Friday, February 12, 2010

The Fantabulous Ryan McCall

The Fantabulous 
Ryan McCall

by Ranger

Assembly is BORING.

The music's all right that plays when we come in and our class sits near to it so I can feel it vibrating. And we all sit in this big circle around the hall, all the classes one after another, all sitting on the gym benches, and it takes ages to get everyone sat down and you can hear people in other classes objecting and some running away across the hall and getting chased, and all the teachers chatting. And then the music gets turned off and we all have to hold hands and sing the song about everybody holding hands, because we're all supposed to like each other and be FRIENDS.

Ha. Daniel Westruther sucks and I wouldn't hold hands with him for anyone. Liz never parks our chairs within reach because she knows if he makes just one of his stupid whingeing noises near me I'll scream until I'm taken out.

"I'm not GOING to take you out, Ryan McCall," Ann said to me once in assembly when Liz wasn't there and Daniel Westruther was hacking me off.

"You can scream all you like, I'm not listening."

So I screamed until I threw up instead, and THEN she took me out. Ann is a pain.

Liz sits between me and Sarah and she holds my hand, and I know her voice when she sings. But assembly's crap, because everyone in the hall is making noises. No one in our school is ever quiet for very long, so whoever's talking at the front can't be heard. And who wants to sit while someone talks anyway?

"Ryan, shhh," Liz said when I started doing what Dad calls chirping. I tipped my head further back and chirped even louder. She leaned over and put her finger on my lips, lowering her voice. I don't know why, a flat out shout couldn't be heard in our hall during assembly.

"Ryan, stop. It's time to be quiet."

Chirp chirp chirp. CHIRP chirp chirp chirp chirp.

I knew she was smiling, even if she sounded cross, but she leaned over me and started to unbuckle my harness.

"Ryan Christian McCall, you're a horror."

She lifted me over and stood me between her knees, pushing my knees straight and tickling me so I lifted my head up.

"There, if you're going to come out of your chair, young man, you can do some work."

I don't care. I'd much rather play with Liz than listen to assembly.

After assembly Liz lifts me into my chair, runs up the harness and pushes me and Sarah, one with each hand, out of the door into the big corridor that still smells of dinner, round the corner to line up and wait for the bus. There Ann hangs our bags on the back of our chairs and Liz leans over, putting her hand against mine to wave goodbye.

"Bye, Ryan, see you on Monday. Have a nice weekend."

On the tray of my chair in front of me there's the front page of my Me Book- Liz wrote it with me and people read it to me all the time, so I know what it says.

MY NAME IS:  Ryan McCall.

I AM:  6 years old.

I LIKE:  bubbles and spiders and singing and the ball pool.

I DON 'T LIKE: sitting near Daniel or being bored.

I LIVE WITH:  my mum, my dad and my brother Jake

Except nobody ever says that bit any more.

I DO like spiders. I like anything scary that dangles or runs, especially if it's hairy. At home I've got rubber spiders, furry spiders, battery powered spiders that move, spiders that dangle on elastic and a huge green spider that laughs when you hit it. My brother Jake wanted to buy a real pet spider once but my mum went nuts.

"Come on, mum," Jake said hopefully when she paused for breath. He's good at coaxing mum; he usually gets what he wants in the end.

"It would be no trouble- Ryan would love it-"

"Ryan would probably get eaten by it!" Mum said loudly.

"He'd probably enjoy that too!" Jake argued. And mum laughed then, Jake always makes her laugh, but she still said no. We couldn't have a dog in case it bit me, and we couldn't have a cat in case it lay on my face, and we couldn't have hamsters, mice or anything else because of germs. Mum tried to get Jake to have a fish instead but he was fed up by then.

It takes ages for the bus to get home, but finally it stopped and my brakes were kicked back and the clamps unclamped. The tail lift is jerky on the way down and there's another bump up the step to our house which I like, and over that bump I heard Dad's voice, loud and cheerful.

"Hi, Ryan! Hello, mate, how was your day?"

He never does it right. Mum always flings opens the door with her best 'ta da!' noise, and shouts, "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's the one, the only, the fantabulous Ryan McCall!"

He chatted to the bus ladies for a minute, then unstrapped my harness and rubbed his face against mine which makes me laugh since he scratches.

"Hi, monster. You're covered in paint, what were you painting? Did Liz say?" He picked my bag up along with me and went into the lounge, sitting with me on his lap to look at the diary book. The Book. Liz writes in it every day and says what happened and what I did, so do mum and dad, no knowledge is sacred.

"Painting sunflowers. Ok. Noisy in assembly again? And you didn't think much to lunch. What was it?"

Pizza. School pizza is vile. I wriggled and he kissed me, lifted me down to the carpet and dropped a couple of the furry spiders next to me where I could reach them. A minute later the TV snapped on and I rolled over to listen, hearing the tune to the Tweenies.

‘Hey hey are you ready to play…….’

Dad walked past, stepping over the spiders.

"I'm in the kitchen, mate, yell if you want me- I thought I'd do shepherd’s pie for tea. That sound good? Might be enough of a temptation to get Jake to eat, he looks scraggier every day. I think it's his football night, he'll probably be late anyway-"

Milo on TV was singing something about puddles. I like Milo , he does everything with enthusiasm. Mum says if Milo was hers she'd get him straight off sugar and tartrazine and hasn't his mother ever HEARD of additives? 

"Hi," Jake shouted from the hall, shutting the door. There was the crash of his bag hitting the floor, then Dad calling from the kitchen.

"Hi there, I thought you'd be late tonight."

"I'm going out again." Jake leaned down as he passed, put a hand on my middle and shook, making me giggle. "Hey, squirt."

"Where are you going?" Dad demanded from the door.

"Just out."

"We can eat as soon as I've heated this through-"

"I'll get something when I'm out."


Jake ran up the stairs and his bedroom door slammed. Dad stood where he was, then took a deep breath and went back to the kitchen. Jake thundered down again a few minutes later, grabbed up his other bag and the front door opened.

