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Subject: The Hunters, chapter 21 The Hunters – Chapter 21 Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction which features sexual activity between teenage boys, as well as between teenage boys and adults. If you do not want to read such a story, or it is illegal for you to do so because of your age or where you live, then I recommend you go read something else instead. And just a heads up with this chapter; some of it doesn’t make for easy reading. Feedback is very welcome. So, if you are enjoying this story, please do drop me an email at hoo If you can, please support Nifty with a financial donation – whatever you can afford – so that this archive of stories can remain free and available. Just go to fty/ *** “I can’t believe it,” Ben said eventually. They stood together in a crowded bar. As Will told him about Jonathan, Ben’s eyes kept darting over his shoulder. At first, Will thought Ben was looking for an escape route; only now did he realise his ex was checking for a table. “There’s one over there,” Ben said, suddenly. “Let’s grab it before someone else does.” It was in the corner. As they headed towards it, Will noticed another couple with the same idea winning the race. Quickly, he hurled his coat over their heads to land on one of the available chairs. Scowling, the other couple backed away. They sat down. “I want to say I’m sorry,” Ben told him, “but it sounds so trite.” “You don’t have to say anything. I just wanted you to know.” “Josh must be devastated.” “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Ben’s eyes widened. “He can’t be pleased. You were his life support system. He depended on you.” “And he hated me because of it. I always knew that, but never in my wildest dreams did I guess how much. All I ever was to him was unwanted competition. When Jonathan came along, he had the chance to eliminate me and he took it.” “What do your parents say about it?” “They don’t say anything to me. Not anymore.” Ben looked confused. Will told him how things had ended, resting his hand on the table between them. As Will finished speaking, Ben reached out and covered it with his own. An electric charge ran through Will. He watched his former boyfriend, sensing him feel it too. Quickly, Ben pulled his hand away. “Why?” Will asked. “Hospitals make mistakes,” Ben said. “It happens.” “That’s not what I’m talking about.” Ben swallowed. “I know.” “So?” “Don’t…” “But I want to know,” Will told him. “I need to know. We had something amazing. You said so yourself just before I went to Shanghai. And then, when I came back, I found a note telling me we were over and you wouldn’t even take my calls. Then you moved schools. One minute I’m your soul mate and the next you’re running from me like I’ve got the plague. What did I do wrong?” Ben didn’t answer. “Why won’t you tell me?” Will urged. “What good would it do? It’s in the past, Will. Can’t we just leave it there?” “I have a right to know.” “I can’t.” “Why not?” “Because I still care about you!” Ben’s words took him by surprise. “What do you mean?” Looking flustered, the brown haired teen rose to his feet. “That’s right Ben, run away. Ditch me like the rest of them.” Anger consumed him. “I’d have done anything to make you happy. You’re the one person outside my family I’ve ever truly loved. I did everything I could to make them happy too and what did I get in return? The one time I really needed them, they kicked me into touch. Why should I expect anything better from you?” Ben’s lip was trembling. He seemed close to tears. “Just go,” Will told him. The befreckled teen remained where he was. Will noticed the other couple eyeing the table. “We’re leaving,” he told them. “It’s all yours.” “No, it’s not,” Ben said suddenly, before sitting back down again. They stared at each other. Will drummed his fingers on the table, longing for a cigarette. “I want one too,” Ben said as if reading his mind. “I thought you’d given up.” “I will if you do.” “We could be each other’s sponsor at nicotine anonymous.” Ben smiled. Reluctantly, Will found himself smiling too. “Do you remember the last time we went out for a drink together?” Ben asked. Will nodded. “It was the night before I went for Shanghai.” “That pub was crowded too. You did the same trick with your coat to get us a table. You hit the chair from twenty feet. I was really impressed.” “All that rugby training must be paying off.” “I was really down that night. Do you remember that?” “Yes. It was just after your stepmother died.” “You never got to meet her, did you? I wish you had. She was a wonderful woman, a million times more of a mother than my own ever was.” He sighed. “I just need you to understand how I was