Proper existential crisis material

“We wouldn’t be doing it forever though. We’d do it for a bit, make some extra money, then get out. I don’t understand how it’s any different from what we’re doing now.” Hugh pushed his hair back from his face, lifted his coffee and set it down again without taking a drink.

“But you don’t just get out of all that when it suits you. It doesn’t work that way. They don’t just let you walk away. You always end up owing someone something and then you’re tied to them. Hugh, you know that as well as I do. We know people who’ve done this and we don’t want to be those people. Or at least I don’t want to be those people.” Andie held her mug with both hands wrapped around it, gripping more tightly than was strictly necessary.

“But we’re not them and we don’t have to be. We’re us and we don’t stop being us.” Hugh took an actual drink this time, frowning.

“It puts the shits up me what might happen. It’s too easy to get caught, too easy to go to prison and then that’s the end of everything.” Andie stared into her coffee like there might be answers floating around in there.

Hugh took a deep breath. “And you think you can’t go to prison for all the other shit we do?”

“I know you can but it’s not the same. Those are pretty much one-off jobs, at least as far as my involvement goes, and sentencing isn’t as hardcore as it is for supplying Class A’s.” It was Andie’s turn to take a deep breath.

“What about my involvement?” Hugh’s voice was almost raised. Almost.

Andie’s was definitely raised. “You chose your involvement! You were doing this first and you asked if I wanted in on it, in a limited capacity. You’ve been at it forever, back when your dad was here and then with Kev and whoever else he introduced you to. It’s what you do. It’s not what I do. Or it is, but not all of it. I didn’t choose that and I don’t want it. Not even thinking about prison, which I cannot believe I’m saying, I’d be right in the thick of it if we were in that supply chain. There are no degrees of separation, not really. There are excuses, but they don’t mean shit. That’s why YOU never got into it before either and it’s busting my head that you’re thinking about it now.”

Hugh started counting to ten in his head and reached four before he spoke again. “It was hypothetical before though. It was something I could do, if I wanted to, and I didn’t. Now it’s like an actual opportunity and it’s good money. If I had that, think about what I could do for Mum and Kelly, how I could build up the decorating business and what that could mean for Jamie. Are you really saying you don’t want the extra income, even for a while?”

Andie’s fingers tensed even more around her coffee mug. “There is no ‘even for a while’ though! Maybe I haven’t been taking any of this seriously enough, you know? And Jamie’s seventeen, for fuck’s sake. Seventeen! He can’t even drive yet. He still lives at home with Kelly and you’re seriously suggesting he get into dealing?”

“It’s not dealing. It’s just driving the stuff from one place to another place. Picking it up and dropping it off.” Hugh shook his head.

“No, it’s not. For a start, we stole the last lot from somewhere. Fuck knows how it even got there in the first place, who put it there, cause it sure as hell wasn’t the uppity fucks living in that big house. So someone stashed it there for us to take it and transport it because they wouldn’t drive it around themselves. It was part of a plan. We had a list! And why’s that? Why did Kev suddenly get in touch with you directly to give us this job after he’d passed you on ages ago to whoever the hell else he works with? And why did he not tell you exactly what we were shifting? Do you really want to work with someone who would be that deceitful?” Andie downed her remaining coffee but still held on to the mug, fingers turning white.

“Kev has a fucked up sense of humour.” Hugh finished his coffee too and set the mug down at his feet.

Andie put her cup down too. “OK, do you really want to work with someone who thinks shit like that’s funny? And it IS dealing. At least that’s what the police and the courts would say it was. If we got caught with anywhere near the amount we had on us the other day, there’s no way anyone would think we weren’t selling it. And technically we were selling it. We had it in our possession and then we gave it to someone else who gave us money. I mean fuck, do you really want to be doing that all the time?”

“Andie, I don’t want to fight with you.” Hugh’s voice was strained. He tried to smile but didn’t quite manage it.

Andie managed it, just about, her voice settling into something more gentle. “We’re not fighting. I’m not fighting. I’m just…I don’t know. When we were up north and I went to that hotel, it was like something happened in my head and I haven’t been able to shake it. I’ve never really thought about what I wanted, you know? I’ve just kind of done whatever I was doing and it’s all been fine. Or it was, until Kim died. Even after that though, when I got my shit together again, I just went back to what I’d been doing before and I didn’t even think about it. Don’t you ever wonder what it would be like if things were different, like if you’d made different choices?”

“Fucking hell, this is proper existential crisis material, Andie.” Hugh went to lift his cup, remembered it was empty, and pushed his hair back from his face instead, something to do with his hands.

“Have you though? Thought about it?” Andie picked at the already chipped black nail polish she was wearing.

“I don’t know. What I’m doing, it’s not just for me. When my dad fucked off it was like the bottom fell out of everything. I know shit like that happens and people say they saw it coming, but with him, no-one did. It was like ‘Surprise! I’m a total bastard’ and I had to make sure mum was alright. Kelly had Jamie to take care of and I had to make sure they were alright too. It hasn’t been about making choices. It’s been about doing what’s needed done.” Another deep breath.

Andie replied carefully, “I think it can still be about making choices though. I mean, there are always choices. You could’ve chosen not to give a shit about your family and just looked after yourself. You could’ve chosen not to take Jamie on as an apprentice, decorating or the other thing. Hell, you could’ve chosen not to ask me to do jobs with you. You could’ve chosen not to put me in touch with Jackie about the flat when Gran moved away. But you didn’t. Cause you’re a good person and you choose to do good things.”

Hugh shifted on the couch, not sure where to put himself. “Robbing people is a good thing? Shifting stuff other people have robbed is a good thing?”

Andie stopped picking at her nail polish. “I don’t mean good like how religious people mean it or the law means it. I mean good like giving a shit about the people who matter to you. And you do that. I know we’re into some messed up business already but we’re right on the edge of maybe jumping into something more messed up than anything we’ve ever done before. And we do get to choose. You do. And so do I.”

“I don’t think John in Kinlochmore sees it that way,” Hugh said, remembering John’s parting shot.

“Aye, he would. He’d be pissed off for a bit, but he’d be pissed off far away and only cause it would temporarily complicate his life.” Andie went back to picking at her nail polish.

Hugh looked at the floor, then his hands, then back at the floor. “Kev wouldn’t be impressed either. What if we lost all the other work?”

Andie looked at Hugh with an unsettling directness. “Kev’s not stupid. He’s not going to cut off his nose to spite his face. There’s always someone else willing to get their hands dirty and I doubt Kev’s short on those people, so he’d get someone else for the drugs no problem. You’d still have work. You know you would. And what if you didn’t? You’ve got your own decorating business. You have your tools and your van and your clients. You’ve never been short of work since you took over from Angus when he retired. You don’t even need the other stuff. You’re set already. Did you think you were going to be robbing houses forever?”

“I never thought about it.” Hugh half-smiled.

“Maybe that’s the problem. For both of us.” Andie half-smiled back, but her mind was elsewhere and her heart was somewhere near a small hotel overlooking a beach under a star-filled sky.