June 2006 – eleven years old.
They sat shivering at the kitchen island bench as Tim’s Ma stared down at them in disapproval.
‘What exactly where you doing down by the pond at two am at night?’
Ant glanced sideways at Tim, a flush creeping up his neck in shame.
‘We were looking for the Lake Lady,’ said Tim matter-of-factly.
Ant wondered when he would get used to Tim’s boldness. If he’d said that to his mother, they’d have been walloped around the ears.
‘The Lake Lady,’ said Ms Holt, her brows raising, and her lips twitching. She cleared her throat, crossed her arms and asked, ‘At the pond?’
‘She’s a ghost, ain’t she? Why can’t she move places?’
‘She’s a ghost, isn’t she,’ Ms Holt corrected, and Ant recognised the tone in her voice she got whenever she was trying to be mad but couldn’t quite manage it.
It was the same tone that Grandma Belle had whenever Tim and Freddie did something they weren’t supposed to do.
‘It’s the middle of winter,’ said Ms Holt, before Tim could say anything else to get them in even more trouble. ‘You’re both sodden. What happens if Ant gets sick, hm? What would you do then, Tim? I thought you took care of your friends?’
‘I do take care of them!’
This time Tim’s face went red. He shot a quick look at Ant, before his gaze dropped to the ground in a rare show of shame. Ant’s eyebrows rose. He’d never seen Tim ashamed before.
‘Sorry, Ant,’ he mumbled.
‘It’s okay,’ said Ant. ‘I’m alright. Just scared, mostly,’ he laughed nervously.
Tim’s shoulders hunched even further, and Ms Holt shook her head.
‘So then I guess it’s safe to assume that this was your idea, Tim. Scaring the wits out of your best friend.’
Ant’s head snapped up, and he stared at Ms Holt with big eyes.
‘I didn’t mean it,’ Tim complained. ‘He said it was alright if I wasn’t scared. I even said I’d hold his hand. I didn’t know you were so frightened. Why didn’t you tell me?’
Tim’s eyes turned to Ant, beseeching and genuinely upset that he’d frightened Ant. Ant flushed, and was amazed that Tim hadn’t corrected his mother. Ant wasn’t Tim’s best friend. That was Freddie…wasn’t it?
‘I…I’m alright. I was trying to be braver, like you.’
Ant nodded and for some reason, Tim looked surprised.
Ms Holt shook her head. ‘Alright, off with you. Make sure you change your clothes and turn on the heater. And when I come upstairs in fifteen minutes, the lights better be off and there better be two sleeping teenagers. Tim, do I make myself clear?’
‘Yes Ma,’ he said, ducking his head.
‘Alright, off with you,’ she said again.
Tim shot out the door, not hesitating, knowing if he didn’t take this chance, his Ma might change her mind.
Ant followed, but paused in the kitchen doorway, one hand on the frame as he looked back at Tim’s Ma.
‘Don’t worry, Ms Holt. I wouldn’t let him do anything really bad.’
A smile split her pretty face, and her dark, angry eyes softened to a sweet chocolate brown. ‘Oh Ant,’ she said, leaning on the bench and shaking her head at him. ‘Thank heavens for you. You look out for my boy, now. I can trust you, can’t I?’
‘Yes Ma’am,’ said Ant.
With that, he turned and raced back up the stairs after his best friend, knowing that the task was daunting, bordering on impossible, but determined that he could look out for Tim. After all, hadn’t Tim taught him that it was a friend’s solemn duty to make each other feel better?