise appear my like an oven seemed like my best bet. With that, I opened the door and began shoving my deceptively large and slightly-wet comforter inside it. I did not even know how to turn the damned thing on. [Power button might help. Fucking retard.] I merely hoped I had the intelligence to figure it out as I went along. I also hoped the laundry only took a few minutes, so I would not be discovered.

"Well, well. Did someone soil the sheets?" [Technically I did get soil on the sheet. So yes.]

The servant stood in the doorway with an armload of groceries. She had on a long black coat, and I suppose that was appropriate, for I stared at her as if she were the Grim Reaper. [A woman from middle England was actually the entity known as Death all along. It was a brilliant disguise. And by brilliant I mean fucking stupid.] She saw my terror and misinterpreted, one ventures. Because the next thing I knew, her expression went soft and maternal, and she immediately began invoking the words of reassurance. [Greggy Poopie Pants.]

"Oh, Darling. It's quite all right. It happens all the time to boys your age; [Happened to me all the time. In your bed. Thanks for that by the way.] don't be embarrassed. Here, let me."

Mortally offended, I did not think. If I had, I would have realised that telling her I wet myself was the perfect alibi. [Unfortunately, you're also an idiot.] If I then dissolved into tears, she might not ask any questions or look too closely. But instead: [Instead you were you.]

"I did not soil the bed! I am merely having a....hygiene-conscious moment." [Just one? Your whole life has been a hygiene conscious moment, dickhead.]

"Uh-huh." The servant gave me a pointed look, which was clearly meant to inform me that I was a poor liar. [I mean, at least she thinks you're lying about something else, no?] I chose not to respond to her insulting facial expression, however, and returned to the task at hand. I also decided to add some more details, so as to become slightly more believable.

"It occurred to me that you had not washed my bed things for a week," I babbled as I shoved folds of fabric into the tumbler. [This I do believe, you sad sad fuck.] "I watched a documentary on mites, you know. They eat dead skin. Horrid little creatures. I thought, just how many are going to be on my blankets if I do not make sure to regularly wash them? [To eat all that dead skin you shed? Technically they'd be fucking cleaning your mess up.] So here we are."

I squinted at the machine, and I wondered if some sort of soap was needed in order to wash the blanket properly, or if the soap was built into it somehow. [Yes, it just connects to the soap pipelines underneath your house. Fucking imbecile.] I wondered if I should ask the servant, who would obviously know. But that seemed a humiliating admission of ignorance, and so I did not. [Couldn't hurt your infinite fucking pride now, could we?]

Instead, I shut the glass door (it took some doing, but I managed it). The whole time, as I struggled, the servant merely watched. She wore a very amused look on her face, and eventually, it annoyed me to the point I could not ignore it.

"Oh, what are you smiling about?"

"Nothing, peaches." She only smiled wider as she lied to my face."Your face is just a bit cute, that's all." [And you're a fucking weakling. That is fucking hilarious.]

I grunted as I studied the buttons. I was not sure which I ought to push. There were apparently different "cycles" and I could not guess which was appropriate. It asked for "load" size as well, and I guessed "oversize" but had no idea as to whether it was, comparatively, as opposed to how large the "load" usually was. I also had no idea whether to use the "hot" or "cold" temperature. [A large hot load sounds roundabout right.] And honestly, the longer I puzzled the more frazzled and bemused I became. I bit my lip with frustration.

"I am not cute," I argued, because I was unhappy."Leave me be!" [Why the fuck would she want to miss your large hot load?]

"Gregory, let me," the servant's voice was gentle as she ushered me away by the shoulders."You silly creature—how did you expect your things to get clean without any detergent?" [Faith, trust, and a large hot load.]

As I watched her measure some nebulous amount of soap out, turn the dials appropriately, and push the button I had not been able to find with ease, I felt relief. [Relief that someone could operate this perfectly fucking simple machine that you could train a fucking gibbon to use.] All the fear I had been harbouring, that my parents would discover my dirty linens and have unanswerable questions, melted away. [Along with your large hot load.]

"...Thank you," I murmured, feeling a bit faint. When she merely smiled in response, before patting my head and going to start on breakfast, a warm feeling of gratitude bubbled in my belly. [Nah, that's your large hot load. It's not healthy eating that much at once, Greggy.] I blinked, and I realised my resentment from earlier had gone as well. Christophe was back, after all. There was no need to hate her anymore for teasing me with his absence. She had in fact just helped me secure his presence.

"I. Paloma." I called for her, staring at her turned back as she fried eggs."Really. Thank you. You are...very helpful."

She turned, with a sort of surprise on her face. [No shit, you gave her nothing but abuse for months and a sudden fucking compliment out of fucking nowhere.] "Of course, Gregory. It's my job to take care of you, after all."

She smiled, and I smiled. The smiling was awkward after only a few seconds however so I soon diverted my gaze. The horrible fruits on the wallpaper reminded me, at that point, that I would need food for two. [In the short trip from your room to the kitchen, you fucking forgot about me. You fucking cuntflap.] It was just about time to share my good news with someone anyway.

"Could. Um. You make enough breakfast for two people, today?" I asked her."For me. And for Christophe. I could bring him down here to eat it when it is finished. At the table, you know."

I scuffed one foot. For some reason, the request made me turn very red. [Gay.] I looked down so she might not notice.

"Ah! Has he come back ‘round now that your Wendy has gone off?" Paloma asked me."That's good news!" [Return of the imaginary friend!]

"It is," I confirmed."Though we have a lot of talking to do. I still do not know why he ran off that way!"

"I see, I see," Paloma stirred and nodded thoughtfully."Well, of course I'll make him some food! [At least someone fucking appreciates me.] I need to do a bit of gardening once I'm done here, but you boys go on ahead and eat while I'm weeding. I'll just be a shout away."

Whatever was in the pan crackled. It was a jolly noise, especially accompanied by the sizzling, the aromatic scent of meats cooking. [Scents do tend to be aromatic, fuckface. They're aromas. That's what they fucking do.] I imagined Christophe would appreciate the prospect of a hot meal even more than I currently did. [You think?]

"Lovely. Thank you. I will go fetch him now." I turned around to go to my room. As I hurried out, I could hear her humming and setting out flatware and utensils. The ceramic clanked against wood, metal clanked against ceramic, and best of all, I could hear my father's hangers sliding against the hollow metal bar upstairs. Soon he and my mother would be dressed and gone. [The fact that he would be dressed is implied by him going. Your father was a stuck up arsehole, not a fucking streaker. That would have been a very fucking different upbringing.] Paloma, Christophe and I would have the house to ourselves.

It was shaping up to be one of the best days I could remember, upcoming serious discussions with Christophe or no. [You just love those large hot loads don't you?]

"You have to tell me where you were." After awhile, I began to lose track of how many times we had the same conversation. [Well it wasn't really a conversation, was it? You talked at me and I fucking ignored you.] "It is really not funny Christophe. I was worried for you sake!"

He merely lobbed a rock into the pond. It plopped into the water with a sound that was descriptively inquisitive. [I imagine it sounded like a fucking plop.] I tapped my foot with impatience, and Christophe shrugged. The children playing around us ignored us as they gleefully ran about, making unnecessary noise. [You're fucking unnecessary.] The sun and crisp, cool air had been too much to resist, and we were doing our lessons outside. Paloma had given me her blessing to walk to the park with Christophe, where I had hoped we would finally discuss his whereabouts during the several weeks he had been out.

No such luck, it seemed. [Or maybe I just didn't feel like fucking talking. Twat.]

"Honestly." I huffed."I refuse to believe your English skills are so bad that you have no idea at all what I am saying to you. [With your stuck up pretend vocabulary I probably didn't.] What have I been teaching you, after all?? Come on! Out with it, then!"

"All alone," Christophe said. He sounded bored. The manner in which he spoke, as if I were very stupid and bothering him, raised my hackles. [Well, you were being very stupid. And inconsiderate.]

"Very funny." I nudged him hard with my elbow."Seriously, now. Where were you?"

"All alone! Fucking all alone !" [You fucking moron.]

There was no need to raise his voice, but he did, as if to drive some strange, vague message straight through my skull. [Or a fucking straightforward and plain one.]

"Really! Christophe, stop horsing about. Where—"

"All alone!" He turned to face me now, his face flushed, and voice high and tight in his throat. I was not satisfied, however. How could I be? He had left me for weeks, and his only explanation for it was a goddamned riddle. It was too much to bear. [And you fucking aren't?] But as soon as I opened my mouth to tell him so, Christophe set his hands upon my shoulders, and pushed as hard as he (presumably) could. [Oh I could push harder than that. You're just fucking weak.] I lost my balance and went tumbling into the pond.

"No!" he yelled as I flailed, "Stupide! I tell you! I tell you, dumb boy!" [Which I did.]



"WHY DO YOU KEEP SAYING THAT, YOU PITIFUL, SCREECHING APE?" [Why do you fucking think? There were potentially two fucking reasons.]



Je veus que tous morts! Bete!" Christophe picked up a rock. And then, to my shock and horror—and utter incredulity—he lobbed the bloody rock at me. [You deserved it, you retarded bint.]

The rock splashed into the water just shy of my head."Was..." I stared at Christophe in utter horror, eyes wide."Was that an attempt on my life?" [Would it make you feel better if it was? Because if it would then it can be.]

We continued to shriek at each other (me, in very rightful indignation, and he in what appeared to be completely unwarranted frustration). [Just fuck off!] One is sure, looking back, that we made quite the scene. The day was otherwise beautiful. The clouds were full and white and soft, the grass was brightly spring-green, and pedestrians trying to enjoy their Saturday dutifully ignored the two howling children in the mud. [Oh, fucking English people.] I did hope no one recognised me. If they did, no one asked, likely to avoid having to associate.

Five days this went on. I brought Christophe food, I asked him where he had been, and he told me "all alone," and swore at me in French. It was a cycle that seemed doomed to never-ending. [Because you're a fucking idiot.]

"Are you ever going to alleviate my misery?" I implored him at last. We sat together under the sill, the last daylight from the window on my Maths book. Christophe was actually always quick with numbers. He did not seem thrilled by them, though nothing except biscuits really "enchanted" him. [They're numbers. One two three four fucking five, it's not as hard as you seemed to fucking make it out to be.] But it took him no time to grasp equations that even I struggled with, and worse, he perpetually appeared bored by the exercises. [Maybe because I could fucking do them?]

(An aside: "I do not like this game" was a phrase I heard often from Christophe, generally when we did anything math-related. And that, I later found, literally was what he thought I was doing: forcing him to play a very, very dull sort of game. [It's the kind of game you'd fucking come up with though.] He had no conception of why I might be forcing him to learn maths, nor that it was a useful nor vital skill. He merely thought I was an extremely uncreative and dull child, and that this was my idea of fun.) [Greggy, Greggy, Greggy. You were an extremely uncreative and dull child. And a sore fucking loser. Just because I was better at that game than you.]

In any case, today, he was being fairly cooperative. But I could stand his evasion no more."Christophe. If you do not tell me where you were, this instant...I am going to poke you in the eye." [You are a fucking savage when you want to be, Mr. Oh So Refined Cuntface.]

Demonstratively, I stabbed my index finger very near my own eye to make point."I will do it, you mad man, so do not test me!" [I thought you liked tests, you fucking swot.]

He blinked at me. His jaw tensed. We held eye-contact for a very long time.

"Gregory is a stupid boy," he said. Then he thought a moment. I assumed he was going to finally let up and tell me, [Gregory is a stupid boy.] but instead:

"I am hungry. I want to go outside." He stretched and yawned, and every fury-censor in my body went off. I felt about to burst.

But I did not yell. I did not scream. I merely, as a man of my word, got up to fulfill my duty. [That was your first mistake.] I lurched forward and poked him, right in the eye as promised.

It was also the day that, for unrelated reasons, I nearly lost that finger. [Alright. Let's just fucking clarify here. You poked me in the eye, I grabbed you by your fucking wrist and bit down into your stupid stuck up fucking shitting finger hard enough that I got to enjoy the taste of your blood. By the way, it's fucking horrible. I don't know how much fucking caviar you'd been eating so I can't guess what your blood caviar content level was but, fuck me, I remember the taste of that sometimes and I have to hunch over a fucking toilet bowl for hours just to be fucking safe. A five year old's teeth cannot break bone. Stop being an overdramatic cunt and get on with the fucking narrative.]

Family dinners were such awkward affairs. To this day, I do not understand the tradition. Why ruin a perfectly good meal by consigning oneself to spending it with those with whom with genetics and destiny have doomed association? [In many cases they are apparently pleasant people.] I have never heard a good story about family dinner, and I am sure I will die still asserting the truth in this. [You've estranged yourself completely from your family. You probably will.]

Thursdays were my family dinner nights. We ate together in the living room. My mother [Bitch.] and father [Cocksucker.] and aunt [Thundercunt.] (plus assorted family, when they happened to be in town) sat around the carved table, draped in the linen fineries otherwise never used from Mother's collection. [Only linen? Not fucking elvenweave from the mystical land of East StuckUpToffLand?] This was where my lessons on table etiquette and fine dining mattered. [And exquisite silverware placement.] It was the only time, really. My job was to remain quiet, and not to botch things so as to be noticed. As long as I did that, I could eat in peace without expecting any negative consequences. Well, besides those that were inevitable merely from the fact that I had to dine with my family for at least an hour and a half. [How the fuck long do you cunts take to eat?]

It was so tiresome that I will admit to missing Paloma's company on those nights. She left early on Thursdays, after preparing me for dinner.

"Chin up, Love." She told me, fixing my tie."It's only for a little while. [But due to the nature of time seeming to pass slower when you're not having fun, it's going to feel a fuck load longer.] Then you can go upstairs and play with your friend, Christophe."

She likely should have been more alarmed that there was a small person living in our attic. But I suppose she only worked in my home. It was hardly her concern. [Or she thought I was imaginary?]

"Yes, but I do not understand why I am needed at all." I complained to her as she arranged the tie clip for me. [You used a clip on? Heathen!] "It is not as if I am allowed to speak."

"Ah, but of course. Your mere presence is crucial." She smiled."There. You look just precious."

I pursed my lips slightly, and conceded to her point."Well. I suppose that does make sense. Thank you, Paloma."

In any case, though holding the fork was a bit of a task—due to my damaged finger—I managed it. [You fucking deserved it, bitch.] Dinner was quiet and stiff and dull as usual through the third course.

"Did you see the news? Seems they are adjusting the mandatory nutrition quota in school lunches. Something to do with an obesity epidemic."

"Mm, yes. The Good Lord knows we are due for something done about that."

"Katherine. Please pass the stewed peas." [WHO THE FUCK STEWS PEAS!? THEY'RE FUCKING PEAS!]

The white tablecloth meant that eating required my full attention. A single drip at my place would be noticeable, and so I kept to my own. [Oh yes, god forbid the fucking five year old be a messy eater.] I watched the tapers melt; it was the only way to know how much time had passed. Though the grandfather clock was near, it would be extremely impolite to look at it. [Why!?] Instead, I listened to the soft, hollow clanking of silver-against-china, timed between my Aunt Jody's bored sighing. I chewed with my mouth closed, sat upright (feet not quite touching the ground), and waited for it to be over.

"Darling." My mother's long, silver earrings flashed as she shook her head."I was thinking that you, Gregory and I ought go on a holiday this summer. We have not been to Spain since before our son was born, for example. [With good reason. Fucking shithole.] I could arrange it, if you would tell me when a good time for you might be."

I did not particularly want to go to Spain, but I was not being asked. I chewed my stew quietly. If we went, what would I do with Christophe? I doubted I could smuggle him in a suitcase. [Oh I'm very compressible.] Maybe I could convince Paloma to watch over him for me. I doubt I had enough allowance to cover her salary.

But my father did not really look at my mother. He did not look down, either, as that would be considered rude. Still, he took a sip of wine from his glass and answered immediately after. This signified his lack of consideration for her proposal. [Rich people speak in fucking code.] Besides, if one watched him closely, it was easy to observe the annoyed flicker of his eye. He seemed to glance down and off towards his cufflinks, then stared straight forward—but not in any particular direction. It was his "I am bearing your words under utmost protest" expression.

"I will send you a copy of my calendar." This was all he said, but I already knew there was no space on it for a holiday.

My mother knew it too. She fell quiet. My aunt filled the following break in chatter with half-brained anecdotes about her knitting circle. [How fucking intriguing.] I drank cordial [FUCK OFF.] from my glass and watched the candles dribble wax down their silver holders. My father finished his dinner and excused himself first; I assumed he went straight back to his office.

"Wait, Darling." My mother called after him. I suppose she was disappointed that he was apparently not staying for pudding.

He turned to her. He was so tall. I remember thinking he must cast a shadow a hundred metres long. [Unlikely.] Unlike my mother, he did not have delicate features. His wide nose bridge and small mouth were fairly unexpressive, and his eyes were the least poetic blue. [How the fuck is one shade of blue any more fucking poetic than any other, you pompous shithead?] That night, I remember that the beginnings of shadow had appeared at his jaw. He looked a thousand years old, to me.

"...We have the family portrait. [You and your fucking ponce family.] Tomorrow." She said."I forgot to remind you earlier."

He did not say anything, only looked at her.

"That is all." She said, and turned back to her dinner."Meet us in the studio around three o'clock tomorrow for the photographer, if you would."

Now, I was a child, and I was not very keen at reading people's thoughts and feelings from the expressions on their faces. I was especially bad at discerning my parents' moods. [Mildly angry and depressed at the fact that poor people have the sheer fucking audacity to even exist all of the fucking time?] They would have, I thought, been very good poker players. But that night, my mother looked tired. Her makeup was visible in the gathering fine-lines beside her eyes, the rouge on her lips faded at the part. [I know you're fucking hopeless with girls but even you must fucking know that rouge is not applied to the fucking mouth.]

And my father, for some reason, looked irritated. It it was not in the way he was often with me. If I brought home a poor mark, or made a mess, or otherwise embarrassed him, I knew to expect a very cold little frown. [He hated you and you fucking know it.] It would only last a moment, but my father's disapproval was distinct and familiar to me. This look of irritation, however, appeared so much more profound.

