In Washington DC, at the office of the United Kingdom Related Affairs, Citizenship and Immigration department (the U.K.R.A.C.I.), an employee named Sidney, a bald man, had just finished a long phone call with the NYPD. It was the morning of Friday 15th February 2019.
“Guys, we’ve got another one,” he announced the news in an apathetic tone and in response there was a collective groan.
“That’s the third in two weeks. Put it on the map,” a colleague named Tracey replied.
“Who was it this time and what did they say?” another man, whose name Sidney could never remember, asked from the corner of the office. Sidney walked over to the other side of the room, where a map of the USA hung on the wall. Around fifty red drawing pins were positioned around the map in various states. He picked up another one from the jar and stuck it on Brooklyn, New York.
“Some guy called Jack Shore,” Sidney replied, and folded his arms. “Listen to this, he tried to set up a burglary in his own diner so his ex-fiancée who owned it with him would take him back. They arrested him on the roof of a building in Brooklyn with a gun, claiming he’d been chasing Bright.”
“God, what an excuse. Sounds like he’s got issues,” a woman named Isla said. “Fifty-six different sightings in four months and none of them have been Luke Bright.”
“Mark, do you mind typing another notice to reinforce what a waste of police time it is to report false sightings? They should charge people for it, then they’ll stop,” Sidney said and Mark, a younger man, got on it, starting to type without looking down at the keyboard.
“One of these days there’s going to be an actual sighting and we’re going to miss it because of how many fakes there have been,” Mark grumbled.
“Don’t hold your breath. People have claimed they’ve seen him in forty-two of the different states and every single one of them has been a false alarm. This Bright kid’s more trouble than he’s worth,” Isla told him.
“I agree with you there.” Sidney stared at the map, folding his arms. “People are scared and this Shore guy just used him as a scapegoat. Blaming it on the British. I bet he’s not even in the country. He could be absolutely anywhere.”
“Hold on, don’t the E.S.T.O.S. workers live in Brooklyn?” Mark asked.
“Just a coincidence. This Shore guy is crazy, I wouldn’t believe him. Apparently he also got the chef to put laxatives in the food just to run his ex’s reputation into the ground.”
“Sheesh. That is a man who can’t handle a break-up.” Mark then went back to typing.
“To think how much trouble one kid has caused the nation,” the man in the corner stated.
“It’s ridiculous really — people aren’t worried about the rapists, the paedophiles or the gang leaders, they’re more worried about a single Brit. I know he killed someone, but that’s not what they’re worried about. It’s just because he’s British,” Tracey stated.
“Wouldn’t be so important if he was an American.” Sidney sat back down in his chair, letting it spin around slightly as he linked his fingers together. “After Bright stood up against the Atlantic Split, people have become much more cautious. It’s probably a good thing for the Smiths that they aren’t in the country anymore. Even being billionaires can’t change the fact they’re British.”
“But don’t forget, their daughter is still here,” Isla responded, getting up from her seat to pour herself a second mug of coffee. “So there’s still at least one British person in the country.”
* * *
Washington DC, the capital of the United States of America. I never could have imagined that I’d be here of all places. Another place in a country that I shouldn’t even be in.
My name is Luke Bright, I’m nineteen and, once again, I’m on the run. The USA is a vast place that I knew very little about before I had to come here from the UK, but it’s become my new home. However, if anyone found out I was here, I’d be thrown straight into jail and it’s not just because of what I’ve done. It’s because of my nationality.
About forty-five years ago, a war broke out between the UK and the USA — World War Three if you want to call it, but it’s commonly known as the Atlantic Split. It caused a huge divide that has never been resolved. Even though the fighting stopped after two years, no one explained the outcome or spoke about it, people just presumed and accepted that our nations had become and would remain as enemies. That has stuck ever since, so now Brits and Americans aren’t allowed to associate, and the two countries are completely isolated from each other.
When I tried to stand up against it and had my first bit of free thinking, they pounced on me and tried to extinguish those thoughts. I used to be a police officer in London and my two American friends, James and Steve, were the initial reason why I wanted to bridge the gap. They’d come over on a business trip but were framed for a crime they didn’t commit, and I knew even from one week working as a police officer, they were innocent, though no one would believe me. They’re American and two of the best people I know.
