I need an easy friend, I do, with an ear to lend, I do, think you fit that shoe, I do, but you have a clue. This was playing in my ears when I woke up the next morning. I had fallen asleep with my head phones on again. I tugged them down, and leaned over to switch the stereo off. I was greeted by an instant groaning pain in my ribs, courtesy of Higgs and his bastard friends, and my mother screeching at me from downstairs. I felt a mixture of things roll over me then; shame and remorse, resentment and anger. I wanted to lie in bed and listen to Nirvana, and be left alone. “If I have to come up there!” she screamed then, so I threw back the covers and stomped out onto the landing. She was in the hallway, phone in hand. “For you. It’s Michael. And you can tell him that you are grounded for the week.” I came stiffly down the stairs and took the phone from her, and she marched back into the kitchen, a tea towel slung over one shoulder.
“Hi bruiser, how you feeling?”
“Not too bad, did you hear what she said though, about being grounded?”
“Yeah, why’s she mad at you though? You got beaten up!”
“It’s not just that,” I said, lowering my voice. “She knows I steal her fags and I scratched sleazebag’s car.”
“Oh,” chuckled Michael. “I seeeeeee. Listen, you want us to go and get Higgs back for you? We feel like hunting him down and causing him some pain.”
“No, no,” I said quickly. “Don’t do anything. I want to sort him out myself. When I’ve thought of something.”
“Okay, okay, fair enough. Well have fun then.”
“Yeah. Seeya’ Mike.”
I hung up the phone, and was about to sneak back up the stairs to bed when she called out from the kitchen. “In here. Now.” Her tone was harsh and uncompromising. I rolled my eyes, pushed my hands back through my hair, and traipsed into the kitchen. She was stood next to the table, hands on hips, tea towel still over one shoulder, and she nodded at the array of cleaning products laid out on the table. She didn’t look at me as she told me what she wanted me to do. “You can start in here, I want it pristine, young man, and then Frank is driving over some cars for you to wash.” I wanted to complain of course. I even opened my mouth to protest, but she spoke right over the top of me, and I could see by her rigid body language, that she was serious this time. “You have to make up for what you did Danny. I will not have you turning into a bloody delinquent. You’ll wash the cars and then you will apologise to him. No arguments. I want to be proud of you for once.” That was it. That was all she had to say. She turned briskly, picked up the washing basket from the floor and marched outside with it. I felt so depressed then I wanted to just crawl back up the stairs, bury myself under the duvet and never have to look at her again. God, she must really hate me, I thought, watching her out of the window. I want to be proud of you for once. The words swam and jabbed in my head, anger and sadness taking their turn to riot through me.
The phone was ringing again, so I turned into the hallway, my shoulders slumped. I remembered the hatred dancing in Eddie Higgs eyes. I was the kind of boy who went to the park to fight. I was the kind of boy who stole my mothers’ cigarettes and lied about it. And I was the kind of boy who damaged cars. She was right not to be proud of me. I grabbed the phone, and before I could even say hello, a tight little voice barked into my ear. “Who is that?”
I tried not to sigh with irritation. “Hi Grandma. You want mum?”
“Do I want mum? That’s a terribly rude way to start a conversation Daniel! That is Daniel, isn’t it? You know you and your brother sound exactly the same on the phone.”
“Yeah, it’s me Grandma.”
“It ought to be hello Grandma, how are you?” Her cross little voice rattled down the telephone and into my ear. I made a fist and pressed my knuckles into the wall.
“Sorry Grandma. How are you?”
She snorted. “Not that anyone cares, but not very good actually. Another chest infection. You can pass that onto your mother. And tell her to stop smoking, or she’ll end up just the same!” As if to prove her point, my Grandma started coughing down the phone. It was totally put on, you could tell it was. She drove my mother crazy, and I could see why she had as little to do with her as she could get away with. Finally she finished off with one great hawking cough that made me wince. “How’s the new house? How’s school?”