Perhaps it was only the shadows in the room. Night had fallen outside, and the interior lights cast odd contrast. But the darkness case my my father's brow under his eyes gave the illusion of deepening his orbital cavities. [His fucking what!?] He did not frown. He did not grimace.

Suppose the best way to describe it is a flinch away from a rather profound source of discomfort.

Thankfully, no one noticed it but me. But things were starting to disappear around the house. They were not big items. At first it was just small things. I lost single socks or pairs of socks. [You never really gave me clothes you know.] My tie clip went missing. [Made you look like a fucking prat.] Pens and pencils from my drawer vanished. [You had plenty spare.] As a fairly fastidious and detail-oriented human being, I could only attribute so much to coincidence.

This was especially true when larger-ticket items began to cease making their usual appearances. It was not only practical items either. [Everything's practical for something, Greggy boy.] For example I could understand why the occasional duvet or pillow went missing. But as to why the resident kleptomaniac needed the gravy boat or my mother's buckled shoes, for instance, was beyond me. [I had my fucking reasons.]

Not wanting to blame Christophe without evidence, I decided to confront him earnestly. I climbed to the attic when I had finished with my homework, and found him scribbling. [Hence why I needed those pens.] His doodlings, by the by were heinous. [FUCK YOU.] One does not mean they were unskillful, though, admittedly, they were. [Fuck. You.] It was more that he liked to draw the likeness of human beings in rather compromising situations. [In multiple ways.] His favourite this week seemed to be convoluted means of decapitation. One stick figure appeared to be in the unfortunate position wherein a crocodile had his head in its mouth, and what appeared to be two squirrels feasted on the poor bloke's toes. [Cunt deserved it.]

"How are you, my friend?" I asked him from over his shoulder."Sorry it took me a while to get up here today. I had a massive load of homework."

He shrugged and continued working his crayon against the page. The red was running low, I noticed. [Turns out people bleed when they lose appendages, Greggy boy. As you well know with your precious fucking finger.]

"No reading today," he said immediately. "S'il te plait."

"But Christophe," I protested."You are already behind. [You stop talking about my fucking behind.] We have to expedite this process until you are caught up. You know this."

Christophe sighed and added spatter to his rendition of Man with Head Being Blown Off With Machine Gun. [My magnum fucking opus.] He did not retort, I thought, probably because he did not have the vocabulary. [Not the curse vocabulary at the very least.] At the very least, it should have been a motivating factor for him to study harder, I thought.

But to his credit, he finished with his drawing and skulked over relatively quickly. I already had my reader out and open to the next lesson. He arranged himself next to me, and put his chin on my shoulder. I could not tell if it was for comfort or out of laziness, [Why not both?] but when he did it, my posture became far tenser.

"Um. Anyway, I suppose we will do simple sentences today." I fought not to shrug him off. Though I got the feeling it would make no difference if I did. Once he planted himself somewhere, moving him if he did not feel up to it was (from experience) nigh impossible. [Oh, you do learn these things!]

"As you say."

I could practically feel his disdainful expression. I chose to ignore it as I put my finger under the first line of the first exercise.

"You remember your alphabet, right? [It's the same fucking alphabet as the French one, idiot.] Can you sound this word out?"

He squinted hard. It took him a few seconds, but finally he said, "The. This is ‘the.'"

"Good." [One fucking word. What a fucking achievement.]

"" He paused, checked it again."Yes. Is ‘the cat.'"

"Very good." I praised him, generously."Now read the next word, please."

"...Ate." Christophe took his head from my shoulder to look at me, almost accusingly. [It's not fucking below you, bitch.] He had a little smirk and his eyes were full of victory."The cat ate. That is word for ‘ate.' Trick word."

"It is not a trick word, actually. But I am glad you remember that the ‘e' at the end means the ‘a' makes the ‘long a' sound." I checked his ego, because confidence was well and good, but I did not want my student to get an overlarge head. [Wasn't enough fucking room for two of them up there now, was there?] "Still. Good work."

He hummed, and replaced his chin on my shoulder. It was sharp, and it dug in a little. I wondered if he put his full weight on it on purpose. [Guilty.] "We do next one." He commanded this, sounding bored."Hurry."

This went on for the usual length. I taught him the difference between verbs and nouns, [But what about the adjectives, Greggy? Won't those poor little fuckers feel left out?] and he behaved himself well enough. He only threatened to jump out the window to his doom once. [I'd jumped out and survived before, you fucking idiot.]

"That is enough for today," I announced, when we had reached the end of the lesson. I closed the book, and Christophe audibly sighed with happiness. [I didn't like that game.] It was short-lived, however, because immediately after, I had to ask him the critical question:

"...Now, we have another matter to discuss." I let him see how serious I was, [Good fucking luck with that.] folding my hands in my lap and arranging my features gravely."I will not be angry with you, mind. [You fucking liar.] But I need to you to answer me honestly."

Christophe's previously more-or-less blankly serene [Fuck off.] smile fell right off his face. He spoke very slowly to me, one finger raised, and he leaned in as if I were hard of hearing.

"I. Was. In. All. Alone." His mouth screwed into a rather pained little pucker. [I'll fucking pain your little pucker.] "I tell you!"

That had not (in fact) [It was so fucking vital to point out that it was in fact, wasn't it?] been my question, but at the mention of Christophe's mysterious whereabouts, my track changed. I nearly threw the book in the air as I tossed up my hands.

"That is not an answer, and it is not funny, it never was, why are you so difficult? What did I do to deserve this?" [Let me count the fucking ways.]

"Shut up, putain! " Christophe grabbed my hands and shook them both, hard. His face was so comically frustrated [You didn't seem to find it too funny.] he appeared near tears. Then, a little spark seemed to flicker between his pupils, and he clamped his mouth shut for just a moment. [Not on your finger this time. You're welcome.]

He released me and headed for his pile of drawings. As he crawled for the pile of papers and crayons, he knocked his head on a low-hanging beam. Swearing, [Is that really so fucking special with me?] he ambled back, crayons bunched in one fist, scrap paper scrunched in the other.

"What are you up to now?" I bit at him, flustered. [You don't like not knowing what's going on, do you, Greggy?] I crossed my arms across my lower abdomen as he began to draw rudimentary shapes: A line, a square, another line. [Well, you stuck up bastard, I'm fucking sorry I couldn't fucking move onto more advanced shapes like tetrafuckingdecafuckinghedrons.]

"" He pointed to the square. He then drew a little cross in the middle of it."I see you here. First time."

I sucked in a small breath. For a moment, I had not the faintest inkling what he was trying to relay to me. [Moron.] "Sorry?" I scratched at my temple a bit, perplexed."I do not quite..."

And then it hit me.

"Oh! That is St. Paul and St. Peter's Church!" I glowed with the insight. [You're way too fucking proud of yourself, you little shit.] "Where we met, yes!"

Christophe nodded enthusiastically. Then he did an uncanny impression of me earlier: "Very good."

He giggled then, even though he was most certainly not funny. [Do not insult my fucking stellar impressions of your pompous arse.] But as I narrowed my eyes to express offence, he continued to point as his squiggles.

He drew and "x" along the line leading out from the Northleach church."You live here." His grubby finger indicated the "x." Christophe's cuticle [What!?] management was so poor that I could hardly stand to look at the gnawed-upon mess that passed for his fingernail. [Oh. Sorry. I'm just a fucking homeless kid living in your fucking attic, I'm sorry I fucking can't afford a fucking manicure you fucking ponce.]

"All right." I told him."Fair enough, I think am I following you."

Next he moved his finger along a shorter, nearly completely straight line, that came around from the back of the church. "All Alone." He nodded, and forced eye contact with me as if able to transmit his meaning through a gaze."This? Is All Alone." [You don't even know the layout of your own fucking village, you silly fucking twat.]

He ran his finger along the line again and again. I blinked.

"...It. Is a street. Near the church." I said it numbly, unable to believe the amount of confusion the error had caused us. [YOUR error, I will clarify.] "You were on a street called All Alone."

Christophe's head bobbed so hard I thought it might fly off his neck."Very good, Gregory." [I take that back, by the way, it took you way too fucking long to catch on.] He grabbed the paper and tossed it behind himself unceremoniously."No more yelling. Stupide. "

"I am not!" I cried out at him, reeling. [Yes you are.] "I have just never been to All Alone! My father says that is the bad part of town! Poor people live there!" [Oh, holy fuck, I was fucking around earlier, you actually think that though. Fuck you.] I paused, and looked at Christophe, who had yet to legally obtain any shoes.

"No offence." I told him, contritely, settling down a bit. I ran a hand over my head and tried to reconcile myself to the idea that this explanation had eluded me now for almost an entire week. [It's because you are stupid.]

Christophe, however, just flopped down on his back and blew out a slow stream of air."No maths today. S'il te plait. " [I'm better at it than you are anyway. You stupid cunt.]

"Fine." I huffed."That is just fine. Instead, let us have a little talk about your random thievery. I want my tie clip back!"

Right, fine. But one maintains that I had meant to introduce it in a non-confrontational way. [Good going, cunt.] But surely, it is simple to understand that one has limited patience. [And you'd already been proved to be an idiot once in the last five minutes, your precious fucking ego can only take so much, right?]

I admit that I loved dressing up in my finest. Paloma made certain I was crisp and pressed, every button and hair in place that Thursday. [And yet you still looked like arse.] One must admit, I felt like a hero from one of my books. [Probably that one where the hero shat himself and ran away. Sir Robin, was it?] (Christophe and I were almost finished with the fairy tales. Though, my plan originally was to move on to Robin Hood from there. I was reconsidering, after weighing the potential pitfalls about idealising stealing [Borrowing.] as a heroic behaviour.) My hair shone. My smile was white and minty. My suit was new and perfectly fitted, [For the two weeks it would take you to grow out of it. Idiot.] much finer than the blazer I wore to church, or the even worse-quality uniform I wore to school. My shoes were un-scuffed, and I felt so grown-up and proper next to mother. [Give me two minutes and I could fucking fix all of those things.]

Speaking of, from the moment we arrived in the photo studio, she looked a bit upset. We were early, but as the minutes ticked away, she seemed increasingly on edge. The way I could tell was simple. Though the studio was cool, not cold, she removed and put her sweater back on roughly seven times. [Roughly an exact number? You know why normal people fucking use the word roughly, right? Fucking dickhead.] Her little shoulders shrugged the blue garment on and off as if readjusting it could make her more comfortable about other things. [Her big shoulders, meanwhile, remained stationary. Also you can't fucking shrug off a sweater, it's a fucking sweater. What she was wearing sounds like a fucking jacket.] She took out her compact to check her (perfect, of course) make up five times. She rubbed at her arms, but when asked if they ought to turn off the fans, she declined. [That's why she has a fucking jacket with her.]

Then she turned on me. She fussed with my lapels as she waffled.

"How is school, Gregory?"

"Very fine, Mother. I have gotten high marks in Spelling this week, and my Arithmetic is improving, my teacher says." [I'm still better than you.] I smiled proudly as I reported these triumphs to her."And my Geography marks are highest in my class." [And yet you don't know where All Alone is when it's three fucking hundred metres away.]

"Lovely." She seemed to search my person for clothing to straighten or hair to tuck. Finding none, she settled for retrieving her own purse, [As opposed to yours. Always knew you were into cross dressing.] presumably for her compact. She also retrieved a small tube from the side pocket, I assumed to redden her already-red lips.

Everyone said I resembled my mother. We did have the same colouring, the same blonde curls, [That you've been failing all your fucking life to make straight and looking a proper twat in the process.] the same blue eyes. Her long lashes were gold as well, and her fine bone structure sat delicately beneath skin that was just starting to loosen with age. [Her face was a fucking leather handbag and you know it.] The spray of thickening blue lines on her hands she hid with gloves. An ordeal, I remember, as she had tried to decide whether to wear them. It was either show her aging hands or hide her wedding ring, and she could not make the choice. [Or have them palms out and look like not only a melty faced bitch, but a functionally fucking retarded melty faced bitch.]

She placed a piece of tissue paper between her lips to blot the rouge. [Still not what rouge is, cocksucker.] When she took it away, there was a tiny red petal on either side. [So she's going into this incredibly fucking important portrait with flowers on her face? Why?] "I am sure your father will be along soon." She reassured me."You can discuss your grades with him. He will be pleased, I think."

I preened under the praise."Thank you, Mother." I did not swing my feet, which hung from the waiting bench on which we sat, toes barely touching the floor. [Because you are a sad sad individual.] But if my upbringing had been less thorough, I might have, with pleasure.

"I hope I sent him the right date." she fretted a moment; the lines gathered in her forehead, half-disguised by a curl styled to sweep neatly halfway across her face.

"I am sure you were thorough." I soothed. [Yes, be consoled by the fucking five year old.] I thought of reaching over to pat her elbow, the way Paloma comforted me when I was anxious. I was not certain that was allowed, however. The sun slanted through the front shoppe-windows. [Oh my fucking god you actually spelled it "shoppe", you fucking stuck up twat.] The hardwood floors brightened under the direct light, wood grain gleaming.

She did not answer me, but peered through the to the street. Her eyes were large and unfocused, [She had fucking derpy anime eyes.] as if she did not really expect to see anyone walking up to the door. I looked on beside her, to see if I could catch a glimpse of what she was looking for.

"Mother. My fencing teacher says I am to compete next weekend. I feel a little nervous about it. I am more or less prepared, but my parrying is weak still. [Enjoying that fucked up finger?] Should I ask her to arrange a scrimmage [A fucking what!?] before the tournament, to prepare, do you think?"

She did not answer. She did look away from the window, but her eyes went to the receptionist desk instead. The secretary typed behind an archaic-looking computer, [Like you have any fucking right to judge the computer when you don't have any of your fucking own.] ignoring us completely. The bored look on the receptionist's face told me that we could have been talking about ritualistic blood-letting, [Hot.] and he still would not have given half a damn. But as our appointment was officially delayed by two minutes, I know my mother was searching him for signs of annoyance with our bad manners. [He's a receptionist who has to deal with little shits like you all day, what the fuck makes you think he gives two fucks about his job?]

The receptionist typed, hollow sounds of the keys loud in hard-walled room. There was nothing to absorb the reverberations, nothing to pad the awkward background noise: papers shuffling, my mother's heel tapping.

"...Did you bring a book, Gregory?" she asked me, when she caught me frowning at her, waiting for an answer."You may read until your father gets here."

I had brought a book. [The assembled Encyclopedia fucking Britannica? Oh no, wait, some fucking gay Star Trek fanfiction.] I did as I was told, of course, but as the day stretched into evening, the light got harder to read by.

"...You are doing well." Perhaps the amount of surprise in my voice was a little insulting. [You fucking think?] Christophe had memorised the alphabet well enough to be able to improvise simple sentences by himself. He did not seem discouraged by my incredulity either. [It's the closest you fucking come to actual praise. Why the fuck would it be discouraging?] He laid on his belly, tongue sticking out from between the part of his lips. It was his "focused" position. ‘Oh well,' I thought, for at least he had finally acquiesced to holding the writing implements correctly. It had taken gargantuan effort to get him to stop gripping pencils, crayons, pens—anything with an inky point—inside of a sweaty little fist. [Crayons have waxy points, dumbass. Why the fuck does it even matter how you hold them anyway?]

"The frog dies." Christophe read his own handiwork, beaming. Well, one could ask for competence or character. Both was too much to hope for. [I'll be fair, the way you put that was so funny it almost makes me want to not fucking murder you for it whenever you rematerialise. Almost.]

"Yes. Very nice." I told him this with only the faintest of grimaces.

"Merci." Christophe likely purposely ignored my lack of enthusiasm. He merely got to work on yet another sentence, pencil pressed too hard on the page as he drew wobbly lines. [Fucking pedant.] I tried to read over his shoulder, but he shoved me away by planting his entire hand over my face and giving a healthy push.

"That was unnecessary!" I wiped whatever residual grime he had left on my visage with a handkerchief. [I'd been living in your house quite a fucking while by that point, whatever grime was on me was your fucking fault.] "...Ruffian."

"Surprise," he waved away my pouting impatiently. He did not even look up from the page."You wait."

He took an inordinately long while, had to once or twice stop to erase what were doubtlessly heinous [Fuck off.] errors (judging by the ferocity with which he erased them, anyway), and checked back over his work several times. That was odd. He never checked over his work. [That's how important it was.] When he finally gestured I come to read it, I admit my curiosity was piqued.

"Gregory sniffs dog poop." Christophe proclaimed. To his credit, it was all spelled correctly. [Why, thank you.] He proffered me the sheet, scrawled over with his big, shaky block-letters. And he counted out loud.

"One. Two. Three. Four." He displayed the page proudly."Four words."

"Yes. It is the longest sentence you have ever written." I cleared my throat. I wanted to berate him for acting like a child. [I don't know if it escaped your notice but I was a fucking child.] I wanted to get annoyed with him for insulting me—me! I was supposed to be his friend!—and tell him off for his lack of gratitude. [That's what friends do though, no? Fucking insult each other all day?]

But instead, by chance, I recalled the first time I had showed my father a drawing I had done of a local building. It had not been much special. The building was merely old and I thought at the time, very beautiful. [And now you think it's a fucking skidmark on the arse of the Cotswolds. Just like you.] So I drew a rendition as best as I could, and had in fact drawn it over several times before I was happy enough with the final product to show him.

"Very fine, Gregory. Please go and do your arithmetic."

The air had felt as if it had been released from my proverbial tyres. Christophe giggled insensibly, but between his bouts of seizing laughter, he looked at me searchingly. And I knew exactly for what he was searching. [For your enraged reaction, dipshit.]

"...It really. Is good work. You are coming along at a...fantastic pace." [Compliments don't become you, fuck off.] I was unsure how to word the outright praise, exactly, so I accented it with a pat on the back. I did not really want to touch him much, though. So I barely patted him, very briefly.

He frowned."I know." [What do you take me for, a fucking pigeon?]

"Yes, well." Apparently I was not much good at positive reinforcement. [No fucking shit.] "...Hey. Do you want a small reward? For all your hard work?"