"Where are you going?" Dad said more sharply.


"OUT." Jake sounded just as sharp.

"I'll see you later. Bye, squirt."


Jake didn't shut doors quietly. Dad didn't say anything for a minute, then I heard the deep, short breath out.

"Don’t you ever be a teenager, Ry."


We had a shower, Dad and I, which is great- he does the weird voices which echo off the walls and make mum cross, and sings all the songs from my Tweenies video, getting the words wrong. He was sitting in my room with me, winding up my singing spider when the front door crashed again. Dad got up to look out of the window, then called through the door.



Jake came upstairs, sounding fed up. Dad took the spider out of my sight, which was less good.

"Who was driving that car?"

"A mate," Jake said shortly. "I'm going to bed."

"It's nearly eleven, Jacob McCall, where the hell have you been!" Dad's voice rose and Jake's promptly rose with it.

"What do you care where I was anyway? I was with a MATE, HE drove the car!"

"You're fifteen years old; what is a mate of yours doing driving?" Dad demanded.

He was still holding the spider out of sight. I kicked the side of the bed and chirped at him, but he didn't take any notice.

"He's older, he's got his licence," Jake said sullenly.

"How much older? Who is he?"

"You don't know him, he's in the sixth form at school; he's on the footer team. Can I go to bed now?"

There was a long silence. I gave up with chirping and went for a straightforward bellow. Dad reacted at once, sounding upset. As well he should.

"Sorry, Ryan; it's here, mate."

He put the spider back where I could see it and sat down again. There was a moment's silence while we all appreciated Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as performed by a red fluffy spider.

"Isn't he settling?" Jake said eventually. Dad sighed.

"No. When does he ever? Never has needed sleep, this one."

Silence again. I could hear Dad's head turn away from me, towards the doorway where Jake was.

"Have you eaten, son? There's shepherd's pie in the fridge, I can warm some up for you."

"I had some chips while we were out."

"That's not much of a meal for a lad your age."

"It's enough, Dad; I just wanted some time with my mates, it's not illegal." Jake's tone had sharpened again and I heard him stamp down the hallway. "You act like I'm going to get lost or something."

"Eleven's too late and I want to know where you are!" Dad yelled after him. Jake's door slammed.

Silence. The spider ground to a halt. I kicked at the side of the bed again, chirping until Dad pulled the string once more.

"I'm going to wring his little neck for him one of these days- aren't you sleepy yet, Ry? Come on, it's getting on for midnight , some of us have got to get up in the morning."

He was gone when I woke up again. The room was dark and the spider was in bed with me. Which isn't a lot of good. I chirped, listening for an answer. Mum usually comes with her face all soft with night cream and her "Oh, RYAN " when it's the middle of the night. Dad's better at playing. But no one answered. Getting annoyed, I chirped again a bit louder and harder, and kept at it until I heard a bed creak. Jake, his voice very low as he stooped down to pick up me and the spider.

"Shhh, you'll wake up Dad and he's knackered. Come on, squirt."

He took me quietly into his room and shut the door behind us, put me down on his bed and I rolled over to get the spider. He lay down beside me and pulled the duvet over us both, wriggling to get comfortable.

"Yeah, I know, I know, don't you get sick of Twinkle Twinkle? Here."

He pulled the string and we lay and listened to the music. I like Jake's room. Things glitter all over it, the reflective stuff on the ceiling, the posters on the wall. Sometimes he puts music on that's so loud and fast it makes me scream with excitement when he holds me near the stereo and mum tells him off. I like Jake too.

Gran was there in the morning. She kept trying to feed me scrambled egg while I blew it back at her, and had Terry Wogan playing on the radio which made Jake groan when he came down for breakfast, although he kissed her on the way past.

"Hi, Gran."

"You look a mess," Gran greeted him. "When were those jeans last washed? Has your dad seen them? Are those bleach stains?"

"It's the fashion." Jake opened the fridge and got the milk out. "Ry doesn't like scrambled egg, that's why he's spitting it out."

"Rubbish, it's good for him. ALL babies like scrambled egg." Gran shovelled another spoonful in too fast for me to clamp my teeth against.

I opened my mouth and simply let it fall out again.

"He's not a baby and he hates egg."

"Give me those jeans and I'll iron them for you."

"They're all right, Gran; they're supposed to look like this."

"Your dad said you were out late last night," Gran said disapprovingly. "Out until all hours."

"I'm fifteen."

"Yes, old enough to understand why your dad doesn't want you too far out of his sight at the moment," Gran told him. "You could give him a little support and sympathy, Jake McCall; it wouldn't kill you."

"I DO," Jake said impatiently.

"You do what?" Dad said, shutting the outside door. "You look tired. Did you get any sleep? What time did you get Ryan last night?"

"About two. He was awake and chattering."

"You should keep your door shut and let me get him."

"I woke first," Jake said shortly. "He was fine, just bored."

Dad sighed. "You need your sleep. And you shouldn't have him in your bed; what if you rolled on him?"

"Dad I'm not going to smother him by accident, he's not THAT much smaller than me."

"Plenty of babies smothered accidentally," Gran chimed in. "I read just the other day-"

"Jesus," Jake said explosively.

"Jake!" Dad banged something down on the table which made me jump. "You apologise to your Gran RIGHT now and don't you DARE use that language around this house!"

"Fine!" Jake sounded livid. "I'm SORRY I took care of my own brother and I'm SORRY you're an interfering old bat and I'm SORRY for losing my temper when I'm getting nagged at every bloody moment I'm IN this fucking house!"  He stormed out of the back door, I heard it slam.

"Well!" Gran said, scandalised. She'd taken her eye and hand off the scrambled egg, so I took advantage of the pause to push the plate over onto the floor. The crash was satisfying and a good echo to Jake's. Dad mechanically wiped it up.

"I wish you wouldn't nag at him, mum; it doesn't help when we're already struggling-"

"If you'd have spoken to your dad like that at his age he'd have half killed you!" Gran said tartly. "You're letting that boy get out of control."

