Harry was glad his dad had given him a chance to pack his things - just some clothes and essentials, but only enough to fit in his gym bag - unlike last time when he was manhandled and tossed out of the house, the front door slamming and locking in his face. Back then he’d had to sneak in when the family were out and pack his bag. He knows he shouldn’t be grateful for being given a day to leave his home; most guys his age shout and scream and claw their ways back home. But Harry is, as he has always been told, fundamentally a coward. Even with his father’s disappointment and disgust evident, he still attempts to please him and do as he is told.
At least this time his guilt is less suffocating and overbearing. There is no part of him that wants to go back to living on the streets, skip-dipping for his dinner and selling his body for petty cash, because what he did - falling in love with James - was for himself and he does not regret one second of it. This time there will be no self-punishment.
So, with the knowledge that his dad is overreacting and that the village is full of hypocrites who can’t stand to see him and James happy, Harry takes one final look back at the place that has been his home for five years, or there abouts. He will miss people, of course he will, but if they never cared for him then he is under no obligation to care about them enough to ruin his life. Not anymore.
He gets the bus to the train station then manages to get a cheap ticket. Just over an hour spent formulating a plan on the train later and Harry is hailing a taxi to take him to his mum’s. He hopes she hasn’t moved out of the flat, and that despite the distance between them she will welcome him home with open arms and a smile. Their relationship is an odd one; they might not talk or text often, and he doesn’t tell her everything about his life, but she is his mum and he is her only son and that counts for something.
After paying the driver, Harry wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans and presses the buzzer for the flat. The towering block of flats in a rather unimpressive area of town might be daunting to someone else, but to Harry, he is coming home. His childhood was spent daring the neighbour kids to press all the buttons on the intercom, and playing in the small playground by the car park. He remembers being reluctant to tell his boarding school friends about where he lived because they all came from the suburbs where everyone has three cars, five bedrooms and a pony in the garden. But now he is just glad to be home.
“Hello?” His mum’s voice comes through the intercom, scratchy and barely recognisable, but Harry knows it’s her. The sound of her voice, knowing that she’s so close after having barely seen her in years, is like a warm embrace, like the hot chocolates she makes and the times when he was much, much younger and he needed his mum to tuck him into bed.
“Mum? It’s me - Harry. I know it’s out of the blue, but I —“ The buzz of the door cuts him off. Wasting no time, Harry steps into the foyer and starts up the stairs. There’s no point using the lift; when it isn’t broken it stinks of weed and whiskey and piss. Five flights of stairs later and Harry catches his breath in front of his old front door.
He rings the bell and the door opens straight away and his mum lunges at him, pulling him as close to her chest as possible. He drops his bag and clings to her with all he has, like a limpet.
“Oh, Harry.” Tessie whispers as she kisses his temple and strokes his hair. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you too.” His voice is thick and wet, his tears flooding down his cheeks and his sobs taking over. Tessie shushes him maternally, uncaring about the stains on her top.
“Baby, what’s happened? I’m here, you can tell me. Everything will be okay.”
“I screwed up, mum. I’ve done something terrible.”
“It’s okay, Harry. No matter what you’ve done, I am your mother, which means I will always be on your side. Now, come on in, I’ll put the kettle on, and there’s some fish fingers in the freezer I can pop in the oven.”
Harry wipes at his eyes with a small smile playing on his lips at the thought of his mum’s fish fingers and chips. None of his dad’s pretentious asparagus and spiralised veg nonsense, just a staple childhood meal.
Tessie takes his coat and puts his bag in his old bedroom - redecorated but still his - then pushes him to sit at the kitchen table as she putters around making dinner. They exchange only warm, nostalgic smiles until she sits opposite him and takes his hands.
“So, what is it that you think you’ve done wrong? Mum’ll help you fix it.” She pats his hand and Harry believes that she won’t judge him. He will have a home here no matter what.
“I had an affair. I cheated on Ste, my fiancé, and I was going to run away with him, but then I second guessed everything and married Ste. Then Ste found out, over Bluetooth, and then James rejected me because I’m a coward. Ste made dad choose between him and me. I had to leave the village.” The pure unadulterated fury in his mother’s eyes is hard to look at. Tessie’s grip crushes Harry’s fingers before slowly releasing. She gives a tight smile as an apology.
“Your father is a twat. A hypocritical twat. As if he has the power to kick anyone out of the village, and his son of all people! Does he have no compassion?” Tessie launches to her feet and paces around their small flat. “You know what you’ve done wrong, Harry, you’re not stupid. You can make amends. You deserve a second chance.”
“That’s the thing, mum. I’ve had my second chances. This isn’t the first time he’s kicked he out.”
“Yes, but back then it was because he thought you were a murderer. And I do wish you’d come here when that happened, you know you’re welcome here - your my little boy.”
“I know, but I didn’t feel deserving.”
“I’m glad you’re here now. It’s been too long since I’ve seen you. You’ve gotten so big.” She reaches it a pinched one of his cheeks and kisses his forehead. “Now, knowing what you’ve done wrong and what you’d do better if you could go back, who do you want to be with? Ste or James?”
“James. Without a doubt. I’m in love with him, but I didn’t have the courage to leave the guy I’ve been with for years. But now I’m free and I can be with him.” Harry pauses. “If he’ll have me...”
“If he’s got eyes and brain between them then he’ll want you. And I’m not just talking as your mother.”
The timer on the oven beeps and Harry moves around his mother to get the plates and cutlery out. She beams at him, “I’ve missed you so much, Harry.”
“I’ve missed you too, mum. I always knew you would be on my side. For God’s sake, you visited me in prison when you could.”
“I should’ve visited more.”
They sit down for tea, companionable silence falling between them. A warm meal in his stomach is like a godsend. He hasn’t eaten since breakfast this morning, and he was too nervous then to eat more than a slice of toast. It is not lost on him that this time last year he was on the streets, woefully getting used to that hollow starving feeling.
Tessie breaks the silence, putting down her cutlery and focusing sharp blue eyes on her son. “You stay as long as you need to, Harry. You were not a burden as a child so you aren’t one now as an adult. Together we will figure out a way for you to get your man back, and you will invite me to the wedding this time.”
“Ste thinks you don’t like him.” Harry defends his sort of husband weakly.
“And he would be right. A ex-drug dealer and addict with a history of abuse is no match for my son. Please tell me this James is nothing like that.”
Harry smiles, “James is a lawyer, has no history of drugs or abuse. He did recently find out he has a seventeen year old son, though.”
“At least the child doesn’t need nappies or midnight feedings. A teenage son is alright. Now, when you woo this man of yours, you do not give up. Thompson’s are not quitters - you understand, Harry? Don’t stop until you get what you want.”
Harry nods, having heard this advice a lot as a child, but this time he vows to take it seriously. He will prove to James how much he loves him and make things right.
So that is how, just over two months later, Harry strides confidently back into the village. He ignores the cruel, derisive looks from the remaining Lomaxes, and the calls from Mercedes McQueen, who is ever eager for drama. Of course, Tony isn’t happy to see him; he accosts him as he passes the Hutch to pressure him into leaving again because Ste is having such a trying time right now and doesn’t need another reminder. Harry shortly tells his dad that he isn’t here for Ste, nor is he back for him, and he would gladly steer clear of the lot of them. He is back for one reason, and one reason alone: to win back James.