“Fine. It’s all fine thanks.”
“Got yourself into trouble yet?”
I blew my breath out slowly. She preferred John over me, always had done. “Not really,” I lied easily. “Not much.”
“Likely story,” she huffed back at me. “How’s your brother?”
“Good. He has a job. Do you want me to get mum for you?”
“No, I do not want you to get her for me!” Grandma snapped waspishly. “You can just tell her I called, and tell her I am not well, and tell her it’s about time she came and visited me! Can you manage that, young man?”
“Course I can. I’ll tell her.”
“She got herself a fancy man yet?”
I smiled a little then. I had known this was coming all right. I stepped back and peered through the kitchen. I could just about make out the top of her head out in the garden, as she pegged out the clothes. “Yes, actually she has Grandma. She has a new bloke.”
I heard the old woman suck in her breath, and I could picture her face perfectly then. She’d have her whole body sucked up too, held upwards, her eyes bulging in her wrinkled face, her lips screwed up so tight they’d vanish completely. I could see her shaking her head and waggling her finger. She would be so incensed, so proved right, that she wouldn’t even be able to breathe until she remembered to release her scorn. “I knew it!” she squealed finally. “I knew it wouldn’t take her long! And I thought she moved you there to get away from bloody men! Bad apple is he, eh? You better tell me Daniel, before it all blows up in her face again. Who is he then, eh?”
“Car salesman,” I told her. I half regretted telling her now. I had just done yet another thing to piss my mother off, and on top of that, my grandmothers attitude was starting to make me feel sorry for my mum. “He’s okay actually,” I added as an afterthought. “Better than the last one.”
“Well I’m not impressed, you can tell her that. Not one little bit! She’s always been the same, your mother, one after the bloody other! About time she grew up and learnt her lesson! I have to go now Daniel, my soap is about to start. You make sure you tell her I called, all right? Tell her I called, and I want her to come and see me as soon as possible!”
She hung up and I lingered in the hallway, watching my mother in the garden. I could see her hanging my school trousers onto the line, her hair in her face and pegs jammed in her mouth. I didn’t understand much about her relationship with her own mother, except that it was not good, and never had been. Grandma lived in a nursing home down in Cornwall, and visiting her was this twice yearly pilgrimage of duty, rather than love. My mother would visibly stiffen at the mere mention of the woman.
Dressed, and feeling increasingly sorry for myself, I made a start on the kitchen. John couldn’t resist smirking, as I pulled on the rubber gloves my mother had laid out for me. “Shut up and go to work,” I told him with a snarl. “Did you even know the bloke who runs that place is a Nazi?”
John swapped an amused look with my mother who had just come in from the garden. She stared at me quizzically. “What did you just say? Do you even know what that means?”
“Course I do. It means he hates anyone who is different to him, and he’s bringing his puke of a son up to be the same.”
John laughed loudly at me as he slung his work bag over one shoulder and started out of the door. “Yeah, you really know what you’re talking about don’t you? See you later mum. Have fun Danny!”
“Who told you that?” My mother was frowning at me curiously. “What makes you say such a thing? Maybe he is trying to bring his son up to be a decent hardworking man, who owns a successful business! Ever thought of that?”
“You haven’t met his son,” I shook my head at her adamantly. “He called Billy’s mum a commie loving hippy! Whatever that means.”
“Perhaps you better ask Billy’s mum,” she murmured, and jerked her head towards the back door. “Come on. Cars and a genuine apology await you, young man.”
It wasn’t that bad in the end, washing his cars. He was actually pretty gracious about the whole thing. My mother stood right behind me while I apologised. She insisted on peppering the brief conversation by correcting nearly everything I said, almost putting the words into my mouth before I spoke them. I was incredibly and deeply sorry, not just sorry, and it was criminal damage not just a scratch. You get the picture. “Frank just wants to be friends with you,” she said for him at the end, when it was obvious to everyone but her that the exact opposite was true. It wasn’t that he hated me or anything, he was just one of those adults that felt awkward around kids. He didn’t know what to say to me, he just wished to avoid me, just wished me away. So I went and washed three of his poxy flash cars in the heat of the day. That shut them up.