"He's got a right to be finding this difficult." Dad opened the fridge and I heard the top come off a yoghurt. THAT was a hundred times better than egg. He sat down in front of me and I opened my mouth hopefully, waiting for the spoon. "We're managing and it's between him and me; we'll sort this out."

"You're not exactly finding it easy yourself!" Gran pointed out, trying to take the yoghurt. Dad pulled it away.

"MUM. We're managing! And I'd appreciate you NOT winding Jake up."

There was a minute's hush and then Gran stalked out in the opposite direction to Jake.

"I wind him up well enough all by myself," Dad muttered to me, spooning yoghurt. It was a few minutes and we'd nearly finished the yoghurt when Jake came back in. I knew it was him from the scuff of his trainers on the floor, even before he spoke. He sounded rough-voiced and furious, the words barely coming out.

"I'm sorry, that was out of order. I'll tell her I'm sorry."
Dad didn't move for a moment, then put an arm around him, pulled him over and kissed his forehead. It was a silent and angry kiss but Jake didn't seem to mind.


We had a fire alarm at school on Monday. I hate loud bells. We'd been sitting listening to Liz read a story which was only half finished when the horrible bell started bellowing, even worse than Daniel Westruther. He of course started whingeing. I HATE that sound just as much.

"Stop Screaming, Ryan McCall!" Ann said as Liz went to open the fire door into the playground.

I hate Ann. She talks too loud, she moves too fast, she's always telling me off and she gets cross if I throw things, even if it's not on purpose.

"That's the fire bell; we're all going to go outside," Liz said, coming back into the classroom. "Ann, can you take Sarah and Daniel?"

She took Harry by the hand since he walks, and pushed my chair ahead of her out into the playground. It was too sunny out there, the story wasn't finished, that horrible bell is so loud it had made me jump and when I jump my body flings itself backwards in an arch and goes rigid. It hurts. It was still hurting and the sun was shining right in my eyes. Liz left me in the doorway for a minute while she went back for Jason and Megan who were still in the classroom, then I heard her behind my chair, voice still calm.

"All right, Ryan, just a minute, it's ok. Let's get to the right place and I'll get you out of there."

I had no clue where the right place was, except I could hear kids everywhere. It wasn't playtime either, this was all totally wrong. I was still screaming and my face was soaking with tears when Liz lifted me out of the chair and sat down on the grass bank by the playground. I was still arched back like a bridge.

"Ryan McCall, STOP making that horrible noise!" Ann said somewhere near by.

"It's all right, Ryan." Liz never gets phased by me bridging. She sat me on her lap, one arm under my knees, pulling them up towards my chest and helping me bring my head forward, and the bridging stopped. Which made it hurt a lot less. She hugged me and rocked for a minute, not saying anything while someone nearby shouted for registers. A group of people were singing nearby, probably Green class who kill most spare time by singing. Liz sang along quietly in my ear, but it didn't make any difference. I felt horrible. Really horrible.

The dinner ladies came while we were still outside and I heard their voices and the clank of the dinner trolleys inside as everyone else went back to the classrooms. I didn't want dinner. I didn't want anything. Liz didn't move, she just stayed sitting on the grass and rocked while I screamed and screamed.

"Doesn't your throat hurt?" she asked eventually, wiping my face with a tissue. "Ryan. Listen to me. Are you upset about the story?"

Sometimes when she asks questions like that, one at a time and really waits for me, I can show her 'yes'. Mum does it too; she and Liz worked out together how I said ‘yes’ with my tongue. But it's hard and I was too upset.

"Is it the story?" Liz asked again. "We can finish that; I'll read it to you. Did it hurt when the bell made you jump?"

I took a few breaths, but screaming was easier. Liz didn't argue, just started to rock again, stroking my hair back from my forehead.

"It's ok. I know. I know, sweetie. Everything's wrong at the moment. One change too many."

I had no idea what she meant but she sounded sympathetic. Which didn't make me feel any better. When I'm upset my hands clench up tight by my face and I bit my nearest wrist, hard, still screaming. Mum says that when I bite and scream at the same time I sound like a mad hamster. Liz took my hand at once.

"No. No, Ryan, no biting. Don't bite yourself."

She made me let go, then held my hands down where I couldn't reach them. So I went on screaming.

I didn't have any lunch and I slept all afternoon on the floor in the play area since I was tired and my head hurt when Liz and I finally went back into the classroom. When the bus reached home and the doors opened I listened hard for the "Ta da!" but it was Dad again and he still didn't do it right.

"Hi, monster! Oh, Ry what's the matter?"

He picked me up when I started to cry and the bus ladies found my diary book and chattered and pushed my chair into the house while he wrestled with me. Mum is good with bridging but Dad isn't and I was arched back over his arms and rigid when we got into the house.

"You got upset about the fire alarm?" Dad said, reading my book. "Is that what you're telling me about? Not a good day? Come on, mate; come and stretch out and I'll put the Tweenies on. Jake's footballing so we've got loads of time."

I lay on the floor in front of the Tweenies video and he lay with me and rubbed my back while I sniffled instead of shrieked so I could hear Milo .

The doorbell made me arch back again and Dad picked me up, pushing pause on the video.

"All right, mate. Just a sec, let's see who this is, it's ok."

He held me with one arm and unlatched the door. The boy on the doorstep was big and dark and his voice was deep. Awkward.

"Mr. McCall?"

"Yes?" Dad juggled me across his chest. "Can I help you?"

"I'm Tim Hampton; I'm a friend of Jake's."

Dad nodded, sounding a bit reserved.

"Well he's not here I'm afraid- aren't you a bit old to be a friend of Jake's?"

"We play football together- I'm in the sixth form at his school." The boy cleared his throat. "I ought to be at footer practice now but I wanted a chance to meet you and to have a word while Jake was out."

"Oh yes?" I didn't like Dad's tone at all. "What can I do for you?"

"I wondered whether you were aware that Jake isn't going to school at the moment?"