There was a universal communicator if there ever was one. He immediately perked up.

"What reward?" he sounded both excited and suspicious. It was comical to watch the two impulses war for dominance in his expression. [Is the only time I wouldn't fucking burn the page with that phrase on it to ash, feed the ash to some wolves, then slaughter the fucking wolves.]

"I know just the thing." I did not elaborate, but grinned at him. There was a small fluttering in my stomach, and my heart thumped along enthusiastically. What I had in mind was a small-scale adventure, but an adventure nonetheless. [Not a blowjob then? Shame.]

Christophe followed me to the vent. His cautious attentiveness let me know he felt what I felt: the rushing, pleasurable tickle of anticipatory excitement. [I'm pretty sure I could have fucking said that in two words max.] We climbed down to my room through the vent, and after I stood, I extended my hand to help him up.

"I am about to become your best friend in the world." I confided in him."Not that I have not long secured that position." [Hey. That's what I was going to fucking say. Do you even need me to vandalise this turd?]

He usually would have sassed me, but this time he merely nodded. "Amis. Toujours. "He grinned."Hurry, Princesse!" [So I did fucking sass you, idiot.]

Like two ghosts, we silently traversed my sleeping household. [And yet you rejected my suggestion we go around scaring your parents awake.] It was unecessary to be as sneaky and quiet as we were. My parents slept on the top floor, and there was little chance they would hear us down below; the house was fairly well insulated. [Of course it was. Houses in Britain are designed to keep out the wind and the rain and the howling fucking wind. If it wasn't insulated that'd be considered a fucking health and safety hazard.] The major concern was the dark, but our eyes adjusted fairly quickly.

Christophe refused to walk down the stairs like a normal human being. He instead sat right down and bumped his backside down each step. [Hey, it's a step up from not wanting to set a fucking foot on the fucking thing, right?] I suppose in a primitive way, it was safer. But one maintains that he was just being stubborn about the glass again. [Nah, just a way of getting on your tits.]

The silent, cool interior cast with night time grey-scale made my home feel like an alternate dimension. [What the fuck does that even mean?] I barely recognised the furniture and trappings; they seemed both sinister and enchanted to me then. [In reality they were just kind of fucking darker than usual.] When Christophe finally made it to the ground floor, I lead him to the living room, where the brand-new TV set was.

"My mother had it brought in." I explained in a whisper. "I am fairly certain she only did it to annoy my father. Have you ever watched television before?"

Christophe shook his head."Sometimes. In...the stores. A little." [What fucking decade did you think it was?]

I indicated that he should sit down on the sofa. I took the throw off the back and wrapped it around his shoulders grandly, like a king with a cape. He seemed to appreciate this greatly, and immediately rolled himself more tightly within it. [It was a nice fucking blanket.] I admit that I worried for a moment that the throw too would disappear like the rest of the odds and ends in this household. [Which it did. Strange.]

I went to mess with the TV settings then. I set it to mute, and then, I pulled the true surprise. I had cleverly hidden it between two non-oft read books on my father's shelf, [That's not really clever then, is it? It's fucking obvious.] and had loaned it off a child in my class in exchange for doing her arithmetic homework for a week. [You mean getting me to fucking do it?] And since I merely brought the homework home for Christophe to do (say what you will; it benefitted both of us) [Cunt.], he had actually earned the right to enjoy the spoils.

"Toy Story." I held the VHS tape out for Christophe to see."I have no idea whether it will be idiotic. [If it came from you, it probably was.] But I do know it comes highly recommended. I read it in the paper." My father had left it on the breakfast table the other morning, in fact. I was very pleased to see how high the ratings and critical praises were. I had chosen, I felt, very wisely.

Christophe took the tape from me and turned it over in his hands.

"...Is not a book," he said, but said it as if he did not quite trust me. [I didn't know what it fucking was, you fucking moron, it could have been more of your infectious posh horse crap.]

"No, it is something altogether different." I took it back from him then, and took it to the player. The TV cast the room in blue when I turned it on. I fiddled with the settings, as I had watched Paloma do when the delivery people had brought it in. And, after turning the volume completely off, [Which came after turning it up to maximum and you nearly fucking wetting yourself waiting for the sound of daddy storming down the stairs to fucking belt you.] I pressed play.

"There is usually sound." I explained as I sat myself next to Christophe. I helped myself to half of the blanket as well. [It won't be yours for long, bitch.] "But we have to be very quiet. I will read you the subtitles instead."

The title screen flashed on, and Christophe's eyes went wide. The revelation of the television was so great that he forgot to ask me what "subtitles" meant, one supposes. [You talk like I'd never seen the magic fucking picture box before. Fuck you.]

He tugged my sleeve when the previews began."Gregory!" he whispered, reverently. His eyes never left the screen."We watch this?"

"No. This is only an advert. We are watching Toy Story, remember?" [Did you fucking expect me to know that, twat?] I nudged him a little, and when I did, I was alarmed to find that he had scooted himself much closer to me than he had been before.

"Is Toy Story?" He pointed to the screen. His wild hair seemed especially static-ridden, and his small, thin face had not a single trace of the low-grade anger it usually exhibited. He would not cease inching closer to me, either. [Shut up.] Soon he would be all but in my lap. One wagers that it was cold, and Christophe was always tactile. [Don't like the idea of being touched by another guy, you fucking homophobe?] Still, I squirmed. It did not seem to bother or deter him. He merely wound his arm through mine so as to better shake me with happy excitement every time something tense happened on screen.

"Is real toys?" He demanded, less than twenty minutes into the movie."How do they...?"

" not think so." I had no explanation for it, actually. [There had to be something one day.] No one had explained computer animated graphics yet."I am not sure how they do it. It does not quite look real though, does it?" [Oh how we fucking fell for it.]

"Is real toys," he decided."Is real."

I whispered the dialogue to him, and he watched the screen raptly. We sat in a pocket light, there in all that darkness. He liked to reach over to tuck us in more tightly; he really was chilly, presumably. [Or I maybe I just liked fucking hugs.] Though my parents were upstairs, I barely felt worried. I knew my mother took pills to help her sleep, and my father's six-hours-of-rest-exactly regimen did not allow much night-time waking. [They are absolute cocksuckers. Always fucking were.] Besides, they seemed far away. Even when Christophe burst out into hysterical laughter at the sight of Sid's mutilated toys, [Fucking hysterical.] I did not fear we would be intruded upon. Illogical, but it seemed...beyond the realm of the possible.

It was the fastest hour and twenty one minutes that had ever passed in my life. [That extra minute was absolutely fucking vital to mention, wasn't it? No round numbers fucking allowed here.] Perhaps it was the intrigue, suspense and hijinx of the movie. As I said, I was not generally allowed to indulge in pure entertainment other than literary fiction. But it might have also been the fact that got the feeling that we were camping—that we huddled together beside a single source of warmth and brightness, like a fire, alone in the woods. [Yes, we know how fucking camping works.] Christophe's head ended up on my shoulder as the night drew on. He yawned, but I saw him pinch his arm to stay awake. One could guess that he wanted to see the ending.

"Look, over there in that house is a kid who thinks you are the greatest, and it's not because you're a Space Ranger, pal, it's because you're a toy. You are his toy!" I whispered in Christophe's ear. [Interrupting fucking bell end.] "...It is all a bit sentimental, is it not?"

Christophe made a soft humming sound."It is nice." His eyes were nearly lidded with exhaustion. But the stubborn child refused to succumb. [It was nice, fucker.] He kept fidgeting, just a little bit, just enough to keep him from going totally limp. He pulled the throw around us more snugly yet again."Better than books."

"It is not!" I scolded."Books are timeless. This is just..." [Eat your fucking words, you moronic fucking cunt.]

"Is nice." Christophe repeated. Then, he slipped his hand into mine, just like he had that first day on the staircase. I did not understand why, as there was certainly no reason to be afraid now, unless he was suddenly worried about my parents. But I allowed it. I was too tired to pull away or question it; it was past midnight.

"...You are nice, too." Christophe seemed to admit it reluctantly. [Fucking hell, don't get fucking mushy.] "I am glad we...are friends. It is better."

"This isn't flying. It's falling, with style!" For a moment we watched Buzz and Woody soar, strapped to a rocket, towards home and freedom. And then I asked Christophe: "Better than what?"

I jostled him slightly, in case he was considering falling asleep before answering me.

"...Books." He muttered, grinning. The top of his head tickled my chin, and for the thousandth time I thought he ought to use the comb I had left for him. "Stupide. [I mean, really, how did you not fucking see that coming?]

"Christophe, what have you done?"

The entire attic looked like the inside of the dryer. [How the fuck do you know? Was putting you through the fucking dryer one of your dad's little rituals too?] Sheets hung everywhere. He had apparently tacked them to the walls, with no rhyme or reason to it besides leaving a small gap just around the vent. I had no idea where he put my books or anything else, but in the center of it all, Christophe sat with a blanket and my camping lantern. He grinned and waved as I entered, apparently very proud of himself. [I was. Dick.]

"I make this." He waved at his handiwork.

"Yes, but why did you make it?" [Because it's fucking art and you will give it the due fucking appreciation, arsehole.] I slowly moved into an upright position, so as not to disturb the bandages under my shirt. [See my point about daddy?] I bit the inside of my lip, hard, to prevent making a sound as I made my way over to the hollow at the center of Christophe's "den."

When I sat beside him, Christophe immediately began babbling. It was a new habit of his. Previously, every single word had been near-impossible to wrest from him. But recently, the tides changed. [As tides do, you geographically illiterate fuck nugget.] He was the most talkative person, in fact, that I had ever met. I had no idea how this particular fact managed to slip my notice for so long. [Because you never bothered to put the fucking effort in. Cunt.]

"I make a tent! Je me suis bien amusé. I wait for you. We can read in my tent, like a trip! We will go on a trip someday, non? Like this but...outside? Far away? Yes?" [We did as well.] He tugged my sleeve urgently. I want to go camp! We will go soon, Gregory! Yes? Yes!"

He put his hand on my back, right between my shoulders, as he began to describe the big starry sky" and eating Marsh-minnows." [Spock made a fucking better attempt than you did here, bitch.] But in his excitement, he reeled back, and smacked his hand down, fairly hard. It was like being stamped with fire. [I imagine that would hurt more than being hit in an injury.]

I yelped and pulled away. Instinctively, I drew my knees to my chest, a stream of air issuing in a soft hiss. Tears blurred my vision. My mouth opened and closed, but I choked back my voice, and so I remained otherwise silent. This lasted several moments, and all the while, Christophe just watched me. He looked like he was about to cry or run or both. [Well you inexplicably doubled up in agony, I didn't want you to be my second victim.]

"...Gregory?" Was the first thing he said, when I fell still. I let my body lay there for a moment, still and unclenched, as I recovered. To steady myself for speaking, I allowed myself a moment of closed eyes and heavy breathing. [Such vital fucking detail.] Christophe did not reach out to touch me again, likely afraid he had caused the initial outburst. When I opened my eyes, he had put a foot of space between us, and was nibbling nervously on his fingernails.

"I am all right." I reassured him as I sat upright. I just. Got into an accident. You jostled an old injury. [That's your definition of old, is it?] That is all."

I forced a tired smile. He crawled to me once again and cupped my face on either side with his hands. I winced at this, because his fingers were damp from being in his mouth. Ugh. [Wow. An actual ugh. Didn't fucking know how to put that into posh speak did you?]

"Fall off the bicycle?" he wondered. [Stop falling off the bike you weak kneed prick.] For some reason, [I fucking wonder what it could possibly be.] he would not allow me to look away. If I deflected eye contact, he held my head in place, and followed me with his head until I had no choice but to look at him. [You will fucking answer me.]


"You get in a fight?" he tilted his head, studying me. I did not try to look away this time, as it had proven useless. Instead, I examined his face: the perpetual dark bags, dark eyes, dark skin—just a few shades lighter than the dirt he so loved. He was scrawny as a scarecrow, and he looked smaller still in my oversized clothing. His palms were rough against my jaw, and the whole of him had a weathered, battered affect, but... [Get to the fucking point.]

Right then, despite his manhandling, he also looked profoundly gentle. Worry softened his hard, flashing eyes. I felt that he was earnestly trying to compel me to be honest with him, to trust him. [Maybe it was part of the whole fucking friend thing?] But it was only the way he looked at me made me want to comply.

"...No." I sighed. I. It was nothing, Christophe. Merely my own fault—I should have been more careful. I made an error." [As a sperm I came out of the dick of a fucking psycho.]

Christophe frowned. A normal person would have released my head, but he seemed intent on keeping it in his custody. [That is not the way any normal person would have put it.] He moved it this way and that, as if checking for further damage.

"How?" He asked. "What mistake?"

"Can I tell you later?" I plead. I was already on my knees, and I figured that I may as well sound like it. "I want to talk about something else right now." [Haha no.]

He did not appear close to relenting, and so I softened my voice, until my voice was mostly air. [It's called a whisper, Greggy. I know with an ego like yours you've never had cause to do it but that's what it fucking is.]


He finally relinquished his hold. But he came to sit right against my side then. He was quiet, appeared deep in thought. "Gregory?"

I swallowed, straightened my spine, winced slightly. Yes?"

"Is later." He stuck out his lower lip. "Tell." [Nice try, bitch.]


"Gregory." He crossed his arms. "Amis. Toujours. You tell me, I make it better."

I hung my head. " not sure that is possible."

"I hear you." He took my hand, and played with my fingers. He examined my writing callus, ran a finger along each perfectly maintained cuticle. [Seriously, what the fuck is that fucking word!?] "I hear you. You cry, before. Tell me."

I supposed he meant that he listened to through the vent, and heard me in my room. I wondered what else he had heard. [Screaming, crying, you ever wonder why I'm so fucking frosty about your parents?]

I did not know how to answer, because even if I wanted to tell him, I felt so ashamed that my words rushed from me. Admitting failure to Christophe seemed as if it would choke me. [Wouldn't want to sting your infinite fucking pride now would we?] But, nonetheless, I retrieved my school satchel from where I left it when I entered. From it, I extracted Christophe's dinner, stolen from the pantry only hours earlier. It was only some cream crackers and some dried fruit. [Pathetic.] I also found a candy bar in someone's cubby hole at school, which brought for him as well. Hardly a nutritious or decent meal, but it was the best I was able to do.

"I need to be more discreet during dinner." I told him. This was as much as I could manage today. There was...a small problem. [How subtle of you.] I will do better tomorrow."

Christophe accepted his dinner, but as the food changed hands, his expression shifted from confusion to comprehension. [Fucking caught.] ...Gregory." He spoke as if trying to convey more than my name with the word.

"Can we have a shorter lesson today?" [Do you fucking think that's even a fucking question?] I shook my head. The tears were threatening again, heavy and hot along my waterlines. I would not bear the humiliation. "I am very tired, and I would very much like a nap."

He nodded. But without warning, he then dropped the food items. He then surged forward and captured me in a tight hug.

It stung like lye on a sore, and I nearly vomited from the pain. But I let him carry on, because for some reason, oh— one wishes it were explicable... [If you can't explain it then you're fucking pointless.]

But the end of it was that I needed him to do exactly what he did, which was hold me for several minutes, just the way he was. I even figured out what I was supposed to do with my own hands then, in the middle of an étreinte. [Oh for FUCK'S SAKE! You had no fucking problem using the fucking English word two fucking paragraphs ago! This serves no fucking purpose at all, just like your fucking useless arse!] I wrapped my arms around his waist, clasped them tight, and clung to him in return. I put my forehead down on his shoulder, and was so grateful I never had to explain to him. [All because you're a terrible fucking liar.] I was so grateful that he just seemed to know that I needed him not to release me just yet.

"Oh no, I am scared, save me! Au secours!" Christophe sat at the foot of my bed as I attempted to do my English homework. In the one hand, he held the green plastic dinosaur I had filched for him. In the other, he held a tiny brass knight, which he himself had taken from my father's chess set downstairs. [Your dad had a way too fucking fancy chess set. Fucking twat.]

Christophe made what I suppose were meant to be dinosaur sounds as he knocked the two figurines together. [Fight! Fight! Fight! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!]

"Ahhh! My arm! Nous avons besoin de parler à un médecin!"

Luckily, I had long learned to tune out the games of less academically focused minds. [No wonder you're such a fucking bore then.] It was my daily task in school, after all. [Your self imposed daily task because you've got a fucking psychopathic need to alienate literally fucking everyone.] Eventually, Christophe grew more restless still and stood upon my bed. He jumped up and down as he continued the surely epic, [Oh, you have no fucking idea.] imaginary battle between his two puppets.

"I will kill you! te! I will shove my sword into your dick!" [Oh you remembered that line of mine? I was pretty proud of it.]

I sighed. Absently, as I filled in my Latin translations, I asked him: Must you be so graphic?" [YES.]

"Gregory! We go outside! Finish homework and we go!"

"We cannot go just yet." I reminded him for the twelfth time. I have to tell Paloma that I am going out before we do any venturing. She will get shrill [That's what you're worried about!? Her voice jumping a fucking octave? Like fucking yours does all the fucking time, right?] and worried otherwise."

"I like Paloma." Christophe told me, as he bounced up and then let himself fall all the way down, so he was sitting. It made the legs of my bed thump against the ground, which seemed to please him. [Implying you had a hover bed. Even you weren't that fucking rich.]

"You have never met her." I reported it without inflection. It was clear he was just being ridiculous because he wanted attention. [Fuck. You.]

"She talk about me." Christophe argued. He laid back and put his feet in the air. Then he raised the figures once more and began smashing them together. Die, cocksucker!" he encouraged the dinosaur, [Are you fucking serious? That's how you put it? Encouraging!? It's fucking taunting, you fucking cuntface!] waving the knight about. I have a sword!"

"Yes. I told her about you. It was a long while back, actually." I rolled my shoulders to loosen them. The long hours spent at the desk felt as if they had compressed my spine. I felt I had to fight to retain my natural shape. [That's what fucking happens when you sit down doing boring shit all day like a posh fucking nerd.]

"You did?" Christophe peeked at me from between his feet. Does she say I have to go?"