One corrupt police officer called Marco Brown was behind framing James and Steve, and he succeeded in framing me for murder too, even though what happened was an accident that still replays in my mind every day. Marco ordered his friend and colleague Officer Adam Wicks to kill James and Steve. I got in the way and stopped him, but the struggle between us led to a gunshot that caused Wicks’ death. When that accidental murder charge landed me thirty potential years in jail, James and Steve broke me out before I reached the prison, and we went on the run. I came back with them to the USA even though I’m still technically a fugitive here, but I couldn’t stay in the UK.
All I wanted was equality and peace. I wanted to change the world for the better, but right now I’d been found out and I needed to escape once again. I’d already had to say goodbye to the UK, but now I’d just left New York and arrived in Washington DC with a man I’d only met a few hours ago. I’d found out he’d be able to create some fake documents for me, which I’d need if I was going to head off on my own to Hollywood, which is where I hoped I’d begin the next part of my life.
Larry Rawlings seemed like a really good guy and our paths had crossed at exactly the right time. His family had rejected him because he was a fraud; he made fake documents and sold them on to people as a career. I figured he wasn’t doing it to cause harm, and right now, I needed someone like him to help me out.
He was middle-aged with brown hair (not much of it) and had a kind face. He’d been good enough to cover for me when we met at the airport in New York and he’d agreed to help me out, but it meant going to his home first. Admittedly, on the flight over I had been slightly wary of the fact I’d just told this bloke my life story and gone with him without knowing who he was (hopefully he wasn’t an undercover cop or something) but he seemed genuine. Plus, if he tried anything, I could easily handle myself.
When we left the airport after landing, strong sunshine washed over me. We walked towards Larry’s small red car. For a fraud, you’d think he’d have enough money to buy a better one, but maybe it was of sentimental value. I put my hood up to hide my hair and face. Currently, my previous disguise of dyed black had grown out and had nearly gone back to my natural mousy brown, and I’d taken out my green contact lenses to show my natural brown eyes. In Hollywood I would need to get a new makeover and another identity to make sure no one discovered who I was.
Looking around at every little thing, I sighed, remembering what it was like the first time I came to New York a few months ago. We’d had to drive all the way there from Canada. For a Brit who had never been to the USA, it was a brand new place I’d never thought I’d go to, and I was filled with excitement. Then again, when Steve and I went to Florida over Christmas it was the same. I lowered my gaze slightly as I remembered all those times with my friends. It’s terrifying how quick time can leave things behind — moments that used to seem so clear fade, and people too. James and Steve, oh God, I missed them both.
“Are you okay, Luke?” Larry asked me. I looked up at him.
“Yeah, it’s just a bit weird going to another new place,” I stated, hitching up my bag strap and shaking my fringe out of my eyes. I’d spent so much time living alongside them and they’d been all I’d had when I first came to New York. Staying with James and his family, then eventually moving in with Steve to our little apartment. Even though they’d promised to look after me here, I knew that I couldn’t make them go on the run with me. No…this was something I’d have to do by myself. They had lives of their own. I had to make my own way now without them.
“It is scary, especially if you’re on your own,” he replied. I guess he knew how I felt, seeing as he was partially on the run too. “My place isn’t too far, but it might be a bit of a mess.”
“Don’t worry, mess doesn’t bother me at all. Should’ve seen my bedroom,” I told him with a small smile, and then remembered how I’d left my room in the apartment Steve and I shared. Poor Steve, he’d have to clear all that stuff up and get rid of it too. It’d probably take him some getting used to, having to live on his own again.
Larry unlocked the door of his car. We put our bags in the boot and then got in the front. He reversed out of the space and we headed to the ticket barriers to exit the car park.
“Luke, can you just grab the ticket from the glove-compartment?” Larry asked me. I got it out and handed it to him as we pulled up. Larry wound down his window and the intercom next to the barrier started talking.
“Hello, I am the scanning automated machine for your tickets, but you can call me S.A.M. Please scan your ticket,” it said in a robotic voice, and Larry held the ticket out in front of the screen, but it didn’t respond. He started waving it around. “Please scan your ticket.”
“I am!” Larry said, moving it around, and I smiled — his frustration at technology reminded me of my dad.
“Please scan your ticket,” it repeated.