"What?" Dad sounded bewildered. "Of course he is, where else would he be?"

"Shopping centres. Libraries." The boy sounded quietly grave about it. "I saw him last week when I was out of school during a free period and he did admit to me he wasn't in school. He promised me it wouldn't happen again but he didn't turn up to football practice this evening and when I checked at the office they said he hadn't been in school today."

Dad didn't say anything for a moment. Then said stiffly, "Thankyou for letting me know."

"He has exams coming up," Tim said, still quietly. "I know things aren't easy at the moment but this isn't time he can afford to be wasting. I've talked to him about it-"

"Well he doesn't listen to me either," Dad said shortly. "Thankyou, I'll deal with it."

"Mr. McCall," Tim said when Dad moved back, about to shut the door. Dad paused.


Tim took a deep breath, I heard it. "With respect, sir, I know you've tried shouting at Jake and it's done no good. And I know too from what Jake says, you care about where he goes and what he does, he just isn't listening to you."

"And if you know Jake then you'll know there's good reason why he's having a hard time," Dad said shortly. Tim didn't move.

"Yes, sir. But Jake's someone who needs things to be black or white, otherwise he gets confused and just more upset-"

"And I suppose I'm not doing a good enough job with that?" Dad snapped. "Were you who he was out with until eleven on Friday night? Doing what? Do you know he's only fifteen?"

"I do," Tim said, matter-of-factly.

"And he would have been back at nine as you asked if he hadn't been so upset. He came over to my house in a rage and it took me a long time to talk him into letting me take him home."

"Then I'm obliged to you," Dad said gruffly after a moment, shifting me in his arms.

Tim smiled, I could hear it in his voice. "Is this Ryan? Jake talks a lot about him."

"Yes." Dad looked down at me, distracted. "This is Ryan. I'm glad you're looking out for Jake, son. I was a bit nervous of you being so much older, but if you're having a good influence on him I'm glad of it- but I don't know what it is you want me to do."

"We both care about Jake," Tim sounded serious and I could feel Dad listening to him.

“I'm very worried about him skipping school, I'm worried in general about him but he really can't afford to mess up his exams. We're neither of us managing to help him separately, I'd like us to talk to him together and see if the three of us can sort out something that IS going help. I can keep an eye on him at school and I can take him to and from school so we're sure he gets there. I'm assuming you'll be grounding him for at least a couple of weeks."

"Will I?" Dad said, sounding startled. Tim's voice didn't change.

"Of course that's your decision but considering he's been misleading you about where he's going and not attending school…….?"

“I think he’s having a hard enough time,” Dad protested.

“That doesn’t really excuse him misleading you,” Tim said just as calmly, “But it’s your decision Mr. McCall. Would you like me to wait now or come back this evening so we can talk to him?”

Dad didn’t answer for a moment, then stepped back from the door. “I suppose you’d better come in, lad.”

I heard him shut the door as Tim moved past us into the lounge, his voice startled in my ear.

“Bloody hell, Ry….”


The Tweenies were singing when Jake came home, one of the songs Mum always sings along with and does the actions to which makes me laugh. Dad wasn’t singing. Neither was Tim. Both of them were sitting at opposite sides of the lounge, and saying nothing. They weren’t good at this at all. I chirped a few times at Dad but he didn’t do or say anything other than put a hand down and absently tousle my hair.

“Ok, Ry.”

The front door shut and Jake’s familiar yell came from the hall.


”In here.”

”THREE little monkeys bouncing on the bed-“ the Tweenies went on singing. Jake came in, sounding breathless.

“Ry wants you to do the actions; that’s what he’s carrying on about-“

He stopped dead, halfway across the lounge.

“I take it this is a friend of yours,” Dad said in a strange voice.

There was a moment’s silence.

“TWO little monkeys…….”

“You said you wouldn’t,” Jake said eventually, and he sounded strange too, higher than usual. “You said.”

”No I didn’t,” Tim said quietly. “I said I’d say nothing on the condition you promised me you wouldn’t miss school again, and you did promise.”

“Have you any idea how much trouble you could be in with school?” Dad said conversationally.

Jake still hadn't come into the room; I could hear him breathing near the doorway. “You TOLD on me-“

”Of course I told on you, this has to stop, Jake. You can’t miss school and you can’t hang around town, it isn’t safe. It has to be sorted out.”

“ ONE little monkey…”

Jake moved abruptly, stepping over me. Dad put out a hand for him, but he went to Tim instead and crumbled to his knees, burying himself in Tim’s arms, and Tim stooped down and hugged him tightly.  “It’s ok,” Tim said very quietly a few times. “It’s ok.”

“Well,” Dad said helplessly after a while. “Ah.”

Tim made tea. And he took Jake with him to do it.

Dad went on sitting where he was without saying anything until I got frustrated enough to try a yell which Mum calls the early warning siren. Then he got up in a hurry and changed the video which had rewound itself and popped out of the slot, leaving nothing but grey snow on the screen. I could hear the kettle boiling in the kitchen. Dad pushed another video into the slot and picked me up, saying nothing for a moment but burying his face in my neck. Usually he blows raspberries and I wriggled in anticipation but he did nothing except twist slowly from side to side, the swaying he does at night when it’s time to sleep. Then he kissed my cheek and put me down. And went into the kitchen.

“He’s seventeen,” Dad said pleadingly to Jake while we were eating. Mum is good at having a spoonful of her dinner and feeding me a spoonful of mine. Dad gets muddled and whatever we’re eating gets spread around a lot.

Tim was eating too, and Jake was sitting close to him, not saying much.

“If Jake was your daughter I don’t think you’d think twice, Mr. McCall,” Tim said mildly.

“I would,” Dad said, trying to pick spaghetti up with a spoon, “I’d be thinking what’s that seventeen year old going to do to my fifteen-year-old, just like I am now.”

“Nothing I don’t want him to do,” Jake snapped.

Tim put his fork down.  “Jake. Mr. McCall, we’re both underage, and we both take that seriously. If I didn’t care about Jake I wouldn’t be here now.”