I craved a cigarette genuinely for the first time, which I found interesting. It was hot, and getting hotter, so I removed my shirt and tied it around my waist. The sun beat down from a stark blue sky. It was the kind of blue that looked electric, like it was getting hotter and hotter and would catch fire before long. The spray back from the hosepipe kept me cool though, and I imagined I would at least pick up a better suntan, and maybe bigger muscles too, if I put the effort in. After I had washed the cars, I had to polish them. I worked hard, rubbing the paintwork until I could see my sweaty face grimacing back at me.
I straightened up at one point, gazed down to the street and saw Lucy Chapman staring back at me. My heart rate accelerated, just a little bit. She was walking past, a shopping bag swinging from one hand. I watched the other hand rise unsurely in a little gesture of hello that she did not have much confidence in. She was wearing denim shorts and this little white vest top. I swallowed. I felt the moisture in my mouth evaporate at the sight of her, and my heart felt like it was going to explode with some kind of pain I had never known before. She bowed her head a little then, tucked her hair behind one ear and started to walk on. I left the car hurriedly, and made my way down to her. She looked surprised; her mouth went into a little o shape, and she touched her hair again, and stopped walking. “Hi Lucy.”
“Hi Danny,” she grinned back at me, as her face flooded with colour. “Are you trying to earn some money or something?” She gestured towards the cars.
“Nah,” I shook my head at her. “Just being punished.”
“Oh,” she nodded at me knowingly, yet her smile never faltered. Her eyes drifted momentarily down to my naked chest, before jerking quickly again. Her cheeks were getting redder by the second. “What have you been up to now then?”
“Oh just a bit of trouble with Higgs,” I shrugged at her. “Nothing much.”
“Ah I see….well,” she glanced around, one hand still playing with a strand of hair, and her smile going on and on, and then she moved off a little bit. “Well, I better get going. Seeya’ Danny.”
I stepped aside and let her walk past. I felt panicked and frustrated though, watching her go. That wasn’t enough! Our first proper conversation and that was it? I couldn’t think of a single other thing to say to her though, so I just mumbled goodbye and watched her go. I had to take a deep breath when she was gone. I could still smell her in the air around me, as I walked back to the car. I felt this surge of excitement and energy then, and attacked the polishing with renewed vigour. It was a start, I told myself, thinking of Lucy. Next time I bumped into her, I would have the guts for more.
My mother came out of the house and pushed a cold can of coke at me. “You must be nearly finished,” she said, nodding at the cars. “Frank said to tell you you’ve done a better job than the guy he uses at work.”
I took the coke and opened it. “Really?”
She nodded. “Who was that girl you were speaking to?”
“Oh. Lucy. I mean, no one.”
She smiled, tried not to, and failed abysmally. “Sorry. I’m just wondering if my son has his first crush on a girl, that’s all.”
I shook my head, my forehead creased with a frown. “No. No way. Just know her from school.”
She continued to smile at me, nodding, which was at least nice, to have her smiling at me for a change. She sighed then, and her eyes trailed down to the bruises Higgs and his friends had left on my ribs. “Look at you,” she said softly. “What a mess you get yourself into. I don’t understand why.”
I placed the coke down on the ground and went back to my manic polishing. “Didn’t you…ever?” I asked her. “When you were my age?”
My mother threw back her head with laughter. “Oh I am never telling you what I was like at your age,” she cried, wiping at her eyes. “It would only encourage you!”
I stared at her in wonder. This was news to me. I had always imagined her just like John. Doing what was right, what was expected, trying to please her impossible mother. It warmed me a little to imagine she might have been a bit like me. “Really?”