“Stupid thing! What do you think I’m doing?!” he exclaimed.
“Give it here.” I took it from him and got out of the car. I walked round to the scanner and held the ticket in front of it. The scanner detected it and worked straight away. “You were holding it upside down,” I stated with a smile.
“Why does everything rely on technology these days?” Larry complained.
“You’re clear to go! Thank you for using S.A.M.! You’re clear to go! Thank you for using S.A.M.!” The voice kept repeating itself, and I quickly ran back over and got into the car. “You’re clear to go! Thank you for using S.A.M.!” It didn’t shut up until we drove through.
“Yes! Alright, we heard you the first time! Jesus. When I was your age, you’d always have a person here manning these sorts of booths, not robots,” Larry told me.
“Yeah, as far as robots go, S.A.M. was quite irritating.” I smiled and considered it, resting my arm against the window. “I’ve always liked the name Sam, and I do need a new name…”
“You’re naming yourself after a robot?” Larry raised an eyebrow.
“You’re clear to go! Thank you for using S.A.M.!” I heard the system speaking to the driver behind us through Larry’s open window as we waited in the queue to leave the airport car park. “You’re clear to go! Thank you for using S.A.M.!”
“I’m going to have that voice replaying in my head, haunting me,” Larry muttered.
“Clear…” I said slowly. “Sam Clear… no, maybe not. Sam Clearing… Sam Clearly? Sam Cleary… Sam Cleary! Oh my God, that’s perfect!” I grinned and looked at Larry. “Sam Cleary…That can be my new name!”
“As long as your next accent isn’t a robotic one. Your New York one is pretty convincing,” Larry told me with a smile. Accents had always come easily to me. I’d dreamt of being an actor when I was younger, but my dad convinced me it wasn’t a suitable career choice — hence I became a policeman. Yet now I was having to act as different new people just to keep myself safe, so I was halfway there, I suppose. That’s kind of why I wanted to head over to Hollywood — the place would be full of likeminded people and maybe I’d actually get to become a proper actor over there and fulfil my dreams. “Sam Cleary. It suits you.” Larry said. I grinned to myself. Yeah, yeah it did.
Larry drove out onto the streets of Washington DC and I stared avidly out of the window. Places always look nicer in the sunshine and this capital city was amazing. I couldn’t recall whether or not it had been sunny when we first arrived in Brooklyn, New York. This was very different to New York as it was a lot more spread out. I guess that was more like an island and very densely populated.
“Where is Washington DC in relation to New York?” I asked Larry.
“South west,” he told me.
“Really? I thought it was in the north?”
“You’re thinking of the State of Washington. No, this is Washington DC, used to be part of the District of Columbia. Two different places.”
“That’s confusing. You’d think they’d be more original,” I said, and he smiled at that. “Does the president live near here?” Larry started to laugh.
“Somewhere in the state, yes, but not near where I live,” he told me. “Why? Planning to pay him a visit?”
“I think I’m the last person he’ll want to see,” I replied and continued to look around at my surroundings in awe. Washington DC really was completely different to London where I’d grown up. Two capitals — worlds apart.
We drove down a few large roads and then turned into a small street with houses down both sides. The car slowed to a halt and we parked outside a small brown-brick bungalow with a reasonable-sized front garden and a large sloping roof with a window that jutted out from the top. It was very different to the styles of bungalows I was used to in the UK — this one looked like it was one and a half storeys as opposed to only one.
“Here we are.” Larry turned off the engine.
“This is really nice.” I got out of the car smelling fresh air, and feeling sunlight basking over my face. “Do you want a hand with your bags?”
“That would be good, thanks.” He opened the boot of his car, taking one. It was really pleasant here and I undid my jacket zip due to the unexpected February warmth — blue skies were something I’d been missing over the winter in New York.
“Do you live alone?” I asked him.
“Yes.” He sighed. “Well, except for Harvey.”
“Who’s Harvey?” It wouldn’t be his son, seeing as his name was Jake, as it said on my fake plane ticket. I soon found out when Larry opened the grey front door.
Out bounded a golden and black German shepherd dog that ran to Larry. A smile broke out across my face as Larry stroked his fur happily.
