I forced myself to run all the way to the house, spurred on by the anxiety that had been threatening to take over ever since James’ phone call just five minutes earlier.
When I arrived, I was shocked to see a police car with sirens flashing parked on the road outside. James was nowhere to be seen, and neither were the police. Tyler was standing alone on the veranda, sobbing. Still with no idea of what was going on, I rushed to comfort her.
“Tyler! What’s the matter, what’s wrong?”
She looked up at me with wide, tear-filled eyes, looking almost fearful, and burst into tears again.
“Shhhh…” I whispered, gathering her into a hug as she continued to sob into my shoulder. “Shh, honey, it’s okay, it’s going to be okay.”
I held her for a few moments, rubbing her back and murmuring comforting words until she seemed to calm down a little, and wrapped her own arms tightly around me.
I let go after a few seconds, and held her gently by the shoulders. Her face was still swollen and tearstained, and her shaky breaths were unevenly punctuated with tiny hiccups.
“You okay now?” I asked softly.
She bit her lip, and nodded uncertainly. “A little better,” she whispered.
The door behind us creaked open and James walked out, followed by a policeman and an older woman whose features bore a strong resemblance to Tyler’s. James nodded and smiled slightly when he saw me, then beckoned me over, presumably wanting to talk about what was going on. I turned back to Tyler quickly.
“I’m going to go talk to James and sort this out. I promise, everything will be fine, okay?”
She sniffed, and nodded again. I turned around and followed James a short distance away, out of earshot of Tyler and the policeman.
As soon as I caught up, he reached out and pulled me into a hug. I tried to return it the best I could, hoping to convey some small level of comfort through the physical contact.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” he murmured in my ear. Something about the way he said it made my stomach flutter strangely, but I dismissed the feeling and focused on trying to comfort my friend.
“What’s going on?” I asked with concern as he pulled away. “What are the police doing here?”
He sighed, and a pained look crossed his face. “They’re here for Mum. She’s… she’s managed to avoid them since we moved here, but it looks like they finally caught up.”
“Caught up? You were running from the police?”
“We weren’t… Mum was. The two of us kind of just had to tag along. She’s still Tyler’s legal guardian, so I stuck around to protect Ty. Otherwise I would have moved out long before now.”
I was still struggling to make sense of what was happening. This was all too much to take in at once. “Why was your Mum on the run from the police?” I asked.
He hesitated, then sighed deeply, as if resigning himself to the worst. “Various reasons,” he said finally. “She’s managed to worm her way out of a bunch of arrests over the years, from what I know. Most recently it was dealing with illegal drugs – coke, weed, that sort of thing. The main reason we moved here was she was running out of luck with the Sunset Valley department.”
There was still questions on my mind, but I was interrupted by a third voice before I could ask anything more.
“Excuse me, miss.”
I turned to the policeman, who had returned from his car alone to speak with James and myself.
“Do you know this woman?” he asked me, indicating his car several metres away where James and Tyler’s mother was sitting.
“No, I don’t. She’s actually the mother of my friend here,” I replied, pointing to James. The officer turned to him instead.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, son, but your mother is under arrest for possession and distribution of illegal drugs, as well as neglect of young children in her care.”
“No need to apologise,” James muttered, looking disgusted. “I don’t want anything to do with her any more.”
“The government will be in contact to discuss custody options for your sister, since she is still a minor,” the officer continued. James merely nodded, looking suddenly nervous.
“Thank you, officer,” I responded, stepping between them. “Good night.”
The policeman nodded, and returned to his car. Immediately, James turned to me, looking worried.
“What are we going to do about Tyler? I didn’t realise someone would have to take custody!”
“Relax,” I told him. “They’ll almost certainly assign you as her guardian, since you’re her closest adult relative. You can talk to them about it when they call you.”
“But where are we going to live?” he continued. “There’s no way I can afford to pay rent for this place, and I don’t think Tyler would want to live here anyway after all the stuff that went on with Mum.”
“You can live with me.”
James looked as shocked as I felt at my sudden offer. I hadn’t really considered the idea until it had slipped out of my mouth. But as soon as I uttered the words, I knew it was the right thing, so I continued. “We have plenty of space since the renovations. There’s only three of us in that big house, and I know Mum and Cody wouldn’t mind.”