“Yes, really. Maybe I’ll tell you about it one day.” She looked at me seriously then. “Maybe it’s time you put all this silliness behind you, with Frank, I mean. He’s a nice man Danny. Maybe you should trust my judgement for a change.”
“Hmm,” I said, and went back to polishing. I didn’t want to say any more than that. Hmm meant I would be reserving judgement on him being a nice man. “I forgot to tell you. Grandma called. She said to tell you she’s ill.”
I watched the sun go right out of her face then. She sighed and rolled her eyes as she turned back towards the house. “If you don’t mind Danny, I’m going to pretend for now that you didn’t give me the message. You come in, in a minute okay? It’s getting too hot out here now.”
“Okay, nearly finished. Just want to make up for what I did.” I don’t know why I said that last bit. It was something she would want to hear though. She smiled at me, probably the most genuine smile I had seen on her face in a long time.
“All right love,” she said. “Good boy.”
I should have left it there, shouldn’t I? You don’t know how much I can see that now, when I look back. Everything was okay. Everything, maybe, would have turned out all right. She had forgiven me. Frank Bradley was okay. When I look back, you see, I can spot all these times when if only I had done something, or not done something, then things would maybe be different. That’s probably the same for everyone, in life. But not everyone is stood where I am now, thinking what I’m thinking, planning what I’m planning. And it’s only now that I can look back and see my younger self, that I have the urge to shout back at him, for Gods’ sake leave it, don’t mess it up, don’t make it worse, don’t make it so fucking easy for him. There are many moments that I want to scream back at; do it differently, and that was definitely one of them.
Me and Michael, up in my room. Nevermind on full blast. Everything was fine, everything was good. My mother had relented in her determination to punish me, and had allowed him over, even though I was technically still grounded. She groaned at herself when she gave into me. I’m so soft, I know I am, she would say, with a half smile. My mother warned me I was too soft on you; that was the other one she would say a lot when I got my own way; she warned me it would come back to bite me and she was right. Maybe my mother gave in so easily because she wanted things to be all right too. She wanted me to like her, and she wanted me to behave. I shouldn’t have taken advantage of it, but I did.
We were certainly full of it that day, the day we planned our revenge on Eddie Higgs. We didn’t even think about consequences, or anything, we just lolled on the bedroom floor and basked in our greatness. It was Michael’s idea. It was brilliant. My mother had just brought us up this tray of food. She seemed to like Michael, as he was always extremely polite towards her, and devoured whatever food she provided as if he had never been fed before. This was partly true. His mother made sporadic drunken visits to the supermarket, but most of the time we found the cupboards in his house empty. We took the tray from her and she cocked her head in the doorway. “Who is this again?”
“I’ve told you a million times mum, it’s Nirvana.”
“That American band?” She wasn’t really interested, you could tell. She was just trying to get along with us both.
“Okay,” she smiled, raising her eyebrows. “I’ll leave you to it.”
We rolled our eyes at each other when she had closed the door behind her. I reached for the stereo and turned the volume back up. “My dad is back again,” Michael said, diving in for one of the ham sandwiches on the tray. I sat back on the floor on the other side of the tray.
“That’s cool. Is your mum glad to see him?”
Michael shook his head, a glint in his eye and his mouth full of bread. “She’s pleased to see his money.”
“Oh. So is he back for good?”
“Nah, not usually. He never hangs around for long. Says he can’t find the work around here.” Michael picked up a second sandwich, and frowned at me as he bit into it. “So why’s your mum being so nice anyway? Letting me come round and that?”
“Think she’s letting me know she’s pleased with me,” I shrugged. “Washing all those cars and behaving myself. Bradley’s been round constantly you know. They’re joined at the hip, and I haven’t said a word about it. Good boy, see?” I grinned at him and he grinned back.
“So are we gonna’ mess with his head again or what?”
“I think we should concentrate on Higgs first,” I replied, my tone serious. “Bradley’s all right. He’s not a bastard. Not yet, anyway.”
“Okay, no problem. Just let me know when he is one, and we’ll take things up a notch.”
We were quiet for a few moments then, devouring the food and listening to the music. Michael looked deep in thought as he munched away, one hand cupped under his chin, elbow resting on his bent knee. As for me, I needed to hear ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ again, as my mum coming in had interrupted it, and that was not good. I pressed rewind, and settled back on the floor. I looked at Michael as the opening chords kicked in, and he was grinning back at me through his mouthful of food. “I can’t get enough of this song,” I told him, nodding happily along to it. “I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of it! Those opening guitar chords! Those drums! Kurt’s voice!” I glanced back at the stereo, and felt like I wanted to just throw back my head and laugh for some reason. I couldn’t explain it though, not really, the way music made me feel. “Makes me want to play the guitar, or the drums!”
“Whole album is amazing,” Michael nodded at me.
“It’s his voice too,” I said, feeling myself in danger or starting a rant, something I had been doing a lot of lately. “The quiet verses I mean. I just want to drown everything out and just hear his voice, and then the loud chorus! Fuck, I wish I could make noise like that!”
“You’re hilarious. You’re as bad as Billy.”
“He’s right though,” I went on enthusiastically, recalling a conversation me and Billy had got into lately. “This song is enough on its own, enough forever, I mean. I keep thinking of it as our song, me you and Jake and Billy, I mean? Our little group, that bit? But then the whole album blows my mind. Every single fucking song is perfect. Drain You and Lithium. Polly! I can’t believe I didn’t get into them sooner.”
“You don’t have the benefit of parents like Billy’s,” Michael reminded me wryly. “His dad gets him into most of it. Brings him home stuff he thinks he’ll like. He was probably born playing air guitar! He has no fucking choice.”
“Billy hates The Smiths though,” I told him earnestly, even though I could see Michael was sort of tiring of the conversation. He loved music, don’t get me wrong, but he didn’t want to talk about it all day like I did. I had to keep a lot of it to myself, the way it felt, the way it lifted and entranced me on a daily basis. I had to write it down in my notebook so I wouldn’t just burst from it all. “His dad taped me a couple of their albums, and they’re amazing! Amazing lyrics Mike. So funny!”
Michael laughed, pushed the tray away now that he was full and leant back on my bed with his arms crossed behind his head. “I get that,” he said. “Anyway, let’s talk about Higgs. While you were raving on about music, I just came up with the best fucking revenge plan ever!”
I chewed at my lip for a moment, just thinking, and looking warily at the dark and challenging stare on Michael’s face. “It has to be good,” I warned him. “That little shit is cleverer than I thought.”
“He’s not that clever. Listen. You know he has the hots for Zoe?”
“Yeah, everyone knows it, it’s obvious. And she can’t stand the little creep.”
“She likes you though,” I pointed out with a smirk. I shifted a little closer to him without even thinking about it. We had not talked about girls in a while, and I felt this sudden rush of excitement. Michael was grinning.
“Course she does. It’s obvious.”
“Why don’t you ask her out or something then? That would wind Higgs up.”
“You’re thinking along the right lines mate, but listen.” Michael sat forward then, his dark eyes suddenly very bright and menacing. I loved that look on his face. It spelled danger, and it was intoxicating. We are as bad as each other, I found myself thinking as I waited for it. “Here’s the plan. We get Zoe to ask Higgs out, to the cinema or something. He’ll be ecstatic. He’ll piss his pants. Then when he turns up, we’re all there waiting, and Zoe gets to tell him exactly what a little piss stain she thinks he is, and then goes into the cinema with me instead. Total humiliation.”
I nodded. I bit down on my lower lip and grinned behind my teeth. “He won’t suspect a thing. He’ll never say no to Zoe.”
“She’s the hottest girl in the whole school.”
“Apart from Lucy!” I blurted out, without thinking. I watched Michael gape in surprise and amusement.
“Oh yeah? Really?”
“Well you know, just saying.”
