The old Ferrier estate in Kidbrooke was my inspiration for where the three Young Atlanteans would live. Don’t forget it is a work in progress …
The rest of the day was long, boring and uneventful. JJ was relieved when at last the final bell went.
The class filed out and the three of them stuck closer together this time in the throng of kids crowding the corridor.
“Where are we meeting them?” Xavier shouted over Alexia’s head, while they were pushed and jostled along.
“I dunno,” JJ said over his shoulder.
“By the front gates,” Alexia said.
JJ didn’t miss the angry look on Xavier’s face. Looks as though sis was getting pally with foster bro already.
The two Johnson boys were already there. Patrick was laughing with a friend, and Dwayne was on his phone. His face lit up when he saw Alexia.
JJ smiled knowingly at Xavier. This would be entertaining. He wasn’t going to make it hard for his sister. Latitia’s banging hot body reminded him of the reason he would make it easier. A smirk crept across his face.
Latitia scowled at him.
Instead of responding, he looked straight at Dwayne. A moment only men understood passed between them. He looked pissed off – not so much because JJ was ogling his sister, but because he now understood JJ held the bargaining chip for Alexia. He almost laughed out loud.
“Let’s walk!” Patrick said. “It’s not far.
JJ nodded once sealing the deal, and they began to walk. They travelled all the way along Denmark Hill into the High Street, then a few turns later into a run down housing estate.
Alexia’s face went from unease, to concern and then to horror. JJ put a comforting arm around her shoulders. They continued to walk in silence taking in their surroundings. From the graffiti on the grey concrete walls, to the litter covering the shabby recreation ground. It was just two old swings and a roundabout. The Johnsons seemed blind to it. He guessed you would if you saw it every day.
Eventually they came to a bleak grey concrete block of five stories arranged in a quadrangle with three others.
Alexia looked at JJ in alarm as they entered the urine smelling stairwell.
“Lift’s broke,” Patrick explained.
JJ took Alexia’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Xavier followed sullenly behind. The stairs were dark, with gloomy yellow-film covered lighting to illuminate the brainless tagging all over the walls.
Thankfully, they were only led to the second story.
“Are we visiting someone?” Alexia asked, with a plea in her eyes.
“No,” Patrick said, putting his key in the cracked painted front door.
JJ squeezed Alexia’s hand again when her eyes went wide. He knew she was trying hard not to cry. Xavier’s face was unreadable.
“Mum!” Patrick called, while they stood awkwardly in the hallway.
Then JJ was surprised when another kid of about five and a toddler ran to greet them from another room. The place didn’t seem big enough. Five kids, plus them, made eight.
A beautiful mixed race woman joined them drying her hands on a tea towel. “Welcome … welcome!” she said. “I’m Rianna.” She grabbed Patrick, Dwayne, and Latitia one by one and kissed them. “Well, come here. She opened her arms to him. “If you’re gonna be my kids for a while, you all get treated the same,” and she squashed JJ against her ample bosom and kissed him loudly on the cheek. She then proceeded to hug the life out of the others. Alexia let out an involuntary yelp.
“This is Marcus and this little rascal is Joseph,” Rianna said, introducing the two little ones. “What lovely looking children you are – so like your beautiful dads,” she said, shaking her head.
JJ quirked an eyebrow at Xavier. The connection to their fathers was intriguing. Xavier widened his eyes in answer back.
“Right, let me show you to your rooms.”
There couldn’t be many bedrooms. JJ hoped if he had to share, he’d be near Latitia. He looked about him and realized she’d already disappeared.
“Put the kettle on, love!” Rianna shouted. “Right, follow me.” Then she walked two steps to a door and pushed it wide.
JJ and Xavier poked their heads into the room. Not only was the room smaller than they were used to, but there were two sets of bunk beds, one on each side of the room. There was a small chest of drawers between then with a clock on top, and that was it.
“You boys are in here with Patrick and Dwayne.”
“We’re on this side,” Dwayne said, pushing between them and staking his claim on the right side of the room.
“JJ and Xav … you can take the beds on the left. You can slide your bags underneath,” Rianna said, then turned her attention to Alexia. “Alex … come with me. You’re in with Latitia and the babies.”
Xavier looked stunned. JJ shrugged. Guess he didn’t need to unpack. There was nowhere to put anything anyway.
“Alexia … my name’s Alexia.” Her lips were a tight line when she glanced at JJ as she left the room.
