فصل 08

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فصل 08

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Falling

Will met a woman called Rachel at a party on New Year’s Eve, and fell in love with her. He’d never wanted to fall in love because he’d always thought of it as a very unpleasant experience. He had watched it happen to friends, and had seen them lose weight and sleep and become unhappy. He was sure that Rachel was going to make him very unhappy, because he didn’t think she would find him interesting.

Rachel was beautiful and intelligent and she did drawings for children’s books. She sat down next to Will at dinner and asked him questions, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. Most people at the party worked in television, or had other interesting jobs, but Will didn’t have a job and he hadn’t done anything interesting with his life. He watched Countdown and drove around listening to Nirvana.

The most interesting thing about his life, Will suddenly realized, was Marcus. He could see that Rachel was quickly losing interest in him. She had begun to talk to the person sitting on her other side and they were having a conversation about pop music. Rachel was saying that to her Nirvana sounded just like the sixties group Led Zeppelin.

‘I know a twelve-year-old boy who would kill you for saying that,’ said Will. It wasn’t true, of course. Marcus had only just started listening to Nirvana, and he didn’t know anything about Led Zeppelin. But Rachel was interested.

‘So do I,’ she said. ‘Maybe they should meet. What’s yours called?’

He’s not mine exactly, Will thought. ‘Marcus.’

‘Mine’s Ali.’

‘Right.’

‘And is Marcus’s mother here tonight?’

‘Ummm…’ Will looked up and down the table. ‘No.’ It wasn’t a lie! Fiona wasn’t there.

‘You’re not spending New Year’s Eve with her?’

‘No. We… er… don’t live together.’ This wasn’t a lie either. He didn’t live with Fiona, he had never lived with Fiona and he never intended to live with her in the future. ‘How about Ali’s dad?’

‘He lives in America.’

‘Right.’

Rachel started to talk about Ali’s father and Will listened. He was very good at listening when a woman told him how badly her ex-husband had behaved. He had heard the same story many times from the women in SPAT.

At midnight Will and Rachel kissed, and at half-past twelve, just before Rachel left, they arranged for Marcus and Ali to meet and compare computer games and CDs.

Now Will had a problem. He had allowed Rachel to believe that he had a twelve-year-old son because it made him more interesting. He was going to have to talk to Marcus, and he knew the conversation would be difficult. So he took Marcus out to a place full of video machines.

‘I want you to pretend to be my son,’ he said.

‘But why?’ asked Marcus. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘Because I’ve met a woman who thinks you’re my son.’

‘Why don’t you tell her I’m not your son?’

‘No.’

Why not? I’ll tell her if you like. I don’t mind.’

‘That’s very kind of you, Marcus, but it wouldn’t help.’

Marcus was busy playing one of the video games. ‘Why not? I don’t understand.’

‘Marcus, listen. I’m really interested in this woman. I let her believe you were my son because that’s the only reason she might be interested in me.’ ‘What do you mean, you’re really interested in her? Why is she so interesting?’

‘I fancy this woman, Marcus. I want to go out with her. I want her to be my girlfriend.’

At last Marcus turned away from the video machine and looked at Will, his eyes shining. ‘Really?’

‘Yes, really.’ Will wanted Rachel to be his wife, his lover, the centre of his world.

‘How do you know you want her to be your girlfriend?’

‘I don’t know. I just feel it.’

‘Oh,’ said Marcus. ‘Well, I feel the same about Ellie. I want her to be my girlfriend.’

‘You want Ellie to be your girlfriend? Not just a friend?’

‘Well,’ said Marcus, ‘I want to be with her all the time. And I want to tell her things before I tell anyone, even you or mum. And I don’t want her to have another boyfriend.’

So Marcus agreed to help Will. Will called Rachel and Rachel invited them to lunch the following Saturday. Marcus came round to Will’s flat just after midday. He was wearing the hairy juniper that he got from Fiona for Christmas and a pair of bright yellow trousers. Will looked cool: he was wearing his favourite shirt and a black leather jacket.

‘Listen,’ said Marcus in the car on the way over to Rachel’s place. ‘If you’re my dad, you should know some things about me. When’s my birthday?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘August the nineteenth. And what’s my favourite food?’

‘Tell me.’

‘Pizza. And where did I go on my first trip abroad?’

‘France.’

‘No, Spain. And who’s my mum?’

‘What?’ The question was such an important one that Will couldn’t think what to say. ‘Your mum’s your mum.’

‘So you were married to my mum and then you separated. Are you worried about that? Am I?’