“Hey, boy! Hello, I missed you! Hope you’ve been a good boy? Yes, have you?” He hugged the dog, who just panted and barked happily. “It’s lucky I didn’t leave him here too long as I really don’t like putting him in shelters. Come on, boy, let’s go.”
But the dog came over to me first, looking up with big orange-brown eyes. He was such a gorgeous dog, I couldn’t help but stroke him.
“Hello, Harvey.” I brushed the fur on his head lightly and he nuzzled up as I did, rubbing his fur up against my skinny jeans and sniffing me around the feet.
“He seems to like you.” Larry laughed. “Come on Harvey, come in.” He whistled and Harvey bounded to the door. He wasn’t a very big dog, in between puppy and grown — adolescent I’d say.
Larry let us into his house and I looked around as Harvey ran to his basket.
“Oh wow, this is a lovely house!” I smiled, looking around. It was bigger inside than I expected. The hall opened up onto a through lounge, brownish in colour with a leather sofa and armchair, a TV and a dining room attached. That looked onto a medium-sized wood-based kitchen and there was a small hallway through to the two separate bedrooms and a bathroom. In the hall, there was a set of stairs with a closed black door at the top. Quite a cosy, homely house. Shame I wasn’t stopping, this would be a great place to stay.
“Sit down, make yourself comfy,” Larry told me as I took off my jacket. I felt bad with my black and white Converse on his white rug as I looked up to the mantelpiece. He had family photos there in wooden frames — his kids looked just like him, especially Jake, his son. There he was, smiling, with his daughter, son, and his ex-wife. Larry looked so happy there…
I sat on the sofa as Harvey bounded back over and sat up next to me, as I stroked his fur. “You don’t mind dogs do you?”
“Not at all. He looks a little like some of the ones that were in training to be police dogs.”
“Harvey would be far too lazy for that!” Larry smiled, looking between us. “Do you want a drink?”
“Erm, I’ll have a tea if that’s okay? Milk one sugar?”
“Tea. You really are British! I’ll give it my best shot.” Larry went into the kitchen as I sat there with Harvey, who was happily panting. He gave me a dog toy which I decided to throw and he brought back to me, wagging his tail happily. He was so cute. We’d never had any pets at home, Dad didn’t really appreciate the idea of them. Then again, he didn’t appreciate much.
To think that after all this, I was missing New York and my friends more strongly than I’d been missing home. I did miss South Kensington in London, and my family more than anything. However, currently New York, sharing my apartment with Steve, seeing James, Susie and Timmy, and my other friend Tom from Donatello’s diner (where I’d worked) — all that was at the forefront of my mind.
I even missed my ex, Linda, a bit but not as much as I thought I would. I think I just missed the intimacy of being with someone more than her individually, but then again I’d only been with her six weeks, compared to the previous long stretch I’d been single.
I’d broken up with her the day before and that’s a very long story. She and her ex-fiancé ran the diner that I’d been working at under an alias for the last couple of months in Brooklyn, New York. Once she found out he’d been cheating on her, it made her unable to trust anyone, and that included me, despite us eventually getting into a relationship. She became quite overbearing and possessive and I knew I’d made a big mistake, because I was constantly trying to justify my actions, even when I hadn’t done anything other than love her and try to help her.
The way she treated me before and during our relationship, I probably shouldn’t have even told her I wanted to be with her, but I guess I thought I could change her opinion of men. Plus she was absolutely beautiful. I know now I shouldn’t have entered a relationship whilst pretending to be someone else, but after a previous spell of being single for over three years, I guess I got carried away with the opportunity of a new life and rushed into the idea of something without thinking about the consequences and how it would affect me. Story of my life right there. I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
In a way, it was the best time for me to leave New York. Everything was coming to a close by the time I was found out there. The last thing I needed was to try to repair a long-distance relationship that I didn’t want to be in, whilst on the run. After all, she’d wanted to get married, even though we’d only been together around a month, and at my age and in my situation, that was the last thing I needed!
“Here we go.” Larry handed me my tea in a blue mug and I had a bit — not too bad actually, considering he’d probably just made it in the microwave. “Come on, Harvey, do you want some TV? He loves watching the music channels. Has much better taste than me.” Larry leant over to the armchair for the control and turned it on as Harvey barked happily and rested his head on my lap, settling to watch a song that I loved — who knew I had the same music taste as a dog? I stroked the fur on his head.