“I get it! You want to turn this into a double date or something?” He reached out and punched me lightly in the arm. I laughed and blushed, and wanted to scream out at him, yes, yes I fucking do. “Brilliant!” Michael clapped his hands together and beamed at me. “This is fucking brilliant Danny. So we get the girls on board. Zoe pretends to ask Higgs out. Higgs turns up, she gives it to him, we all laugh, and then me and you get to take the two hottest girls in school to the cinema, right in front of him! Fucking spot on!”
“What if the girls say no?”
Michael looked appalled. “No? Why the hell would they say no?”
“Well, you know…”
“They won’t say no! What girls in their right minds would say no to us? We must easily be the best looking boys in year nine!” I laughed at him, so he responded by punching me again. “Seriously, we fucking are! Shittinghell, we could be on the telly for Christ’s sake! I’m being serious!”
I was dying with giggles by now. I had to lie down on the floor to stretch out my belly, it was so cramped up with laughter. “I never knew you were so vain Michael!”
“Not vain. Just know what I see when I look in the mirror!” He pointed to his own chest. “Look at me man. Tall dark and handsome, bad rep, that’s what the girls love! And look at you! Blonde, blue-eyed, face of a bloody angel! How the hell could they say no to us? Just you wait. I am serious. You may laugh. Oh that’s right, you keep laughing pal. I’m going to go and fix this up right now. Just you wait! You’ll never be able to repay me for this, I’m telling you!”
He got to his feet, brushed the crumbs from his lap and looked down at me. I was weak with laughter, flat on my back and staring helplessly back up at him. “Fine,” was all I could manage to squeak through my giggles. “Go on then!”
“I will,” he retorted, hands on hips, which made me laugh even harder. “I’m going now. If you’re too bloody shy to ask Lucy out, I’ll do it for you! We’ll take them on a double date and humiliate the fuck out of Higgs at the same time. Fucking result. I am only the best friend you have ever had!”
“You’re a legend…” I mumbled through laughter as I rolled around the floor. He viewed me sceptically and opened the door. He pointed at me before going out.
“Don’t you forget it! It’s what I do.”
I lay on my back for a while after he left. I started to shake with laughter every time I thought about any of it. Humiliating Higgs in such an evil way. A date with Lucy. Being handsome. Michael a legend. I had this lovely warm feeling flowing all over me as I lie there. This feeling of everything just ticking along nicely, just going the way it was supposed to for once, and Michael was right about one thing, he was the best friend I had ever had in my life.
The next day at school Michael and I were unable to keep the smiles from our faces. Billy and Jake’s only grumble was that they had no girls; so by the end of the day Zoe had remedied this by dragging in Stephanie Hall and Jessica Benson, and everyone was happy. I felt increasing impatience with the week as it dragged its heels towards Friday. My dizzying state of nerves was only added to when Lucy pulled me aside at school on Thursday. She looked so apologetic, that for a few awful sinking moments I was convinced she was about to back out of the whole thing. “Would you mind picking me up from my house tomorrow night?” she asked me instead, twirling a length of hair around one finger anxiously. “It’s so silly I know, but my dad wants to meet you. He’s like it with my sisters too. I’m so sorry. We’ll be so quick, I promise!” I was so relieved she wasn’t backing out, that I agreed instantly, and only got worried about it later.
That night my pen flew like a feather across the pages of my notebook, as the excitement and apprehension rose to a hammering crescendo in my chest. I wrote about the revenge plan, and how cool it would be, but better than that I wrote about the snatched moments of eye contact with Lucy across the classroom. Ten times in one day was my record. Her dazzling smile and shy eyes greeted me every time I looked her way. I felt so happy, so close to what I imagined perfect happiness must be that it almost made me feel sick. I sucked my pen thoughtfully and wondered if that was what really being in love felt like; like you were sick with happiness.
