Hannah walked in on Alec while he was taking a shower. Alec shouted, ‘what the hell?’ He grabbed out for a towel and lost his footing. He splayed nude on the tiles. Hannah tugged down her tights and plonked on the toilet seat. She looked down on him and teased her eyebrows high. She started to pee. She said, ‘when a girl’s gotta go, a girl’s gotta go.’
Next day, Hannah took Alec up the high fields. A warm late-spring sun tickled in on the wind. Hannah said, ‘let’s explore.’ They found run-down sheds and old gypsy camp sites. They poked fly-tips with sticks. They kicked clouds of fire ash. They lay on their fronts on the quarry edge, watching the workers scurry in orange overalls below. They tossed rocks and ran till the shouts faded and their lungs burned. At the lake by the forest they lay back and smoked the cigarettes Hannah had bummed off boys.
Hannah asked Alec: ‘you ever kissed?’
The red rose in Alec’s cheeks.
He said, ‘uh-huh.’
He squinted over the lake. The wind made ripples. Hannah curled a smile. She propped on one elbow. She said, ‘generally speaking, uh-huh means no.’
Alec shifted. He said, ‘I have too.’
Hannah said, ‘You’re lying. I know it.’
They sat a while and Hannah said, ‘you want to learn?’ Then she smiled: ‘just kissing won’t give us no two-headed babies, or nothing.’
She leaned in and pressed her lips against his. She prized his open with her tongue. She swapped her spearmint gum. He shifted some more. She pulled back and looked deep at him. She said, ‘you ever want to practise some more, just say.’
Alec came to finding Hannah’s knickers draped from the stair rail, glimpsing her part-nude through her bedroom door-crack. She would curl that smile and tease: ‘you spying on me?’ She would bustle in on him taking a shower some more, her dressing gown falling away. She would clasp her hand to her mouth and mumble, ‘sorry’. She would bring home friends and tell them: ‘my brother, here’ – Alec would always correct her, say: ‘half-brother’ - ‘he’s too cute not to have a girlfriend, huh?’ Alec had his own bunch of friends, a couple of girls who said they liked him. He acted not interested.
As Hannah grew more into a woman she took him up the lake some more. There was likely not a teenage boy in the place who did not wish it was them being taken up the lake by her. Hannah had no real boyfriend. She told Alec, ‘there’s none just right.’ She told him: ‘none I can get my hands on, any how.’
She got him drunk on beer and asked him if he thought about her. She said, ‘I won’t tell.’ When summer came and the lake shone like glass, they headed up swimming. Hannah stripped down to her bikini. She hooked her thumbs in her straps. She said, ‘I will if you will.’
Alec blushed some more. He said, ‘will what?’
Hannah said, ‘go naked, stupid.’
Alec paddled in the water. He saw the sun shine gold on her skin. He said, ‘I dunno.’
She said, ‘it isn’t nothing you haven’t seen before, any how.’
He scanned the banks. He said, ‘what if someone sees?’
Hannah squinted back. She said, ‘lucky them.’ She let her top fall away. Her breasts dropped free. Alec stopped a stare, scanned the banks again. He headed out to deeper water, goose-bumped up with cold. She said, ‘hey, a deal’s a deal!’ She came after him. She caught him and splashed him and whooped. She tugged at his shorts. He kept them up. She slung her arms round his neck and pressed up against him. She snaked her legs round his hips. She curled another of those smiles of hers. Alec watched the bank some more. She said, ‘there’s nothing we’re doing is wrong.’ She rolled her gum round her tongue. Her breath wisped his face. She pushed back a hair-strand. She said, ‘shit, you’re the spit of mum.’ Her eyes greyed over. She pushed off and back-stroked away, not looking. Her breasts bobbled the surface. He trod water. He watched her reach the edge. She pulled on her clothes and left. He shouted, ‘hey!’ She didn’t stop.
Some bit later, Hannah’s father asked Alec out shooting. Alec looked up from his breakfast. He said, ‘shooting?’
Hannah’s father looked out the window, past the fields to the hills. He said, ‘reckon it’s time.’ Alec glanced at his mother. She shrugged away.