"No. Actually, she has been very good about keeping hush-hush about the whole thing." I reassured him. [Because she thought I didn't fucking exist! And she was still fucking nicer to me than you were sometimes. Think about it, you fucking skidmark.] "She is trustworthy, if she is nothing else."

"She say she make the sandwiches. With the jam. No crusts. Just for me!" Christophe was gleeful as he repeated her words. I had no idea why jam sandwiches were worthy of such a declaration. [I 'll remind you: You came across me covered in blood in a graveyard, alone, without any fucking shoes or fucking anything. Do you think my mother gave enough of a flying fuck about me to actually bother feeding me? Getting food made for me, specifically for me, was something fucking new to me and I know you take it for fucking granted with your being brought up by a glorified fucking babysitter but fuck you. Fuck. Fucking. You.]

"They are just sandwiches."

"You do not make me sandwiches." Christophe poked me in the arm. Only Paloma." [Lazy entitled cunt.]

"That is not the point. I am saying the gesture is insignificant because..."

I stopped talking because Christophe's eyes were pointed down at his lap. His previous hyperactivity slowed, even his feet stopped wiggling. He looked at me for a long moment, mouth a defiant little frown, but eyes large and sad. At that moment, I sensed that it was in fact, more than a sandwich. [DO YOU FUCKING THINK SO?]

"...It is not insignificant, is it." I sighed. Christophe. I am sorry. I did not think." [You never fucking think about anything.]

Christophe shrugged. "She makes it for me." He pointed to himself. But he looked embarrassed, and a bit defeated, which made me feel extraordinarily guilty.

"She does." I tried a smile, to cheer him a little. ...Hey. My parents are out a while. Once Paloma gives us the OK, we can go to the park. After that, if you like, I can take you to get ice cream. [Bribery will get you fucking nowhere.] My mother gave me a little spending money for the weekend."

The sadness went out like a light in his eyes, and Christophe jumped up [I imagine I didn't, my head would have gone through the fucking roof.] and grabbed both my hands in his. He seemed so happy as to be beyond words, and merely nodded. He bounced on the balls of his feet, hopping a little from one to the other, as if he badly needed to use the toilet.

"I want to go." He grinned. The gaps in his teeth showed, and he poked his tongue through them. He often complained that they were sore. I smuggled him a toothbrush from our store of extras [Why did you need fucking extras?] and taught him how to sneak down after hours through the kitchen and use it, but I had little evidence he ever did it. It was not as if his teeth became a nicer colour. [Apart from being a bad teacher you're British, so what the fuck do you think you could fucking teach me about dental hygiene?]

I was glad I had managed to cheer him up, however. Excellent. We will be off then. Just as soon as she arrives. May I have my hands back?"

He did as asked (for once) and went back to playing with his toys on my bed. Soon, he grew bored, however. I knew this, because as I finished the last of my translations, he began to go through all my drawers. [Shit doesn't steal itself you know.]

"I can have this?" he asked. [Look. I even asked. I'm getting better.] He turned to face me, and in his hands was an old shirt of mine. It was made from very soft green cotton, and I had worn it to the amusement park, with Wendy. I do not know why it caught his attention, but he pet it as if it already held great significance to him, and I certainly had no intention of ever wearing the horrible thing again. [Good thing too. What I did with it you'd probably consider fucking distasteful or some shit.] Besides, he had asked this time, at least, before simply lifting what he preferred. [I 'll be honest though, I didn't really give a shit about what the answer was. If you said no I was stealing that shit.]

"Yes." I told him. "Go ahead. It is yours. You are welcome."

"Merci beaucoup." He immediately yanked it on, over the buttoned shirt he already had on. Christophe had an odd sort of fashion sense. [This sentence presumes me to have fashion sense.] He scampered over to my mirror and examined his reflection. I am beautiful." He decided this as he admired his own profile.

"As you say." I laughed. Just then, we heard the front door open downstairs. Christophe whipped his head around to look at me. Eagerness radiated from him like rays from the sun.

"All right all right, I will go ask her if we can go." I got up. I am done with my homework anyhow. [That's the only reason you're ever allowed outside.] Give me a moment, and then we will be off!"

Christophe jumped up on the bed and started bouncing once more. Gregory! Yes!" He all but squealed it. [It's called excitement. It is in fact a normal human emotion.] Actually, he seemed so beside himself that he was unable to be properly loud. It was like a cat with a broken meow." [You mother fucker.]

I left the room in good spirits after promising Christophe I would hasten in my return. I sang softly to myself as I hustled down the glass steps, and went to the kitchen, where I expected to find Paloma.

"...Mother?" [Little known fact: Paloma was actually your mother because your dad was an adulterous cocksucking cunt.] I blinked at the sight of my mother standing there amongst the shabby wallpaper, [Didn't she have a thing for fucking interior design? Why would she fucking allow shabbiness?] the kitchen implements, and Paloma's coupons. She looked very out of place in her high-collared lace dress and neat chiffon hairstyle. [Whatever one of those is.] The kitchen was too sticky a place for a lady such as my mother.

"Ah, Gregory. I was just about to...What do you usually have for a snack?" she turned to a cabinet, and opened it, gingerly. [The fact she did it gingerly was very fucking important, wasn't it?]

"Carrot sticks." I answered in a daze. [Why the fuck were you in a fucking daze, dipshit?] "Um. Sometimes celery, apples."

"Right. That sounds right." My mother's hands fluttered to her sides as she examined the contents of the cabinet. "Pots. Not food. ...Gregory, where does she keep the food?" [She doesn't know her own fucking kitchen, Jesus H. Fucking Cunts.]

"The refrigerator. Or the pantry. Generally." I pointed to both, respectively.

My mother opened the refrigerator as I had indicated and peered inside. [Even the most culinarily illiterate bint on the fucking planet would know what a fucking fridge looks like, you dumbfuck.] "Hmm."

I watched her with one brow raised and my arms crossed over my chest. Is it alright if I ask you a question, Mother?" [Didn't give her much of a fucking choice there did you, you fucking cunt?]

She closed the refrigerator door (there was an odd, concerned look on her face when she did) [Vital information such as this should absolutely fucking go in brackets because THAT'S not bad fucking literary fucking form at all, is it?], and turned to face me. Yes, peaches?"

"I am very happy to see you." I told her. "Truly. But, ah. Where is Paloma...? [Holy fuck you remembered her fucking name.] I wanted to ask her whether I could go outside for a bit."

"I think you and I should go out and get a snack from a restaurant. What do you think, Gregory?" She crouched to my level for a brief moment, as if to check with me for assent. [Nope. You're five. She could fucking carry you if she had to. You wouldn't get a fucking say in it. Stop overestimating how fucking important you are.] But she did not wait for a reaction. She rose immediately and patted my head. Come on. We will get you chips. [How woefully working fucking class, hm?] I will not tell your father if you can keep the secret as well."

"Yes, but I really must speak to Paloma, about—"

"Gregory, come along then. Do as your mother asks." She was already headed for the door. She slipped on her shoes and took the keys from the hook. Do not dawdle, love. Chop, chop."

I did as told, of course, sparing a gaze up the stairs that I wished could pass as an apology to Christophe. [You better have fucking wished that, you fucking bastard.] I hopped into her car when she opened the door, and for the entire ride wondered whether I should ask her the question again. But something in the pit of my stomach told me this once to hold my tongue. [We all wish whatever it was would speak the fuck up more often.]

The hour was late when the sound of my vent clattering open woke me from dreaming. [Sup bitch.]

"Christophe, I told you to use the kitchen entrance, if you need to brush your teeth." I moaned and buried my face in my pillow. "Now go away."

"Upstairs is cold." Christophe crept to my bed despite my admonition, and crawled in. He had not been invited, but he did it anyway, as he was wont. [I'm sure that means something.] He tucked himself in carefully, and then arranged himself so as to curl around me. I did not remember offering to share my pillow with him. [You didn't offer to share a lot with me, since when has that fucking stopped me?] The moon was barely visible in the fogged blue of the sky. Branches from a tree outside scraped against the brick of my home, producing swishing sounds. Somewhere outside, an owl's soft, bleating hoot sounded, [So fucking what?] and Christophe went still to listen to it.

"I am sorry we did not get our ice cream." I said this as I watched the night through the branches of the tree. "Maybe tomorrow, hmm?"

"I am sorry too." Christophe patted me. [From the window with my fucking projecto-arms or some shit.] "You liked Paloma. She was...your friend."

"She was an employee." I corrected him without real conviction. Christophe was like a space heater; it had been somewhat chilly, but no more—except when he placed his cold toes against mine to warm them, that is. I tried to flinch away, but he kept wriggling until I let him do it, and so he won the war easily. [Because you're a fucking pussy.]

"She was nice." Christophe said it slowly, his whisper getting fainter by the moment. He yawned, and I felt him wipe his nose in order to scratch it against the back of my pyjama. [You better be fucking happy. Normally I'd be wiping it right onto your fucking pyjamas.]

"She is replaceable." I yawned sympathetically and adjusted my head on the pillow.

"Non." Christophe said it like my comment required no further rejoinder, then added: Do not be sad too long, Gregory."

"I will get working on it." I mumbled. He smelled like cigarettes and laundry detergent...surprisingly, toothpaste, and my last conscious thought was that I wondered how he got the cigarettes. Stole them? [You think so?] I just hoped it was not from my father. He was sure to notice. But then again, Christophe had been living with us for weeks, and no one had noticed that...

Well, no one except Paloma. [You thick mother fucker.] And that would not be a problem, ever, it seemed.

"But I want to go to school with you." Christophe paced around my room as I readied myself for school. We had yet to find a replacement for the servant, [Piss off.] and so I was to fend for myself as far as breakfast was concerned, and a driver would take me to class. [You were getting a fucking taxi.]

"Do not be ridiculous. You cannot come to school with me!" I frowned as I brushed my hair back and applied the gel to hold it in place. [You fucking ponce.] "Though I suppose someday we will have to find a way to get you into school. An adult would be helpful for that process, admittedly." [You just can't fucking admit I'm right about something can you?]

"If I go to school, I will learn with you! Then we have more time to play, instead of reading!" [My logic is fucking undeniable.] Christophe clapped his hands gleefully at his own ingenuity. I will go with you!"

"You will be behind, Christophe. It will be overwhelming to you."

"I read now!" He put his hands on his hips defiantly. I read very good. You say so!"

"There is still a lot to learn, though!" [You also can't fucking admit that I might actually be able to do something. I was still better at maths than you, you fucking retard.] I argued with him as I attempted to tie my tie. It was harder than it looked. I could not remember for the life of me how exactly to tuck the thinner end. [The fucking sad part is ties weren't even part of your fucking uniform.]

"I will learn in school." Christophe came to stand beside me and watch my reflection fuss with my wardrobe. "Stupide." [That is why schools fucking exist.]

I had no immediate retort, and this seemed to make him smug.

"We will discuss this later." I decided firmly. [Once my inferior little brain has had enough time to come up with a fucking retort.] "For now, you will stay here."

Christophe flung himself down onto my bed and made a loud, frustrated noise. I hate here!"

I had no time to retort. I finished packing my things, gave myself once last glance over to make sure my uniform was squared away, and headed for the door. I will see you upon my return," I promised Christophe with a small salute. [Well of fucking course you fucking will!] "I swear it. I shall be back before you know it."

Christophe sat up and stuck his tongue out at me. I will maybe!" he shouted.

As I sat in the interior of the car [The fucking cab.] on my way to school, Christophe's words needled me. I watched the somewhat gloomy scenery roll by. Winter drew closer every day, and so there was a colourless-ness to the world, as if reality were suffering from fade. [No, that's just miserable English fucking weather.] Maybe, Christophe had said. Maybe he would be there.

Well. I had evidence that this was no idle threat. He had left me before, after all. He had disappeared without warning quite recently, in fact. [There was a fucking reason that time, you fucking idiot. I'm not going to fucking leave just because you're a fucking twatface, otherwise I'd have fucking left almost immediately.] I tried very hard not stew in my worries. But I kept thinking that I would return, and there would be no one in the attic. Maybe he would not come back this time. Maybe he would be upset at me for not allowing him to attend school by my side. [You fucking think so?] Perhaps, minus Paloma, he would find no particular reason to stay (Christophe was particular about the sandwiches; one wonders how much of an impact they actually made upon him). [You still fucking wonder? You dense bastard.] Perhaps he would grow bored alone.

A queasy feeling crawled in my stomach. It was if I had swallowed cold sludge. The driver pulled up to the school, and the air felt difficult to breathe; I gulped it down. [You're much better with those large hot loads than with cold sludge, no?] I would not know if he had gone for at least seven hours. I could not ask him if he planned to go or stay. Perhaps I could not ever ask him. Perhaps we would never talk again. Perhaps, now that he had a basic level of reading skill, he would decide he did not need me anymore. [I am fucking offended.] Maybe...

I had scarcely put one foot outside when I pulled it back in and shut the door. My heart pounded unsteadily, smart short beats spiking erratically between harsh, a-rhythmic thumps. [Yes, we fucking know what unsteadily means.] I said the stupidest thing I had ever said up until that point:

"Driver." I closed my eyes. Take me back home this instant." [Smart little cunt.]

"Why you treat me badly, Marie? Je nai se pas!" Christophe's voice was surprisingly loud. It still jarred me to hear him above a murmur. We could not exactly be loud whilst in the attic, nor during our forbidden movie nights, and our trips outside were very rare indeed. [Did that fucking attempt on your life scare you off going out with me?]

"Paul. If you do not know, I will not tell you."

"Donner sa langue au chat!"

I followed the sound of Christophe's conversation (that he was apparently having with himself) [Look, I'm not mad. I don't have fucking imaginary friends.] to the living room. There he sat, in front of the TV. His legs were crossed beneath him, and he was laughing—head thrown back, and hands on his belly. [Information that could also have been fucking gotten out by telling the audience I was laughing- OH WAIT.] The television was muted, as it was when Christophe and I snuck down to watch it. The captions flashed across some awful daytime soap opera.

"You are a cruel bitch, Marie." Christophe cackled. "I wish I do not love you!" He did not notice me standing in the doorway, watching him. One ventures that he was simply too engrossed in the adventures of the tawdry dramatics doubtlessly being overplayed on screen. [Actually, I was engrossed in eating fucking cheese. What the fuck kind of venture is that!? No fucking shit I was fucking watching the fucking show!]

"Ahem." I knocked on the frame of the door, and smiled. Christophe jumped, and nearly tumbled off the sofa.

"It is a wonder you did not hear the front door." I chuckled. Having a fun time?" [I fucking wonder.]

"You are not at school," Christophe accused. [I don't think accused was the word you were looking for, Greggy.] He look to the television, and then he looked back to me. Then he smiled. "You will stay here instead?"

I came to set myself down beside him and put my (unused) [No fucking shit!] satchel on the floor. It looks to be that way." I eyed Christophe quickly. Just for today, that is."

"We do not read until later," he said it immediately, as if to ward off the prospect. It is not fair!"

I laughed at his concern, genuinely and probably harder than I ought. [Five year olds aren't allowed to have fun? Your world is dull and boring.] "Right, no. No reading until later," I managed. I sobered a moment after, however. ...if there is a later. My parents are going to absolutely murder me when they find out where I was."

Christophe's brows twitched together, and his fingers knotted themselves in his lap. ...Maybe you go back."

"Bit late for that now." I could not resist a little shudder. But. If you do not mind, I would rather not think about it."

Christophe would not stop looking at me, consternation [Whatever the fuck that is.] etched into the deep lines around his mouth and eyes. So, feeling awkward and at a loss, I sought a change in subject.

"We could watch it with sound, until my parents get back."

Christophe squinted at me as if I had spoken gibberish, [That wouldn't be anything out of the fucking ordinary though, would it?] so I stood to show him what I meant. I made my way to the television set, and pushed the "increase volume" button. Immediately, the soft static became human voices. Christophe looked delighted.

"Ooh! Is better!" He clapped his hands. "This is much better!"

As soon as I rejoined him, Christophe linked our arms and decided to repurpose my side as a recliner. The boy had no regard whatsoever for posture, apparently. [What you consider to be good posture is really bad for your back. It's science, fucker.] He slouched like a ape picking at his toenails. And he kept pointing at the screen and exclaiming look, Gregory!" as if I were not already looking at the screen. [Look. It was fucking new and exciting for me. Don't fucking pretend it wasn't for you as well.]

"That is Marie." He explained to me, talking over the dialogue. And that is Paul. They are lovers." [This story, unlike some I could think of, was fucking great, okay?]

"I believe their names are actually Isabel and Reardan." [Fuck you.] I attempted to set him straight. "They just said. Here, let us listen."

It was supposed to be a subtle hint for Christophe to settle himself, but he seemed intent on not doing so. [Fuck. You.] "My story is better," he asserted. [Yes. Yes it was.]

"I am sure it is!"

As if I had dealt him some great insult he felt the need to right, [Which you fucking had you inconsiderate bell end.] Christophe went off on a (admittedly amusing) rant about the great trevails of Marie and Paul. It took the entirety of the running length of the television show, in fact. If I tried to protest and quiet him, Christophe only spoke louder. [It's the only way to penetrate your oh-I'm-Greg-I'm-so-fucking-great bullshit.]

Perhaps the emphasis on fiction for his reading lessons had an influence after all. So there was one positive in the end. [Only one? You fucking cunt.]

"Christophe?" I interrupted him when he had finely detailed the umpteenth plot turn in his strange drama.

"Ouias?" He lowered his hands, which he used to gesticulate as he spoke [As opposed to using my fucking nipples, I guess?] (perhaps it was his enthusiasm that dictated his use of gestures; they did not actually make anything he said clearer). [Dickhead.]

"You are not going to leave again, are you?" I exhaled as soon as the words left me. It was a great relief to speak them out loud, and just that somewhat alleviated the ever-increasing buzzing in my head that clouded my thoughts with fear.

Christophe shook his head. I do not go far." He rubbed at his face, looking strikingly like a small animal busy cleaning itself. I come back. I will come back home." [I can't exactly feed myself, I need a stuck up toff to do it for me.]