The questions seemed so silly that both Marcus and Will began to laugh. They laughed and laughed, and couldn’t stop.

Rachel lived in a tall, thin house full of books and old furniture and photographs. It had a warm, welcoming feel, very different from Will’s cool modern flat.

‘Come in, both of you,’ Rachel said. ‘Come and meet Ali.’ She shouted up the stairs: ‘Ali!’ No reply. ‘ALI!’ Still no reply. She looked at Will. ‘He’s got his headphones on. Shall we go up?’

They went upstairs. Ali’s bedroom was typical of a twelve- year-old boy, with large pictures of singers and sexy actresses on the wall. Ali was bent over his computer with his headphones on, and didn’t hear them come in. His mother touched him on the shoulder and he jumped.

‘Oh, hi. Sorry.’ Ali stood up and Will immediately saw that Ali and Marcus were very different. Ali was cool, with fashionable boots and trousers, long hair and even an earring. His face seemed to darken when he saw Marcus’s yellow trousers and hairy jumper.

‘Marcus - Ali, Ali - Marcus,’ said Rachel. ‘Do you guys want to stay up here?’

Marcus looked at Will. ‘Yes,’ he said, and for a moment Will loved him.

‘OK,’ said Ali, but he didn’t sound very enthusiastic.

Marcus knew the lunch with Rachel was very important to Will, and he wanted to help as much as possible. He also thought that if he helped Will with Rachel, then Will might help him with Ellie. But Ali never gave him a chance.

‘It isn’t going to happen,’ he said when Rachel and Will had gone downstairs.

‘No?’ said Marcus, although he didn’t know what Ali was talking about.

‘If your dad goes out with my mum, you’re dead.’

‘Oh, he’s all right,’ said Marcus.

Ali stared at him. ‘I don’t care if he’s all right. I don’t want him going out with my mum. So I don’t want to see you or him round here ever again, OK?’

‘Can I use the computer? What games have you got?’ Marcus said, trying to change the subject.

‘Are you listening to me?’

‘Yes, but… I’m not sure there’s very much I can do at the moment. We’ve come for lunch, and Will… that’s my dad, but I call him Will… he’s talking to your mum downstairs and he’s really keen on her, and who knows? She might be keen on him, so…’

‘SHE’S NOT KEEN ON HIM!’ Ali suddenly shouted. ‘SHE’S ONLY KEEN ON ME!’

Marcus was beginning to realize that Ali was crazy, and he wasn’t sure what to do about it. He thought it would be dangerous to stay in Ali’s room. He could go downstairs and join Will and Rachel, but he would have to explain that Ali was crazy, and that would be really embarrassing. He decided to run downstairs and out of the front door, and get a bus home.

He was standing at a bus stop when Will drove up beside him and told him to get into the car.

‘What are you doing?’ asked Will angrily. ‘What happened upstairs?’

‘Ali’s crazy. He said he’d kill me if you went out with Rachel. And I believed him. He’s really frightening. Where are we going now?’

It was raining now and the streets were full of traffic and people out shopping. Everywhere Marcus looked, there were people with long, wet hair.

‘Back to Rachel’s.’

‘I don’t want to go back there. She’ll think I’m stupid.’

‘She won’t. She thought something like this might happen. She said Ali could be difficult sometimes. Anyway, he’s crying like a three-year-old child.’

‘Really?’ Suddenly Marcus felt better. He was quite happy to go back to Rachel’s, he decided.

‘Ali has got something to say to you, Marcus,’ said Rachel when they walked in.

‘Sorry, Marcus,’ said Ali. ‘I didn’t mean to say those things.’

Marcus wasn’t sure if he believed Ali. How could you say that you were going to kill someone by mistake? But Ali was crying, and that made Marcus feel generous.

‘That’s OK, Ali,’ he said.

Rachel made Ali and Marcus shake hands.

‘Ali finds this kind of thing very difficult,’ she said.

Will smiled. ‘It’s OK,’ he said gently, and Rachel looked at him and smiled back. Suddenly Marcus could see why nice, attractive women like Rachel and Suzie might like Will. He had a way of looking at them that he had never used on Marcus - there was something in his eyes, a kind of softness. Would Ellie like him if he did that? She’d probably hit him.

‘My last boyfriend was… anyway, he and Ali didn’t like each other. I’m sorry, I’m not comparing you to him. I have no idea whether… I mean, I don’t know, I just thought on New Year’s Eve… oh, this is so embarrassing. It’s all your fault, Ali. We shouldn’t have to talk about this now.’

‘It’s OK,’ said Marcus brightly. ‘Will really fancies you. He told me.’

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