Disclaimer: These are my characters, my ideas, and my plotlines. I hope you enjoy. This is the long awaited first chapter where the confusion over who is related to who gets cleared up, I hope.
The Whispering Begins
Hank was born into an ordinary family in the Chelsea area of the City of London. He was born August the 28th 1975 to Gertrude and Harry Harris. He was, for the most part, a happy child. There was only one thing he was afraid of in his life; and that was his grandmother. Louisa Harris was the Wicked Witch of the West.
Anna was born 7th of September ’77; James was born in 1980, and the twins were still babes. He loved the role of big brother, and he played it very seriously. He had the maturity of a boy far beyond his years. Charles, his grandfather, thought that Hank didn’t know how to be a child. Unfortunately, this led to him being bullied by the children at his Primary School.
Harry, his father, was a second-hand car dealer and his mother was a hardworking housewife.
“With five kids, do you honestly think I’ll have time or energy to have a job?” she demanded every time Harry suggested she find part-time work. “Besides, it’s not like we need to be a double income family!”
“My father could look after the kids,” Harry suggested mildly.
“I don’t know what Louisa taught you Harry, but my mother told me that when you have kids, those kids are your responsibility, not someone else’s.”
Hank had heard this argument at least once a week. He did not want his mother to be a career woman. He liked coming home from school to find his mum home; ironing, baking, whatever household chore she did on that particular day of the week. It gave him an enormous sense of security. Every time his parents had this discussion Hank was always scared he’d come home and find his mum looking for work. He knew it was a silly fear to have! He knew his mother loved being a housewife. Whenever strangers, generally career women whom Gertrude knew for a while, mentioned how bored she must get, Gertrude had replied that she had plenty of hobbies to occupy her time, as well as the five children.
~ * ~
Two things occurred in Hank’s eleventh year that had a huge impact on the rest of his life: one, his grandmother died, and two, he started Secondary Education.
He knew he should have cried at his grandmother’s funeral, but instead he was sitting in the church with his cousin Philip, laughing behind their hands, whispering jokes about the ghastly make up she wore with that hideous candy pink hair set in a Thatcherite style. His father regularly poked his eldest son in the back. Harry leant forward more than once and hissed the word ‘respect;’ this only encouraged Philip, a well-known troublemaker.
Philip inherited his personality from his father, Hank’s Uncle Mark. Mark Smythe was as old as Hank’s grandfather. But that did not stop Hank’s Aunt Sarah from falling in love, getting married, and bearing his three children. Louisa wanted to be a nurse, Philip had a talent for storytelling, and last but by no means least, Julia was by far the prettiest of the all family.
The Smythe family normally lived in Luton, a town about an hours drive down the A5 and M1.
Hank loved all his cousins. Philip was two years older than Hank and Hank looked up to Philip like he was an older brother; although, you could not get two opposites in appearances if you tried.
Hank had ash-blonde, almost silver hair, bright blue sparkling eyes, that when he was angry turned a stormy grey, which didn’t happen very often. Hanks complexion was dark though, a complete contrast to his otherwise light hair and eyes. Philip had raven black hair, which reached down to his shoulders, it was also thin and often went lank after being unwashed for two days. His eyes almost matched the colour of his hair, they were always twinkling with some form of mischief. His pale complexion belied his sun-worship in the hotter months. His looks earned him the nickname Dracula—a nickname he was proud to carry.
Louisa, Philips older sister, had brown hair, eyes, and complexion. She felt frumpy when she was with her entire family, she knew she was not the belle of the ball but for that she was kind and compassionate; traits that lit up her eyes and gave her a luminosity more enduring than beauty. Julia’s hair shimmered all the colours of autumn; copper red streaks waved down her back in unison with natural blonde locks and dark brown strands. She had silvery eyes, a very cheeky smile that dimpled each side of her sweet mouth. She was coquettish and had her daddy wrapped around her finger. She was sitting next to Anna.
