Sonic the Hedgehog zipped around the screen as my oldest son, Jake, sat in front of the TV, enthralled.
Jake loved playing Xbox games more than anything else. Sadly, Sonic and the other characters were as close as he came to having friends.
At school he was picked on for having Asperger syndrome. It broke my heart to see him head to class each day, knowing he faced long, lonely lunch hours and endless taunting.
“It doesn’t matter what the bullies say, sweetheart,” I told him. “You’re better than them.”
Jake was smart. His grades never slipped lower than a B. He could have done anything he wanted, and what he wanted most was to be a games tester.
My husband, John, and I were proud of Jake, though we hoped he’d find friends someday. He was caring and affectionate towards his autistic younger brother, Adam. But kids were too cruel to see the kind-hearted boy we knew.
When Jake turned 18, we had a family lunch at a fancy hotel. He’d invited 12 of his classmates.
As the day wore on, all the seats remained empty. Every time he heard a door open, Jake sat up straight and looked around hopefully.
Silence hung in the air. This was supposed to be one of the biggest days of his life and my son’s heart was breaking. Back home, he burst into tears.
“Why doesn’t anyone like me?” he asked.
Holding Jake tight, I tried to reassure him that it was their loss. Anyone who couldn’t look past Asperger syndrome wasn’t looking hard enough.
After he finished school, Jake still struggled to find his place in the world. He applied for countless jobs and faced one rejection after the other.
“Don’t give up,” I said. “You’ll get a job soon.”
Jake was despondent.
“Why bother?” he replied, skulking off to his bedroom.
I felt terrible. There was nothing I could do to help him out of the rut he’d fallen into.
Things got worse for us when we noticed a lump on Jake’s right eye, which turned out to be cancer.
“What’s Jake done to deserve so much bad luck?” I cried.
But Jake was determined to fight the cancer, and he did.
“Life will still go on,” he said resolutely.
With treatment out of the way, I soon noticed Jake was happier than usual.
Smiling widely, he explained how he’d joined an Xbox Facebook group and made friends with a boy called Max.
“Can Max come over?” he asked. John and I were elated.
When Max, 19, came to our house, we couldn’t believe the change in Jake. The two started going to the movies and hanging out.
“It’s finally happened,” John and I said to each other. Jake had made his first friend.
We both approved of Max, who was polite and sensible.
So when he introduced Jake to his mate, Kyle, we were pleased that our son’s group of friends was slowly expanding.
The three of them enjoyed playing video games together, often over at our place.
One day, Jake and Max were playing together for hours before Kyle turned up.
I popped out and like I always did when I left him, I told Jake I loved him.
“I love you, too,” Jake replied, closing the door and walking back towards his bedroom.
Almost an hour later I drove home when the shrill sound of an ambulance speeding past made me slow down.
Overtaking me, the ambulance kept going in the same direction as I was. As I got closer to home, I saw a police car in the distance.
It looks like it’s parked in front of our house, I thought.
Sure enough, a police car was there. I started to shake with fear. I knew instinctively that something had happened.
Once I pulled up, a policeman rushed towards me.
“I’m very sorry, Mrs Lasker,” he said. “Jake’s no longer with us.”
His words crippled me. My legs weakened and everything seemed blurry. The whole world was spinning beyond my control. Jake… gone… ambulance… police …
I saw our neighbour leave our house in tears.
“I heard the back door open,” the neighbour began telling me. “Max and Kyle ran out, so I called Jake to see if everything was okay. The phone rang and rang.”
I was hysterical. Police told me what had happened: Jake had been stabbed to death.
“Why?!” I wailed, struggling to understand how we’d ended up in a living nightmare.
Our home was a crime scene now, so we had to stay with my mum while forensics analysed the place.
The next day, Max Peter Smith pleaded guilty to stabbing Jake, 19, more than 100 times. Although he wasn’t in the room at the time of the attack, Kyle Mitchell Dumesny had also been arrested for murder.
The news sickened me to the core.
We’d let two killers into our home. Why had they taken my son from me?
I hadn’t expected such a shocking answer.
“Jo, quick!” John called. “Come and look at this.”
My stomach sank.
There on the TV news were Max and Kyle’s names and text messages they’d sent each other days before they killed my son.
I can’t be bothered with him anymore, Max wrote. I try but he just doesn’t welcome any positive comments… Can we kill him I’m just sick of it all… I’ve got a bag, string, a knife and places to bury or dump.
My blood was boiling. Two bullies had killed my son for no other reason than that they didn’t like him.
Max was later sentenced to life. At a court hearing I took to the stand, facing Kyle. I was disgusted to learn that he had heard Jake’s screams yet he did nothing to help his friend.
“We trusted you with Jake,” I said. “Boy, were we so wrong.”
Kyle was sentenced to seven years, but can apply for parole later this year.
I’m glad both men are behind bars where they belong, but it doesn’t bring back Jake.
I cling to the memories of my sweet son, taken from me far too soon, and our final words to one another.
Jake died knowing I loved him, but I will never know how people could do something so horrible to an innocent person.