JJ kicked off his shoes and claimed the bottom bunk by lying on it with his hands behind his head.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” Xavier said, putting his phone to his ear. “We’re not staying.”
JJ let out a blast of air in amusement. It didn’t surprise him when Xavier swore.
“Bloody answerphone. He’s deliberately not answering.”
“Of course. Just chill out Xav. Go with it for a while.” JJ closed his eyes and absorbed the throbbing base come through the wall from next door. It was kind of relaxing. It didn’t matter where he was. His whole existence was mapped out for him, and had been from the moment he was conceived. There was no free will where the Fates were concerned. No point in fighting it. Xavier was a bit slow in learning this.
Forty-five minutes later and Rianna shouted; “Foods in ten, guys!”
JJ roused himself with a deep sigh and wandered out into the living room.
Patrick and Dwayne were sitting at the small dining table doing homework. The two young kids had their heads stuck in some kids program on a prehistoric TV. Xavier and Alexia were sitting on the only sofa texting like mad on their phones. Latitia was missing.
The opportunity to speak to her alone wasn’t going to come up often. JJ turned quietly before anyone noticed and went back out into the hallway. The clattering of pans told him where the kitchen was, so he knocked on the only closed door.
“Can I come in?” JJ said as quietly as he could.
There was a long pause. “What do you want?”
“Just to talk.”
Another pause. “Make it quick.”
Smiling, he quietly went in.
Latitia was sitting with her feet hanging over the top bunk. She had homework books around her but was texting on her phone.
JJ looked around. The room was laid out exactly the same as his, except this one was girlier; filled with stuffed toys and pictures obviously drawn by an under five. “Can I come up?”
Latitita looked a little alarmed. “No … don’t you understand boundaries where you come from?”
He laughed, not at all offended. He wouldn’t mind betting she was prickly with all the boys. “Ah come on … I only want to talk. It’s kinda hard for us away from home.” He was shamelessly playing the sympathy card, but all’s fair … and all that.
She narrowed her eyes. “Five minutes,” and moved her papers to make room.
JJ grinned, climbed the small ladder and sat next to her. It amused him when she shuffled up the bed to make the space wider between them. “Texting your boyfriend?” he said, pointing at her phone still in her hand.
The pause before she said yes, gave it away as a lie. “I don’t believe you,” he said with a smirk.
Latitia sat up straighter. “Why … don’t you think I would have a boyfriend?”
He was trying not to laugh as he’d really offended her. His face got serious. “Of course I do. It’s just I think you wouldn’t bother with the average boy around here.” It was obvious flattery but she was beautiful and deserved the best.
For a moment she looked stunned; studying him for a hidden joke or insult. “That’s right,” she said eventually. “So don’t even try it.”
Laughter escaped him before he could stop it. Then he wiped it off his face with a hand. “The problem with that is, I’m not from around here.” A frown crossed his brow. Why was he bothering? Then he shrugged the thought away. He was here to have fun. “And I’m far from average.”
When his eyes returned to hers, she’d been studying him closely. “My mum knows your dad.”
JJ nodded. “Yeah, probably both my dads.”
Her eyebrows rose for a second. “The other two … different dad?”
It surprised him how easily she got it.
“Me too … the two little ones have a different dad.”
JJ smiled at the simplification. “Mine’s slightly more complicated.” How do you explain to someone how your mother carried them all in her womb at the same time? And that it was a miracle he was conceived at all. It was pointless going into it, and he leaned back against the wall. “So why no boyfriend then?”
Latitia shrugged. “I’m too busy, I don’t want the distraction.”
He conceded with a nod, “What do you want to do?” There weren’t that many people in his life who were ambitious. Everyone in his family had their lives mapped out for them.
“I want to be a dancer.”
Her words were defiant, but he could tell she expected him to laugh. His eyes roamed over her body appreciating every toned muscle. He could totally see her doing that. “My aunt was a dancer.”
Her eyes lit up in surprise. “Really?”
“It was before she got married.”
“What about you, what do you wanna do?” Her animosity suddenly gone, she turned towards him cross-legged eagerly waiting for his answer. But what could he say – That he and Xavier would some day have to battle it out for the crown? It didn’t matter what he wanted, or who he met. Everything would turn to crap anyway.
With a deep sigh he said; “I’ll have to go into the family business.” His eyes flashed to hers and he decided he didn’t want to talk anymore.
