Katie Lillywhite took a few minutes to remember where she was. Her mouth was dry, those goodnight bongs she shared with Casper leaving her throat feeling like sandpaper.
"Katie! Get up! I've found something."
Her boyfriend Casper was in Katie's parents' bedroom, liquorice skinned spliff dangling from his lips and depositing ash on the salmon pink carpet. He'd barley slept due to the amount of flake he'd done the night before, the weed far from taking the edge off it and instead sending him into discoverer mode, hunting around Katie's parents house for objects of wonder. He'd also masturbated so much he was walking funny. Katie never really went in for coke-sex and she's usually awful in the mornings but this was worth waking her up for – a secret, locked away in a black briefcase.
"Fucking hell. Katie!"
Casper stomped back out of her parents' room, flinching slightly at his raw cock brushing against his boxers, and stood in the doorway of Katie's room. He stopped a moment to watch her scramble for some sense of what the fuck was going on. Her hair, mousy and lank hung over her face, her half-closed eyes looking like something out of that cartoon.
Katie slowly made sense of the shape in the doorway and smiled through dry lips.
"Hiya baby… come back to bed."
She was horny. Casper couldn't believe the irony of it. But he didn't want to give away the fact he'd so disgracefully incapacitated himself. And besides, he was genuinely intrigued as to what was in the case.
"Later babes. You've got to come see what I've found."
He left her room and Katie sat up in bed. She was naked and looked down at herself. Yeah – she was looking fucking good. A strict diet of narcotics for the last year had done wonders for her figure – all of her mates had put weight on in the student bars but not Katie.
That's how she met Casper. Drugs. She'd bumped into him at the freshers' ball. It was obvious he was just another third year on the hunt for a fresher but compared to the other idiots at the ball, he was dignified. Everyone there just reminded her of home but with more money and posher accents. They were all pissed, leaning heavily into each other's ears, kissing sloppily with hands up skirts and thighs in crotches. A few of the boys were even throwing their weight around to work out their place in the pecking order. She looked at them. Christ.
It was depressing, that freshers' ball. As the whole of freshers' week had been – giddy little girls and boys running round like they were on camp or something. Spare me, she thought. In sixth form she couldn't wait to escape, meet interesting people who didn't just do what everyone around here did. And what happened? She got to university and they were even worse – much worse, because they actually believed they were smart with it.
Then she got the whiff. Somebody had a spliff on the go outside. Not the usual artificial sweetness of the local hash, or the brain fumigating funk of the skunk that she would catch wafting from the nursery at night between lung crunching coughing bouts. This smelled exotic, odd, and when she saw the boy smoking it she fell in love.
"Casper. You want?"
"What is it?"
"Nepalese. Not the best but not bad."
She took the spilff from him with a look that said she knew what he was talking about and took a toke. It was the first time she'd ever tried it. Her hatred of those she found herself placed with had her eschew all of their petty delights – alcopops, weed, whiz, pills, coke, acid, glue, aerosols. But this was different. This was Nepalese, and the boy who had passed it to her had on skinny jeans, buckled boots, and a military jacket over his skinny white chest. He also had the face of an angel.
"Well you know my name, what's yours?"
"Katie! For God's sake Katie you fucking sloth, you have to see this."
At last she managed to make it out of bed. In just one night she had ruined the room her mother kept so tidy for her infrequent returns from university. Ash trays, pipes, barely touched take-aways, liquorice skins, baggies all littered the floor; clothes hanging from every conceivable part of the room except inside the fitted wardrobes. She had moved out of Halls of Residence and in with Casper now so she could stay at uni through the holidays as well as term-time. Her parents were nice enough, it's just that Casper and his friends were so much more. They watched films from the French new wave, read Burroughs, Bukowski, and Brautigan, they were everything she'd imagined about university. They smoked Nepalese, snorted Bolivian, drank absinthe, took methamphetamine, MDMA paste, mushrooms, and ketamine. They sometimes even smoked crack for the slum chic of it. How could mum and dad compete?
But they were at her mum and dad's. She was back on the Avenue. Her mother and father had gone away for their summer holiday and Casper thought it would be just so ironic for the two of them to go on holiday themselves – on holiday in her parents' house.
She wasn't sure, but Casper's friends laughed and hit the arms of their chairs and talked about how it would so excellent, and such a subversive thing to do, that she began to laugh with them. And so she found herself here, at home, her boyfriend rifling through her parent's private things.
