Jason lifted his pint, drained the last of his beer. ‘So, that’s what I have to deal with right now. I’d better be getting back to her, just in case.’
Mike and Ray did their best to hide their amusement, but their best wasn’t particularly good.
‘Well, of course, buddy. We wouldn’t want to keep you away if the missus is being stalked by Freddy Krueger or something.’ Mike finished his beer. ‘You don’t mind if Ray and I carry on here without you, though? We don’t have ladies in peril needing us rushing away to help.’
Pulling on his jacket and grabbing his gym bag, Jason made to move away.
‘No, that’s fine. You two will always have each other, right?’ He jested, punching Ray in the arm as he turned and walked away.
The night air hit as he stepped outside. He zipped his jacket up and started to move quickly, hoping a brisk walk would ward off the chill. He’d only just turned the corner when the sound of his mobile called out. He’d been mugged for a phone on that very street only a few months before and wasn’t keen to have it happen again. But he knew it was Jen calling, even before he unzipped his jacket and took out the phone, knew it was a call he had to take.
‘Hey, I’m just heading back. Want anything brought in? The chinese place is probably still open.’
‘Be quick! I think there’s someone here, someone outside again. Please hurry home.’ She was panicked, sounded like she’d been crying, her voice gasping as she fought to catch her breath.
Jason quickened his pace. He was only a short walk from their flat.
‘Ok. Keep calm. I’m not far. Just keep calm, Jen. Have you seen someone? At the back of the flat?’
‘Just get here quick, Jason. I think there’s more than one. I heard noises at the front door, and someone in the back yard. Please hurry.’
Jason broke into a run, grateful that he’d kept his tracksuit bottoms and trainers on and not got changed back into his work suit and shoes after gym.
‘I’m nearly there, Jen. Nearly home. Hang on.’
He kept the phone on as he ran, holding it tight to his ear, hearing her hurried breath on the line as his own heart-rate began to race. He wasn’t the fittest of the bunch – had been trying to lose a few stone, what with the baby on the way and everything – and those couple of pints after a few hours at the gym now felt like a very bad idea, the Guinness swilling around as he ran.
‘Jason! There’s a figure at the door!’ Jenny was near to hysterical now.
‘Hold on, nearly there. Front or back door?’
‘Front. Staring straight at me. Hurry please!’
Jason pounded the pavement, turned the corner and sped into his own road. Their flat was just opposite.
‘I’m here.’ He called out into the phone as he sprinted across the road, adrenaline carrying him against any fear of what he might have to deal with. He ran between two parked cars directly outside the flat and powered up the stone steps to the doorway.
There was no one around.
He turned quickly and looked back down the steps, walked carefully back down and looked both ways up the street. There wasn’t a soul in sight.
There was a sudden movement and he jumped back as a fox ambled away from the dustbins, leaving him alone in the semi-darkness once again.
Jason fumbled for his key.
‘I’m outside, Jen. There’s no one here. I’m just finding my key.’
No answer came, just the sound of shallow breath on the line.
‘Jen?’ He wasn’t sure whether he was now talking into the phone handset or through the door, deciding that, as he found the key and opened the door, he could end the call, ready to speak to her in person and, more importantly, to hold her tight.
The hallway was silent, the only light coming from the sitting room at the end of the hall. Jason flicked the latch up on the front door and began to walk towards the room, hearing voices he assumed were from the television.
‘Jenny?’ He gently nudged the door to the sitting room open with his foot, his eyes scanning quickly to check the room.
And there she lay.
Sprawled on the sofa, her arm hanging limply over the edge, fingers draped on the floor. Just inches away from her hand was her mobile phone. The display was showing only the clock display in large numerals. On the arm of the chair was the tv remote. Jason carefully lifted it, muted the voices from the late night CSI show, and placed it back down. Then he knelt beside her, watched her sleep, listened to her breathing.
He stayed there for a while, just watching her. He lifted her arm and placed her hand on her stomach, on their child, prayed that their baby wouldn’t suffer the nightmares with which its mother had been cursed.
After a while he stood again, deciding to let her sleep where she lay. He fetched a blanket and carefully laid it over her, then went to the kitchen to make coffee. As he filled the kettle, he felt the vibration of his mobile in his pocket. A text from Ray.
HOPE JENNY’S OK TONITE, MATE – CATCH UP WIV U SOON
He smiled at the text. Oh, yes, Jenny seemed just fine tonight. But on two pints of Guinness, Jason was getting calls from her whilst she was asleep and ran all the way home to seek out a mysterious figure that may or may not have been lurking outside the front of their flat. Jason needed coffee, sleep and, perhaps, some therapy. Jason clearly had something to concern himself with, and that might not be Jenny at this moment.
He sat at the breakfast bar, sipping at his coffee. After considering replying to Ray’s text he decided against it, but with his mobile there in front of him he thought he should at least check the call log.
There were no calls made to or from his mobile phone since 4.30 that afternoon, when he’d called Jenny ahead of the gym and pub trip. Had the whole call and conversation been in his own head?
Concerned that he might be asleep himself, he grabbed the skin between his thumb and first finger on his left hand and squeezed tightly. It hurt. Hurt a lot. He was awake.
Jason lowered his head in his hands and clutched at his scalp, rubbing it furiously in an effort to un-fog his mind and make him think straight. And then he heard the sounds.
From behind him, at the kitchen windows, near the back door, it sounded like someone was on the veranda. There were footsteps and the sound of whispered tones between several voices. A chill ran up his back as he forced himself to turn and see them – shadowy figures outside on the veranda, gathered by the door, as though daring him to open it and let them into his world.
Then came a rattling from elsewhere – the sound of a key or something else being rattled in a lock, the lock of the front door, where he’d just latched it shut.
He stood quickly, knocking over the chair in his hurry.
‘Jason?’ He heard a voice from outside. ‘You need to let us in, Jason.’ Deep down he knew the voice, but couldn’t match a face to it. He backed away from the kitchen and the dark figures outside and stepped into the hallway. There was another dark shape at the front door wanting to come in, rattling the lock.
He looked into the sitting room, knowing he had to wake Jenny and to get her to safety. The room was empty, the sofa unoccupied, no mobile phone, no blanket, no Jenny. His hands went to his face, clawing at his cheeks as he struggled to comprehend, stepping back into the hall just as he heard a voice at the front door.
‘Do it. We need to get to him.’
The wooden door panel splintered around the lock as it exploded open, the glazed top panel shattered as the door slammed back against the wall. The first of the dark figures, a young police officer, lowered his metal ram and stood aside, allowing two other people to run into the hall towards him. His legs felt weak and he slumped onto the ground as the realisation hit him that these were his parents.
‘Jason.’ His mother held him close to her, as she hadn’t done for many years. ‘It’s going to be okay, love. You need to come away with us. Come and stay with your Dad and me. We need to get you away from here, from this place, from its memories.’
He looked up at her and then across at his father.
His father placed a hand on his son’s shoulder.
‘Come on, Son. You have to let her go. You have to let them both go. It just wasn’t to be. God’s will, whatever you want to call it, but Jenny and the baby are together and, as hard as it is and as hard as it’s going to be, you need to say goodbye, Son.’
Jason cleared his throat, wished he could clear his mind.
‘But, I was out earlier, with Mike and Ray, and then she called me and – ‘
His father shook his head.
‘They haven’t been able to deal with the way you’ve been for a few weeks now, Son. We all tried to give you some space, some time to grieve, but Ray called me yesterday and told us how concerned they were about you, the way you’ve been acting, things you’ve been saying. Come on. Let’s go home.’
Keith B Walters