I Want to Know What Love Is

by James Matthews

Chapter 1

The Dream that won't Die

"Brian, you're hurting me, Brian please, oh my God!"

"Daddy, Daddy, stop hurting Mummy... Mummy I'm scared, please?"

"Fucking bitch... This how you show respect, the fucking things I've done for you and that parasite of yours!"

"Brian you're pulling my hair out, BRIAN!!! Oh my God, what are you doing? Is that… what? What have you got...what...what are you doing, Brian that's a gun...Brian pleas...



"Jensen... Jensen!"

"WHOA... Shit, fuck..." I sprang upright, panting!

"You're safe, hey wake up... you're safe." Steven said, shaking me. I op[ened my eyes, seeing him sitting on the edge of my bed, before pulling me into his arms and holding me it seemed. I slowly came around. "Fuck man, you're soaked!"

"What?" I replied, disoriented. "Shit, where am I?"

"In your room, it's ok, it was just a nightmare, you're safe."

Tears were falling down my cheeks and I held on to Steven's reassuring tight hug as I gently wept, keeping my eyes tightly shut.

"That dream again?" Steven asked, gently rocking me back and forward.

"Yep!" I sighed, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand. "What time is it?"

"Just after five am, I think? Hey shhhhh, dry your eyes, you're fine, it's not real."

"Why are you in here? Shit I hope I didn't wake anyone, did I?"

"It's fine, I needed a piss and heard you. I know this keeps happening, but it's not real ok?"

I took in his reassurance, but felt troubled that actually, it was real, because it happened! I slowly moved out of Steven's grasp and into a more reclined position. The dream... or nightmare, hung around in my brain long after I'd watched the repeat in full Technicolour. It's never changing storyline, crushing me the way it always did. It looped and meandered through my memories like a possession that could not be exorcised. Like a scar that you get as a young kid, never changing as you grow, never altering or fading. Just the same, just constant. I glanced up at Steven, his lips pursed. He had a protective frown etched onto his head.

I, uh... I need a piss. Will you stay with me for a while?"

"Sure, I'll go get us some water" Steven replied moving off my bed allowing me to get up and off myself. I squeezed the back of his neck as I walked past and headed for the door of my large sparsely furnished room. The landing was pitch black and I was conscious no one else was awake judging by the silence that was ringing in my ears. I carefully pressed down on the door handle to the toilet, with the spring inside creaking. With my free hand I waved it around searching for the switch just outside, found it and went inside.

"Fuck!" I whispered, before pushing off the sink I'd been gripping and walking over to the toilet and letting my bladder empty. I was almost finished when there was a gentle knock on the door.

"Puppy, is that you in there?" Mum asked from the other side.

"Yeah, be out in a sec," I replied quietly, aware Max was asleep still. At least I hoped he was.

I didn't bother to flush before pulling the door ajar and seeing the outline of a warm smile looking at me in the darkness. "You ok button, I heard noises... you were shouting in your sleep?"

She pushed the door slow and gentle. I felt my shoulders relax as I let her hug me. "Yeah, just a bad dream, Steven came and woke me."

"Same one?"

I nodded but didn't say anything. Steven appeared at the top of the landing with 2 glasses of water, and caught sight of Mum and I standing outside the bathroom. He let his under forearm rest on the banister, keeping the full glasses steady.

"Is Dad up?" he whispered.

"Not yet no, I just got up as I heard Puppy shouting and thought I'd check on him."

"Why don't you go back to bed Mum, I got this." Steven announced, gesturing me to follow him back to my room with a flick of his chin.

"Ok boys, you both try to get back to sleep yes? No putting the TV on, there is still some quality night time to be had ok?"

We both nodded and I followed Steven back to my room, hearing Mum shut her door as we walked in. I clambered back onto my bed, while Steven closed the door and put the two glasses of water on my bedside table. He then proceeded to go over to my drawers and pull out a fresh t-shirt and pair of boxers.

"Here." He said, throwing them in my direction. Get changed and get that sweaty stuff in the wash bin.

"Thanks," I replied, managing a slight smile of gratitude. I stood up and took off my now damp t-shirt and pulled the fresh one over my torso, before exchanging my old boxer shorts with new ones. Steven sat down on my bed, a concerned look on his face.

"You know it's three times this week don't you?"

I nodded. "Exactly the way I remember it, when I was Five." Steven went around to the other side of my double bed and got under the duvet. "What are you doing?" I asked, a sideways grin appearing on my face.