Alec said, ‘just me and you?’
Hannah’s father said, ‘uh-huh.’
They tramped through the fields. Hannah’s father led without a word. He had the rifle slung over his shoulder. They reached the edge of the woods. Rabbits flashed up front. Hannah’s father said, ‘here.’ He set the rifle up on Alec’s shoulder. He said, ‘it jerks.’ First time, the bullet clipped the tree-tops, flung Alec right back. They kept stalking. Hannah’s father nodded to try again. He dug it in the soil. Hannah’s father took the gun and picked a couple straight off. They fetched them and Hannah’s father pulled out his gutting knife. He skinned one down to its red flesh and thumbed out its guts. He handed the knife to Alec and made him do the same. Blood slimed his hands. He gagged. Hannah’s father rustled up a small fire and spit. While the rabbits slow-cooked they gazed in the flames.
Hannah’s father said, ‘you got yourself a girl yet?’
Alec gulped. The red rose more. He said, ‘nuh-huh.’
Hannah’s father kept his eyes on the fire. He said, ‘shit, when I was fourteen..’ Then he said, ‘you got your eye on one?’
Alec shrugged, shook his head.
Hannah’s father said, ‘you best not be one of them..’
Alec coughed a laugh.
Hannah’s father poked the fire. He turned to Alec. His voice lowered. His eyes slit up. He said, ‘don’t bullshit me, boy.’
Alec pricked up, coughed another laugh. He said, ‘I’m not a homo, if that’s what you mean.’
Hannah’s father took out his hip-flask and took another swig of morning whisky. He swung in close. He said, ‘you know what, boy? You might soon be wishing you were.’
He grabbed Alec tight round his throat. Alec choked up air. He pushed Alec in at the flames. Alec flapped but the grip was tight. He hissed in Alec’s ear: ‘You think no-one’s seen you? You think folks aren’t talking? You think we’re all that stupid, not to see?’
Alec shook and tried to speak. Hannah’s father said, ‘say you did it. Say it.’ Alec’s lips blistered. His hair frizzed. The rabbit flesh charred. The grip eased and he coughed up see-through sick. Hannah’s father’s face pressed up to his. He said, ‘well?’
Alec said, ‘no.’ He shook fast. ‘No.’
Hannah’s father grabbed a clump of hair and flung Alec back towards the fire. His nose-end pressed up to the rabbits. He said, ‘I’m warning you, boy. You hear me?’
Then Alec’s head was in the dirt. He blinked up. Hannah’s father was jabbing at the fire. He said, ‘I knew I shouldn’t have took her back. Her running off on me like that, getting half the fleet up her inners. First I set eyes on you, I knew you were trouble.’ He reached in his pocket, began rolling a cigarette. He shook his head. He said, ‘but that slut of a mother of yours, she’s got her ways of persuading.’ They ate the rabbits without speaking. They walked home. Alec’s shoulder bruised up black.
Hannah posed in the door in a pink crop-top and a denim mini. She eyed Alec’s smoky face. She said, ‘what happened to you?’
Hannah’s father said, ‘get some damn clothes on.’ Hannah pulled a face and disappeared.
From that day the teasing stopped dead. Hannah’s bedroom door stayed shut. She spoke in muffles behind it. Alec caught whiffs of her on the stairs, snatches of chat at meal-times. She never looked in his eyes. There were no more trips up the fields. She grew even taller, more beautiful. She went out to parties, always made it in by curfew. Hannah’s father took Alec shooting some more. He could pick off rabbits. The first time, Hannah’s father slapped his back. They barely spoke. They said nothing of what happened.
Alec got a girlfriend. Her name was Chloe. She was sweet with long blonde hair. She liked him lots. She said, ‘I thought you’d never ask.’ He took her up the fields. They swam in the lake. They drank beer and kissed. They held hands in public. They talked about when their first time might be. Their friends envied them. They were good together.
Hannah ignored them. The first time Chloe came to tea, Hannah excused herself. Hannah’s father shouted her back. He said, ‘show the guest some respect.’ Their mother smiled lots at Chloe. She fed her second-helpings. She offered to run them into town. Hannah glared hate. Her parties got longer. She broke curfews. She took to rolling in drunk. She reeked of cigarettes. Hannah’s father slapped her, made her smoke more till she spewed.
Their mother cried. She said, ‘why can’t you be a bit more like Alec?’ They argued downstairs. They shouted till pots smashed. Their mother took a bundle of clothes and headed round her sister’s.
Hannah’s father shouted after her, ‘there won’t be no third chances, I’ll tell you that for sure.’
Till one day, Alec headed round to Chloe’s and rapped the door. He had a bag with a bunch of food for a picnic up the fields. He had his swim shorts. He buried a four-pack deep in. The sun beat down. Chloe’s mother answered. She glared at him. She said, ‘well?’
She said, ‘well?’
Alec said, ‘is everything all right, Mrs…’
She said, ‘don’t everything-all-right-Mrs me.’
There was a bustle behind. She flashed back, snapped: ‘get back in there.’
Alec tried to peer round. He said, ‘Chloe?’
She said, ‘she’s not here. Not now, not ever.’
She went for the door to slam. She leaned out, hissed: ‘you dirty little inbred.’ Then she slammed it.
Alec started heading home then he passed the track up the fields and he swung up and got to the lake. He sat and took off his tee-shirt and felt the sun on his shoulders. He swam a little then he got out and laid on the tufty grass and fished the beer from his rucksack. He sat and drank till the sun went in and all four cans were gone.
When Alec got home the house was dark but for the TV flickering an old film in the front room. Hannah’s father was sat on the couch asleep with his head back and his mouth open. He clutched a last beer that had tipped down his shirt. An empty whisky bottle sat up in front with a good few inches left in it. Alec leaned over Hannah’s father and took the bottle. He trod careful upstairs past his mother’s room. Her bed was still empty. Her clothes were still gone.
Alec had pretty much polished off the whisky when the front door clicked and steps came up the stairs. They padded past his room. They paused, then carried on up to the attic. He waited a moment then he followed her up. When he pushed open her door she was stood facing him like she knew he was coming. She did that curl-smile thing and said, ‘well, hi.’ Alec shook his head and drained the rest of the whisky. He started but tripped over his words. She curl-smiled some more and shrugged off her cardigan. She took the bottom of her crop-top and cross-armed it over her head. She never took her eyes off him. He tripped over his words some more. She said, ‘well?’
She toyed the top button of her denim mini and shrugged her hips and let it fall. She peeled off her tights then her lemon-yellow knickers. He saw the slide between her legs. When he looked back up she’d unclipped her bra and was naked. She shrugged out her hair and stepped towards him. When he stepped back she placed a finger to her lips and held out her other arm and kept coming. She took him and lifted off his tee-shirt then she got down and fumbled at his jeans-zip. He shrugged her back on the floor and looked down on her. He said: ‘bitch.’
She big-eyed up and that curl-smile flashed back. She got up and flopped on her bed and said, ‘isn’t this what you want?’
Alec fixed her eyes. He said, ‘I want nowt.’
Her smile went and she spat her words: ‘you always did get what you wanted.’
Then she fixed eyes and started to scream. It was a real high-pitched scream and there were words in it that would have woke drunks alone. The more Alec tried to hush her, the more high-pitched she went.
It was clear how it looked. When Hannah’s father came stumbling up the stairs he blinked his eyes and saw Hannah curled nude on her bed. He saw Alec hung over her half-undressed with his flies down. He reached for Alec. Alec reached back for the whisky bottle and ducked out of the way. He made for the door. Hannah’s father caught him and slammed his head in the door frame. They both fell. As they fell Alec swung the hand that held the whisky bottle hard as he could against his skull. There was a crack and the glass broke and the bit he was still holding he dug deep into the darked-out face above him. Then there was a roar from Hannah’s father, a gurgle that came from deep inside him. He limped up and slipped over Alec and there was the thud-crash-thud of him falling down the stairs.
Then there was silence and Hannah switched on her bedside light. Alec was caked in blood like the rabbits that time. It poured on the carpet and down the stairs. Alec slumped up on the door-frame. After a bit she came over, still naked, and pulled him into her.