feeling back then.” Will realised that his ex was going to tell him. A multitude of emotions swept through him: relief, expectation, and suddenly… fear. Again, Will saw Ben swallow. “Try not to hate me too much,” Ben began. *** Josh stood at the bar, trying to make himself heard over the noise of a band playing off key covers of Coldplay songs. Jon appeared. “We need to add another drink to the order. Charlie’s girlfriend has arrived.” He pulled out his wallet. “Let’s go halves.” “I can afford it,” Josh snapped. “I don’t need your help.” “Why are you being so grouchy?” “Why did you have to drag me here?” “Because I wanted to meet your school friends. Is that a problem?” Josh shook his head. “Are you worried I’m going to show you up?” Jon asked. “No, but…” “I may not have a private education like Saint Will, but I’m more than capable of holding a decent conversation.” “It’s nothing to do with that.” Jon looked sceptical. “Charlie’s a complete twat,” Josh explained. “He’s always trying to undermine me. He’s somebody I don’t want to be around anymore than I have to be.” Jon’s scepticism became sheepishness. “I’m sorry. You should have said.” “You didn’t give me much chance.” “He’s probably jealous because he’s not as good as you,” Jon said, grinning. “Well, sod him. Nobody puts my brother down when I’m around.” Josh forced himself to grin back, while realising it was exactly the sort of thing Will would have said. The barman finished serving their order. Jon continued to talk, most of his words lost in the thud of music. As Josh paid for the drinks, he noticed a girl at the other end of the bar watching the two of them. He smiled at her. She smiled back. He felt his self-assurance start to return. They returned to their table. The band took a break, making conversation much easier. Charlie introduced his girlfriend: a full-chested girl from the year below called Rosaline who began bragging about how much money her grandparents had given her for Christmas. Several of the lads from Josh’s school excused themselves. Josh watched them go, wishing he and Jon could follow suit. “And what will you spend the money on?” Jon asked Rosaline. “A new laptop.” “Maybe Jon could help,” Josh suggested. “He works part time at an electronics store.” Rosaline looked disdainful. “I wouldn’t want one from a high-street store. I’m getting it custom built.” Jon looked amused. “Well, that’s me told.” “That was rather rude,” Charlie told his girlfriend. “I’m just being honest,” she replied. “Well, I still think it was rude.” Charlie turned to Josh. “Don’t you agree?” “I don’t know.” “She’s insulting your brother. Doesn’t that bother you?” “No.” He felt embarrassed. “I mean…” “It doesn’t bother me,” Jon said quickly. “So why should it bother Josh?” “I’m glad to hear it,” Charlie told Jon. “I really like your suit, by the way.” “Thanks.” “You have much better taste than Josh.” “Actually, our father chose it,” Josh informed him. “Well, it was nice of him to help you,” Charlie said to Jon. “But then it’s only fair. After all, Josh wouldn’t have got anywhere in life without your father’s help.” Again, Josh felt embarrassed. “And what’s that supposed to mean?” Charlie just smiled. “Though of course, even with your father’s influence, he still couldn’t get to be Head Boy.” “So what?” Jon demanded. “You didn’t get to be Head Boy either.” “Actually, I didn’t apply,” Charlie told him. “Unlike Josh, I’m realistic enough to know that I wouldn’t have got it.” “Anyway,” Jon went on. “I bet you’ve all got well-connected parents. After all, how else lara kendi evi olan escort would you get into a school like this?” “You’re wrong, actually,” Charlie responded. “I’m here on a scholarship. We don’t all have rich parents who can open doors for us. Or help us get into Oxford,” he added. “Actually no, I’m wrong there. You’re not going to Oxford, are you, Josh?” “He doesn’t want to,” Jon told him. Again, Charlie looked amused. Josh’s embarrassment increased. He tried not to squirm in his seat. “I stand corrected,” Charlie stated. “After all, you’ve known Josh so much longer than I have.” “No, I haven’t,” Jon said calmly. “And that’s my loss. But one thing’s for sure; I know him a lot better than you do. He doesn’t want to go to Oxford.” Rosaline snorted. “Everyone wants to go to Oxford or Cambridge. Anyone who says they don’t is just trying to save face.” It was Jon’s turn to look amused. “I can’t see why. I reckon most people who go to either of them our self-satisfied jerks.” “Actually, Rosaline’s parents went to Cambridge,” Charlie told him. “Well looking at how Rosaline turned out, I rest my case,” Jon said. Rosaline’s jaw dropped. Even Charlie looked startled. Jon took a mouthful of beer, wiped his mouth and rose to his feet. “Well, it’s been fun meeting you both. Rosaline, try not to go too crazy with your Christmas money.” Josh followed his twin to another table over the other side of the pub. “You shouldn’t have said that to Rosaline.” “She asked for it. Anyway, what do you expect me to do? Just sit there while they take shots at you? I see what you mean about Charlie, by the way. I bet he longs to get into Oxford but knows they’d reject him.” Josh nodded. Jon gave his arm an affectionate punch. Josh suddenly understood what was going on. `Jon knows I want to go to Oxford more than anything,’ he told himself. `But he thinks I wouldn’t get in, that I’d probably fail the exam, and that even with Dad’s name behind me they still wouldn’t accept me. He’s trying to protect me; just like Will used to.’ Suddenly, he felt nauseous. “Your glass is empty,” Jon said. “I’ll get us some refills.” “I don’t want to stay here.” “We have to. We can’t give them the satisfaction of thinking they’ve got to you. Anyway, forget them. I’ll get the drinks and then there’s some news I need to share with you.” Jon headed off to the bar. Josh remained where he was. The feeling of nausea remained too. *** “I could never hate you,” Will told Ben. “It’s easy to say that.” “Only when it’s true.” Ben fiddled with his hair. It was something he always did when he was nervous. Will fought an urge to reach out and stop him. He didn’t want Ben to be anxious. Suddenly he wasn’t frightened any more, he just wanted to know. Because when he did, he could forgive the brown haired teen. And then, just maybe, they could get back together. Ben sipped his drink. “I wasn’t just upset about my stepmother that night. I’d messed up on a test at school that day. I was really disappointed.” “I remember. I told you it didn’t matter.” “You were really sweet. You said all the right things.” “I meant every word.” “But I still felt bad. You were doing so well in your classes. I felt like I was letting you down.” “You weren’t,” Will told him. “How could you ever think that?” “Because my head was a mess, Will. I need you to understand that.” “I do.” “My stepmother’s funeral was two days after you flew to Shanghai. I’d pretty much had to organise everything. Dad couldn’t. He was falling apart. In his eyes, my stepmother’s death was his tragedy, not mine.” As Ben spoke about his stepmother, Will remembered the last time he and Jennifer had spoken. A terrible sense of loss swept over him. He missed her presence in his life. Not as much as he missed Josh’s, but it was close. Ben was watching him anxiously. Clearly, he could sense what Will was thinking. His ex’s concern gave Will a warm feeling inside, together with the belief that once the truth was out in the open, they really could start again. “I’m fine,” Will told him. “This isn’t about me.” “Are you sure?” Will smiled. “Yes.” Ben smiled back, only the gesture missed his eyes. His nervousness remained. “I was dreading the funeral,” the brown haired youngster explained. “I wanted you to be there, but you couldn’t be.” “I wanted to be.” “I’m not blaming you. I was the one who insisted you still went on your trip. I knew it was important to you. Anyway, the day before the funeral, your mother called. You’d told her about my stepmother, and she wanted to check I was alright. I was touched. I’d never felt comfortable with her before. She’d always been friendly, but I sensed she resented me. However, on the phone, she was so sweet. She talked about how upset she’d been when her own mother died, and she also said she knew you couldn’t come to the funeral, and that she hated to think of me going alone. She offered to come in your place.” Will was taken aback. “She never told me that. So did she go with you?” “Yes. I’d taken the train back home the day you left for Shanghai. The day after, the day of the funeral, your mother arrived at our house at about ten o’clock. The funeral wasn’t until three. She gave me a hand making sure everything was ready.” “And was she okay with you?” Will asked. “She was lovely. She sat next to me in the church and stood beside me at the graveside. She even held my hand. Dad was being unbearable, while she was totally supportive.” Will nodded, masking his surprise so as not to disturb Ben’s flow. “After the service, we had the wake. She helped me tidy up afterwards. I had to get back to school for something the next morning; I can’t remember what now. I was going to catch the train, but your mother could obviously tell I was upset. She offered to drive me there instead. I’d held it together all day, but as we were driving along, I started to cry. Your mother pulled into a lay-by and gave me a hug. She let me talk. She did all the things my father couldn’t bring