Copyright © 2020 Don Carter. All rights reserved.
I stood on the edge of the pavement watching as the car slowly drove down the street. At the end just as it stopped prior to turning right onto Ferrybridge Road, Cal turned and waved one last goodbye. I stood there waving, hoping that it wasn’t goodbye. I knew she’d be back at the weekend, but it felt to me like something was ending. She blew me a kiss as the car turned and was gone from view.
I stood there for a while, trying not to be worried about the future, before I turned and walked back inside.
“Don’t look so sad,” Mum said as I walked in, “she’ll be back at the weekend, and as you said, it’s only five weeks, and if she doesn’t come home one weekend, you can always go over there.”
“I’m not sad,” I replied, “I’m worried.”
“And what do you have to worry about?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing really, I just don’t feel right about things.”
“Not right how?” she asked me.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “I can’t put my finger on it. I’m just wondering things like how long it will be before Cal decides that it’s easier to stay over there for the weekend. You know, there’s a concert, a party, something else on.”
“You can always go over and go with her,” Mum suggested.
“Assuming I’m invited,” I said dejectedly and turned to walk into the house.
“Of course you’ll be invited,” she said, to my retreating back, “why wouldn’t you be?”
My turmoil was settled a couple of hours later, just as we’d finished tea, when my phone rang. I could tell by the ring tone that it was Cal calling. It was the guitar riff from the beginning of Roy Orbison’s Oh! Pretty Woman.
“Hi Sweetheart,” I said as I answered.
“No need to sound so enthusiastic,” she replied, picking up on my tone.
“Sorry,” I answered, “I’m missing you.”
“Already?” she asked, “I haven’t had chance to start yet. I’m here, I’ve got my room sorted. I’ll be sharing with another girl, but she’s not here yet. Mum’s just left so she should be home soon. What are you going to do with yourself until Friday. Pine away for me?”
“Probably, but Charlie is arriving on Friday as well,” I replied, “so I have plenty to look forward to. And don’t forget we have Mel’s parents’ barbeque on Saturday. Which reminds me, I’d better ask her if it’s all right to bring you and Charlie at school tomorrow, it wouldn’t be polite to just turn up with both of you.”
“Probably not,” she agreed, “I wonder what she and her parents will make of you turning up with two girlfriends?”
“I won’t be turning up with two girlfriends,” I objected, “just one and a friend who happens to be a girl. If you remember the arrangement when Charlie went off to LA.”
“She’ll still think you have two girlfriends,” she said, a smile in her voice, “who knows, maybe she’ll decide that if there’s room for two, then there’s room for three.”
“Do you think so?” I asked.
“Only over her dead body, boy,” Cal growled.
I realised, suddenly, that I felt much better about Cal being away for talking to her.
“Her dead body?” I queried.
“Well your dead body would be cutting off my nose to spite my face, wouldn’t it?” she replied.
“Yes, I suppose it would,” I said, still chuckling.
“There’s a concert in the Stoller Hall tonight,” she replied, “I’m going to that.”
“Have you decided what A levels you’re going to take?” I asked.
“Yes, I have to take Music, then I’ll do Music Technology and German,” she replied, “that should easily get me into Royal Northern. I also have to learn an instrument. I thought Piano would be good since I already play a bit. I may have to stay here on Saturday mornings occasionally, for rehearsals or practice.”
“Sounds like a busy two years,” I told her.
“But worth it for the end result,” she said.
“Yes,” I said, “what do you think of the idea of looking for somewhere to buy in the area, letting it out for the next two years, then we live in it when we leave school, and become real students?”
“Can we afford it?” she asked.
“That depends on the price, but I’d guess that so long at it costs less than about two million, we can,” I replied.
“Well, if we can find somewhere we’d want to live in, at the right price, I suppose we could,” she agreed.
“So we need to find out when houses for sale are featured in the M.E.N. and you need to bring a copy home with you each week,” I suggested.
“M.E.N?” she queried.
“The Manchester Evening News,” I replied, “the local daily newspaper.”
“Oh,” she replied, “right. Yes, I’ll do that.”
“Good,” I replied, “so, have you met any of your fellow students yet?”
“Not yet,” she replied, “but dinner is in ten minutes so I should at least meet some others then.”
“You’d better go get ready then,” I told her, “hopefully you’ll have plenty of people to talk to. Ring me later if you get lonely.”
“I will,” she replied, “love you lots.”
“I love you lots,” I replied.
“But I love you more.”
“No, I love you more.”
This went on for most of the ten minutes before the dinner bell rang at her end, so loud I heard it over the phone.
“You’d better go,” I said.
We hung up, and I wandered into the living room to find Alison and Geoff, her beau, canoodling on the settee.
“Do you two mind if I put the telly on?” I asked.
“Can’t you go and watch the one in your bedroom?” Ali asked, “we’d kind of like some privacy.”
“Then why don’t you go to your room?” I replied.
“Because if we did, the parents would ground me until menopause, and castrate Geoff,” she replied.
“You could be right at that,” I answered, “all right, I’ll go. Don’t you two do anything I would.”
“Don’t you mean wouldn’t?” Geoff asked.
I just looked at him.
“No, maybe not,” he added.
I patted him on the shoulder on my way out, adding a little squeeze with the last pat. I think he got the message.
Upstairs I decided to forgo the delights of TV and got down to some homework. I was beginning to get the hang of differentiation in Maths, and the teacher was threatening us with writing a programme in computing in the next couple of weeks. I’d ordered a copy of Borland’s Delphi 6, to practice at home on, although the school was using its predecessor, Turbo Pascal. Apparently Delphi was object oriented, and that seemed to be the way that programming was going, so I thought I’d be future proofed if I taught myself that. I’d also bought a couple of teach yourself manuals.
The three problems in Calculus I had to do were a struggle, but I got through them and was happy with my answers after an hour. I turned to my laptop, booted it and pulled up the Delphi programme.
Opening the first of my books at chapter 1, read through the first section, then tried the exercise.
Ten minutes later I clicked on compile and, my first programme didn’t run, it threw up an error.
I went back and read through the section again, I’d done everything right. Finally, frustrated, I turned to the back of the book and the suggested solutions to exercises. There I saw my problem, a misplaced semi-colon.
Under a minute to reload the code, make the change and then run the programme.
Success! I was a programmer.
Admittedly, even I didn’t see a lot of use for a programme that printed the words ‘Hello World’ onto the screen and then sat there waiting for you to press Enter to get rid of it.
I immediately thought of an enhancement, it needed an extra line to prompt the user to press Enter to continue.
I was starting to think I was going to enjoy this course, particularly after I added another writeln command to print ‘Press Enter to exit’, beneath the Hello World.
Flushed with success, I spent the next two hours going through the book and trying out the exercises.
The first thing I did on Wednesday morning was to send a text to Cal, wishing her luck. I even remembered to finish it with ‘Toi, toi, toi’, which I was reliably informed, was the standard operatic version of the theatre’s ‘break a leg.’
I got a text back at lunch time, telling me the facilities were fantastic, the teachers great and the other students all seemed to be a pretty nice bunch, and a promise to ring me after school.
Despite two hours of statistics, one of Calculus and two hours in the computer lab, being taught about as much as I’d learned the previous night from my book, I enjoyed school that day, it seemed to be over in a flash and I was waiting for the bus home.
I thought it strange that I hadn’t seen Mel all day and looked for her at the bus stop. She wasn’t there either and I did want to ask her whether it was all right for Charlie to come to the barbecue as well on Saturday. I decided I’d have to ring when I got home.
My first job, once I arrived at home, was to make myself a sandwich, I hadn’t had much for my lunch. So, wholemeal bread, Edam slices and Branston Pickle, a large glass of diet Pepsi and a couple of biscuits, and I set off upstairs to my room.
About twenty minutes later I heard the front door open, then slam shut, Alison was home.
A few minutes after that, the bathroom door shut and I could hear the water running in the shower. Alison had had either games or PE last period.
I waited five minutes to give her time to finish, then walked downstairs and put the kettle on. My sister was the oddball of the family, Mum Dad and I all drank coffee. She only drank tea.
I pushed a mug across the kitchen table to her as she sat down.
“Thanks big bro,” she said as she grasped the mug, then quickly removed her hand, “That’s hot.”
“It’s supposed to be,” I replied, “that’s why you make it with boiling water.”
“David,” she asked, suddenly turning serious, “can I ask you something?”
“Of course you can,” I replied, “you always have been able to. What is it?”
“Well, it’s sort of personal,” she replied.
“Well, I’ll try to answer you as well as I can,” I assured her, “but the only thing I’ll promise is I’ll either answer you honestly, or not at all. And if it’s not at all, I’ll try and point you towards somebody who can.”
“Okay,” she said, and put her mug down before drawing a deep breath and looking at me, her eyes shadowed.
“What do you think of Geoff?” she asked.
“Geoff?” I queried.