Dad pushed too much spaghetti in my mouth and I coughed it back at him in protest. Jake pushed his own plate away.

“Oh let me feed him, Dad; for Pete’s sake, you’re going to choke him.”

“Not much I can do right, is there?” Dad got up and Jake took the plate, putting his hand over mine.

“It’s ok, Ry. Relax.”

The tap ran behind me and I heard Dad gulping water.

“HE wanted me to ground you, did you know that?” he demanded of Jake. Who grunted, feeding me spaghetti a lot more manageably.

“Yeah, HE would.”

“You thoroughly deserve it,” Tim pointed out. “You lied to your dad and broke your promise to me. And you shouldn’t be out of school in the first place; you don’t have a leg to stand on.”

“I hate school.” Jake mopped at my chin and leaned on the tray of my chair, resting his weight gently on my hands like Mum does. It helps. I could feel my neck unknotting and my head stopped rocking as my hands stayed down.

“What’s wrong with school? What’s happened there?” Dad asked at once.

“NOTHING’s happened at school,” Jake said impatiently.

“Then you’ve got exams coming up, how do you think you’re going to do if you’re missing lessons? Do you realise how important these exams are?”

“I don’t give a –“ Jake shut his mouth and scooped up more spaghetti for me. “I don’t CARE about the exams. I don’t want to be in school. I don’t WANT to be cooped up all day listening to people boring on and on about nothing that matters worth a damn.”

“Then where DO you want to be?” Dad demanded. Jake shrugged, scooping again.

“Sausage, Ry. Chew. I don’t know. Outside. Anywhere.”

”So you’re just going to hang around the neighbourhood until I get taken to court?”

“For crying out loud, Dad, I’m fifteen. I can bloody leave school at Easter, no one’s going to care if I skip or not!”

“Jake, stop,” Tim said quietly.

I waited for Jake’s usual snap back, but it didn’t come. He just looked down at his hands. Tim got up and took the plates across to the sink.

“The issue is that you have to be at school for eight forty-five and there until three-thirty. I talked to your dad, I’ll pick you up from home in the mornings and I’ll bring you home after school. I’ll also check you’re there through the day and Heaven help you if you’re not.”

“I need to talk to the school,” Dad muttered.

“For what?” Jake snapped.

“To tell them to keep an eye on you. And to talk to them about how much time you two are spending together, I’m not sure I want you anywhere near him.”

“If you do that I’ll never go to school again,” Jake said flatly. “If it wasn’t for Tim I’d have stopped going months ago. Or handing in homework.”

”You check his homework?” Dad said to Tim.

“Jake told me he was having trouble getting it in on time.” Tim pulled out a chair beside me and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “If we plan it together, he finds it easier to keep up.”

”He won’t even let me SEE his homework.”

“You keep ON about it!” Jake said gave me the last piece of sausage and got up, slamming the bowl in the sink. “Where are you going, what are you doing, when will you be back-“

“Because you’re gone each evening without eating, coming back late, and now I find you’re out with him. And I don’t know what to think!”

“I’m NOT always out with him, and he carries on about where I go as much as you do!” Jake said hotly.

“Mr. McCall, I’m very happy to see Jake here under your supervision out of school time.” Tim said matter-of-factly. “And since we’re in different year groups we don’t see much of each other in school anyway.”

“I want to know what a seventeen-year-old wants hanging around with a lad so much younger anyway,” Dad snapped back.

The crash from the sink this time made me crow in the hope of Jake doing it again. He didn’t, but he shouted, loud enough that I could feel the vibrations.

“Because he loves me! And I love him!”

”You’re fifteen!”

“YES. This is NORMAL , Dad. This is what happens!”

There was another minute’s silence, then Dad said helplessly,


“It’s not my fault what happened!” Jake sounded as if he was close to crying. “It’s NOT my fault!”

“I KNOW that-“

“You don’t. You still blame me, you blame everyone-“

”Hey.” Tim got up and moved behind me. I couldn’t see what was happening but Jake took one deep, gulping breath and went quiet.

“Why don’t you and I wash up, hmm?” Tim said calmly. “We’ll all calm down a bit.”

”I need to bathe Ryan,” Dad said vaguely, picked me up and took me upstairs.

He was quiet, wouldn’t sing and wouldn’t splash, which was so unlike him I was quiet too. It was a while before Jake came upstairs; I knew the pound of his trainers. He came into the bathroom and stood for a minute, watching. Then Dad twisted around to look at him and Jake thudded down to his knees and clung to Dad.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.”

He was crying, I could hear his breathing. It’s never good when Jake cries; Mum says it makes her want to cry too even now that he’s bigger than she is.

Dad twisted around and hugged him, dripping bubbles everywhere. I hit at the ones I could reach, trying to get them into Jake’s hair.

“I don’t blame you for anything, Jake; don’t ever think it’s your fault. I know it’s hard. We’re all finding it hard; Ry came home having cried all day for no reason school could see.”

”I kept crying at school,” Jake said unsteadily. “That’s why I skived off at first.”

”Oh, Jake, you could have called me.”

”You have to work.” Jake took a few deep breaths, sniffing, but he was still leaning against Dad. “I went home with Tim a few times. His mum’s nice.”

”She knows about you two?”

“Yeah. And his dad.” Jake sat back, rubbing at his face. Dad soaked a flannel under the tap and handed it to him, brushing his hair back off his forehead.

“And they’re ok about it? Really? No one's said anything - bad - to you?”

“No, Dad, they're nice. Really. They’ve known for a while that Timmy’s gay.”

Dad made a tiny sound, somewhere between a breath and a groan. “Jake, you’re too young for this, how can you know at your age? You’ve never said anything about this before-“

”I didn’t know how to.” Jake sat down against the side of the bath. I got some bubbles onto his hair at last, but he didn’t notice. “I knew how hard things were and I didn’t want to make it worse, and there’s Ry-“

”What’s this got to do with Ryan?”

