“Well, it’s really got me puzzled,” said Doctor Azir. “And they didn’t keep you in, did they?”
Archie shook his head. It had been quite dramatic in the end. He wished he’d been conscious so he could have seen all the fun. But then if he had been, there wouldn’t have been any drama. An ambulance had come and whisked him off to hospital. Mum and Dad had had to wait ages for a taxi – they hadn’t dared drive because of all the booze they’d had. He’d woken up to find a doctor listening to his chest with a stethoscope and his parents hadn’t arrived until half an hour later. Grandma had gone in the ambulance with him. He wasn’t really sure why. But, anyway, when he woke she’d just popped off to find a cup of tea. Typical!
“It says in your notes they found a bad ear infection. They were puzzled because you didn’t have high temperature. You should have had with an ear as bad as that. But you’ve had no more trouble since?”
Archie shook his head again.
“So, it seems the antibiotics they gave you must have worked. Let’s have a look, shall we.”
Doctor Azir stuck a funny-looking instrument in Archie’s ear. “This shouldn’t hurt he said.”
It didn’t really. Archie wished he’d’ get on with, it though. It wasn’t exactly comfortable having Doctor Azir’s face so close to his own.
“Good. Good,” muttered the doctor. He stepped back. “Well, that’s all healed up nicely,” he said, making his way back to the chair on the other side of the desk. “And you had no other symptoms? No warning that something was wrong?”
“Well, actually…” Archie really didn’t want to admit this. But he didn’t dare risk telling another lie. He didn’t want that to start all over again. No way.
“You’re going to think this is daft,” said Archie.
“Try me.” Doctor Azir was grinning. “I hear some funny things in this room. I doubt whether you can shock me.”
“Every single time I told a lie my ear would start buzzing.” Archie couldn’t look Doctor Azir in the face.
Doctor Azir laughed. “Yes, I’ll give you that one. That is pretty close to the funniest thing I’ve heard yet. So, it’s a bit like Pinocchio and his nose? And did you tell a lie just before you collapsed?”
“Yes, a great big fat one.”
Doctor Azir laughed again. “Well, I don’t suppose it’s anything too clever. I guess you’re basically pretty healthy but telling lies was causing you stress so the symptoms only showed up when you told a lie. You seem absolutely fine now. I don’t need to see you again. You can go now. ”
Archie stood up to leave.
“Just one thing, though.”
Archie stopped and looked at Doctor Azir.
“It’s always best to tell the truth anyway.” The doctor was grinning.
Plonker, thought Archie. He don’t believe me.
Still, Archie whistled to himself as he left the medical centre. This was the first day he’d been allowed out after being grounded. There were still three days of the school holiday left. The sales were on. Not that he liked shopping. But he would be able to get a bargain box of chocolates. That’s what Grandma had said. Chocolates and flowers. So, he was on a mission now. There were still the two shifts to do at Freddie’s but they wouldn’t take long. They couldn’t spoil today. The sun was shining. Life was sweet. He’d just got to remember to be truthful all the time.
The shopping centre was crowded when he got there. Blooming Aida, he thought. I don’t get women. Why do they like shopping so much?
But there were plenty of men there as well, most of them looking pretty bored. There were some people his age, too, just hanging around. Nobody he knew very well. No sign of Ollie or Red. He wondered whether they had been let out yet. They’d both said “after Christmas” and it was well and truly after Christmas now. But they still weren’t answering their phones. Perhaps they’ve had new ones for Christmas, he thought. And he wasn’t surprised they didn’t want to come anywhere near the mall. No, it was all cool. He’d catch up with them later.
Something niggled, though. He hadn’t had any emails from them even though he’d sent a couple to them. Perhaps they thought he was still in hospital. Yeah, that would be it.
Anyway, now he was on a mission. Best concentrate on that. He’d got to do this while he still had the courage. He could worry about them two later.
Thorntons. That would be the place.
“Have you seen our special continental selection?” said the woman behind the counter. “We’re selling them half price.”
Archie looked at the label. That would be okay. It was a little more than he’d intended to pay but it would do
“They come with free gift-wrapping,” the woman said.
