Jack and Daniel ran to the Woods behind Daniel`s house along the well-trodden path between the whispering trees that led to their favorite place, their den. Their feet crunched and cracked the lifeless branches which punctuated the silence then crumbled beneath him. The sky vanished completely underneath the rich overhanging canopy of the interwoven branches. The occasional scrabble of insects burrowing beneath the leafy carpet of tangled vegetation contrasted with the stillness of the woods.
The den came into view, Daniel`s dad had helped him make it out of recycled wood. Daniel`s mum had given them blankets and cushions to give it a homely feel. They took their treasures to their precious den, at that moment their treasures were a collection of conkers which were all the rage in school.
“Mine`s a peggy eighter” Jack bragged after spending all break time taking on all comers with his shiny new conker.
“Mine broke today, but I'm going to get a better one from these.” Daniel looked through their collection for the biggest, shiniest one he could find. Another one of their treasures was the autumn leaves that had fallen in the woods, in all different shades of ruby reds, pumpkin oranges and passionate purples. They made collages out of them, just like they had in school and put them up on the den`s walls for decoration.
Daniel opened his bag “I nearly forgot” he said dramatically “Mum gave us these.” he opened the green Tupperware dish to reveal six home baked chocolate chip cookies. Jack’s eyes lit up and his belly rumbled, he was so hungry. Daniel shared them out and rummaged once more in his bag finding two chocolate milkshake drinks his mother had also packed. Jack took one gratefully and there was a companionable, comfortable, contented silence as the two boys ate their cookies and drunk their milkshakes.
“What should we do tonight?” Daniel asked. Jack was always the one with the ideas.
“Let's go and pick apples and sell them tomorrow”. Jack replied eagerly.
“Who do we sell him to?” Daniel asked puzzled.
“I don't know, we can knock on doors and ask, your neighbors maybe? Lots of people like apples and there's loads in the Woods”.
“OK” Daniel agreed and they soon scampered about getting apples and pretending they were diamonds needed to buy a Castle and rescue a Prince.
“Check they are not bruised, look carefully” Jack advised. When they had quite a bagful they climbed back into the tree house.
“What time is it?” Daniel asked checking his watch at the same time. “Half six, that's ok, do you want to play Trump's?” Jack nodded
“Here's the torches”. Daniel passed Jack a heavy black torch, the light was just starting to fade. Jack wrapped one of the blankets around his shoulders and shivered slightly, he didn't have a coat on. The boys played Trump's and laughed at silly things until it started to get quite dark. Daniel looked at his watch.
“It's ten past seven, my mom's gonna kill me” he shouted dramatically, packing his things into his rucksack frantically.
“Can you stay a bit longer?” Jack asks, sad to see his friend leave and the evening over.
“No I'm supposed to be in at 7:00 or she goes mental”. Daniel was panicking, climbing from the tree house quickly.
“I wish my mom was like yours she doesn't care what time you get in”. He shouted, already running down the familiar path towards his home.
“See you tomorrow” his voice faded as he got further away.
“Daniel you're late I've been worried” His mother shouted crossly “Your dinner is on the table”. Daniel sat down to his his mom's homemade pie, mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy without a word.
“What's the matter with you?” his mother questioned as she took his empty plate.
“Why can't you be more like Jack's mom? She doesn't care what time he comes in, she doesn't get cross when he's late.” Daniel answered sulkily.
“I just want to know that you're safe that's all” his mother answered quietly “Now come on its time for bed”. Daniel had his bath, put on his fluffy pajamas got into bed and was soon fast asleep.
Jack climbed down from the tree house slowly, he hated leaving his favorite place, his den. He walked in the opposite direction to Daniel, his home was further away. Jack`s street was still a hive of activity, despite it being dark and there being a nip in the air. A group of boys were on their bikes doing wheelies and showing off to each other. A couple were dragging a mattress out of their front door, shouting and swearing at each other because of how difficult it was to maneuver out of the door. Two women were leaning over their fence chatting loudly with cans of cider in their hands. Jack walked unnoticed, almost invisibly towards his house.
He walked through his broken garden gate and up to his front door. He avoided the smashed flower pots and bundles of wet newspapers by the step and opened the cracked front door with his key. “I’m home mum” he shouted. There was no reply. “Mum” he called, picking up the pile of letters from the floor in the hall. His mother was in the room lying on the sofa, her phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The room smelt of cheap perfume, cigarette smoke and wet dog. Jack ignored the mess of magazines, clothing and wine bottles strewn around.
“What's for dinner mum?” Jack asked hopefully.
“I`m busy, get yourself something” she replied not even looking up and making eye contact with him. Jack went into the tiny kitchen; every surface was littered with unwashed dishes and empty food cartoons. He sighed wondering what Daniel`s mum had made him for dinner. Opening the fridge, he found a lump of cheese, he folded some stale bread in half and put the cheese in the center then took it up the creaky stairs to his bedroom. His room was cold and damp with the wallpaper peeling off the walls and black mold spots, like an army of marching ants climbing up the walls. He lay on his bare mattress on the floor and pulled his duvet around him to keep warm and to drown out the noise of his brother`s heavy metal music in the bedroom next door. Tomorrow was another day and with a bit of luck he might sell those apples for a few quid.