I wondered what he expected me to do. I wondered if he expected anything. I wondered if it worried him at all, what I might do, or say, but the more I saw of him, the more it dawned on me that he did not worry about anything. That nothing infiltrated his conscience. So you might be wondering why I didn’t tell my mother right away. I wonder that myself sometimes, especially now, when I look at what a fucking mess my life has become. It was difficult though, for a number of reasons. They were always together, for one thing. Because he worked nights, they would be together whenever she was home from the supermarket where she worked. She was addicted to him, I think. I mean, she craved him. She would wrap herself around him like a scarf, and they would move themselves around the house like that, like one person instead of two. He was always scooping her up in his big meaty arms and carrying her like a child. Whenever I saw them in the lounge, they would be entwined, tangled together, and you could barely see where my mother ended and Howard begun. So getting her on her own was not easy.
I was scared she would not believe me. I had the conversation in my head over and over again. I tortured myself with how to begin it. Mum I need to talk to you. Mum I need to tell you something. Mum, look at this. There were fingertip sized bruises on either side of my neck, well covered by my hair which was now shoulder length. In my mind, I would show her, I would tell her what had happened. But then I would picture her face. The narrow eyed gaze she offered me, the skeptical arch of her eyebrows, the doubting expression that furrowed her forehead whenever I said anything. I started to believe that she wouldn’t believe me. That she would think it was my latest ploy to try to chase Howard off. She would be disgusted, that I should sink so low.
The other thing that stopped me saying anything to her was my own confusion. I was confused about what had happened that night. You might think it was pretty clear cut, pretty obvious, but I now know that your mind has ways of making you doubt and question things when something unexpected occurs. Sometimes I lay in my bed and tried to remember what had happened. Had he been joking, for instance? Had he been messing about with me? Had he been trying out some of his wrestling moves on me, to try to impress me? Somehow, as stupid and unlikely a scenario as this was, it became more appealing to me than the actual truth.
And weirdly enough, after that night, he did start trying his wrestling moves out on me. Even in front of mum, which she thought was hilarious, until I told them both to go fuck themselves. “Just trying to get you interested in sport,” he called after me, his tone baffled as well as disappointed. “It’s good for you, you know.”
I knew what was good for me, and that was keeping as far away from him as possible. Two days after the incident in the kitchen, Michael and I were watching MTV together at my house. There was a loose plan of sorts, to call for Billy then head on down to the beach for some food and fooling about. The beach had become the social hot spot for everyone that summer holiday. I wasn’t much of a fan of it myself. Endless sand, and kids running about screaming, and roasting under an impossibly hot sun. Great. I couldn’t get myself going somehow. I just sat perched on the edge of Howard’s precious leather sofa, while Michael sat slumped beside me, as I flicked through the music channels, just desperate, without knowing why, just absolutely desperate to find some Nirvana, or something, anything good. Anything with some soul, some guts. Instead I was repulsed by a rolling puke fest of Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson hits. I was shaking my head, rolling my eyes when I heard that bloody Gabrielle song, Dreams, or some such shit. It was everywhere, all the fucking time. My mother searched for it on the kitchen radio, and washed up singing to it. “Look at this,” I finally growled over my shoulder at Michael, who was staring at the TV screen with a dazed and appalled expression on his face. “If it’s not bloody soppy love ballads, fucking Michael Bolton and Toni Braxton, then it’s awful fucking dance shit.”
“Shit,” Michael agreed, shaking his head slowly. “I can’t believe peoples listen to this crap. God, not that one, turn it off, turn it over!” I looked back at the screen. It was Ace of Base singing Another Baby.
“Ugh,” I said in fury, and kept scrolling. The next channel was playing Runaway Train by Soul Asylum. I kind of liked it and had bought the single in Woolworths. I breathed out slowly and let it play. “Better than the rest of that awful shit. Must be the worst year for music ever.”
