From the upcoming PONY JUMPERS novel – Special Edition 1: JONTY.
“I’ll do it Nate, I swear to God. I’ll take the kids and leave you behind!”
I jumped up onto the front step of the cottage and froze at the sound of my mother’s voice. It was mid-August, had been raining all day, and was still coming down heavily in the pitch dark. Raindrops battered against the corrugated iron roof as I leaned against the door frame and pulled my muddy boots off.
“You think I’d care if you left?” Dad yelled back. His voice was slurred slightly, and I knew he’d been drinking. “You think I’d give a damn? You can piss off out of here, see if I’m bothered. But you’re not taking my kids anywhere. They stay with me.”
“Like hell they do. You think I’d leave them here with you? You’re an unemployed drunk!”
There was a heavy thud, and the floorboards shuddered under my feet as I grabbed the door handle and pushed the door open. My parents were facing off in the middle of the living room with an overturned kitchen chair lying between them. A bottle of liquor dangled from my father’s fingertips, and I glanced towards the door to my sisters’ bedroom. It was shut tight, but I had no doubt they were wide awake and listening to every word.
“And whose fault is that?” Dad demanded.
“Not mine!” Mum cried. “And it’s not theirs, either.”
Dad took a step towards her, then another until they were standing face-to-face. He leaned in towards her, slowly lifting his free hand with his palm open.
“Whose fault is it?” he asked her again.
Mum looked away from him for a moment and noticed me, standing in the doorway with my wet hair dripping down my face. Her eyes went wide, and I was jolted into action.
“Don’t you dare touch her,” I warned my father as I came into the house, slamming the front door behind me.
They fought a lot, my parents. More and more every day. But he’d never hit her, at least not that I was aware of. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to stand here and watch it happen.
“Jonty, where have you been?” Mum demanded, stepping away from my father. “It’s almost nine o’clock and it’s a school night!”
I kept my eyes on my father, waiting for him to lower his hand. He met my gaze for a long moment, then shrugged and turned away, taking a swig from the bottle as he sat down on a nearby chair.
“Well?” Mum asked me.
She picked up the chair and pushed it back up against the table, acting as though nothing had happened.
“Sorry. We were clipping Toto and it took forever,” I told her, trying to keep my voice calm as I remembered the advice I’d been given. Nervous horses need calm riders. My mother was like a skittish horse, looking at me for reassurance that everything was okay. There wasn’t much I could give her, but I could give her that.
“You and that bloody poofter,” Dad said scathingly. “Spending enough time together lately, aren’t you? Too much, if you ask me.”
“Not as much as you and that bottle,” I replied, giving him an equally scathing look. “Go to bed, Dad. You’re drunk.”
Dad stood up, his eyes flashing. “And you’re a sanctimonious little…”
I could feel all of the blood surging around my body, almost daring him to start something again. This time I wouldn’t stand idly by. This time… but Mum moved quickly, stepping between us.
“That’s enough.” She put a hand on Dad’s arm, caressing it gently. “Come on. Let’s go to bed, eh?”
I swallowed hard, feeling my hands clench into fists as she led him across the room and into their bedroom. Watching her act as though nothing was wrong, as if he just needed to go to bed and sleep it off. As if everything would be fine in the morning. I wished that was true, but I knew him too well. I closed my eyes and took a long, deep breath, then tapped on the door to my sisters’ room.
“You guys okay in here?” I asked, opening the door and peeking in.
I’d barely got the first two words out before Phoebe was scrambling out of her bed and flinging herself at me, wrapping her arms around my legs and pressing her face against my stomach.
“Aw, Phoebs. It’s okay.”
I stroked her soft hair, feeling her trembling against me. She hated it when they fought. We all did, but she seemed to take it the hardest. I leaned down and picked her up, holding her against my shoulder as I stepped into the small, sparsely furnished bedroom. Phoebe wrapped her little arms tightly around my neck, and I rubbed her back gently as I nudged the door shut behind me with my heel and carried her back to bed.
Bella was lying on her stomach in the bottom bunk bed, reading a magazine in the light of a dim keychain torch and pretending that nothing was wrong. Morgan was sitting up on the top bunk, her arms wrapped around her legs and her chin resting on her knees, watching me with owlish eyes.
“Is she really going to leave him?” she asked as I sat down on Phoebe’s bed, which sagged under our combined weight.
“Of course not,” Bella said, her eyes still fixed on the page in front of her. “She just says that so he won’t hit her.”
The matter-of-fact way she said that alarmed me, but I couldn’t argue with the truth.
“If he does, we’re all leaving,” I told them as Phoebe wrapped her arms around my neck and curled up on my lap. “End of story.”
Bella just flipped the page of her magazine, pretending not to care. Morgan bit her lip, looking troubled.
“They were fighting about you,” she told me. “That’s what started it.”
“Because you hadn’t come home, and Mum wanted to go and look for you, but Dad said you’d be fine. He said some other things,” she said warily. “Do you want me to tell you?”
I shook my head. “No, it’s okay. I’m sure I can guess.”
Phoebe’s arms tightened around my neck. “It’s not your fault Jonty,” she said. “You didn’t mean to make them angry.”
The door opened then and Mum looked in. “Aren’t you girls asleep yet?” she asked irritably. Her eyes flickered onto me, then away again, unwilling to meet my gaze. I refused to look away. “Come on, into bed and lights out. You too, Bella.”
Bella switched off her torch and put it on the floor with the magazine before rolling onto her side to face the wall, ignoring all of us. Morgan slid under her covers, watching me try to prise Phoebe’s arms away from around my neck.
“Come on Phoebs, we’ve all got to go to bed now,” I told her.
“Can I sleep on the couch with you?”
“No way, Jose. You’ll take up too much space, and probably push me onto the floor in the middle of the night.”
“I won’t, I promise,” she pleaded as I finally extricated myself from her grip.
“Still not a risk I’m willing to take. You’ve got a nice bed here to sleep in, you don’t want to share a couch with your smelly brother.”
Phoebe pouted as she crawled under the scratchy wool blankets. “You’re not smelly.”
“Yes he is,” came Bella’s voice from the bottom bunk. “I can smell him from here.”
“That’s why I’m going to go have a shower now. I might even use some of Bella’s strawberry shampoo,” I told Phoebe, tucking her into bed as Bella warned me not to dare to even touch her stuff. “Na-night Phoebs. Sweet dreams.”
“Na-night Jonty.” She curled up into a ball, her arms wrapped around her orange stuffed monkey and her eyes wide open, staring straight ahead into the darkness.
Mum went into the living room as I pulled the bedroom door ajar behind me, leaving a sliver of light for Phoebe. She’d always been afraid of the dark. Mum crouched in front of the fireplace and added another log of wood to the crackling fire.
“You don’t need to do that,” I told her. “I’m going to bed in a minute anyway.”
She said nothing, just stayed there for a moment longer, staring into the flames.
“If you want to make him sleep on the couch, I can find a spot on the floor,” I offered, but she shook her head and stood up.
“Don’t be silly,” Mum said lightly. “If anyone’s going to be sleeping on the floor, it should be your father.”She looked at the old couch that had been my bed since we’d moved here. “But you’re all right on the couch, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
“This won’t be forever, Jonty. You know that, right?”
She said that a lot, and I always pretended to believe her. But I was getting tired of the lies we told ourselves.
“It’s been three years, Mum. Don’t you think that if things were going to change, they’d have done it by now?”
She looked away as the rain eased abruptly, and the house fell silent. Well, almost. I could hear my sisters whispering in their bedroom, telling each other to be quiet and go to sleep. I lowered my voice, looking into Mum’s eyes. We were the same height now, I realised. When had that happened?
“We could leave him, you know. If we really wanted to.”
My heart twisted as I spoke, hating the thought of leaving the farm, of waking up in the morning to a busy city street instead of looking out across endless rolling hills and paddocks. But I meant it. We all have to make sacrifices for the ones we love.
“But we don’t want to,” Mum said firmly, dismissing my concern. “We’re doing fine as we are.”
“Jonty.” Mum put a hand on my cheek and smiled at me. “You worry too much. We’ll be fine. It’s just a rough patch.”
I took a breath, and nodded. She stepped back, lowering her hand, then sniffed the air and crinkled her nose. “Go and have a shower before you go to bed, eh?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, peeling off my wet jacket and watching her walk back to her bedroom.
Dad was sitting on the bed, the bottle on the floor between his feet, and his elbows resting on his knees. He looked up as she entered the room, and as she pulled the door shut, I knew she would forgive him. Again.
I was almost asleep when small footsteps came pattering softly across the floorboards. They stopped in front of me, and I heard Phoebe breathing close to my face.
I groaned. “Go back to bed, Phoebe.”
Her voice was little more than a whisper. “But I can’t sleep.”
I sighed heavily and opened my eyes. I could just see her outline, backlit against the dying firelight. Her big dark eyes were staring into mine, and she shivered, her monkey clutched tightly to her chest. The fire crackled as I slowly lifted the edge of my blanket, and Phoebe crawled underneath it, curling up into a ball next to me. She pressed her cold, bare feet against my knees, and I pulled the blankets back over us, letting the steady rain lull us both to sleep.
Due for release early September 2016. Sign up to my mailing list to be notified as soon as it’s available!