“Wotcha,” Jed said to Jim and Jessie as they headed up the road towards the youth club.
“Wotcha, Jed man,” Jessie said, linking arms with the boys.
“Get off, will ya,” Jed said, pulling his arm away.
Jessie snorted. “Not gonna bite you. What you think, I got the lurgy or something?”
Jed smoothed down his jacket as he took a step to the side. “Nah, I dunno, I just don’t like that touchy stuff.”
“Bet you wouldn’t mind Carmen touching you,” Jessie laughed and pushed her boobs up with her hands. “Come on, have a touch. Let’s call it a practice run.”
“Bugger off, Jessie. And don’t talk about Carmen. She’s classy, not like, not like-”
“Me! Well, sod you, Jed. I was just trying to be a mate. And anyway, that Carmen doesn’t deserve you. She’s a bitch.”
“I’m warning you,” Jed said, coming to a halt. “Say one more thing about her and I’ll . . .”
“What, hit me? Go on then. And see what happens then.” Jessie stood her ground, her hands already in fists ready to strike back. Jim knew she was afraid of nobody and if Jed had even started to raise his hand to her, she would have decked him before he had time to blink. She took a step closer to Jed and snarled, “Hit me and the coppers will be up your house and you’ll never see Carmen again.”
Jim leapt between them. “All right you two. That’s enough. We haven’t even got to the end of the road and you’re already at it.” He gently pushed them apart and walked on. Neither of them followed, their anger still very close to the surface. It would only take one chirp and they’d be at it again.
“You coming or what?” Jim said, over his shoulder. “The music starts at eight, and I want a game of table tennis before the lights are dimmed.”
Jed took the first step and ran to catch up with Jim. Jessie followed suit. They walked along in silence until they neared the top of North Street. Jim glanced at his two friends and could see they had calmed down sufficiently for him to start a conversation. He kept his head down as he spoke, “Didn’t see you in English class this afternoon, Jed. There was a story going round Simon and Jonno had got at you. That right?”
“Yeah, it was nothing. Dealt with it,” Jed said and left it at that.
Jim didn’t really need answers from Jed; he’d already heard what happened. Simon and Jonno had taken centre stage in the school canteen and recounted every detail to anybody in earshot. What Jim wanted to know is how Simon got the massive lump and bruising on his shin, clearly visible at phys-ed. Jim had heard, and dismissed, Simon’s excuse of knocking a desk. He didn’t know that many school classes with desks that stood at shin height. Jim was certain it was Jed’s doing, and he knew with time Jed would open up. Until then, he’d keep a close eye on Jed, and an even closer eye on Simon.
Jed had been coming to the youth club for donkey’s years, and was about as familiar with the assorted tables and chairs as he was with the ones in his own home. Not that the furniture at home was heavily varnished with graffiti etchings, that is. There was no way that would have happened; unless he’d wanted a thwack to his head from mum, and a wood repair kit shoved in his hands.
That hadn’t stopped him from doing this at the club mind, and to date, his hastily carved, Simon is a plonker, could be found on a chair up against the back wall, in a very dark corner. On a couple of occasions when he’d come close to punching the lights out of somebody, he’d even gone as far as scrawling on the walls in the boy’s toilets. Pete, the guy who ran the club, had almost caught him once, and Jim and him had fought to clamber through the cubicle window to safety, flushing Jim’s foot in the process.
But for Jed and many of the Leighton Buzzard youths, the club was the place to be. Actually, he would moan with Jessie and Jim, it was the only place to be. Leighton Buzzard wasn’t exactly buzzing with fun. And if it wasn’t for the club, he could well see himself spending umpteen nights baking biscuits and poxy fairy cakes with his mum.
Jed would spend his time hovering around the table tennis and pool tables, watching all the rivalry going down. But tonight was different. Tonight was Disco night; hosted by none other than Disco King himself. Disco King being a local teenager with not one, but two specially constructed storage boxes for his extensive 45’s collection. Jed suspected he was a bit of a show-off because who in their right mind would enter the club with both boxes on their shoulders while wearing a pair of earphones as big as a couple of fresh bread rolls.
Everybody made sure they were there for Disco night. And as with Jim, Jed coincided this with his weekly bath night. Not that smelling alright was enough to get you a dance mind. But it sure as hell helped; especially when the real intention was to get in for a fumbled-grope.
Jim had once told him that picking a dance partner was nothing more than social politics. He’d not understood this until Jim had talked him through the process.
“See,” he’d said. “Take a look at those girls up against the wall. What they doing? Easy, giggling and offering a sly glance at the boys.”
