Laura runs her hands ran over the windowsill of the twins' room, making trails through the grey dust, looking out the window to the stretch of green below. A few stray sheep are wandering here and there between the trees on either side.
Why am I here? She wonders, hearing the soft noises of Paul behind her. She looks back and he doesn't notice her. He is not touching anything. Not yet. He wants to. She can see it in the way he looks at the guitar leaned up against the wall near the end of the double beds, a tiny movement of his wrist as though to reach out, but he doesn't.
She sighs a little and look away, walking over to the dresser. Zak was going to have his guys get all of their things cleared up, put into boxes and shipped back to their home on the Head, but Laura had objected. She wasn't sure why. Maybe because of how unfair Bedderwick Walker had been to her, maybe because she didn't trust Zak's people with Tom and Barry's things, or maybe because this was the first time in her life she hadn't wanted to run as far away as possible from her problems He had agreed because it saved him some little-needed money. As soon as she had said she would do it, Paul seconded her, and so after Nick and Tubs and Spitz had trooped out – the rest of the crew was long gone – and while Zak's fancy car glided up the drive and disappeared onto the road, Laura Ashworth and Paul Day stood on the front steps of the big house and planned to meet up to do the job.
It hadn't happened for the longest time, going on three months. One of them would always have an excuse to back out. One of them was always busy. Laura remembered listening to her phone ring and just watching it, every shrill tone cutting through her like a punishment.
They were out of excuses. She had called him and it was as though he knew she was going to call it off. She had steeled herself for it. His quiet voice had startled her – she'd been staring at the wall trying to think of something to say and hadn't heard him pick up. It was as though he knew what she was thinking. Without even saying 'hello,' he said. "It's got to be us or Zak's guys, Laura. And I think we should both get it over and done with."
She had sat there in silence for a second, two. "Okay."
And so here they were.
"Did you want this?"
She looks up. Paul has her tape recorder in one hand. She reaches out and he hands it to her. She stares at the tape inside. She doesn't remember the last thing that was on here. She'd stopped doing interviews near the end – they had all been too unhappy. There wasn't enough being said to record anything, but she rewinds it anyway. The press of the button sounds loud in the silent house.
She sets the recorder on the dresser beside Barry's notebook and touches the cover. It says KEEP OUT on the front in Barry's untidy scrawl and she smiles a little, then draws her hand away and turns around, blinking back tears. She doesn't know what is in there and she wonders briefly if they shouldn't check… their father and sister might not appreciate any mentions of drugs, sex, parties… but it isn't her business anymore anyway.
Paul sighs and runs his hand through his dark hair, looking at her. "I don't know where to start…"
But they could start anywhere. But, now that they were here they didn't want to move anything. The room was just as the boys had left it. No one had been in here since they had left Humbleden Hall to go back to Norfolk. It was as though they could come up the stairs at any moment, talking softly like they used to, double-footsteps, that unmistakable sound.
Her eyes move past Paul, staring into the dark landing beyond the doorway and she feels a strange fear creep over her – like hearing the ghost stories her brothers used to tell. Paul looks behind him, then back at her. The tape stops rewinding, the release of the button snapping through the air and making them both jump.
She scoffs quietly as she turns away, feeling stupid, and walks back to the tape recorder. She was going to just throw it in her bag, save something, just one thing for herself… and it was hers anyway, hers alone… but it doesn't feel like that. Not with Paul here. He was the only other person who would have shown up. She knows that. The others were friends with Tom and Barry, but it was almost impossible to be close to the boys. No one else wanted to see their things for the last time… she wasn't even sure she did, but maybe… maybe she needed it?
Paul is watching her, she knows and after a moment she slides her fingers along the uneven surface of the buttons and presses play. Static from its speakers fills the air and she finds herself holding her breath, her heart pounding.
"Maybe we shouldn't-" Paul begins.
She hears herself breathe a laugh through the speakers and then she and Tom start talking at the same time.
"Okay, so-" she said, as Tom said, "I thought; w-we thought that-"
She remembers this. It was months ago… a bass thudded strangely from far away. It had been playing downstairs at the time.
"Let's go down," Barry said, suddenly. "I'm fucking—this is boring, let's go down."
"We'll just… finish this, Barry, it's almost done." Tom's quiet admonitions.
"I'm fucking… bored up here, I don't want to stay up here."
There is a silence. Neither Laura or Paul moves.
"Yeah let's go down," Laura was saying. "It's okay, we'll finish it later, Tom."
Noises, faded into the distance. She hadn't bothered to turn off the tape. She remembers Barry's restlessness that had disappeared, or seemed to, once they got down to the party…
"It was that party – you'd just finished all the recordings, remember?" she asks, looking at him. He is silent, and he only holds her eyes for a second before he looks away, because there are questions in hers, still…
That had been the night that Baz had kissed him… or he had kissed Baz. He doesn't remember which way it had gone now…
He looks away. "We should get started…"
She doesn't stop the tape. It seems fitting – like reliving what she had done before. She had let it play – let it record nothing but the sounds of the party from downstairs, from months ago. In any case, it takes away the silence now.
They don't speak. These are remembrances they are going to have on their own, but she sees Paul is alienated here, in this room. He never came up here. She doesn't remember him coming up here once. Not once. He knows the clothes they wore, the strange shirts that could button together. He knows the sheets of music he'd written which are still scattered in a drawer in the night table. Bits and pieces of Paul are in this room, but not like Laura's things. Laura's lingering presence. Her recorder, her rings are on the dresser. That robe she had guessed must still be at the house is strewn over the back of a trunk that sits in the corner. It is getting dark and she finds herself wishing they had come earlier. She doesn't have much desire to be in this house at night, with Paul or no.
