Freedom sat on the beach, legs outstretched, back and head leaning on the reclining lounger positioned so that the sea was behind him and the row of B&B’s and promenade in front. He watched his sister pull up in her car. He’d seen her remove 4 children from one door while Chance, her Jack Russell Terrier had jumped out of an open window on the other side of the colossal, mud splattered 4x4. She was carrying two loaves of bread – forgotten breakfast necessities acquired, in typical Chaos fashion, at the very last available moment. The dog trotted onto the pavement and cocked his leg on a gate post before following the dishevelled family up the steps of the B&B.
For a long time Chaos had been unable to sit still for very long. An avid fan of using a busy schedule to dodge close encounters, Chaos was a hurricane of a sister. She was his parent’s first child and, accordingly, Freedom had the pleasure of being their second. His parents had cut their teeth on Chaos – unsure of whether they believed more in nature or nurture; they’d tried and re-tried both theories on several occasions. Just as Chaos would get used to choosing everything for herself and leading from the infant frontline, she’d find a new regime in place. In one school photo, her head sat atop a human tent of a Mexican poncho, hair unbrushed and wild, cheeks rosy either side of a toothy grin. The following year she looked like she was posing for an eighteenth century portrait in 1980’s grey and marled blue school uniform. Her hair conformed to strict and tight elastics, pulling slightly on the skin at her temples. Her hands knotted in her lap, plain for anyone to see how tightly her little fingers gripped one another. Her face was vulnerably defined by the dark wetness of enormous, inky eyes which totally overshadowed a small, tense smile.
Freedom had a friend, Science, who had a theory that the optimal parenting situation was one where the first born child would die at around nine or ten years old and then be preceded by another one or two kids to the bereaved (but experienced) parents. Science explained his theory over a cup of artisan coffee on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. Freedom had raised his eyebrows to explain how unpalatable this train of thought was and they’d each allowed a silence to sit between them until Science admitted that perhaps the theory was a tad brutal. There was always another topic to talk about though; Chaos. Or, more specifically, Science’s unstinting crush on Chaos. He was fascinated by her, always had been. Chaos pretended to be too busy to have noticed Science’s adoration but the truth was that she knew it like the daily sunrise. It was a fact of her life that she didn’t want to sway or change. If Science knew the real her, if he understood her, he’d lose interest, she was sure of it. He’d want to define her, to put her in a box and label her. To fix her and decode her, write up manuals and then, well then he’d move on and the one person that thought she was brilliant, despite all the shit that followed her everywhere, he’d be gone. Fuck his long term plans for blissful union. And fuck him. And she occasionally did just fuck him - it helped maintain the status quo. There was also the point that the guy had stamina and bloody good technique. Telling Freedom the occasional explicit detail about her encounters with Science also offered an added bonus of provoking a cringe from her brother. She drew carefree pleasure from his eye rolling and pleas for her to shut up. ‘He’s great with his hands’, she’d say, looking right into his eyes and smirking. ‘Really useful when I need a job done properly at the B&B.’
Freedom and Science hadn’t talked about Science’s extreme parenting theory since the accident had happened. The accident had been swift and brutal. Not only had Chaos and Freedom lost their parents, they’d been thrown together in a way that entirely altered their paths as siblings. They held one another for the first time. Watched their pain mirrored in the other’s face. Felt the comfort of sharing their grief and took side by side shelter under the private net of desolation that the horrors of the experience constructed around them.
Their parents had gone to visit friends in a village ten miles from their own on a drizzly Saturday morning. On their return journey their Dad had swerved to avoid a rabbit that had panicked itself onto the road. The swerve led to a moment of thought collection which crumpled their car into the grill of a milk tanker, killing them both almost instantaneously. The next day, in a trance of shock and autopilot, Freedom had left his parent’s house and made the 3 minute journey to the nearby corner shop. He bought a paper, milk, bread and a lottery ticket with his parent’s usual numbers. ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’, the assistant behind the counter had said to him as he paid. Freedom had been unable to meet her sympathetic gaze, but his eyes fell on her name badge. Love. He couldn’t reply or acknowledge her in anyway. A tear fell from his bowed head onto the newspaper between them as he gathered his purchases into a manageable pile to carry while he turned to leave the shop. Just short of a week later, still resident in the family home and still following their parent’s routine, Freedom and Chaos were watching the lottery draw with dead eyes. Their numbers came up. Chaos cried silently, her tears made beautiful amber by the reflections they captured from the fireplace flames. Freedom held his jaw in his right hand, opening his mouth every few seconds as if to speak and then shutting it again and breathing fast and hard through his nose.
They were rich.
They were bereaved.