"You said you wanted me to stay with you, so I'm being a good Brother and doing as you asked. Now get back in bed, it's chilly, the heating doesn't come on for another 2 hours."


I did as I was asked and slid myself under the covers. Switching my lamp off it immediately plunged the room into darkness again, the sun not due up for hours yet. As Steven lay next to me I shuffled over towards him. Seeing a faint outline of his head I could make out he was laying on his back. I gently placed my head on his left pec and wrapped my right arm around his stomach enjoying the warm heat radiating off him. A few seconds later I felt a hand come to rest on my ribcage, causing me to sigh through my nose.

"Better?" He asked, as I listened to the slow rhythmic beat of his heart.

"Better." I replied, barely a whisper. "Oh, and Stevie?"

"Uh huh?"


I felt the expression on his face change on the back of my head knowing he'd just formed a smile. Content, I fell back to sleep.

Actual morning seemed to come around abruptly as my alarm rang out, waking me from a rather more pleasant dream. I awoke to find I was alone and banged my first on the large 'OFF' button putting an end to the unpleasant noise bouncing off my ear drums. Rubbing my eyes I sat up before shuffling towards the edge of the bed. I walked over and opened my blinds. Greeting me was a monochrome lifeless day as grey heavy clouds hung low in the morning sky. "Yuk!" I said to myself, rubbing circles on my stomach under my t-shirt.

Turning on my heels, I walked towards my door and slowly opened it. Steven's room was opposite mine down the hallway. It was like we had identical wings of the large detached house. Pressing my head against the sharp edge of the door while hanging on the handle the other side I put my hand up, greeting Steven. He caught me watching, putting on his navy blue school tie, adjusting it in his bedroom mirror which hung just inside.

"Sleep ok, Shithead?" His morning greeting came, he waved back.

"In the end," I replied. "Why you getting dressed so early?"

"I'm meeting Jessie, and his new girlfriend at the park, you wanna come?"

"Nah, I think Hunter is knocking for us. So uh... I'll see you at school?"

"You will," he heaved, pulling his blazer on and heading downstairs. I went back into my room and closed the door, before digging out my uniform from the closet, along with an ice white winter puffer jacket. I put out everything on the bed. Then grabbing my bathrobe, I headed to the bathroom and took a leak before plodding downstairs myself.

I walked through the kitchen, into the dining room to see Susan and Max chatting at the table. "Steven gone already?" I asked, thinking it seemed quiet.

Max looked up. "Morning Puppy, yeah he just literally left."

"On an empty stomach, I might add," Susan remarked, shaking her head. "That boy!"

"So, erm, your mother says you had your nightmare back last night... that right?"

"Yeah, it's getting more frequent, and it scares the shit, out of me! Sorry Mum," I replied, guilty looking. She just smiled at me.

"You wanna talk about it?" Dad asked, twisting himself around, before pulling me towards him by the cloth belt on my robe. "C'mon, tell your old man!"

"It's ever since we moved for some reason. I know that sounds stupid, but it's the only thing that's really changed. I try to snap myself out of it, but it's like the dream itself pulls me in forcing me to watch over and over."

"Maybe it's the direction you're laying in? Thought about moving your bed?" Dad asked, smiling at me.


"Oh Max, that's one of your old wives tales. Puppy, your Dad thinks that you should have the head of your bed facing north for the best sleep and dreams."

"It's true, I read it on..."

"The internet, yes Max, exactly!" Mum cut in, waving away his theory. "Puppy, I think what you might need is to see a trauma Counselor if this carries on sweetheart."

"Great, more shrinks! I got enough of those at Greenstone, I dunno what else there is to say to them people. Anyway, I'm hungry," I grunted.

I pulled away from my Dad and went into the kitchen, pulling out some cereal and a bowl, before padding back to the dining room and sitting down. I grabbed the milk that was already out and drenched my cornflakes, tucking in immediately without replacing the cap.

"You want a lift to school, Son, looks like it's going to pour down any minute?"

"Naa, thanks Dad, but Hunter is knocking for me and we're gonna brave it and walk... he normally brings his umbrella anyway, and I'll take one today, just in case."

"Hmm, ok well the offer is there for both of you if you want," he said, quickly losing himself in the paper he was already half reading when I spoke.

I carried on eating and poured the remaining milk and cornflakes into my mouth, before getting up and placing it in the dishwasher. I hooked up the washer door with the back of my heel and headed back upstairs to get ready, feeling slightly adrift after my disturbed night of sleep.