Just then we heard the front door open and close with an exuberant bang. I felt my stomach hit the floor, and I looked at Michael, and opened my mouth to say hey, forget this, let’s go to Billy’s, but there was Howard already barging into the room, and planting his giant arse right in front of the TV. “All right boys?” he called out, his voice booming back at us over his shoulder as he stared at the Soul Asylum video. “I recorded some wrestling last night, you mind if I put it on?”
I sighed ever so slightly and passed him the remote. “C’mon,” I muttered to Michael. He nodded and reared up from the sofa. He had a demeanour which impressed me then; his eyes on Howard, bright and questioning, unflinching. Howard held the remote and caught my shoulder as I tried to slink past.
“Hey, you don’t have to go! I’m not chucking you out. Stay and watch it with me! You’ll love it!”
I should have wriggled free from his hand, but I felt trapped then, trapped in a potentially humiliating scene, with Michael staring at me as if he did not know me, and Howard sort of jumping about from one foot to the other, like a boxer in the ring gearing up for a fight. “C’mon don’t be a misery, don’t be a spoilsport,” he started saying in this really upbeat, jovial voice, turning me around to face him. I seemed to transform into a statue then; I was as stiff and unyielding as a board. I had nothing to say because my throat was choked up with fear and dread and confusion, and I was just thinking for fucks sake no, for fucks sake don’t. “I’ll teach you both some moves,” he went on, suddenly wrapping his arm around my neck. “I’ll teach you how to get out of them. You know what a neckbreaker is?”
I couldn’t look at Michael then, partly because of Howard’s arm, and partly because it would probably have killed me to see the horror and the embarrassment etched on his face. I could feel him staring daggers at Howard though. All of a sudden then, I felt his hand around my arm, and he sort of firmly tugged me away from Howard. “Yeah, all right, we get it thanks,” he said, as Howard’s arm fell away from me. “We’re not really interested in wrestling.”
Howard’s eyes were full of glee and self-confidence. He laughed at us and threw himself down on the sofa, which creaked and groaned beneath his weight. “Oh you don’t know what you’re missing!” he cried at us in good natured amusement. “Top class entertainment! You boys don’t even like football, do you? Do you not play any sports, not any?”
We ignored him, and left the house. Outside Billy’s I was faced with yet more humiliation. They all wanted to know what the hell had happened to my bike. I paused for a moment before replying. I looked at their bemused faces and could see they were waiting for something hilarious. Billy’s mum had lumbered him with this huge picnic basket full of food, and he had it balanced precariously on the handlebars of his bike. I kicked at the ground, my hands in my pockets, my headphones around my neck. “Left it on the drive,” I mumbled at them. “Howard ran it over.”
Michael frowned at me in silence, while Billy and Jake just laughed. “You dick!” exclaimed Billy, climbing onto his.
“Totally dead?” Jake enquired. I nodded regretfully. “What you gonna’ do now?”
“Birthday coming up,” I shrugged.
“We could try asking the rich folk to let us cut the grass again?” Michael said as a suggestion as we started to head towards the beach. “Save some money up that way?”
“Not worth it,” I replied. “They’ll just say no.”
“Oh wow, positive thinking!”
“My dad’s making me get a Saturday job,” Jake said then, pushing his bike slowly along beside Michael. “He already has an interview lined up for me at the shoe shop in town.”
“You’re gonna’ spend your spare time fetching shoes for people?” Billy smirked at him, obviously safe in the knowledge that his parents would never suggest such a thing to him. “You fucking bell end Jake!”
Jake shrugged his bony shoulders. “He doesn’t want me bumming around all the time,” he explained to us with an extended yawn. “He wants me to get experience, and start saving some money.”
“These years are meant to be for bumming around!” Billy complained loudly. “Ah fuck it Jake, just fuck up the interview, you have to! You’re not old yet! This is our time!”
Michael laughed and nudged me then. “When’s your birthday?”
