Hold Me Tight – S. J. Budd



“We’re so thrilled you’ve agreed to take on Jake, he’s been placed with four different carers in the last three months, but no one seems to want to have him.” Mandy, Jake’s social worker, looked down at her notes, “Such a shame. It’s usually the most challenging children that are the most rewarding.”

Kirsty cleared her throat and took a sip of tea from the chipped mug in her hands, “You said his mother is ill, what’s wrong with her?”

“I can’t say,” Mandy responded very quickly, she gathered her things and seemed eager to leave, “Good bye Jake,” She finished without looking back.

“Thanks again,” Kirsty called out after her.

Kirsty got up from her sofa and asked Jake if he was hungry he shook his head but Kirsty gave him a bar of chocolate which raised a smile. He took it and shyly sat down beside her. She got the remote and put on a kids TV programme, it had been Jessica’s favourite.

“I think we’re going to get on just fine,” Kirsty said. He was a very shy boy with dark hair and dark eyes, hopefully he liked football. It was Gary’s burning passion and Kirsty had brought this little boy into her home not because she wanted to care for him but because she needed glue to keep her fragmented family together, and Jake was just the thing.

Kirsty received a text halfway through cooking dinner, it was Gary saying he would be home late, he was going for a drink with the lads, again. Kirsty sighed and gritted her teeth, these days he was never at home, never around when she needed him the most. No doubt he blamed himself but she forgave him as she did every time he did something wrong. No one’s perfect she lamented, not even Gary.

Jake accepted his meal in silence and ate everything without protest, even the peas. Kirsty smiled he was a doddle to look after, this was going to be easy. Even when he was sent to bed there was none of the usual dramatics she had with Jessica.

“Jessie?” Kirsty whispered in the dark hallway as she waited outside an empty room that had been untouched since that day. She went back downstairs after seeing Jake to bed. There was nothing on the telly but there was a bottle of cheap wine in the cupboard so she took that out instead and sat alone at the kitchen table with one glass.

Kirsty must have been really tired because she woke up the next day still sat at the table, Jake was also sat next to her waiting with angry eyes.

“Jake, oh I didn’t hear you come down,” she quickly hid the empty bottle and glass before he saw and tried to act as if she was feeling on top of the world. He said nothing but glowered at her. “Do you usually have cereal for breakfast?” Kirsty inquired, she received no answer and turned round to see he had gone.

That was how it had started, Jake would not speak to her, would not go near her. Something in him had changed overnight. Kirsty rubbed her neck, it had been playing up again, a painful reminder of the day she had lost everything.

Gary was upstairs in bed snoring off last night’s excesses, she knew better now than to wake him, he had a terrible temper that had become much worse. It was mid- morning, there was nothing good on telly but she did find a half drunk bottle of whisky by the side of the bed. It was Gary’s but if she put the empty bottle back after she was done he’d just think it was him that drank it.

“You two are disgusting, you’re so embarrassing. Why can’t you be like normal parents?” Jake spat, he had been sat behind the sofa unknown to Kirsty.

Those words were all too familiar to her, “Jake, what are you doing behind the sofa?” Her words were beginning to slur and it was hard for her to act right.

Jake looked upstairs but made no move to come out, “Is he coming down too?”

“Gary? No he’s asleep. I didn’t realise that you had met each other. He’s really nice, do you like playing football. Gary loves football, he used to play professionally until he had his accident.” Kirsty stopped suddenly, “But don’t mention that to him, better to pretend you don’t know.”

“I hope you drink yourself to death, both of you.” Jake hissed as he ran outside to the bottom of the garden.

Kirsty hid her face in her hands, there was only one thing she could do to numb the pain and that was to drink a bit more until it went away. It seemed like he knew her already, he hated her already. Was this what he did when he was placed with new foster carers? Was he deliberately trying to push her away? She wasn’t going to give up, not like last time.

“We’re all hurting in this house Jake, but we can help each other. You can help me and I can help you. Does that sound fair?” Kirsty asked as she found him kicking about an old ball.

“You don’t deserve help,” was all he said.

As the day progressed Kirsty’s mind became clearer, this had been a big mistake. Jake was not going to bring the things back that she had so desperately wanted. They were not going to be a family, he was just another broken creature in a house of suffering. She made that call to Mandy who did not hide her disappointment in Kirsty’s decision to stop caring for the boy.

“I’ll come round tomorrow, give you a chance to sleep on it,” She spoke coldly.

“Can’t you come and get him now?” Kirsty pleaded looking out the living room window to the stranger in her garden. The line went dead, Mandy had hung up.

“What have I done?”

Kirsty couldn’t sleep at all that night, Jake had really unnerved her but at least he had put up no fuss when she sent him to bed early. In fact he had welcomed it, he must have been glad to be away from her. Kirsty sighed and rubbed her temples. Was she really so terrible a person?

Gary was down the pub again, he didn’t care for Jake. This had been one very big mistake. She got out of bed but she wasn’t going to drink this time. Her life needed changes she needed to stop it for good.

“I have a problem,” she whispered as she traipsed down the hallway. When she got to Jake’s room she heard a sound and paused. There was another muffled giggle, it sounded like a girls chuckle.

“I told her, I hope you drink yourself to death,” Jake giggled followed by more laughing. Kirsty was shocked that Jake was capable of laughter, he seemed such a sombre child during the day. Now, in the darkness he was unrestrained and free.