“Yes, remember him?” she asked, “about your height, slim, sandy hair, blue eyes. Geoff. He was here last night when you came in, we were sat in the living room watching telly.”
“You mean the lad you were snogging last night?” I asked.
“Snogging may have been involved,” she agreed, “what do you think of him?”
“I don’t know him well enough to have an opinion,” I replied, “and besides, it’s your opinion that counts, not mine. Why are you asking?”
“He asked me to be his girlfriend,” she said, “you know, go out together, on dates.”
“And how do you feel about it?” I asked, “it’s not really anything to do with me.”
“But I want to know if you think I should?” she replied.
“Seriously,” I said, reaching out and taking her hand, “it’s not my opinion that counts.”
“It is with me,” she answered, “Look, if I decide to do this, and Mum and Dad say no I can’t, then I’ll just sneak out and see him, but if you say no, then I’ll just tell him no tomorrow.”
“How about, we go out all together this Friday?” I asked.
“All?” she asked.
“Yes, you, me, him, Cal and Charlie,” I affirmed.
“All right,” she said, “I’ll tell him.”
“No, Alison, that’s the wrong approach, you ASK him. You tell him that this way Mum and Dad probably won’t object.”
“Given that they know what you, Cal and Charlie have actually been doing for the last two years, they might,” she added.
“Perhaps,” I said, “but there again, maybe not. I think Mum will want to drag you down to the doctor’s.”
“What for?” she asked.
“What do you think for?” I replied, “Contraceptive advice of course.”
“I don’t want to go on the pill, not yet, anyway,” she stated, firmly.
“Then you need to make sure you always have condoms with you,” I replied.
“Surely, that’s his responsibility.”
“No, it’s both your responsibility,” I replied, “and it’s so easy to just let the moment take over, and then it’s too late.”
“I see,” she said thoughtfully, “yes, you’re right.”
That was the point at which the fluttering eyelids came into play.
“David,” she said, sweetly, “could you get me some?”
“Oh, yes,” I said, “like that’s going to happen. I can see it now. Mum asks you where you got them, you tell her I got them for you, and that’s it, suddenly I’ll be the late David J. Barker. Sorry Pip, you’re on your own there.”
“I wouldn’t rat on you,” she protested.
“No,” I agreed, “not deliberately, but you know Mum, she’s sneaky. She wouldn’t ask you who got them, she’d ask you how long I’d been getting them for you, and sound like she knew. Then you’d tell her.”
“Have you spoken to the parents about it yet?” I asked.
“No,” she replied, “do you think that I should? “
“It might surprise you,” I answered.
“They might just say no and send me to a convent,” she said.
“And they might not,” I replied, “ask them. Tell them about it, they’re not ogres, just parents.”
“And if they say no?” she asked.
“Well, then I’ll suggest that they allow you to double up with me and Cal,” I said, “don’t forget you’re the same age as Cal and I were.”
“Yes, but Mum isn’t determined to marry me off to Geoff.”
“I’m pretty sure she’d be thrilled to get rid of you to anyone who’ll have you,” I retorted.
My sister can actually hurt when she balls her fist and hits your upper arm.
I was saved from further battery by Mum walking in.
“Alison dear,” she said calmly, “I’ve told you before, only hit them where the bruises don’t show. Why are you assaulting your brother?”
“Because, he’s being a boy,” she replied.
“That’s acceptable,” Mum answered, “now who is going to make a poor old woman a coffee, David?”
Since I can take a hint, I got up and got her coffee. For the record, we’re not rich, but Mum is not poor either. Nor is she old, still in her late middle thirties (her description) and even though she is my mother, still attractive.
As I stood in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil, I heard Alison speak to Mum.
“Mum,” she said, “I need to ask you something.”
“All right darling, you know you always can,” Mum replied, “what is it?”
“It’s about Geoff,” Ali replied.
“The Geoff, your boyfriend who isn’t your boyfriend?”
“Yes,” she answered, “that’s what I want to ask about.”
She went silent for a few seconds, a silence which Mum broke.
“As in he wants to change his status?” Mum asked.
I could almost hear the confusion on Alison’s face.
“What?” Ali asked, “I don’t understand.”
“He wants to change from being the boyfriend who isn’t a boyfriend, to just the boyfriend?” Mum queried.
“Er, well yes,” Ali replied, “sort of.”
“Sort of?” Mum asked, “so he finally asked you out on a date, instead of just sitting in each other’s living room looking doe eyed at each other. Is it that type of sort of?”
I was guessing that Alison just nodded, since she didn’t say anything.
“David,” Mum called, “join us please.”
I walked across the kitchen and stood leaning against the door jamb.
“Yes, Mum?” I queried.
“What do you know about this?” she asked.
“About what?” I replied, bringing my supreme acting abilities into play.
“Don’t give me that young man,” she replied, “I know full well that you heard every word.”
“OK, Mum,” I said, “guilty as charged. Pip did mention it.”
“About fifteen minutes ago,” I replied.
She gave me her steely gaze.
“Fifteen minutes ago,” I reiterated, “although I haven’t believed the ‘not a boyfriend’ for a while.”
“I haven’t believed it at all,” Mum said.
My sister gave me a look that promised retribution.
“Right then young lady, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be allowed to go out with Geoff, he’s a nice boy, polite, respectful, and he doesn’t drag his knuckles on the ground.”
Alison brightened, a lot.
“But,” she continued, “there are conditions.”
“What are they?” Alison asked, eagerly, “I agree.”
“Whether you agree doesn’t come into it,” Mum replied, “if they’re not met, you don’t go.”
“All right, what are they?”
“First, he needs to come round and ask your Dad for permission to take you out.”
“Okay,” Alison said, “what’s second.”
“You will not go out, just the two of you, you will always be in a group of at least two couples, one of which, preferably, includes your brother.”
“Mum!” she complained, drawing out the u.
“Not permanently, just until we know we can trust the pair of you alone together,” Mum replied.
Alison glared, but I think she realised it was a take it or leave it situation.
“Is that coffee ready David?” Mum asked.
Like the obedient son I was, I disappeared back into the kitchen and returned bearing two mugs of steaming coffee, since my previous one had gone cold.
Alison was absent.
I must have looked puzzled, because Mum enlightened me.
“She stormed off to her room,” she said.
“What did you do to her?” I asked.
“Offered to take her to the doctor’s,” she replied.
“She doesn’t want that,” I replied, “we talked earlier. She asked me to get her condoms instead.”
“She’s intending to go that far already?” she asked.
“No, that was after I pointed out the need to be protected regardless. In case things ever get too heated up.”
“And you think things might?” she asked.
“I have no idea what might happen, Mum,” I replied, “but which would you prefer, when inevitably she takes that step, she does so safely, or she takes some sort of stupid risk? I know which choice you and Aunt Mary took with me and Cal.”
“Sometimes, young man,” she said, a smile lighting up her whole face, “I wonder if you aren’t a lot older than your birth certificate says. It’s only because I was there, that I still believe you’re only sixteen.”
I never did get round to ringing Mel that evening, but I did talk to Cal for five minutes, when we caught each other up on our days and she told me all about the music facilities at her new school, and some of the other girls she’d met.
Apart from Dad, who is always up before six to get to work, I was the first up the next morning, sat at the kitchen table eating a bowl of Weetabix.
I’d been there about ten minutes, when I was joined by my sister, who promptly walked round the table, put her arms round my neck and planted a big, wet, sloppy kiss on my cheek.
“What was that for?” I asked when she let me go.
“For being the best brother in the world,” she replied.
“So, I should either ask, what did I do, or what do you want?” I answered, “which one is it?”
“What you did,” she replied, “you talked to Mum last night and persuaded her that she should get me some protection. Not that I intend needing it, but like she said, I’m young and full of weird new hormones, and things could get out of hand. She said she’d sleep better at night knowing I wasn’t going to knock her up one night telling her my boyfriend knocked me up.”
I almost spat out a mouthful of Weetabix when she said that.
“What are your plans for today then?” I asked.
“School, doctors, then round to Geoff’s to do our homework together,” she answered.
“Where you’ll tell him the result of your chat with Mum,” I suggested.
“Oh, no,” she replied, “that might give him the idea that I’m ready and inviting him. I’m not, for either.”
“Then make sure he understands that,” I said, “would you like me to talk to him?”
“Oh yes,” she said, “that sounds like a plan. Set my big brother onto my boyfriend.”
“Boyfriend?” I queried, “what happened to ‘not the boyfriend’?”
I made air quotes for the final three words.
“All right, he’s my boyfriend, all right?” she asked, “satisfied now?”
“I always was,” I said, “you were the one in denial.”
“I was not in denial,” she said, “we were just friends, that’s all. He never asked me out, until this week.”
“That’s all right, then,” I said.
“At least Mum and Mr. James didn’t have to gang up on us,” she muttered.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing,” she replied and began to get herself some breakfast.