“Oaky then.” If he walked to Amanda’s house and then walked back home again afterwards, he’d still be able to get her some flowers as well.
“Who’re they for? Your mum or your girlfriend?”
“Is it her birthday? Or have you had a falling out?”
“Something like that.” Was she a nosy cow or what?
“There you go, then. She should like that.” The woman curled the ribbon along the back of her scissors and handed Archie the packet.
She’d better like this, he thought as he paid up.
All he could find at the flower shop for the cash he had left were pot plants.
“The leaves will stay red for another few weeks if you look after it,” said the man who served him. “Some people don’t like having them after Christmas. But this one’s rather nice. It will look good for a while yet.”
Archie hoped Amanda wouldn’t be so fussy. She might be though. She could be sometimes.
Oh, well, he’d better get on with it. He was glad there’d been nobody he knew in the precinct. He hurried out. He wouldn’t really want even Ollie or Red to know what he was up to now.
It didn’t take him long to get to Amanda’s house – even though he dawdled a bit. He was a bit scared, actually. What if her mum and dad were there? What if she wouldn’t see him? She hadn’t rejected his Christmas card at least. But she hadn’t thanked him for it and she hadn’t sent him one. What if she wouldn’t accept his presents? Surely, she would, though, even if she refused to go out with him again.
His other worry, of course, was that somebody might see him. He was in luck, though. There was nobody about. Even so, he had mixed feelings when he arrived at her house. He was relieved to have got there without being spotted. But he felt quite sick at the thought of how she might react to him.
It was just beginning to rain. Right, he’d better get on with this before he got drenched and the wrapping on the chocolates got ruined. He rang the door bell. Seconds later he heard footsteps coming along the hallway. The door opened. Amanda.
God, she looked gorgeous, even though she was still in her pyjamas and was wearing slippers. In fact, that made it better. It would be quicker to get her clothes off.
Blimey, what was he thinking? And anyway, she looked a bit pale actually.
“Oh, I’m sorry to disturb you,” Archie stammered. “I didn’t know you were ill.”
“I’m not. I was having a lie-in.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve bought you these.” Archie held out the plant and the chocolates awkwardly to her.
“Well, I thought you’d like them.”
“Perhaps you should give them to your mum or your grandmother.”
“I wanted to say I was sorry. About Millie and about fibbing to you.”
“You can’t undo that. It’s too late. We’re over. Don’t you get it?”
“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I don’t want it to be over. I love you.” Bloody hell. That again.
“Oh, don’t be so soft.” Her cheeks were pink now and she was frowning. “You don’t know the meaning of the word. You just fancy me and you want to get inside my knickers. And once you have, you’d be off like a shot.”
“I wouldn’t. I’m not like that.” Archie thought he felt a tingle in his ear. “So what if I fancy you and I want to … do all sorts to you. It’s only natural.”
“Like it’s natural for you to have sex with Millie Davies? At the bus stop?” She was bright red now.
“She told me. I saw her in town the other day. She said she didn’t know how I could give you up, you were so good in bed.”
“What?” The bloody little bitch. If he ever saw her again ...
“Go on. Bugger off. Take your damn chocolates and your stupid pot plant to her. Not that I’d imagine you’d need stuff like that to get her going. And don’t send me any more of those stupid cards.” She slammed the front door.
He couldn’t believe it. Millie was such a little liar. And Amanda hadn’t liked the card either; he’d spent hours choosing it.
It was now beginning to pour. Grandma’s house wasn’t far away. He’d better run round there. Perhaps she’d like the plant and the chocolates.
“Well, they don’t seem to have suffered. I think they’ll be really nice, actually.” Grandma had peeled the soggy paper off the chocolates and was studying the list of flavours. “When the tea’s ready we can try one.” She felt Archie’s clothes that were on the clothes-horse in front of the gas fire. “These won’t take long. Then we’ll get that tea inside you and you’ll soon warm up. Pull your chair closer.”
Archie was shivering even though he was wearing his grandmother’s thick towelling dressing-gown. The central heating wasn’t on, just the gas fire.
“You were daft going out without an umbrella. I hope you don’t get your ear infection back.”