Jake shrugged, sounding odd. “I don’t know. That you ought to have one son who could do the wife and child thing-“


Jakie.” Dad put an arm around him and I heard him kiss Jake’s hair, hard. “I’m proud of both of you; you don’t have to prove anything to me.”

”I feel like I’m all you’ve got left.”

Dad took a few deep breaths, as if he were holding it in, and his voice sounded as strange as Jake’s.

“It’s only important that you’re happy. And if that means this boy, then ok, if that’s what you want. I can’t say I’m not staggered, I am, but if it’s got to be him- he seems nice.”


“ RYAN MCCALL!” Ann screamed when I slid off my box for the fourth time. One of the physios said something soothing but Ann scooped me up and sat me in my chair, fastening the harness.

“I’m going to take this NAUGHTY boy back to class; he’s clearly not going to behave!”

She's horrible, Ann.

I slid as far down in my chair as I could so she couldn’t get the harness fastened but she kicked the brakes off anyway and whizzed me fast through the corridors, not even saying the directions, to the door of our classroom.

Liz was working with Daniel and sounded surprised.

“Ryan? Everything ok?”

“I’ve had to bring him out of box group, he’s been dreadful!” Ann said behind me. “Won’t sit on his box, he’s thrown everything he’s been given to hold-“

And whatever she put me near right now I was going to pull off or pull over. My chair was within reach of a wall display, but she pushed my hand away.

“ RYAN .”

”Why don’t you take over with Dan, he’s doing some number work,” Liz said calmly, undid my half-done harness and picked me up. I was so stiff it hurt when she lifted me but her jumper was soft and I liked her perfume. It was like Mum's, the same every day and strongest on her neck. She carried me across to the dark room, opened the door and switched the bubble tube on, then laid me down on the mats on the floor.

“Which music, Mr. McCall? Want to show me?”

She held out a couple of CDs in bright colours.

I looked hard at the pink one and she nodded and put that into the machine. Ladysmith Black Mambazo started to sing quietly and Liz sat down beside me, moving the bubble tube switch into my reach.

“There you go, mate. Did you have a stressed out evening? Give me a minute, I’ll go and get Sarah and we’ll have a relax in here until lunchtime.”

I didn’t mind Sarah. She was quiet and she didn’t fuss, and she had pink shoelaces which I liked pulling. Liz lay down with Sarah and me on the mats and the room got very still while the music played and the lights changed slowly on the dark room ceiling. When I woke up again dinnertime was nearly over.

We were doing maths after lunch, in a circle around Liz’s chair. Ann was sitting beside Daniel and I was next to Sarah, both of us in standing frames. I liked being in the standing frame. When Liz stood up I was nearly as tall as she was. We had had a standing frame at home for a while but Mum had to give up and send it back in the end. We spent all one afternoon trying it while I giggled and Mum huffed, and finally she lay down beside me on the carpet and panted.

“I can’t get you in there, Ryan; it’s like trying to fit an octopus into a straitjacket.”

Liz could do it, but then Liz could do most things and I didn't wriggle when she did it either because Liz tells you off if you wriggle on purpose.

“And if one green bottle should accidentally fall-“ Ann and Liz were singing, “There’ll be-“ Liz moved the sparkly stick along the line of bottles. “One, two, three-  Sarah, which number do we need next?”

She held out two numbers to Sarah. I saw the right one and banged on my tray, chirping, until she smiled and gave me an exaggerated sigh.

“Ok, Ryan McCall, I hear you. Show me if Sarah’s got it right- what number do we need?”

I jabbed a hand at one of the two numbers and she held it up high.

“That’s right! A four! We need a four! Well done, Ryan and Sarah! Now, let’s count again-“

Her voice sounded like we were in the bathroom, echoey and far away. I banged on my tray again and this time my arms wouldn’t move, they were getting stiff. My fingers were tingling and the feeling was rising slowly, getting higher and higher and higher… back arched so hard I felt the Velcro straps holding me upright shift, my head flung back and my arms flung out, and Liz dropped the numbers to push my standing frame back.

“Ok, Ryan, it’s ok, Ann, I’ve got him-“

Ann was undoing the straps quickly, wrenching them away, and I felt her and Liz pick me up, then the tingling got to my head and I went to sleep.

Dad was there when I woke up; I could hear him talking to Liz.

“…..difficult at any age, but at least we can talk about it. God knows what Ry understands. I’m sure this IS stress, he hasn’t had a fit in ages.”

”We did wonder if he was building for one, he looked very tired and heavy-eyed this morning. I got him settled on the mats in the end because he was getting grumpy and he looked ready for a nap, and he slept a good hour and a half.”
“He isn’t sleeping well at home. We were up half the night again last night-“

“Is he waking you?”

“Yes, I can hear him warbling away.”

”I know Sandy used to try and leave him and see if he’d settle himself again,” Liz said gently. “That won’t hurt him.”

Dad sighed. ”Sandy did a lot of things I’m no good at whatever. I feel absolutely useless. I just lie there and worry, what if he’s lonely, or if he’s feeling deserted- hello, monster, are you awake? Feeling better?”

My arms, legs and head hurt and I flopped into his neck when he picked me up, stroking my back, his chest rumbling comfortingly against my stomach.

“All right, honey. It’s ok; we’ll get you some Calpol.”

”You’re going home with Daddy, Ryan.” Liz patted me and got up. “I’ll get your coat.”

“I’d try not to worry,” she said when dad had wrapped my coat around me. “You’re all going to be having a hard time, it’s no one’s fault; you can’t all hide it so you don’t upset Ryan. It’s his family too. He’ll settle; he needs to grieve as much as the rest of you.”


“I’m home!”

“We’re in here.” Dad glanced at his watch. “You’re early.”

”I got picked up, remember?” Jake stepped over me and bent down, not grabbing my stomach but a lot more gently touching my face. “Hey, squirt, what’s the matter?”

“He had a fit at school, I had to go and get him. Hello, Tim.”

”Hello, Mr. McCall.”

”I suppose you’d better make it John, lad.”