The noise quieted in my churning gut. The room seemed to fall still; even the curtains blew gently and silently. [So close the fucking window you fucking moron.]

"Good." I told him. "I would miss you if you did not." [Gay.]

Overnight snow had fallen in white [Well they're not going to be fucking purple, are they?] drifts and settled over the lawn. The sidewalks crunched with grit underfoot. Heat from my breath made the scarf over my mouth damp as I walked home from the bakery just a few streets away. The white paper pastry bag in my jacket pocket made an awkward bulk that could not be helped. [Greggy went to Greggs, hm?] But my spirits were high. I could practically taste the frosting on the snowflake cookies Christophe loved so much. [Were you fucking licking my food? Well I guess that makes fucking two of us.] I hurried my steps so as to reach him sooner, so we could share them.

I felt as if nothing in the world could turn my mood over. My socks kept my feet so warm that I could easily move my toes. [I imagine your fucking stupid expensive snow boots had something to do with it too. You weren't even fucking in Colorado yet.] The weekend would likely bring sledding and snowball fights, thermoses of hot chocolate, and sneaking downstairs to roast marshmallows over the stove top. [You love your roasts don't you, Greggy?]

As I watched the empty skies—the birds and bugs hiding away from the chill—I thought myself remarkably lucky. It was an odd thought, one might think. [No. One might not.] Luck is nothing more than beneficial coincidence. [Well done, you can read a fucking dictionary.] Luck is not some romantic occurrence of aligned stars. Still, the world was full of disappointment, [Yeah, just look at yourself. Such a massive fucking disappointment.] full of surprises that served only as inconveniences. [Again, like yourself.] I knew even then that life was about more than happy moments.

Yet I had recently walked into a wealth of them. Sometimes, I felt like these had been grafted into my life by mistake, from some other existence. [You suck at fucking philosophy, Greg, don't try it.]

I reached my home, and I removed my coat and shoes at the door. [I think we can take that one on fucking assumption.] The home was empty. Strictly speaking, it wasn't supposed to be. But the new help liked to take an hour or so to do his homework at the library. [Fucking slacker. Bring back Paloma.] It benefitted me, because I could grab as much food as I liked from the kitchen. I did so. Besides the cookies, there was a bottle of pop left over from the dinner last night. [And you tear into me for nicking shit.] The new servant was a bit of a nature lover, so I helped myself to the bag of dried meat he stored under the sink. I despised the stuff, but Christophe would need protein and found jerky delightfully chewy besides. [So what's not good enough for you goes to me. Thanks, cunt.] I also grabbed an apples, because I was considerate of the scurvy risk.

Then I loaded all this into my satchel and climbed up the latter from the pantry to the attic.


"There should be a fucking window that opens in this shithole." Christophe gave a little wave. I have to freeze my balls off just to have a cigarette. This is bullshit."

"You have been watching reality television late at night again." [It's the only way I learn the fun words.] I moved the strap from my shoulder to set my bag down and unload. I placed the food and drink items on the floor before us in a spread, and only as it was in front of us lamented the lack of cups. [Fucking idiot.] I always forgot something. [Usually your dignity.] "Your language is almost as foul as your nicotine-laden breath."

Christophe wandered over to pick over the food and apparently chose to ignore me. I hate the snow." He sniffed. I am cold all the fucking time."

A pang of guilty soured my stomach. "That is. Well. I shall try to find you warmer things, so it does not bother you so much."

Christophe picked up the bag of jerky and shoved a hand inside. He eyed me for a moment before offering it.

"...No thank you." [Not fucking posh enough for you, hm?]

"For fuck's sake. Gregory." He spoke with his mouth chock-full of dried meat. Stop being such a pussy. Sometimes life is a bitch, especially to me." He paused to swallow, then pointed the half-eaten jerky stick straight at me. But it is not your fault." [See? I can lie to make you feel better sometimes.]

I inhaled a small breath, and reached for the bag of fresh cookies. I know that." I told him sharply. "I am merely trying [Completely failing.] to be a good host."

He actually laughed at that. I glared at him as I picked open the bag and began shuffling for an unbroken cookie. [Shouldn't have left the bag in your fucking pocket then, should you?]

"You do not give a shit. Else you would not be such a nasty twat, euh?" He shook his head. You just do not want me to go. You are bribing me, you sneaky weasel." [Not that I minded.]

"You think you are clever." [I don't think I'm clever, I fucking know how good I am.] I tilted the bag in Christophe's direction so that he could partake. But my God, his English had improved since he had discovered subtitled television. Admittedly, it seemed a better teaching tool (and simultaneous incentive) than the classical literature I tried to interest him in. [The shit you find on the six hundredth Sky channel is much more interesting and has much more interesting language than your fucking bullshit books.]

"Non, hardly. You are merely..." He struggled a moment. "Évident. ...Not subtle." [Dense. The word I was looking for is dense.]

He reached to take the cookie bag from me. He smiled knowingly at me as he did. This irritated me so much that I nearly snatched them away the last moment. [Spiteful cunt.] I did not, but as if he knew what I was thinking, Christophe took it quickly.

"For your information, I could not care less if you go or you stay." [You need to protect your stuck up and fucking above it all attitude, don't you? We all know you wanted my dick in your arse.] I tucked my arms closer into my sides while I said this and stared hard at the floor.

Christophe reached into the bag to grab cookies to shove nearly whole-way into his mouth. [Yes, that's how it turns out you fucking eat.] "Gregory." He sprayed crumbs."I will not go. I have told you. Many times." [Except that one time.]

"You did promise me. We have a verbal contract. [And you expected me to know what those words meant.] Tu souviens-toi?" I could not resist a small smile, which Christophe returned. His teeth were coated with crumbs.

"Your French is bullshit." [And it still fucking is.] He grabbed the pop bottle and brought it to the windowsill to remove the lid. He braced the tip of neck against the lip of the lower ledge."...But I do like the cookies. Merci beaucoup. "

"It is the holidays." I shrugged. Over Christophe's shoulder, I could see that it was beginning to snow again. The outlines of trees and houses down the street grew indistinct with condensation, [That's not fucking condensation. That's fucking snow haze.] outlines softened and blurred."We should have a little bit of celebration as Christmas draws near, yes?"

Christophe brought the pop back and came to sit beside me. I watched him drink what looked like half of the thing in just a few swigs, and then he seemed too attached to pass it on. He kept it in his lap instead, and for a while we snacked in silence.

I thought of how empty the holidays were. My Christmases were often torturous exercises in manners and demonstration of my achievements. My relatives brought gifts that did not interest me, and I pretended otherwise. [That's not your Christmases - that's just fucking Christmas generally.] My parents' gifts were similarly received—more about my gratitude and obligation than any of the empty-ringing promises of "joy" or "good tidings" that were promised by every hymn. I sat with rigid back in the church between my mother and father, watching the tinsel-crowned choir sing about a Great Coming born to the earth by the miracle of a Loving God. [Ha. Fucking ha.] Then I went home to Christmas dinner, to listen to the bickering get worse as the adults drank enough sherry to stop being too polite to say what they had been thinking all along. [They're all cunts and they know it.]

One supposes it is naive and dewey eyed to long for the warm feelings that come with holly berries [The warm feelings, convulsions and frothing mouthed death.] and pine boughs. But it felt, right then, perhaps a little bit like the season had always supposed to have felt. The heating did not really warm the attic, so Christophe sat very close. He wore a cardigan of mine that nearly reached his knees, and so he finally set the bottle aside and tucked them underneath it.

"How do we celebrate?" Christophe asked after a while. [Getting totally and utterly wankered!] Sometimes he was insufferable—willingly ignorant and utterly intractable when he wanted to be. [Oh, you noticed?] But sometimes he seemed adrift and willing go wherever led. He peered at me with uncynical curiosity, hands pulled into the tent his knees made under my cardigan. [That wasn't my knees.] No doubt he was stretching the article of clothing horribly out of shape.

"There are a few ways." I finally smiled."...You will see."

I wanted to surprise him, so I made Christophe walk into the living room with his eyes closed.

"Stand just there." I commanded; I tried not to allow my voice quiver or pitch up with my excitement. [And you fucking failed.] "No peeking."

Though I left the house lights down, I flipped the switch behind the Christmas tree. Immediately, hundreds [Maybe a couple dozen at fucking most.] of tiny lights flickered on, and cast the sprawling shadows of branches on the wall. The star on top was wrought iron, and cut-out to reveal a twinkling center. [No it fucking was not, if it was fucking iron the tree would have fucking fell over.] The design through which light shone was elaborate and beautiful—a facsimile of curling plant life, straddling the line somewhere between modern and old-fashioned. Mother had ordered vintage ornaments from a little shop that specialised in blown glass. Each bauble was crystal speckled with silver. [It was plastic and glitter and you fucking know it.] I wanted Christophe to see it in its full glory.

"...All right. Open them up." I put my hands on my hips. As he did as told, I shivered slightly through my thin pajamas. [Vital. Fucking. Detail.] The cold was soon forgotten, however, because the look on Christophe's face was all I had been hoping for. He looked the way holy men do upon witnessing a divine revelation—the reflection of small but perfect glories and silent benediction. [I was impressed. All you had to fucking say.]

"Gregory." He looked at me, tiny points of reflected light glittering in his eyes."It is beautiful." [I can guaran-fucking-tee that's not what I fucking said.]

He sniffled, because our snow ball fight had left him with a touch of a cold. He wiped his nose on his sleeve. It rather ruined the effect of his childlike glee. [On the contrary, I think it did wonders for the childlike part.]

"This is not the surprise." I went to his side to look up the tree from his perspective. The view was spectacular; the tree towered, dripping with what seemed like magnificent jewels and candlelight. [And five minutes later that candlelight became a fucking house fire and we both died.] "It is merely the scenery."

He tilted his head."Quoi? What tricks have you prepared?"

"No tricks." I let my voice become a murmur. All the world seemed so still, it seemed a shame to disturb it; we lived in a moment that was but a held breath. [Cut the prose bullshit, you self obsessed cunt.] "Just a challenge, if you are up to it."

He nodded, and looked instantly determined."I am ready."

Under the tree, my gifts from relatives and parents were piled. But buried within the plethora of presents were my own additions.

"What time is it?" I asked him. I had only just taught him how to read a clock, and so immediately, Christophe's eyes flicked over the the grandfather clock with confidence.

"It is midnight. A little past, I think." He reported this quickly and with little difficulty; the boy did always take to numbers at a surprising pace. [Just admit I'm better than you and I won't fucking rip on you so much over it.]

"Yes. That means..." I grinned."It is technically Christmas morning. Do you know what the quintessential Christmas morning activity is?" [Blowjobs?] I sunk to my knees beside the tree [Was I right!?] and bid that Christophe follow my lead. He did, with a total lack of hesitation. One notes here how much he had come to trust me; he did not pause to do what I said even if he did not know what to anticipate. ...Unfortunately, at that point, one is sure if I had asked him to punch me in the face, he would have done it without so much as second-guessing it. [I'd also have done it if you'd asked me not to.]

This was true in all instances...except in those of good news. One guesses that Christophe still had a hard time accepting that anything could ever go his way. [Does that surprise you? You met me, I was black, bruised and fucking covered in blood only some of which was mine. Do the fucking maths. But like I said, I'm better than you at that.]

"Do we..." Christophe's eyes lingered on the gifts as if he scarcely dared look, let alone hope.

I nodded."Yes. Look for your name. There are gifts for you in there."

Christophe lurched forward about a millimeter, but stopped himself abruptly."...For me? What do you mean?"

He squinted at me, but the corners of his mouth twitched as if he had been forced to wrestle them into an expression of suspicion rather than excitement. His entire posture seemed angled towards the tree, and yet he held back for fear of disappointment. It was endearing, actually. [You cunt.]

"Yes. Gifts, for you. Put those reading lessons to use and find the ones meant for you." I grinned. I felt so proud I could practically feel myself glowing."Then you can open them."

He did not need anymore encouragement after that. He dropped and began tearing through the presents in search of his tags. Without looking up, he waved me over with one frantically gesticulating hand.

"Here! Gregory! Find yours, we will open them together, maintenant!" he commanded me. His voice seemed unsteady, as if it were breaking under the pressure of his weighty joy. [That's because it fucking was.]

I did as bid and dutifully located the gifts with my name labels on them. When I had found a small one wrapped in silver paper, tied with a thin blue ribbon, I selected it and waited for Christophe to locate his own. At the rate he dug, it did not take him long.

"Aha!" He cried out. He lifted a packed wrapped with tissue paper and yarn [Or as it's actually fucking called, string.] I had borrowed from the craft supply cabinet at school, and he waved it over his head.

"Good! Yes, open it!" I grinned and fidgeted, all but bouncing up and down on the hardwood even in my cross-legged position. He complied, of course and gracelessly shredded the paper at my word. [Shut up, I was excited.] Inside lay a yellow plastic sand bucket and tiny digging trowel. In the low lights, they were shiny, and I was quite proud. The look on Christophe's face was one of wonderment.

"It is beautiful." He touched the toys with just the tips of his fingers."...Do you get these for me?"

"Of course. I thought you might enough a digging instrument your size." I laughed, and he lifted the bucket from his lap to examine it more closely.

"I could fill this with mud," he said it like he might cry."Gregory, I want to! Let us go, now!"

"Do you not want to finish opening your gifts?" I could not resist a little chuckle."Though admittedly I am pleased you like it. I was not sure what was proper to give you but...I thought you might enjoy it, seeing as..." [It was meaningful to us?]

He seemed caught up in staring at his gift. But then, abruptly, he looked up."You now."

"Beg pardon?"

"You open yours." Christophe shoved at the little silver box."S'il te plait. I want to see!"

I did as bid, but carefully. I would have to re-wrap all my gifts before my parents woke up. When I moved the tissue paper aside, lying inside a little cardboard jewelry box were two cufflinks. They were gold, with red drops of lacquer filling the slight indents in the middles. Lovely, really, but...

"Mine is better!" Christophe crowed, immediately."Jewelry is stupid!"

I could have pointed out that I had gotten Christophe's gift for less than a pound at the bargain store, [Like you'd ever set foot in Poundland.] whilst my gift probably cost a fair amount."....No, you are right." I said instead."Aunt Jody is a bore indeed. What an unthoughtful gift." I was already carefully beginning to rewrap them, so that I could repeat the whole process once again in front of my parents.

"I want to do another one!" Christophe had already lost interest in my turn. He rooted under the tree like a pig sniffing for truffles. "Yes! Here!"

He ripped open the next gift and gutted the paper in less than no time. [I'm not entirely sure gutted was the word you wanted there, Gregory.] I would have a lot of cleaning to do, because he flung the waste without regard over his shoulder. He struggled a little, as it seemed I had overdone the tape whilst wrapping. And then he stared, awestricken, at what lay inside.

"Gregory." Christophe did not seem to want to touch it."What is it?"

"Well. It is a giraffe." In retrospect, I do not know what possessed me to pick it out for him. The creature's long, droopy neck and overlarge eyelashes were ridiculous; it appeared on the verge of a very sad ballad sung in the rain. The pink tongue lolled, and the ears were lined with brown velvet. For some reason, I thought he would like it. I thought it looked like something he would want, even if it served no practical use. One can explain it no better now than I could then: it was a simple matter of seeing it on a shelf, and having this feeling. [Gregory, let me be clear. It was perfect. I loved it. Don't beat yourself up too much.]

"I know it is a rather silly gift." I shrugged."I have not got a real explanation for you."

Christophe surged forward and pulled me to himself. He hugged me so tightly that I thought he might actually be trying to hurt me. He buried his face in my shoulder and held on with all his might. I could barely breathe, and felt the vertebrae in my spine pop, but I still, tentatively, put my arms around him, too. It seemed the only thing to do. [Suppose I never properly thanked you for it then, did I? Well, I guess you're not the only inconsiderate fucking cunt here.]

"...I also got you a watch," I said, cautiously as soon as he loosened his grip."But there is no need to get too excited about that one. I wrote to a biscuit company and won a contest."

He fished around in his trouser pocket as I was talking. When I had concluded, he held out what seemed to be a wad of newspaper mashed around something vaguely round.

"What is this? Christophe, for the last time, put your trash in a trashcan, do not just hand it to me."

Christophe nudged me with his foot."Non. Open it!"

"If it is another dead bird, the answer to your implied question is still ‘no I will not eat it." [But they're so delicious when they've been marinated in the fucking rainwater for three days!]

"Do not be such a little cocksucker! Open the stupid present, salope! "

"All right, all right!" I huffed, and as neatly as I could, picked the crumpled paper open. Between two pinched fingers, I pulled away the newsprint—which was certainly not being used for its intended purpose.

"...It is a rock." I stared at the item Christophe had so carefully smashed garbage around and presented to me. Two plastic wiggle-eyes had been affixed with adhesive to a round black stone. They were crooked, making the "creature" appear cross-eyed.

Christophe nodded happily and grabbed at his own feet. He rocked back and forth with his knees at his ears, looking proud of himself."You have two friends now."

"Hilarious," I rolled my eyes."Are you not aware that it is extremely rude to get someone a pet as a gift? What are the care instructions? What should I feed it? It simply is not appropriate!"

Christophe looked delighted that I had made a joke, and laughed deeply (to the point that I worried we would wake my parents, but we did not). My spirits were too high for taking offence; the air was chilly with the promise of more snow, and later I would sneak up with hot chocolate and read A Christmas Carol to Christophe. The sun would peek out soon, and the Church would ring the bells all morning, and all my homework was done. I had not a care or worry. I felt so warm. [I hope you did. This was my first real Christmas and you made it a good one. Thank you, Gregory.]

"You will take good care," Christophe told me."You will know how. I believe this." He grinned—two of his incisors were missing, and one of his front teeth was growing back in much bigger than the others. [I do not, however, need the image of a buck toothed fucking child in my head. Fuck you.]

Christophe hustled into the attic through the window. By that, one means that he hoisted himself fast enough to be clumsy, right over the ledge, and he fell in a sad hump onto the floor. [I'd like to see you fucking do it better.] He quickly got up, however, and when he did, I noticed the brown paper bag in his hands. It appeared to be squashed around something bottle-shaped.

"You are late." I held up my Norton's Anthology. I had spent a rather long time composing today's lesson on 16th century writings, [Fucking boring.] and had rather been looking forward to talking to him about Thomas Chatterton. I very much related to the tragedy of his young career, his anonymous genius, [I actually feel like I have to go fucking make a drink of something so I can fucking spit it out everywhere. Seriously, you've got a fucking future in comedy.] the responsibility he must have felt to be remembered somehow. But Christophe could not, apparently, so much as be bothered to make an appearance when promised.

"I brought juice!" [On this count I admit I was a fucking idiot.] Christophe waved the bottle, which was supposed to be his excuse. He was a right sight. I knew he enjoyed rummaging through the neighborhood wheelie bins sometimes. Old habit, one supposes. And so he smelled to high heaven. His tattered coat—which had once been a fine Barbour thing in soft brown wool—now could have doubled as a floor rag. [Just because it was a bit whiffy it has to be fucking thrown out? Fuck you.]

"Have you been tunnelling under the landfill fence again?" I wrinkled my nose. There was dirt in his hair. [That wasn't anything special you twat.] He rubbed at his face, and smudged some there too."Why do you not walk in through the front gate, like a normal person?" [What exactly is it about me that makes you think I'm fucking normal?]

He shrugged."I go to the restricted parts. With the metal things. Those, they have the electric fence. I cannot get inside unless I go under." [Or maybe you want me to fry myself you inconsiderate prick?] He shook the bottle. He grinned, all but glowing with a strange pride."There, I find parts, and make trades." [See? I bring money in. What the fuck are you doing?]

"I see. So you risked your life for a bottle of juice. Very clever." I issued a soft, disapproving cough.

"It is magic juice!" Christophe insisted. He kicked off his boots and flung them into the corner of the room. They skidded and left muddy streaks in their wake. [Enjoy the clean up, dickwad.]

"There is not any such thing as magical juice, Christophe." [But those stories you read me said otherwise!] I opened the book to where I had marked it with a strip of wrapping paper."Come. Let us focus on your education."

Christophe shed his coat and let it fall to the floor. "Non. I want to drink the juice. I climb beneath barbed wire and dig for a greasy old car transmitter for this." [Do you really fucking think I'd have given a shit about it being fucking greasy? Have you even fucking met me?]

"You could have gotten tetanus!" [That's really your first fucking concern?] I looked him over for marks, and my concern took precedent over my annoyance. A single scratch could have spelled his doom, and worse, my personal inconvenience. [The swear that is extreme enough to voice exactly what a monumental shitface wanker cunt you are hasn't been invented yet. But whenever it is, whatever it is, you're it. You're completely it. Fucking cunt.] I finally put the book down to inspect him. I came over, pulled up his arm, and brought my face in close to see if he had in fact injured himself.

He pulled away fairly quickly, and shoved me back."Salope ! I am fine! I will not get any...tent-piss!" [Oh yes. I forgot. You fucking expected me to know what the fuck tetanus was.] He frowned, and rubbed defensively at his elbow."Besides. It will not matter. The man with whom I made the trade, he promises the magic juice makes our problems go away." [He wasn't wrong.]

"Oh, please. Spare me from your ridiculousness," I beseeched him."We do not live in a world designed by Hans Christian Anderson. [No matter how much you fucking wish it.] You risked your life for a likely rank beverage."

"Then you do not get any!" Christophe cradled his prize like it was a tiny babe. [The word is "baby" you stuck up twat.] For good measure, he stuck his tongue out at me.

"How ever shall I live with myself..." I did not bother to pretend I was not being facetious. I took my seat on the ground and patted the spot beside me. [You know that's, like, the fucking number one way to keep people from sitting next to you on the bus, right?] "Now, can we get to your lessons, please? ...And for Heaven's sake, if you have got any cuts, go downstairs to the washroom and clean them immediately. Please."

"You are as much fun as the dirtiest sock." [You know fucking well that my insults are better than that.] Christophe sank down beside me, unhappiness written in his every feature. He leaned over my shoulder, and placed his chin on the inset, just beside my neck.

"As you like." I huffed."Now, I think we ought to start you on some Shakespeare and Marlowe right about now." [Yeah, even you didn't read fucking Shakespeare at age five.] I picked up the book once more and carefully thumbed it back open to my marked page."The language might be difficult at first, but you will pick it up I suspect. You have progressed nicely in English basic, and so I believe I can expect more or less of the same pace as we move on to..."

Christophe had fully wrapped himself around my lower back by this time, like a very unstylish backpack. He also was feigning snoring, very loudly in my ear. [I wasn't feigning.]

"Christophe. It is not funny!" I jerked my head to the side to scold him.

He snorted loudly as a response. Otherwise, he did not stir. I shook, in an effort to get him loose, but he clung as stubborn deadweight. I attempted to continue our lesson as if nothing were amiss, but every few sentences or so, he would let out a "sleep snort" and readjust so as to dig his bony chin into my shoulder a new angle. [I wasn't really enjoying it, did that come across?]

"...This is beyond infantile!" I finally lost my patience and said a bit too loudly."If you are not going to behave like an adult, you could at least make half an attempt not to drive me out of my mind. I am trying to help you! Why am I being punished?" [Because you're a cunt.]

Christophe mumbled, as if talking in his sleep."...Non, Queen Elizabeth. Your daughter Gregory is not the prettiest girl at the ball."

"Why are you being so difficult?"

Christophe finally sat up, but only after I had almost completely succeeded in shaking him off. I wormed my way out of the remains of his half-hearted grasp and scooted away from him. I scowled as I regarded him, a look which deepened immeasurably when I realized he was not the least bit contrite. [Of course not. Pissing you off is what I fucking live for.]

"Let us drink juice." Christophe insisted. He was just whining now, and he knew it. As we were equally matched in stubbornness, naturally he knew he had to bargain, however.

"We drink, and then I will do your lesson. Very serious." [Very serious Greggy is very serious.] Christophe reached over to pat my hand, as if in encouragement to shake on it. " S'il te plait?"

He made large eyes at me, but could not manage to pout for long. He too soon burst into a fit of giggling. Play-acting was certainly not his strong suit. [Your face is just too funny.] Feigning any sort of humility or class proved impossible for him.

But it was in my best interest to accept the deal. I was loathe to drink the horrible stuff he had more or less found upon the streets. [Fuck off!] If I did not agree, Christophe would waste the entire afternoon badgering me. Thus I could either stomach a few moments of unpleasantness, or hours of frustration. [You poor naive little fuck.]

"...Oh all right. We will drink your ill gotten gains, and then we will return to the civilised world." [Never!] I made my displeasure with the arrangement known with a roll of my eyes and grudging tone.

"Parfait!" Christophe, before I had even finished agreeing, was working on opening the bottle. He shucked the paper bag wrapping, then began prying at the cork. After a small, hopeless struggle, he set it down to hunt for something in his boxes. The attic was very crowded as of late. Christophe had taken to bringing filthy cardboard containers [They're fucking called boxes you twat.] up from the streets to fill with his belongings. The only rhyme or reason I could discern in his system for storage was chronology. He seemed to store things in the order he found them, and stack newer boxes of items on top of the old ones. Lord knows how he ever knew where anything was. [I remember when I got things and search in the appropriate boxes you fucking idiot.] But credit was due; he searched with purpose. He must have had some vague idea at least of where to look. [Your way isn't always the fucking right way.]

"Aha!" He withdrew a corkscrew from the depths of one of his junk stores and waved it triumphantly."Now she will open easy!"

I was not certain as to why the bottle was feminine, although it did have a bit of an hourglass shape. [Because one of those strange alien creatures of feminine persuasion has probably fucked herself with it at some point.] I was also increasingly concerned. The bottle looked an awful lot like the fancy spirits my parents drank during dinner, right down to the cursive script and distinct brand on the label. [See? Fucking magic.]

"Are we certain we ought to be consuming that?" I asked him. I tried to sound curious rather than wary. [You failed.] I made my voice as even and reasonable as I could."It might be one of those beverages meant only for adults." [You fucking think so, bitch?]

"Do not be a little bitch." [I realise now that that is probably fucking impossible.] Christophe scoffed as he pried. He attempted to stuff the corkscrew down into the sealing, before realising twisting was the better way."At worst the juice does not taste very nice."

I frowned."What if the person you got it from is trying to poison us?" I demanded to know."Maybe you have done business with a serial murderer!" [You say to me. Me. ]

Christophe made a face at me, tongue out and eyes crossed."What if the sky falls and all us fuckers get crushed under the little pieces?"

Finally, he succeeded in tugging out the cork. With a cheery pop, the bottle opened, and Christophe flinched as he yanked the corkscrew free. He then came closer to me. He tipped the bottle in my direction in what I assumed to be a sort of salute. [For an upper class twat you're fucking dumb.]

"Cheers, bitch. " Then, with a wink, he then put it to his lips and downed a healthy swig. As soon as he had filled his mouth, he seemed to choke. But stubbornly, he forced himself to swallow rather than spray liquid all over the attic. I did very much appreciate it. [I fucking hope you did, cunt.]

"Are you quite alright?" I wanted to know. Christophe coughed, and it prevented him from answering me. He smacked his lips and slid his tongue along the roof of his mouth [You didn't fucking see that.] as if to wipe it free of the remaining taste. His eyes crinkled with disgust, and I really had to try not to laugh at him. He looked so unhappy.

"It tastes of buffalo piss," Christophe rasped."Buffalo piss, and your mother's cunt."

I crinkled my nose with horrified distaste."Must you really make references like that?" [YES. She has a very wafty minge, did you never fucking notice?]

Christophe ignored me. He continued to spit and choke and even gag. [See? Wafty.] But rather soon, he re-tightened his grip on the bottle, and gave it another go.

"Why would you do that? You know it does not taste nice, and yet you continue to down it like it is water in the Serengeti anyway! [You didn't fucking know what the Serengeti was.] I cannot imagine the thought process behind your actions! Are you just that stubborn?"

As I questioned him, Christophe made audible sounds of retching horror. He looked at the item in his hand like a demon that crawled up from Hell to torment him. He closed his eyes and put out his tongue as if the liquid had coated his palate in disease. [Should have made you take some shotgun. It might have fucking shut you up.] But after he had finished with his dramatics, he issued a satisfied sigh and squared his shoulders. He also burped, because of course he did.

"You do now." Christophe shook the bottle at me, at liquid sloshed loudly against in the glass sides."Down she goes."

"I will not!" [Yes you fucking will.]

"Pussy!" Christophe pointed at me. For some reason, red had begun to gather in his cheeks. [I did not get drunk that quickly you fucker.] "Do not be a fucking faggot, Gregory. You drink!" He waved his spoils for me some more. Then he paused to meet my eye."Please? I want you to try."

It was not a very convincing reason to swallow street juice. But I still took the bottle and let it sit uncertainly in my hands. When I sniffed the rim, a foul scent—like the insides of some poisonous foreign fruit, or perhaps like Paloma's favoured drain cleaner—filled my nostrils. [You do not fucking speak ill of Paloma, cunt.] I shuddered with repulsion and held it away from me.

"You do not honestly expect me to put this anywhere near my mouth, do you?" I plead this more than said it. [There are far worse things I could fucking expect you to put near your mouth.]

"Not near. Inside." Christophe frowned."Do not be stupid, Gregory."

"Har har." One cannot even pretend sarcasm to much effect in these situations. [You can't fucking do it in any situation.] The forced laughter must had sounded nervous rather than dryly amused. Pity, but I was so preoccupied not wanting to drink whatever terrible juice was in that bottle that I did not care.

"Do you not want to study?" Christophe egged me on."You promise me. You will drink, and I will read. That is what you have said. Where is your honour, monsieur?"

"Oh just shut up already!" I demanded. Without further ado, I tipped it back then. I had a small drink, and I tried to breathe through my nose so as not to taste it very much. [Bitch.] Unfortunately for me, I had forgotten that my best friend was an utter rogue. [How the fuck did you forget that?] As soon as I had partaken, he grabbed the bottle and forced it down at a harsher angle. This made the liquid come out much faster, and as a result, I got a far healthier mouthful than I had intended. I choked, and some of the repulsive stuff sprayed out from my lips. The bottle's mouth partially blocked this, [Which meant when I took further drinks it was tainted with your fucking spit. Nice job, you fucking arsehole.] as Christophe's hand blocked me from immediately putting it down. I had to shove him, as I dry-heaved and spat the bitter toad juice all over the attic floor.

"Oh Gods," I rasped. [Gods? Plural? You fucking heathen.] "I need water!"

Christophe took the bottle from me, and I fell to my hands and knees. Tears gathered in my eyes, and it took all my effort not to vomit. Christophe, on the other hand, laughed like a loon.

"You. You look like such an idiot," he chortled, all but rolling about."You are so upset, Gregory! Holy shit, your face!"

"...Water! Please!" I said, and regretted it, because opening my mouth made it harder not to puke. The fluid smelled just awful. As I hovered over the small puddle that resulted from Christophe's practical "joke," [It was not a fucking joke. Getting wankered is serious business.] I could feel the evil, pungent scent as if it were trying to crawl down my windpipe. I felt like I could taste it in my eyeballs; it was harsh, and vile, and the sensation was much like having acetone poured into my body until it oozed from my ears. [I'm sure we can all agree with whatever the fuck you wrote there.]

I continued to retch as Christophe all but howled in laughter. When I had finally gotten myself together enough to sit upon my haunches, Christophe was waiting for me: a smug grin on his face, and the cursed bottle in his hands.

"Technically, you did not drink." Christophe nodded, with pursed lips, at the spill on the wood. [Nice try, butthorn.] He proffered me the bottle once more.

I began shaking my head right off."No. Absolutely not. I will not be putting that thing anywhere near—"

"You promised you would drink." Christophe shook the bottle at me, and the sloshing sounds seemed to make my stomach turn."And you waste my juice!"

I knew there was no dissuading him. But I remained stubborn as long as I could. [I'm better than you, bitch.]

"Shakespeare wrote so many plays." I told Christophe. The Norton Anthology lay open in my lap, but for some reason, it blurred, and when I focused on it for too long, everything seemed to spin slowly. [Aw, Greggy drink too much magic juice?] It gave me a deep, throbbing sort of headache.

"I have never read them all," I admitted to Christophe. [I BLOODY KNEW IT!] I said this too loud; it was supposed to be a secret."I like the Arthurian legends better. I like the knights."

"I like the knights, too." Christophe's voice sounded slightly slurred, like his tongue was getting caught on his teeth."I do not like Beowolf. There is knights in this, non?"

"How do you know Beowolf?" I demanded. [Ye of little fucking faith.] My head felt so heavy, like it was weighed unevenly, so my forehead drooped towards the floor."I never taught you that."

"Mere, " Christophe sighed, and laid back on his hands."She give me a thick book to use you say. A pillow. Beowolf."

"Ah." I frowned."It is an awful story anyway. Written about filthy Danes." [And yet Hamlet is perfectly fucking okay.]

Christophe snorted."You think everyone is filthy. You are a picky poodle."

"Danes, poodles." I blinked as the bright flash of cleverness blinked across my mind."You are not a great fan of dogs, are you?"

For some reason, the word play struck me as particularly hilarious. [It wasn't.] I giggled, tried to restrain myself, but only laughed harder when the snort caused a funny sound to emanate from my nostrils. My laughter seemed to make Christophe lose any composure he had as well, and he redoubled over with mirth right after me.

"I fucking hate dogs," Christophe garbled the words between his giggles."There is...a big dog by where I once lived! [It was called your mother.] It...used to chase a boy....fuck dogs! How did you know, Gregory? Hah hah!"

I could not answer him. I could not hint that his word choices had given him away, because I was too busy trying not to swallow my own tongue [Biological impossibility, fucktard.] as I clutched my belly and roared with hilarity.

"Christophe...what...are we still laughing at?" I wondered after we had been chuckling for a good fifteen minutes. My sides hurt as if someone had squeezed my kidneys in two fists, and I gasped for air.

"You!" Christophe supplied, and then burst into a fresh gale of giggles, which I found irresistible and joined in shortly after. [See? You are hilariously pathetic after all.] My mind felt as if it were full of bubbles, and my face was hot and tingly, but it felt good. Also, I had to piss, and the urge was pressing. When I managed to pull myself together, I wobbled to my feet.

"I need to use the toilet," I told Christophe."It feels like someone super-inflated my bladder, actually."

"I will go with you," Christophe announced. He grabbed my hand to pull himself up as well. But rather than let it go when he was finished, he kept his fingers intertwined with mine. I felt no inclination to stop him. Instead...I worried that to crawl through the vent, we would certainly have to let go.

The trip through the vents was oddly difficult. Crawling had never stricken me as particularly difficult before, but I kept smashing into walls as I went, this time. [Because you're a fucking moron.] The fact was not helped by Christophe, who continually pushed me ahead with both hands.

"Hurry, you slow cow!" Christophe said, as I stumbled."The world awaits! Why do you move as if you are an old lady, euh?" [Probably because you are an old fucking lady.]

"Oh, shut up," I kicked back at him, though I did not try very hard to hit him."I will go at the pace I please!"

"Of course you, will, princesse. "Christophe laughed."Is the vent too cramped for Her Highness?"

"I said shut it, commoner!"

"Do you know, technically, you are a commoner." [I'm right and you fucking know it.] Christophe mused as we made it to the halfway point. The vent was dark, and our voices bounced against the metal, filling the chamber with faint echoes.

"I am not!"

"Yes, princesse. You are." Christophe said it in mocking sing-song, disharmonious reverberations his off-sync backup. [I'm not even sure that sentence makes fucking sense.] "I read this. Anyone who is not in the royal family is a commoner."

"Oh. Well I suppose that is true." I felt fairly humiliated; a Frenchman knew more about the British monarchy than I did, apparently. [Traitor.] Also I was a little bit dizzy, and each time I hiccuped, I felt as if I might lose my balance, even though I was on all fours.

"That makes everyone commoners." Christophe continued, happily."Seeing as you cannot be related to someone who does not exist."

