The Boy With the Golden Eyes
by London Lampy
"I'll return to check on your progress later, any sign of horse play and you will be doing chores every lunchtime this week." The nun said as she left the room.
Jack and Exit were sat at her desk, she had supplied them with a stack of text books with ripped covers and broken bindings, a pot of foul smelling glue and a bag full of gauze strips. They were to mend as many of the books as they could during lunch.
Jack waited until her footsteps had faded away before he spoke. "I'm really, really sorry." He said picking up a book off the pile and examining its badly torn cover.
"That's all right." Exit smiled at him selecting a damaged book of his own. "Anyway, it was me that got the giggles."
"But caused by my stomach."
"You're going to be really hungry by this afternoon." Exit pointed out. "They won't let us have any lunch now."
Jack sighed, it was hours until dinner, although he would be spending the afternoon in the kitchens preparing the evening meal, maybe he could sneak some food then. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the butterscotch Father Frederick had given him last night.
"Would you like this?" He offered it to Exit.
"Don't you want it?" The other boy asked him.
"No, I don't like them." He replied, caught again by his golden eyes.
"Thank you." He took the sweet from Jack, unwrapped it and put it in his mouth, an act Jack found fascinating, especially the mouth part.
"Did you go to see Father Frederick?" He asked through a mouth full of butterscotch while picking up a strip of gauze and a glue spreader.
"Yes, he wanted to meet me along with Dana and Jane, they're my adopted sisters."
The echoback boy nodded thoughtfully. "What did you make of him?"
"He seemed nicer than the nuns, but that's not hard. Dana didn't like him, but then she doesn't like most people, Jane thought he was nice but she likes everyone, especially if they give her sweets, do you like him?" Jack attempted to copy Exit and spread glue onto a gauze strip.
"I don't know, he's only been here a few months. The old priest Father Bernard died, he was almost as bad as Mother Hardigan. Father Frederick seems better but he still canes us if we get sent to him, and I overheard him telling Sister Mackintosh that he thinks they should send me back to the Northern Continent, because I don't belong here and shouldn't be living in a human orphanage."
Jack tried to stick the strip to the torn book cover, but somehow it stuck to his fingers instead and the more he tried to get it off the worse it got until he ended up rolling it into a sticky ball and throwing it into the waste paper basket, with Exit watching him in amusement.
"Do you want to go back?" He asked.
"No, I don't remember being there, I don't have any family to go to and they speak a different language." He shook his head. His first repair was finished and he put the book to one side to dry.
Jack picked up another strip with difficulty as his fingers were now encased in a thin layer of glue. "I...I'm sorry I grabbed your leg, I was trying to wipe the ink off my fingers." He held up his now ink and glue covered hand to prove himself.
"You didn't grab my leg." Exit said, starting on another book.
"Yes I did, I made you jump and drop your pen." Jack replied frowning and picking up the glue spreader.
"No, you grabbed my tail, that's why I jumped. It's quite sensitive near the top."
Jack felt himself flush, that seemed like an altogether more intimate place to have touched him than on the leg, and once again he found himself trying to picture Exit naked. "Oh shit!" He swore, coming out of his daydream when he realised that he had somehow managed to glue the gauze strip to the back of his hand. Exit laughed, reached over and peeled it off, the boy's touch made Jack's body react shamelessly and he had to discreetly adjust himself in his over tight trousers.
"Thank you." He muttered. "How come I'm covered in glue and you're not?"
"I've done this plenty of times before, do you want me to help you?" He took another strip and deftly attached it to the book Jack was working on.
"So if you've been here as long as you can remember have you ever been outside of the orphanage?"
"A few times, we get taken to the cathedral on religious holidays, three years ago there was a fire and we all got evacuated and stayed in another school for a few days, and last year Father Bernard made Sister Mackintosh take me to see a doctor to ask if he could amputate my tail."
"Why did he want to do that?" Jack looked up in shock from spreading glue, that seemed to be a horrific idea.
"They told me it would make it easier for them to find me a job when I turn sixteen, fortunately Father Bernard died before it could happen and it kind of got forgotten about, I'm not going to remind them."