himself to do. I was so grateful. I can’t tell you how much. “She said she didn’t think I should go back to school that night; that she didn’t want to leave me on my own. She suggested I spend the night at your house and then she’d drive me back the following morning. I was feeling wiped out, so I agreed. “Your dad wasn’t there when we got back. He was still at work. Your mum said that after what I’d been through I needed a drink and opened a bottle of wine. She didn’t have any herself. She said she was battling a cold and was on antibiotics. But she made me drink. She said it would do me good. And it did; at first, anyway.” “At first?” Will queried. “Are you sure you want to hear this?” “Yes.” Again Ben touched Will’s hand. This time, Will felt no spark. A sudden sense of alarm dulled his senses to anything else. “Your dad came back,” Ben continued. “I was pleased to see him. He’d always been nice to me. Whenever we visited your parents, he used to go out of his way to make me feel welcome. He’d ask about school and how I was getting on. He always seemed interested. I liked that. “He came and sat with us. At first we talked about my stepmother but then your mum started talking about you. She was saying how well you were doing; how important the Shanghai trip was, and how she was sure you’d ace your GCSEs. She was so proud of you. I wanted to be proud too, but instead I felt scared. You seemed so out of my league, and I began to worry that if we stayed together I’d just be holding you back.” Will felt indignant. “But that’s rubbish. You know it is.” “I do now. But at the time…” He sighed. “I was tired and vulnerable, and I’d had a bit to drink.” “And?” Will asked, urging Ben to continue. “Your aunt phoned. Apparently your mother had arranged to spend the evening at hers. They were going to watch a DVD. What with the funeral, your mum had forgotten. She wanted to cancel, but your father said your aunt was looking forward to it, and that he could keep me company while she was gone. So off she went. “Your dad and I shared another bottle of wine. He was being so kind. He said he could tell that your mother’s comments about you had bothered me and that I was lara otele gelen escort wrong to feel that way.” He swallowed. “He said that if you didn’t realise how lucky you were, then you were the biggest fool in the world.” Will’s heart started to race. He took a deep breath, trying to slow it, while telling himself that he could cope with whatever Ben had to tell him. “We were sitting together on the sofa,” Ben continued. “He put his arm around me. He made me feel safe, just like my stepmother had. He kept saying how lucky you were, how lucky any guy would be who was with me. He asked if I wanted to know a secret, and when I said yes, he told me that he envied you, that when he was your age, no one as attractive as me would have looked at him twice. I told him that was nonsense, that he was a very handsome man. He said I was just being kind and I told him I wasn’t. And then he kissed me.” Will’s stomach turned over. “At first it didn’t feel wrong. I was very drunk by then and it all seemed…” Ben shook his head. “I don’t know. It didn’t seem sexual. That was the thing. It was just his way of being kind. And then I realised he was undoing my shirt.” He stopped. “Go on,” Will demanded. “I didn’t try to stop him. I was too shocked. But then he tried to put his hand on my crotch. I said no but he said it was okay, that we weren’t hurting anyone and that it could be our secret. Again, I said no, but he ignored me. He pushed me down and moved on top of me, and suddenly all the warmth had gone out of his face. His eyes were bestial. It was as if I’d stopped being a person and was just an object he was going to use. I kept telling myself to fight, but I couldn’t. I was so frightened. He pulled my trousers down and rolled me over. I was frozen, almost like it was happening to someone else. And then…” “He raped you?” “Yes. Only I don’t think he saw it like that. That’s the scary thing. All the time he kept telling me how much I was enjoying it. I think he genuinely believed I was. He was drunk too, remember. And when it was over he climbed off the sofa, looked down at me, and do you know what he said?” “What?” “Now tell me I wasn’t better than my son.” Will opened his mouth but no words came out. “I didn’t answer,” Ben continued, “so he asked me again. He kept asking. He had this edge to his voice. He kept on and on until I said yes, and when I did, he looked triumphant. I said I wanted to leave. He told me I had already missed the last train. Instead, he suggested I go and have a bath. That’s what I did. I was too scared not to. When I came out of the bathroom he was waiting on the