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No burden is he to bear
Debbie decides to drop by the pub for lunch. It's getting cold and a bowl of Marlon's soup would hit the spot just right. She pushes through the door, grateful for the warmth that hits her immediately. The first person her eyes land on is Noah, sat by himself at one of the tables, picking at a plate of lasagne. She musses his hair and he ducks away from her hand, patting it back into place.
She rolls her eyes, he's becoming such a little poser. "Shouldn't you be at school?"
"Had the dentist," he mumbles, attention back on his meal that he seems to be pushing around the plate more than eating. "I'm going in after lunch."
"Fair enough." She leaves him in peace and moves over to the bar where Charity's serving Diane and Bernice, waiting until she finishes and comes over.
"Hiya. What's up with His Nibs?" She nods to her brother.
Charity rolls her eyes. "Who knows? He was absolutely fine last night and then this morning he's all sullen and withdrawn. Worse mood swings than a girl, that one." She leans on the bar and sighs, her brow creased in concern as she looks at the back of her son's head. "He was even off with Vanessa this morning, and the two of them are always pally."
"Speak of the devil," Debbie says as the woman in question enters the bar. They both watch as Vanessa stops to speak to Noah, but his eyes remain trained on his plate as if the lasagne is the most fascinating thing in the world. Vanessa's shoulders drop and she makes her way over to join Debbie by the bar.
"Hiya." Vanessa's greeting is not her usual bubbly one and Charity pouts.
"Well, try not to act too thrilled to see me, eh babe?"
"Sorry," Vanessa says, going up on her tiptoes and leaning across the bar so that she can meet Charity in a chaste kiss. Debbie makes a show of wrinkling her nose in distaste, but she doesn't really mean it. Not anymore at least. "It's just...I see he's no more forthcoming than he was earlier."
"Nope. Had that face on him all morning." Charity sighs. "I had a good mind to just drop him straight at school after the dentist so I didn't have to look at it."
"Did you try talking to him again?" Vanessa asks.
"Yes. Course I did," Charity says, lifting her hand to count off on her fingers. "I asked if it was bullying, drugs, school work, a girl, a boy...he said it was none of that. So I'm out of ideas."
Debbie looks between their worried faces and sighs. "Look, d'you want me to give it a go? See if he'll talk to a non-parent person?"
"Would you, Debs?" Vanessa turns to her with huge, hopeful eyes. "I think that might be what he needs."
"Yeah, thanks babe," Charity puts in with a nod. "I'll sort out some lunch for you while you do that if you like. My treat."
"Fine. Get me a bowl of soup then." Debbie gets off the stool she's on and heads back over to her brother, taking a seat beside him this time. He looks up in surprise at the unexpected presence.
"What?" His voice is sullen and petulant and Debbie has to bite her tongue not to snap back. He's usually the absolute opposite of their mum, but when he's leaning into his role as a teenager, the Charity in him is definitely visible. She bumps his shoulder.
"What's up?" she asks. "And before you give me 'nothing', both Mum and Vanessa are worried about you and I can see it's not nothing. So start talking."
He looks back down at his food, stabbing a chip over and over with his fork. "I told Mum already. I'm fine. There's nothing wrong with me."
Debbie watches him for a moment. He doesn't seem upset as much as...awkward? Like he's uncomfortable about something. "C'mon, they said you were fine last night and then not fine this morning. Did...did you have a weird dream or something?"
"I wish," he mutters, then puts his fork down and covers his face with both hands.
"Look, mate, you know you can talk to me about anything, right?" She leans close to him. "I'm your big sister. I'm not gonna think badly of you, no matter what you tell me. You're supposed to come to me with all your teen angst."
"It's embarrassing." It's difficult to make out his words as his face is still covered by his hands. She glances over her shoulder and finds both Charity and Vanessa looking back at her and she scowls at them, shaking her head. He's not gonna open up if he thinks they're earwigging in. They reluctantly turn away, leaning their heads close together in hushed conversation.
She nudges Noah again. "Embarrassing things can sometimes be funny if you tell someone." Her stomach freezes. What if he's had a wet dream or something. She's not sure she'll cope with that.