Switching on my tiny radio I began the methodical task of putting on my uniform, starting with the pressed white shirt that always seemed to be clean and ironed, next my socks, new boxers and trousers. Then a quick trip to the bathroom to apply some product to my hair and body spray to my armpits. On the way back out to my room my buttons are being done up on my shirt, and as the last button slinks in with one set of fingers the other is grabbing the blazer that hangs on the back of my door. Wandering over to my full length mirror, dragging my tie from the bed in the process I finish by flipping up my collar, whipping the tie over my head, fashioning it into a half Windsor knot, before my collar is flipped down, then slight adjustment, and bam, job done.

Ding ding! My phone goes off and I'm already thinking it's probably Hunter.

5 mins away x

Ok xxx

I reply back before pulling on my winter jacket and grabbing the extra large umbrella from the top of my chrome and mirror closet, and trotting downstairs. I grab my keys from the hook in the reception room, kiss the mother, nudge the father, sling my bag over my shoulder and I am out the door. God I'm getting good at these Steven grade speed mornings!

Just no shower, bah, there's always tonight!

"Hey handsome, you look good" Hunter said, walking up the driveway, and pulling me into a headlock, kissing my temple. "You ready, we might even beat the rain?" I looked at him smiling and pecked a kiss on his lips, as he released his grip on me.

"Morning, how are you?"

"I'm great, all the better for seeing you, here, Happy Anniversary," he said, giving me a small brown bag.

"Huh? What anniversary?"

"Us, we've been an item for 4 months today... you gonna open it or what?"

I dropped my head down. "Why shit, you make me feel bad now, I didn't even realise… and hey, why are we celebrating 4 months and didn't after 3 months?" I opened up the small brown bag and pulled out a miniture stuffed toy bear. The small bear held a board made of real wood saying 'I love Puppy' on it. I looked up at Hunter and saw him grinning proudly, and planted another kiss on his plump red lips. "Where did you get this, I love it?" I asked, smiling from ear to ear at the cute bear in my hands. "And you didn't answer my question!"

"Whoa, easy tiger, one question at a time. So I have a confession," he said giggling. "It might answer all of them."

"Ok, and am I gonna like this confession?"

"Well I actually had this on order for like over a month but they sold out, on the internet, ya know? I had it custom made. Anyway so, uh I had actually planned to give it to you for our 3 month anniversary, but instead I hoped you wouldn't remember… which, I might add you didn't," Hunter remarked, clipping the back of my head.

"Hence the four month." I replied, nodding

"Hence the four month," Hunter repeated, putting his arm around my waist and kissing me again.

In the last few months of knowing Hunter properly he had proper developed what Mum called a 'growth spurt' and now easily passed the six feet mark. I recently realised I now had to stand on tiptoes to kiss his forehead as my structure stubbornly stayed the same. Luckily he still retained his overall broadness and of course he still held on to that trademark definition. Being with him felt safe, and I liked his effortless heavy handedness with me sometimes. Like those times he would often unconsciously pull me in roughly for a kiss or a hug. Feeling that strength he used, but didn't know sometimes, was a huge attraction for me. He had become my protector and he fiercely defended me.

"Careful, we're almost on the main high Street," I said, feeling uneasy at our tactile contact in busy areas. Hunter dropped his hand from around my waist and pulled an upset face, turning his bottom lip over. "Oh don't look like that, you know what happened last time."

"Yeah, and the mouthy shit picked on the wrong couple, right?"

"But it still wasn't a nice experience watching you do that to him," I replied, reminding us both of when Hunter punched this kid in the street, giving him a black eye for making fun of us in front of his friends. Friends that ran off and left him to get the angry side of Hunter.

We continued our walk up the main High Street, which contained all manner of shops before the road forked off and we entered a park walkway shortcut, which would take us all the way to school. "I am so glad you moved, this is such a shorter journey to you from my house," Hunter remarked as we took the half mile final stretch to school along the footpath, full of blackberry bushes and marsh land either side.

"I'm glad we moved too, I'm further away from Dave's house."

"Well there is that as well as a bonus. So you gonna tell me what's on your mind or do I have to wait until you call me at one am in tears again?"

"What? Oh, it's nothing, I just had a nightmare last night and it's lingering around in my mind."

"Theee nightmare?"

"You got it," I sighed, hanging my fingers inside his trouser belt, my hand sort of round his waist. "Anyway, let's talk about something else. When you getting your braids done?"

"Oh, well my cousin is coming this Friday night to do them. Are you sure you want me to get them done? I'm gonna look a lot different you know? I wouldn't wanna put you off me."