Anna Harris was a shy, awkward, child. She was gangly, freckly and she wore glasses. She was often forced to wear her mousy blonde hair in pigtails with pink ribbons. James was a mixture of his brother and cousin. He had black hair that flopped over his brow every time he moved his head, and grey eyes. Finally, next to James, were Hank’s twin brother and sister, Daniel and Elizabeth. The twins both had thick wavy auburn hair and green eyes, but that was as far as the similarities went, for Daniel was a big, beefy boy, and Elizabeth was petite for a baby of her age. They were only a year old and gurgled happily, unaware that they were at a solemn, sad occasion. Anna was holding Daniel, and James was holding Elizabeth.
Hank and Philip’s attention span was beginning to wane. The fat Priest was droning on and on about how Louisa had suffered and that God had now let her rest in peace. She was now highly rewarded for what she had done. Mentioning her as a loving, loyal wife to Charles, a devoted mother to her two children, Harry and Sarah, and a sweet, attentive grandmother to her eight grandchildren. And most importantly, how she was faithfully devoted to God and how that made her an outstanding human being.
“Crap!” Hank heard his grandfather say from behind him. Philip giggled. Hank smiled rather shamefully, as he did not want to laugh, yet not being able to resist the impulse any further, he snorted along with his cousin.
“Father,” Harry hissed. “Not in church.”
“I don’t care where we are Harry,” Charles whispered back. “It’s all cotton woollen codswallop in my opinion, which amounts to the same thing!”
Philip could not help but laugh out loud.
“Shut up, Philip,” Louisa said.
“Grampy’s right though,” Philip said. “It is cr–,” he looked at his mother who was eyeing him carefully, “codswallop.”
Hank turned around and looked at his grandfather. The old man winked at him; his fading periwinkle blue eyes dazzling with mischief. Hank nudged Philip, who then proceeded to turn around. Charles smiled at both of them. He was proud of these two boys. He loved their camaraderie, their spirit. Charles leant over and whispered in their ears.
“Hey, race you to the coffee shop after the service?”
“You’re on Gramps!” Philip replied.
Minutes later Hank stood at the grave of his grandmother, spring rain drizzling down on him. He was confused by the lack of emotion. Surely he should feel something. The Priest approached him with a sad look in his eyes.
“Are you all right my son?”
“I am confused, Father,” Hank admitted. “I did not love her, yet I miss her all the same.”
“Sometimes, son, we do not know or realise how much we love someone until they die, and then we wish we had another chance with them. Do not worry there will be a time when death shall re-unite you with your grandmother up in Heaven!”
Hank felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. He turned and looked into his grandfather’s eyes, which were now fixed stonily on the pompous Priest.
“With all due respect, Father,” Charles began stiffly. “I do not wish you to fill my grandson’s head full of this dogmatic nonsense!”
“I assure you, Mr. Harris, I meant the boy no harm. I was simply answering a question. The boy was confused.”
“And he doesn’t need you to muddle his brain with more mutton headed thinking. My late wife is neither in Heaven, or Hell, or Perjury! She is there in that coffin and there she will rot!”
“But the boy did ask me a question,” the Priest said drawing in his chest.
Hank was sharply reminded of Harry Secombe’s Mr. Bumble in the musical Oliver.
“The ‘boy’, happens to be called Hank!” Charles said harshly. Charles turned Hank around and they both walked away from the puffed up Priest. “Want a coffee, Hank?” Charles asked steering his grandson out of the cemetery.
“Sure Grampy,” Hank answered.
“Listen, Hank, and listen carefully, your grandmother believed in that rubbish but I don’t!”
“Neither do I,” Hank replied quickly.
“What was it you asked that idiot?”
“I was confused that, well, I didn’t love Gran, but I miss her all the same.”
“Don’t miss her, Hank, we can all breathe again.”
Hank was a little relieved to know that he was not the only one who did not love Louisa Harris, as far as he could tell, no one in his family loved her.
Hank did love his grandfather though. Charles was his only surviving grandparent as his mother’s parents both died before he was born. They walked into Toni’s Espresso. Toni’s Espresso was a coffee shop situated directly opposite the church. The sign was very seventies, a dark cream background weather beaten by the years. The name of the shop used to be bold, but now the brown paint was peeling. The ‘O’ was shaped like a cup of coffee with steam coming out of it. It was Hanks favourite coffee shop, not least because it did the best coffee his side of London, but because she was always in there.