He slowly removes his hands from his face and looks at her. It's the first time he's met her eyes since she sat down. "You...you can't say anything."
She draws a cross over her heart. "Promise." She'll probably have to break that promise at least a little if she's to put her mother's mind at ease. But she's a parent herself, she knows the benefit of white lies.
Noah shifts closer to her, glancing over his shoulder briefly before lowering his voice.
"Well...thing is...I woke up in the middle of the night, right?" Debbie steels herself for something potentially awful relating to the nocturnal activities of teenage boys and nods. "And I was thirsty, so I got up to go and get a drink of water. But when I came out into the hallway, I heard this...noise, like someone was being hurt...coming from mum's room " Pressing her lips together to stop from laughing, now that she can see where this is going, she nods for him to continue. "So I turned around and went to see what was happening and then I heard...Vanessa...shouting mum's name." His cheeks are flaming red now and Debbie has to cover her mouth. "And then she shouted 'yes'. A lot." He covers his face again. "And then I figured out what was going on."
Debbie has just about composed herself enough to speak, and removes her hand from her mouth. "Oh, mate, that must've been...rough."
"It was awful," Noah whines, covering his face again. "And now I can't even look at them."
She wraps an arm around his shoulders and pulls him into a loose side-hug. "Look, I know it seems bad just now, but it'll fade and they'll go back to just being Mum and Ness. I promise."
"D'you think?" He looks up at her hopefully.
"I know," she assures him with a nod. "We've both got over much worse things than this where Mum's concerned, haven't we?"
He purses his lips in thought. "Suppose so."
"Course we have." She jiggles his shoulders. "And you must have known that they...you know...did it."
He flushes red again. "I guess I just never really thought about it before." He closes his eyes. "And now I can't do anything but think about it."
Debbie looks at her watch. "Well, it's about time you were heading to the bus stop. Once you're back at school with your mates, you'll have other stuff to occupy your mind and this'll fade into the distance."
"I hope so." He sighs, but offers her a small smile. "Thanks. I think telling you made it a little bit better."
"Good." She grins. "Now, get off to school and when you come home, try and be a little bit more normal with them, eh?"
"I'll try." He gets up and grabs his bag and blazer. "Thanks Debs."
"No problem." She winks at him and points over her shoulder. "Say 'bye' to them, at least."
He sighs but shifts his attention over to the bar. "I'm off to school now. Bye Mum. Bye Ness."
Debbie turns just in time to catch both of their shocked expressions as they chorus their goodbyes at him. He blushes as soon as his eyes meet whichever one he's focussing on, but he gives them a quick wave before turning and running out of the pub. Debbie watches him go before schooling her features into a solemn, blank look. She gets up from the table and moves back to the stool she'd vacated.
"Well?" Charity prods. "What did he say?"
She's prevented from replying by Marlon depositing her soup on the bar. She sighs and shakes her head.
"All I can say is that I hope the two of you are proud of yourselves for scarring my little brother for life." She picks up her spoon and stirs her soup, not looking at either of them.
"Scarring? What are you on about?" Charity frowns.
Debbie takes a few mouthfuls of soup, letting them sweat a little. Vanessa's clearly worried, her eyes diving between Debbie and Charity. Charity covers Vanessa's hand with her own and gives it a little squeeze. Debbie puts her spoon down and dabs her lips with the paper napkin her cutlery came wrapped in.
"Well, it seems that Noah got up for a drink of water last night and heard quite a commotion coming from your bedroom."
She watches her words sink in with both of them. Their reactions are so different, it's comical. Vanessa's face drops into the perfect picture of mortification, while Charity adopts a relieved smile. Debbie picks up her spoon and resumes her lunch.
"Oh my God!" Vanessa hisses, her cheeks glowing bright red. "He heard us?"
Charity leans her elbows on the bar, resting her chin on her hands, clearly amused by this turn of events. "Let's face it, babe, he probably heard you."
Vanessa splutters indignantly. "I...we "
"Yeah, he did mention you specifically now you come to mention it," Debbie says with a nod. "Said you were agreeing with Mum a lot."
