Leg It (Chapter Four)

Claire felt the eyes watching her again. She had noticed it before, but it seemed like it was becoming more regular these days. Maybe she was imaging it. She glanced over her shoulder, half of her wanting to see a familiar face, the other half dreading who or what she may see. Nobody was there, nobody unusual anyway. 

The gang of kids were standing outside of Booze Buster, they always were. Wearing their mismatched tracksuits and their baseball caps perched precariously on top of their heads. “Whoever told them that green and purple go well together?” Then she remembered something her dad used to say. “If his brains were dynamite, he wouldn’t have enough to blow his cap off on a windy day.” She laughed to herself. “I wish he could see this bunch.”

She hadn’t seen her father for a number of years now, not since she got married. She quickened the pace. Not that they had even registered her presence. “Too much dope.”

The eyes were still there, watching. She flicked her hair back and smiled. Boredom was beginning to play tricks with her mind. She walked back towards Booze Buster. The Brady Bunch begrudgingly moved out of the way, dragging their feet as if they were wearing diving boots. Claire picked a couple bottles of white.

“It’s a nice day. I could fancy a glass by the pool.”

*****

Claire put on her swimsuit and took a glass of wine out to the pool. She knew she still had a good figure, although she had let herself go a little bit recently. Gilbert was working in the garden and she noticed him looking. It always embarrassed him when she wore her swimsuit. Without letting on she had seen him, she adjusted the top showing off her cleavage to full effect. 

“If he’s going to look, he might as well see something worthwhile.”

Gilbert could feel his cheeks glowing as he dug a hole with his trowel. He could virtually dig it with the bulge he had in his pants.

*****

I had been sat in the car for over an hour now and was beginning to drift off. The knock on the window took me by surprise.

 “Pete?”

“Gilbert, I didn’t see you there, mate. How are you?” I straightened myself up and tried to look awake.

“Good, I haven’t seen you in ages. It must be at least two or three…”

“Fifteen, Gilbert. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve seen you.”

“Is it? I never was that good at maths. What are you doing back here?”

“Thought I’d look up a few mates. Maybe have a bit of a reunion.”

“Good idea. Were you off to see Kev?” said Gilbert. “I’ve just finished his garden. He’s doing all right for himself now, making a mint. Not that I’m sure what he does mind, but he has got a big house.”

“Kev lives around here does he? I didn’t realise. He is doing well, isn’t he? I’m glad I’ve bumped into you. I’ve got an invite to the school reunion for you.” I took an invite from the glove box and handed it to Gilbert. 

“Fancy dress? Great, I love fancy dress. I might go as Batman.”

“Fancy dress? What makes you say that?” I was confused.

“Mr Burns being dressed as a frogman. I thought it was fancy dress.”

“It’s not a frogman’s outfit it’s… never mind. You will be coming, won’t you?”

“Yeah try keeping me away.” 

With that Gilbert walked down the road. I noticed that he had his name imprinted on the back of his black leather biker’s jacket in metal studs. ‘GIBLET’ it proclaimed. He stopped for a moment, turned around and headed back towards to the car pushing his wheelbarrow in front of him. “Wrong way,” he said, pointing in the direction he was going. “I’ve got shit for brains.”

*****

The rain had been falling steadily for nearly two hours now. The windows of the BMW were a torrent of water. I didn’t want to use the wipers too much in case I drew attention to myself. I was parked down the street from the large detached house I was watching. I was convinced it was Claire I had seen. I possibly should have asked Gilbert; if he was working around here, surely, he knew which house Claire lived in. 

At first, I had thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. After what Elvis had shown me last night I didn’t believe anything I saw anymore. Fifteen years hadn’t dulled my memories though. 

Admittedly she was a little plumper than I remembered, then again who wasn’t? Her hair was different, bobbed, but still modern. I’d always worried that when I returned she’d be somehow different, maybe fatter, or tattooed or anything. I wasn’t sure what I’d thought. She was still as beautiful as I remembered and was obviously doing okay for herself. A big house on the seafront, she always said she would become successful and I was happy for her. 

It had been a chance sighting. I had headed towards the beach as I had wanted to check out the lighthouse and see the changes that had been made to the seafront. It had been one of the first things on my ‘To Do’ list when I returned. 

There was a new pub that was made out of a railway carriage. The Pullman Lodge sat alongside the Seaburn Centre, a small and tidy sports centre. The supermarket was also new, everything had changed, and I was amazed at the transformation. I started at the bridge and walked past the university and the Glass Centre, stopping to try out the glass roof I had heard so much about. 