Silence fell over the vent. The level of shock and disbelief that I felt, rattling my core, was beyond words. My heart throbbed in my chest as if it had been stabbed with sharp object, right through my sternum. [Oh, come on, you know I'm more of an up through the diaphragm kind of guy.]

"Did you just—" I really could not reconcile myself with the fact that I was saying these words aloud for a moment. They felt like stones on my tongue, rolling about." just insinuate that the Queen of England is fictional? [Didn't you know? She's a fucking lizard person from inside the Earth. Fucking David Icke said so on the Internet so it must be true.]

Christophe scoffed, openly."Oui. Though, I know you British people are not allowed to say so."

"What do you mean? No! We would not say so, because it is a blatant lie! [You're a blatant fucking lie.] The Queen is of course real! What a ridiculous— "

"Then what does she do?" Christophe said as I reached the mouth of the vent. So that he would not push me, [Which I happily would have fucking done.] I continued forward as quickly as possibly. Once I crawled out, I got to my feet and stood aside. I did it slightly too fast, because the effort made my head feel as if it had doubled in heft. [Did you just slam two random words together and shove a fucking "in" in there somewhere?] I wavered as I steadied myself. Christophe followed, which was good because I needed to see his face as he spoke these things. He had to be joking. [Nope.]

"She does all sorts of things!" I could not believe we were having this conversation. One cannot fathom how any living person could question the existence of Her Majesty! [And I can't fucking fathom how you could buy that she exists, dipshit.] "She...officiates ceremonies!" I hiccupped."She attends diplomatic engagements! [Attends and does fucking nothing because she has no power because she doesn't fucking exist?] She...represents the hope and spirit of the British people!" [So does fucking Pudsey the fucking dog, you don't see that little gobshite opening leisure centres.]

"So." Christophe rubbed his outer wrist along beneath his nose."She is a mascot, who kisses babies and cuts ribbons, IF she is a real person at all, non?"

"Absolutely not!" I placed my head in my palms because I could scarcely bear it."She would never touch some plebeian's baby!" [Twat.]

The vent still hung open, but I was too distraught to tend to it. My limbs felt clumsy, like my control over them was lagging and imprecise. I wanted to lean against something; I had never been such a slouch in all my life. [You fucking drunkard.] I settled for rocking back and forth a bit on my heels. It made me somewhat dizzy, but I was enjoying the vertigo, oddly enough.

Christophe merely rolled his eyes and waved a hand as if knocking a glass from a table. The gesture was wide and far-flung. [Yes, you just fucking said that.] "Queens are not real. [Yourself excluded, obviously.] So you said. We have, how you say, democracy-governments now. The royals are only in the story books. Pretend."

"Well, our Queen does not rule so much as represent anym—"

"This is bullshit if I have ever heard it. No one gets to live in a castle for doing butt-fucking nothing!" [Nothing but butt fucking, on the other hand, can buy you a castle if you get the right pimp. Dirty old hag.]

I narrowed my eyes at him and puffed out my chest."You absolute rogue." I pointed at his chest, stricken with sudden inspiration."In the name of our very real Queen...I challenge you to a duel." [Technically the rules of duelling would mean I get to choose the time and place and weapon. I could absolutely fix it so I could win, bitch.]

I searched for gloves to smack him with, but could only find a pair of socks. (Also, in the same drawer, I found two more rocks, with eyes glued on them. I was finding them everywhere. The joke was apparently not yet passe, to Christophe). I made do, snatched the socks from my drawer, approached, and slapped each of his cheeks with them. [You should have put the rocks in them. You'd have won completely. Unfortunately you're fucking retarded.] Christophe snatched them from me immediately, but he also cracked up, so one cannot guess whether he was as offended as he ought to have been by the whole thing.

"I accept!" Christophe retaliated, slapping wildly at me with the socks. I shielded my face and backed away.

"When I return from the bathroom," I warned as I edged towards the door, "we shall fight to the death!" [Pissing yourself scared, you yellow fuckface?]

"I doubt it, pussylicker!" Christophe called as I closed the door on his wicked sock flapping. [Also worth noting, duels are only acceptable between people of equal social station. Am I such a ruffian, Greggy? Am I really?]

"En guarde!" I commanded, pointing my cardboard tube menacingly at my opponent. [Your French accent was fucking shit.] He mimicked my stance (incorrectly of course, but good effort)."And...allez!"

My first movement was an appel lunge: I stomped my advancing foot hard upon the ground just before stepping in order to startle Christophe. He flinched at the sound, as I had hoped he would, and barely dodged the first attack.

"You stand no chance, rogue." I informed him, grinning."I have been trained in combat since I was three years old. [Two years. I'm fucking shitting myself. Weakling.] You will rue the day you ever insulted Her Majesty!" [It's okay, she's not around to be offended.]

Christophe leapt backwards again to avoid my next advance. He swatted at my tube with his own, style-lessly. [If it's styleless, then you don't know what I'm going to try next. See? I know what I'm fucking doing.]

"Aha!" He cried out and jumped onto my bed."I have the high ground. You are fucked now, monsieur!" [So bend over and prepare to fucking receive, bitch.]

"That is cheating!" [No it fucking isn't.] I did not approach (I was not an idiot), but instead lowered tube and glared at him."Come down here and fight me like a man!"

Christophe seemed too excited to follow instructions. He continued to hop up and down, waving his "weapon." He slashed it through the air though I was definitely not close enough to hit. [It's called taunting, you fucking moron.] The cardboard made a wobbly, whooshing sound as he swung it with all his might.

"Now! Die, villain! Die!" His red face was a mask of joy and imaginative fury. [My bright purple face, however, was a mask of disgust. Fucking prick.] "I will kill you! Walk the fucking plank, landlubber!"

"I do not want to play pirates!" I complained from below."Pirates are dirty!" [Just like you, as we've since found out.]

"They are?" Christophe stopped jumping and looked at me with wide eyes."Even with all the water?"

"Yes! It is salt water! Do you really think there were showers aboard ye olde pillaging vessels?" [Oh, dear. Not knowing the "y" in "ye" was actually thorn, spelled "þe" and it was just pronounced "the", eventually being replaced with Y because þ wasn't in the imported type sets, they were indistinguishable in handwriting and everyone just knew the difference? Shame, Greggy boy. Fucking shame.]

"I am the Pirate King!" Christophe shrieked with joy."No showers! Hurrah!"

"The point of that musical is that the pirates are reformed at the end!" I stomped my foot, increasingly angry with him. I had wanted to practice my fencing! I had not even gotten to do a proper balestra! [That's not a real thing, shut your fucking cake hole.] Showing Christophe that film had been, in retrospect, an entirely bad idea. Now I was paying for it.

"For better far to liiive and die!" Christophe sang, horribly, [Fuck you!] holding his weapon high as he pointed it straight up into the air."Under the brave black flag I flyyy!" [You know perfectly well I prefer the red flag. No mercy, fuckers!]

"Christophe, will you please come down from— "

"I know what we need!" Christophe halted mid-note, inspired."We need hats!"

Finally, he climbed down from the bed. Or, really, it is more truthfully to say he descended like a frog from a log, plopping gracelessly down and causing the floor to shake a bit. [Let's see you do better while you're fucking drunk as shit. Fucking lightweight.] He headed straight for my lower desk drawer, where I stored old newspaper clippings that I had particularly enjoyed reading. He selected a few pages, and sat down on my chair. He began folding, entirely immersed in the work. [I have a fucking creative side, see?]

"What are you doing?" I demanded. I was so energetic, and it seemed as if I were floating out of my body. The whole room was bathed in soft, yellow light and my body felt heavy and good. But still, I did not want Christophe to destroy my reading mementos."That is my article on the elections!"

Christophe held up his handiwork proudly."And now it is a hat!" [Or a boat, whichever you prefer. Either way, much more fucking useful.]

It was, sort of. Really, it was more a triangle. [What shape do you think hats are, you silly twat?] Christophe got to work on a second one as soon as he finished the first, ruthlessly creasing my article—ironically—on the royal family. [That's not what fucking irony is!] ‘I tried so hard to defend you,' I thought mournfully, and sent the thought post-haste to my country's fearless leaders through the psychic channels. ‘I have failed you.' [Much as you always would in the future.]

Christophe donned his own hat, and then brought the other to me. He excitedly placed it in my hands, before tilting his own back and forth on his head to demonstrate.

"Like so. You put it on." Christophe instructed. He bounced a bit on his toes."Now!"

I gazed at his hands, greying from the print on the paper, and I made an unhappy humming sound.

"I do not want to put it in my hair," I admitted. [Fucking ponce.]

Hat on, I wandered behind Christophe through the darkness. In the dusk, the hills were blue. The white cement paths and sandy pits fairly glowed under the moon, and the black water in the man-made ponds was still and mirror smooth as gleaming metal. [Oh, get the fuck on with it.] It would have been quite pretty, if I could have relaxed enough to enjoy the sights. The obvious white of the pathways only made me aware of how Christophe and I would stand out in our ridiculous pointed, paper hats.

"I am fairly certain we are not supposed to be here." I whispered. [You fucking thought so, did you? What the fuck gave you that impression? Locked gate, perhaps?] "Once, I came to find my father so as to inform him it was time for dinner, and the golfers told me that it was dangerous for a child to roam the course."

"No danger at night, here." Christophe addressed my concern as if it were no more than a buzzing fly."No balls to smash your pretty princesse skull. [Fragile little fuck.] Too dark."

I swallowed, but I found it a touch difficult, as my mouth had gone dry."We should not be out at all. What time is it?"

Christophe pushed on two sides of his watch, and the face lit up in electric blue. [A fucking Casio. Thanks, you cheap fuck.] "Nearly one am." He consulted his watch a few more moments, brow furrowed."Or 0100 in the military time." [I didn't say that. You know why I didn't say that? Because I didn't fucking care. Stop sucking your own fucking dick as to how good a fucking teacher you are, you lying fucking cunt.]

"Very good." I said, automatically, when he had done the calculation. [It's not a fucking calculation, it's removing a fucking colon! Like I'm going to do to you if you can't get the titanium fucking rod out of your arse on your fucking own.] He nodded without looking at me, released his watch and turned. We had come to the other side of a rather steep slope, whereupon a stretch of neatly manicured, [Fuck off, it wasn't a giant fucking hand.] flat putting-area sat nestled between the grassy knolls. [Some would call it "a green". I'd have thought you'd fucking know this shit.] Christophe swept a palm out in front of himself. There was a smug glitter in his eyes.

"Flat ground." He announced."What do I tell you? Now it is a fair fight."

"I should never had agreed to sneak out." I bemoaned my own bad choices. My levels of good sense and resistance seemed more elastic than usual, probably due to the tingly fizziness in my synapses and rubber feeling in my joints. [You were drunk. That's all you have to fucking say. Don't make this fucking bore more fucking drawn out than it needs to be, you fucking shitface.] The night air was cold, and even in the summer, I regretted wearing only a thin jacket over my clothing. [Why did you not think to put on a fucking coat or something? It's fucking England! Of course the weather's going to be fucking miserable!] Christophe ignored my belly-aching and handed me my cardboard sabre. [I'm even fair enough to give you your weapon back. I'm too fucking nice to you, you fucking cunt dribble.]

"Scallywag!" He shouted, "walk the plank or die, Gregory!" His voice was loud and free in the otherwise silent night. It struck me that he did not often get to make a normal level of noise, being cooped up in my attic all the time. [You're only now thinking of this? How fucking considerate.] It was no wonder that his feet trotted happily beneath him, his smile stretched sloppily across his entire face. I smiled along with him, then, watching him prance about like a puppy dog with a stick. I felt a little sad, too. Christophe belonged out in the world, where he could play and talk like this—not trapped up in a stuffy room while I snuck him scraps. [You're only now thinking of- oh, fuck it, what was I even expecting from you, you selfish fuck.]

There was nothing for it at the moment, however. I was doing the best I could. One could only try in the present to make his time out count for as much as possible. [Our very first bender.]

"You shan't prevail, villain!" I screamed back. I revelled in getting to do so; I almost never raised my voice even slightly, else face rather unpleasant scolding. I jousted in his general direction: flunge, riposte. It was not strategic, but I understood this as a friendly match. [And also you were fucking drunk so you just kind of flopped around like a dying fucking trout.] We were using the insides of the servant's store of wrapping paper from the back of the pantry, for Christ's sakes.

Christophe swung at me. He laughed and ducked as he retreated, naturally, but then he came back with a vengeance. He whacked at my tube with his own as hard as he could. Quite soon, the tubes both bent until they were hardly more than paper ribbons. Still, we chased each other about in the grass with our trainers wet with dew. [Obviously. You fucking idiot. Why would you fucking need to add that? It fucking goes without saying.]

"Surrender, Pirate King!" I demanded."I will free the maiden, [You don't care about fucking maidens you gay shite.] and return your plunder to the royal treasury where it belongs!"

"Never!" Christophe cried, flailing as he attempted to whip me with his weapon. He nearly succeeded in tapping my face, but I cleverly wheeled out of the way. [That's not clever, that's fucking obvious.] However, Christophe apparently tired of my dancing back and forth. Without warning, he discarded his weapon, and before I could blink, he had taken me down bodily. [You're fucking posh, you should know rugby.] With a shriek, I went down with his arms bundled around me. He landed on top, and I wheezed when I hit the floor. The air had been knocked from my lungs, and I wheezed.

"Now!" Christophe sat on my stomach, and try as I might, I could not throw him."I have won, cocksucker!" [Now suck fucking cock.]

"Surrender is for the weak!" I held my own, bravely."Do as you like, but I will not yield, scoundrel!" [Do you know that fucking challenging me is a really terrible fucking idea? Fucking idiot.]

"Is that so?" Christophe immediately began tickling my ribs. His fingers dug into the point it nearly hurt, and the spasmodic laughter it drew from me was akin to a cramping, seizing ache. [I imagine it actually was a cramping seizing ache, that's the kind of fucking effect tickling will have on you you fucking moron.]


"Where is your God now, euh?" Christophe cackled. I tried to roll away to no avail. Though I had very recently used the toilet, I felt the pressing urge to do so again. [Pissy pants Greggy.] Tears swam down my cheeks as I struggled and laughed. Christophe showed no mercy in his assault, however. [You were fucking expecting that shit?] I tried to grab at his wrists but he was easily stronger. I was utterly helpless.

"P-please!" I wheezed, after I attempted and failed to bite him, [Kinky mother fucker.] to make him let me go."Let GO!"

"Surrender!" Christophe insisted. His tickling fingers moved from ribs to arm pit, which caused me to twist anew. My brain was slowly deprived of oxygen, [I imagine fucking not. Otherwise you'd be fucking dead.] my jaw felt stiff and brittle from being forced up and down as I laughed.

"N-never, get off or I will p-p-p ahaha!" I broke off for a moment."Pee upon us both!" [Kinky mother fucker !]

"Oui, do it," Christophe dared me."I do not care! Pirate Kings cannot be threatened!" [If you'll recall it wouldn't be the fucking first time I've had pretty fucking vile bodily fluid all over me. At least piss will wash out, blood's more of a bitch.]

It really was becoming a pressing issue, in more ways than one. Each time laughter forced my belly to clench, I got a bit closer to wetting myself. I had two options, and they were both humiliating. [One day your pride will fucking kill you.] But one involved clean up and a walk home with soiled pants.

"All right, all right, I GIVE, you cretin!" I coughed and and spluttered."Get OFF me!"

Christophe retracted his hands, but instead of looking unbearably smug, he just looked a bit mystified. [Yeah. You surrendering. Fucking weird as fuck.] He placed his hands down on either side of my head. He hovered above me, not complying and removing himself from atop of my pelvis, of course. But there was something about the expression on his face—it was as if he had never seen me before. [Don't piss yourself or anything.]

"There is dirt in your hair." He said. His voice was quiet. I had no idea why the mood had so abruptly shifted. But I became hyper-aware of the crickets chirping, the distant cars, growling along the motorways. [The M5's the other fucking side of Cheltenham, you didn't fucking hear shit.]

"That is your fault." I frowned."What are you staring at? You are being obnoxious, Christophe, [Have you even fucking met me!?] climb off now."

"You are messy." Christophe complied and backed off of me, but he would not stop peering into my eyes, as if I were keeping some secret from him he sought to discern through searing eye-contact. [Yeah. Really. You being messy and not giving a shit is something fucking noteworthy. I'd ask if you were even able to put two and two together but we both know I'm fucking better at maths than you.]

"You say that like it is some sort of compliment." [Is it not?] I huffed, and to break up the tension, I took to straightening myself up. He was not wrong that I was in a state, one wagers. [After a drunken fucking sword fight and rolling around in wet fucking grass, what the fuck do you think?]

Christophe shook his head. He finally broke the staring streak to look out into the golf course. He pulled up the grass absently, lanky arms resting over his knees. Without warning, he got to his feet. His hands wiped at his sides as he attempted to restore blood flow. [No, I was trying to dry them off you fucking retard.]

"Let us fuck things up." He said as I brushed myself off and followed his example—standing. There was no refusal in my heart. [Wow, you do have a sense of fucking fun after all.] The night felt huge and wild, and we had the whole world to ourselves.

"All right." I stood at his side, and I felt him put his hand around mine. Somehow, I had known he would."What were you thinking? And can it wait until I have found a bush or some such place to relieve myself?" [Why are you so fucking uptight about pissing yourself? Didn't you ever fucking wonder what the leak in the kitchen ceiling was?]

Christophe stuck his tongue out of one side of his mouth as he worked a stolen lapel pin inside the lock on the golf cart rental warehouse. [Some might call it a fucking garage.]

"Why would you steal that?" I asked as he worked."What good is it to you? You do not even wear suits!" [Fucking idiot.]

"Espèce d'idiot! [See? Knew it even back then. You're a fucking idiot.] Look at what I am doing." Christophe hissed. He elbowed me sharply."And shut up! This is, how you say, delicate work. I need you to, for once, shut your stupid gab hole." [I accept that for someone as pleased with the sound of their own fucking voice as you that's a bit of a tall fucking order.]

