Two – 1976
Jed felt Simon’s hand tightening around his throat. He was convinced that this time he was going to die. He clawed at Simon’s hand, digging his nails into skin as Simon towered above him, goading him to fight for his life. He lashed out with his feet and landed a direct kick on Simon’s bare shin. Simon screamed, but still maintained his grip. Jed kicked again, but this time managed only a glancing touch. Simon recovered quickly and landed several punches to Jed’s stomach, winding him badly. He closed in until his nose was touching Jed’s cheek. Simon’s breath was rancid. A globule of spit hit Jed in the face and he gagged as he felt it slowly rolling down his cheek, and touching his lip.
Simon grinned and turned to his mate. “Search his bag, Jonno. He must have something good in there to eat.”
Jonno did as he was told and pulled out a lunch-box. He ripped off the lid and a mound of sandwiches fell to the floor. He grabbed one and squashed it in his hand. Tomato sauce squelched between his fingers and he screwed up his face. He tossed the bread to the floor and smeared the thick, red sauce over Jed’s white school shirt and then his face. Jonno sniggered as he pushed the sauce into Jed’s eyes and up his nose. Simon reached over and mixed the sauce into the spit and began to laugh, a sickening and cruel sound emanating from deep in his gut.
Jonno paused abruptly, his sauce-caked hands before him, his mouth wide. “Shit, Simon, somebody’s coming.”
Simon told Jed to shut up, or else. His grip started to lesson and Jed took his cue, aiming his knee at Simon’s groin. Simon went down hard, gasping, his hands between his legs.
Jonno took off even before Simon hit the ground, and Jed was determined not to be far behind. He stumbled over Simon as he grabbed his school bag. As he was about to run, he turned back and raised his foot and delivered a thwack to Simon’s stomach. Simon groaned and Jed heard footsteps closing in. Fearing he would be found, he ran, rubbing his throat and gulping for air.
The emergency exit was in sight and Jed watched as Jonno hit the exit bar and stormed through to freedom. The door banged against the wall and ricocheted back as Jed reached it. Jed took the blow to his side, but his momentum kept him going and the door slammed once more against the wall before bouncing back into place, shutting out Simon’s cries. Jed stumbled but managed to stay up. He clutched his school bag to his chest and took off.
It was only mid-morning, but Jed was not heading for class. As the school bell rang, he ducked and made his way off the school premises, heading for the canal. The route was familiar to him, having bunked on numerous occasions, and Jed knew exactly how to stay out of sight of patrolling teachers.
He took the long route past the hall and headed for the edge of the field. From this point, he would be concealed by the trees. As he crossed into the wooded area he leapt over a log and collided with an oak tree, bashing his shoulder. He managed to stifle a cry but refused to slow down. His arm felt numb but he just kept going until he reached the canal.
The canal path was quiet and he slowed his pace. His shoulder still hurt although the feeling was gradually returning to his arm. He pulled his tie over his head and opened his shirt to check for bruising. There didn’t seem to be any, but he still probed and found a tender spot.
The heat of the mid-day sun was baking down and he could feel the sweat running down his back and chest. He pulled his shirt from his trousers, a slight breeze lifting the cotton fabric and circulating his body. The shade of the trees and the sound of rustling leaves were inviting; he considered taking a break. He decided instead to head towards a safe spot at The Globe Pub, situated by one of the many locks. It wasn’t far, and he knew that once he was there he could hide out in the barn, a place where he had sought safety before.
Touching his face, he could feel the tomato sauce beginning to congeal. And the thick layer in his nose was gross. His shirt was no better, and he knew there was no way he was going to arrive home looking like this, if for no other reason than his mum would have a fit and demand to know what had happened. And then who knew what she would do. He daren’t take the chance of her phoning the school-head demanding retribution. Yes, it might get Simon and Jonno in major trouble, but he’d never live it down with his peers. It was a well-known fact that any student who’d had parental intervention spent the rest of their school year being mocked and labelled as a mummy’s boy or girl. He already had enough to deal with at school; he didn’t need that as well.
He removed his shirt and rinsed it the best he could, tying it as a sail to his school bag to dry. He cupped his hands and tossed water onto his face. It was cold but welcome and he quickly removed the stickiness from his skin.
The pub was still closed, and Jed dropped to a crouch as he made his way past the windows. He could hear the publican telling his barmaids to show a bit more cleavage over the bar, and they, in turn, told him to take a running jump into the canal.
Jed didn’t wait to hear anymore and took his chance to sneak in the back door to the kitchen. Scouring the room, he spotted a box of chips and a crate of coke and grabbed some items from both. He froze when the coke bottles clinked together, half expecting to be pulled into the bar by his ear. When nobody came, he headed for the barn.
The barn door was closed and he tugged at the handle. When the door began to open he smiled and squeezed his way in. It was cool and the light was muted; with luck, nobody would be in and out for the next few hours. He made his way to the back where he settled down amongst a mound of bunting and umbrellas. He flipped the lid of the coke and gulped half of it down. He belched and grinned, then downed the remainder.
From his school bag he pulled out his latest song lyric book, thankful Simon and Jonno hadn’t found it. He’d been waiting for this one for weeks, having left an order with the local newsagent. It had cost him a week’s pocket money, but it was worth it. This edition was the mother lode, a special once off of all Jed Parsons lyrics, and he was determined to learn them all.
He started with “Flamin’ Hearts”, reading and memorising the lyrics. Once he was sure he’d got it, he closed his eyes and began to sing. After several attempts, his head nodded forward and the lyric book fell to the ground.
End chapter 2
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