“Yeah,” Jed said, not entirely grasping Jim’s point.
“Right, mate. Now take a look at the boys on the opposite side.” He pulled Jed around and pointed. “Can you see they’re egging each other on, daring each other to step across the divide and ask a girl to dance?”
“Yeah.” Jim wasn’t making it all that easy for him.
“So, what it means is this. They’re both offering something, and only a couple are gonna be winners.”
“Yeah,” Jed had said, scratching his head, not understanding a single thing he’d heard.
“Maybe this is easier,” Jim said. “Take a race. Everybody is at the starting line and nobody wants to come in last.”
Jed had sort of got it then. Not that anything Jim said was much of a help to him, seeing as he’d not even made it to the starting line, yet.
Jessie on the other hand regularly stormed the dance floor, grabbing the first guy who didn’t get out of her way fast enough. She’d never tried to grab him mind, and he liked to think this was down to a friend thing, even if Jim had said it was because he was a skinny runt and not Jessie’s type.
Jed saw Pete was greeting at the front door and was almost embarrassed to find his gaze drifting from his flowing hair and settling on his bulging groin.
“Bloody hell,” Jessie said, her bright red lips beginning to form a smile. “You reckon he’s got a rubber tube down there?”
Jed blushed. Had Jessie seen him staring? “Trust you to see that,” he said and hoped Jim would take over.
“What you mean? His willy almost poked me in the eye,” Jessie said and began to saunter ahead.
“Crap, she’s at it already,” Jim said. “Anybody would think she’s twenty-two the way she flirts around him. I tell you if she bends down tonight the whole of Leighton will get an eye-full.”
“You think Pete fancies her? I mean, he always chats and smiles with her like.”
“Nah, he’s just being nice.”
“Hi ya,” Pete said to the three friends. “Disco is on shortly, and cool drinks are half price.”
“Yes!” Jim grinned and headed straight to the drinks counter.
Jed sauntered in and glanced around the room. Carmen was there and his heart leapt into his throat. She looked beautiful. Her long dark hair, parted in the middle, was flowing freely down her back. She wore bell-bottom trousers and a tight top that showed off her newly developed breasts. Jed thought she looked like one of the dancers on Top of The Pops. He saw her smile and wave at him, and his stomach did a double somersault. This was the first time she had ever acknowledged him, he felt like crying and whooping at the same time. He raised his hand and waved back, hoping his smile wasn’t as stupid as it felt.
When Jed felt a thump to his head, and already his fist was raised as he spun around, coming face to face with a smug Simon, carrying a cold drink.
“Loser,” Simon said. “She isn’t waving at you. It’s me she wants. Keep your eyes off her. You hear me?” Simon pushed past and Jed watched as he grabbed Carmen by the waist and kissed her, his eyes never leaving Jed’s face. Carmen squealed and looked at Jed, mouthing loser at him.
Jed dropped his head, and made to flee, colliding with Jim.
Jim caught him. “Ignore him, Jed. You’ll have your day to bring him down.”
Jed ignored his friend and was out the door quickly.
He stood outside and went over his plan, thankful it was getting dark and that his chances of being seen were slim. Just in case though, he zipped up his jacket and pulled the collar up around his ears to hide his white t-shirt. He made his way to the bike rack where he spotted Simon’s chopper bike near the end. It was easy enough to identify, Simon had painted his name on the frame and had paraded his handiwork around the school bike shed.
When he was sure nobody was watching he dropped to the ground. As fast as he could he shuffled towards the bike, inadvertently sending particles of dry, dusty earth into his mouth and nose. He spat out what he could, and managed to stifle sneezing as he progressed. Once or twice he heard voices and he held his breath and closed his eyes until he was sure he was on his own.
The line of bikes seemed endless, but he finally got Simon’s. Rolling onto his side he reached into his pocket and extracted his penknife. It was stiff to open and he wrestled with it until it snapped open. Once more, he paused to make sure he was alone, then stabbed both tyres, allowing himself a smile as the air hissed and touched his cheek. He remained on the floor until the air stopped, but somehow the damage didn’t seem enough. Sure, Simon would be mad as hell, but he’d easily fix the punctures and be back in the saddle in no time. No, he needed to do more and he knew exactly what he was going to do.
He once again quickly set to work with his penknife, manipulating the rubber from the rims. The front came off easily, but the back was tougher and he almost gave up when it finally came off. Knowing the longer he lay there, the chances of being caught grew, he jumped up and headed for the rubbish area.