I saw Tim’s much longer legs step over me and then his dark framed face and a slow smile.

“Hello, Ryan.”

“Poor old squirt.” Jake started to stretch out on the floor by me, but Tim took his hand and pulled.

“Come on, we were going to do homework.”

When Dad said things like that, Jake practically barked. This time his voice had a drawn out, semi-joking tone to it that I didn’t recognise.  ”Lateeeeeeeeerr………”

“Now, come on.”

”Ok ok ok. We’ll be in the kitchen.”
  Jake tousled my hair gently and let Tim pull him up.

“Oh God, Ry,” Dad muttered to me, getting up and coming to sit on the floor with me. “That boy is NOT natural.”

We ate together in the kitchen and Dad sat with me, absently chopping broccoli into smaller and smaller pieces while he watched Tim. And Jake chattered. Jake never usually talked this much. Usually if he ate with us at all it was quickly, in silence, and he shot up to his room or outside again as soon as he was finished.

"Are you going to eat any of this or are you going to blow it at me?" Dad asked me when he scooped broccoli off my chin for the fourth time. "Jake, Ry likes broccoli, doesn't he?"

"Yes, usually." Jake looked up from his own dinner. He was talking about football again. Mum and I went to watch him play at school sometimes on Saturdays and Mum cheered and shouted and a lot of people ran up and down. I liked the noise.

"Want me to try?"

"You're still eating too." Dad put mince in my mouth and I opened my mouth and let it run out again, listening for his sigh. It always made me laugh when he sighed like that, like when he did the wind gusting when he read me the bear hunt story.

"I think he's getting thinner. Maybe it's my cooking, but he doesn't eat as much for me, I'm sure he doesn't."

"Yes he does."

"You don't, and you're thinner too," Dad said reproachfully.

"I'm growing. Let me feed him and you eat Dad-"

"I'm finished, why don't I have a go?" Tim said calmly, getting up to put his plate in the sink. Dad hesitated a moment, but then handed the spoon over.

"You might have more luck than me. "

"Hi, Ryan."

Tim put a hand on my shoulder as he moved around me, and took Dad's seat. He was about as big as Dad and dark. I could see blue eyes in the blur of his face, and the long brown fingers on the hand that rested over mine.

"So the forwards are rubbish," Jake went on, launching back into his football again. Tim moved the spoon like Mum and Jake do, slowly, where I can see it, and he didn't push the spoon against my teeth like Ann does at school when she feeds me and she's busy. I took a breath, ready to blow it back at him in the hope he'd sigh like Dad would, and stopped, surprised, when he put a finger under my chin and closed my mouth.

"No thankyou. No mince showers."
 It was the same kind of tone Liz used and it made me think for a minute.

When I tried blowing he put the spoon back against my mouth, rapidly re-gathered mince and put it straight back in again. No sigh.

Well he was no fun.

Which I thought until Jake took me into the lounge with Tim and they lay on the floor with me and played football while Dad did the washing up. Tim moved like Dad did, unhurriedly, with the kind of strong in his hands that helped. There was no bridging like that. Nothing hurt. And I liked it when he laughed, he rumbled. Jake liked it too; I could feel him vibrating every time Tim laughed like that.

Usually I fell asleep on the sofa with Dad in the evenings, with Jake out or upstairs. This evening I drifted off on Dad's lap to the sounds of the TV, with Jake lying on his stomach on the floor beside Tim, three voices instead of one.

That happened a lot.

I got home from school on the bus and Tim and Jake were in the kitchen, two big presences at the table, talking while Dad cooked and I lay in the lounge and waited for dinner. We ate together and Tim and Jake sat in the lounge afterwards, they played on the floor with me, or they watched TV with Dad. I liked it.

Ann stopped shouting so much at me at school too.

I was listening to the spider while it was dark. Dad had hung it where I could see it, and it was playing softly. He'd left the door ajar when he said goodnight, clicked up the side of the bed and I could hear him in the shower. The spider was reaching the third verse when I heard Jake's voice, lifted in that barking way.

"- if I bloody want to, it's been a month now!"

"And it's up to him when this finishes." Tim sounded very sure about that and slightly cross, I could hear him on the landing. It was the sort of voice Mum uses to tell Dad that we're going to go in the car to see Gran. 

"If it weren’t for you he would never have thought of it anyway!"

"And if it were up to me, you'd have been a lot more inconvenienced than you have been," Tim told him. "You promised me you wouldn't skip school again, you've got no business hanging around the streets all day."

"I've been going to school every day for a month and this is ONE night -" Jake sounded more than cross. I heard a thump and then his door banging and Tim's voice, quiet but not at all difficult to hear.

"Stop it; you're going to wake Ryan."

"No one in this house does anything BUT think about Ryan! EVERYTHING revolves around Ryan!"

Interested in my name, I twisted around, getting as close to the bars as I could. The spider had stopped but I thought twice about chirping to Jake to come and help. He didn't sound as if he would. He sometimes didn't when he was really cross, the sort of cross where he banged doors and stamped.

"Just a paddy," Mum says when he does this. "Take no notice, hon, he'll be all sweetness and light again in half an hour."

I heard a strange sound then. A kind of muffled, but sharp sound, and sudden silence.

Then Jake again, his voice hushed.  "TIMMY-"

"If you're going to act like a six year old what do you expect?" Tim still sounded quiet, but a lot less cross. "This has nothing to do with Ryan, you know it has nothing to do with Ryan, don't cloud the issue, Jacob. This is to do with you not getting your own way."

"I want to go out to this club with you," Jake sounded very different. Like he was going to cry. I chirped then, in sympathy with him, wanting him to come in here. He didn't take any notice and neither did Tim.

"And you're grounded. Until your Dad says otherwise. And deservedly so."

"Are you going to be this horrible when we live together?" Jake said so quietly I had to strain to hear him. I did hear Tim laugh.

"Yes. All the time. Are you?"

"You ARE horrible." I could hear Jake laughing too, even though it was only a very little laugh.