It was a magnificent structure, but a sign of the times that the first thing the national press picked up on was the fact that you could see up a woman’s skirt if she walked on the transparent roof. I checked out the sculptures as I approached the harbour to look around the new marina. The yachts and penthouse flats suggested that there was more money in Sunderland than I thought. The dog shit that covered the marina suggested that some people didn’t deserve it.

*****

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’d have gone straight up to them to introduce myself, invite them to the reunion and do a bit of catching up. 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. 

“Bugger.” 

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 recently moved in and was planning to change it. I switched off the engine and tried to pluck up the courage to cross the road.

*****

I had spent nearly four hours plucking up the courage to speak to Claire. Only the intervention of Gilbert had interrupted my silent vigil. 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 as I got closer to the house. 

“Stay calm,” I said to myself. 

When I rang the doorbell, I looked at the invitation in my hand and suddenly had a panic attack. “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 a 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 left. I was half way along 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.

*****

“Kev?” I was gob-smacked.

“How are you doing? It must be four, five…”

“Fifteen, Kev. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve seen you.”

 “You might as well come in then.” 

Despite his earlier greeting and previous form, he was being quite sociable. I wondered if he remembered what had happened at St Patrick’s. Then I realised; what had been a huge deal for me, engulfing my life for the last fifteen years, meant nothing to him. Judging by the size of the house he was doing very well and had bigger things to worry about.

“What are you drinking? I’ve got just about everything.” He opened the lid on his globe drinks cabinet. It looked antique, but most probably wasn’t. “Straight from Nelson’s drawing room,” he said pointing at the cabinet.

 “Whisky please.” 

I hoped it was a strong one. I needed it.

“What was it you said you were selling?” 

“I’m not. I’m back here for a couple of weeks. Thought I would look up a few of the lads. I was planning a bit of a reunion. You know, a party?”

“Alright, I see, and you were wanting me to organise the security?”

“Security?”

“Yeah, I know a couple of lads who’ll watch the door for you, good lads. I’ll do you a canny deal, being old mates and that.” Kev poured a generous measure into the tumbler.

“Bloody hell, Kev. It’s a school reunion not the Hells Angels’ summer bash.”

“You’re probably right, maybe one lad will be enough.”

“No, Kev, I think we’re at cross purposes here.”

“Cross what?”

“I was just wondering if you fancied coming along.” The words stuck in my throat. This had been quite an unwelcome surprise. I fumbled in my pocket for the invite.

“Yeah, I see, I suppose if I was there nobody would dare cause any trouble.” Kev stared at the invitation. “Fucking hell, is that who I think it is?” 

“Yes, the legendary Mr Burns. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it. Class isn’t it?”

“You’re telling me? There’s a lot of money in blackmail these days. I bet Mrs Burns hasn’t seen it.” Kev examined the invitation.

“I hadn’t thought of that; most of the invites are out now, so half the town will know soon. What do you reckon then?”

“Blackmail is always an earner.” 

I could see the cogs moving around in his head.

“Not about that. Do you think you’ll come along? It will be good to see how all the old lads are getting on.” I hated this man but started warming to the idea of the overgrown orang-utan showing himself up and proving what a Neanderthal he had become. Just as me and everybody else had thought he would.

“Most of the lads work for me now, in one way or another, but yeah, I’ll be there.” Kev scratched his arse. “Our lass would love a night out as well, she doesn’t get out much. She’s in the kitchen, I’ll give her a shout.” Kev left the room and headed for the kitchen. I took a big swig out of the whisky he had given me. I was confused, maybe I had got the wrong house.

“Pete?” The voice was just as I remembered. I went red again.

“Claire?” I could feel my face burning. The whisky started to have an effect. What had earlier been a dream was turning into a nightmare.

*****

“Are you all right Pete?” 

My head was thumping, and my eyes were just about focusing. I felt the back of my head and there was an egg-sized lump, luckily, there didn’t appear to be any blood. I could make out two fuzzy faces, they became clearer, and I was starting to remember. “Claire and Kev.” Yes, that was it, Claire and Kev. The slow realisation didn’t do much for my bad head. I was beginning to feel nauseous; the salty saliva was now forming in my mouth. I was going to be sick.

“Can’t take his drink, that’s his problem. One sip of whisky and he’s on his arse.”

“Shut up, Kev. He’s not well.”

“I’m okay. It’s just a bit hot in here.” I was coming around. “Can I use your bathroom?”