“Well guess what? My brother will be back by then!” His grin was huge, his dark eyes sparkling under his mop of black hair. “We’ll have the biggest fucking party this town has ever seen!”
I watched the others swapping amazed looks, as Michael nodded on. I wondered why he hadn’t told me this before, but then I guessed he had probably been waiting for an audience. It was the kind of news that deserved an audience, I thought, smiling back at him. It was the kind of news that deserved a celebration. “He’s really getting out?” Jake was asking, his jaw hanging open in awe.
“Yep,” Michael nodded proudly and smugly. “Had the call last night.” He glanced at me then. “Wanted to wait until we were all together to tell you. Just two weeks boys, just two weeks, and life will be fine!”
I walked along, nodding and smiling where I was expected to. I was pleased for Michael obviously, pleased for him, and intrigued to meet the infamous Anthony Anderson, but somehow I couldn’t get as excited as I would have liked. Two weeks was such a long time, I reasoned. A lot of shit could happen in two weeks.
Down at the beach, we dumped our stuff on the sand and gazed around. It looked like the entire school was down there, I thought, squinting out at the constant flow of bare legs and wet heads parading past us. Billy was in a ridiculous state of excitement about it all, which I found hard to understand. Weren’t these all the same people we saw and loathed inside school, day in, day out? Why were they suddenly all his best mates? He and Jake dashed off towards the water, Billy hollering out at someone he knew. I unbuttoned my shirt and sat down on the sand, pushing my bare feet under it and wriggling my toes about. Michael jumped down beside me and handed me a perfectly constructed roll up. “Thanks.”
“No problem. You look like you need it. Fucking Howard, eh.” I nodded morosely and accepted the light he held out. I inhaled deeply and then breathed a smooth stream of smoke up into the air. I could feel him watching me. “What a dick,” he added. “That Howard. Such a twat.”
I had the feeling he was trying to edge me into a conversation I did not want to have. So I nodded and rolled my eyes to show I agreed with his sentiments; Howard was a dick and a twat, alright. “You okay?” he gave in and asked me finally.
“Yeah, I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well with John gone, and that arsehole living with you…You can come back and stay with me again you know. Any time you like. My mum won’t even notice.”
“Are we gonna’ start some more shit with him then?”
I glanced at him sideways. “What do you mean?”
“You know,” he shrugged. “Project Arsehole. We need some new ideas.”
“It’s too late Mike,” I told him, feeling a little overwhelmed for some reason. “He’s got his feet well and truly under the table. There’s no point.”
“What?” Michael demanded, sounding really annoyed. “Why?”
I groaned a little and lay back on the sand, draping one arm over my eyes as I smoked. “Because it’s over, that’s why.”
“How is it over? Because he’s in your house? You can still get rid of him! We can still try!”
I sighed under my arm and wondered why everything always had to be such a fight with him. Why did he even care? “Look he’s the big boss man now, yeah? He pays for everything. His rules.”
“Yeah well it shouldn’t be like that, should it?” he demanded hotly. “Are you just gonna’ give up?”
I nodded. “Yes. I am. I am giving it up. Okay with you?”
“No not really. Because I know how much you hate the guy. I know he makes your life a misery.”
I felt a jerk of panic then, that’s the only way I can describe it. I felt freaked out and under inspection, like the true pathetic me was rising close to the surface, too close, and I had to hide it, I had to keep it from him. I grew panicked that he had seen the bruises. That he knew something. I jerked to my feet. “You don’t know shit actually,” I said, and walked angrily away.
He let me go, but I could feel his eyes on me wonderingly for a long time, as I weaved moodily in and out of the crowds. I walked on like that for ages, just staring down at the sand beneath my feet. I pulled my headphones on and listened to The Smiths. Take me out tonight, they sang, in dark and solemn tones, because I want to see people and I want to see light, driving in your car, oh please don’t drop me home, because it’s not my home, it’s their home, and I’m welcome no more. You shouldn’t really listen to depressing music when you’re down, should you? I didn’t care though. The words were a sort of comfort to me, I suppose. I felt like I always did when listening to the music I loved. That the words were meant just for me, that they had me in mind, and were going to help me somehow. I truly believed that, you know.