When Friday night finally rolled around, I found myself asking my mothers’ opinion while I tried to do something with my hair in the bathroom. She was collecting clothes from the linen bin. “Shall I gel it or something?” I was wondering. She didn’t answer me; just kept on hauling dirty clothes out onto the landing. I’d made the mistake of brushing my hair, and now it had gone all flat and geeky. “Do you think Lucy’s dad will like me?” I asked, when her face appeared in the mirror behind my head. She was chewing distractedly at a strand of hair. I grimaced at my reflection and ruffled up my own hair. I thought she would groan or complain that it was getting too long, but she didn’t. She just started pulling and tugging at her own face. “Mum? I said, “Do you think Lucy’s dad will like me? None of the other guys have to meet any parents.” I peered out from my hair, hoping I looked at least a little bit like Kurt Cobain, and waited for her response. I felt miserable with my hair dilemma and apprehensive about meeting Mr. Chapman.
“God, I’m looking old,” my mother complained, still tugging at the skin around her eyes.
“No you don’t,” I told her. “You look way too young to be a mum, everyone says so.”
She smiled a slightly strained smile, and looked back at the mirror, sighing. I thought she looked a bit pale, a bit distracted, and I recalled her pushing her food around her plate at dinner time. “What’s wrong?” I asked her, hoping to build on the new level of confidence we had adopted with each other lately. “Have you and Frank had a fight or something?”
I could see right away that I had said the wrong thing, and pissed her off. She sort of huffed irritably and tossed her hair. “No, of course not. He’s just got a lot on. A lot of work stuff.” I said nothing, but she evidently did not appreciate the look on my face, as she turned to face me, hands on hips. “And what is that smug look for young man? Frank and I are getting on just fine, for your information. Better than ever.”
“All right,” I shrugged, turning to the door. “I only asked if you thought Mr. Chapman would like me.”
She sighed softly and looked me up and down. It felt to me then that my very presence troubled her. “They live on Cedar View Hill?” I nodded reluctantly. She arched her eyebrows at me. “Don’t take this the wrong way Danny, but if I were her dad, and some scruffy kid with a bad reputation came knocking on my door, I wouldn’t exactly be jumping for joy.”
I stared back at her, a scowl working its way onto my face. I could barely believe what I was hearing. “Thanks a lot,” I said. “I’ve stayed out of trouble lately. Thanks for noticing.”
She laughed softly and turned back to the mirror, and her face. “I don’t mean it like that. I just meant what is with the scruffy hair and clothes all the time? How can you expect to make a good impression on posh people, dressed like that? That’s all I’m saying. People like them are suspicious of people like us at the best of times. He’s bound to be protective of his precious daughter.”
I had no idea what she was going on about. My head was now wrecked with confusion and rumbling tremors of anger. I didn’t want to hear any more, so I stomped away from her, calling back over my shoulder; “thanks a lot!”
Well, she was sort of right, wasn’t she? I knew it, as I headed over there, in my ripped jeans and grubby baseball boots. Cedar View Hill made my stomach drop when I stepped out onto it. The homes looked like mansions to me. You could have fitted three or four of our houses into one of them. The driveways looked like roads. Everything seemed wide and gentle and sweeping and vast, and I didn’t belong, as I shambled along with my palms growing sweaty in my pockets, and my guilt and shame cowering my shoulders. Lucy’s dad came to the door with her, and regarded me cooly through wire rimmed spectacles. He wore a suit and had a neat crew cut. He asked me how I was, and what my mum and dad did for a living. I had to stand there, arms hanging at my side, my hair a mess, while I explained that my mother worked for Franks Cars, and I had no idea where my father was. I watched the concern manifest itself tightly upon his face, as he forced up a tight lipped smile and waved his daughter off with me.
The only thing that eased the sorrow in my chest right then, was Lucy’s hand when it stole out towards mine as we walked towards town together. Our fingers brushed in the middle, fumbled clumsily for a moment, and then entwined, suddenly and inexplicably. We didn’t say anything. We just looked at each other and smiled. I let my breath out, and allowed the sheer, pure joy to pummel me.