“So he finally acknowledged something is wrong, but he didn’t suggest you should do anything about it?” My colleague Ruby is stood with me in the English office the morning after, scanning me for telltale signs of rage.
“He flat out said we should leave it until Joe is ready to tell us what’s going on.”
“Oh dear.” She reads my exasperation. “Listen… Jules. Joe is his son.”
I flash her my eyes. Has she forgotten about the things Joe and me have been through together? He’s as much my son as my twins are. I care about Joe just the same.
“Ruby.” I turn myself fully towards her, putting my cup of tea on the worktop, my hands free to make sweeping movements to enforce my passion on this. “It’s something in my gut, telling me there’s something wrong. I don’t know, but when it comes to kids, I just–”
She steps forward and holds my hand. “I know. You’re right back there, to the day you got battered and left all alone, in the dark. I know you want to protect him from the same things that happened to you.”
I focus on her eyes, which are watering. She feels my pain, even though she’s never had to deal with the same pain herself.
“Jules,” she whispers, softly stroking the back of my hand, “Joe is different. He’s Warrick’s son for a start and he’s definitely tougher than you imagine. I think Warrick’s right. I think he’ll tell you when the time’s right. He knows you’re there for him.”
“This is the thing,” I say fast, “he knows we’re here for him, and he’s still not telling us. He knows we’re not judgy, he knows that.”
“Give it another week, maybe?”
I throw my head back, groaning. “Torture.”
I smile wryly. “Rubes, you know how many cheesecakes I can eat in a week, right?”
“Unfortunately I do, and I also know that while you’ll maybe put on a pound, I’d put on a couple of stone comfort eating in the same manner as you.”
I pick my teacup off the counter, anticipating the bell for the first lesson, which I’m taking today.
“You and Rick had better have cheesecake for me at every fucking stop this week,” I grumble, and walk away.
As I take the corridor, I try to wriggle the anxiety out of my heavy shoulders and neck, but it’s not working.
Deep, deep, deep breaths, I remind myself, sucking in vital oxygen, trying to remember my breathing exercises of old.
Walking into a classroom full of kids, there’s suddenly nothing else to think about other than controlling thirty teenagers for the next two hours.
Dinnertime is no different today. Joe’s being quiet over his pasta and salad. Warrick’s knackered. The twins are lobbing pasta shells at one another and I’m focusing on the baked, New York-style cheesecake waiting for me in the fridge.
“Frrrr–” A sort of grumble erupts from me and the boys all look at me. I was going to say something mad like flipping tell me what is wrong Joe! but I guess, I stopped myself.
“Something stuck in my throat,” I excuse myself, reaching for a glass of water.
Joe finishes his meal and excuses himself from the table before I can even think of another way to broach this. Once his son’s locked himself away upstairs, Warrick gives me a look and I say nothing. What is there to say?
I promised Ruby I would give this a week…
*Jules and Warrick feature in two of Sarah’s earlier novels but this is brand-new material.
Break the Cycle is an anti-bullying anthology of 14 stories by 14 different authors. Each story features a different scenario.
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