So I walked on, listening to The Smiths, which turned into The Clash singing I Fought The Law. I walked on, staring down at the sand, and as I walked, I felt like there was some invisible pressure on my shoulders, pushing me down the whole time, pressing me deeper into the sand. Everything felt like an effort. Walking, moving along, even breathing, all of it. I didn’t like the way I felt one bit. Sort of down and low and disgusted and enraged with myself. I wondered again, why I didn’t tell Michael. I reasoned with myself that there was no point. What could he do anyway? He was a fourteen year old kid and a known trouble maker. Another kid no one would believe. In truth though, somewhere at the back of my mind, I knew it was because I was humiliated by it all. I kept seeing myself the way I knew Howard must have seen me that night; some skinny runt of a kid forced down on the kitchen table. Put right in his fucking place. No way out. And the memory, when it came, both choked and slaughtered me.
I kicked along morosely, brooding over my situation, when suddenly I felt a small hand pull at my arm. I whirled around, startled and nervous, and there was Lucy Chapman, smiling her sunny smile at me, waving her hand a little bit in the air. I pulled down my headphones. “Sorry,” I said. “In a world of my own.”
She laughed. She was wearing this bright red swimming costume, with a little blue denim skirt on the bottom. Her hair had that beach look to it. Like she had been swimming, and then laying on the sand, and now it was all half damp twirls that smelled like coconut. I snapped out of my daydream. I felt my heart pumping loud and fast. I felt all these fuzzy warm feelings rippling through me softly, drowning out the dread. “It’s all right,” she said to me. “Penny for your thoughts, as my mum says.”
I smiled slightly and shook my head. “You wouldn’t want to know.”
“Oh okay. The others here?”
“Yeah, back that way. I was bored. Just having a walk.” I couldn’t help staring at her then. I tried not to, but the way she was, all tanned and freckled faced, and her hands wrapped around the shoulder strap of her huge beach bag, she was just too much. Too much.
“So how’s your summer been so far?” she asked me. I continued to smile at her, probably in this really dopey way. I couldn’t get enough of her. It was these waves you see. These waves of warmth and goodness that just radiated from her, whenever I was around her. I couldn’t explain it. I still can’t. “What’ve you been up to?”
“Oh you know,” I said with a half smile, meeting her eye. “Getting in trouble.”
“Well funny you say that, because there was this wild rumour going around that you ran away from home and got taken back by the police!” She was staring at me in wonder, her chestnut eyes watching mine. A clump of damp hair fell from her ear across her eye, and she pushed it back with one finger. “Is that true?”
“Hmm, sort of.”
“You ran away? Why did you run away?”
“That’s an exaggeration. I was only at Mike’s and my mum knew I was there. She just sent the boys in blue to scare me.”
“My dad heard it from someone else,” she grimaced at me in regret. “You know how small towns are. I was worried about you though.”
We started walking then, just slowly at first, back the way I had come. “Hmm,” I said. “Bet your dad’s worried now then.” She made a face.
“Yeah, kind of. He’s a bit over protective.”
“He wouldn’t exactly jump for joy if I asked you out again then? You know, on a proper date this time? Just me and you?”
We stopped walking again, and she turned to face me, and her eyes were troubled and a little guilty and when she shook her head at me, I felt my good mood crumble to dust. “No he wouldn’t let me yet,” she said. “Definitely not.”
“Not right now because you’re too young?” I pressed her. “Or not right now because of what he’s heard about me?”
“Okay. No problem.” I scratched my head and started walking again. She caught me up though, and surprised me by slipping her arm through mine.
