Jed took up his usual seat in the school dining-hall, right at the back, as far away from Simon as he could possibly make it. He fingered the note that had been thrust into his pocket and watched as its sender, Simon, sat down. The message was clear, he knew Jed had messed with his bike and trouble was heading his way. Jed was sure nobody had seen him, so how Simon knew he had no idea. But however he did, Jed was now on edge. He glanced furtively towards Simon and could see he was already holding court. Jonno was taking up the second in command position to his right, and the remaining seats were coveted by hanger-ons, who considered themselves important through association.
Simon looked up and caught Jed staring. Simon sneered and dragged his thumb slowly and deliberately across his throat. He mouthed one word, ‘dead’.
Jed felt his stomach turn but refused to drop his eyes. He hoped this would show Simon he wasn’t afraid, even if he was petrified. He began counting, his plan being to reach eight before he looked away. Simon took up the challenge and they locked eyes. There were close to a hundred pupils in the dining room, but there might just as well have been only the two of them as each vied for victory.
Two. . . Three. . . The mental count was excruciating. Jed felt his eyes beginning to sting, he desperately wanted to blink. Four. . . Five. . . Simon didn’t look as if he was going to back down, and Jonno had now joined in. Six. . . Jed took a deep breath and almost broke the stare. He thought Simon twitched, but no, his eyes were perfectly still. Seven. . . Jonno dropped out. Seven-and-a-quarter. Jed felt his hand lifting to rub his eyes, but he forced it down. Seven-and-a-half. Jed was sure the corner of Simon’s eye twitched. Jed bit the inside of his lip. Seven-and-three-quarters. He inhaled. Eig-. Simon blinked.
“Yes!” Jed roared and leapt from his seat, thrusting his fist in the air. His eyes darted around the room. People who usually ignored him were smiling. He pumped the air again and couldn’t help noticing, even more, faces grinning and pointing. He looked over at Simon, anticipating a look of defeat.
It took less than a second to see this was not so. His face dropped. Simon was laughing. As were his friends and a good portion of the students surrounding him.
“Sit down,” Jim said and pulled Jed by the arm. Jed hesitated and only moved once Jim had pulled him again.
Jessie slammed her food tray on the table and stood with her hands on her hips, sneering at those closest. “What you lot looking at? Why don’t you lot shut your gobs or better still shove some food in it.”
Jed closed his eyes, but could still see Simon’s face. One day, he told himself, one day I’ll get even with you. But even as he sat down he couldn’t help wondering if that day would ever come.
“Here, eat this,” Jim said and slid a bowl of apple crumble towards Jed. “Jessie can share her chips with you.” He looked at Jessie’s protesting pout, “Can’t you Jessie?”
Jessie nodded and pushed her plate closer to Jed.
“I hate him,” Jed said. “Next time I’ll do more than slashing his tyres.”
Jim didn’t stop chewing, “Thought as much – that it was you who did that. Brill job Jed, brill job.”
Jessie grinned, chips hanging from her mouth. “Heard his old man gave him a good wallop when he got home.”
“How’d you know that then?” Jim said.
“Me dad heard his dad telling his mates down at the working men’s club. Said he was right angry. Me dad asked me if I knew anything about it.”
Jed stiffened. “You didn’t split on me, did ya?”
“Course I didn’t. We’re mates aren’t we?” She wiped her fingers on her skirt. “Even if I had, dad wouldn’t have said anything. He hates Simon’s dad as much as you hate Simon.”
“Why’s that then?” Jed said.
“Dunno,” Jessie said and slurped the remains of her milkshake. She wiped her face with her sleeve and pushed her tray away.
Jim eyed the uneaten pudding. “You gonna eat that?”
Jed shook his head and slid it back to Jim. The bell rung for the start of class, but Jim ignored it and tucked in. Jed watched as the hall started to empty; he could see Simon and Jonno were holding back. He looked to see how far Jim was and willed him to slow down his chewing. He knew he risked detention by being late, but it was a far better option than confrontation with Simon.
Jim lifted his bowl and using his stubby fingers slowly wiped what little custard was attached to the sides, before sucking them clean. Jed couldn’t help smiling. It was almost as if Jim could read his mind.
“Come on you lot. Class. Now,” the head teacher shouted as he appeared at the entrance.
“Anybody not immediately exiting this hall will be in detention, scrubbing desks for the next two weeks.”
Jed was relieved when Simon and Jonno were out quickly. He grabbed his bag and looked towards Jim who winked and motioned thumbs-up for him to get going. Jed turned and headed for the door and heard Jim’s bowl clatter to the table and his chair scrape across the floor. With a little luck Jim would make it out, and if not, he knew full well Jim would be able to sweet talk himself out of any detention tossed his way.
As Jed ran for his next class, he passed the cloakroom and leapt over some bags that were in his way. Mid-air he failed to see the heavy bag aimed directly at his head and was stunned by the impact. He fell against the wall, his knees buckling, but somehow he managed to stay on his feet. His ear was throbbing and he reached to feel for blood, pleased to find there was none.
“Told you I’d get even, you shit-head,” Simon said, kicking Jed in the shins before running for his class.
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