“That’s was wearing white boxer shorts. His mother’s face

“That’s it!” Jake shouted. His
face was red with anger. “You don’t give a fuck about me!” The analogue clock
on the wall showed 3pm. The dark red curtains had been opened to allow sunlight
to filter through the grey net curtains. Jake’s feet were bare, and the
underlay was beginning to make marks into them. He was wearing white boxer
shorts.

His mother’s face appeared
confused as she looked at the thirteen-year-old. “I don’t understand why you
would say that. I do care about you.” She fiddled with her dress as she spoke –
white with yellow dots. Her hair was tied up in a bun.

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“No you don’t!” Jake screamed.
“You wouldn’t have treated me like this if you did!”

The anger had been unexpected.
Jake’s mother couldn’t fathom any reason for it. She had been talking to a
friend, Brian, and things had seemed calm, until after Brian had left.

Jake’s mother shifted her feet.
“What’s wrong, Jake? I really don’t understand. If you don’t tell me, how can I
possibly help you? Please just tell me…”

“You know!” Jake shouted. “You
know exactly what you did!” His voice began to break.

“I honestly have no idea.” Her
eyes pleaded with him, but this went unregistered by Jake.

“I’m gonna make sure you’re
sorry for treating me like that!” Jake stormed out of the room and up to his bedroom.

His mother, Gloria, stood in
the living room, absolutely dumbfounded. She heard Jake slam his bedroom door.
He began to cry, but was still almost shouting through his tears,

“Why did she do that? Why
doesn’t she give a toss about me? Why doesn’t she care? She knows what she did
– she can pretend she doesn’t, but she knows!” He fell onto his bed,
eyes open, staring up at the ceiling. His room smelled of socks that hadn’t
been washed for too long, lingering stale sweat, and that weird, non-specific “boy’s
bedroom” smell. He ignored it all.

The house was silent. In that
quietness, it felt as though there was nothing but Jake and the world – and it
was as if the entire world was fighting against him.

“She’ll be sorry!” he cried.
“She’ll be sorry when her son runs away. Let’s see how she feels then!”

He cried some more, then sat
and dangled and his feet off the edge of the bed.

“She probably won’t care,
actually,” he said quietly. “Well then it’s good for both of us – she won’t
have her son any more, and I won’t have to put up with being hurt by her.”

He stood up, then gathered some
things from around his room – some clothes, CDs, and some crisps and chocolate
for snacking on. He threw them into a bag. He pulled on a pair of tracksuit
bottoms and a T-shirt, threw on a jacket, grabbed his bag, and thundered
downstairs.

“Jake, what-” his mother started to
ask, and her tone changed to one of desperation as Jake yanked the front door
open.

“Jake, where are you going?
Jake! Please, don’t go!”

Jake responded by walking by
storming out of the house, slamming the door behind him. His mother opened it
and rushed outside.

“Jake!” she shouted. “Please!
Jake!” She started to cry, but Jake had walked too far away to notice. “Jake.
Please.” The words were to herself now. She was trembling. She was too frail to
run after him, and just stared as he walked further into the distance. Then she
went back into the house and called 999.

“Emergency,
which service?” The voice was female.

“My son’s run away! I need the
police!”

“Just a
moment.”

There was a clicking sound,
then a male voice spoke,

“Police
emergency, what’s the nature and location of the emergency?”

“My son! He’s run away!” Gloria
was breathing rapidly.

“Madam, I
need you to speak clearly and slowly. What’s your son’s name?”

“Jake,” Gloria replied. “Jake
Etcher. He’s average height for his age, brown hair-”

“I need
your name and the last place he was seen.”

The dispatcher took some more
details from Gloria.

“Gloria,
lots of children run away but in my experience they get found very quickly.
Most of them turn up, I’m sure Jake will return home soon after being without
his mum for a bit.”

“He won’t, you don’t get it.
He’s got a mental health problem and when he gets emotional, it’s really hard
to get him back out of that state. Jake might have gone to somewhere miles away
– he’s not safe!”

“Don’t
worry, if he’s still not back in 24-hours, give us a call back.”

“What?! You’re not meant to
wait 24-hours now! And he’s not just missing, he ran away! They say the first
four hours are most important!”