“But I agree with him on one thing.”
“I am too young. For all that. I mean, I look at Zoe and she’s like determined to live life at a hundred miles per hour. But I’m not ready for that. We’re only kids once, right?”
I decided to take this as a compliment of sorts, how else could I take it? So I smiled back at her, and enjoyed the weight of her arm through mine. “So would your dad have a problem with us just being friends? Just meeting up like this?”
“No,” she said, smiling broadly. “Not at all.”
That day at the beach turned out to be one of the best ones I had that entire summer. I forgot about everything. I forgot about mum, and Howard, and my face against the kitchen table, and I forgot about whether I was going to tell anyone or not, or whether anything like that would ever happen again. That day was all the things it should have been. It was laughter and piss taking, and music and hastily rolled cigarettes, and girls in bikinis, and wrestling each other in the sand. It was staying out as long as we could; watching the sun spread a mirage of warm colours out across the sparkling ocean. It was feeling Lucy beside me, her bare arm against mine, her warmth spreading through me, keeping out the cold. It was sun tans and sandy hair, and shirts tied around waists, and feeling like we could stay there like that forever. Those kinds of days are rare, and get rarer the older you get, so when you get one, you should hold onto it for as long as possible. I didn’t want that day to ever end. I didn’t want to have to trudge home, with no bike, back to them.
When I went home, mum told me my dinner was cold and Howard looked up from his newspaper and smiled at me. His eyes were like cold stars I thought. I took the cold dinner to my room and poked at it. I was a tumbling mess of so many things. I listened to About A Girl and smiled thinking about Lucy. Then I sat and shuddered when I remembered my head hitting the table. I remembered the shock I had felt afterwards, alone in the kitchen. Shock which left me frozen to the spot, unable to understand or believe what had just happened there. And then something else had slipped over me, this woeful feeling of having my worst fears confirmed, of having been right from the beginning about this guy. The anger shook through me from time to time, especially when I heard him laughing with my mother downstairs. Fucking ugly twisted ape man. Small eyed balding gorilla. I would find myself comparing him to animals, and then thinking that this was insulting to animals. I would find myself thinking, I need to do something, maybe Mike was right, maybe we can keep the plan going, maybe there is something big I can do to get rid of him.
But you know what happened whenever I next saw the man? Fear. Fear would kick in out of nowhere, blindsiding me, staggering me to the core. My mind would feel white with shock and awe, and the fear, it was paralysing and consuming, and all I could do was try to avoid the man, try to keep out of his way. I soon noted what times he usually left the house, what times he usually returned, what times he watched his favourite TV shows. I made myself scarce when I could. I tried to remain off his radar, getting up from the sofa whenever he walked into the lounge, disappearing to my room when I heard his key in the lock, or his car purring along outside. It seemed the smartest course of action, for now. I came to the dinner table when asked and ate my food wordlessly, while my mother babbled on about nothing, and if I ever found her alone, the words would fill my head, almost frantically, the words I needed to say. But they would dry to nothing inside my mouth every time I came close to speaking them. I found myself wanting to forget about it. I talked myself into believing something I knew was not true; that it would never happen again. That it had been a one off. Sometimes I would hear my mother rattling down the phone to John, exclaiming how well behaved I was being, and it made me feel cold and sick and I felt the urge to snatch the phone from her hands and beat her over the head with it.
I wrote in my notebook daily, constantly. That became the hole into which I poured my thoughts and my emotions, as they streamed like piss out of me on a daily basis. I tried to stay focused on exciting things, like Michael’s brother coming out of prison, and the party he was planning to welcome him home. Sometimes he would look at me just a little too long. He would ask me how things were at home. “Alright,” I would tell him. “He’s a prick but I just stay out of his way.”