“I thought she’d let me in at least.”
“So why wouldn’t she accept the presents? She didn’t have to get back with you. Mind you, I am surprised about that as well. Seemed to me that she was really stuck on you.”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t just about me fibbing about you being ill.”
“She’d heard about me kissing another girl.”
“Yeah I did. It was just one silly little kiss. Well quite a big one, I suppose. But just the one. And now the stupid bitch has gone and said all sorts of horrible things about me.”
“No. Millie. The girl I kissed.”
“I see.” Grandma was frowning. “Well, at least you know how it feels when people tell fibs.”
“I suppose so.”
“I wouldn’t have suggested the flowers and chocolates if I’d known about this other girl. It’s difficult to come back after that.”
“Hmm. Grandma, she didn’t even like my card.”
“Which one are we talking about now? Amanda or the bitch?”
“Amanda, of course. I wouldn’t send that slapper a card.”
“You wash your mouth out, young man. I don’t want to hear you talking about any young women that way.”
He d had enough. She was doing his head in.
“It’s all right, Grandma. I’m going to get going now.” He snatched his clothes from in front of the fire. They were still quite damp but they’d do. Anyway, he was only going to get wet all over again. He’d have to walk home now. He daren’t ask Grandma for the fare.
“What about the tea and chocolates?”
“You have ‘em.” He went into the bathroom to get changed.
What a waste of a day it had been. Trogging through the shopping centre. Amanda not wanting anything to do with him. Grandma having a go at him. Then getting soaking wet. Ollie and Red were still not answering his calls or emails. There was nothing on telly. He’d watched all of his new DVDs. He was even up to date with all of his schoolwork – well apart from the bits he couldn’t understand, and if he was honest that was actually quite a lot. But he couldn’t do anything about that now. He’d have to ask when he got back to school. At least it was dark now and he could stare at his ceiling.
I wish I could take a trip in a spaceship, he thought. See this lot for real. But he knew really that he could never be a rocket scientist. His getting the magical five grades A*-C in GCSE seemed unlikely let alone anything else.
Still, his stars were nice. That was at least one thing he’d done right.
Then his mobile rang.
Bloody hell! Millie Davies. What did she want?
He thought about refusing the call. But then slagging her off would be better than being bored. He pressed the green button. “What the fuck do you want?”
“Hi, Archie. Can we meet up?”
“I don’t think so. You’ve done enough damage already.”
“Please, Archie.” Her voice wobbled a bit. Then she started to cry.
“What’s the matter?”
“My mum and dad have chucked me out. I’ve got nowhere to go.”
Blimey! That was bad. But he didn’t really know what he could do about it.
“I’m really cold, Archie.”
Yes, he could tell she was shivering. “Where are you now?”
“I’m in the bus shelter.” She giggled. “Our bus shelter.”
Archie let that one pass.
“You can come round mine for a bit. Start walking towards Sandwell Road. I’ll meet you on the way.”
Archie grabbed his jacket. His mum’s anorak was hanging next to it. She wouldn’t be going out tonight so she wouldn’t miss it if he took it. But God, what the hell was he playing at? Hadn’t the bitch caused enough trouble? Why was he feeling sorry for her?
Still, he supposed she still counted as one of his friends. God knows he didn’t seem to have many of those left at the moment. And you had to help your mates, didn’t you?
He met her by the traffic lights at the corner of Sandwell Road. He didn’t recognise her at first. She looked like a little lost primary school kid, though at least not as goofy as she used to be then. But at least she wasn’t flashing her legs. She was wearing some baggy jeans and a scruffy jumper.
“What happened then?”
Millie looked up at him. In the lamplight Archie could see that she had been wearing make-up but now it had all run and her face was streaked with black. “My uncle got drunk and tried to snog me. He had his hand right up my skirt. I pushed him away. And….” She started sobbing.
She looked small and helpless. Like a lost puppy. He’d got a soft spot for animals, especially needy ones. “Here.” He wrapped his mum’s anorak around her and pulled her into a hug. “Let’s get you back to my place. Then we can work out what to do.”
She calmed down as they started walking.
“So why have they chucked you out?”