“She didn’t say anything back,” there was another pause. “No I didn’t get a smack either.” Kirsty leaned in trying to decide whether she could hear another voice, “I’ll make sure to stay out of his way.” Kirsty thought about going in and turning on the light but there was something that stopped her from doing so. She wanted to know who he was talking to, there was definitely somebody else in there with him.

“Jess, if you’re still feeling sore you can sleep on the bed and I’ll take the floor. I don’t mind.” There was a rustling of bed sheets followed by several soft creaks on the floorboards. “Of course you can sleep in with me, I’ll hold you tight.”

Kirsty took a step back and nearly fell down the stairs in shock. Quickly she went downstairs, luckily there was a can of opened beer that Gary had left on the kitchen table. He’d be mad when he would get in later and see it was gone, but right now, she needed it more than him.

How could he have known her name? Was it possible Mandy had told him? Surely it was a strange thing to tell a child? Was Jake really talking to Jessica? An overwhelming surge of emotion took over her like a rip tide pounding a beaten shore.. She had not allowed herself to feel anything for the last six months and now it, the very thing she’d been trying to drown, had burst through the dams. Was he really talking to Jessica, her Jessica? Her only child who tragically died six months ago. She saw it now, Jake was not the glue needed to hold this family together, but the bridge in which to speak to her daughter. She wanted to go up there now and speak to her, but she didn’t want to blow her chance.

Eventually Jake came down shortly after nine AM, Kirsty had refused any more alcohol after that beer and was completely sober, it hurt like hell but she was ready for it, ready for the suffering of the darkest dawn. Now Jake was here, she’d find a new day to begin again. With Jessica’s help also, she knew she could turn her life around.

“Jake what have I done to upset you? I only want to be your friend.” Kirsty had made him a special fried breakfast, she’d nipped out whilst he had been asleep to buy the ingredients needed.

“You’re mean,” Was all he said as he pushed the plate away.

“Look Jake,” Kirsty said taking hold of his shoulders in her grip, “I need to know. Were you talking to Jessica last night? Is she here? Please I need to talk to her. She’s my daughter.” Jake wriggled away from her with a surprising strength.

“Don’t touch me. I know what you did.”

“What do you mean? Look, can you speak to her or not?” Kirsty asked growing impatient, all she wanted was her little girl back.

“Yes I can, but she doesn’t want to speak to you and neither do I” Jake said retreating further back.

“But why?” Kirsty cried, the struggle to stay sober was getting too much.

“Because you killed her! She hates you.” Jake roared he added in a quieter tone, “She’s told me everything, that you two drove home after a BBQ. You let Gary drive even though you knew he’d had too much to drink. He crashed the car and she died, but instead of giving her justice, you lied and said it was you driving.” Jake threw up his hands in disbelief, “And you still love him, you still let him sleep here, in her home.”

“I don’t have anyone else now,” Kirsty whispered, she tried to get closer to Jake but he retreated further backwards, “Please ask her to speak to me. I’ll do anything.”

Jake shook his head unmoved, “She lives in the darkness now, where you put her. She only whispers in the dark.”

“How can I find a way to speak with her? Please Jake, she’s my daughter. I need her back, I can’t take this anymore.” Finally her resolve gave way and she collapsed in a pitiful heap upon the dirty cracked linoleum floor.

There was a knock on the door and Jake froze. There was a grim look on his face and mournfully he glanced upstairs. “I knew you’d do this,” He said knowing who was on the other side before he’d opened it. He smiled as if remembering a happy memory. “Gary won’t be waking up today.”

“Wait. Jake what are you talking about?” Kirsty fought down the urge to be sick as she raced upstairs.

“Hi Mandy,” Jake said cheerily, “I’ll just get my things.”

About the Author: Originally born in Cornwall, south west England, her childhood was surrounded by myths and legends and she has always been fascinated by anything out of the ordinary. It was in this strange and ancient land where she developed a passion for writing.

She loves writing short stories exploring dark fictional worlds and its mysterious inhabitants, and is currently working on her first novel. Her day job involves working as journalist for www.findahood.com and she also blogs on her sitehttp://www.sjbudd.co.uk

Her work has appeared in Sanitarium Magazine, Siren’s Call Publications, Deadman’s Tome, Innersins , Aphelion, Bewildering Stories, Blood Moon Rising Magazine, Shadows at the Door and Danse Macabre Magazine, The Wild Hunt and Morpheus Tales

Twitter @sjbuddj



  1. I have mixed feelings about this one. A somewhat effective ghost story and I liked the subtle implication at the end (that Gary was dead upstairs). But punctuation seems rather haphazard at times (surprising in a working journalist and I found it distracting). Is the term ‘carer'(used twice here)an English phrase? I’m unfamiliar with it, over here in the US we’d just say ‘foster parent’or maybe ‘caregiver’–that’s not a criticism, as such, but an observation.Overall, a respectable effort.

  2. I liked the story, ‘Carer’ is a British term and does indeed mean caregiver. For example a woman who has legal responsibility for her elderly mother World be her ‘carer.’

    Mr Deadman is the ‘carer’ of dark beer.

  3. Thanks Jim for the feedback. It’s nice to know people are reading my stories. Yes, to be fair I’m not great with grammar and punctuation!

    1. And I only make corrections if it’s like really bad OR when it’s selected for an anthology.

      I have some notes on this story, commentary, that I’ll share on Friday.

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