The Boy With the Golden Eyes
by London Lampy
Jack followed the young nun Sister Mackintosh across the cobbled yard, he was walking alongside her and he noticed her occasionally glancing up at him then looking quickly away.
"Do you have red hair under there?" He asked to break the silence.
"Um...yes." She replied hurriedly.
"I thought so, with all those freckles."
She was still blushing furiously when she knocked on the door of the priest's study hidden away at the back of the chapel. The door was answered by an avuncular looking man in deep burgundy priests robes.
"Father Frederick, this is Jack." The nun said, standing back.
"Good evening young man." The priest greeted him. "Come inside, I believe that the two girls are on the way. Thank you Sister." He dismissed Sister Mackintosh.
Jack stepped into the study, it was a small cosy room, the walls lined with books and pictures of the various gods and goddesses, a large one of the golden haired sun goddess took pride of place over the mantle. A worn woven rug was thrown over polished floorboards and the room was being kept warm by a glowing red electric heater pushed in front of the black leaded fireplace.
"Sit down." Father Frederick smiled at him, gesturing to a group of chairs in front of his rather messy desk. The priest looked to be in his his forties with a neatly trimmed beard and slightly thinning brown hair, he had cheerful brown eyes and a friendly air about him. Jack sat down and peered at the heater with interest, he'd never seen one before, electricity hadn't got as far as the village of Dovedale, let alone Nanny's farm.
"Ugly thing isn't it? But it does the job, and since the council passed the clean air act we can't burn coal in the city any longer. It's a good thing I suppose, we don't get those dreadful smogs now, but I do miss the comfort of an open fire."
The priest's words suddenly reminded Jack of the many nights he had spent in front of the fire in Nanny's farmhouse, and it suddenly hit him hard that this part of his life was now over for good.
"Are you feeling all right?" Father Frederick asked as a wave of sadness swept over Jack.
"I'm fine." He pushed it down with a deep breath.
"I know it must all seem very strange to you here, but it's not a bad place. The sisters are strict, but they have your best interests at heart and if you keep to the rules they'll have nothing to punish you for." He smiled at Jack, who was about to reply when someone knocked at the door. The priest answered it and Dana and Jane were ushered into the room.
"Hello young ladies." He welcomed them. "I'm Father Frederick, as you can see your brother is already here. Now, I know your names, but what I don't know is who's who."
"I'm Jane." The strawberry blond girl said with a shy smile.
"My goodness, what beautiful hair." The priest exclaimed. "It's the exact same shade as our goddess of the sun, look." He pointed to the picture above the fireplace. Jane beamed happily at Jack as she took a seat beside him, he knew how much she loved to be complimented on her hair, if Father Frederick wanted to get on Jane's good side he was going the right way about it.
"So that means you must be Dana."
"Yep." Dana said as she too sat.
"Would any of you like a butterscotch?" Father Frederick asked as he settled himself behind his desk and pushed a small glass bowl filled with cellophane wrapped sweets toward them.
"Yes please." Jane said, eyeing it with interest. Now Jack knew that the man had made a friend for life out of his sister, she never could resist anything sugary.
"Thanks." Dana muttered as she plucked one out too, quickly unwrapping and putting it in her mouth.
"Not for you Jack?" The priest asked after both the girls had taken one.
"He's weird, he doesn't like sweet food." Jane answered for him, her voice slightly muffled by the butterscotch.
"A boy who doesn't like sweets? Now I've seen everything. Not even chocolates or ice cream?"
"Not really, no." Jack replied shaking his head.
"Well maybe Jane can have your share, eh?" He said winking at her, Jack watched as she grinned back and took another butterscotch, tucking into her dress pocket.
For the next half hour he asked them all about themselves, Jane did most of the talking with Jack jumping in occasionally to correct her. Dana only spoke when directly addressed and then only gave one word answers when she could get away with it. Eventually the priest sent them on their way with a butterscotch each, even Jack, and a promise to Jack that he would try and arrange for him to be given some better fitting clothes.
"He's really nice isn't he?" Jane said with enthusiasm as they headed out of the chapel.
"I reckon he's as bad as the nuns, he's just pretending to be friendly." Dana scowled.
"Why would he do that?" Jack asked as they stepped out into the cobbled yard again.
"Don't know, but I don't trust him."
"Well I think he's nice, and so does Jack, don't you?" Jane turned to him.
"He seems all right. I don't care if he's a evil axe murdered as long as he comes through with some decent clothes for me."