The cold white porcelain in the spacious bathroom had been a relief. I threw up once, seeing Marie’s lovingly cooked meal in front of me again. I washed my face and drank a glass of water, noticing the photo of Kev and Alvin Stardust on the wall.

 I realised that last night had taken its toll. I’d stayed up all night with Elvis making the invitations and we managed to polish off best part of a bottle of Bells along with the Boddingtons and wine. We even drank the Liebfraumilch. Marie had gone to bed and left us to it. I’d felt a bit sheepish when she woke me on the couch in the morning.

“We don’t see you for fifteen years and then you come here, get drunk and fall asleep on the couch. What impression is that to give Declan, or Elvis for that matter?” Marie gave me a telling off.

“I’m sorry, I think we got a bit carried away.”

“Don’t worry about it. Elvis seems happy to see you and that’s good enough for me. He’s been a bit down lately.” 

 Why hadn’t Elvis and Marie warned me about Claire and Kev? It wasn’t that I hadn’t asked. I’d mentioned Claire a number of times to both of them. They’d avoided the question, saying that they saw her about occasionally, but didn’t speak much. They were even less forthcoming about Kev I’d put it down to the fact that there wouldn’t be anything interesting to tell about the ape-man. Even if he had been inside it wouldn’t have been newsworthy. It was the least that was expected of him.

 “What’s this Kev was saying about a school reunion?” Claire sat me down on the sofa. “Sounds like a good idea. I get to see quite a lot of people from school, but they never have the time to speak. You know how it is, everyone lives their life at one hundred miles an hour now.”

“I’m off to do some business. Don’t give him anymore to drink; we don’t want him to be sick on the carpet. Cost me a packet, well it would have done if I’d actually paid for it.”

“See you, Kev, be careful.” Claire waved him out of the door, eager for him to go to work.

“What business is he in then?” I said.

“This and that, you know. Do you want a coffee or something? We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

“No thanks, not at the moment. I’ve got quite a lot to do, people to see.” I wanted to get out and clear my head. I needed some time to take everything in. “Maybe another time.”

“Yeah, everybody lives their lives at one hundred miles an hour.” I noticed a sadness in her voice that hadn’t been there before. “Do you need a taxi?”

“No, I’ve got the car thanks.”

“And you’re sure you are all right to drive?” Claire looked worried. Her concern was justified seeing as I collapsed as soon as I walked through the door then threw up in her bathroom.

“Yeah. Sorry about earlier. I think it’s the jet lag and late nights catching up with me.”

“Make sure you get some rest before the reunion because I’ll be expecting a dance from you. Great invitations by the way.”

“What? Oh, yeah Burnsy, excellent, aren’t they? I’ll see you later then.”

“Take care.” Claire gave me a peck on the cheek and opened the door. The smile that I remembered returned to her face.

“See you later.” 

I noticed the garden as I left. Despite the lions and the fountain, it was impressive. “Maybe Gilbert does have his uses,” I thought.

*****

“This is a strange place to hide.” I was surprised to hear Claire’s voice, but didn’t react. “I followed you. I could see you were upset.”

“I wasn’t upset.”

“You didn’t know about me and Kev, did you?”

“No, it did come as a bit of a surprise. You seem happy enough though,” I said. 

Claire shrugged. “Things change, Pete. You left fifteen years ago, things move on, people move on.”

“I’m happy for you,” I said.

“I wish I knew what you were really thinking. You never have shown any emotion, have you? Nobody can be as cold and heartless as you pretend to be. There must be something bursting to come out. Come on why don’t you say what you feel, just for once?” Claire placed her hand on my face. “What is it? Are you scared of getting hurt? You’re safe with me, I won’t hurt you.” 

I stared out towards the sea. “I used to come here when I was a kid. Any shit at home or school and I would walk away, come here and stare at the sea for hours. Nobody ever missed me. I sometimes sneaked out at night and came here. It’s so peaceful. I would watch the light searching across the sea. Funny thing about the lighthouse is, while it appears to be looking for something it’s trying to warn people off, keep them away. Save them from getting hurt.”

“Is that what you’re doing? Saving me from getting hurt? Or are you searching for something? I’m a big girl now, I’m way past getting hurt.”

“There’s things you don’t know about me, things that you wouldn’t like.”

“You’re not that complicated, Pete. You need to forget about the past, leave it all behind. Then you might find what it is you’re looking for.”

“I’ve tried that, remember? I left fifteen years ago and I’m still no further forward. I came back hoping to find some answers, but I’m just finding more questions.”

*****

The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.


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