She was a girl he had first clapped eyes on a few weeks ago. Hank did a quick scan of the room with his eyes, his heart leapt into his throat. Regular as always, his future bride put the coffee cup down and picked up a baby. He did not know her name, but knew that she was meant to be his one-day. He couldn’t describe that feeling. Looking at her gave him a sense of familiarity, as if he should know her. He wished he could pluck up the courage to talk to her.
“We’re sitting over there,” James said, tugging at Hank’s hand. Hank quickly shook himself out of his pleasant daydream.
Hank let himself be led by his insistent younger brother and he sat down on a seat next to Philip who had reserved it for him.
“What did that Priest want?” Philip asked. “If he was bothering you I’d have told him my nickname.”
“One look at you, Phil, and he might have believed you,” Anna said sulkily.
Philip gazed at his sour little cousin whilst breaking into a Chelsea bun. She looked wrong in that pink frilly dress. Gertie did not believe in making children wear black at a funeral. Philip could not help but think that Anna might have preferred to wear black. It definitely would have suited her scowl. If he had to be totally honest with himself he had to admit that he preferred Hank’s younger sister to his own.
“Hank,” Philip said.
Hank hummed, the girl leaving the café momentarily distracted him, she was looking harassed as she was holding a baby, and had a younger brother at her side. He wanted to help her. He felt a sharp dig at his ribs. “What?” he asked as he rubbed at his sore ribcage.
“Can we swap younger sisters?” Philip asked, the gleam of mischief was ever present in his dark eyes.
“No,” Hank said straight away, he loved Anna too much to share her with anyone.
“Spoilsport!” Philip sulked.
Harry and Gertrude got up and shook hands with everyone at the table. Gertie hugged Sarah and both made arrangements to visit soon. Hank had said goodbye to his family.
“Right,” Harry sighed. “We’ve got to get home too.”
The second most important thing to happen to Hank was his going to what his mother annoyingly referred to as ‘big boy school,’ this occurred a few months after his grandmother’s funeral.
He woke up on that dreary, September morning his stomach churning with nerves. He hated Primary School. He did not think that Secondary School was going to be any better. He brushed his hair neatly, cleaned his teeth, and put his crinkle free clean, crisp uniform on, he had polished his shoes the night before. He had all his books in a Nike rucksack. He wore his uniform with pride, but not with confidence. He picked up his bag and trudged downstairs.
“Nervous?” his mother asked.
“Sort of,” he replied.
“Just be yourself and people will love you,” Gertie advised.
“Yeah sure,” Hank murmured sceptically. He poured himself a bowl of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.
“You only have ten minutes,” she warned, a slight note of panic crept in her voice.
“The bus stop is only three minutes away,” he said. His mother glared at him, which made Hank shovel down the cornflakes and leave in haste.
By the time the bus did turn up at the stop it was full. Hank went right to the back of the bus but it was devoid of spare seats. Sitting at the back were a group of boys a few years older and a lot tougher than Hank.
There was a spare seat there, right in the corner.
“Excuse me, please,” Hank said politely. “May I sit there please?”
“No,” a boy said.
“W–why not?” Hank stammered.
“Because I say so.”
“You tell him, Ralph!” One of his friends jeered.
“How many times, Paul, it’s pronounced Rafe!”
Hank turned around.
“Yeah, that’s it Titch, turn around, leave us alone!”
“Hello,” a girl said. She was standing in front of Hank. Hank couldn’t believe it. It was his dream girl.
“H–h–hello,” Hank stuttered awkwardly.
“Look, Ralph, its Titch and Titchette!”
“Ignore them,” she sighed. “They’re only stating the obvious sizes of their brains.”
Hank smiled and laughed.
“Does Titch want to sit down on a seat?” One of the boys continued mocking. “Does mummy dwess him too?” he felt someone pull the back of his shirt collar up.
Hank began to shake with anger.
“Shut up!” He said through gritted teeth.
The gang stopped their laughing and jeering.
“What did you say?”