"He's not an evil axe murderer, he's a priest!" Jane objected.
"That's not what he meant Jane..." Dana stopped talking as she appeared to notice a figure standing in the dark a few yards away. "This." She addressed the figure pointing to Jack. "Is our brother, remember that next time you decide to insult us Elodie."
"He can't possibly be your brother." The blond girl replied. "He's not ugly, and he's not fat."
"Jack." Jane said looking up at him, her voice catching.
"Please don't talk about my sisters like that." He said sternly.
"Or what? Any boy who hits a girl gets himself into a whole lot of trouble, it's one of the things that really annoys Mother Hardigan, especially if he's bigger than the girl." She looked him up and down to make her point, she wasn't a short girl but she only came up to Jack's shoulders.
"Just don't do it." He sighed.
"Just fuck off." She replied mockingly.
Dana squared up to Elodie, she was a good head shorter than the girl, but Jack could see that she was seething with anger and he knew Dana well enough to know that wouldn't put her off a scrap. He put his hand on her arm and tried to pull her away. "Come on, you can't get into a fight on your first day here." He steered her away from the blond girl, with Jane seeming to hide behind him.
"Bitch." Dana said as they crossed the yard back to the seniors building.
"Try to stay away from her." Jack advised.
"We can't she's in our dorm." Jane said miserably. "Along with all her friends."
"Ignore her then, she's just trying to cause trouble with the new girls."
"All the girls here are stupid bitches like her, I can't ignore them all." Dana stopped at the door and glared back across the yard where they could now see Elodie letting herself into the chapel.
"Do you think she's going in there to pray?" Jane asked.
"I suppose so." Jack shrugged. "It's one of the things we're allowed to do between our evening meal and when they put the lights out."
"I hope the gods strike her down with boils." Dana muttered, and the others laughed.
"What are the boys like?" Jane questioned him as they went back inside the main building.
"I've only really met one, he seemed all right, he's got ears like this." Jack pulled his ears out to make them resemble Ward's.
"Did you know there's an echoback boy here?" Jane said, smiling at Jack's impression.
"Yes." He replied evenly. "I saw him at dinner."
"I hope he's not a savage." Jane wound a strand of hair around her finger.
"Don't be stupid, the nuns would hardly let him be here if he was." Dana sighed. "What do you think he's going to do, throw a spear at you?"
"No, I thought he might bite or something."
The dark haired girl rolled her eyes. "Jack, tell her how stupid she's being...Jack...Jack, are you listening?"
Jack decided to have a bath before he was sent to bed, and set out to find the bathrooms. It took him a while, all the corridors were painted the same shade of brown and all floored with the same tatty brown linoleum.
He found the girl's bathroom first, and asked the small line of girls waiting outside where the boy's one was, which caused much giggling among them but eventually he got directions. As he walked away he heard them whispering something about his size and then came a lot more rather shocked sounding giggles, and he had a pretty good idea of the sort of comment that had caused them.
After a little more walking he found what he was looking for and joined the end of a queue of boys with worn looking towels slung over their shoulders.
"Who the hell are you?" A boy standing in front of him asked. He was short and blocky with olive skin, coarse black hair and eyebrows like two fat caterpillars.
"I'm Jack, I arrived here today."
"Oh, you're with those two country girls, the fat one and the grumpy one."
Jack didn't want to start a row with the strange boy, but he couldn't just let that go. "They're my sisters." He said curtly, giving him a challenging look.
The boy seemed oblivious to this, and simply peered up at Jack, his eyebrows drawn together. "No way, you don't look anything like them, you're a brick shithouse."
"Adopted." Jack replied, trying to decide if the boy was being deliberately rude or not.
"Ah! I'll buy that." He nodded looking pleased at the explanation. "I'm Fletcher." He surprised Jack by sticking his hand out, which Jack took slightly warily and was rewarded by a firm handshake.
"Let me tell you Jack, you've made a new boy mistake coming up here so late, the water will be cold and dirty by now. You need to shoot up here straight after dinner for any hope of a hot bath."
Jack thought about what he had just been told. "Does that mean we all have to share the same bath water?"
At Nanny's they had alternated bath nights, one night boys, one night girls. As the oldest boy Jack had got used to the privilege of having the water first.
"Yep, six baths for forty boys, nice thought ain't it? Not that everyone bathes every night of course, although some of them should." He wrinkled his nose. "Me, I like to be clean."
"But you came up here late too." Jack pointed out.