I finished mine, rinsed the bowl and put it in the dishwasher, then went upstairs to get ready for school. There’s no uniform for sixth form at school, just a no jeans, no t-shirts, no trainers rule.
I wore grey trousers, a long sleeved polo shirt, and a pair of suede slip-ons from Cotton Traders. My bag had a pullover and a foldable raincoat in case it rained, as well as my books, I said goodbye to both my Mum, who had surfaced by this time and my sister and left for the short walk down to the bus stop.
There was no Mel again at the bus stop, and I didn’t spot her in school or in the two lessons we shared that day. The mystery was deepening.
It deepened further when I tried ringing their home phone number at lunchtime and got no reply.
I had practice after school, so it was after five by the time I’d showered and got dressed. Mum was picking me up, since the school buses had stopped running, and I stood at the bus stop waiting for her.
She pulled up just after a quarter past, and I dumped my bag on the back seat and climbed in.
“Mum,” I said, as I fastened my seat belt, “could I have a lift after tea?”
“Of course, love, “she replied, “where to?”
“The Corbett’s house,” I replied.
“Yes, of course,” she replied, “why do you want to go?”
“Mel hasn’t turned up at school for the last two days, and nobody seems to know why,” I answered, “I just want to go round and check that she’s all right.”
When we came to the junction of the road from Featherstone with the main Pontefract Road, instead of turning right towards home, Mum turned left, towards Pontefract.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“You said you wanted to go to Mel’s house,” she replied.
Ten minutes later we pulled up outside a large, detached house in Townville, and I climbed out of the car.
I walked through the gate and up the short driveway and to the front door, where I pressed the bell button and waited.
Finally after over five minutes, I gave up and walked, dejectedly back to the waiting car.
“Well?” Mum asked as I fastened my seat belt.
“No answer,” I replied, “the house looks deserted.”
“Perhaps there’s been a family emergency,” she suggested, “and they’ve all gone off to be with whoever’s affected.”
“But they’re supposed to be hosting a barbecue this weekend,” I replied, “surely if that were the case, they’d have let people know?”
“You would think so,” she replied, “yes. But perhaps it was very sudden and they haven’t yet got round to calling it off. Maybe they’re hoping to be back by then.”
“That’s possible, I suppose,” I agreed, “but I have a bad feeling about it.”
“Really?” she asked, “in what way?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “it’s just a feeling that something is not right. I like Mel, I mean, she’s a bit pushy, but once she realised that I had a girlfriend she cut back and seems happy with just being friends. And she’s really, really bright. I think she and Cal will get on.”
“Unless Cal sees her as a threat,” Mum said.
“Why should she do that?” I asked, “she knows I would never ever cheat.”
“So she does,” she replies, “but does she also believe that you would never ever break up with her in order to be with someone else?”
“I hope she does,” I answered, “I’ve never even for a second considered anything like that.”
“So why this sudden obsession with this Mel girl?” she asked.
“It’s not an obsession, Mum,” I objected, “she’s a friend from school who seems to have just vanished, along with her family. Nobody at school has heard anything about her for two days, her parents haven’t rung to say she’s sick, nothing. All I am is a bit worried about a school friend.”
“Well, just don’t let it take you over,” she said.
“I won’t Mum,” I answered, “but it just doesn’t seem right. She didn’t strike me as the flighty type.”
“It’s probably nothing more than a family emergency that has taken them away.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “you’re probably right.”
I agreed with her verbally, but something just didn’t seem right to me.
When I spoke to Cal that night, she noticed straight way that something was troubling me.
“What is it, love,” she asked when I finally admitted to having a concern.
“There’s a new girl at school, Mel,” I explained, “the one whose party we were invited to.”
“Yes,” she said, suddenly sounding nervous, “what about her?”
“Well she and her whole family have disappeared,” I answered, “their house is all locked up and nobody seems to have heard from any of them.”
“Maybe there was a family emergency,” she suggested, “or they just went on holiday.”
“Nobody arranges a party then goes on holiday without at least letting the guests know,” I countered.
“Maybe they’re planning on being back for the party,” she suggested.
“You could be right,” I was forced to agree, “well, we’ll just have to wait for the weekend. You’re coming home right?”
“Of course I am,” she replied, “I finish at two on Friday, and I don’t have anything Saturday morning, so I reckon I can be home by about five.”
“Is your Mum picking you up from the station?” I asked.
“Then I’ll come with her,” I said, “so, how are things over there?”
“Lots going on,” she answered, “lots of things to do, places to go. It’s a really busy city, and, of course it has its own orchestra.”
“The school?” I asked.
“Well yes, but I meant the city, the Halle Orchestra, Mark Elder is the conductor.”
“Oh, right,” I said, not really understanding the classical music world that Cal seemed to exist in, “are they any good?”
“One of the best in the country,” she replied, “When can you come over here?”
She was very good at just leaping from one subject to another.
“Well,” I replied, “you’re coming home this weekend, I could come over there the weekend after. Why?”
“Some of the snootier people over here, mainly girls, refuse to believe that I have a boyfriend for a start, although that’s mainly the boys who want to apply for the position. But the girls refuse to believe that said boyfriend is you.”
“They don’t believe you have a boyfriend back in Cas?” I asked.
“No, they don’t believe that my boyfriend David is David J. Barker, star of Star Academy,” she replied.
“So you want me to come over so you can parade me around and score points?”
“No,” she replied, “I want you to come over so my new friends can meet you and, maybe, so the boys here will stop trying to get me to go out on dates with them.”
“So long as your motives are good, I’ll do it,” I said, “I take it I can’t stay with you?”
“No,” she replied, “it wouldn’t be allowed.”
“Then I’ll book us a hotel for the weekend.”
“The Midland?” she asked.
“I doubt that,” I replied, “the TV company aren’t paying this time, I am.”
“Stingy,” she said, “and you with all your millions.”
“May I point out, my love that you are not on the breadline yourself,” I said, “unless you’ve spent it all already.”
“But don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll find us somewhere nice.”
“I’m sure you will,” she said, “how’s your studying going.”
“Tedious,” I replied, “I didn’t think A level maths would be so complicated, but I’ll get it. How’s yours?”
“Great,” she replied, “we all get to do two A levels as well as music. I’ve chosen History and German.”
We chatted on for another ten minutes, or rather she chattered on about the people she’d met at school and the things that were going on around her before, amid protestations of love, we finally said goodnight and hung up.
“How’s Cal doing?” my sister asked me as I walked back into the living room after the call, “making lots of new friends?”
“I don’t know about that,” I replied, “but she wants me to go over next weekend.”
“Oh yes,” she answered, “a dirty weekend in Manchester?”
“No,” I replied, “she wants to show some of the people there that her boyfriend really is a film star.”
“Are you worrying about her being over there?” she asked.
I sighed and settled back in my chair.
“Yes,” I replied, “you know how impulsive she is. She’s quite likely to do something silly, without thinking it through.”
“Like what?” she asked.
“Oh, something that, on the face of it looks harmless and innocent enough. A group going out, say to the pictures, it becomes a regular thing, then one week one of the males of the group asks if she’s going that week, she says yes and suddenly in his mind she’s on a date with him. So next thing they’re sitting together, and he thinks she’s his girlfriend. Little things, holding hands as they walk, all very innocent, a hug when they meet up, and it escalates.”
“Then why did you agree to her going, you know she wouldn’t have gone if you’d said no?”
“Of course I do, but there are two reasons. Firstly, you’re right, if I’d said no she’d have stayed, but she’d have resented it, and that would have torn us apart. Secondly, I don’t have the right to stop her chasing her dream. If this gives her a better chance of attaining that dream, then she needs to take that chance. I don’t have the right to stand in the way of that, and I wouldn’t feel right about doing it if I did.”
“Sometimes I wish you weren’t my brother,” she said as she walked over, deposited herself on my lap and gave me a big sloppy kiss.
“Then I could have you for my boyfriend.”
“Lovely as that thought is,” I replied, “it’s not possible.”
“No,” she agreed, “but a girl’s allowed to fantasize isn’t she?”
“In these days of equality?” I asked, of course she is.”
I stood up, walked over and kissed the top of her head.
“Thanks baby Sister,” I said softly.
“For what?” she asked.
“For reminding me that no matter what, there will always be somebody on this planet who loves me.”
“Forever, big brother,” she answered, then took my hand brought it to her lips and kissed each fingertip.
I left and trudged up the stairs to my bedroom, where I took my guitar out of its case and quickly tuned it. Not having my girlfriend’s perfect pitch I generally have to use a pitching aid to tune it, and today was no exception. I finally got my E string playing an E, and tuned the rest to that, then began to strum, just playing chords.
I stopped when my Dad tapped on my door.
“David,” he announced, “it’s gone midnight.”
“Oh,” I exclaimed, “sorry Dad.”
I put the guitar back in its case and got myself ready for bed.
