The next few weeks of Romeo's tutorage went well. He gained more confidence, we got to know each other better and all was good in the world.
I decided not to ask him about the mysterious car; I doubt he wanted to tell me and I doubt I would like the answers. It worked, my expectations of Romeo and his expectations of me grew with each 90-minute session. Trust was building
It was during the February half-term that things became……well, I'll let you see for yourself over the coming paragraphs.
Romeo and I decided that the tutoring sessions shouldn't stop just because of the school holidays. At the same time, I sensed he didn't want to be spotted at the usual coffee house with some 'old guy'. So, the Thursday before I found myself asking:
"So, shall we say the next session should be at my house? I promise free cookies in return?" He nodded his head and had a crooked smirk on his face. Or was it a smile? It was hard to tell, sometimes
"Yeah, that would be Gucci" He turned his hot chocolate round so he could cup it in his long slender fingers, nostrils flaring open as he breathed in the chocolaty smell.
"Okay, well I will send you a message with my address next Wednesday and I'll see you there next week" I smiled to him.
Thursday 3:55 – 1 Hollins Lane
Okay, maybe I hadn't been totally truthful about my teaching career. Yes, it had been successful and yes I had started as an English teacher. However, I seem to recall missing my Head-teachership at the neighbouring school to Romeo's.
The 3-bedroomed Edwardian house sits on the doorstep of the 14th tee of the local golf course and nature reserve. The back of the house revealed a modern extension; it was all steel and windows, bringing in light to the rest of the relative dingey original house. From the open plan dining & living space, you could see the manicured garden with its endless lawn down to the golf course beyond. The lower windows could be concertinaed open and invite the world in. Today, though, these were firmly shut. The door into the kitchen with its two AGA ovens was open, creating a lovely warm temperature through the whole of the ground floor.
Only a few of my favourite students see this side of my life. On this day in question; at this time, you would have found me in my office, printing the last of the worksheets for Romeo.
Then, the doorbell rang.
Round, thinly rimmed clear glasses framed his face, on his body were black ripped jeans, black Nike trainers, a black champion t-shirt, that orange hoodie and large winter coat adorned his lithe body. Had he managed to grow in the last week? Or were those new trainers?
"Romeo! Come in, Come in" You could see when he hit the warm air emanating from the kitchen; his glasses steamed up
"Yo" He grinned, taking them off and trying to find the right material to rub them clear again, chuckling that funny chuckle of his. Squinting, he looked around. On the cream coloured wallpapered walls were a number of pictures; a collection of my last Year 11 Class, all their teen faces beaming out from behind the glass frame; another showed an aerial shot of the school grounds, the school emblem in the bottom right and left; the final piece on the walls was quite simple. On one side of the frame was a certificate stating:
Queen Elizabeth II is delighted to Award
This Order of the British Empire To
Marcus Phillip Wilson
For Services to Education
On the other side of the frame stood the OBE itself. The red ribbon dangling around the back of the sheet holding it together with the Royal gold crest glinting against the indirect lighting bouncing off the ceiling and illuminating the hall space below.
His eyes widening when he could see again "They look dead good erm… Marcus? That your name?" He asked, pointing to the last frame. He studied them carefully, a hand nervously holding the side of his body, causing the t-shirt to ride up. Beautiful
"It is, but I prefer Mr Wilson or just 'oi you' will suffice" He nodded his agreement, the smirk on his face staying put as he continued looking at the other pictures "Shoes off, coat off, please" I whispered, smiling and gently holding on to his hood before he walked any further along my light brown carpet.
"Sorry" He chuckled, taking his coat and trainers off. He revealed his white Nike ankle socks. Size 9? Size 10? Who knew. Either way, he was a ball of nervous energy, I doubted he had ever been to this side of town before.
"Are they new, then?" I nodded to his trainers
"Oh, yeah. Got them shopping over the weekend, look gucci, don't they?" I nodded and smiled in response.
"You're looking very distinguished with those glasses, Romeo. Do you usually wear lenses?"
He shook his head "Nah, I'm usually okay without either but today I'm just dead tired so wore these. They look good, though, yeah?"
"They really do. Come on, let's go through to my living room or we won't have time to study"
Today was a crisp winter's day so at least he saw it in all his glory. Another whistle rang out, a hand finding himself through his hoodie, t-shirt and boxers.
"Awww, that's a sick view, Sir" He mumbled, folding his hair from his eyes and having another long look. And with that, we sat down at the wooden dining table. Romeo took out his two now-familiar exercise books, yawning quietly, trying to supress it into the nook of his elbow "Sorry, Sir. My sleep pattern has gone to whack with the holiday" he chuckled again, settling himself into the seat.
I sensed a story. But decided to let him bring it up if he needed to. "Is that why you're wearing these?" I pointed to my own pair of glasses and he nodded
"Yes, Sir. Just… yeah" He nodded again.
I opened his books to the last filled pages; one next to the other. Slipped into both were the question sheets he had to answer. But in place of the usual thorough answers were a set of singular-lined or even one-worded answers. I frowned "Am I missing something, here, Romeo?" flicking over to the previous page "Have you done more work on your computer or in a separate book?"
The flush started on his long lithe neck and quickly spread up onto his lower cheeks, up to the top of them and even to his forehead. "Erm" He shook his head "That's. That's all I've done, Sir" He whispered.
"What's the matter?"
"I…..its, it's the holidays and I… my sleep pattern is just f…"
"I'm going to stop you there, Mr Lloyd-Johnson. We're going to work on this and the other exercises I have sourced & printed. At that point you can tell me" I raised a questioning eyebrow. He nodded shyly and we started the work.
80 Minutes later
I could tell he was upset, that he was uncomfortable about something. But I had given him the scores on the doors and I had to stick with it. If nothing else, I wanted Romeo to know that I was consistent; I was always going to be kind, but also firm. He should have expected that by now.
"So, tell me" I asked him when the last question was answered. We had fleshed out the 10 lines of answers into 3 full pages. He was still flushed despite his hoodie now being draped on the chair beside him.
"I er" He was still reluctant to tell me
"You don't have to tell me, if you want, Rome. But let me tell you this. If you EVER come to me with work that shoddily done again, I will terminate this arrangement immediately." It was time to start being tougher and more adult with him. He could handle it.
He gulped, looking at me again, wiping his nose upwards and adjusting his glasses. A small breath in, a pause and then a long exhale "I……On my estate there are some….My parents are involved in some bad things. Bad people. And they... During the holidays especially I have to help them. Sometimes that includes helping transport bad things at mad hours of the day."
I wasn't sure what was more surprising; that he trusted me with this information or the calmness in which he told me it.
"Romeo" I cautiously said. Suddenly, we were in a potentially dangerous situation for both of us. My professional brain kicked in "What you tell me here or any other time…. If I think a criminal act is taking place, I am duty bound to report it to the relevant people regardless on if you hate me"
He looked at me, wide-eyed and then back down at the floor. I waited with bated breath for his response, his hair falling over his eyes again as gravity took hold of his folded fringe. "I don't want you to have to stop me. I need to tell someone."
He was speaking barely above a whisper, his eyes sticking to the floor to his socked feet.
I gulped, finding his triangular chin and lifting it up so he was looking at me in the eyes. I needed to convey how seriously I was taking this "What are you telling me, Romeo?"
"That I. I want out of… the family business. It is getting really bad." Again, he told me with such calmness. Somehow all that nervous, excited energy had gone and a calm young man looked at me.
My grip tightened on his chin for a split-second and then I nodded carefully "Okay. Okay. Can you leave this with me? I'm going to try and get you some support. Do you trust me?"
He nodded and soon he was packed up, dressed and on his way home to wherever he lived.
I made a few enquires. I told them Romeo's school but not his name. Well, okay, I gave them his initials. In hindsight that could have been a bad decision. However, I slept that night knowing I had done the right thing and hadn't overstepped the mark. Even if I did just want to take him home with me!
Romeo didn't really come into my thoughts again for the rest of the week. That was until the next Saturday afternoon when the doorbell rang.
There he stood. He looked apocalyptic with rage.
"The fuck did you do?!"
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