“He’s so great,” I told Larry.
“Good company when you’re living on your own.” Larry sighed, and looked at the mantelpiece. “Was thinking of renting out a room but there’s always the worry of someone finding out what I do so it isn’t a good idea. I haven’t even been out of Washington for years. That was the first time I’d left in ages. Anyway, these documents. Should we go do them?”
“Yeah, sure.” I eased myself up, leaving Harvey to watch the TV. We walked out into the hallway and Larry led me up the stairs, then unlocked the black door. So, this was where he did all the stuff, in his loft.
It was a vast space with wooden floorboards and white sloping walls of the roof interior. There were several boxes and filing cabinets and, by the window, a single desk with lots of papers and files. I also noticed a few strange machines I presumed were for creating documents as well as a couple of computers. I took a look out of the window that jutted out from the roof, giving me a view across the neighbourhood. It was a beautiful, urban place and reminded me a little of home where I’d be able to look over the rooftops of South Kensington from my bedroom window. It gave me a small pull of nostalgia — I’d love to live somewhere like that again.
“Right then…” Larry logged onto one computer and sat in a chair before offering me another seat. I sat down in it next to him. “To be an American citizen, you need a few things…”
I allowed Larry to make whatever he felt I needed, whilst I sat around, providing my details. He clearly knew his stuff, and even though we were doing something illegal, he seemed like the least corrupt person you could ever meet. He told me that he didn’t do all the things his brother used to do, so not giving out documents which could be used to cause harm. He only did a few things now, such as making resumes, tickets to places, writing other documents people needed — nothing too bad. At least he wasn’t on the run for accidentally killing someone like me, only for fraud, even though that still was a crime.
After another hour or so, Larry handed me the papers.
“That’s it. You just need a photo for your ID card, but once you’ve got a picture after your new makeover, just email it over to me and I’ll mail it over to you,” he told me.
“Erm…I’ll try to sort myself out an email address then, once I get a laptop or a phone,” I said. “Might take a while but I’ll get on top of it. Just…need to sort myself out. God, there’s so much to do that I didn’t even consider.” I sighed, slightly worried about venturing off alone without any plans of what to do when I got there. I didn’t even know where I’d live. “Don’t suppose you could do one more thing for me now?”
“Ticket to Hollywood from here?” I smiled, and he nodded.
“Do you know which part of Hollywood you’re heading to?” He stood up and walked over to a metal machine I didn’t know the name of.
“Erm…the bit with the hill,” I said and he laughed at that. “I don’t actually know a lot about the place. I was just going to rock up there and see what happened.”
“But you’ll need somewhere to live?” he told me, turning the machine on. It started making a low rumbling sound. “Were you gonna stay in a hotel until you found somewhere?” I shrugged at that. “Do you have money for a deposit?”
“Some, yeah,” I told him. “I haven’t really thought about it.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll figure it out. You’ve been through worse,” Larry said with a reassuring smile, and I nodded, unconvinced. I probably should have made a proper plan, but honestly? A lot of my mind was still on New York and my old life. But I’d always had people around me to help me out there. I’d never been completely alone to make these huge life decisions before. I’d been trying to avoid this reality for a long as possible, but now I guess I had no choice.
“Yeah.” I then changed the subject and got up, walking over to the machine to take a closer look. “This is really awesome. I wish I knew how to do this stuff.”
“It’s not hard,” he told me, not looking up. “If you were stopping longer I could’ve shown you.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.” I peered down at the machine, which looked really intricate. I leant my hand on the side of it. “What do you use—?” I began, but my weight on it caused the machine to move suddenly and Larry caught his hand on the side. He yelled in pain and drew his hand away. I saw it was cut deeply. “OH MY GOD! Oh Larry, shit…I’m so sorry!” I quickly shut the machine off.
“It’s okay…It looks worse than…” He breathed heavily, holding out his hand as the deep red blood gushed out from the wound.
“Have you got a first aid kit?!”
“Kitchen, under the sink…” Larry told me. “But it—”
Before he could answer, I ran down the stairs to grab it, feeling guilt come over me. I swallowed the feeling back, and focused my brain, rushing into the kitchen. Harvey started to bark but I told him to sit, that it would be okay. I really hoped I hadn’t seriously injured his owner…
I found the first aid kit and ran back up, seeing a puddle of blood on the floor and Larry sat back down in a chair.