School was quiet until I finished a two o’clock on Friday, to find Aunt Mary waiting outside the school gates for me.
“Hi,” I greeted her as I climbed into the passenger seat and buckled my seat belt on, “what brings you here?”
“Cal got an earlier train,” she said, “so we’re picking her up in Leeds at three-thirty.”
“Ah right,” I said, “if you hadn’t picked me up I wouldn’t have been home in time.”
“True,” she said as she pulled out and headed off down the street towards Ackton and the motorway.
We parked in the short stay car park outside the back entrance to the station, I went and got the ticket from the machine, then we walked together into the body of the station, up towards the concourse and sat on two of the metal seats to await the arrival of Cal’s train.
It was typical of the British railway system that the train, on a fifty-nine minute journey was forty-two minutes late arriving.
Eventually I saw a slight figure coming down the escalator from the bridge between platforms, dresses in tight jeans and a Chetham’s School sweatshirt, carrying a holdall.
As soon as she was through the barrier, she kissed her Mum, placed, or more correctly dumped, her holdall at her mother’s feet and launched herself at me, arms round neck, legs round waist and covering my face in kisses. I put my hands in the only place I could easily reach, one on each cheek of her backside.
“Take me home, David,” she whispered in my ear, “take me home and ravage me.”
I couldn’t take her home, I didn’t have a car, but her mother did. And, in fairness, I couldn’t ravish her, too many people were waiting to see her. At least, I couldn’t ravish her until later that night.
We ate at our house that evening. Mum had enlisted the help of my sister and between them they turned out a feast. Beef Wellington, mashed and roast potatoes and roasted vegetables. We finished off with lemon meringue pie and cream.
We spent the evening with her mother, talking about school, studies, future plans and whether there was any news of Mel. There wasn’t, and I think even Cal was getting intrigued by the mystery.
Cal started yawning about ten, and we headed upstairs to bed.
She disappeared into the bathroom and came out a few minutes later dressed in pyjamas.
I looked at her from where I reclined, naked, on the bed..
“What?” she asked.
I just gestured up and down her body with my right hand.
“Oh, sorry,” she said, “it’s what we have to wear at school.”
I had to stifle a laugh.
“If you don’t like them,” she said, provocatively, “you could always take them off me.”
“What?” I asked, “I have to undress you?”
In answer, she just nodded her head.
“Of course,” she said, after a couple of seconds, “you could always just think of it as unwrapping your present.”
“Or you could treat me to a strip tease,” I replied, “you know, like Salome and the seven veils.”
She walked over to her dressing table and leafed through the CDs on there. She found the one she wanted and held it up triumphantly. Herbert von Karajan’s 1978 Salome, with Hildegard Behrens and the Vienna Philharmonic. She put it in her player, found the right track (Track 3 on CD 2), and started it.
The next five minutes were magical. She moved sinuously in time to the music, each time the music rose, she undid a button on her pyjama jacket and continued to move round the room until it was completely open at the front. As she moved, the jacket moved with her, offering tantalising glimpses of her bare breasts, then her hands fell to the cord fastening the waist of the pyjama bottoms. She slowly tugged the bow apart and then let them fall to the ground and continued her movements. My little friend was no longer little, he was definitely sitting up and taking notice. As the music reached its climax, she was at the end of the bed and, on the last note, she jumped and landed on the mattress, her legs folded under her, knees apart, displaying herself fully to my gaze.
“Does my master see anything he likes?” she asked quietly.
“I like everything I see, Cal,” I said, “why don’t you come up her and lie down with me. Are you tired? You were yawning earlier.”
“That was for Mum’s benefit,” she said, “you honestly think we’re just going to sleep tonight?”
“I hadn’t planned on it,” I replied, “had you?”
“Not in the slightest,” she replied, then got her serious face on,” David, promise you won’t be upset?”
“What have you done?” I asked, flatly.
“No,” she said, “it’s not something I’ve done. It’s just that, well, tonight is the only chance we have, my period is sue tomorrow.”
I laughed, more out of relief than amusement.
“Wait,” she said, “you thought I was going to confess something?”
“No, but you had me worried,” I said, “I thought you were going to finish with me.”
“Yes, of course,” she said, peevishly, “I always bring boys up here and do the dance of the seven veils before I finish with them. David James barker, you’re an idiot.”
Cal looks really cute sat on her bed naked, displaying her all with her arms folded across her chest and a frown on her face.
“So, you’re just saying that, for this weekend, tonight is probably all we have, sex wise?”
“Yes,” she admitted.
“And why would I get upset over that? I asked, “it’s not like that’s the only playground there is.”
“Cal,” I said gently, “do you remember a night in LA when we had a similar situation?”
“When I told you we couldn’t make love because I was on my period?”
I nodded to say yes.
“Can you remember what I said then?”
“No,” she replied, “I think I was still a bit out of it.”
“I said that there’s more to a relationship than sex, and that sometimes it’s fine to just lie down and go to sleep together,” I answered, “is that what you’d like to do tonight?”
“She shook her head.
“No, I want us to make love,” she replied.
I held my arms out.
“Then come here and let me love you,” I said.
The mystery of the disappearance of Mel and her family remained just that, a mystery. A lot of theories and rumours flew around at college, the most popular being that her father was some sort of crime bigwig, and they were in a witness protection programme. Someone suggested that her father’s associates had discovered where they were, and they’d been whisked off to Australia, or some such place.
On that first Friday, I walked from college, up into town and caught a train to Leeds from where I got the Trans-Pennine Express to Manchester. The train was in Manchester in under an hour, but, terminated at Piccadilly Station, which meant that I had to take the tram to Victoria Station, where my hotel was.
As I walked into the hotel, I was reminded that it wasn’t my hotel, it was our hotel when I was greeted by a very enthusiastic Cal.
“I’ve missed you so much,” she squealed when she finally stopped showering my face with little kisses, “let’s book in and go up to our room so I can show you just how much.”
I checked in, handed over my debit card and Cal and I went up to the second floor, room 207. I opened the door with my key card and held the door while she went in first. It wasn’t a luxurious suite, it was a plainish room, with a queen-sized bed, two small side tables, a TV set, a desk and chair and a single armchair. The en-suite shower room was on the way in to the room, and there was a small alcove for hanging clothes. It was, however, warm and comfortable, and above all cheap.
“What’s the plan for the weekend?” I asked as we sat side by side on the edge of the bed.
“Simple,” she replied, “nothing complicated at all. First, we fuck, then we eat. After that we fuck, then we meet a couple of the girls from school on Oxford Road, then we fuck. Then we sleep. Tomorrow morning we fuck, then we have breakfast, then fuck. If the weather’s good, we meet the gang at Heaton park, if it’s not we meet at the Museum of Science. We have lunch there, and when we’ve had enough of either the park or the museum, we come back here and fuck. Then we get dressed and go to school for a concert, then back here and fuck. On Sunday, we do the same as Saturday, First we fuck, then breakfast, then we stay here and fuck until it’s time for you to catch your train back.”
“So basically, we’re going to be having sex all weekend,” I said.
“Well,” she replied, “I hope at least some of it would be making love, but basically, that’s the plan.”
I started to unfasten her blouse.
“Well, then,” I said archly, “let battle commence.”
Within a couple of minutes, clothes were strewn all over the floor of the room and we were in a tangle on the bed, kissing passionately.
Forty minutes and a combined total of six orgasms later, we stepped into the shower and started the process of washing off the sweat, the scent of sex and in Cal’s case, the rapidly drying semen from her breasts. The last time, she’d asked, no, commanded me.
“Come on my tits,” was what she demanded, and on her tits I came. Not copiously, it was my second coming.
Dressed again, we headed across the road to the Printworks, where we ate at Eden. I had the pan-fried Salmon fillet, she chose the LA chopped salad.
“No meat?” I asked.
“I’m trying to cut down on meat,” she replied, “not for any ethical reason, just because I don’t want to get fat.”
The food wasn’t bad, certainly better than we’d have got at the Frankie and Benny’s or Chiquitos next door, and I was flattered when the waitress recognised me and asked for a selfie with me, and my autograph.
“You enjoy that don’t you?” she asked as the waitress went back to the kitchen to pick up another order.
“The adoring female fans,” she replied, “being recognised.”
“I like fans,” I said, “let’s face it, ultimately it’s the fans buying tickets to films that mean I can take you out for dinner like this. I can buy you nice presents.”
“I know,” she said, “but I still get a little bit jealous.”
“There’s no need,” I said, “I’m yours, and nobody else’s.”
“Except Charlie,” she said.
“No, not except Charlie,” I replied, “Charlie and I ended when I got you back.”
“No,” she said, David, “you have carte blanche with Charlie. Whatever you want, whenever you want. Even both of us at the same time.”
“What?” I exclaimed, thinking I’d misheard.
“It’s every teenage boy’s ultimate fantasy isn’t it?” she asked, “two hot, wet and willing girls at the same time.”