I laughed. "You think I would be put off that beautiful face because of your hair, and besides, I've seen the pictures Hunter, I think you're gonna Look hot! You'll have that whole Viking look going on, right?"

"I guess, but I'll never be as hot as you, Hot Dawg!!" We both laughed heading through the school gates, with Hunter playfully chewing on my ear, and slobbering. Ewww!

"Hey boys," Cassy said, joining us at the gate. "You two look loved up!"

"Just today?" I replied, before smiling, looking up at Hunter.

"Just, more loved up then," she said before announcing she had to report early to pick up her detention form, omitting any details of what this one was for. Hunter and I just smirked, and walked over to the main entrance seeing Steven and Billy standing by the flagpole outside.

Hearing our fluttering school logo flag high above, we walked over to them. "Hey guys, what are you two doing loitering?" Hunter asked.

"Waiting for fucking Jessie, he's late again because of that new girl he's with," Steven replied, looking at his watch. "We were both supposed to be signing up to the new football season yesterday, and the Friday before, and he's let me down again."

"Well why don't you go on your own," Hunter asked, shrugging.

"It was his idea for this winter term, and I ain't playing if he ain't, I want someone I know is good on my team!"

"Can you go at lunch time?" I asked, seeing it as a reasonable question.

"Puppy, B team is lunch registration, do I look like a B team player?" I just shrugged, not knowing what he was talking about. "You guys better go, I've just seen Dave walk through the main gate," Steven said, looking off into the distance for a sign of Jessie instead I suspected. Hunter pulled me in close to him and clamped his hand around my stomach, resting his chin between my shoulder blades.

"The more he creates the more affection Puppy gets in front of him, it's his choice. Let's see what hurricane of verbal abuse we get this morning shall we?" Hunter remarked. Steven looked exasperated by it all.

"Morning everyone," Dave musically said. "Still haven't got a new toy yet then Hunter, still feeding off the remains of mine I see."

Hunter shook his head and laughed. "Same answer you get every time Dave, yes I'm still fond of my same old toy, sorry!"

Steven looked pissed. "Guys, knock it the fuck off will ya! Trying to be friends with all of you pricks is like coming on to the set of Jerry Springer every day."

"God, who watches that anymore?" Dave replied, before wandering off. "See you Billy," was the only one he said goodbye to before skulking off through the main door.

"I'm sure he gets more camp everyday," Hunter remarked, shaking his head.

In morning class registration the room was full of the usual noise and banter while everyone waited for Mr Dawson, our tutor to arrive. Hunter was leaning back his chair on two legs, chewing gum. I could see his usual zoned out expression as if just waiting until he was emotionally needed. I discreetly ran my finger nail up his bare forearm, making a light whitish scratch. Turning to look at him he was just smiling and staring into space. Every now and again he would flick some of his jet back hair out of his left eye before brushing it back. Fuck I loved him, and could watch him all day. His slight body movements, the way he ran his fingers through his hair, his expression as he got lost somewhere in his mind.

It never got old, but would it?

"Ok class settle down...class! Mr Boyle, stop talking lad! " Mr Dawson banged his folder down on the desk, causing an instant silence to flood into the room. "Well, that's better, heavens, you're a lively bunch this morning... which I hope will lead to a productive day for you all. Now, when Hunter takes that gum out of his mouth I will begin the roll call."

Everyone focused their eyes on Hunter, and in an act that is typically Hunter he smiled at the class and stuck the piece of gum under the table, before arrogantly leaning back on his chair again. He was daring anyone to say something with his eyes, daring anyone to embarrass him. I just laughed, causing him to giggle too.

With roll call done I met Steven on the stairs and we headed up and along a busy corridor to our first lesson which was English. Steven stopped me half way down the corridor and pulled me into a quiet area outside a utility room.

"What's wrong?" I asked, seeing a rather stressed out Steven, his forehead creased.

"You and Dave need to sit down and thrash this out! This thing… whatever it is needs to stop between you three. It's ruining the… the, I dunno, the dynamic of the group."

"The dynamic, whatdya mean?"

"When was the last time we all went down to Cutters Farm as a fivesome, when was the last time we went to the park? When was the last time we did anything, laughed, talked, had banter? It's always you and Hunter now, with Dave miserable and Jessie feeling..."

"Jessie? He's got a new girl, how's he different to me?"

"Just sort this shit out, and when you do it, leave your guard dog at home yeah?"

I blew air through my lips as Steven walked off. "What the fuck was that all about?" I muttered, forcing my way through a tide of people trying to catch up with my Brother.