So inevitably things unravelled again. Badly. Obviously they did, or I wouldn’t be stood here now, with the knives and everything. It was a week before I turned fourteen. Days later I would look back and see that it had been inevitable, that everything in my life had in fact gained this sort of grim inevitability. I sometimes felt that if I stared hard enough into the distance, I could see the shit that was coming, just around the corner, but I had no way, no idea how to avoid it. The trouble was, everyone was obsessed with going to the beach. It had become a magnet for every teenager in town, and I started to resent it, the familiarity of it, seeing the same faces every day, being part of the crowd. I wondered what the hell they had left to say to each other. Oh look, it’s the beach! The one we’ve lived next to our entire fucking lives! I tried suggesting other places to go, other things to do with our time, but the rest seemed fixated on mixing with the girls there. Michael and Zoe were now officially girlfriend and boyfriend. She could barely survive twenty-four hours without seeing him, it seemed, and I was starting to find just about everything tedious. The sun, the sand, the endless burning skies…The only thing that made it bearable was the hope of seeing Lucy there, but her parents were stricter than most and would not always let her come down.
So that day there bad omens from the start, and I could feel them, believe me I could. First, Lucy did not show up, and Zoe had no idea if she would. Secondly, the batteries on my Walkman died on me, so I didn’t even have music to settle my grated nerves. Jake was at another job interview. Michael was all bare chested and thrumming with teenage hormones, a warm beer in one hand, and Zoe in the other. I found myself gazing off into the distance almost constantly, examining the horizon for a brown haired girl in a bright red swimming costume. Billy was unintentionally pissing me right off. He was particularly hyper that day, racing around the whole time, constantly over excited about seeing people he knew. “You’d think you would’ve had enough of these losers by now,” I grumbled, as he returned from yet another exuberant meet and greet. He merely laughed at me, smoothing back his wet hair.
“They’re not losers, they’re friends from school!”
“You hate them at school,” I reminded him tersely. “And you saw them yesterday! Nothing has changed Billy.”
“Well maybe you’re the loser!” he said, making a face at me. “And I don’t hate them at school. I don’t hate anyone.”
“Shut up Billy.”
“Yeah shut up Billy,” laughed Michael, as he took a break from kissing Zoe, who sighed very dramatically and leaned into him, pressing her cheek against his naked chest. I groaned and rolled over onto my stomach, stuck a cigarette between my teeth and lit up.
“You’ll have black lungs,” Zoe informed me with a lazy, love struck smile.
“Do I look like I give a shit?”
“You don’t give a shit about anything!” she laughed back at me.
I lifted one hand and ploughed it back through my sweaty hair. “Ah I keep telling you lot, I’m just bored of all this…it’s boring lying here!”
“Oh you’re just in a shit mood ‘cause Lucy hasn’t shown up yet,” she teased, lifting her head momentarily from Michael’s chest before dropping it back there again.
“It’s not that,” I argued. “It’s the same pissing place, every pissing day.”
“Grump,” Billy said, gazing out across the sand. “Hey isn’t that Mark over there?”
“I don’t know Billy,” I replied, not looking up. “Why don’t you go running over to find out?”
“I’m going to,” Billy retorted, getting abruptly to his feet. When he had gone, I lifted my head from my arms and stared at Mike pleadingly.
“He’s driving me mental Mike.”
Michael was grinning back in amusement. “Me too. He’s so fucking hyper.”
“Hey you two,” Zoe purred then, “I’ve got something here to cheer you both up.” She was smiling rather pleasingly, as she ducked out from under Michael’s arm and began digging around in her oversized striped beach bag. I could have kissed her when she tugged out a large bottle of vodka and a bottle of coke. “How about something decent to drink?” she asked, grinning wickedly.
I rolled over, sat up and clapped my hands. “Alright Zoe! Nice one!”
“Where’d you get that?” asked Michael, staring in wide mouthed awe, as she stuck the bottle of vodka between her knees and unscrewed the cap. She poured in the entire bottle of coke, replaced the lid, shook it up a little and then took the cap back off and allowed herself the first few gulps.