The sun moves too quickly across the sky, until it shines directly into the little window. "Laura."
She looks at him, where he is sitting against the wall, taping one of the boxes up. He nods towards the window and she looks, brushing her hair out of her eyes. It is inside a circle, or a heart, she can't tell. Baz. It is only because of the way the sun shines on it that she can see it.
When she looks back at Paul he is looking down.
"You know…" he says after a moment. His head is lowered enough so that she can't really see his face. He takes a breath, realising that she has heard him – maybe he hadn't meant for her to. "… It… sometimes it feels like I didn't know them at all…"
She wants to protect him, because he sounds so sad. He sounds how she feels. He sounds like he isn't supposed to be here, like he thinks he would get so much more out of this, somehow, and isn't finding it.
"I think everyone feels like that, Paul… with Tom and Barry it was-"
"No, I know… I know that, but-"
The noise from the tape recorder only registers when their voices return. The twins.
"Ouch, fuck. Tommy-"
The sound of stumbling, the creaking of the door, or the floorboards.
Soft laughter. Laura turns back to the tape recorder and Paul raises his head.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah, fine." Tom laughed a little and Barry made a short scoffing sound.
"Well, get up then. Tom-" Barry's voice finally broke from its usual sullenness as he laughed. Scuffling of shoes, limbs on the floor and then the unmistakable sound of tumbling over.
"No, I stay down here thanks."
Laura bites her lip, wanting to smile. The boys didn't speak for another few seconds, but there were footsteps again. They must have made it to their feet. The sound of the bedsprings, sheets moving. It was several long moment before silence settled in again.
"What?" There was something in Barry's voice that was looking for a reaction, looking for someone to confront him, but there was genuine curiosity there too.
"Why isn't Laura letting you take any pills?"
"She's not—not. I mean, she is, she just didn't-"
"You're going to listen to her?…It was just what Nick had last time… even Paul's done them."
Paul smiles a little, tilting his head. He isn't exactly someone to look up to when it came to what drugs to take.
"I dunno, Barry, maybe… well, I'm—maybe-"
"She just didn't want you to."
"…Let's go to sleep." Tom didn't want to be having this conversation. Annoyance had crept into his voice so easily those last few months.
"You didn't have to listen to her… she can't-"
"But she can't-"
"Why'd you kiss Paul?"
Paul pulls his legs closer to his chest, and she looks at him. He is avoiding her eyes, and she sees him look away from the recorder to the floor. He is still listening so hard…
"I didn't say… I didn't say it—I just… well, why?"
"Don't play fucking stupid, Tom…"
"No, Barry, you're allowed to ask me questions, I want to know."
"You never answered me!"
Another long silence.
"Well, you didn't give me a chance, now, did you?" Tom asked softly, all the frustration gone from his tone. Barry sighed heavily.
"I just wanted to." Paul swallows, eyes fixed firmly on the floor.
"Why? 'Cause of the pills?"
It sounded like Tom wasn't going to press the subject. Paul runs his fingers lightly over ash that must have spilled onto his trousers, trying to wipe it off.
White noise filled the room for a long time.
"Why d'you care anyway?"
"I just wanted to know, I guess."
"Well what would it matter if I did or didn't. You kiss Laura all the time."
"I… because we're together. I love her, that's—that's why."
Laura looks down, wrapping her arms around herself. Paul glances at her – thinks vaguely that she always looked so lonely.
"… Can kiss Paul if I want. Can do whatever I want."
"No you can't."
"He wanted me to."
"… I know." Tom said. Paul raises his hand and presses it lightly against his forehead, staring down with his eyes unfocused.
"And so… I wanted to… why's it matter?"
"D'you like him, Barry?"
The tape cuts off. Paul closes his eyes like he's been slapped in the face.
Neither of them move.
Paul finally looks up at her and forces a quiet laugh. A laugh that says 'typical'. "Cliff-hanger…" he says quietly
She shakes her hair back and walks over to the recorder without looking for him.
Paul looks down again.
They finish what they had to do. Tape up all the boxes and bring them out to Laura's car. There isn't much at all. The boys barely had anything.
"I might… just take the guitar home with me." Paul says at the car.
"It's yours anyway."
"Yeah, I know… but I gave it to Tom."
"Thanks for coming…"
She drives him home and he gets out and get the guitar out of the back. She knows he won't just leave without saying goodbye. Paul isn't like that, so she waits for him, staring at her hands on the steering wheel. He stops by her window and she looks up.
"Maybe I'll see you…" he says, a little awkwardly, and she smiles, because she knows he won't.
He stops and walks halfway back to the car, putting the body of the instrument down on his shoe.
"He did, you know…" she says quietly, leaning out her open window slightly, resting her chin on her forearm. "Barry. He liked you a lot."
Paul doesn't move for a long moment, then he smiles at her, but she sees it disappear too soon, before he turns around completely and she wonders if she should have said anything at all.
But she said it… that's what matters. She hadn't wanted when the boys were alive because there were already too many complications.
Selfish. She knew.
Maybe, in her way, she had fixed it. Maybe she was just trying to get that guilt off of her chest.
Maybe she just wanted Paul to know.
But it was too late now. She doesn't wait for him to disappear into the building before she pulls herself back into her little car and backs out.
And now for a blank page.
A new beginning. She has to put it behind her. It's how she's survived this long
Oh, I'd have whitewashed the sky […] believe me