landing with a cup of cocoa. He told me to drink it, and as I did, he said that what had happened was our secret; that he wasn’t going to tell anyone and that I wasn’t to either. I promised I wouldn’t. Then he kissed me on the cheek and told me to go to bed. “I didn’t sleep a wink that night. At one point I heard your mum return. I was terrified she was going to come and say goodnight so I locked my door. But she didn’t try to come in. I guess your dad had told her I was asleep. “The next morning I got up really early. I wanted to sneak away and catch the train back to school. But I bumped into your mum who said she was making us breakfast before driving me back, and that I couldn’t leave without some food inside me. She was so sweet to me, just like she’d been at the funeral.” Again Ben stopped, looking suddenly close to tears. “And I felt so ashamed.” Will wanted to tell him it was all right, that he had done nothing to feel ashamed of. He wanted to hold him. Except that he didn’t; not anymore. “Your father joined us,” Ben went on. “He started chatting to your mother about some drinks party they were going to that evening. He was acting so normal, yet, when your mother was busy, he kept giving me this meaningful look, like he was warning me to keep my mouth shut. At one point I nodded and he smiled. When I got back to school, I had to rush to the bathroom to be sick.” He had started to shake. Again, Will wanted to hold him. Again, he found he couldn’t. In his head was an image of his father expressing sympathy over Ben breaking up with him. For the first time in his life, he knew what it was to truly wish someone dead. “I’m so sorry,” he managed to say. “I am so sorry…” “Except that’s not the worst part,” Ben told him. “Jesus Christ, what could be worse than that?” “What happened next,” Ben replied. Will had to know, yet couldn’t bring himself to ask. In the end, he didn’t have to. “Two days later your mother came to see me,” Ben explained. “She turned up at school. I’d just finished my final lesson of the day, and she asked if she could take me out for dinner. I wanted to say no but it would’ve looked strange, so I had to say yes. We went to a bistro. The waiter took our order. Your mother was being just as lovely as she’d been on the day of the funeral. And then, when the waiter was gone, she leaned forward and said, `I know you slept with my husband.’ “At first I was so shocked I couldn’t speak. Then she said that your dad had told her all about it as soon as she’d got back, and I blurted out, `but he said he wouldn’t tell anyone.’ Then she reached inside her handbag. She’d kept it open on top of the table. I thought it was strange, but she pulled out her mobile and switched off the record function, and that’s when I knew she’d planned the whole thing: coming to the funeral, taking me back to the house, talking about you in a way that was going to make both your dad and me feel insecure, plying us both with alcohol, and then leaving us alone together. “I told her that he’d forced me. She just laughed. `Who’s going to believe that?’ she asked. `I’ve seen the way you flirt with him.’ I told her that was a lie, but she said it didn’t matter, because that’s what she’d tell the police. It would be my word against theirs and I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in court. I started to cry. I asked her why she was doing this to me. She said she knew I wanted to take you away from her and told me I had to break up with you; that way you’d never need to know what had happened. She said that if I didn’t break up with you, then she’d tell you herself and play the recording. `Maybe he’ll believe it was rape,’ she told me, `but it won’t change anything. Once he knows, he’ll never want to touch you again.'” Will felt a chill run through him. “I said I’d tell you she had orchestrated it, and again she laughed and said that she knew you far better than I did: that you might believe the worst about your father, but you’d never believe it about her. She said that a mother’s bond was the most powerful bond in the world; that you loved her more than anyone and no one, least of all me, was ever going to take you away from her. “I never would have told you, but now I have to. You’re breaking your heart over losing your parents, when you’re lucky to be free of them. I’m sorry you’ve lost Josh. That is a tragedy. But losing your parents is a blessing.” Will’s vision blurred. He could feel his brain bulging inside his head, trying to absorb what Ben was telling him. But it couldn’t; there just wasn’t room. “I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe you,” Will said. “But it’s true. Your dad…” “I don’t mean about my dad. I can believe he’s capable of what you