“Maybe,” I agreed, “but what brought that on?”
“Well, some of the girls were talking in the common room the other night,” she explained, “and somebody mentioned threesomes, and then everybody started talking about who they’d like as the other two in a threesome.”
“So, who did you go for?” I asked, “John Sollberger and who else.”
“Silly,” she said, slapping my shoulder, “for that I’m not telling.”
“Oh, you will,” I said, “you’ll confess all. All your deepest darkest secrets.”
“I haven’t got any,” she said.
“Yes, you have,” I replied, “everybody has, except me, I’m a completely open book.”
“Yes,” she said, “and if you believe that, I have a bridge in London I can sell you cheap.”
“Cal, are you trying to tell me that you would like to try a threesome?” I asked.
She blushed a charming shade of pink then lowered her eyes and nodded.
“Well,” I said, “as they say in America, that came out of left field. Were you thinking you me and another guy, or another girl?”
“Girl,” she mumbled, “I’m not interested in any other man inside me but you.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” I said, “because I’m not interested in doing anything whatsoever that involves another male. Not, I hasten to add, that I have any particular interest in any other girl. And I take it that, since we’re having this conversation, you already have a candidate lined up?”
“Well, Charlie obviously,” she replied, “but there is a girl in school, who I think might be interested.”
“And you just happen to have arranged to meet her,” I said, “here?”
“No,” she said, “I wouldn’t do that.”
“Then what have you arranged?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she replied, “I just told her that I’d discuss it with you and let her know.”
“And have you and her done anything together?” I asked.
“No,” she answered, “no, I wouldn’t, not without you.”
“And if I don’t agree?” I asked.
“Then I never will,” she responded.
Still, I’d be dishonest if I said the idea didn’t interest me.
“Then you’ll at least meet her?” she asked.
“Cal,” I said, “I’ll meet any and all of your friends, anytime. And if they want photos or autographs, I’ll let them have them. Whether I’d do anything else with them, that depends.”
“On what?” she asked.
“On what they wanted, what you wanted and what I felt about them,” I said.
“But you’d do it?” she asked.
“I think we should discuss this in a less public place,” I replied, I was beginning to get the idea that this was something that Cal hadn’t really thought through. That it was another case of she had this, as she saw it, brilliant idea and was just blasting ahead with it.
We finished our meal, just exchanging chit chat about what had happened at school, what our friends were up to and, after eating, I paid the bill and we left to walk up to Oxford Road. Which took about ten minutes, during which we just held hands and enjoyed being together.
Once we reached Oxford Road, we walked down the couple of hundred yards to Oxford Road station, and there, walked into the Java bar Espresso coffee shop. It wasn’t very busy, just a few scattered couples, and one scruffy old man sat reading a newspaper. Well, those, and four very attractive looking teenage girls over in the back corner.
They looked up as we walked in, and one of them waved at us. Cal dragged me over to where they were sitting.
You’d think that they hadn’t seen each other in months the way they greeted each other, rather than having been in school together a few hours earlier.
“So this is him,” a blue-eyed, very pretty, blonde said, “the famous boyfriend.”
“This is David,” Cal confirmed, “David, going round the table clockwise, meet Diana.”
“Hi David,” Diana greeted me with a twiddle of her fingers, “Call me Di.”
“Hi Diana,” I replied, “sorry but my Mum always tells me, ‘never say die’.”
The one next to her was a blonde, this time with hazel eyes, I thought perhaps the hair colour may have been out of a bottle.
“This is Bernie,” Cal introduced, “or Bernadette if you’re being formal.”
“Hi, Bernie,” I said.
She smiled back at me.
The third one was Ella, a redhead, with green eyes and freckles.
“And this,” Cal said of the final girl, the blonde who had waved at her as we came in, “is
Mandy or Amanda. Ladies, meet my boyfriend, David James Barker.”
“Nice to meet you, David,” Mandy said, extending her hand to shake, “I don’t mind what you call me, but call me, please.”
“If that’s what you want, Please, then that’s what I’ll call you,” I said, shaking her hand.
The girls thought that was hilarious, Mandy didn’t.
“So, are you really him?” Ella asked, “you look smaller than he does.”
“Am I really Cal’s boyfriend?” I asked.
“No,” she replied, “HIM! Greg Paradise.”
“Well I did once play somebody of that name in a film, and, rumour has it, I’m going to be doing that again next summer,” I said, “but no, I’m not actually Greg Paradise. I’m just an actor.”
I anticipated the next question by taking out my wallet, retrieving my Screen Actors Guild membership card and placing it in the middle of the table.
“There you go ladies,” I said, less than softly, “does that satisfy you?”
They all nodded silently.
“Well, then,” I said, “it’s been a pleasure meeting you all, I hope we’ll see you again.”
“Oh,” Bernie said, surprised, “aren’t you coming to the disco?”
“Disco?” I queried.
“Every Friday night school has a senior students’ disco, for those who are not going home,” Cal replied.
“You didn’t mention this before,” I answered, “what time does this disco finish?”
“About midnight,” she replied, “it’s only just across the road from the hotel.”
“Do you want to go to it?” I asked.
Cal nodded affirmation.
“All right then,” I said, “we’ll go. What time does it start?”
I looked at my watch it was a quarter to nine.
“Nine O’clock,” Cal said, “we’ve just got time to walk there in time for the start.”
“Will they let me in?” I asked, “given that I’m not at that school.”
“Of course,” Ella replied, “Cal put you down as a guest.”
I looked at Cal, who blushed.
We walked back to the school, past the central library, and the Arndale Centre, Cal and I were holding hands, and the girls kept up a constant chatter. Mainly asking me about the boys in California, and what making a film was like. I told them that I didn’t know about the boys in California since that wasn’t my field of expertise and that filming tended to be long periods of boredom followed by two minutes of action.
“Just like sex with a boy then,” Di said, which caused the others to laugh.
It took around twenty minutes to arrive at the main gate of the school and we walked through and up the short drive. There was an impressive and very old building in front of us.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The old library,” Cal said, “built in the fourteenth century.”
“Does the school date back that far?” I asked.
“No,” Bernie replied, “but some of the buildings do. I think some of the teachers might as well.”
I don’t know why, but I felt that something was going on here, something I wasn’t part of.
We managed to cause quite a stir as we all walked into the school gymnasium, where the disco was being held. It seems that somehow, word had got around that the new girl’s boyfriend was, indeed the guy who played Greg Paradise in Star Academy and was coming to the event. I think I spent the first half-hour signing autographs and having selfies with adoring fans, mainly of the female variety.
I finally managed to get free of the flock of fans and found Cal dancing with a group of three other girls.
I walked up to her and tapped her on the shoulder, she looked round and opened her mouth to say something, before realising who it was.
“Care to dance?” I asked her.
“Buzz off bozo, she’s already dancing,” one of the other girls said.
“Strangely,” I said, “I noticed that, and now I’m asking her if she’d like to dance with me.”
“Melandra,” she said quietly, “this is David, my boyfriend.”
“Oh. The famous film star,” she said, not in any pleasant way, “well why don’t you go get something to drink while we girls have our dance?”
I wasn’t happy as I walked across the room to the table where the drinks were.
“Not enjoying yourself?” a tall blonde girl asked as I helped myself to a bottle of Pepsi.
“Not really,” I replied, “I’m not much of a disco person. I only came because my girlfriend wanted to.”
“Girlfriend?” she queried, “Oh, you’re him. Cal Warner, the new girl’s boyfriend?”
“Well I suppose so, but I’m starting to have my doubts,” I answered, “she seems more interested in her new friends.”
I gestured towards the knot of dancing girls.
“Ah,” she said, “the Sisterhood.”
“Sisterhood?” I asked.
“It’s what we all call them,” she explained, “they’re like one of the sororities at an American University. Complete with Hazing, that’s making new members do horrible things. It looks like they’re trying to get their hooks into your girlfriend.”
“Not if I’ve anything to do with it,” I said, “thank you, er?”
“Selina,” she said.
“David,” I replied, “nice talking to you. Now I think I see a damsel who needs rescuing from the clutches of evil.”
We shook hands and I took my Pepsi and set off back to where Cal was dancing. I approached her from behind and I placed my hand on her shoulder as she danced. She took it off and whirled round a furious look on her face.
“Oh it’s you,” she said as she recognised me, “sorry, I thought it was someone else.”
“I need to talk to you,” I said, quietly.
“We’ll talk back at the hotel,” she said.
“Now, I need to talk to you now,” I said, more strongly.
“I can’t we’re dancing,” she replied.
“OK then,” I answered, “I’ll see you back at the hotel.”
“Yes, Ok, if you want,” she said.
“Just remember Munich,” I retorted as I turned and headed for the exit.
It took me fifteen minutes to make my way back to the hotel. I took the lift up and let myself in to the room, turned the lights on and sat myself down on the edge of the bed.