James looked uncertain. “Are… are you sure? That’s a lot to ask of you and your family, I mean-”
I smiled at him, and after a moment’s hesitation, he grinned back.
We decided that James and Tyler would have that night to gather their personal belongings to take with them, and they would move in with me the next day. In the meantime, I still had a few things I needed to talk about with James. As soon as I got home, I called him back and asked to meet up at the beach. He agreed, though with some trepidation over whether Tyler would be all right on her own. Knowing her as well as I did, I felt comfortable in assuring him that she would be fine.
We met back at the beach ten minutes later. It was after sunset now, and starting to get darker and colder outside, especially by the water.
“What did you want to talk about?” he asked me.
“I still had a few questions about what happened earlier.”
“Oh, yeah?” he looked nervous.
“Yeah,” I said with a slight glare. “Why didn’t you tell me what was really happening?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, why didn’t you tell me about what was going on at your place, or why you really moved here? We’ve been friends for almost a year now, James! Why would you keep something like this from me?” I was angry now, and he felt it. He took a step back, looking uncomfortable, but said nothing.
“Well?” I demanded.
“I couldn’t,” he said quietly.
“I couldn’t,” he repeated, a little louder. “When we lived in Sunset Valley, no one else wanted anything to do with us because of our Mum. We were the ‘druggie’ family. I was ashamed of her, and angry that she would put us through that. When we moved here, you were the first person to be kind to Tyler, and treat me like a real person. No one’s done that in years.”
He took a deep, shaky breath before continuing. “I wanted to be your friend, but I couldn’t tell you something like this. I thought you would be ashamed, or disgusted, or scared if you knew. I didn’t want to lose you.”
James fell silent, looking down at his own scruffy shoes. He looked so sad and vulnerable that I felt all my anger dissipate on the spot as I looked at him. Instead, I reached out and pulled him into a tight hug.
“Oh, James,” I whispered. “You know me better than that. I could never be ashamed or disgusted by you, or Tyler. I love you both.”
I heard his breath catch at my words, and he nodded. I felt something wet fall onto my shoulder, but I kept holding him. When he finally pulled away, his eyes were quite dry.
“Thanks, Bianca,” he smiled. “That… means a lot.” I just nodded.
I wanted a way to cheer him up, and my eyes landed on the sandy slope we were standing on. The beach was dark, and completely deserted aside from the two of us.
“Hey,” I said, sitting down suddenly in the sand. James looked at me in surprise.
“Did you know,” I said, “that this beach is one of the only places in Bridgeport where you can see the stars? The city lights are too bright almost everywhere else.”
“I didn’t know that,” he replied with a small smile, seating himself cross-legged next to me.
I leaned back on my wrists, stretching my legs out in front of me. James did the same.
“You know,” he said quietly after a few minutes, “I feel different now, somehow.”
“I think so. I feel more relaxed, or something. Lighter. I don’t know, maybe I just ate something weird.”
I giggled, in spite of myself.
“Or maybe,” I countered, punching his arm lightly, “You’ve just lifted a weight off your own shoulders. There’s no big secret hanging in the air now.”
“Maybe,” he agreed, but he did not return my playful smile, and we both fell silent again after a while.
“Look!” he said suddenly, making me jump.
“What?” I asked in confusion, staring in the direction he was pointing. Then I gasped. “A shooting star! I’ve never seen one before.”
“Make a wish,” he grinned.
When the star had passed, I turned to him. “What did you wish for?” I asked curiously.
“It’s a secret.”
“Oh, come on! Please?”
“Fine.” He sighed, and leaned in closer to me, until I could feel his breath on my ear. My heart started to beat faster at his closeness.
“I wish…” he whispered, “I wish… that you would stop asking me what my wish was.”
I pulled away, and slapped his arm lightly. “Cheat!” I accused, feigning hurt.
He laughed. “What? You know what they say – if you tell anyone, it won’t come true.”
I frowned at him for a moment, but eventually gave in and joined in his laughter. When it had subsided, we both leaned back again, looking up at the stars. The silence between us was friendly and comfortable, and I felt perfectly at ease again.
A few minutes passed before either of us spoke.
“You’re still a cheat,” I whispered playfully.
I heard him chuckle beside me.
“Whatever you say, Bee.”