“Well, my uncle hit his head on the fireplace and he’s unconscious and they’ve taken him to hospital. Mum and Dad don’t believe me. Well, they didn’t. Then I think they did and Dad said it was my own fault for dressing like a tart. Mum told me to go and cover myself up. Then somebody phoned. Then Mum screamed at me to get out and never come back. I – I think something really bad has happened to my uncle.”
Archie put his arm around her shoulders. He didn’t think anyone would misinterpret that – not even Millie herself. “Come on,” he said. “We’ll talk to my mum. She’ll know what to do.”
“He didn’t … did he?” said Mrs Raybald.
Millie shook her head. “No, but I think he wanted to. He might have if I hadn’t stopped him. Or he might have been too drunk.”
They were sitting round the kitchen table drinking hot chocolate. That was always Mum’s solution to a crisis. It seemed to be working as well. Even Millie was managing to drink hers.
“Well, we ought to let your parents know that you are safe and sound. And find out how your uncle is.”
Millie shook her head violently and looked as if she was going to start crying again.
“It’s all right,” said Mrs Raybald. “I’ll speak to them. And then we’ll have to think about where you can spend the night. So, what was your number again?”
Mrs Raybald punched in the number that Millie gave her. Archie could hear the phone ringing out at the other end. Then the answerphone kicked in.
“Oh good evening, Mr and Mrs Davies,” said Mum. “Just to let you know that Millie is with us and we’ll keep her safe and sound until tomorrow. I expect you’re rather busy. But call me on this number when you can.”
Mrs Raybald smiled at Millie. “I’m going to phone my mum and see whether you can stay at her place,” she said.
“Mum, can’t she stay here?” For goodness sake, they rattled around in this big house.
“I think in the circumstances it’s best if there aren’t two young people of the opposite sex under the same roof, don’t you?”
That again! “Mum, Millie and I aren’t like that.”
“Even so. Remember, you’d be off guard and that’s when you get caught out. I know what you young people are like.”
Millie blushed bright red and looked at the floor. Mrs Raybald was already using the speed dial.
“Hello, Mum. Listen, would you be willing for a young girl to come and stay with you tonight?”
It very soon became clear that Grandma was just as unsure about it as Archie had been. Mrs Raybald moved out of the kitchen.
Millie gave Archie a weak smile. “Thank you for being so kind,” she said.
Archie’s ear was beginning to tingle. Just a little. He’d got to say something.
“About what I said… about you and me not being like that…”
Millie looked up at him and nodded.
“I’m sorry. I really mean that. I like you but I don’t fancy you.”
Millie raised an eye-brow. “So what was all that about at the bus shelter?”
“Me being a bloke.”
“So, actually, you do fancy me but you don’t like me? And presumably only when I’m dressed up and not the wreck I am now?”
Ouch! But yes, she’d got it right. Archie nodded.
Millie looked as if she was going to cry. “I need the loo,” she said. “Where’s your bathroom?”
Archie pointed her to the downstairs cloakroom.
Oh, God, what had he done now? But at least his ear had stopped tingling.
He wondered how this was all going to work out.
His mum came back into the kitchen.
“That’s all sorted then. Your dad will take Millie round to Grandma’s. Then we can try and get it all sorted in the morning. Oh, where is she?”
The phone rang. Mrs Raybald answered it. Millie reappeared.
“But you know Ollie really fancies you, don’t you?”
“Oh, him. Well, I’m not bothered about any of that now. I’ve had it up to here with men.” She held her hand as far as she could above her head and glowered at Archie.
“I’ll tell her. Don’t worry,” said Mrs Raybald. “Yes. Yes. It will be fine. As long as need be. I’m so sorry.” She finished the call. Archie noticed she was really white. “Oh dear,” she said as she sat down at the kitchen table. “Millie, my love, I’ve got some bad news.” She took Millie’s hand. “I’m afraid your uncle died half an hour ago.”
“No, he can’t have. I didn’t push him that hard.” She had gone pale too. She put her hand in front of her mouth. “I think I’m going to be sick.” She rushed out of the kitchen.
