It’s Throwback Thursday again and in my review of the Power of Zero series, we have arrived at Ghosts. Once upon a time, before Gareth decided to surprise me by rescuing two kids, Ghosts was a sweet Christmas story, a way for Jack and Gareth to connect and get to know each other better. When Daniel and Nico entered the picture – and yes, I do most definitely not write in chronological order – Ghosts morphed into an exploration of families. Those we’re born to and those we’ve made for ourselves.
Families are a difficult subject for me, so Ghosts will always hold a special place in my mind. It’s quieter than Job Hunt or House Hunt, like taking a deep breath between exertions. And then, of course, there are Daniel and Nico, who bring their own insights to the tale. The two are hurt, and scared, and wary, but they have the courage to try for something better. They even have the generosity to reach out.
Which is where this week’s Throwback Thursday snippet comes in. Gareth’s mother, who fosters Daniel and Nico, has shown them a way to deal with bad memories and the first thing the two think to do is share their knew-found knowledge with Jack.
“Why are you wearing matching keys?”
Jack settled into steaming, churning water and watched Nico and Daniel climb into the hot tub as if it might bite. Despite their many visits to his home, Gareth’s favorite way to relax had never even come up in conversation. The two boys had first been incredulous when Jack proposed a hot bath in the garden, then suspicious that Jack was playing tricks. Now, though, both beamed widely enough to brighten the lunchtime gloom.
“This is cool!” Nico exclaimed.
A moment later, Daniel chimed in. “Is it always hot?”
Jack’s lips quirked. “It can’t be always hot if it’s cool, can it?” he teased and slipped under the water with a sigh. He let the dull roar of the jets override the buzzing between his ears and soothe the headache that was just threatening to start behind his eyes.
Nico and Daniel were fine. Worried and apprehensive, maybe, but fine. He had to stop fussing, or Gareth would do more than bop him on the head and tease him over being a mother hen.
“So, what’s with the keys?” he asked when he resurfaced, brushing sopping wet hair from his face.
The half giggle and bashful glances reminded Jack of how the two used to be when he’d met them. Never meeting anyone’s eyes directly, shrinking from contact, and communicating near silently with each other, the two had come a long way since. Even if Daniel was still the quieter of the two and Nico often had to be coaxed into explanations.
“Keys?” he reminded them, until Nico finally decided to answer.
“We’re staying with Mrs. Flynn, you know. For real. Lisa said so.”
“I know. But these are not door keys.”
“No, they’re not. They’re more important than that.”
“More important than the keys to your home?”
“Yes.” Nico nodded and Daniel nodded right along with him, clearly in agreement. “Mrs. Flynn said that when you’re making a new start you need a safe place to dump all the bad stuff from before, so you don’t drag it around with you. She gave us each a box and a diary. They’re ours to keep and lock away. Nobody will see what’s inside unless we let them.”
It wasn’t surprising that Gareth held strong beliefs in new beginnings, if this was what Gareth’s mother was teaching the two boys. It was the faith in Nico’s voice that staggered Jack. After weeks of chasing down leads, he had more than an idea of what the two had been through, and their resilience astonished him. Here he was, with enough baggage of his own to challenge Samsonite, tiptoeing around two teenagers who took a foster home, court appearances, and a giant Christmas party filled with strangers mostly in their stride… though they had fought tooth and nail when Gareth’s mother had wanted each boy to have a room of his own.
“Dinner is waiting, and the skinniest three guys here waste time in the tub.” Gareth’s growl interrupted Jack’s reverie and startled both Nico and Daniel into yelps of panic.
“If you don’t want to be surprised, always position yourself so you can see anyone who approaches.” Jack’s instructions were soft, his voice careful. Daniel caught on first. His eyes flew from Jack, sitting on the side of the tub that backed the shrubbery, to the house and across the garden.
“You do that!”
“All the time.” Jack nodded. “Gareth does, too. You’ll never catch him sitting with his back to a door.”
“Or a window.” Gareth held two brand-new hooded bathrobes over his arm. One was dark blue with Daniel’s name embroidered in gold thread across the back, the other dark brown with Nico’s name on it. “Now get out of the tub or dinner’s going to be cold, and you three are going to be very unpopular.”
Nico jumped out of the hot tub first and gleefully huddled into his robe. “I look like a boxer!” he crowed, tying the sash and waving his arms over his head in a champion’s salute.
“But do you have the moves?” Gareth challenged, raising loosely curled fists to cover his face and dancing on the balls of his feet.
An impromptu sparring match ensued while Jack and Daniel climbed out of the tub and braved the chilly air. “I don’t like boxing,” Daniel confided as he slipped into the sleeves of the dark blue robe that Jack held out for him. “If I have to do fighting, I want to learn karate. Or that thing where you dress up like a samurai and carry a sword, like in that film we watched, you know?”
“Kendo,” Jack supplied, and pulled Daniel’s hood up when the boy shivered. “I don’t know if there is a beginner’s class at my dojo. I can ask if you want.”
Daniel bowed a bit awkwardly, the wide hood obscuring most of his face. “If there isn’t, will you teach me, sensei?”
“Don’t call me that,” Jack grumbled as he led Daniel across the lawn toward the back door, towels, and warmth. “I’m not that old.”
“Wait for me!”
Jack flattened himself against the wall as Nico came charging up the stairs. Gareth tapped his watch in a meaningful way and Jack nodded. He herded the boys into Gareth’s bedroom where towels, clothes, and a hairdryer waited for them, only to stop dead in the doorway.
There, on Jack’s pillow, sat a metal box of deep green enamel, brightened by amber-colored studs in each corner. On top of the box lay a key on a chain, next to a diary bound in deep green leather.
“We thought you needed a safe place for old stuff, too,” Daniel said, watching him carefully from beside the bed.
Small kindnesses had a way of catching up with him and biting him on the ass, Jack thought, resigned. He’d shared some of his past to help Daniel and Nico through their fears without first considering the consequences, even though he knew the merit in letting sleeping dogs lie. Now that he’d woken them, he had to deal with the mess.
Jack stepped between the two boys and looked down at his gift. The enamel gleamed, its deep color soothing and peaceful while the amber studs reminded him of Gareth’s eyes.
“I think you’re right,” he said, as the lengthy bout of insomnia suddenly made perfect sense. “A place to dump old trash will come in very handy.”
He reached for the key and fastened the thin chain around his neck, in the place where, for many years, he’d chosen to wear a thin strip of embossed leather as a tangible reminder of things that mattered. It seemed oddly fitting.
If you like to find out how to lay ghosts and learn the secrets of a home-made family you can get your copy of Ghosts here: