The plan was partly detailed in my notebook, and partly kept inside our heads. It made me smile every time I thought about it, and every time I looked at my mother and sensed her lies, I would think, well you don’t know everything either. Michael was like the driving force behind it, spending hours in my room with me, coming up with tricks and pranks, and ways we could get rid of Bradley. More often than not we would end up rolling around the floor with laughter. It helped a lot, having him on board, in fact I still couldn’t believe how quickly he had come to my aid. I’d never had a friend like that before. I’d never known anyone who wanted to help you, even if it meant them getting in trouble themselves. I buckled down at school, those next few weeks. I avoided trouble with Higgs. I had to really. I had to stay in mothers good books in order for her let her guard down. She relaxed you see, when I wasn’t being a pain. She thought I wouldn’t notice her new hair style and her new clothes. She thought things like that went over my head, but they fucking didn’t. I watched her from a safe distance, and heard her giggling softly down the phone. Sometimes she was late home from work, and we all knew why, but nothing was said, everything was a cover up, you see. I thought about her when I wrote in my book, and I thought about her when I listened to music. She was always in my head back then. It was like a constant war going on within me, and probably within her too. Sometimes I looked at her and felt nothing, like I had been adopted or something. Sometimes I wondered where I had come from.
Billy had got me into The Clash, and they were old, but fucking amazing. I felt jealous of anyone who had been young back then, when punk was all kicking off. It must have been amazing! All that rebellion and fighting back! Yes! There was this one line, from ‘Lost In The Supermarket’ that I really liked, and it kind of summed up the way I felt when I looked at my mother at that time; I wasn’t born, so much as I fell out, no one seemed to notice me, there was a hedge back in the suburbs, over which I never could see. It was something like that, anyway, and I loved it. Not just the bit about falling out, because I could really relate to that, but the bit about the hedge. Obviously I didn’t imagine a real hedge, more like the way there is always something in the way, stopping you from seeing the truth. Like you have to wait until you have grown before they will let you see anything. Does that make sense? Well, it did to me.
Of course, I eavesdropped when I could. I was an expert at it. It was my way of gathering information, stocking up on ammunition. “You can’t really blame him,” I heard John saying to her one day. They were in the kitchen. But if I leaned over the banisters I could hear them just fine. “After the last guy, I mean. That was no fun for any of us.”
“God, am I really going to be paying for that forever?” she had shot back at him. I could tell by her voice that she had a fag on the go. “Christ, we are all allowed to make mistakes you know! Plus, yes, me and Danny had an agreement, but he’s broken his side of it, so why can’t I break mine? I like Frank, okay? He’s a decent bloke.”
I wanted to direct words into Johns head then. I wanted him to say what I was thinking. You always say that! You always think that! And you are always wrong! John just sighed at her patiently. “Well you’ll have to deal with all this yourself when I’m gone,” he chose to remind her instead. “So I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“I’m an adult John, darling! Thank you for your concern, but you really don’t need to worry about a thing. Frank is a nice guy, we are having a bit of fun, and as for Danny, well the day I take orders from a thirteen year old kid is the day hell freezes over, all right?”
I had to wait a bit of course. Bide my time, like always. I had detentions to see out at school, which sort of got in the way of the plan. Detentions were torture. Just knowing the gang were out there somewhere, having fun and laughing without me, gave me this deep physical pain in my body. This ache of longing that I could barely stand. But finally, my patience was rewarded. Mum invited the wonderful Frank over for dinner. You could tell this was her way of being adult about things. “You can meet him,” she had told me, her tone very dark and full of warning. I merely grinned in anticipation. This of course was exactly the opportunity I needed. “Then you can see for yourself what a nice normal guy he is, and stop worrying, how about that?”
“Fine,” I told her, meeting her eye. “Brilliant. Bring it on.”
At school, I told Michael that the plan was on, and that he needed to be part of it. His eyes lit up and his grin touched his ears. “Be at mine for six,” I told him. “You’re the uninvited dinner guest. You’re locked out your house or something, okay?”
The plan was perfect, and the thought of it tickled me no end as I stood out in the back garden that afternoon, kicking a football against the house. I had a fag on the go, and this was the first thing John noticed when he appeared around the corner and glared at me. “You are not supposed to be smoking!” he barked at me, all fatherly like. I stopped kicking the ball and laughed at him.
“You’re not supposed to be such a dick, but hey, that’s life!”
He sucked in his breath for a moment. Then he took a step backwards. “Right then, you can deal with this yourself. I’m going out. Tell mum I got that job at the shopping centre. Tell her I went to work!” He said this as if I should care or something. I just flicked ash at the grass and laughed at him.
“Ooh no, I won’t have big brother to hold my hand, what will I ever do?”
“Idiot,” he told me, and marched off.
“Arsehole!” I yelled after him. I chucked the cigarette down when I heard my the car pulling up out the front. I came around the house slowly, and cautiously. I watched her get out of her little orange Fiat, and I watched the guy get out the other side. I could tell right away that they were involved. Only an idiot would have thought otherwise. It was all in their body language, their secret smiles, their soft laughter and crinkled up eyes. He was tall and slim, with floppy blonde hair. He could have been any age to me; twenty two or forty two. I folded my arms and regarded him as simply another opponent, and I already had a feeling that this one was going to be easy. Mum clocked me and right away looked shifty. She cleared her throat, slammed the car door and approached me warily.
“Danny, this is Frank, Frank this is my youngest son Danny.”
The guy smiled awkwardly. He didn’t stick out his hand or anything. “All right?” he said instead, hands in pockets. He was wearing a sharp silver grey suit. Looked exactly like I thought he would. He had car salesman stamped all over him, and Michael was right, he had sleaze stamped all over him too. I took him by surprise then, plastering this dopey look all over my face and thrusting my hand out at him desperately.
“Good to meet you!” I beamed. He looked momentarily terrified of course. Your mothers’ boyfriends never want you to be too friendly. They want you to like them of course, only not too much. If you hadn’t already guessed, too friendly was the approach I was going for with this guy. I pumped his hand really hard, and followed them eagerly into the kitchen, while my mum shot me nervous looks over her shoulder.
“What do you want to drink Frank?” I asked him right away, as he pulled up a chair. He looked stunned again. I guessed my mum had probably warned him I would be a pain in the arse or something.
“Um, I don’t know…a beer maybe? If you have one?”
“We have beer,” I told him, fetching one quickly from the fridge. I gave it to him, grinned like a lunatic and sat down next to him. My mother was just staring at me then. She was frozen to the spot in horror and confusion. I choked back laughter and gazed back up at her.
“I have to get changed,” she said then, her voice coming out slowly, as if her brain was slightly detached from her mouth. “We’re having takeaway. You guys can decide.”
“I’ll get the leaflets,” I announced eagerly, leaping up again to grab the pile of takeaway fliers that had gathered up on the hall table. My mother passed me, as she headed up the stairs. She had one hand wandering around in her hair, and the other hanging limply before her. She opened her mouth as if to say something to me, and then seemed to change her mind and hurried up the stairs instead. “Oh John’s at work!” I called up to her brightly. She froze on the top step and stared down at me frowning.
“I dunno,” I shrugged. “He said he had a job. Oh, I better not leave Frank alone out there!” I rushed back into the kitchen, my chest swelling with some sort of glory. I had a bounce in every step, and after another fifteen minutes with Mr. Bradley, I was grinning so much my face hurt. He was squirming away by then, his eyes flicking constantly to the door, desperately waiting for my mother to come and get him off the hook. “She really likes you,” I told him for about the twentieth time. This alone seemed to be unnerving him. I was sat as close as I could get to him, my knee pressing against his. “You pick the dinner,” I kept telling him. “Go on you pick. I don’t mind. I’ll eat anything. And she won’t touch a thing. She’s always on a diet or something.”
