These are odd days, so I’m going to post the odd poem, short story or snippet here for you at odd times. Here’s your first. It is a short story, set circa 1989. I hope you enjoy it.
You know how it is when you think you know where you are going but then the unexpected occurs? Not a complete derailment, more a realignment, a slight adjustment to your trajectory. That’s how it was with Simon and me.
We were part of the same crowd that hung out after school. We all went bowling, ice-skating, playing football together. At the end of 2nd Year people started pairing up, going out with one another, then breaking up and being a bit awkward in the group for a week before everything carried on as before. It was part of the normal teenage behaviours. Normal for here, anyway.
Except Shelly and Kevin. We all knew they would be together forever. Since we were 11 they had been going out, and never once broke up. Shelly and Kevin 4ever was carved into every tree, desk and porous surface around.
The rest of us just bumbled about, mostly just a pack, sometimes in smaller divisions, but a mixed group of friends. By the 4th year I had a huge, never voiced crush on James. We, and Simon and Jenny walked home the same way. We were a close group. I never told anyone how I felt about James, but one day during the last summer holidays ever, whilst Jenny and I were sat on the grass verge, watching the kickabout, she asked me out of the blue.
“So, are you going to do anything about James?”
I stammered a denial whilst I felt myself flush the reddest red ever. Jenny just looked at me.
That was all she said, and I thought I’d got away with it. I don’t really know now why I felt it was such a secret, why I never admitted it, but I didn’t.
Two years later, at the local, Jenny came and cornered me by the Ladies.
“I just want you to be prepared, in case you don’t want to be here. We have an announcement.”
Then she was gone. I stared over at the group I’d grown up with. They were all there; Tommy, Bill, Sharon, Sam, Simon, Billy T, Shelly, Kevin, Chris and Christine. And James. James, looking flushed and a bit scruffy with half his shirt hanging out, Converse laces undone. Suddenly he was calling me over and tapping the side of his pint with a spoon.
I was frozen. Then Jenny appeared at his side and flashed her hand around and everyone cheered. She glanced over at me, with a look I’ll never forget. It said so much; I gave you a chance, I warned you, I feel sorry for you, I won. Only, I had never realised the game was on. I wasn’t entirely sure when it began, or if I’d been playing. But, that I had lost was clear.
Still rooted by the loos, I suddenly became aware of Simon at my side, and his arm around my waist. I let him manoeuvre me to the end of the bar, away from the others. I wilted. That’s the only word for it. My legs buckled, and I felt like I had exhaled all the breath that had been holding me up for the past 20 years.
Simon caught me and edged the stool over to me. As he did I looked at him. He was quite good looking, in square, office type of way. Why was he here with me now? He was always nearby, now I thought about it. It was usually the two of us that brought up the rear when cycling, the slowest at skating, the worst team at bowling. This was something I would think about a lot more, over the next few weeks, and months.
“How did you know?” I stuttered. He smiled and ordered drinks for the group.
“I have been waiting. Waiting for you to realise. We’ve all seen the way you watch him, have always watched him. I never knew why you let him slip through your fingers. No-one was more surprised than Jenny that you never made a move. I think that’s why she waited all this time, she’s been so worried about how you’d react. “
At their wedding, Jenny found me, and whispered into my ear on the edge of the dancefloor. As she walked away I turned and pulled Simon up, dragging him into the middle of the crowded floor. She was right, again. Only this time I was going to do something about it.