Archie was hanging out in the cloakroom at school. It was the first day back. He was determined to catch Ollie and Red. Still neither of them had been in contact. He was trying to keep an eye on Millie as well. She was still staying round Grandma’s. Her parents wanted nothing to do with her. They were waiting for the outcome of the inquest on her uncle. Until they’d worked out why her uncle had died, she could be done for murder or manslaughter. So, she didn’t want to come to school. She had come, though. Grandma had made her. He was just making sure she didn’t do a runner, so he was watching the entrance. And he had to make sure he didn’t look as if he was watching her if he did see her or if Amanda, Ollie or Red saw him. They made life complicated, all these secrets.
Amanda suddenly walked through the entrance. God, she looked gorgeous even in her school uniform. His mouth went dry and his heart started thumping. Look this way, please, he thought. No, don’t. He tried to hide. She saw him. She half smiled. Then scowled. Oh Amanda. Don’t be like that.
Then Millie was walking towards him.
“Where are you going?” he said.
“To my maths lesson. What did you think?”
“Look, there’s no way I’d dare upset your grandma. I’m surprised you wouldn’t know that.”
“Yeah. You’re right.”
“Anyway, it takes my mind off it all.”
The lost puppy again. Archie touched her arm. “It will be all right,” he said. “We’ll look after you.” Damn. Why was he going all soft? What if Ollie suddenly walked in?
Millie nodded. “Better get going. Maths won’t wait.”
Seconds later Red appeared. He nodded in Archie’s direction and then set off down the English corridor.
“What the fuck…?” muttered Archie. They hadn’t seen each other for nearly four weeks and Red had nothing to say?
“No, he won’t speak to you, because he’s sticking up for me,” said a voice behind him. Ollie. Where had he sprung up from? “I’ve got one word for you. Bus shelter incident.”
“You can’t deny it, mate. Everybody knows. Everybody.”
“You don’t understand…”
Ollie looked as if he was going to punch him.
The bell rang.
“Oh yes I do. You two-timed Amanda and pulled the wench I fancied. Everybody knows. No one will speak to you. So, keep out of my face.”
Archie found Ollie again at break. Ollie wasn’t very imaginative about hiding. He was in his usual spot, between the boys changing rooms and the back entrance to the sports hall, enjoying a quick fag. All right, so you couldn’t see them the from the staff room; it was till a daft place to hide – even the staff came here for their nicotine hit now that Sandwell had banned them from smoking anywhere on the premises at all.
“I told you, I ain’t speaking to you.” Ollie took a deep drag on his cigarette and started coughing.
God, why did he have to pretend he liked them? He was such a poser.
“Listen mate. There’s something I need to tell you about Millie.”
“What? Are you and her an item now then or what?” Ollie made a big show of stamping out his half-smoked ciggy.
“No. Only don’t go near, her right? She needs a bit of space right now. She’s in a bit of trouble” Bloody hell, he sounded like one of his mum’s magazines now.
“What’s the matter then? She’s not up the duff is she? What have you done to her?”
“No, it’s nothing like that. She’s actually staying with my grandma. And I ain’t done anything to her.”
“So, why’s she doing that, then?”
“I can’t say.”
“So, you’re not with her then?”
“Nope. She’s all yours. Just don’t go near her yet.”
“Yeah, but you did snog her didn’t you?”
Archie hesitated. His ear began to tingle slightly. “Yep.”
“Did you … you know .. did you do it?”
“I’ve heard the pair of you were pretty full on.”
Blimey, just how many people had seen them at the bus shelter?
Ollie was looking as if he was going to be sick. “I bet you wanted to. I bet you would have if you could have.”
Oh yes. “I guess so.”
“And you knew I fancied her!” Ollie raised his fists.
“Sorry mate. But she don’t fancy you. So it wouldn’t work anyway. But I ain’t into her.”
“So why did you do it?”
Archie shrugged. “Because I’m a bloke, I guess.”
Ollie swung at him. Archie ducked. Ollie fell flat on the ground.
The bell rang. Archie started to jog towards his geography lesson. “See ya,” he called.
Archie got through the day somehow. He wasn’t even glad when school ended though. It was just going to get worse. He’d got to go and do his final shift at Freddie’s. Well he supposed at least it was the last one.
Chuffy greeted him with a manic grin all over his face. “Deep clean of the bogs,” he said. “And there’s a pile of greasy plates to wash in the kitchen.”
Well that didn’t sound too bad. No worse than usual. Except that Chuffy’s grin seemed to be getting wider. “Only the point is, see, first you’ll have to get the sink unblocked. The plumber couldn’t get here.”
“I don’t know how to that,” said Archie. “I ain’t a plumber either.”
“Well it won’t hurt you to learn, will it? You can follow the instructions in my DIY book can’t you?” Chuffy slapped down a faded old book. “Have fun won’t you?” He turned to go. “There’s some tools in the cupboard in the corner. Of course I won’t be offering you a cup of cha when you’ve done. Christmas is over now. You didn’t think I was getting soft did you?”
Blooming Aida, thought Archie. I hope Freddie Benson’s satisfied now.
He took the manual into the kitchen and quickly found the box of tools. At least the instructions in Chuffy’s book were easy to follow. The U-bend came off quite easily and he did remember to put a bowl underneath it. The pong though made him gag. It was a wonder they hadn’t killed anybody with food-poisoning if the state of this sink was anything to go by. He decided he would avoid eating at Freddie’s in the future.
He held his breath as he turned the tap on after’s he’d finished. He needn’t have worried. It was all good. The water flowed freely and didn’t leak into the cupboard underneath. He smiled. “Archie Raybald,” he whispered to himself. “You’re a bloody genius.” He wondered whether it might be all right after all, being a plumber. If this was all there was to it. It was quite a well-paid job he’d heard.
But there was still the pile of dishes and the bogs to do. He’d better get on.
It didn’t take him all that long, in the end. And he did run some hot water down the sink afterwards so it wouldn’t get blocked up again.
He even started whistling as he made his way down to the bogs. He was doing a good job and it was his last day after all.
Then, as he walked past the private conference room, he thought he could hear someone in there. He stopped to listen.
“Oh, God. You’re driving me mad. Stop it woman,” he heard someone say.
He recognised that voice. It was Red. So, he’d got some bird in there. Archie smiled to himself. He’d got to find out more about this.
“What have you stopped for?” he heard Red say.
Whoever was with him giggled.
“Oh, yes, oh yes.” Red’s voice was at least an octave higher than usual.
Blimey, thought Archie. He’s really having it away.
There was a keyhole in the door. But it was much too small to see anything through. There was quite a big crack where the door hinged. Archie put his eye up to that. He could see the inside of the room but he couldn’t see them.
“Please, please, let me come inside you,” he heard Red whisper.
They were both panting now. He’d just got to see this. He just had to. The girl murmured something.
Archie opened the door just a crack. He could see them lying on the floor. Red was on top of her. He looked a bit comical actually. His shirt was undone and his pants and trousers were half down his legs; his buttocks, pale and round, were jumping up and down. He was really going at her. The girl’s clothes were scattered over the floor.
Now she was digging her nails into Red’s back making it bleed.
“Keep going, keep going,” she was shouting now.
Then Red kissed her hard. He stopped kissing her and screamed, then groaned just as she started making a strange squeaking noise and started rubbing herself up against him violently. She was sort of panting and Red kept on going although he looked as if he was struggling now. Next she seemed to have her hands down on Red’s private parts and was pulling him into her. Then she let out a final scream and the two of them relaxed.
“Are you all right?” asked Red.
“Yes, thanks. That was brilliant.”
Bloody hell, he would recognise that voice anywhere as well. What the fuck was she doing? Well that was the trouble. Fucking was precisely wat she was doing. Fuck her! And him!
He didn’t stop to think. He just charged into the room and pulled Red on to his feet. He punched him on the nose. Red toppled to the floor.
“What do you think you’re doing, mate?” Archie was ready to hit him again if he dared get up off the floor. “Were you two hooking up together behind my back? Is this he mystery girl?” He kicked Red.
“Archie!” cried Amanda, dropping the clothes she had grabbed to cover herself up.
“What the hell’s been going on here?” Chuffy was standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips.
Amanda quickly grabbed her clothes again.
“You should call the Police and report him for assault,” said Chuffy. He was leaning up against the sink, his arms folded in front of his chest.
“No, it’s by own fault,” said Red. He was still holding his nose. The blood had stopped dripping from it but every time he let go it would start again.
“Naw, I dunno. It’s fairly normal. Young lads their age having a set too now and then.” Freddie Benson sighed. “I just wish it wasn’t in my club, that’s all. What’s happened to that girl? Was she all right?”
“Hadn’t got a stitch on when I saw her,” said Chuffy. “Starkers, she was.”
Archie didn’t like the way Chuffy’s eyes were gleaming. For the first time since he’d seen her with Red he began to be a bit bothered about her. He’d felt nothing, absolutely nothing either way when she’d tried to cover herself up in front of Chuffy and then hurried off to the ladies, already in tears. They’d heard her heels on the stairs later and Archie could tell she was sobbing as she left the club, slamming the door behind her. That hadn’t bothered him at all. It served her right.
Now, though, now that Chuffy was looking so pleased with himself …. That’s my girl you were gawping at, he thought. My ex, at least.
“I hope you know what you were doing,” said Mr Benson. “I hope you used some protection.”
Red shook his head. “Doh deed. It was her first time. Won’t tatch any tin.”
“Bloody hell.” Mr Benson ran his fingers through his hair. “I hope you haven’t put a bun in her oven. Often the way. Girl’s first time. No protection because she never thought she would.”
Bloody hell, this was so unfair. The times he’d wanted to and she wouldn’t and then she goes and gives in to Red. “Was it her all along? Your mystery women?”
“Yeah. Dorry mate.”
“And you decide not to speak to me because of Millie and Ollie? Bleeding hypocrite.”
“Doh. Dat waren’t it.” Red took the tissue away from his nose. It seemed to have stopped bleeding now. He looked Archie right in the eye. “I was keeping out of your way because I didn’t want to give anything away about me and Amanda.”
Unbelievable. “So, … so how long as this been going on for?”
November? So what was with all the being upset about not seeing him that afternoon and all Grandma’s “She’s such a nice girl. She wouldn’t let him do anything like that.”? She’d been two-timing him all along.
“And you’re sure this girl hadn’t been sleeping around?” sad Mr Benson.
“No, she told me. She was a virgin.”
“And you believed her?”
Red nodded his head.
Archie longed to shout out that no way was she. That’s he had her dozens of times. But he knew that was a lie and what that would mean. He didn’t know, now, though, whether she’d been a virgin or not. She’d seemed to be enjoying herself and he’d heard that girls didn’t enjoy it much the first time. But then she had been crying when she left. Oh, it was so confusing.
“I just hope she’s all right then. Let’s have a look at that nose.” Mr Benson prodded red’s nose gently. Red squirmed. “No, I don’t think it’s broken.” He turned to Archie. “You’re lucky this time, young man. Now get out of my sight and don’t ever come here again. You’re banned. For life.” He turned back to Red. “You an’ all.”
Archie was freezing cold by the time he turned into his road. It had begun to sleet and he was keeping his head down out of it. So he didn’t see the man standing on the corner.
“Oy, I’ve been waiting for you,” a voice boomed out of the darkness. “What did she say about her biscuits?”
Bloody hell. Foxy Burnett. Why was he sneaking about here? Oh, he could guess why, actually.
He was tempted to say he had and she’d refused them. He was sure she would. But that would be a fib and he didn’t dare tell one of those.
“She hasn’t seen them actually.”
“Well, I had to go to hospital and I forgot they were under the tree.” Well, it was sort of the truth. But of course, he had pretended not to see them in the first place. And he had been hesitating ever since about what to do with them. Sure enough, his ear was beginning to tingle.
“Listen Foxy, I don’t think she’s interested.”
Foxy grabbed the collar of Archie’s jacket. “Well she won’t know about them unless you tell her, will she?” His face was right up close to Archie’s. Archie could smell his foul breath. “So you’re going to give them to her aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” said Archie shrugging away Foxy.
