This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 1160 words.
Finn Mellor was a boy who led two distinctly different lives. In one, he was bright and intelligent. Outwardly happy and confident. He was a good son, and an even better friend. But the other life could not have been more different. In that life, he harboured secrets. He barely contained his doubts and fears, and suppressed those real terrors that he thought might one day tip him over into insanity.
He did it so well, nobody ever noticed. Not Roly, his closest friend. Not Roxanne, his devoted mother. And certainly not Anthony, his sometimes distracted father. A father who seemed more like the grandparents of other boys, and was regularly mistaken for being one of his. All except one. Roly’s mum, Hannah. She alone looked through his eyes, and spotted whatever was lurking behind them. He knew it. He had seen it in her gaze. The way she acted around him, her obvious discomfort. Finn was sure that she knew everything. The unspoken emotions, the pretence of normality. Staying over at Roland’s house became a trial to be feared. A trial by gaze, by glance, by casual insinuation. Always letting him know that she knew. Not suspected. Knew for certain.
For Rolys’ sake, he acted like it wasn’t happening. Roland was his rock, and although he would never tell him, he was also the love of his life. Carrying on without Roly was unthinkable, so Finn did whatever it took to make sure that never happened. He laughed and joked with Hannah, shutting away that cold, snake-eyed look she always gave him, whatever was being discussed. He was afraid of her. Not physically, not even psychologically. Just afraid of what she knew, and if she would ever tell. Nothing in her manner ever let on if she would reveal him to the world. Bring it all crashing down, perhaps just from spite. When Finn had read about the Sword of Damocles, he had understood completely. Roly’s mum was his own version, waiting to fall onto his head one day.
Spending time with his best friend made it all worthwhile. Roland was so good-looking, with those wonderful blue eyes, and a strong body that made him look older than his years. And he was a good person too, always protecting Finn, standing up for him, and never disloyal. Although they were just thirteen, it felt like they had always been together, and would never be parted. For Finn, that was enough. He would never confess his true feelings, those he had felt developing from a time when he was too young to understand them. That would shatter their friendship. Roly would never understand, of that he was convinced.
So Finn played along. He looked at the websites, giggled about the girls that Roly liked, and he pretended to like them too. He even went so far as to confess to fancying Hannah, just to be included in those teenage fantasies. But the thought of her hard muscular female body, the stone-set features, and those dead eyes made him shudder. If his friend wanted to believe it, then so be it.
In an old schoolbag hidden in the bottom of his wardrobe, Finn kept all his most treasured possessions. Photos of him and Roland over the years. Ticket stubs from trips together to the cinema, birthday cards sent to him by his friend, and a small penknife that he had given him one Christmas. It had been bought with his own pocket-money, not purchased by his parents, like most other gifts. And the notebook of course. The notebook.
There was nothing on the cover to betray what was inside, but on the first page was a name, written in capital letters, with red marker pen. ROLAND THALMANN. It was underlined many times, and surrounded by numerous red hearts, clumsily drawn by a young hand. At school, some boys had teased Roland for his German name. But only until he was big enough to make them scared to do that. Finn had asked him about it. Was his dad a German? How did they get that name? All Roland knew was that it was Swiss, not German. Well, maybe German-Swiss. A long time ago, one of his dad’s relatives had come over from Switzerland, and that was that. Nobody seemed to know any more, or be bothered to find out.
Finn loved the fact that his best friend had such an unusual name. On page two of his book, he had written another name, in the same red pen. FINN THALMANN. He always liked the way that looked, and sounded, when he said it out loud. So much nicer than Mellor. Other pages contained fantasy plans for their future. Trips to India, or far-flung deserts. Camping out under the stars, before a fire made from collected sticks. Riding together on a camel, or swimming in blue seas, looking back at beaches with sand like white flour. They headed off together to Australia, finding work on a sheep farm in the outback, or were spending the summer picking grapes in the Loire Valley, in France. All these fantasy lives gave Finn a much needed escape from the real world he inhabited. A world where only one person understood what was really going on. And he wished that she didn’t. There was no comfort in that knowledge, none at all.
Back in the kitchen, the boys were drinking ice cold Sprite. They had left their thirst for too long, and were now gulping the drink down, fighting against the rising belches. Roly put his empty glass by the sink, and turned to his friend. “So, do you reckon your mum might like me too, Flan? I haven’t got a clue. She just treats me like I’m your brother”. Finn smiled, hearing his now rarely-used nickname.
One day, it was a Sunday, Roly had been over for lunch. Mum had cooked a big roast dinner, and then appeared carrying a large peach flan. Without asking, she served Roly a big slice, and then turned to her son. “Flan, do you want some of this Finn?” Her mixing of the name and the word was even funnier, because she didn’t notice she had said it. The boys laughed so hard, they almost choked. When they explained it to her, Roxanne had squealed with laughter too. After everyone had calmed down, Roly had pointed at Finn, declaring, “From now on, that’s your name. Flan”.
Finishing the last dregs of his own drink, Finn burped loudly, before replying. He had been considering the right response. No point giving Roly the wrong idea, but a little encouragement might serve to keep him interested. Keep him coming round. No harm done.
“Yeah I reckon she really likes you. Naturally she’s going to act like you’re the same as me. But I’ve noticed her looking at you”. He saw the awkward grin spread over Roly’s face, and went with the clincher.
“I reckon she likes you more than even she knows. Certain of it”.