‘Blimey! He’s not even thirteen and the wee one, only three. Poor little buggers, witnessing all that violence. Too young, too young,’ Nancy Frageist gossiped to her colleague, completely unaware that the two huddling boys could hear every single word that passed from between her snaggled teeth. Nancy looked over at the boys as she wrote them into the system, false nails tapping violently on the computer keys. As she typed, her heavy eyes washed over the eldest boy; Ambrose, his hair a mass of dirty coloured curls, his eyes wide and knowing, clutching his younger brother’s hand. Thomas, too young to understand grief, looked up into his brother’s eyes with so many questions. His free thumb planted between his trembling lips.
‘I know!’ Millicent Wise slurped back at Nancy, as she lowered her cup of tea. ‘And the way they went too. All that emotional scaring, they’ll be needing psychiatric help that’s for sure.’ She’d whispered the last part behind her hand but the boys had still heard every word.
‘We can hear you.’ Ambrose stepped forward, from the far end of the foyer, his voice a thin crackle. Thomas glued to his hip.
‘Sorry.’ Nancy said with a thin smile, leaving her computer and stalking over to the boys. ‘How about we go and introduce you to the other children, and then we’ll get you cleaned up, fed and ready for bed. Okay?’
It was almost a rhetorical question, as Ambrose and Thomas had no choice but to follow Nancy, her vinyl black heels clopping down the baron corridor. After all, they had nowhere else to go. No one else left, except each other.
‘I will get us out of here Tag.’ Ambrose whispered the promise down to his baby brother. ‘We’ll get them back – get those bastards that killed mum and dad.’
Thomas watched his brother’s free hand, a beam of light that dancing between his fingers, and thought if their mother was there she’d have boxed Ambrose in the back of his head for using the word bastard.
‘How come your brother barely speaks?’ Clary pestered Ambrose just as she’d been doing every day for the four years he’d been there.
‘He does speak, he’s just very particular about when. He speaks to me…’ Ambrose, a rusty voice escaping his slender mouth, trailed off as he turned to the lanky sixteen-year-old with Spanish locks.
‘Oh, I see,’ Clary yawned lofting herself around on his bed and onto her curvaceous front. ‘Trust issues, yadda-yadda and so on.’
Ambrose smirked. Out of all the kids at Saint Christophe’s he liked Clary considerably more than the others. She was a good laugh and undeniably attractive for a girl a year and a half younger then himself. Not to mentions that she, unlike all the other kids at the orphanage, was not a basket case or an orphan. Clary’s mother was the nurse maid at Saint Christophe’s, with her family house on the orphanages grounds.
‘That smirk will break hearts.’ Clary said raising her hand to sweep Ambrose’s long ringlets out of his face.
‘I only care for your heart.’ Ambrose replied leaning in closer to Clary, his breathing already ragged. Clary smiled, her lips full and wanting. Ambrose could hear her heart racing as she closed the distance between them. Before their lips could meet the door to Ambrose’s room flew open to reveal a white faced and frantic Nurse Day, Clay’s mother. Ambrose flew off his bed in one swift, single movement. Clary followed, her face a wash of red.
‘Ambrose!’ Mrs Day begun as he began to apologise profoundly, his face bearing the same shade as Clary’s. Nurse Day raised her hand, halting the young man in his apologies, ‘I really don’t care what you and my daughter were getting up to this afternoon, though we need to have a stern chat later about sexual education. Being safe is nothing compared to the gift of abstinence.’
‘Mum!’ Clary shouted stiffly, eyes wide.
‘But that is the least of my worries. It’s your brother, Ambrose. Thomas has …’ Mrs Day’s voice blurred, for Ambrose was already running at the sound of his brother’s name. He ran out of the boy’s dorm rooms and down stairs towards the rumpus room. Skidding to a halt, Ambrose found Thomas crumpled in the furthest corner of the room or what’s left of it. A scorched trail showed the events of Thomas’s latest episode.
‘Tag,’ Ambrose muttered as he levelled down to the tall seven-year-old. ‘What on earth happened here?’ Ambrose knew exactly what had happened, but he wanted to hear Thomas say it.
Thomas uncurling at his brother’s query whispered, ‘Kyle told me to give him an Indian burn. Said he was tougher than me. He’s a liar. The flames made him cry. He’s the baby.’
Ambrose tuned behind him. He hadn’t even noticed Kyle, an arrogant nine-year-old, crying over his withered arm.
‘What did I tell you Tag?’ Ambrose said pulling Thomas to his feet.
‘To hide it … it’s not a toy to play with.’ Thomas lulled up at his sibling, green eyes innocently hazing over with tears.
‘And?’ Ambrose prompted Thomas. His brother knew only a small portion of his powers and to be honest, Ambrose himself knew very little too.
‘That some may want to steal it and will kill us for it.’ Thomas finished silently, before taking Ambrose’s large hand in his small one and walking from the torched room.
‘Ambrose we need to talk.’ The tall, ghastly looking woman they called Governess Marks met the two boys outside of the room. Ambrose nodded. He knew there was no point arguing with the woman who’d allowed both him and his brother residence. Governess Marks always won.
‘Sit on that chair.’ Ambrose pointed to the wooden bench outside of the Governesses office, and then to Thomas. Thomas nodded.
‘I’ll sit with him.’ Clary offered. With firm lips Ambrose thanked Clary before following after his Governess into her cold and empty office, the door closing behind him.
‘Thank you.’ Thomas spoke for the first time to Clary, her eyes the only thing that displayed her shock. He sat with his face away from Clary, his eyes set straight at the door. Ambrose trusted Clary and that was all Thomas needed to know.
‘That’s alright.’ She whispered in shock back, as the two of them sat patiently waiting for Ambrose to finish his conversation with the Governess.
‘Mr Garfield, I want to make this as clear as I can for you.’ the Governess said sternly from behind her mahogany leather topped desk and across at Ambrose. ‘You’re eighteen at the end of this month and I feel it’s my obligation as your Governess to make your options perfectly clear. The day after your eighteenth birthday, you will no longer be welcome here at Saint Christophe’s as we can no longer support you as a legal adult. You will be given a small amount of money to support yourself and a youth hostel has been lined up for you to live at until you find your feet. Let’s hope that the government will support you well and help you find a worthy trade.’
Thomas knew, everyone here knew, that the Governess was only being nice for the sake of her own reputation. Behind her careful words of generosity, she was a woman with a heart incapable of love and actual compassion.
‘But there is a more pressing matter that we must discuss this afternoon. When you leave, the real question is whether you’ll be taking that brother of yours with you, or if you’ll be leave him here to continue being one of my many problems.’
Ambrose watched the delight in the Governesses expression that spread cross her wrinkled skin. She enjoyed seeing the children suffer. One wondered why she’d taken the job in the first place. Ambrose was silent for a moment, considering all the options given. He’d never leave Thomas without reason. Thomas was his own. But then again Thomas may stand a better chance with a nice rich, human family, who could raise him well. Keep him out of harm’s way.
‘May I sleep on my options and make a decision tomorrow, ma’am?’ Thomas heard his brother mutter, from behind the office door.
‘You may. Just make it snappy.’ The Governess said as she opened the door and let Ambrose walk out. No sooner had Ambrose re-entered the hall, Thomas jumped to his feet and began to scream.
‘Ambrose! Don’t leave me. Never leave me.’
It was the most anyone one had heard the boy speak in the four years he’d been there. They weren’t to know that his sensitive ears had heard the entire conversation between his older brother and the Governess; that he knew his fate lay in the hands of Ambrose. He didn’t want to be left behind. All in the hall looked at Thomas as he continued to scream. All but Ambrose. The pain was all too much.
‘Ambrose, I’ll do it. I’ll show them all.’ Thomas threatened, concentrating hard on one of the wooden benches in the long hall. It started to shudder, ever so slightly, almost vibrating on the spot, but not enough to cause any alarm, yet. Thomas was planning on flipping the thing, but before he could make the final move, Ambrose spoke.
‘Do it, I dare you.’
At this Thomas shrank to the floor in heavy sobs. Giving in, his brother not falling for his bluff. Clary comforted the young child on the floor as Ambrose, back still to the scene, made his way upstairs to his room. It took all his energy not to give in to the power that he wielded, and even more energy not to give into his brother’s howls. Upon reaching his room Ambrose crumpled onto his bed, his face a mess of tears a young man smothers to hide. He tried to clear his mind, swiftly like his father had once taught him, and reached for his blade.
Just as his mind begun to unwind and unravel into clarity, Ambrose smelt it. Something he hoped he’d never smell again after that night. The smell that had a bite to it, like cold metal in the back of your throat that made you want to gag, and an aroma of dirt and fungi that made your nostrils burn. It was only faint, but Ambrose could smell it. He evened his breathing and begun to prepare, for being scared would get him nowhere. He knew this could not be escaped, he’d only hoped he’d be more prepared. After all it was still several weeks before his eighteenth birthday.
Later that night Ambrose made his way into Thomas’s room, silently guiding himself and his loaded duffle bag in through the small doorway and to the side of his brothers bed.
‘Tag?’ Ambrose roused his little brother from his bitter sleep, ‘Tag!’
‘What?’ Thomas said through his covers, his young body exhausted by the events of the day past. ‘What’s the matter Ambrose? Why do you have that pack?’ Thomas’s bleary eyes caught the duffle slouched over Ambrose’s back.
‘It’s not what you think Tag.’ Ambrose began. ‘It’s not safe anymore. They’re coming.’
‘Take me with you then.’ Thomas tried not to let his voice turn into a shout as he scurried from his bed and rummaged in his narrow closet for his prized possessions, ‘Please’.
‘You know I can’t.’ Ambrose murmured, stopping the youngster’s hands. ‘They’re only coming for me. You’re still safe, too young for them to smell. You’d be safer here without me.’
‘Ambrose please!’ Thomas begged. ‘You promised you’d never leave me.’
‘Thomas Andrew Garfield!’ Ambrose whispered sternly, taking his brother by the shoulders. ‘I am not leaving you. I am saving you. One day you’ll understand the difference.’
‘Please Ambrose!’ Thomas pleaded one last time as his brother opened the door to leave. Swivelling back Ambrose looked down at him, Thomas swung his arm upwards. He may not have been as strong as Ambrose but even in his sleep deprived state it was worth a shot. His knuckles collided with the flat of Ambrose’s nose with a pretty impressive crack. Thomas’s eyes went wide in the dim light. He’d never hit his brother for real. He’d only ever play fought or practised defence against him.
The building fell silent as blood trickled from the corner of Ambrose’s nose. With a smirk Thomas thought he’d won until Ambrose smiled back.
‘Tag stop this now. You will not follow me. You will stay here and a nice rich family will adopt you. Then you will forget, forget everything, all of your past.’ Ambrose ordered as small burst of light flicked from his fingers towards his brother, pushing him back with a sudden stillness.
That’s not fair! Thomas’s eyes burned with pain towards his brother as his body remained rigid.
‘Tag.’ Ambrose muttered one last time. ‘I promise I will come back for you. I just need to be stronger, understand more.’
Too soon the door was closed and Thomas found himself sliding into his bed covers, Ambrose’s words holding him there, rendering him useless, a zombie to his actions. In the morning Thomas would wake to confusion. Police would be interviewing the Governess on the disappearance of a minor, Clary would be heartbroken and the grounds would be a buzz of vicious rumours.
Ambrose was gone.
In the weeks to come Thomas would be adopted into a wealthy family with no other children. The Wallace’s would be his new life. The fresh start and safety his brother had tried to secure.
For the meantime Thomas had lost.