“Just make sure you do. Tell her Foxy Burnett sends his regards.”
He would do it. He knew he had to. But maybe it could wait until tomorrow. “Okay, then.”
“Right. I’ll be checking up on you.”
Archie was glad to get in out of the cold. All he wanted to do now was go up to his room and stare at the stars on his ceiling. Have a bit of peace and quiet. Sort his head out.
“That you Archie?” a voice called from the kitchen. “Come here.”
Darn. What did she want?
He made his way into the kitchen. There were Mum and Grandma, sitting with the tin of biscuits on the table.
“Look what we found,” said Mum. “Under the Christmas tree. I told you there was something else there. It’s addressed to your grandma.”
“Oh yeah,” said Archie.
“Have you seen it before? Did somebody bring it to the house while we were out?”
Archie shook his head. He noticed the usual gentle tingling in his left ear.
“They’re smashing biscuits. Whoever bought them has good taste.” Grandma held the tin out to him. “You’re not saying much, Archie. At least have a biscuit. They’re lovely. Don’t you agree; whoever bought these must be very sophisticated. Upper crust.”
By now Archie had a mouth full of biscuit. He shook his head.
“What? You don’t like them?”
“I didn’t say that, Grandma. I meant, that whoever sent them hadn’t got good taste.” The tingling in his ear got worse. Hang on now, that wasn’t fair. He was telling the truth this time.
Then Grandma’s stick cracked down on his back. He realised he’d made it sound as if Foxy had bad taste because he’d sent Grandma a present.
“Well, it doesn’t look as if we are going to get anymore out of him. I’ll just have to accept that I have a secret admirer. With excellent taste if you ask me.” She closed the lid on the tin of biscuits, shoved them under her arm and started to get ready to go home. “Anyhow, I’d better go and see if that young woman’s all right. You going to come and see her some time Archie?”
Archie shrugged. “Maybe. I’m too tired tonight, though.”
“Good-oh. See you soon, then.”
“Are you sure you don’t know nothing about where them biscuits came from?” said Mum after Grandma had left.
“Nope!” said Archie.
The buzzing in his left war now got really loud. But now his right one joined in as well. Then just as suddenly as his right one had started up they both stopped. The kitchen seemed to have gone very quiet. His mum was opening and shutting her mouth. But there was no sound coming out of it.
Archie realised he had gone totally deaf.
Doctor Azir’s mouth opened and closed. People were always doing gold fish impersonations these days. It was making him quite tired. They’d told him he would soon be able to lip-read but it wasn’t making any sense to him. All he could see were the mouths going up and down.
Then Azir came at him again with torch thing. It hurt when it poked in his ears. But at least his ears weren’t tingling anymore and they didn’t hurt at all.
The doctor had a good look in both ears. Then he sat down again behind his desk and resumed the goldfish impressions.
“It’s no good. I can’t tell what you’re saying.” At least, that’s what Archie thought he said. He couldn’t even hear his own voice enough to make sure he’d pronounced his words correctly. He took his notebook out of his pocket. “You’ll have to write what you’re trying to tell me down here.”
Doctor Azir took the notebook and scribbled on it for a few minutes, then handed it back to Archie.
“I can’t find anything wrong with your ears. They look perfectly normal. I’m going to send you to see the specialist at the hospital. You’re going to have to do a hearing test as well. I’m wondering whether it’s psychological. Some sore of psychosomatic condition. Are you suffering from any sort of stress?”
Archie shook his head. What did this joker think? That he was some sort of nutter or something? He wished them luck with giving him a hearing test. He couldn’t hear a thing – not even through the headphones on his phone.
Dr Azir started writing on the pad again.
“I’m asking them to do this urgently. There is something really very strange about it. You’re to take it easy and try not to worry,” Archie read.
“Should I stay off school?”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” wrote Dr Azir. “School might take your mind off it.”
Darn. It would have been good having a few days off. Perhaps they would have all felt sorry for him and made a fuss.
Dr Azir was saying something again. Archie guessed it was time he went. The doctor nodded and smiled as he left the room.Out on the street Archie sighed. He wished he could listen to his music.