The operator’s tone became
curt.

“Don’t
tell me how to do my job.”

“Well someone bloody well has
to id you won’t do it properly!” Gloria was angry and very distressed now,
though her voice quietened as she added “Please help my boy.”

 

***

Jake had walked quite far from
his home. Tears drenched his face and shone in the sun. As he was so deep in
his own emotions, he didn’t notice any of the sights, smells, or sounds – a man
working on his old three-wheeler car, petrol fumes, or the litter blowing
around the almost-empty street.

“She said to go away, so now
she gets what she wanted,” he said to himself. Something inside him seemed to
try to get him to reconsider his view, but he pushed it down. “Not only that,
she laughed at me as well.” His breath was interspersed with little gasps and
sniffles. “She doesn’t want me any more.”

He reached a bus stop and sat
down on the partially-burned plastic seat. Someone had smashed the advertising
pane, so there were bits of glass on the floor. He could now smell the exhaust
fume of the odd car, and the low hum of an engine occasionally drifted to his
ears as he sat in silence.

He felt as though his world had
been ripped away from him. Unknown to him, his mother was feeling exactly the
same.

A bus approached the stop, and
Jake bowed his head to try to hide his tears. Lots of passengers seemed to get
off the bus, and once they had gone, Jake laughed derisively. There had been so
many people, but he felt so alone.

After some time, he was aware
of a presence to his right. He glanced up and saw, at the side of the shelter,
a man in top-brand clothes, wearing a baseball cap. Jake sensed that there was
something “off”, something not quite right about him, but he didn’t have the
courage to just get up and leave, even though he knew it would have been a
non-event to a stranger. He was also concerned that the man might follow him.

“Alright our kid,” the man said
in a strong accent. It was clear that he was from Manchester.

“Hi,” Jake replied. For some
reason, the man grinned slightly. Jake turned his head away and the rest of the
conversation continued with him looking out into the road.

“You waitin’ for a bus?” the
man asked. “Or are you just chillin’?”

“Bus.”

“Crap round ‘ere innit? You
wait ages for one, it dunt turn up on time, then three come along at once.”

Jake nodded. The man sat next
to him. He reeked of terrible aftershave.

“Listen, our kid,” he said, “I
don’t care if you’ve ran away from home or sumat, it’s none of me business and
it dunt matter to me anyway. But I know how you can make some easy dosh.”

Jake didn’t know why, but
something about what this man said disturbed him. He hadn’t said anything
inappropriate, but he just felt creepy, somehow. But Jake knew he would need to
buy food and drink if he was going to be on the streets, so the mention of
“easy dosh” appealed to him.

“How do I make it?” Jake asked.

“Do you like girls?” the man
asked. It was a strange question, but Jake nodded anxiously. “Good. You can make
some easy money then. Easy money. I bet you’re a virgin innit?”

Jake’s laugh in response was
unconvincing. He tried to sound casual.

“‘Course not, I’m not a virgin.”

The man grinned.

“Yeah you are a virgin.” He
seemed positive about it. “But it’s alright mate, you don’t have to be embarrassed
or owt. Some birds love virgins.” Jake said nothing. “Get up and follow me,
yeah?”

The man started to walk away,
then stopped. Jake hesitated.

“Are you coming, our kid, or
what? Easy bread, or sit on your bill for the rest of the day. You choose mate.”

Jake got up and went over to
the man. He threw an arm around Jake’s shoulder and led him up a road that
turned off from the main one. Hedges lined the pavement on either side, and
there was occasionally a residential home. Jake suddenly felt like someone was
watching him, but when he tried to turn his head, the man gripped him more
tightly and spoke to him again, distracting him.

“You don’t have to be nervous,
kid.” The sun sifted through the hedges, resulted in mottled sunlight on the
ground.

They went into an old, run-down
building and down some stairs. The man had let go of Jake and went first. Jake
could run – there was nothing between him and the front door; nobody blocking
his path. His instincts were telling him to get out of there. But he was scared
of making the man angry. He followed him into the room.

The room had a musty smell and
was very dusty. There was a single light hanging from the ceiling, and a double
mattress was on the floor with a sheet on top of it. It looked like some sort
of seedy brothel room.

x

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