"No, don't." Jack said firmly. "Surely they can't do that if you don't want them to."
"Who's going to stop them?" Exit shrugged, starting work on another damaged book. "I don't think they'd do it now though, at least not until winter's over. They need me to keep the gutters clear and fix the roof when it leaks."
"What do you mean?" Jack finally managed to stick a gauze strip onto a book, it was lumpy and nothing close to as neat as the other boy's work, but at least he had completed one.
"I can climb things, my tail help me to balance and I can use it to hold on as well, I spend most of the afternoons up on the roofs."
Jack thought about this. "Isn't that a bit dangerous?"
"Not really, not for me, I hate it though. It's cold up there and I keep finding dead pigeons in the gutters, but I've found one good thing too, it's an attic no one knows about. It's all blocked up from the inside, I got in there through a skylight, when it's raining it's a good place to hide."
"And the nuns can't get in there to find you?" Jack smiled at the thought.
"Not really, you get into it by climbing out of a window on the top floor and walking along some moulding, a human could do it, but I can't imagine a nun doing it."
Jack started to laugh. "What's funny?" Exit asked.
"The thought of Mother Hardigan climbing around on the roof tops in her big black dress." Exit started to laugh as well, until the door opened and Sister Oakley came back in. They stopped at once, trying to push their giggles down while she stared at them suspiciously. Walking over to the desk and examined the small handful books they had repaired.
"These are passable." She pointed to the ones Exit had done. "This one however needs redoing." She was indicating Jack's single effort.
"Yes Sister." He sighed, picking up another piece of gauze.
In the kitchens Jack managed to eat a few slices of bread when Ward wasn't looking, but he couldn't help feeling bad about Exit stuck on the roof without any lunch. He helped the large eared boy with the preparations for the evening meal, tonight it was minced meat, he wasn't quite sure what animal it was from, mashed potatoes, carrots and gravy. He spent most of the afternoon peeling and chopping the vegetables and then stood at the counter and dished out carrots to both sittings. Worryingly the twins were missing from the juniors sitting, and he managed to talk to Gary under the guise of cleaning up some split food who told him that they had got into a fight with some other boys and were being made to do extra chores during dinner, Jack knew what that felt like.
He saw Dana and Jane during the second service, they were both complaining of sore, chapped hands having spent all afternoon working in the laundry and he arranged to meet then in the yard later. Once he had finished serving he ate his meal as quickly as he could in an attempt to get a reasonably clean bath, and he managed to get there in time for the water to still be warm and only slightly grey.
As Jack was heading back to the dorm to put his wash things away he heard a voice shouting from behind him. "Hey, Shithouse, wait up, I want to talk to you." He turned round to see Fletcher hurrying up the corridor behind him.
"My name is Jack." He glared at the blocky boy.
"Yeah, look, I've got a proposition for you, come this way." Fletcher grabbed him by the arm and ushered him into an empty classroom. "My dad runs fights, not the fancy sort that get in the papers but they're still popular, and he makes a fair bit of cash from it..."
"If you've got a father how come you're living here?" Jack interrupted puzzled.
"Well...he's temporarily indisposed at the moment, he goes inside for a stretch and so do, so to speak, this is the third time I've been in here, but he has a business partner that keeps the whole thing running 'til he gets out."
"What's all that got to do with me?"
"Ah, Shithouse, I'm getting to that. We're always looking for new fighters, new blood, and you look like you've got what it takes, I assume those muscles aren't just for show. So how about it, fancy doing some boxing in a couple of nights time?"
"How, we're stuck in here?" Jack asked frowning.
"But we're not, at least not if an adult wants us to work for them for a day or so. See if someone wants a bit of cheap labour for a short time all they need to do is bung the sisters some money, sign a bit of paper and bring us back in one piece when they're done, happens all the time. All I need to do is get a message to Smitty, my old man's business partner, and we can get out for the night." Fletcher raised his eyebrows and grinned at Jack.
"But I don't know how to box." He protested.