The rubbish bins were full and he settled on the one furthest out of view. He lifted the lid, gagging as the smell hit him. Holding his breath he pushed the tyres inside as far as he could, shuddering when his fingers touched a cold, slimy substance which made him drop the lid. The metal smashed against the bin and hit the floor. Jed grabbed it and bounced it back on the bin. His heart was pounding and his mouth was dry. As the lid connected with the bin, he took off, heading towards the road and directly home. He felt bad for not letting Jim know but figured once Jim realised he’d gone he would understand, and as for Jessie, well she wouldn’t even bother looking for him.
As Jed neared the front of the club he checked his clothes and brushed off some dirt on his jacket. He was relieved his breathing was normalising and allowed himself a brief smile. Steadying his pace he kept his eye on the road and hoped he wasn’t arousing attention by leaving the club early. Suddenly he heard a noise behind him and he began to pick up his pace, afraid it would be Simon. He was startled when Jessie bolted past, sobbing.
“Stop her, grab her, Jed,” Jim shouted.
Jed spun around and saw Jim lumbering towards him. “What?”
“I said to grab her, she’s gone nuts.”
Jed turned back towards the road. He was thankful Jessie wasn’t a good runner and was still in view. He closed in quickly and stretched out to grab her, but only managed to clutch the fabric of her jacket. Jessie took a side step and Jed heard the jacket tear. Jessie swore but kept running, pulling her jacket off and throwing it to the floor.
“Jessie, stop, will ya.” Jed shouted. “Jessie!”
But still Jessie ran, and Jed chased, bumping cars as he avoided lampposts. When Jessie stumbled, Jed lunged and grabbed her arm, yanking her to a standstill. She lashed out and scratched his face, screaming for him to let her go. Jed wrestled with her, holding her arms down and avoiding her feet. “Cut it out,” he yelled. “Cut it out.” But still, she struggled.
He pulled her tight to his body and was ashamed to feel an erection forming. He pushed her away and spun her around, staring angrily at her. “What the hell are you doing, are you nuts?”
Jessie glared at him and pulled her arms free. Throwing her head back she let out a scream and finally, her body slumped as she crumbled to the ground, her face in her hands and her skirt hitched up too high.
Jed looked away; he didn’t know what to say, and was pleased when Jim arrived wheezing, his face red and covered in sweat.
“Well done mate,” Jim said as he slid next to Jessie.
Jim could hear his heart ramming against his chest, and took several deep breaths. He was mad as hell with Jessie and couldn’t understand what the hell had got into her, accusing Pete of being a fanny-teaser and then slapping Pete’s girlfriend like that? Watching Jessie in action hadn’t been pretty, and all he’d wanted to do was remove her from the club before she did any more damage. But he hadn’t been quick enough and all he could do was watch as Jessie emptied a cup of coke over Pete and then lunged at Sarah. Pete had lost it then and grabbed Jessie. She’d thrown her arms around his neck and wailed, but Pete had forced her arms off and told her to get out and never come back.
Jim sighed and looked over at Jessie. Her clothes were a mess and her face was streaked with black makeup. If anybody saw her they’d think she lived on the street, she was that bad. And yet as mad as he was, he felt for her. She didn’t have much of a life, what with her mum being in and out of prison, and her dad being a bit of a drunk.
He shook his head and wiped his face with his sleeve. “What the hell is wrong with you? He’s old enough to be your dad. Pete can’t go out with you. He’d end up in prison if he did.”
Jessie sniffed and kept her head down. “I know. But I love him.”
“Somebody gonna tell me what’s going on?” Jed said.
Jim put his finger to his lips to silence Jed. “Long story mate,” Jim said. “Let’s leave it at Pete’s girlfriend was at the club and Jessie didn’t take too kindly to it.”
“Crap,” Jed said and offered Jessie his handkerchief. Jim knew Jed hated carrying it, but his mum made him, and tonight he was probably glad she had.
Jessie pulled herself to her feet. “Let’s go,” she said. “I want to get out of here.”
“You want us to walk you home?” Jim said.
She shook her head, “Don’t want me dad to see me. I’ll hang about uptown until I know he’s gone to bed. Walk me there if you like.”
“How about we go and get some hot chips. I’m starving,” Jed said.
Jim’s face broke into a smile, “Best idea you’ve had all day, Jed. The chippy should be open if we get going.”
Jessie sniffed and positioned herself between Jed and Jim. They linked arms with her. Jim watched as she nudged Jed, “Hey, thought you didn’t like holding my arm?
Jed shrugged, “I don’t. Let’s not make it a habit.”
End chapter 5
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