“I said,” Hank began, as he turned around to face this big hulking boy, “Shut up!”
The one called Ralph stood up grabbed Hank by his school tie and picked him up, Hank’s feet were an inch from the floor. The whole bus was watching.
“You better curb that gob of yours Titch or we’ll curb it for you! You are a little bug to be squashed! Understood?”
“Perhaps it’s about time someone squashed you,” the girl stated calmly.
Ralph put Hank back on his feet, straightened Hank’s tie up, and turned his attention towards the girl.
“And you are?” He asked, a sneer creeping along his thin, rough lips.
“Rachel Snow,” she replied smartly.
“Lucky your girlfriend was here, Titch,” Ralph leered at Hank, “and,” he said turning towards Rachel, “it’s bloody lucky for you, Rachel, that I don’t thump girls. I take ’em out instead. Friday night suit you?”
“In your dreams,” Rachel replied. Her green eyes narrowed with obvious hatred at this insolent, loathsome boy.
Hank stepped between Rachel and Ralph, he stared at Ralph with his eyes turning to a stormy grey.
“Find your own species,” he hissed threateningly.
Ralph was about to reply but the bus stopped outside the school gates.
“Later, Titch!” Ralph threatened before shoving Hank out of the way so that he, and his gang, could get off the bus first.
Once Hank and Rachel were off the bus, Rachel turned to Hank.
“Where are you supposed to go?”
“Er, I think I’m with F1,” he said. He took out his timetable and looked at the top. “Yes, I am with F1.”
“Pity,” Rachel sighed. “I’m in J1.”
Ralph had not moved too far from them.
“Same tutor as me Snow!” he yelled. “’Cept that I’m in J4. Johnson, don’t like back chatters.” He looked at her face and appreciated the horror. “NOT!”
“Morons,” Rachel murmured. “At least I am not in the same year as him,” she said offering Hank a smile.
Hank smiled back. “See you around?” He asked hope drowning in that small query.
Hank wandered into his tutor group. He chose a seat in the back corner of the classroom. He did not want any unnecessary attention drawn upon himself. There were already a few other people in the room; two of them were rowdy boys. He would do the best he could to avoid these two. He hoped the class would settle down soon. He had a headache already.
Something strange had happened to him the moment he locked eyes with Ralph. He had heard some sort of whispering. He felt he should have known who he was, he even felt as if he should be a friend to him … One day it would become important.
Then a more mundane thought occurred to him, and it made him kick himself on the shin, literally. He forgot to tell the girl his name. Perhaps, he thought, at first break time.
His tutor was a woman; a Ms. Fennel. She looked strict: she was not old but she had the demeanour of a woman twice her age, and she had her hair in a tight French plait.
“I am Ms. Fennel, not Miss, not Mrs. Ms – got that class,” she said in a clear crisp voice.
“Yes, Ms. Fennel,” the class droned.
“Good. We’ll start the day with the register, which I do not happen to have on my desk,” she looked up. “Would someone like to volunteer to get it for me, please?”
Hank looked around the classroom and not seeing anyone else put his or her hand up in a hurry, he offered to fetch it.
“I’ll go,” he said, getting up.
“Thank you, and your name?”
“Hank, Ms. Hank Harris,” he answered.
“Thank you, Mr. Harris,” she answered.
Hank left the classroom. He could hear the sniggers and the jeers . The two boisterous idiots that annoyed Hank earlier had chanted ‘Teacher’s Pet!’ at him. Hank was already counting down the minutes to break time.
When the bell rang he immediately jumped out of his seat and made sure that he was the first out of the door. He soon found her; she was standing against a wall. He skipped up to her, his heart seemingly in the back of his throat. Did this girl realise how pretty she was?
“Um,” he began blushing. “I didn’t tell you my name.” Rachel giggled. “It’s Hank. Hank Harris.”
A shadow fell across them both and Hank turned around only to look up in the spotty face of Ralph.
“Lets yank Hank!” He exclaimed.
Hank gulped when he looked into Ralph’s sky blue eyes, as that strange feeling of déjà-vu washed over him.