"Don't worry about that, this ain't exactly official rules stuff, all you need to be able to do is throw a punch and take a punch, I'm kind of guessing you can do that." Jack had thrown a few punches in his lifetime, mostly at inanimate objects, and he had a pretty high pain tolerance, but he wasn't at all sure he wanted to get involved with what Fletcher was suggesting.
"I can, but I don't really want to, thanks." He turned to go.
"You'll get paid." Fletcher said.
Jack looked back at him. "How much?"
"Lets say, one pound for taking part, two if you win."
Jack shook his head. "That's not enough."
"All right, two for taking part, three if you win." Fletcher bargained.
He shook his head again, that was a lot of money, but no where near the amount Elodie was asking for. "I need twenty." He said.
"Twenty! You are fucking joking, a fighter at the top of his game don't make that kind of cash."
"Then it's a no." Jack turned to leave again.
"Hold on Shithouse, what do you need that much for?"
"None of your business." Jack didn't want to admit to the boy that he was being held to ransom by Elodie.
"There is one way you might have a chance of making that much." Fletcher gave him a thoughtful frown.
"If you bet on yourself and win. As a newcomer your odds would be long, but you'd have to win mind, or you'll end up owing me, and I'll end up owing Smitty, and he's not a man who likes to have people in debt to him, if you know what I mean."
Jack thought about it, the whole idea sounded very risky, but on the other hand it was the only chance he could see of getting the money.
"I'll do it." He said reluctantly.
"Good, I'll get it all sorted, you won't regret this Shithouse."
Jack wasn't so sure of that. "I want one other thing." He'd just had an idea. "I want Exit to come with us too."
"Monkey boy? What the fuck do you want with him?" It was Fletcher's turn to look puzzled.
"I like him, and he's hardly ever been out of the place." He shrugged.
"Can't see it would be a problem unless he got his tail out or something." He grinned, then spat in his palm and held his hand out to Jack. "So we got ourselves a deal?"
"Yeah." Jack looked doubtfully at Fletcher's hand. "But I'd rather not shake on it if you don't mind."
Jack found Dana waiting for him under the single bare tree in the yard, but no Jane.
"Where is she?" He asked, looking worried.
"She's gone to see Father Frederick." Dana snorted.
"She thinks he can get Elodie to leave us alone. She's been going on about how nice he is all day. I told her he doesn't give a fig about any of us, he's just paid to be here, but she won't listen to me."
"It could work." Jack mused, if it did he wouldn't have to got through with the fight.
"No, it won't. She'll either achieve nothing or make things worse, but you know what Jane's like, she still believes in fairytales and happy endings." The dark haired girl scowled. "Where were you at lunch by the way, we looked for you."
"Got myself into trouble, had to spend it mending text books."
"What did you do?" She asked.
"Kept interrupting the lesson, not on purpose, just talking really." He decided not to tell her about the tail grabbing incident, or getting the giggles.
"Who to?" She peered through the darkness toward the chapel, Jack guessed that she was hoping Jane would emerge soon.
"Um, Exit, you know, the echoback boy?" He tried to sound nonchalant.
"He didn't bite you then?" Dana laughed, and Jack was grateful it was dark enough that his sister couldn't see the reaction her words caused.
"No...here comes Jane." He was glad of the distraction as the strawberry blond girl came skipping happily over the cobbles.
"He's so nice." She grinned. "Do you want a butterscotch?" Jane held out a small handful of the sweets, Dana took one, Jack declined.
"What did he say?" Dana quizzed her.
"He's going to talk to Elodie, he agrees, it's not fair. Do you remember him saying my hair looked like the sun goddesses? He's got a book full of pictures of her, he showed it to me, and he said I could go and talk to him any time I want." She smiled happily.
"For the god's sake Jane." Dana rolled her eyes at her. "You're acting like he's just asked to court you."
"I am not!" Jane protested. "He's nice, that's all."
"Come on." Jack said. "It's cold out here, and it'll be lights out soon."
The three of them headed back inside, Jane grinning all the way.
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