Bradley had the leaflets in a neat little pile. He kept tapping them against the table to shuffle them into place. “Oh no, no, we’ll wait for your mother,” he told me with a weak smile.
“I need to talk to you about something actually,” I whispered then, leaning closer. “Before she comes back down!”
“Yeah, like man to man, if you don’t mind?” I stared up at him, wide eyed and gorgeous, just like my mother had always said I was, as if I were pinning my boyish hopes entirely on him. He looked dumbfounded and appalled. “It’s just,” I went on, with a little dip of the eyes and a sniff of the nose. “I don’t have my dad around you see…so I haven’t got anyone to talk to about these kind of things…”
“Uh, what kind of things?” He got up from the table then. He couldn’t stand it you see, me leaning in like that, gazing at him in hope. Useless spineless selfish fuck like all of them. I had victory already. He got up and lingered in the doorway, crossing and uncrossing his arms, while he stared out at the hallway.
“Personal kind of things,” I went on eagerly, even though just being in the same room as him was making my stomach feel sick. “You know, father to son kind of things?” That was the clincher of course. Guys like him never want to hear the father word, or anything that might remotely point to a future. He turned his back on me and walked to the hall table, tapping the leaflets against one palm. I got up and watched him.
“I’ll call up the pizza place shall I?” he yelled up the stairs. There was a tap at the back door. It was Mike. I ushered him in, triumph written all over my face, as I held up a hand for a silent high five. He looked perturbed but pleased.
“Nice one,” he mouthed. I nodded. Jerked my thumb towards the hallway, where Frank Bradley could be heard mumbling on the telephone. “You’re locked out of home,” I whispered to Michael. “Got nowhere to go.” He nodded in approval.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Just follow my lead.”
Just then mum strolled casually into the kitchen. Frank Bradley was right behind her, his eyes bulging at the rear view of her tight fitting jeans. I felt a hard tightening in my chest, at the sight of her, and him closing in from behind. She looked okay now, I thought in amazement. She had this calm and knowing smile stretched out across her face, and her eyes regarded me cooly as she stopped and took in Michael. “Danny, not now, we’re about to have dinner.”
“He’s locked out!” I cried at her, gripping him by the arm and dragging him forward. “Aren’t you Mike? He’s got nowhere to go!”
“My mum went out,” Michael shrugged dutifully, hands in pockets. “Dunno when she’ll be back. She’s always going off places and not telling me.”
I watched my mother suck in her breath, her rib cage rising up with her slim fitting t-shirt to reveal a slash of her belly. She had her hands on her hips and her eyes on me. They said, I know what you are doing, I can see right through you. “I wonder why,” she murmured instead, and turned to Bradley. “Let’s go and sit down. The boys can call us when the pizza arrives.”
I waited until they had closed the lounge door behind them, before I turned to Michael and grinned. “It’s going well then?” he asked, slipping into a chair at the table. He lolled in it, one arm dangling off the back. I sat down next to him. I clasped my hands together. I was starting to sweat.
“I had him getting all hot and bothered,” I whispered. “You know, threw a load of cringey stuff at him. Gotta pile it on thick though.”
Michael snorted in amusement. “I thought he was looking all hot and bothered for a different reason.”
I rolled my eyes. “Shut up. You have to help me. Say anything you like. Do anything you like. Just help me make him squirm, yeah?”
“Understood,” he nodded and saluted me. “Don’t worry. I know who his last few girlfriends were. Could be pretty awkward!”
Together, Mike and I hit Bradley with everything we had. We started slow, we started gentle, but by the time the pizza was half demolished, we had given up on being subtle. We made sure we remained polite, over eager, and over friendly, so that way my mother could not send us out of the room, or anything. We did most of it out of her earshot too. Questioned him about his past girlfriends, what went wrong and why. Interviewed him for possible father material. Asked his advice on girls at school. Whatever we said made him turn crimson. Just looking at him made the poor man twist and writhe in his seat. Finally, he could take no more, and scuttled off home, throwing some poor excuse my mums way. To give her credit, she took it well, as if she had been expecting as much. I felt like yelling one nil or something, as he sidled out of the door, but I couldn’t let myself. I couldn’t look at Michael by then either. He had been shuddering and snorting throughout most of the dinner, trying and failing to contain his personal amusement. My mother merely watched Frank leave, sighed and got to her feet, casting a weary eye over the two of us. “That went well,” I had the nerve to comment as she headed towards the hall way. “Didn’t it mum?”
“Fine. Would have been nice to get some time alone with Frank, but oh well, I’ll see him tomorrow I suppose.”
“I think he’s really nice,” I beamed at her. Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly, before she smiled, revealing her teeth.
“Good,” she said. “Very good. I’m glad you feel like that Danny. Because so do I. So maybe you won’t mind seeing a whole lot more of him from now on, eh?” She lifted her eyebrows at me, sipped her wine, and tossed her hair as she left the kitchen. I could hear Michael drumming his fingers against the table top, and when I turned to look at him, he licked his lips at me.
“Sounded like a challenge to me mate.”
I nodded at him stiffly. “Yeah. So much for just fucking friends, eh?” I felt the anger twisting within me. “Her fucking boss,” I growled.
“Plenty more to play for,” Michael reminded me casually. “That was just the beginning. He won’t want to be anywhere near your mum by the time we’ve finished with him.”
I was waiting for something.
I felt it in my bones. I felt it in my muscles when I moved. In my veins, and under my skin. Everywhere. I felt it everywhere. I was waiting, and the feeling told me I would not have to wait much longer. Call it intuition. Or instinct. Whatever. I trusted it, and I knew it. I’d never been wrong before.
I’d seen her. The one I wanted. She came in every Friday night with her friends. I didn’t think they were her real friends. She doesn’t look that comfortable with them anyway. She looked like she was trying a bit too hard. She threw her head back when she laughed. She had wide blue eyes. Beautiful. She gazed into their faces when they talked. She absorbed whatever they said, whatever they cackled. Maybe they were her workmates, I thought. Yeah, made sense. People she vaguely knew, people who knew only vague and superficial things about her. They didn’t care for details. I thought, they were missing out. Because there was something about her.
She hadn’t noticed me yet. My intention. I would remain unseen until I had learnt more. I liked the way she dressed. I noticed that first. Classy. If the dress had low cleavage then it would be knee length. If the dress was above the knee, then the top was modest. She had dark blonde hair. Not too trashy. The fringe bounced into her eyes when she leant into the conversation. She tucked it behind her ears, raised her hand to her mouth when she giggled appreciatively. I didn’t imagine her friends were saying anything particularly interesting or useful. I thought she liked to please.
When she walked to the bar, the crowd parted. Eyes flicked up, then down. Men stared back into their pints, and their foreheads creased with the clash of desire and fear. She knew it, because she always walked tall. Head held up, but not high. A smile that was encouraging, yet modest. She waited her turn politely, expecting no favours. She was not surprised, but she was gracious when a man let her take his turn. She folded her arms across the bar, clutching a ten pound note in one softly curled hand. Dry white wine, and a Southern Comfort with coke. I watched her walk back to her friends, and one night there was a man with them.
Unlike him, I didn’t feel fear. I was not afraid of her. He had young, arrogant good looks, yet he was feebly unable to handle her. I felt a flush of interest, of the feeling of watching a story about to unfold. They were in it, and have not realised that I will be too.
It’s wasn’t going to happen slowly, over time, spread out evenly over dutiful Friday nights. When it happened it would happen fast and it would happen hard, and that would be it. She’d know it just as I knew it. She looked like an angel, I thought. In defiance of the lines on her face, her eyes lit up with nothing but hope and the urge to see good in people. She trusted. She would trust me.