“Older brothers,” she shrugged, dragging a hand across her wet lips and passing the bottle to me. “There you go Danny-boy, that’ll stop you moaning!”
“I think I love this girl,” Michael mused, when the bottle made its way around to him.
“Me too,” I enthused. I sat there for a while then, taking the bottle and swigging it when it came my way. I was just smiling and nodding and blinking. It was the first time I had ever tasted vodka, and it made me want to cough, and brought water to my eyes. The effect was pretty instant, I have to say. My spirits were already climbing mile high, and I was wondering if sprawling on the beach with your mates wasn’t actually such a bad way to spend a day.
“Knew it’d cheer you up,” Zoe winked at me, and downed a few more mouthfuls. She had this reckless look in her eyes then, and it sort of thrilled me, because I could understand it. I wanted that drink to keep coming, maybe forever. I wanted to hang my arms around her and around Mike, and I wanted to not give a fuck about anything ever. I guess that’s why people drink eh? Because of the way it makes you feel, like all you ever need to do is just laugh, and laugh, and not care.
“Are we gonna’ save some for Billy?” I asked then. Zoe looked at Michael, her shoulders bunched up as she giggled.
“Only if he’s back on time,” Michael said, and we all laughed.
By the time Billy did return, dripping wet from a dunk in the sea, the three of us were huddled together, lapping up the dregs of the bottle and giggling like fools. He stopped just in front of us, frowning deeply as he examined what we had turned into during his brief absence. “What is so funny?” he asked us suspiciously. We looked at each other, and tried and failed to contain our amusement. His eyes then narrowed in on the bottle that swung loosely from Zoe’s hand, and his mouth fell open in dismay. “You bastards! Is that booze?”
Zoe burped into her hand, swayed against Michael’s shoulder and held the bottle out to Billy. “Here you go Bill! Happy birthday ginge!”
To that, we all fell about laughing. Billy took the bottle and slumped down into the sand beside us. “Not my birthday,” he grumbled, lifting it to his mouth. “And don’t call me ginge. I can’t believe you shits drank this without me!”
“Ah no poor Billy,” I giggled at him helplessly. “Serves you right for running all over the beach trying to be mister popular!”
Billy tipped the last of the drink down his throat and hurled the empty bottle miserably into the sand behind him. He crossed his legs and dropped his head into one hand. “You’re all total bastards,” he admonished us.
“Cheer up Bill,” laughed Michael.
“Easy for you to say,” he returned with a sneer. “This day is turning out to be a complete shitter. First of all I nearly get my arse kicked by Higgs and his mates, and then come back here to find my so-called-friends have been drinking without me! Thanks a lot!” He gazed at the sand mournfully, as he scooped up a palmful and watched it slip through his fingers. Michael had hoisted himself into an upright position.
“What did you say about Higgs?”
“Oh him and his twat friends, they’re over there having a football game.”
“So I caught up with Mark to say hi, had a bit of a kick around, and then it turns out Higgs bought the fucking ball, and ‘cause of this everyone is his best fucking buddy or something, so then I had to take off so they didn’t kick my arse!” Billy scooped up more sand with both his hands and let it trickle slowly down onto his bare feet.
I looked quickly at Michael, wondering if he was thinking what I was thinking, and the quick, firm nod he gave me told me that he was. He leaned towards Billy then, his dark eyes wide and alert. “Does he want to start shit with us?”
“No,” Billy groaned. “He was just being his usual tosspot self.”
“Think he wants to start shit with us Mike,” I said, my tone grave but my smile stretching as Michael looked my way, and started nodding. “How about we go over there and kick their arses?”
“Don’t bother,” said Billy. “You guys are drunk.”
I shrugged and started to get up. “So what?” I argued, suddenly starting to feel a bit aggressive. “I’ve really kind of missed Higgs lately, what about you Mike?”