Katie just hoped he hadn't found their credit cards. One of Casper's friends had stolen his own parents' credit cards and they all went shopping with them one Saturday. They laughed as they tried on outlandishly expensive labels, bought fine wines and cheeses from the food halls of the department stores, and then just took out the maximum cash advance possible to buy shitloads of gear. The boy's parents were so rich, they didn't even notice the money had gone. But her mum and dad would notice, and they'd be disappointed.
"What are you doing Casper? Let's go back to bed."
Casper ran his fingers over the brass combination locks of the briefcase. At first, Katie had been another naïve fresher to fall into his trap. Not only that, but a fresher who went to comprehensive school – she was sure to be the filthiest fuck he'd ever had. But that first night, after the freshers' ball, they didn't even have sex. She was a virgin. He couldn't believe it, where she was from he was sure she'd be one of the few members of her peer group without a pregnancy or abortion to their name, but there she was, this delicate little thing that more than anything needed protecting. He realised he liked the idea of that. Of protecting her, of opening her eyes slowly to his world, of educating her, liberating her. In fact, he fell in love with the idea of that and after a while realised he'd probably fallen in love with her too.
"Babes. Isn't you father a gasman?"
It was true. Her father was an engineer. For British Gas. He would fix people's boilers, make sure they weren't getting poisoned by carbon monoxide. He'd even been to Casper's place to check out the appliances there. God only knows what his instruments picked up.
"Yeah. He is, now come back to bed. It's cold."
Casper turned to her, the glint of a six year old in his eyes.
"Well why does he have a briefcase?"
Katie knew exactly why her father had a briefcase. Exactly what was in it. Why shouldn't he have a briefcase? He was a gasman, not a fucking tramp.
"I don't know. Important papers or something I guess."
"Come on Katie! It's locked. I've tried all the combinations I can think of – your birthday, the lot, but I can't get in."
She knew the combination for the locks. She'd looked through everything in there. But she didn't want Casper to know.
"Well then. Let's leave it. It's obvious he doesn't want anyone going in there."
Casper stood. The briefcase clutched in his hands like a shield.
"Which is why we've got to get in!"
He began to jabber on as Katie's eyes glazed over. Theories of secret government agents, wads of cash from a bank robbery, bonds, jewels, gold all washed over her.
"They might be perverts Katie! They might have all kinds of torturous sex-toys and illegal porn in here. Right now they could be holidaying at an S&M club, being buggered by Germans in leather!"
This had gone far enough. Katie snatched the briefcase from Casper. She was angry. Angry at all the assumptions he had ever made about her, about her family, the way he almost treated coming to stay at her parents house like some kind of safari, spotting the strange beasts that sat on street corners on their bikes and watching the natives strut around almost naked. He had no idea who she was, who her family were. How dare he say those things. They were good people. She was a good person.
"You want to know what's in there? Well have a look."
She ran up the combination – 151289, her birthday. The idiot had even got that wrong. She snapped back the clasps and then emptied the contents of the briefcase on the floor before storming out and downstairs to make herself a cup of tea. On the way down the stairs she spotted an envelope on the hall floor. It was addressed to her.
Casper stood and wondered what to do. Should he follow her? Should he apologise? No. He'd done nothing wrong – he was just having a bit of fun and to ignore the contents of the briefcase would just mean she had won.
Picking up the papers from the floor, he sat on the bed. Then he read the first document.He leafed through, his eyes drawing what felt like the last moisture left in his body to his tear ducts and eventually allowing a fat droplet to fall onto the papers he held shaking in his hand. Katie's adoption papers.
Slowly, Casper gathered the papers together and put them in a neat pile on the bed. He didn't want to go downstairs and face Katie but he knew he had to. He knew he had to because he loved her and wanted to tell her how much he loved her. Tell her he was sorry for being such a fuck up.
He sat up from the bed and walked downstairs. He could hear Katie crying and wiped his own tears away so he could be strong for her. He followed the sobs, the huge asphyxiating sobs that you shake with as a child, down the hall and toward the living room. Opening the door to the living room, he found Katie, head in hands and shoulders shaking. He sat beside her and put a hand on each of her shoulders.
"It's alright" he said, "It's alright."
Then he saw the letter open on the coffee table.
Matthew David Scott