Slowly, the shock of their loss began its long transformation from sinister glacier to softer melt water. Some grief broke away in tiny fragments while the reality of their gain sunk in. They told Science about the winning ticket. Grateful at last for something practical to help with, he’d organised the visit from the lottery representative and made sure that the encounter was appropriately toned and the transaction swift.
Freedom became able to talk to Love as the weeks went by. Her warmth and light worked slowly into his thoughts like ivy creeping gently across a whitewashed wall. They began to meet up. They’d kissed one evening as he walked her home and he'd known then, quietly inside, that he was forever signed over to her but could never contain her. She was younger than him, by fifteen years, utterly beautiful and angelically uncomplicated. Every movement of her face was hypnotic. When they were alone, warm fingers on skin, her blonde curled hair swaying gently on her back or his chest, shining like gold in the candlelight; there was an intimacy and a completeness that made the unspoken absences wholly worthwhile. For whatever terms she was willing to offer, Freedom wanted Love in his life. So he set her free and explored the spaces between her presence and his world. He found that the more he did without her, the more she came back to him, interested and intense, needing the expanse and the constriction of his company, his body and his soul.
Acting partly on impulse and mostly on revulsion on hearing the news that Freedom was fucking the girl she’d heard was a village bimbette, Chaos had been bold with some of their winnings and bought the enormous pale pink fronted B&B on the promenade they’d walked as children. ‘Don’t ever take her near me’, she’d told Freedom when he’d suggested that she and Love meet up. He knew better than to protest. If he was entirely honest, he didn’t want them to meet anyway. They were too alike, in many ways. They’d be sure to repel one another and, perhaps, to repel him too. It simply wasn’t worth pursuing.
The coastal town they’d grown up in was, slowly - and fairly amusingly to Chaos - becoming trendy. What was once battered and provincial was now charming and chic. Chaos was relieved to not have to look further than the familiar to find something that was breathing new life. For the first six months of B&B ownership she left the property standing empty. When she finally turned up to move in the neighbours had mistaken her as a criminal trying to break and enter. She’d forgotten the keys and decided that a half open window was as good an entry point as any. Two years of skips, spending and building work followed until, eventually, the B&B was renovated and ready for guests. And now here she was, ten years, three marriages and four children later, still unprepared for 8am breakfasts and still attracting disorder and mania as if she were a giant magnet and they were meteoric fragments of steel.
‘We’re really alike, you know’, Love said to Hate as they lay, side by side in the B&B bed. Voluminous white sheets around them made the dunes and yawns of a dozen resting bridal gowns. The sky outside the tall window was blue, bright and brilliant. The light flooding the room spoke of space, possibility and new beginnings. Suddenly, she thought of Freedom and the thought played in her head until Hate’s muscles tensed against her body and brought her back to task. ‘Yeh’, she continued, ‘you’re so strong, so intense..’. He rolled his eyes and tutted loudly, cutting her off. How fucking predictable was this shit? She was talking crap – again - and the bloody bed sheets were roasting him from anger to branding point. And who the fuck picks white bed sheets anyway? What about orange? Or red? Even black. Better still, that day glow green that makes your head hurt and fucks with your mind. That green that gets into your brain and every time you close your eyes it’s there, pulsating and demanding, all engulfing and consuming. Maddening.
As he made to move from the bed she pulled him back. He stared at her and was lost, momentarily, in the blue of her eyes, dancing like a swaying ocean, drawing him nearer until he saw his reflection looking back at himself. He saw a face that spoke of weakness and wonder. ‘Fuck. That.’ he declared scornfully as he rose, this time pulling past her struggle to keep him near. ‘Yip. Fuck. That.’ Love stared at his naked arse crossing the room to the en-suite. His muscles were tight and clenched. His movement was strong and fluid and a little threatening. His shoulder blades glared angrily back at her. A shiver of arousal ran through her body and she used its energy to push her limbs to the furthest corners of the mattress. She lay, like a star, filling as much space as she could.
Freedom rose from his recliner and waved to Science who’d caught his eye as he walked along the beach towards him, holding two mugs of takeaway coffee. ‘A Love thing?’, Science asked as he nodded towards the wayward beach lounger. ‘Yip’, replied Freedom as he took his cup from Science’s outstretched hand and smiled lazily. ‘How about we go and save the kids and the toast from Chaos and then I’ll take you for lunch and you can tell me more fucked up theories and make me laugh?’, Freedom suggested, nudging his friend with his elbow as they walked side by side towards the B&B. ‘Deal’, Science agreed, slurping his coffee. He mulled over the prospect of watching Chaos in her usual vest and denim cut off cooking apparel. It’d be a great start to the day.