Michael got to his feet and rubbed lazily at his belly. “Oh yeah,” he said. “I’ve missed him a lot. And we’re not in school now, are we Danny? No teachers, what a shame.”
Zoe had slipped down onto her belly, and her sunglasses had slipped down onto her nose. She gazed up at us, waving her feet from side to side in the air behind her. “You guys are gonna’ get killed….” She warned in a sing-song voice.
“This won’t take long,” Michael told her. “You coming Bill?”
“Oh Christ,” Billy grumbled, climbing back to his feet. “I knew I shouldn’t have said anything. You do realize there are four of them and three of us?”
“You do realize they’re all pansy arsed dick faces?” I replied, causing Michael to double up with loud laughter.
“You’re drunk and you’ll get killed,” Zoe said again, resting her head down on her folded arms. Michael merely shoved Billy and I to get us moving.
“Ignore her!” he commanded. “To war men!”
We marched off, one after the other, and I allowed the stupid thrill of it all to overtake me. I knew I ought to stay away from Higgs, but the vodka had made me feel careless and brave, and fuck it, I hadn’t felt like that in a while. I had missed it. I felt ridiculously big and brave and confident as we frogmarched our way across the sand behind Michael. We weaved arrogantly through the crowds, on the hunt for a common enemy. “Take no prisoners,” Michael was chanting as we walked. “Shoot to kill!”
We soon spotted Higgs and his friends, kicking a ball about near the waters edge, all shirtless and impossibly and beautifully tanned and glowing. It was the sight of them that set me off really. The gleaming polished smiles, the perfect fucking hair, and I felt it rush through me like a torrent then, just pure fucking hatred, deep fucking anger, out of nowhere. I thought about John getting fired, and leaving early, and the trouble I was in and the fear that greeted me every time I turned the light out at night. All of it, all of it seemed to come down to one boy. I broke into a run, Michael and Billy close behind. I saw this definite and wonderful expression of alarm on Higgs face as I hurtled towards him at top speed. But then a flicker of a smile crossed his lips, and he nudged one of the boys close to him, alerting them to the oncoming attack. The first thing that happened was me colliding with Higgs, knocking him down onto his backside. The second thing that happened was more of a surprise. Higgs suddenly had a far bigger crowd with him than Billy had realized. They seemed to assemble behind him out of nowhere, and we instantly saw our mistake. “You guys are dead,” Higgs informed us happily, as he got up from the sand, brushing at the seat of his swimming trunks.
We looked at each other once, turned, and started running. Billy was already miles ahead, this squat flame haired boy streaking off into the distance. We were slower, weighed down by alcohol and too much sun. We raced back past Zoe, who appeared to be asleep, up onto the promenade, and past the beach café and shop. I looked back over my shoulder once and saw at least eight or nine of them tearing after us, their expressions grim and determined.
“Watch it!” a man on the promenade warned us, as we roared through. The crowd became denser, but we kept running, we kept hurtling forward, until Billy crashed into a fat woman carrying two trays of chips. Michael and I skidded to a halt, and turned back, just as they came at us. It seemed to be over in seconds. I remember brief moments of frantic scuffling and punching, and then there were stronger, surer arms pulling us apart, holding us back from each other. I found myself staring blankly up into the face of Officer Heaton. I remembered him from that morning at Michael’s house, the morning they had ordered me to go home. There was another officer holding onto Michael and Higgs. Everyone else seemed to have dispersed unseen back into the crowd. I felt sick then. I gagged, swallowed, gagged again. I was horribly certain I was about to throw up on a policemans shoes. Officer Heaton gave me a withering look of displeasure and recognition. “You again,” he sighed. “Have you been drinking?”
I shook my head and pointed at Higgs. “They were chasing us!”
“You’ve all been drinking,” Officer Heaton said firmly, shaking his head at me as if daring me to lie a second time. “Drunk and disorderly in a public place boys. You better come down the station with us and sober up.”