"Had to see a man about a dog, if you know what I mean." He waggled his eyebrows. Jack had no idea what he meant, but he guessed that there probably wasn't an actual dog involved, and he just nodded.
While they had been talking the line had shortened and a voice suddenly shouted out. "Hey, Fletch, stop scratching your ass, bathrooms free."
"Shut up fuckwit." He shouted back, but with no real malice. "Catch you later shithouse." He threw at Jack, then disappeared into on of the bathrooms.
A few minutes later it was Jack's turn, when he saw the state of the water he almost wished he hadn't bothered. It was thick, grey and sludgy looking, and only lukewarm at best. He considered pulling the plug and running a fresh one but then he noticed that the tops had been taken off the taps, presumably to stop anyone from doing just that.
He climbed in with some trepidation and washed as fast as he could, trying his best to ignore the colour of the water, and not to think about what else was in there other than soap. Once he had finished he dried himself as quickly with his thin towel as the room was barely heated then pulled his clothes back on. He had a nasty feeling that he was dirtier than when he got in.
It was then that he realised that he was exhausted, it had possibly been the longest day of life, and as no one had told him he was not allowed to go to bed before lights out he decided to head for his dorm.
Once again it took some finding, but after doubling back on himself a few times he got there. Despite the lights still being on a few boys already seemed to be asleep, he spotted Ward in the bed opposite his dressed in his pyjamas but sitting up reading.
"Hello again." He greeted him.
"Hello, I thought you might be in here, we've had an empty bed for a few weeks, ever since the army took Barry."
"You mean he joined the army?" Jack questioned Ward's choice of words.
"Not out if choice, he turned sixteen a couple of months ago and when the recruiting sergeant came round last time he took Barry with him."
"Oh. What are you reading?" He asked Ward, who turned the book around so he could see "A Complete Cooking Guide" on the spine.
"Sister Mackintosh let me take it from the library because she knows I like cooking." He explained.
"Are we allowed to go to bed early?" He assumed they were from the number of occupied beds, but wanted to make sure.
"Yes, you only get into trouble if you're not in bed by lights out, they check."
Jack went over to his bed and changed into his pyjamas, which unsurprisingly were at least two sizes too small, then climbed into bed, which was also too small for him. His feet stuck out the bottom if he laid fully stretched out although that wasn't so much of a problem as he was used to sleeping on a couch shorter than he was.
He closed his eyes and turned on his side, the bedsprings creaking loudly as he did so. He tried to drift off but despite his tiredness every time he got close a noise would disturb him. He had finally almost fallen asleep when he heard the sounds of someone climbing into the bed next to the wall by his. He sighed and opened his eyes, wondering if he should introduce himself, and suddenly found that he was looking into a pair of golden eyes. He sat up quickly when he realised who he was looking at, any annoyance at being disturbed forgotten.
"Hello, you're new." The boy said looking at him and frowning slightly. "Did I wake you up? I hate it when people do that to me."
The boy was sitting under the covers with his knees drawn up and his arms wrapped around them looking at Jack.
"Um...no...I wasn't asleeping, asleep...I'm new, I'm Jack, and I'm new." Jack stumbled, wondering where his ability to speak sense had suddenly gone.
"I'm Exit." The boy said.
"That's a nice name." Jack replied, then realised what a stupid thing he'd just said, it was the sort of thing you said to very small children.
"You think so?" Exit sounded surprised. "Most people just think it's weird."
"No, it's...nice. I like your eyes." He blurted, then considered jumping out of the window, this was possibly the worst first impression ever.
Exit gave him a small smile. "Most people just think they're weird too."
"No, they're..." Jack stopped himself short before he said pretty. "...nice." He finished lamely.
"Thanks." Exit replied still looking at Jack, who was desperately trying to think of something to say to keep the conversation going that didn't make him sound like an idiot.
"How long have you been here?" He asked after a moment, recalling Ward saying something about Exit being here longer than him.
"As long as I can remember." He rested his chin on his knees. "The nuns say I was two when they first took me in."
Jack had to strongly resist the temptation to go and put his arms around the boy, he looked small and sad and pretty all at the same time. He settled for asking him how old he was now instead.
"Fifteen." He replied, just as the lights overhead suddenly went out and a bell rang from somewhere within the building.
"We get in trouble for talking after lights out." Exit said, lying down. "Goodnight Jack."
"Goodnight." Jack lay back too, then closed his eyes, once again trying to sleep, unaware that he was still being watched by a pair of golden ones that could see him perfectly clearly despite the darkness in the room.
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