"You are especially insufferable right now," I groused. [At least you don't have to hang out with yourself, hm?] But then I did as bid, if only to speed the process up. I had no desire to get caught committing what I was sure was a legal transgression. [Do you fucking think so?] I was far, far too young for prison. [But harbouring an illegal immigrant? Nah, that's fucking fine. What was it, six months and a five grand fine at the time?]

He worked for nearly twenty five minutes. This was only a guess, of course. Because every five or so, I made him check the time. [Because you fucking forgot to bring your own fucking watch.] But eventually, he grew tired of this, and instead of answering me, he would just withdraw the pin entirely, stare at me for a long time, [Take in the fucking bullshit.] and then resume his work.

"Aha!" He cried out, when he had cracked it."Little bitch. Open she comes, every time."

"Yes, fine." I looked around to make sure no one was watching. As I did so, Christophe slid the bolt and opened the door. He beckoned over his shoulder that I follow him, but I did not want to set foot in that place. If we were not supposed to be on the course, we definitely were not supposed to be in here. [That was the fucking idea you fucking dipshit.] The large, pitch-black room smelt of wet wood and oil and dust. As my eyes adjusted, I could make out the looming outlines of the carts, parked in neat rows—roughly six rows, each containing four carts. [Why does it matter how they were arranged you fucking twat? The amount of unnecessary detail you're giving is fucking autistic in scale, it doesn't fucking matter!]

Christophe crept towards them. From his pocket, he drew a booklight (he had most definitely swiped it from my dresser drawer). It was so bright that when he turned it on, it fairly stung my eyes. [Whose fault is that for having such unnecessarily fucking bright booklights then, fuckface? Or were you expecting me to fucking acquire my own?] The blueish-white light it cast made the room look even eerier, enormous shadows springing up on all sides.

"Christophe, what are we doing?" I murmured with fear, drawing close to him. [Fucking guess.] I wanted to take his hand again, but I dared not. For some reason, the notion of touching made me nervous all the sudden. [Don't pretend you're a fucking prude, you fucking love a good reaming.]

"We, princesse, are going on a little ride." Christophe peeked at me over his shoulder. His grin was unapologetic, and he looked slightly [SLIGHTLY!?] manic with the light slanting across his features, exaggerating them.

"What?" I stopped in my tracks, breathless."We. Can't do that!"

Christophe fully turned to face me then. He took a step, so that he was very close. I could smell his breath. There was a trace of sourness from the juice earlier, and the nameless, thick familiar smell I only associated with him: like soil, but warmer and more alive. [It's called having fucking body odour, you fucking moron. You probably caught some of it yourself. You could fucking do with it though, I mean, fucking hell, whatever shit you were getting from your parents was fucking awful.] Though he was shorter than I, he still seemed inescapable. My heart thrummed anew, almost painfully, low in my chest.

"I will let you drive," he said, eyes flickering. [You could reach the pedals.] He reached out to touch my hair, just at the base of my neck. It was familiar, for he often did this. He liked to play with the curls there; he called them my "piggy Q's." [I couldn't quite pronounce pubes yet, alright? I was trying to fucking insult you.]

I bit my lip."We will get in trouble." I wavered, uncertainly.

"You will already get in trouble," he winked."I lie to you. I did not trade for the juice. I stole it from your father's fancy cellar."

"You what?!" [Look, were you really fucking surprised?]

"I overheard him say that it was very expensive," Christophe continued."He will be upset in any case. You might as well have a bit more fun, non? "

"" [Being drunk is no fucking excuse to be unable to form coherent fucking sentences, Greggy. Be fucking ashamed. Unless you made this up because you're a lightweight and lost all your fucking memories - as I recall you burst the fuck out laughing.]

My stomach was a knotted python, attempting to painfully untwist itself, but squeezing itself into yet tighter contortions. [You torture that metaphor, you fucking cunt.] I felt the blood drain from my face, and my heart ceased thumping and quieted as if afraid to continue pulsing. But also, a sense of immense calm filled my mind, and for some reason, I felt things were perfectly, unabashedly clear and straightforward. [This is what is called the "I'm fucked" feeling. Because if you know you're fucked and there's no way to avoid it, you can just resign yourself to it. It's a fucking great feeling, considering.]

"Oh. ...Well, toss it then." [You can't even fucking swear right. Fuck you, you fucking arse muncher.] I should have been mad at him, but instead I took his hand. His hand was huge; Christophe always had enormous hands and feet, like a pup who would soon grow into a massive dog. [There's two ways I can take that, and you better fucking believe I'm taking it the wrong fucking way.] He never did, really, he always had disproportionate appendages, [As you well know.] but he looked it all the same. I could feel his rough digging calluses when he laced our fingers together. An almost painful clenching sensation overtook my throat, my chest—almost painful, but not quite. Also almost like fear, but not quite. [Greg, that reads incredibly awkwardly. You just ended two sentences in a row with the same thing. It looks awful and is awful. You should fucking know this because you're the on that fucking taught me this shit.]

"...Which cart?" I asked him, a strange smile lifted itself between my cheeks, and I touched one side with my fingertips, marvelling. I had not any reason to smile. Yet here I was, beaming irresistibly like a fool. [Because you fucking are one.]

It was my brilliant idea to find the keys to the golf carts in the locker at the front. [Brilliant is a little bit generous there, it was kind of fucking obvious.] Christophe was the one who managed to pick the lock up front, however, so my credit ought to shared for our success. Christophe was also the one who remembered to roll up the huge, warehouse door. [That means I get two thirds of the credit. At least. I did the fucking useful shit.] It required the both of us to lift it, and Christophe had to pick yet another the lock as it had been chained down. So perhaps he does deserve a smidge more credit than I. [Thank you, Greg, you're too fucking kind, you fucking cunt.]

In any case, the caper was underway. We chose the cart closest to the door. Christophe named it "Annabella." I did not ask him why. [Your loss.]

"R must mean reverse, and F for forward." I examined the dashboard after we had climbed in. Christophe sat very close to me, and wrapped both arms around my waist as I tried to figure out how to start the thing. [Is it not a fucking necessity to sit very close to you to be able to get my fucking arms around you? Fucking idiot.] As usual, he rested his chin on my shoulder. I was very aware of his breathing, the rising and falling pressure of his body against my side. It made it a touch hard to focus. [Along with being completely fucking wankered? Fucking lightweight.]

"Oui." Christophe agreed with me. He scooted a bit closer. It was cold, as one has mentioned, so that was likely why."Now, start this bitch up, Gregory! Vroom, vroom, motherfucker!" [Now that I will freely admit I did say. Vroom vroom mother fucker.]

Christophe handed me the keys, and I inserted them next to the wheel. I assumed the engine had turned on, though I did not hear anything. [Drunkard.] Then, I put the cart in the forward position with the push of the dash-button.

"I wonder which is the pedal and which is the gas." I frowned, and then looked to Christophe for his input. Or rather, I looked to the top of his head. It was not exactly informative. [Eyes are down here you fucking prick.]

"Only one way to find out," Christophe said, speculatively."...Push one."

"Fair point." My body was like one, big, sparking live-wire. [As opposed to one of those sparking dead wires?] I felt so vulnerable and exposed, but I wasalso full of dangerous energy. I glanced quickly to the two pedals side by side near my feet. I adjusted my hands on the wheel, stared straight ahead and steeled myself.

"Here goes." I sipped in a quick breath and stretched myself until I could reach the pedal. I pressed down. My back almost immediately hit the seat, and Christophe's arms tightened around me as if to squeeze back up my dinner. [VROOM VROOM MOTHER FUCKER!] The high electrical whine of the tyres turning fast screeched as we tore out of the lot. The world blurred around us, and I cried out in alarm, clutching the wheel for dear life. I was so petrified, I forgot to take my foot off the pedal. [Good boy.]

"We're going to die!" I lamented, hysterically. [Lamented? You were screaming in fucking terror.] Christophe burst into barking, crazed laughter that did not at all ease my panic.

"Do not stop!" He encouraged, sounding nothing but ecstatic."Go, Gregory, fucking go!"

We veered off the path and onto the putting green. I tried to steer us back onto the sanctioned driving area, [But where's the fucking fun there?] but I turned so hard that I uprooted the grass and left muddy tyre treads in our wake. The cart tipped as I swerved, and it barely righted itself as we zoomed away. [That's because it's top heavy, you upper class overfed fuck.] This all happened so fast I scarcely had time to register my stomach dropping from the top of my esophagus and into my knees. [Not how biology works, fucker.]

"Whoo! Fucking hell!" Christophe cheered, shaking me."J'adore! Faster!"

"I do not think it goes faster," I shouted back, delirious. [Fucking quitter.] "...Where should we go?"

"There!" Christophe pointed forward, to a little cluster of trees beside a gently sloping mound."Off road! I want to have an adventure!"

Well. We had already committed car theft, technically. [Technically? It's not technical, we fucking did it.] I complied, and even drove over the green to get there faster. The wind was cool and thrilling against my face, and I squinted into it. I felt so large and powerful, in control of this vehicle that felt like it was moving faster than sound. [I can fucking guarantee that's not the case. The golf cart can't go faster than about thirty miles an hour, sound's like 750. So fuck off.] There was no seatbelt, but I had Christophe's arms securely around my waist (though in retrospect, one realises this was most likely for Christophe's safety rather than mine. I had the wheel to hang onto. He only had me). [Seatbelts are for fucking pussies.]

We reached the trees, and immediately, controlling the vehicle became more difficult. I had to jerk the cart left and right to avoid collisions, and the ground was bumpy beneath us, cause our rear ends to thump hard against the seats. [Fucking rawr.] The sharp turns and traction of the soil slowed us a bit, thankfully, but not enough to make me feel quite secure. The branches above obscured the stars and moon. We careened through the brush and brushes like we were sailing in a dream. [Or in your fucking yellow belly case, a fucking nightmare.]

Or perhaps a nightmare, [Fucking called it!] because the welling sense of total terror I had been feeling all along reached a fever pitch [Fucking what!?] as I lost all sense of where the road was and how to keep the cart from turning on its side. It seemed more imminent with every sharp turn.

"This...this, Christophe, this was a very bad idea!" [No it fucking wasn't!] I said, though the words were choppy and barely loud enough to be heard over the wind and the whir of the tyres."I cannot keep this up! We should get back on the path—Christophe!" [Or maybe I should drive, I'd be fucking competent and not shit myself.]

On the other side of the trees was a man-made pond. I finally removed my foot from the pedal to kick out and fumble for the brake, but I was too late. We were going straight into the lake. [It's about to get wetter than your mother in fucking heat.]

"Jump!" Christophe's voice was like a siren, but I did not know what he was asking. Luckily, he did not wait for me to figure it out. [You never would have, you dumbfuck.] He shoved me off the seat and then launched himself out right as the cart splashed forward—straight into the water. [And how would it have splashed without fucking water?]

He landed on top of me, and it hurt. I landed on my shoulder, and Christophe's weight crushed my body like he was a sack of bricks. I was too stunned to do anything but moan, lowly, at first. [Okay, look, I know it was exciting but there's no need to fucking cream yourself.] I was sure I was dead or so severely injured that I would soon wish I were. I closed my eyes tightly, let my head fall back and waited for the pain.

"...Ugh." Christophe lifted his torso up first. I felt him slowly remove himself from on top of me. When I cracked open one eye, he was rubbing his arm, bashfully.

"We survived that motherfucker like pumpkins bouncing off a truck, euh?" Christophe chuckled, sounded almost proud. [I did sound proud, because what I actually said was an analogy that made fucking sense.] "We could have been deader than goddamn door meat, non?"

"Yes. "It was the first word my mind could locate. It tasted metallic in my mouth when I spoke it. [Nope. That's blood.] I could not bring myself to follow Christophe's example and get righted just then. But very soon, I turned my head to an ominous bubbling noise.

The cart was sinking in the pond. [It looked fucking great, it was like one of those fucking Looney Tunes cartoons. Or like the fucking TIE fighter on Jakku. Plop plop boom, fuckfaces!]

"Christophe!" I scrambled to my feet and hurried to the pond's edge. But the water was dark, and judging by the slow sinking cart, it was not safe to walk along the muddy pond bottom. Even the case that I could have, I thought, dragging my hands down my face in horror, it was very unlikely unsafe to swim. There could be leeches, water snakes, insects. [No, no, no, fucking wimp. The golf course wouldn't be fucking allowed to have any leeches in the water hazard, water snakes aren't fucking native to the UK and what the fuck is an insect going to do to you, spill fucking bug juice on your fucking corduroys? It's not fucking Australia, they're not going to be brimming to the fucking balls with venom. You're a yellow cunt and you never fucking fail to act like it. Fucking cunt.] I hovered at the shore, watching helplessly as the cart was slowly swallowed by water.

"What have we done?" I wondered, stricken."We are going to be in so much trouble. We are going to have to skip the country." [You fucking drama queen cunt.]

Christophe dusted dead leaves from his trousers and slung an arm around my shoulder. He did not seem nearly so concerned as I was. [I have balls. One of us has to.]

"Want to steal another one?" he asked. He sounded serious. [It was fucking fun, no?]

"You must be joking!"

The white roof of the golf cart slipped beneath the ripples, and I swallowed, nervously. I wondered if we could fashion some sort of grappling hook and go fishing for it. [Yes, Greggy, explain to me how two five year old kids with a makeshift grappling hook can pull a quarter tonne golf cart out of a fucking lake.] But if we could, I wondered, how would we pull it out? [Oh for fuck's sake, that wasn't supposed to be a fucking invitation.] Use a nearby tree to fashion a pulley? [Probably not.] Where would we even get rope? My thoughts were interrupted by Christophe, stroking the top of my hand with his fingers as we stood there together and watched the final moments of our crime. [Oh stop being a fucking drama queen! For once! Just once can you fucking act like you're not the most fucking important thing on this stupid fucking planet?] I wanted to ask what he was doing, but I was afraid he would stop. So for a time, we we quiet.


He looked at me. His eyes were so large and black, and his mouth looked small. He always did have thin lips, forever chapped, sometimes bleeding—worsened by his insistent picking at them. [Greg, you can't do fucking character description after fucking sixty thousand words. You've read Harry Potter, right? Could you fucking imagine if the book got all the way through until just before they go after the philosopher's stone and then it goes "Oh by the way he's a speccy prick with a gash on his face"? That's how poor quality your fucking writing is. Fuck you.] I imagined they would feel rough. There were sticks and things in his hair, and I reached over to pluck them out. He turned a bit to let me, for once, so I got to work with both hands. [Like a fucking baboon picking nits.]

Honestly, one still does not know what came over me. Around me, I could hear the quiet pond, with the faint lapping of water at the banks, the night birds twittering to each other, and the sound of our shoes squelching in the mud. The distant lights of town glowed far away. [Yes, that's what fucking distant means.] It felt tender to pluck the leaves and rubbish from Christophe's unmanageable hair, intimate somehow. [Fucking weirdo.] And then, it was the most natural thing in the world to lean forward and find out for certain that despite appearances, his lips were actually quite soft, and warm. [Oh, for fuck's sake.]

My hairs twined tighter in his hair. His hands wrapped around my waist. [Yes, because the five year old boys, one of whom got the shit kicked into him regularly by his dad and the other turned up one day, I remind you, in a fucking graveyard, covered in fucking blood, with bruises around his fucking arse? Those two people would totally be well versed in fucking intimacy. You knocked into my face so hard you ended up with a fucking nosebleed, you fucking twat.] I simultaneously felt as if I were breathing too much and not at all. He tasted sticky and sweet, but under that was something earthier and human. [It would have tasted like saliva you fucking idiot.] It lasted about two seconds, but the silence afterwards seemed to go on forever.

Somehow it was not an awkward silence. [I was just happy you'd shut up for once.] We held hands, and watched the reflection of the moon like a petal in the water, [Fucking what?] and I could hear it: we were both breathing so heavily.

Later, we would repeat ourselves. I could not have known it then, but that kiss rewrote many things which the future might have otherwise held. [Oh, fuck off, don't tell me you believe in free will. Fucking naive cunt.] Yet, one cannot feel regret, when this scene plays in mind. There is a sense of longing for the way that things once were, like one is seeing it from the other side of a glass. [Because you fucked it all up.] We were so innocent and naive [You were, maybe.] that a single kiss could take our breaths away. Holding hands felt like it might make the world begin again. [Oh, fuck, you've been watching Les Mis again haven't you? I recognise that line, don't think you can fucking get it past an actual French person. Appropriate it's one of the wet bloke's lines at least.] Breaking the rules was novel, and it seemed so stunningly brave.

I was big on books as a child. [No fucking shit.] My fondest recollections of my youth involve reading to Christophe, his head in my lap and my fingers in his hair as I told him of monsters and kings and misers and shoes that danced on their own. [And princesses like you.] One doubts he would give the same favourite memories, if asked. [Given my response thus far, what the fuck do you think?] He often told me that his favourite childhood moments were when we played by the banks of the pond at the park on long afternoons—he filled his bucket with worms and muck, and I searched for stones with which to make "mosaics." [Artsy cunt, just get muddy and have some fucking fun.] There were many good ones to choose from between the two of us, truthfully, but none share the quality of "firstness" that the night on the golf course has. [I can fucking think of one. You put in a fucking pathetic performance though, so I get you might want to forget that one.] It was not only the first time I had ever done anything even slightly romantic; it was a first step in a journey that would soon force us to run, crawl and leap at great speeds. [And in your case, pratfall every five fucking seconds.] It was a small taste of the men we would become.

But most of all, it was the first chapter. I had awakened into a self that was really two selves, [What?] so in some way, that was the day I was born. [No it fucking wasn't.]

[Okay, why the fuck does it fucking cut off here? You've just written fucking seventy thousand fucking words about our childhood for no apparent fucking reason. Does this mean something? What purpose does this serve? What fucking purpose does this serve?



Hang on. I know. I fucking know. This is you we're talking about. Fucking you. Only you could be so fucking full of yourself that you'd feel the need to split your fucking autobiography up into fucking volumes. Right, I am fucking going to hunt the rest of this shit down and I am never letting you forget about this. You're going to regret it the rest of your fucking life, you stuck up fucking cunt.]