say. But my mother isn’t. She wouldn’t do that to me. She knew how much I loved you. She just wouldn’t.” “I’m not lying…” “I don’t know if you’re lying or not,” Will snapped. “But I do know that what you’re saying isn’t right! It can’t be!” Ben burst into tears, trying to reach for Will’s hand. He pulled away. “You see?” Ben cried. “Your mother was right. You can’t bear to touch me.” “I wish I’d never arranged this meeting,” Will ranted. “To think of all the months I spent dreaming about you, wishing we were still together. Well, not anymore!” Rising to his feet, he marched out of the bar. *** Josh sipped his drink and listened to Jon talk. “I’ve decided to quit my job,” Jon announced. “It’s not like I need the money any more, and if I’m going to get into your school, I need to do the best that I can in my retakes. I can use the extra time to study really hard. Dad even said lara rus escort he’d pay for a tutor. So what do you think?” Josh didn’t answer. He had noticed something. “So what do you think?” Jon asked again. “Why are you talking with that accent?”Josh asked him. “Why are you trying to sound like me?” “Because it’s easier if we sound the same,” Jon replied. “Easier?” “We don’t have to make up stories about our parents splitting us up when we were younger. People aren’t going to question us being twins. They’ll just accept it.” “Is that why you’re dressing like me too? Is that why you’re doing all this exercise?” “Well, yes. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Anyway, back to me quitting my job…” “But you can’t. This is my identity we’re talking about.” Jon looked amused. “Josh, don’t be daft. This isn’t `Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers’. I’m not trying to be you. I’m just trying to be like you.” “Yes, but…” “I don’t see what the problem is. It’s only superficial, appearance stuff. I don’t mean it as a threat. I could never threaten you. You’re much brighter than me. There’s no way I`ll do as well in my A-levels as you will.” Josh told himself Jon was right, that he was just being paranoid. Then he noticed something else. The sleeves on Jon’s jacket had slid up, revealing his shirt cuffs, and a brand new watch. It was one of the watches Josh had seen in the catalogue the previous weekend. “Where did you get that?” “The watch, you mean? Mum gave it to me,” Jon explained. “We had lunch earlier.” “Why?” “Because she knew I was trying to smarten up my image and wanted to help.” “No. Why did you have lunch?” “She wanted to talk about an idea she’d had. To knock the kitchen in the apartment through and make the living area completely open plan.” “Oh. Why didn’t you tell me you’d have lunch with her?” “I would have done if you’d taken any of my calls,” Jon replied. “What did you talk about?” Jon scowled. “Not this again.” “What?” “You asked me this when I told you I’d had lunch with Dad.” “So?” “So what does it matter? God, Josh, it was only lunch. You must have had lunch with her dozens of times.” `Not me,’ a voice in Josh’s head cried out. `Will. Always Will. I was just the afterthought. Just like I would have been if you’d cancelled on her at the last minute today.’ “I need the gents,” Josh said quickly. Jon began to look concerned. “Josh, what are you worried about? Do you think I spent the meal badmouthing you? Because I wouldn’t. Not to anyone.” `Just as Will wouldn’t,’ Josh thought to himself. `Whatever Mum and Dad said about me he’d always fight my corner. Is that what you did too? Try to convince them I was worth noticing?’ Jon continued to speak. Josh turned and walked away. The toilets were near the entrance. On his way there, he passed the bar. The girl who stared at him earlier was there again. Their eyes locked. Desperate for anything that would make him feel better, he stopped to speak to her, flirting for all he was worth. She flirted back. Only her heart wasn’t in it. Every so often she would cast longing glances over his shoulder at the table where Jon still sat. “What’s the problem?” Josh demanded. “Don’t you fancy me?” “No, it’s not that…” she began. “But you’d rather be with my brother. That’s the story of my fucking life. People would always rather be with my brother.” She opened her mouth to protest. Shaking his head, Josh walked away. Charlie and Rosaline stood near the toilets. Charlie was saying something to his girlfriend, who started laughing. Though neither appeared to have spotted him, Josh knew he was the butt of their joke. He marched up to them. “What’s so funny?” Both looked startled. “Nothing,” Rosaline said. “If you’ve got something to say, then say it to my face,” Josh demanded. Rosaline looked exasperated. “Sod off, Josh. You’re drunk.” “And you’re a fucking bitch,” he told her. Charlie’s