She was staring at him and sensing his unhappiness and he didn’t like it. It made him feel exposed.
Then Patrick burst into the room and the heat was taken off him. His beaming smile dropped for a second when he saw JJ on his sister’s bed, but his excitement got the better of him. “Tish, come see. It’s massive.”
Latitia was already climbing across JJ to get down the ladder. He slid down straight after.
“What is it?” Latitia said
“A massive TV.”
“A Game Station … A Game Station,” Little Marcus was saying jumping up and down.
In the living room, they were all gathered round while Rianna unpacked the huge TV, a satellite box and the games console.
JJ cast a look Xavier’s way, who rolled his eyes. It was obvious who’d sent it.
The Johnsons were thrilled.
“Set it up Patrick. We’ll have our dinner on our laps tonight.”
Rianna left the room wiping her eyes. It didn’t take much to realize there wasn’t a lot of money coming into this house. JJ had never been around people this poor before. It was an eye-opener. Whether it was Dante or Jay who sent this, it didn’t matter. It meant enough to her to bring her to tears.
Their food came and they ate quickly. The chicken and rice was cooked in a way JJ had never tasted before. Rianna explained it was Caribbean food. He liked it. Still troubled by Rianna’s reaction to his dad’s gift, JJ went to clear up the plates and take them to the kitchen.
“Don’t worry, love,” Rianna said. “Patrick and Dwayne can do it tonight. I’ll draw up a rota tomorrow. You go and put your feet up.”
He just shrugged and went back into the living room. Latitia had gone back to her room.
“It’s the pits,” Alexia said as soon as she was sure they were alone.
“If dad thinks sending all this means we’re staying he’s wrong,” Xavier said.
JJ sighed and kicked back in his chair, vaguely aware there was a knock at the front door. “Does it matter where we are? It all ends up the same. I don’t mind it. At least they’re not fake.”
“We’ll see if you feel the same when you’ve humped her,” Xavier said.
JJ flashed a look at Xavier’s angry face, and went to come back with something, when he heard a commotion coming from the hallway.
All three of them leapt to their feet to go and see what the shouting was about.
There were two huge blokes the size of his father’s guards. One had a shaved head. Patrick, Dwayne and Rianna were trying to push them out of the flat. Latitia held the two little ones crying in her arms.
“I told you, next week. I’ll have it by then.”
“We’ll just take something now to help you remember,” the bald one said. Then he pulled back his arm and punched Dwayne squarely in the eye, sending him flying. The Johnson boys were big but still only youths and no contest for the two gorillas pushing their way in.
JJ immediately stepped forward and Xavier was right with him.
The two men paused when they caught sight of them. “What do we have ‘ere?” the bald one said, laughing.
“Please go in the other room boys. I can deal with this,” Rianna said.
“Maybe I can help?” JJ said.
The bald guy was looking mildly amused. “And what can you do, son, eh?”
JJ felt Dwayne come up to the left of him, rubbing his jaw. “What do you need?” JJ asked.
The bald debt collector pointed past him into the open door to the living room. “That telly for starters.”
“I’m afraid that’s mine.”
The two men faced each other and laughed. “Oh, I’m frightfully sorry,” the bald one said, mimicking a posh accent.
“How much money do you need?” JJ said.
“No JJ,” Rianna said, shaking her head.
He wasn’t sure if she was scared or embarrassed at owing these goons money.
“Five hundred quid!” the bald one said as if throwing any figure out as a test.
Xavier came closer and touched his hand. The minute they touched they could hear each other’s thoughts. They’d practiced since they were children – A gift from their grandmother’s family.
After he and Xavier let each other know how much money they had with them in cash, JJ put up his hand. “One minute.”
The bloke waved him on to continue, still making fun of him, and Xavier disappeared to get the money. The two men exchanged a look.
Xavier returned in a few minutes and put a wad of money in the bald one’s hand. “It’s all there.”
The man still did a quick count and grinned. “Same time next week then, son.”
Rianna put her head in her hands. He wasn’t sure if it was because he’d paid for her, or because the bloke new he had a source of real money and was going to be back.
“No!” JJ said. When you come next time, it will be for the final balance. Do you understand?”
They turned to each other again. “Do you understand?” he mimicked again. “Can you believe this little shit?” Then his arm flew out and grabbed JJ by the throat.
Copyright T Stedman 2016