“Hank,” he heard a soft, small voice say. “Don’t bother, it’s your first day of school. You’ll only get into trouble.” Hank turned around and Rachel slipped her hand in his. She gently and quietly, led Hank away from a potentially dangerous and damaging fight
“See you around loser!” Ralph leered. “Rachel, pick you up at seven okay!”
Rachel just continued walking away, ignoring him completely.
The rest of the day did not fare much better. His only friend was in another class and everybody else was nasty and cruel to him. Hank did not understand why he was the target. He wasn’t being nasty or cruel to them. It seemed he was being bullied for being too nice. He so much wanted to talk to his grandfather and Philip.
He ran out of his last lesson, which was English, to make sure he got to the bus first so that he would not have to have an encounter.
“Look who it is!” a voice he had heard enough of by now leered. “It’s Hanky Chief. Gonna go home and snivel on mumsy?”
“You better be careful, Raffle Ticket,” Rachel said, as she was walking towards them.
“Only a coward has a girl stand up for him,” Ralph jeered.
“Actually,” Hank began slowly. “My grandfather say’s only a coward picks on those smaller than themselves.”
Ralph turned towards his gang; the expression he held on his face made them back away; and some others who also understood the look. Damn, the crowd thought, was this first year gonna get it! Ralph chucked his bag at one of his mates, he chucked his coat at another one; he spun around on Hank.
“I warned you this morning, Hanky Chief, what happens to someone when they talk back to me. No one does, and gets away with it!”
Ralph swung a fist at Hank; Rachel frowned at both of them. Hank landed on the floor. Hank got up on his knees; he wiped at his mouth, and saw blood on the back of his hand. The crowd laughed at this beaten eleven-year-old. This only served to make Hank angrier. His resolve strengthened. He got up, planted his feet firmly apart. His expression was stormy grey again.
“I am not a Titch!” Hank exclaimed.
The laughter stopped. Ralph turned around, his brow furrowed in confusion. Once he had floored someone, they usually stayed floored.
“Prove it!” Ralph challenged.
Hank swung his rucksack right smack bang on Ralph’s testicles. Ralph grabbed them and sunk on the floor, his face contorted in pain. The crowd was really interested now. Rachel rolled her eyes. Ralph soon recovered and stood back up. Everyone was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, they were all waiting to see what Ralph would do.
“You really have guts don’t you?” Ralph asked. Rachel was looking from one to the other.
“Like I said,” Hank replied shrugging his rucksack back on his shoulders. “I am no coward.”
Ralph looked at the gang standing at a fair distance behind him.
“What’s your name?” Ralph asked in a much friendlier tone than he previously used.
“Hank,” he replied. “Hank Cliff Harris.”
“Mine’s Ralph,” the older boy replied holding out his hand. “Ralph William Green.”
Hank shook the offered hand. Immediately he felt that something big had just happened between them.
“Sorry about that unpleasantness Hank,” Ralph said.
“That’s all right,” Hank said.
“Boys!” Rachel groaned.
“So,” Ralph began. “What’s with the name?”
“My mother is a huge Shadows fan,” Hank replied.
“You poor thing,” Ralph said in a tone of pity. “Hey, gang, we got a new mate!”
The rest of Ralph’s gang all came forward, they were all relieved that their leader was in a happy mood.
“I’m Paul,” one said.
“I’m Jack,” another said.
“I’m Alfred,” the last one said.
“Hank,” Hank said plainly.
Hank turned around to ask Rachel if she was all right, but Rachel had stalked off somewhere else. His heart sank.
“Bus is here,” Ralph said roughing Hank’s hair. “C’mon dreamy head.”
Hank looked at the bus. “All right,” he sighed. He straightened up his bag on his shoulder and walked up the steps. He was still slightly nervous of Ralph, but by the time he got home, he realised that he was being stupid. Ralph did give him his telephone number and he did say, ‘tomorrow mate!’
One thing spoiled his euphoric mood. As he was walking down the aisle he saw Rachel looking out of the window and she looked miserable. Tomorrow, he thought, he’d try to make it up to her tomorrow.
I had some help by the excellent Jan Van Quirm with some of the punctuationa and phrasing. Thank you!
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