The memories flooded back…
The gunshot shattering the night, the cold breeze and Adam Wicks lying below me as his eyes glazed over and he died right before me. The blood pouring out of his torso and staining my hands.
I breathed out heavily and threw the first aid kit open. I pulled out a bandage, kneeling down by Larry. My hands were shaking as I cut the bandage to size and held it around his hand to put pressure on the bleed.
“Hold your arm up, above your head,” I told him, my voice cracking as I spoke. He lifted his hand up with me still holding it.
“Luke, it’s alright,” Larry told me, seeing my expression.
“I’m so sor—” I began, but then I caught sight of that pool of blood again and my quick breathing turned into hyperventilation. A feeling of panic came over me and I couldn’t calm myself down. Oh God, what had I done to him?
“Hey, it’s okay,” Larry put his other hand on my shoulder. “It’s alright, just take a deep breath.” I nodded and tried to slow myself down.
“I’m sorry… I just…” I tried to form words. “Just seeing all that blood, it…it brought back a lot of memories of…” I breathed out and began to calm down. Seeing Larry’s kind face helped. Even though he was the one bleeding, he didn’t seem to be nearly as distressed as I was. “I’m really, really sorry.”
“It’s okay. It was an accident. Just like what happened to that man was an accident,” he reassured me. He patted my back slightly and I looked up at him and nodded shakily.
“I thought I was over it, but this just…”
“I don’t think you really can get over something like that, and it’s okay that you’re not,” he told me. I met his eyes and then looked at his hand which was still bleeding.
“We should get you to a hospital. I can c—”
“No, we can’t. I don’t have a medical record here,” he told me. “It’s not that bad. You’ve done a good job wrapping it.”
“I know first aid from when I was in the police,” I replied, and shook my head. “I’m sorry I freaked out. I just…I’m really scared. I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life. When I was found out, I just had to run. I had an idea of where I’d go but I didn’t plan any further.”
It was true. I had no idea what I was going to do in Hollywood, or where I’d even live. Once I left here, it would be the first time in my life that I would be truly alone. I didn’t even know how to cook for myself properly and washing machines still puzzled me, despite Susie, James and Steve all showing me several times. I didn’t know how to find an apartment on my own, or open a bank account or how to do taxes, which I’d surely need to know. Come to think of it, I didn’t really know anything…
“Well, I think I’m going to be out of action for a couple of days, so if you haven’t got any plans, I could do with a hand around here. Haha, literally.” Larry laughed and I looked up at him. I suppose it was the least I could do. After all, I had almost sliced the man’s hand off. Plus, Hollywood wouldn’t go anywhere, hopefully, unless California eroded away over the week.
“Yeah… If you don’t mind me staying? It won’t be for long. Just as long as you need.”
“If I’m honest, I’d love the company,” he told me and I smiled, feeling relieved knowing that I didn’t have to start this journey I had no idea how to undertake just yet. “I think it might have stopped bleeding.” He moved his hand down and I checked it had, so I bandaged it up properly after sterilising it. “Thank you, Luke. You’re good at this,” he told me, and I shrugged. “You can have the spare room. Come on, I’ll show you where it is. We can clean up the mess later.” He eased himself up off the chair but seemed steady considering the amount of blood he’d lost. I collected up the things from the room and we walked down the stairs. Harvey was at the bottom and barked happily when he saw us.
“Hey, boy, we’re going to have a new house guest for a couple of days,” Larry told him. “He’ll be happy at least. He loves people and we don’t see too many new ones.” I smiled and nodded, following Larry along the hallway. “This one is my room.” He pointed to a door on the right and then opened one on the left. “You can have this one.”
I saw a big room with a double bed and a large window with a view of the back garden. There were a few shelves in there, a wardrobe, and the room itself was white in colour. It seemed really inviting.
“You don’t know how good it feels to have a bed again.” I plonked myself down on it — Harvey rushed in after me and sat up there too as I stroked his fur. The room looked expectant, as if Larry was waiting for someone to stay, maybe his family? “Did the room belong to someone?”
“It… Well, I always hoped at least one of my kids would stay over once they knew that I wasn’t doing anything too bad any longer,” he admitted with a sigh.
“You don’t mind me staying in here, do you?”
“No, no, of course not. You’re very welcome.”
“Can I give my friends in New York a ring? Just to let them know I’m safe? What’s the time difference between here and New York?” I asked.
“It’s the same time,” Larry said. “But make sure you clarify you’re here in DC rather than over in WA. You can use the main phone.”
“Okay, thank you,” I replied, figuring out what the letters meant as I took Steve’s number, which I’d written down before I’d left, from my pocket, and dialled it on the main phone. I went to my room with the portable hand-held, listening to the rings.
“Hello? Steve Jackson,” came my best friend’s voice.
“Steve, it’s me!” I leant back on the bed. “You won’t believe what’s just happened…”
I explained it to Steve and luckily, he and James were still at work, meaning that I could talk to them both at the same time. They were quite surprised at my change of plans and told me to be a little cautious, just in case Larry couldn’t be trusted. I understood why they felt that way, (because I did have a tendency to rush into things) but I assured them I would be careful. The fact I owed him made me feel a lot more inclined to stay, even if it was just until he recovered.
In that week, I ended up helping out a lot. Actually doing quite a bit of cooking for the two of us, taking Harvey out for his walks, and if Larry needed an extra hand (excuse the pun) with his work, I offered to help (staying away from that machine though).
It was an amazing week and Larry and I were getting on really well. In a way it was like living with a parent, seeing as he was that much older. I’d been lacking a decent father figure most of my life and Larry’s kids had rejected him so I suppose even in those few days, we’d been good for each other.
I occasionally did see him staring at those photos on the mantelpiece, and it made me feel so bad for him. He was such a nice guy — he didn’t deserve to be without his family. At least my family were still somewhere, and Steve had left his deceased family in peace after hearing how much they loved him in their wills. James had been away from his family for those two weeks we were on the run, but he was back with them now and they all had so much love for one another. Poor Larry, it must be heart breaking to have a family of your own but for them not to want you back…
However, he made a reasonably speedy recovery and soon the week drew to a close. We spent our final dinner sat together in sombre silence, with only Harvey making the occasional noise. Both of us were saddened at the thought of having to part. Even after a week, we’d really bonded. I’d miss him a lot, and part of me didn’t want to leave.
As I took another mouthful of my baked potato, I started to think about what on earth I’d be doing this time tomorrow. Would I be able to find a hotel to stay in? What would I do for work? Sure, I’d been a waiter at Donatello’s but did I really want to do that again? What if there were no vacancies for that kind of thing there and I ended up running out of money and on the streets? I had no idea what to do and the thought of heading off to Hollywood without any plans terrified me.
I’d had such a good week here, it almost felt like a normal family life. I wished I could stay.
I looked up at Larry, who wasn’t really eating his food and just spreading it around his plate (hopefully not due to my bad cooking).
What if I did? What if I did stay? There were no rules or reasons why I had to go to Hollywood and there wasn’t anything for me there. Here, there was. If I stayed, I could be with someone who could help me adjust to my new life without Steve and James, and there was something special about Larry. He seemed like a really good guy and he’d helped me out, despite knowing who I was. It couldn’t hurt to learn a bit from someone who was in a similar boat to me.
I knew what I had to do.
“I don’t want to go tomorrow.” I spoke up after my next mouthful. Larry looked up at me. “Do you think I could stay here a little longer? I don’t know if I want to go to Hollywood just yet. I mean, maybe in the future I could. I haven’t really got a plan yet, so maybe I need a base to figure things out?” A smile broke out on his face. “I mean…if it’s okay with you. I’ll pay rent?”
“I’d love it if you stayed, Luke!” He grinned. “Of course, as long as you need, but are you sure this is what you want? To be stuck here with us?”
“I think it’s exactly what I want right now,” I told him with a smile, and looked around at my new home. I felt safe here, comfortable, and that’s what I needed in my life. Stability.
“In that case, you can stay but on one condition,” Larry told me, and I nodded. “Please don’t go anywhere near that machine!” He grinned and I started to laugh, feeling really secure about this decision.
“I promise I won’t go anywhere near that thing ever again.”