"Oh my God." Vanessa's head drops to the bar.
"You were saying that quite a bit last night too," Charity says, glee clear in her voice. "Especially when I did that thing with m-"
Vanessa shoots up and claps a hand over Charity's mouth, which Debbie is glad of. While she's always been fairly comfortable discussing sex with her mother, she doesn't need a blow by blow account, so to speak.
"The poor kid," Vanessa laments, removing her hand once she's sure Charity's not going to say anything to make things worse. "Jesus, I'd die if I heard my old man having sex-" She holds up a finger when Charity opens her mouth. "-and do not say a word about what he sounds like because I really cannot cope with that right now."
Charity shuts her mouth with a roll of her eyes.
"Is he really upset?" Vanessa asks, her voice small and wavering slightly.
In a move that demonstrates to Debbie how different this relationship is, her mother takes one look at Vanessa's downcast face and immediately moves out from behind the bar, coming around to stand by Vanessa and wrapping an arm around her, pressing a kiss to her cheek.
"Hey, listen, Debs was only messing when she said he was scarred for life." Charity narrows her eyes at Debbie over Vanessa's head. "Bit of a drama queen is our Deborah when she take the notion."
"Can't think where she gets that from," Vanessa says, leaning her head on Charity's shoulder and winding an arm around her waist. She gives Debbie a wink that makes her smile.
"Cheeky so and so," Charity mutters, but squeezes Vanessa closer. "Hey, he's hardly the first kid to hear his parents having a bit of a fumble and he won't be the last. He'll get over it."
"He will," Debbie agrees. "He doesn't think he will right now, but he will."
"D'you think?" Vanessa asks, looking plaintively between them.
"Course he will," Charity tells her. "Someone'll beat his Pokemon at Grand Assassin's whatsit this afternoon and he'll forget all about this."
"Yeah...I hope so," Vanessa murmurs, clearly unconvinced. "We've become really good mates and I'd hate to think that's been spoiled by "
"By him hearing you going at it hammer and tongs with his Mum?" Debbie puts in, rubbing her arm where Charity slaps her.
"Stop winding her up," she scolds.
"Yeah, that's your Mum's job," Vanessa says, looking a little bit happier, if still worried. She sighs. "You're right, though. He'll get over it soon enough. I'm just glad it's nothing wrong at school or anything like that. I hated seeing him all withdrawn."
"He was like that for about a year one time," Charity says, rubbing her forefinger over the deep grooves between Vanessa's eyebrows. "A day's nothing."
"D'you think we should...talk to him about it?" Vanessa asks, scrunching up her nose.
"No!" Debbie says, immediately. "I told him I wouldn't tell you he'd told me. So just, you know, act normal. Or as normal as you two get. He'll be fine." She finishes up her bowl of soup and dabs at her mouth again. "Well, thanks for the soup, but I've got to go and do a big shop before Jack's school lets out." She slides off the stool, but Charity catches her arm.
"Thanks, Debs. For speaking to him." She offers a genuine smile. "I...we really appreciate it."
"Anytime," Debbie says. "You know I love the kid."
"You're a good big sister," Vanessa tells her.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm the best." Debbie says, but there's a smile on her face. "Just...try and keep it down a bit for a while, eh?"
"Not much chance of that with this one," Charity says. "Especially when I do that thing with m-" Once again, Vanessa's hand is pressed across Charity's mouth.
"Thanks, Debbie." Vanessa says, scowling at Charity.
"Any chance of some service around here?" Jimmy calls from the other side of the bar.
Charity removes Vanessa's hand from her mouth. "Can't you see I'm dealing with a personal crisis here? I'll be with you in a minute." She shakes her head, as if he's asked for something beyond the bare minimum of customer service.
Debbie rolls her eyes and heads for the door. "I'll see the pair of you later." She pauses, looking back over her shoulder. "Maybe take Noah for an ice-cream or something after school eh? He deserves a bit of a treat after his trauma."
She winks and heads out to the sound of Vanessa's embarrassed groan.
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