I remembered the last time I’d left Cal in a disco and gone back to a hotel, and the memory wasn’t a warm one. I turned the television on, more for some sort of background noise than with any intention of watching. It was five to ten.
I seemed to be checking my watch every fifteen minutes and noticing that less than five had passed.
Finally, eleven o’clock arrived, the disco would be finishing. She should be on her way back any minute. At eleven-thirty, I made a decision, walked into the bathroom, gathered up my toiletries and replaced them and my dirty clothes from earlier in my bag zipped it up and headed out of the room and towards the lift. Down in the foyer, I paid the bill for the two days that I’d booked and left the building. There was a taxi dropping off outside the door, and he was free, so I climbed in and instructed the driver to take me to Piccadilly Station.
I was in luck, there was a train to Leeds leaving in ten minutes, so I bought a ticket and wandered through to the platform, where the train was waiting. I took a seat in first class and closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, the train was moving and my phone was buzzing.
I took it out, the clock said it was twelve-fifteen, and the caller ID said it was Cal.
“Where are you?” her voice asked when I answered.
“On a train,” I replied.
“Why are you on a train?” she asked.
“Going home,” I replied.
“Why?” she asked, “Is something wrong?”
“I think you’re in a better position than I am to answer that,” I answered then hung up.
To forestall the inevitable ringing straight back, I turned my phone off.
The train arrived in Leeds just on one am, I found a taxi outside the station and he quoted me twenty-five pounds to get me home. I didn’t argue and even paid in advance. At just after twenty minutes to two, I walked into home through the kitchen door, to be met by my parents and Cal’s Mum.
“What have you done, David?” my Mum asked as soon as I walked in.
“I’ve come home Mum,” I said.
“And left Cal heartbroken in a hotel in Manchester,” she replied, “what were you thinking of.”
“I was thinking of having taken my girlfriend to her school disco, of her abandoning me to dance with her new friends, who apparently have a reputation of being the biggest bitches in the school, of encouraging new students who want to join their ‘sisterhood’ to do bad things, and when I told her I needed to talk to her, she just told me that she would speak to me back at the hotel,” I said, “does that sound familiar to anyone? Then when I went back to the hotel, the eleven o’clock end time for the disco passed, not a word from Cal, at eleven thirty, I decided that she was obviously more interested in spending time with her new friends than with me, so I came home. Now, of you’ll all excuse me, I’m tired, I’m going to bed.”
I stood and headed towards the stairs, at which moment, Aunt Mary’s phone rang.
She answered it, then said, ‘Yes he is’.
She held the phone out.
“It’s Cal,” she said, “she wants to talk to you.”
“Then she knows where I live,” I said, and set off to my room.
I slept well that night, but I dreamed a lot, about Cal, and being unable to reach her.
I woke late on Sunday morning and after showering and dressing I wandered downstairs to see what mood my mother would be in.
“Your phone is switched off,” she said.
“Yes, I know,” I replied, “I switched it off last night.”
“Well then switch it back on,” she answered, “Cal is very upset.”
“And what about me?” I asked, sharply, “I suppose I’m not allowed to be upset. Not even after what happened in a very similar situation in Munich?”
“That was different,” she said.
“In what way?” I asked, “Because, she was drugged in Munich, but this time she’s acting on her own free will?”
“No,” she said, “because last time there was another boy involved.”
“So it’s all right for her to humiliate me so long as another boy isn’t involved then eh?” I spat, “I’m sorry Mum, but I’m not going to discuss this with you. Whatever the problem is, it’s a problem between me and Cal, and we’ll solve it between us. Or not at all.”
Then I walked out and walked down into town. Fortunately, as it was Saturday all the gang’s usual haunts were open and one or two of them were even haunting them.
“Hi guys,” I greeted Mike and Keith as I walked into the Blue Cup café.
“Hey, it’s our favourite film star,” Keith said, “how’s it hanging stud?”
“Very funny,” I growled.
“Americano please,” I said brightly to the girl behind the counter.
“Did they just say film star?” she asked, “are they kidding?”
“No,” Keith said, “Mandy, meet David J. Barker, Castleford’s one and only future Oscar winner.”
“David J. Barker?” she queried, “THE David J. Barker, the one who plays Greg Paradise?”
“That one,” Keith said, “but to us, he’s still the same lovable shithead we grew up with.”
“Nice to meet you, Mandy,” I said.
“You too,” she replied, “I suppose it’s too much to hope for that you don’t have a girlfriend.”
“That’s debatable right now,” I said.
“Well, if the job’s vacant, I’m applying,” she answered.
“Yes,” Mike said, “you and half the teenage female population of Castleford.”
“Do I detect a hint of strife?” Mike asked, “a taste of trouble in Paradise?”
“Possibly,” I replied, “Cal’s acting strange.”
“Again,” Keith added.
“What?” I queried.
“You missed the again,” he replied, as Mike raised a palm to warn him not to carry on.
“Want to talk about it?” Mike asked.
“Not really,” I said, “I just wish it hadn’t happened.”
“I take it that your beloved has done something stupid?” Mike said.
“Well, it looks that way,” I said, “I was due to spend the weekend over in Manchester. Got the hotel room. Took her out to dinner last night, then she asked me to take her to the school disco. I got tied up with signing autographs on the way in, by the time I got free, she was dancing with a group of girls. When I went over to dance with her, I was told, in no uncertain terms, by one of the girls to go elsewhere and get myself a drink, turns out this is some sort of clique in the school that you have to do something horrendous to get in to. When I’d had enough of being ignored, I went over and told Cal I wanted to talk to her, she just told me we’d talk at the hotel and carried on dancing. I went back to the hotel. When she hadn’t got back by half an hour after the disco finished, I just packed and came home.”
“I don’t blame you mate,” Keith said, “she treated you like shit.”
“Then when I got home, Mum, Dad and Mary were in the kitchen, waiting. Mum tried blaming me, so, when I got up this morning, I came out.”
“What?” Keith exclaimed, “you told them you were gay.”
“No, I left the house and came down the town,” I replied.
“Pity, I always wanted a gay friend,” he replied.
Mandy brought my coffee over and hovered.
“Yeah, Mandy?” Keith asked.
“Two pounds please,” she said, holding her hand out.
I fished in my pocket and realised I hadn’t picked my wallet up.
“Er, sorry guys,” I said, “I left my wallet at home.”
Keith put his hand in his pocket and fished out two pounds.
“Here you go Mandy,” he said, “keep the change.”
“Thanks, Keith, I’ll pay you back,” I said.
“No need, you can buy me one another time,” he replied.
“So what are you going to do?” Mike asked.
“I’m going to have to go back home if only to get my wallet,” I said.
“I meant about you know who?” he added.
“Right now, I have no idea,” I replied, “all I can do is play it by ear. I spoke to a girl there last night, and she told me about these girls.”
“And that’s all you have to go on?” Keith asked, “one girl telling you something?”
“That and the way Cal was behaving last night,” I said, “there was something else as well, but I can’t talk about that here.”
When we’d finished our coffees, we left the café and headed to our standard talking place, the Valley Gardens.
During the walk, we compared notes on life in the sixth form, just general gossip. Keith told us about some of the icons of pulchritude that his new life contained, not sparing us the more lurid aspects of his descriptions of some girls’ bounteous assets.
Mike and I just stuck to the facts, like I was finding calculus difficult.
“Don’t knock yourself,” he suggested, “it’s well known that I found arithmetic difficult.”
Once we arrived at our destination, we discovered the shelter there was occupied by a group of younger kids, aged around eleven or twelve. They didn’t stay long once we arrived, and the three of us sat down on the bench that lined three sides of the building.
“So,” Mike began once we’d settled in, “what’s this great mystery?”
“Last night, while we were having dinner, Cal brought up the subject of introducing, well a third person into our relationship,” I explained.
“Male or female?” Keith asked, his interest suddenly piqued.
“I don’t think that really matters,” Mike answered him, “apart from the fact that I don’t see David being the type to go for another man involved.
“No,” I agreed, “but, for the record, it was a girl. One of her friends from school.”
“Wow, Keith said, “two girls, I’m jealous.”
“You’d be jealous of a guy with one girl,” Mike told him, “what do you think brought that on, David?”
“There could be a number of reasons,” I replied, “first, perhaps I’m not enough for her any more.”
“Okay,” Mike said, “I don’t see that, but it’s possible.”
“Secondly,” I went on, “she wants to try experimenting with another girl, but wants to involve me, so that I won’t think of it as cheating.”
“Again, possible, and probably more likely than the first reason,” Mike said.
“Or thirdly,” I added, “it’s part of some weird initiation for this strange ‘Sisterhood’, the other girl told me about.”
“Again, could be,” he agreed, “any more?”
“No, that’s all I could come up with,” I said.
“And which do you think it is?” he asked.