I went and found my usual seat next to Steven and placed my bag under my chair. He was already logging in to the Laptop while I just looked at him. "Can we be friends?" I asked with a snigger.

"I liked it better when you were single," Steven said, tapping away on the keyboard. "He's changed you, you know?"

"Where is all this coming from, you were fine this morning."

"Was I?" He asked, shooting me a prickly face.

I was just about to dig deeper into Steven's mood when our teacher walked in and closed the door. Everyone went quiet which I guess had to include me.

"Is everyone logged on?" Mrs. Bead asked in her distinct mousy high pitched voice.

"Yes ma'am" said the class in unison.

The rest of the day felt long and sickly. I spent lunch with Hunter, along with 20 minutes in the afternoon... in the middle of PE in the toilets with him! We… actually no HE instigated a make out session quite roughly in one of the stalls after catching me innocently going for a piss. We strolled out onto the football pitch, hoping that the softball teacher I had practice with, didn't notice my absence. Hunter winked at me as I walked off to join the rest and he blazingly lit up a cigarette on school grounds like it didn't matter before heading back off to his own class to make an excuse I knew.

"Ok punks, gather up the equipment and take it back to the store house," called the teacher, Mr Hatton. "Stibbings, a word please?" He shouted, walking over to me. "You were gone a long time, don't you think I was owed an explanation?"

I think I went a bit red. "Yeah sorry Sir, I... I've had like these stomach issues and..."

"Ok Jensen, I don't need the details. Just... just, well I was going to say let me know next time but... look just get packed up and try not to miss any of practice next time."

"Of course Sir, I'm sorry."

"Well, on your way lad, it's home time for you."

I helped clear up the dozen or so balls and bats and threw my share in the store house. Mr Batten came over and placed his key in the padlock and I wandered off with the rest of the students back to the changing rooms to get out of my sports kit.

Hunter and I were one of the last out of the gate as we waited for Cassy to finish her detention. We chatted for a while before her Dad turned up in an old white truck and took her home. Hunter grabbed me by the hood of my jacket and pulled me into him for more warmth as we headed out the gate towards the footpath as I say was not only a kind of shortcut home for us both but also quiet, where we could be more tactile. Our walk was slow and lazy and the light was starting to fade.

"Wanna talk about this dream?" Hunter asked, his arm draped round my shoulder.

I sighed. "It lingers, HT. And it's like I'm back there all over again."

"At home, with you Mum?"

I nodded. "It's the blood, Hunter. All that blood and the look on my Mum's face, it was... It was empty!"

"That's fucked up Puppy."

"I dunno how, but that dream... that version... It's like, so accurate and perfectly preserved. And as much as I will myself to change it into something less gruesome, or try and not have that version at all, it still gets me. It sucks, you know?"

Hunter kissed me on my hood which was now up and cupped me tightly. "Sounds like something trapped in a box with the key missing."

"Huh?" I asked, turning to look at him.

"Well it's like a record with the needle thing. If you don't pull up the needle the record just goes round and round. I think there is something buried deep inside your mind that your brain is trying to bring up and deal with but it can't, so it keeps at it, replaying the event in your dreams, trying to understand it."

"Wow, you sound like my old Doctor. Where did you learn all that stuff?"

Hunter shrugged. "Meh, I read random things on the internet. Some stuff sticks, most of it don't. When I was a little kid, I was much smaller, like a skinny ferret, and a bit different. I used to get bullied by other kids because my parents were poor and I was going through a hard time finding myself. Sometimes I used to have the most crazy scary dreams. Like one I remember where I was being pushed off this cliff by bigger boys and as I fell I used to wake up."

"Wow, I never knew that about you."

"There's lots about me you still don't know, Puppy and I, you. My life has lots of caverns to travel to see a picture of me. And dyaknow, I think this version of me is the result of that past life."

"Meaning what?" I asked, slightly confused.

Hunter stopped and got me standing facing him. He pulled my hood down and stared deeply into my eyes. "Your Mum right? She's gone... In a better place, in no pain and hopefully enjoying herself some place nice. YOU are neither responsible nor should feel the guilt, I know you do." Hunter then pointed to his chest. "This... this version of me doesn't give a fuck. This version of me will never feel guilty or sad or responsible for the shit things other people do. You, or rather your soul has got to let go, Puppy. Make a cut in your memories and separate that event with what you remember before. Make that cut and let the awful picture in your head not matter anymore."

"Is it that easy?" I asked, creasing my forehead.

"No, it's not but I did it, and in time I got peace." He said cryptically before pulling up my hood again and yanked me into walking motion.

Almost home!

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead