'Honey, you're bleeding,' consoled my mother as I trudged up back towards them out of the vineyard. I hadn't noticed, but the vine had assaulted my thigh pretty badly and the blood was trickling down my leg. What to me was a greater assault was the fact the Hugo, the boy or rather the man who had ripped my life apart was working on my father's farm, my farm, my land, my home! And my parents had neglected to fill me in on that little detail. I ignored her plea of sympathy and got back into the car. The two-minute drive was a silent one, neither of my parents wanting to make the first move. I sure as hell wasn't.
We drove around to the back of the house and entered through the back door that opened into the kitchen. Stephen was standing at the table and almost ran towards me. I stopped him before he could touch me. My parents came in behind me.
'You're bleeding,' said Stephen as though I hadn't realized the pain and the red fluid running down my leg.
'So I've noticed,'
'Let me help you,' he continued towards me but I brushed him off.
'What's the big deal, I've touched your blood before, or don't you remember that incident of yours a couple of years ago?' he asked confusedly.
'Do you think I could ever forget?' I said sharply my eyes tearing up slightly.
'Sorry Alex, I didn't mean to...'
'Mean to what, rub it in my face? Bring up my dysfunctional past? Of course you didn't because you don't want to hurt me anymore than I've been hurt in the past week alone. And don't come any closer because I don't want to give you AIDS...'
'Alex, you don't have AIDS,' my father cut in.
'The truth of the matter dad, is that I might, along with every other sexually transmitted disease there is,' I continued, 'so don't come any closer!'
The tears had started and I grabbed a dishtowel from the hook above the stove and wiped away what I could. I then put the cloth to my leg to soak up the blood.
'Sweetheart, please don't use the dishtowels for the blood,' sighed my mother.
'Jesus, fuck mom! It's a fucking piece of cloth and I'm bleeding and this is how I choose to clean up this mess. It's blood and it's easy and all it needs is a piece of material and it's all gone. What's harder to clean up though is the shit storm I've been caught in for the past six years. Every night the memory of me cutting myself haunts my dreams and Hugo's face, his fucking handsome face, has never left my mind reminding me of the pain and suffering he has helped put me through, and now he's outside in our vines for whatever reason I do not know. His mere presence on our farm makes me sick but all I can do is cry and have a tantrum and gasp for breath afterwards, hoping that it will make him go away. But it can't, and now I'm here and he's here, and I'm sick and tired and raped and soulless and it's going to take a lot more than a dishtowel to make things right again! So let me do this. Let me clean up what is easy and let me do it the way I choose to.'
I immediately knotted the cloth around my thin thigh, pushed past my silenced parents and brother, and strode out of the kitchen.
As I approached the staircase that led upstairs to the bedrooms I carefully tightened the cloth around my wound so as to make sure I didn't leave a bloody trail behind me. I kicked off my shoes and picked them up and let them dangle from my left hand. I closed my right hand around the deep brown banister. It was the sole of my right foot that felt the soft velvety texture of the thick cream carpet first. I climbed up fully onto the step and let the luxury and comfort of the carpet, something once so ordinary to me, soak into my body and calm me down after the war of words that had just occurred in the kitchen.
I moved slowly up the steps and down the passage, peering at the happy family photos of once-upon-a-time vacations and days filled with sunshine and laughter and light-hearted existence. Soon I was standing in front of my room door. I lightly swung it open and stepped inside, closing the door behind me. After five years of abandonment it had surprisingly undergone no change at all. The shelves were still packed with books, some fiction, and some school textbooks I had forgotten to get rid of before departing for London all those years ago. I felt old in this room. The school tie that hung across the desk lamp, the t-shirts and skinny jeans in the wardrobe, the leather satchel I used to carry my books in: it was like a movie set, everything belonging to the teenage character I once played. I went to sit in the armchair at my cherry wood desk. I opened the top drawer and found a single object. Platinum and delicate, it sparkled in the late afternoon sun that cascaded through the open sliding door that led to the balcony. I undid the clutch at laid in out in front of me on the desk: sixteen tiny platinum leaves all in a row. It was beautiful. At that moment I snatched it from the desk and walked out onto the balcony. The sun's rays reached every niche of the bracelet and it sparkled even more fervently. I aimed at the sun, now low over the horizon, and pitched the piece of jewelry at it as far as it would go. I returned to the inner sanctuary of my room, stripped and limped, the pain starting to set in, to the en suite bathroom to take shower. After the shower, once all of the excess and dried blood had been washed away, I cleaned my gash with antiseptic and wrapped my thigh in bandages; the very act reminding me of when I cut myself and thereafter take to healing the thin pink strokes. The routine of healing never changed. I can still, ever so slightly, make out the criss-cross formation of some sadistic geometric puzzle on the soft undersides of my forearms. I traced them with my fingers. In my mind I felt the swollen ridges.
I stepped out of the bathroom, and having discarded the towel, moved to my bed and crept underneath the covers. The coolness against my naked body was soothing and the throbbing in my thigh seemed to subside. I fell asleep with the sun slowly drawing itself from the foot of my bed, out of the balcony doors, across the swimming pool and tennis court and infinite farmlands until it disappeared behind the mountains that encompassed the valley in which our farm was cradled.
I awoke in a deadly darkness that consumed my entire room. The balcony doors still stood open as I felt the warm evening summer breeze drift carelessly through the room. Once my eyes had adjusted well enough to the darkness and I could make out the silhouette of the furniture in my room and slowly felt my way to the dresser and fished out an old pair of cotton boxers and a t-shirt. The boxers, although meant for a teenager, sat loosely on my hips and the t-shirt, a little on the short side, also left space for a little growth. I walked out onto the balcony to fully embrace the warm night air. As I stood and looked out upon our garden, three figures sat on chairs around a table at a distance from the pool. I made out the rounded belly of my father, the spiky hair of Stephen and the body, oh the strong body, of Hugo. They were discussing something but I was too far to hear what the topic was. They laughed suddenly and I was glad it didn't seem they were talking about me. Thereafter, anger arose once again and I it my fist against the railing of he balcony. I immediately regretted it as the sound reverberated loudly and all three of them turned to look in my direction. I silently slipped back into my room and anxiously paced in the darkness. After a while I heard the men get up and say goodnight to each other. I moved cautiously to the threshold where the room carpet met the balcony tile and stood there watching them. My father and brother moved back into the house while Hugo walked across our garden to the gravel path that led about 200 metres to another of the smaller of the two farmhouses that were built on our farm. It was four-bedroomed house, relatively small compared to our ten-bedroomed manor, which had been intended for a foreman on the farm. But my father had never required the assistance of a one and the house and stayed unoccupied. I watched as Hugo's frame got smaller and smaller until it stopped at the house's front door for a minute before entering. Then suddenly the innards of the once brick shell was alight and I could see him move around his furniture through the undrawn curtains. I watched him for a while until the lights of the house dimmed. I could imagine him climbing into his cold bed.
After a half an hour I left my room and headed towards my parents room. It was only 22:30 and I doubted that they'd already be asleep. I knocked tentatively on their door. My dad opened the door and immediately pulled me into his arms. He was taller than I was, always a big man, like my brothers turned out to be, and I disappeared in his embrace. His warmth and strength humbled me and I started crying into his chest. My mother emerged from the bathroom and rushed towards us and directed me towards the bed. I settled on the edge while my parents migrated to their respective sides of the bed and leant against the leather headboard.
'I don't understand,' I began, 'why he is here, on our farm, working?'
'Alex, a lot has happened over the past five years,' answered my father, 'the wine output has increased by 35% and I've branched out into the apple market as well.'
'When was did that happen?' I asked, shocked with what I was hearing.
'Two years ago. I had just started with the apple orchards and I was looking for an extra managing hand on the farm, especially for the vineyards.'
'So you hired him,' I concluded, 'and he's been here for two whole years?'
'But Dad, Mom, don't you remember what he did...'
'It wasn't an easy decision to make Alexander,' added my mother, 'both your father and I were very against giving him the job.'
'So why did you?' I said sharply
'He wanted another chance Alex. He apologized to us for what he did to you and put you though. And yes we know that you are the one he really needs to apologize to but he was completely sincere in his apologies to us.'
'So all he needed to say was 'I'm sorry' and he got the job?' I said flustered, my cheeks flushing.
'Of course it wasn't like that. He showed us the wrongs of his past, the decisions that he has made since then and his objectives for the future, and I can assure you son, they are honourable ones,' said my father sternly.
'Well what are they then?' I asked sarcastically
'That, Alexander, you will have to find out from him,' smiled my father.
I crawled up onto the bed completely and curled into the fetal position between my parents' waists.
'Talk to him? Do you want to kill me?' I asked softly
My father's hand reached the top of my head and his fingers ran gently through my thick hair.
'You know I would never do anything to hurt you,' he replied.
'I know,' I said back so softly it was almost inaudible to myself.
As my father played with my hair and my mom had thrown a light blanket over me, I thought of the days when I was much younger, around 5 or 6 years old. As many had previously noticed back then, I was my father's child. Wherever he went I went, or rather wherever I went he went. I remember how my father was there whenever I yearned for some physical activity, to make sure I didn't get hurt, for during my early childhood days I was extremely fragile and often got injured if I played unsupervised or with other children. He taught me to swim, ride my bike, hit my first hockey ball and serve my first ace. My father was always there to break my fall. How weird is it now that he seems to be pushing me towards falling, towards Hugo.