“I’d prefer it to be option three,” I said, “since that’s the easiest to combat. But really, I have no idea, or even if one of them is right.”
“What’s your gut feeling?” he asked.
“One thing I’ve learned is not to go with gut feelings or first reactions,” I said, “I need to take some time to think about it.”
“And she hasn’t rung you?” Keith asked.
“No, she hasn’t,” I replied, then stopped, “Oh, shit, my phone is still switched off.”
I pulled it out of my pocket and switched it on, after the minute or so it took to start up it informed me that I had a hundred and forty-two texts and twenty-three voicemail messages.
I sighed, deeply.
“Problem?” Mike asked.
I showed him the home screen of my phone.
“I hope they’re all from admiring Greg Paradise fans,” he said.
“Somehow I doubt it,” I answered, “I need my wallet.”
My phone started to ring as I said that, and according to the caller ID, it was my sister. Well, at least it wasn’t Cal or my mother.
“Hi Pip,” I answered, “what do you need?”
“I need you to tell me where you are,” she replied.
“What for?” I asked.
“Because, a certain piece of your property is in my hand and not in your pocket, and unless I know where you are, I can’t bring it to you.”
“My wallet?” I asked.
“The same,” she said, “I picked it up from your room about an hour ago, and I’ve been trying to ring you since.”
“Thanks, Pip, you’re my favourite sister,” I said, it was our favourite ‘in’ joke, given that she was my only sister.
“So where are you?” she asked.
“You know where my friend Keith lives?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, “the pub just outside the station, Evelyn’s in my class at school.”
“Oh, yes, I forgot that. Well, how about I see you there in about an hour?”
“I’ll be there,” she said, “if you’re not I’ll leave it with Eve.”
“Thanks, Sis,” I said, “love you.”
“I love you too, big bro, when are you going to be back?”
“Later,” I said, “after I’ve ploughed through my texts and voicemails.”
“How many?” she asked.
I told her.
“Most of them from one source I suspect,” she answered, “David, ring her, she’s upset, she doesn’t know what she’s done wrong.”
“I think she knows exactly what she’s done wrong, Pip,” I said, “even if she doesn’t want to admit it, even to herself.”
“Want to tell me?” she asked.
“Not just now,” I replied, “I’ll see you later.”
“Okay, David, see ya.”
I hung up.
“Alison’s bringing my wallet, she’s taking it to your place, Keith, and leaving it with Eve, if I’m not there,” I told them.
“Oh good, lunch on David then,” Keith said.
“Once I get my wallet,” I said.
We set off back into town a few minutes later.
As we walked up Carlton Street, my phone rang again.
This time it was Cal.
“Hello,” I announced when I answered, making it deliberately sound like I didn’t recognise the caller ID.
“David, it’s me,” she said, “why did you leave last night?”
“I told you, I needed to talk to you, since you couldn’t or wouldn’t, I went back to the hotel. When it got to half an hour after the disco finished, I came home, I assumed that you weren’t interested in having me there.”
“What?” she almost screamed, “No. David, I did want you there.”
“Really?” I asked, “what for? To stand at the drinks table all night while you danced with the sisterhood and ignored him? Do you actually remember that disco in Munich?”
She was silent.
“And how come you didn’t get back to the hotel until an hour and a quarter after the disco finished. What were you doing during that time?”
“We went back to Mel’s room and talked,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, “well, I suppose that gives me an idea of my place in the hierarchy, second to some bitch with no manners. I take it that was the same Mel who called me a Bozo, and told me to go get a drink because you were dancing with them?”
“Yes,” she said, “David, please, can we talk?”
“Of course we can,” I replied, “you know where I am, just come on over.”
“Next weekend,” she said, “I promise, I’ll come over, we’ll talk.”
“No, Cal,” I replied, “this weekend, today. What’s wrong, do you have to go to their events this weekend, or they won’t let you join their little coven?”
“No, it’s not like that,” she said.
“No, Cal, it’s like this. Make a choice, me or them, me or Mel,” I said, “if you’re not home this afternoon, it’s over between us, finished.”
“No David,” she almost screamed, “please, it’s not like that, please, don’t. I’ll make it up to you.”
“Cal,” I said, harshly, “four o’clock this afternoon, if you’re not here, then it’s finished.”
“Wow,” Mike said, when I ended the call, “I’ve never heard you not just give in to her before. That was awesome.”
“You know, I can’t wait until I’m eighteen,” I said, “if I were eighteen, I could go and get pissed.”
“Come on,” Keith said, “I know a place where you can.”
“No,” I said, “I need to stay sober, and to calm down, for the unlikely event of her actually turning up.”
“Will you really finish with her if she doesn’t?” Mike asked.
“Yes,” I said, bluntly.
When we arrived at the Station Hotel, Keith’s Dad’s pub, my sister hadn’t yet arrived. Keith led us through the door at the back that led to the family quarters and put the kettle on in the kitchen.
Keith’s younger sister Eve was in, and Keith, trying to be a good brother asked her if she wanted a drink too.
“You two need to come round more often,” she said, “you definitely have a civilising influence on my brother.”
“We do our best,” Mike said.
“My sister is on her way down with my wallet,” I said, “I left it at home, we decided here, with you, was the best place to leave it if I hadn’t arrived.”
“I’ll slip out and ask Dad to send her through when she arrives,” she said and disappeared back into the body of the pub.
“Thanks, Eve,” I said.
She looked at me.
“What’s wrong David?” she asked, “you seem down.”
“Don’t ask,” Keith told her, “girlfriend problems.”
“Oh!” she said, “Fair enough.”
The kettle switched itself off, and Eve got up to make the coffee.
“How do you take it?” she asked Mike and me.
“Black, two sugars,” Mike said.
“Black no sugar,” I added.
She poured the coffees, handed them round and took hers back out to the bar, where she was helping her Dad to ‘bottle up’.
She came back five minutes later, leading my sister.
Alison gave me a quick hug and handed me my wallet.
“Thanks, sis,” I said, “you’re…”
“If you say, ‘favourite sister’, I’ll cripple you,” she growled.
“My favourite person in the whole world,” I finished.
“Great save mate,” Keith muttered.
“As a reward, you can buy me lunch,” she said, “and tell me all about what Cal’s done now.”
I just shrugged, drank the last of my coffee and stood up.
“Lunch guys?” I asked.
“Nah,” Mike said, “you go.”
“We’ll grab a sandwich here,” Keith added.
We said our goodbyes and left the pub.
“Where to?” I asked her, as we stepped onto the pavement, opposite the railway station.
“Italian,” she said, referring to a small Italian restaurant, above a shop at the bottom of Carlton Street, “I’m in the mood for spaghetti.”
“Bolognese?” I asked.
“Carbonara,” she said.
We walked together down the main street of the town centre, people walking along recognised me, I was, after all, the current local celebrity, but the nice thing was, nobody bothered us, it was just accepted that I lived here, and was one of the locals. I sort of hoped that it would always be that way.
Once we arrived and were seated, she looked at me, with that serious look she often got when she was about to interrogate someone.
“Tell me what happened in Manchester, David,” she said, “but please, spare me the sordid details of the goings-on in the bedroom.”
So I told her the story as we ate.
“Do you know what I think?” she asked when I finished my tale.
“No, Pip, why don’t you enlighten me?” I replied.
“I think that was all part of this initiation thing for this Sisterhood gang,” she said.
“You mean she was doing all that just to get in the gang?” I asked.
“Definitely,” she said, “get your boyfriend to agree to a threesome, after all what red-blooded male is ever going to turn that down?”
“This one,” I said.
“Then humiliate the boyfriend in public to show your commitment to the group,” she said, “yes, classic. I reckon the next step would be to have sex with someone.”
“Oh,” I said, thinking carefully, “do you think that’s where she could have been last night after the disco?”
“It could be,” she said, “but I doubt it.”
“Why?” I asked, “and how come you know all this stuff?”
“To answer your second question first, GCSE Psychology,” she replied, “the first one, because you weren’t humiliated, or at least not enough to satisfy them, you walked away from the conflict. Typical passive-aggressive behaviour.”
“You’re doing psychology?” I asked, “at GCSE?”
“Yes, I’ll need it when I’m a doctor,” she said, “and it will give me a head start when I get to Uni. But back to the subject at hand. What are you going to do?”
“That’s up to Cal,” I replied, “I’ve given her until four o’clock to get back here and explain what’s going on. If she’s not here, that that’s the end of it. But how are things at home?”
“Mum and Dad are having a fight,” she said, “he’s telling her to stop interfering, and start realising that she’s your mother, not Cal’s.”
“Mum and Dad, actually falling out?” I said, incredulously, my parents never did that, “what’s Aunt Mary’s stance?”
“I don’t know, she got a phone call just before I came out, said ‘I’ll ring you back’, and went home.
“Well,” I said, “perhaps it’s time to go home and face whatever Mum has ready for me,” I said, “I wish I knew what this fixation with me and Cal is though.”
We finished our meal, and I paid the bill before we set off on the fifteen-minute walk home.
I was greeted with a smile by my Dad and a slightly sour look by my mother.
“You might want to pop next door son,” my Dad said before he retreated to his study.
I’ve always considered my Dad’s advice to be sound, so I turned round, walked back out, and round to next door.
I found Cal’s Mum sat at the kitchen table, staring at the window.
“What’s the matter?” I asked as I sat down opposite her.
“I spoke to Cal,” she said, “she wants me to explain to you that she can’t come home this weekend, but she’ll definitely come home next weekend.”
“No, Aunt Mary, I’m sorry, but I’ve made my decision, she’s got until four to get here, or that’s it. At the moment, she’s choosing that group of harpies in Manchester over me. And that is just not acceptable. Not after last night,” I said.
“What actually happened last night?” she asked.
“Hasn’t Cal told you?” I asked.
“She’s told me, but it doesn’t sound quite kosher,” she said, “give me your take on it.”
So I told the story again.
“So, what did Cal tell you?” I asked as I finished.
“That you had a very nice dinner, caught up on what had been happening since she went over there,” she said, “then you went to the disco. She was dancing with her friends, when you came over, and because she wouldn’t dance with you, you stormed off and disappeared, then, when she got back to the hotel after the disco, you weren’t there.”
“Not exactly a lie,” I said, “but not the absolute truth either.”
Just then the phone rang, she picked the handset up and read the Caller ID.
“Cal,” she said.
“Right then, I’ll see you later,” I replied and left.
Half an hour later, Mary walked in, not looking happy.
“I take it from your face, that she’s still not coming,” I said, flatly.
“She says she can’t, but she’ll come home next weekend,” she replied.
“Not good enough,” I said, “my view on that is simple. That gives her and these other girls time to put a story together.”
I looked at my watch, it was two-fifteen.
“She could still make the three o’clock train to Leeds,” I said.
“That wouldn’t get her here for four,” Mum said.
“No, but I’d take her word for it that she was on it.”
“Well, I can try,” she said, “I have a good mind to drive over there and drag her back.”
“That would be pointless on two counts,” I said, “firstly you don’t know exactly where she is, and secondly if she doesn’t come back of her own volition, I don’t want her back. Of course, you’re free to make your own decision as her mother.”
She went back to her own house then, Mum thankfully didn’t say anything. I went up to my room, I had homework.
With the possible exception of a couple of Art assignments in year 9, I think that weekend must have been the worst homework I ever did. I found it difficult to concentrate. Three o’clock came and I placed my phone on the desk in front of me, it remained silent. As it did for the next hour.
At four o’clock, there had still been no call, so I sighed, blinked away a tear, picked up my phone and walked, slowly, downstairs.
“Nothing?” Mum asked as I entered the living room.
“Nothing,” I replied, with a shrug, “I suppose at least this time, I know she’s done it of her own free will.”
“So what are you going to do?” Dad asked.
“Do, Dad?” I replied, “I haven’t decided yet. Cal’s made a decision, a decision she didn’t discuss with me first, so I suppose I just have to live with it. Life goes on as they say. Plenty more fish in the sea. Heck, I’m sixteen, maybe it was too early to decide she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”
“So, you’re not going to go into a decline?” he asked.
“No, Dad, I’m not,” I said, “but I wish I were eighteen.”
“Why son?” he asked.
“Because then I could go out and get drunk.”
“If that’s what you want to do, then we have plenty in the house to help you,” he said, which got him a sharp look from my mother.
“Hush Pat,” he said, “he’ll be here in a safe environment if that’s what he wants to do.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, “but no, that’s not what I want to do. I just wish I could understand what the hell was going on.”
Mum brought a bit of normalcy back to the room by standing up.
“Well,” she said, “I suppose I’d better go and get tea started.
By seven pm, I’d finished all my homework and was actually feeling calm and peaceful. My phone still hadn’t rung.
When I joined the rest of the family for tea nobody mentioned my ex-girlfriend, for which I was glad. She’d made her decision, her choice and I was at peace with it. One thing I was certain of, I wasn’t rushing out and looking for another one.
She never rang me on Sunday, nor on Monday, so obviously she wasn’t worried about losing me, and life was running along normally. I didn’t hear from her on Monday either, but on Tuesday evening I heard of her.
I was up in my room after tea, working on some dynamics problems when there was a light tapping at my door, and my sister poked her head in.
“Are you busy?” she asked.
“Never too busy for you,” I replied, putting my pen into the current page of my text book and closing the book round it, “what’s up?”
“Bet you can’t guess who I just had a Skype call from,” she said.
“A certain young woman in Manchester?” I guessed.
“Damn, you got it,” she said.
“And what did Miss Calista Warner want of you?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said, “other than that I should ask you to talk to her.”
“So she’s asking you to act as a go-between?” I asked.
“I suppose so,” she replied.
“I passed the message on,” she said, “which is as much as I’m willing to do.”
“No pleading on her behalf?” I asked, “no explanations?”
“No,” she replied, “and no.”
“Right then,” I said, “message delivered.”
“And?” she queried.
“Pip, she’s still our next door neighbour, if I see her, I’ll at least say hello,” I replied, “but if she wants to talk then she has to turn up at the door and ask.”
“Can I tell her that?” she asked.
“Pip, I can’t dictate to you what you can or cannot tell anyone,” I said, “but yes, I’d be grateful, if you happen to speak to her again, for you to pass that on.”
“So, don’t ring her and tell her, but if she rings me I can pass it on,” she said, a statement, not a question.
“Like I said, I can’t dictate what you say or to whom,” I said.
She gave me a hug before she left, and I went back to my maths.
I was already starting to wonder just exactly how much Maths I’d need to be a successful computer programmer, I already knew how much I’d need to be a successful film actor.
Wednesday night I had Rugby practice after school, so I didn’t get home until six, when I checked my text messages I had six, all from Cal. I deleted them and after putting my stuff away in my room, my dirty kit into the laundry basket in the utility room and my boots in the show rack, I walked into the living room to sit with my family for a while.
After I’d told the parents about the school day, it was my Dad who pointed us in the direction of the rather large elephant parked in the corner of the living room.
“Son,” he said, quietly, “will you please do us all a gigantic favour, and speak to Cal. She’s driving all of us mad with texts and phone calls. If you just speak to her, I’m sure we’ll all be able to get on with our lives.”
“Dad, I have never refused to talk to her,” I replied, “I merely stipulated that if she wants to talk to me it has to be in person. I told Alison last night that I’ll talk to her any time she turns up at the door. What I won’t do, however, is sit on the end of a telephone and listen to some concocted cock and bull story cobbled together by her and her friends over there. I insist that any talking is done under the condition that she tells me the plain, ungarnished, honest truth.”
“Good luck with that son,” I heard my Dad say softly, earning him a harsh look from Mum.
“So what is the truth David?” Mum asked.
I looked at my sister.
“You may not want to hear it in front of Alison, Mum,” I told her, “as the BBC is fond of saying, ‘may contain scenes of an adult nature and some strong language’.”
“David,” Mum replied, “your sister is the same age now as you were when you and Cal started performing your own scenes of an adult nature. She’s done the same social education course as you at school, I think she’s aware of what goes on in private bedrooms around the world.”
“And behind bike sheds,” Alison added, getting her a harsh look from Mum.
“All right then,” I said, “if you’re sure.”
Alison nodded, perhaps a little over-enthusiastically.
“Well on Friday night, over dinner, Cal started to try and get me interested in the idea of adding a third person to our relationship. I was relieved when she confirmed that her idea was that this person would be of the female persuasion,” I said.
“You have something against gays?” Alison asked.
“No,” I replied, “but I’m not interested with exchanging bodily fluids with another man. She even revealed the name of the person she had in mind.”
“Did you get to meet this person?” Mum asked.
“Not at that point,” I explained, “I did ask if Cal already had this set up, but she told me she didn’t.”
“All right,” Dad said, “so at this point, you have an offer on the table of every teenage boy’s ultimate fantasy.”
“Every teenage boy?” Mum said, “what about grown men.”
“We’re more sophisticated,” Dad replied.
“From there,” I continued, “we went to the school disco. As soon as we walked in, I was mobbed by ‘adoring fans’, wanting autographs, selfies and such like, it was some time later when I got free and went to find Cal.”
“You think that was staged to keep you occupied?” Dad asked.
“Probably,” I agreed, “but I don’t have evidence. I spotted Cal dancing with a group of other girls.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” Dad said.
“Nothing at all,” I said, “so I went over and tried to interrupt. Cal must have thought I was someone else because she turned on me. Then softened up when she realised it was me. She introduced me to one of the girls. I think she honestly meant to introduce me round, but the one she introduced me to immediately called me a bozo, told me they were dancing and commanded me to go and get a drink.”