Afflicted 19: Chapter 18

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The next fortnight was weird. Jack didn’t turn up to school or anywhere, and it was strange, almost empty without his spirited temper around the place; but it was also peaceful. Rick didn’t turn up for the first week, deciding that it would be better to try and get over his injuries, a little bit at least, before attempting to carry his bag and walk the distance. Bevan had spent that first week feeling oddly empty and lonely. His smell didn’t bother him any more, but in a strange way he wished it did. It was the kind of persistent presence that he felt was missing in his life.

The week gave Bevan a chance to think about things a bit more clearly, and by Thursday he’d gathered up the courage to dig his fishing gear out of the back shed and go fishing. Not wanting to tempt fate, he pursued some nice spots in the other direction and got more redfin than he’d ever pulled in—including the day that he’d given most of his haul to Jack to take home. The time spent in meditation by the river was useful for Bevan. He worried about Jack not being around, and wondered if he ought to try and get in touch with him. The more rational Bevan—that is, he without the appalling stench—decided that although Jack had been better to him than usual, that it probably wouldn’t last, and didn’t want to push things. He figured Jack was man enough to take care of himself.

Bevan also started to get over his anger at Rick, but it didn’t stop him from thinking that his friend would probably turn out warped and, potentially dangerous if he was let loose on the world. Rick’s fascination with dead things disturbed him.

The following Monday, Rick walked unseeingly past Bevan on his way past the school gates, towards the back smoking rendezvous. Bevan fell into step behind Rick and, being better at silent walking than his friend was, managed to get all the way to the spot without being seen or heard.

Rick walked right up and over the ridge, and dumped his bag under a tree; he turned and leapt about a foot in the air when he saw Bevan grinning at him and holding out a smoke. Rick took it gratefully, and cautiously started to enjoy it. Bevan, meanwhile, was casting a critical eye over his friend, taking in the bruises that had spread and deepened.

He frowned, blowing smoke in the direction of the breeze. ‘What the fuck happened to you?’ He walked around Rick and lifted up his mate’s shirt to have a look at his ribs, on the off-chance that they’d be the same colour as his face. They were. Rick absently touched his nose, and rubbed the back of his neck.

‘Jack.’

For a moment this went past Bevan. ‘What do you mean J…’ his eyes widened as his brain caught up. ‘Fuck off.’

‘I’m not shitting you, man. Jack belted the crap out of me.’

Bevan nodded. ‘He sure fucken did!’

Rick looked around uneasily. ‘He’s not here is he?’

‘Nup,’ the butt-end of Bevan’s smoke sailed over Rick’s head and landed on a pile of sand amongst the long grass. ‘Haven’t seen him for over a week. Jesus you musta pissed him off.’

Rick cast his mind back to that afternoon at the river, and looked past his taunting of Jack over the dead girl. He looked past the injuries that he’d received from ditching his bike. His face assumed an innocent, wounded look. ‘Dunno what I did. Reckon he just went psycho.’

Bevan slowly shook his head in amazement. He’d always thought Jack was full of piss and wind, never thought he’d actually ever lay into anyone. He was full of admiration; maybe it’ll teach this arrogant twat a bit of a lesson.

‘Shit, eh?’

What else could a bloke say?

When they parted ways, Bevan pulled out his phone and sent Jack a text message. He didn’t expect to get a reply, but he did think that if he’d belted the fuck out of Rick then something serious must be going on in that dude’s head, otherwise Rick was lying through his teeth. Bevan thought it was probably a little bit of both. He always took what Rick said with a bit of salt.As he walked through the courtyard at the front of the school, he saw Jack’s mum emerge from the front door, looking pensive.

‘Hello,’ thought Bevan. ‘One of the boys has done something.’ He looked at his watch. ‘Two past nine. Shit, they don’t waste any time. ’ He yelled out to her and gave her a wave.

Jack’s mum didn’t smile at him or wave back, but she did head immediately in his direction. She was frowning, but Bevan could see that she was far more preoccupied than she was angry. Her eyes were dim and looked past him. She didn’t greet him when he caught up with him.

‘Bevan! Have you seen Jack?’

He was taken aback, and shook his head. ‘Nah, sorry, I haven’t. I thought he was at home.’

She gestured to his phone. ‘Have you heard from him? When was the last time you saw him?’

Bevan looked at her warily and pocketed his phone. ‘Why? Is he in trouble?’ He didn’t want to get his mate any more in the shit than he had to, because he knew what a cow Jack’s mum was to him, usually when he didn’t deserve it. She was the Disciplinarian Extraordinaire.

Jack’s mum breathed out and her countenance lost a bit of its tension. Her eyes focused on Bevan a bit better, and she smiled at his loyalty. ‘No. I’m just worried about him, I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him for three days. Last time I did see him he was kind of weird; real nice to me. Little shit’s never really nice to me. Makes me wonder what he’s done. And he looked so tired, Bevan.’

Bevan grinned at her description of Jack as a little shit. He wondered briefly what she’d call him if she saw Rick. He could tell that Jack’s mum was really worried about her son: her face was lined and her skin looked papery. He promised he’d let her know the instant he heard from his friend. She gave him her mobile number and told him that even a text message would do.

‘Thanks mate, I appreciate it.’ She gave him a hug, which Bevan uneasily returned, hoping that somebody would rescue him from this unwonted display of affection from one of his mate’s mums; and then she left, wrapped up in her own world again.

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