Ryan stretches wildly, until his bare feet stick out the end of the single bed he’s had since he was six years old. Hid duvet cover barely covers his shins, but his mum is in denial that he’s now reached a height that’s taller than his father.
There’s a thin strip of light peeking out from above the blackout blind and he can hear the faint sound of birds singing from the spring hedgerows. What time is it? He shivers a little as he waits for the haze of sleep to pass and then clumsily reaches over his bedside table. An empty can of coke falls to the floor and his hand finds something questionably sticky before finally landing on his phone. He brings the screen closer to his face and lifts his brows to the ceiling in an attempt to bring the numbers into focus. 10:39. Whoops. He stretches again and tests to see if anybody is home with a celebratory fart. He waits a few seconds, freezing his movement and radiating with pride, but there is no response. Looks like he’ll get away with the lie-in this time.
The faint smell of a cooked breakfast leads him downstairs. Ryan doesn’t bother to grab a dressing gown on his way to the kitchen, that would only slow down his mission to find food, but when he gets there all he sees is a big yellow post-it stuck to the fridge. Never a good sign. It reads:
“Ry, taken Gran to the supermarket. Can you take out the bin please! Back at 11:30. Mum x”
“Oh sure,” he says out loud, “Make sure Grandma eats, but leave your son to starve!”
He looks up to the kitchen clock and taps his fingers on the counter. 10:45. Shit. He’d best run the bin out now or he’ll never hear the end of it. He can practically hear his mum’s “you’ll miss the best part of the day if you don’t get up until mid-morning” speech already.
Ryan stands and scratches his stomach before skulking over to the huge black bin in the corner. There are traces of last night’s lasagna on the lid and the smell is starting to attract flies. He’s less than enthusiastic about removing the lid. Whilst holding his breath, he reluctantly grabs hold of the top of the bin liner, being extra careful not to tear one of the many bulges that threaten a full hose-down job. Urgh. This is always one of his chores and now lasagne juice is running onto his bare feet. So gross. He knows he only has a few seconds to decide what to do and he wants to leave as little mess behind him as possible. Mess would lead to more work and he was pretty sure was going to die if he didn’t eat within the next seven-to-ten minutes.
Should he put the dripping refuse bag back in the bin or make a run for the wheelie bin on the driveway? Damn it, why didn’t I grab my dressing gown on my way down stairs. There’s no time to dwell on that now. OK, decision made. He lifts up the bag, away from his feet, hoping that gravity is somehow slower with that extra few inches of height, and makes a mad dash for the driveway.
He makes it. He reaches the safety of the wheelie bin and punches the air in celebration as he lifts the lid. He checks the damages – very little damage to the bag and only minor amounts of bin juice left trailing behind him. “Not bad”, he nods to himself, looking around for any kind of approval. From the garden wall, two of next door’s cats turn their heads unenthusiastically in his direction. Cats, so fickle. Ryan throws the bag up into the large bin, swearing under his breath as he tries to cram the lid shut. Just as he does, Rebecca opens her front door. Of course. Her long blonde hair is unmistakable in the sunlight and, rather like that golden hair, her timing is impeccable. A rush of bad ideas run through Ryan’s head. Should he run? Duck? Attempt to climb into the bin at this point? He looks down at the bin juice glistening on his feet, simultaneously realising he’s also been in that old pair of boxers for around forty eight hours now.
“Errrrm. Hi. Ryan?” came the voice of a fast-approaching angel. How does she even know his name, she never speaks to him at college?
He suddenly feels incredibly warm for someone very naked on an early March morning. His heartbeat pounds into his eardrums, making him feel suddenly lightheaded. He attempts to regain his balance by leaning casually against the gross bin lid, but his elbow slips and makes a surprisingly loud squeaking noise. Bare skin on shiny plastic. Cringe.
“Oh hey, Rebecca. Lovely day, right?” Ryan replies, trying to clear his throat while swatting away flies. Great. His first conversation with her all year and he talks about the weather.
“I guess,” she says, giggling, not sure where to focus her eyes. At least she’s smiling, Ryan thinks to himself, subtly flexing his chest and trying to look unflustered, ignoring the smell of old banana peel rising from his feet. Could this get much worse?
Suddenly, the familiar sound of a Citroen C3 engine breaks the silence. No, no, no. Please don’t turn onto the drive. Do NOT turn onto the drive.
“Ryan, honey!” his mum shouts from the open car window, “Are you only just getting up? You’ll miss the best part of the day!”
Rebecca was really grinning now.
“Well,” she said, giving him a small salute as she walked towards her car, “I’m sure glad I didn’t miss the best part of mine.”
A warm heat radiates up Ryan’s neck, rising quickly up to his cheeks and he hopes more than anything that the cool breeze can mask it. His hands fall naturally to cover his crotch, an attempt to salvage what little dignity he can. His mother walks over to stand by his side. Is this some kind of power move or is she just oblivious to the awkward situation? He’s betting on the latter.
The cats perform a long, lazy stretch, jump down from their wall and gather around his legs, purring and taunting him with their dance of superiority. He reminds himself that, against all his natural instincts, he must not kick her cats hard in the face.
As Rebecca drives away her eyes dart back to the scene unfolding in her rear-view mirror. She sees Paula, Ryan’s mum, grinning and waving enthusiastically in her directly, supposedly oblivious to the fact that she’s standing next to a very red Ryan. “Such a nice girl,” Paula says to her son before heading into the house.
Rebecca’s cats continue to lick his bare feet and she feels herself start to sympathy-blush. Poor Ryan. She had felt far too shy to speak to him before now, but suddenly he seems much more approachable to her. Maybe he’d even like to grab a lasagne with her some time?