Everybody knew that Barry Jenkins loved his brother. He always had. That was his one saving grace, really. He was a criminal and a villain, always in some sort of trouble, always involved in some dodgy deal or illegal operation, always getting into fights, and had been having run-ins with the police since he was ten, but at least he couldn’t be all bad, because he did love his baby brother. Everybody said so.
Things were different before, of course. Before Barry left home. Barry was a young man making his way in the world, and Barry’s little brother Peter was just some dirty, scruffy kid who tagged along after him. Petey had been just about thirteen, the day Barry walked out. It’d been over some stupid row with their father. Barry couldn’t even remember what they’d been arguing about. They’d been getting more and more frequent and vicious, the arguments, and it made sense for Barry to leave. He was an adult, and he didn’t have to stand there passively and be treated like that. In hindsight, he was probably wrong to cut off all contact with his family, leave them unsure of where he was and if he was doing okay. Peter had cried in his room that night, whilst Barry was packing. He didn’t think anybody knew, he didn’t want anybody to know he cried at anything, but Barry heard.
Turned out Barry was right not to trust the old man, though. That was when he knew it was time to go back, when he’d heard the old bugger had done a runner with some posh bird from work, as he told his friends when he was packing up and heading for home. His siblings had been trying to find him. They’d even called into radio stations to put out a message for him, and put little signs in newsagent’s windows like he was a lost dog. Sweet, really, he thought.
His mum was exactly the same as he’d left her all those years ago, albeit a little older and a lot more depressed and distrusting of husbands. Mums are like that. They never really change, not when their babies are concerned. Any real mother will still be fussing over whether or not you brush your teeth and wear clean underwear and stay safe, even when you’re forty-three. Or when you’re twenty-eight, as Barry soon found out.
But the other members of the household were another matter entirely. Could this feisty, loud mouthed eight year old, always ready for a fight, really be the sweet little baby girl he had left behind? And where was his snotty, grubby, mischievous kid brother? Who was this tall, brooding, straight talking, handsome nineteen-year-old young man who appeared to have replaced him? It was like looking at a stranger. He no longer liked being called Petey, Barry’s special nickname for him. He insisted Barry call him Tucker now, the same stupid nickname his friend had given him when they were little. Most painful of all, he looked straight back at him as though he was the stranger. And maybe he was.
They had to get to know each other as adults, almost starting their relationship again from scratch. And so, when it happened, it happened, slowly, naturally, as it would for any two friends. And they were the best of friends. They clicked almost instantly, and were soon going everywhere together: leisure centres, discos, pubs, you name it. What happened could truly have happened to anyone. It was only natural. And anyone would tell you that neither one would ever let any harm come to the other, even if it meant putting themselves in danger. They truly did love each other.
Barry had originally only intended to stay a month or two, just until his family were back on their feet. They didn’t really need him anyway. Tucker was more the man of the house than he he’d ever be, anyway. He cooked meals, got the shopping in, did an excellent job of looking after his bother and keeping his younger sister out of trouble, and all this on top of slaving away to get the grades to get into college. He truly was a respectable, responsible adult. And what was Barry? Just a criminal.
Still, once he was here, once all was said and done he couldn’t quite bring himself to leave. And his family had been so happy when he’d told them he was staying for Christmas. Just the look on Tucker’s face had made it worth it. And who knew what would happen in the New Year? Maybe he’d get a little flat nearby. Maybe Tucker could move in with him, take the strain off Mum a bit. That’d be nice, he thought, as he looked around the moonlit kitchen, mug in hand. The four of them had done a pretty good job of decorating it, earlier that day. He wouldn’t’ve thought it possible to hang that much tinsel in one room.
“So, here you are. What are you doing up at this time?” came a quiet voice from behind him.
Barry wheeled round to see Tucker standing in the kitchen doorway, arms folded, smirking in the moonlight.
Walking towards him, Barry glanced up at the mistletoe hanging from the doorframe. Following his gaze, Tucker noticed it too, and looking, back at Barry, raised an eyebrow meaningfully.
Barry leaned forwards and brushed a gentle kiss against Tucker’s lips. “Merry Christmas, you dirty little sod,” he whispered.