face reddened. “You’ve got two seconds to apologise.” “Really?” Josh said. “One. Two. Screw you.” Charlie grabbed him round the neck. “Just fuck off Josh. You’re a total loser.” Josh struggled, his head aching, while hearing sniggering all around him. “Leave him alone!” He looked up. A furious looking Jon stood in front of them. “Your arsehole brother just called my girlfriend a bitch.” “Well, that’s Josh’s problem,” Jon explained. “He’s always been truthful. And while we’re on the subject of arseholes, there’s only one here and I’m staring straight at him.” Josh felt the hand around his neck loosen. “Are you trying to mess with me?” Charlie demanded. “Looks that way, doesn’t it?” Jon replied. “What are you going to do? Go shopping for a laptop with your girlfriend and hope she doesn’t decide to trade you in for a better model while she’s at it?” The sniggering continued, only now it was Charlie who was the object of derision. Josh felt the grip release. He stood up, backing away from Charlie while seeing Jon immediately position himself between them, just like Will had done when Josh had got into a confrontation with someone at the gym. Coming to his rescue, just as Will had done. Drawing admiring glances, just as Will had done. Josh couldn’t stand it. Pushing past people, he hurried out into the street. Jon ran after him, calling his name, and eventually grabbing his arm. Josh tried to pull away. “Let me go!” Josh demanded. “It was my fight. Why did you have to get involved?” “Because you were in trouble,” Jon replied. “He was going to hurt you.” “You should have let him.” “Are you crazy? I’d never let anyone hurt you. I love you.” “And so did Will.” Jon stared at him. “What does will have to do with it? He’s gone.” “No, he’s not! Don’t you see? I thought he was, but I was wrong. He’s like some sort of Hydra. I cut his head off and now yours has grown back in its place.” “Josh, I don’t understand…” “This wasn’t supposed to happen!” Josh screamed. “I didn’t bring you into my life for you to do this to me! This was going to be my time. I was going to be the star. I was going to be the one that mattered to Mum and Dad.” “But you do matter,” Jon told him. “But not as much as you! You’ve only been on the scene for five minutes and already it’s like living with Will all over again. You’re the one they want to be with. I’m the one they want to avoid.” “Josh, this is stupid. I’m not Will. I’m nothing like him.” “And that’s the point,” Josh said, his voice dripping with bitterness. “Will was a star. I could never compete with him. But I could compete with you. You were just a poor imitation of me. That’s the only reason I got in contact with you. That’s why I brought you into the family. Christ, why couldn’t you have just stayed that?” He saw Jon grow pale. For a moment, Josh’s self-hatred was so intense he wanted the ground to open and swallow him up. But he couldn’t give in to it. To do so would be only to admit what a colossal failure he really was. “Well?” Josh demanded. “Aren’t you going to say something?” “Mike was right,” Jon said eventually, something having just clicked in his brain. “He said you were using me. I should have believed him, but I believed you instead. I’d have believed anything you told me.” He shook his head, looking dazed. “God, I was so happy we found each other. I had a twin. It’s the ultimate bond: two halves of the same whole. I drove Mike away because I was scared he was going to spoil it.” Josh laughed. “More fool you.” “So what do you want, Josh? For me to disappear like Will did?” “Yes. That’s exactly what I want.” “Well, fuck you!” he said before grabbing Josh by the shoulders and staring into his face. “I’m William Hunter. The real one. Your parents are my parents, and I’m not going anywhere. You’re stuck with me, brother. You really want to know what Mum said about you over lunch? She said you were a joke. She said she was embarrassed by you. I stuck up for you, of course. I told her she was wrong. But next time, and believe me there will be a next time, maybe I’ll tell her she’s right. Maybe I’ll do the same with Dad too.” “You can’t do that to me!” “Can’t I?” Jon asked, his voice unnervingly calm. “You thought you could play God with my life. What’s to stop me from doing the same with yours? It’d serve you right if I drove you out of the family, just like you did with Will.” Josh couldn’t control himself. He swung at Jon, but Jon was quicker, and able to block the blow. He swung back, punching Josh hard in the mouth, causing him to lose his balance and fall. Jon marched away. Josh sat sprawled on the ground, wiping his mouth and watching drops of blood mingle with the rain. 1

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