I slammed the door behind me as I walked into the house.
“Don’t slam that bloody door,” my mother shouted.
I slumped on the settee and noticed Tim sat there. “Alright, Tim?”
“I’m ok, what’s the matter with your face?”
“We’ve been trying to earn money all day to go and see Elvis Costello and we haven’t made a button.”
“Just as well,” my mother had just come into the sitting room, “if you had made the money you still wouldn’t have been able to go.”
“You’re eleven years old, Pete. I wouldn’t let you go to Newcastle on your own.”
“I wouldn’t be on my own. I would be with, Elvis, Bumper and Gilbert.”
“That doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. You’re not going and that’s final.” My mother headed back towards the kitchen to finish the tea.
“That’s a shame,” said Tim, “seeing as I’ve got these.” He produced four tickets from his pocket.
“Are they what I think they are?” I asked excitedly.
“They are but your Mam said you can’t go on your own and I’ve got to agree with her.”
“It’s not fair.”
“It’s lucky I got one for myself then, isn’t it?” Tim smiled as he took a fifth ticket from his pocket. I somersaulted off the settee and gave him a hug.
“I’m going to tell Elvis,” I shouted as I ran for the door. “Oliver’s army are on their way.”
I had returned to the car and continued along the coast past the now derelict fountain and the refurbished Seaburn Hotel. The spouts of the fountain sticking up like a metal thistle. I was on my way back past the park when I saw her going into the off licence. I wasn’t sure at first but as she got closer I knew it was Claire. The walk, everything was the same. Except for the smile. The smile seemed to have gone.
If it had been anyone else I would have gone straight up to them to introduce myself, invite them to the reunion and do a bit of catching up. Basically what any normal person would do after they hadn’t seen an old school friend for fifteen years. Not Claire though, I couldn’t do it.
The shyness took over and I couldn’t understand why. We had been friends years ago after all. It just wasn’t that easy. Instead I followed her home and parked in the bus stop opposite her house. The advert on the bus shelter was encouraging people to use their mobiles more to contact old friends. I watched her cross the road and go into the large building on the corner. It was a bit tacky for my liking, lions on the gateposts and a mermaid fountain in the garden but it was Claire’s and I had to admit that I was pleased to see her. Maybe she had just moved in and was planning to change it. I switched off the engine and tried to pluck up the courage to cross the road.
Bumper picked at the hot tar with a lolly stick as we sat in the lane against my back wall. It was a hot day so we had decided to take a break from the football.
“I’m not sure I understand this, why do we want to fight?” Asked Elvis.
“We have to find out who is the hardest,” I replied.
“But why? We’re all friends. We don’t need to fight. I don’t want to fight.” Elvis removed his glasses, using the lenses to magnify the sun’s rays and melt the tar.
“Are you bottling it?”
“No. I’m not b b b bottling it. I just don’t see the p p p point. Who’s involved?”
As with all young lads, some in our group were harder than others. The trouble was we didn’t know which ones. As we had never fought each other we could only assume. With this in mind we decided we would have a boxing competition to decide.
“Everyone’s involved. We want to see who is the hardest lad in Southwick,” I knew this wasn’t strictly the case.
“But we don’t know everyone in Southwick and if you think I’m f f f fighting Kevin D d d davison you can get lost.”
Elvis was losing his temper, which I have to admit wasn’t good for whoever was going to fight him.
“Ok. Fair enough,” I had to agree with him. “It will just be the lads we play football with. The winner will still be the hardest lad in Southwick we just won’t tell anybody else in case he gets beaten up.”
I had spent nearly four hours trying to pluck up the courage to go and speak to Claire. Only the intervention of Gilbert had interrupted my silent vigil. Well it was now or never. I grabbed an invitation from the glove box and got out of the car. The rain was lashing down now and the seafront was deserted. I pulled the collar of my suit jacket up around my neck and jogged across the road, dodging the puddles. I headed up the drive and to the front door and could feel my face burning up as I got closer to the house.
Stay calm. I said to myself.
When I rang the doorbell I looked down at the invitation in my hand and suddenly had a panic attack. Jesus, what if she doesn’t recognise me? She’ll think I’m some kind of pervert. I stuffed the invitation in my pocket.
“Yeah?” The size of the man answering the door took me completely by surprise. He was about six two and quite obviously worked out. In fact he was huge.
“Err, erm…. I was just.”
“Look, we don’t need new windows, kitchen, conservatory or fucking cuddly toy so if you’re selling something you can fuck off. If you’re the Police I want to see your warrant card and then you can fuck off.”
This bloke was a one hundred per cent dickhead but he had really thrown me off guard. Everything I had planned to say turned into mumbles and stutters.
“No I’m not selling… I was looking for…maybe I’ve got the wrong house, sorry.” I turned to leave. I was half way down the path when he shouted after me.
“Hold on. Pete? It’s Peter Wood isn’t it?”
“Yeah but how…” I turned back, surprised, then the truth dawned on me.
Another installment to follow same time next week.
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