I chirped louder, kicking the side of the bed.

"Just a sec," Jake said outside, and my door opened. His hair was in his eyes, and he gave me a somewhat shaky smile as he leaned on the side of the cot.

"What's the matter, squirt? That spider not singing?"

I kicked towards it again and he picked it up, pulling the string. Twinkle Twinkle began again.

"Why don't you loop that on a tape for him if he likes it so much?" Tim said quietly behind him.

"I never thought of that." Jake rehung the spider. "Mum used to sing that to him when he was tiny and he wouldn't sleep-"

He stopped and I heard a rustle, and saw the white of Tim's hands run down Jake's shoulders. Jake turned around and Tim hugged him, rocking slowly.

"Will you stay for a while?" Jake said softly without moving.

"I can't, Jakie, your Dad's going to want to go to bed. And I don't think at all he's going to be happy I'm in your room at night."

"I should be so lucky."

"Hey," Tim said without heat. Jake sighed, pushing back against him.

"I know. I know. But just a while?"

"You need to get ready for bed."

"I want you to stay until I'm asleep."

Tim sighed and I could see the white of his hand against Jake's hair.

"I wish I could. I'll stay for a while; I said I'd be home by eleven-thirty. Go get ready for bed."

Jake waited a minute for Tim to move, then leaned over and kissed me, quickly and roughly, making me giggle.

"Goodnight, squirt."

He set the spider off again before he went out.

Dad came when I chirped later, in pyjamas, his eyes still closed.

"What's the matter, Ry? All right, mate?"

He picked me up and I wriggled as he rubbed his rough cheek against mine. I could see the light across on the landing. Dad saw it too and he shifted me to one arm, walking quietly across to Jake's room. Jake's door was half open and his bedside lamp was still on. Jake was asleep, I could see his hair and the curl under his quilt. Tim was asleep sitting on the floor beside the bed, his head against the bedside table. Dad made a soft sound, standing still for a minute. Then he put a hand on Tim's shoulder.


Tim jerked when he woke up. I did that sometimes, I know how it hurts. He looked at Dad, then at Jake, then got up, rubbing at his face.

"Oh God, I'm so sorry- I just closed my eyes for a moment-"

"Shhh." Dad took him out into the hall and softly closed Jake's door.  "Will your mum and dad know where you are?"

"They know I was here. I'd better go home, they won't have worried too much or they'd have phoned- Mr. McCall I'm so sorry-"

"Are you all right to drive, son?" Dad sounded soft, like he talked to Jake and me. Tim gave him a somewhat shaky smile.

"Yes. Fine, I'll go now. I'm sorry."

"We'll see you tomorrow, Tim."

"Goodnight. Night, Ryan."

Dad stood with me at the top of the stairs until the door shut and a car started up outside. I chirped, hoping that he'd take me into his room to Mum, but he kissed my cheek and took me back into my room.

"I have no idea what it's all about, Ry. There's no arguing with it, Jake's a hell of a lot happier. What can I do?"

I chirped at the spider as he laid me down and he picked it up automatically, pulling the string.

"And I know what your mum would say too. If I tried stopping this she'd kill me. And he's a nice lad. Mad, seventeen going on thirty-five, but he's a nice lad."


Maybe it would be today.

The bus stopped and my brakes clicked off, the tail lift whined.

Maybe today. I wriggled, banging my hands on the tray, listening hard. The door clicked.

"Hey, Ryan."

Tim's voice. Tim was nice, but that wasn't right. I put my hands down. Jake's voice was livelier.

"No, you're not doing it right you big oaf, move over. What you do IS- "

I heard the door crash back and jumped, joyfully.

"Ta da!! It's the one! The only!" Jake yelled, grinning as I bounced in my chair, "The FANTABULOUS Ryan McCall!"

~ The End ~

Copyright Ranger 2010


Anonymous said...

... This is one I'm going to have to think about for a while. Which, I suppose is no bad thing.

Anonymous said...

That was just a whole lot of amazing.

Anonymous said...

This is so good! I'm reeling.

Ranger said...

Thank you! :)

Victoria Williams said...

This one is one of my very favorites, because it seems so real the way Ryan must feel. I've never been paralyzed,but I have autistic friends and this is just so close to what must be true. You are amazing. Love the relationship between the father, son and boyfriend! Rock on Ranger! :)

jen vieira pinto said...

You've done it again! ^_^ You have such a clever imagination. This story was truly wonderful. The characters were well written and it's not something that gets a lot of attention in this world of pretty boys and handsome men. It's almost as if the disabled are a taboo subject or something, but real life is never so pretty. I think it's great the way you use realism in your story lines.

Great job, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I have read this story many times over the years and thought of it again the other day and read it once more. You did such a great job portraying little Ryan's inner life and catching glimpses through his eyes of the rest of his world. I like that you leave it up to the reader to draw conclusions about a lot of things. Ryan expresses what ever he is, happy, sad, bored or in need; its everyone else who has to learn the hard way to communicate and love.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, its my first time to commet..I never know what to write except for that was amazing! And you are an amazing writer!

This story is special for me and it reminds me to consider my actions and to be gentler with my little one. To try and view the world in his eyes, thanks a lot :)

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to tell you that I loved this story it was so warm and delicate and saaaddd ,it was like a bubble of emotions ..thank you,and sorry my English isn't so good so..

Anonymous said...

I know this story is one of your older ones, but I wanted to say thank you so much for writing this. The amount of skill it takes to write the perspective of a child, let alone a nonverbal child with significant impairment, is truly impressive. And that you were able to tell a story really outside of Ryan's understanding that still came through to the readers is even more impressive. You guys rock - I have read all of your works but this one is still a favorite, next to Book 1 of FCR.

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

Rolf and Ranger’s Next Book will be called The Mary Ellen Carter. The Mary Ellen Carter and other works in progress can be read at either the Falls Chance Ranch Discussion Group or the Falls Chance Forum before they are posted here at the blog. So come and talk to the authors and be a part of a work in progress.

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