Sometimes, a big change can creep up on you. Sometimes, an absolutely humongous change sneaks up on you so gradually that you don’t even notice it. But sometimes, you can think back and pin down the exact moment that some particular big change started. My love life is like that: there’s this one obvious day when the first domino tumbled. The rest, as they say, is history. Its her story, too. Lucky her!
When: Middle of April, mid 1990s Where: A housing estate in The Midlands, which is the aptly-named area in the middle of England.
Who: My name is Andy, and I’ll soon be sixteen years old.
I’m in my last year of High School, according to the English school system, and I don’t really know what I’m going to do next. If my grades are good enough then I might be able to continue at the High School’s ‘sixth form’ for two years and then, perhaps, even go to university when I’m eighteen. But I have no idea what I want to do beyond that - or if that doesn’t happen.
It was a bright sunny morning, the first warm day that spring, and the air felt crisp and clean. It had been raining overnight but those clouds were long gone, now, and the puddles were shrinking and the sky was bright blue. Things felt refreshed and fresh. You could taste it in the air. You could sense the rejuvenation of spring starting all around us in the budding new shoots and unfurling leaves.
Outside my front gate my mate, Dave, was waiting as he always was; Dave and I always walked to school together and he always stood idly waiting for me on the pavement by my front gate.
And there, waiting patiently at the neighbours gate beside him, was Bets. Bets’s proper name is Elizabeth but everyone calls her Bets. Bets was waiting for Daya, my literal girl-next-door.
I live in English suburbia, on an average housing estate. Anyone who has seen a housing estate in the UK knows exactly what it looks like, because they all look much the same. On my estate, the houses were all semi-detached; that means two houses built with a joining wall, like just the two ends of a very short terrace without any houses in the middle bit.
Daya’s family live in the house attached to ours. Her parents were originally from India but her whole family is very westernised and, like the rest of us, Daya speaks with a very strong local Midlands accent. Bets and Daya are in the year below Dave and me at school and we don’t normally talk to them. We don’t really talk to any girls, for that matter. Talking to girls is hard.
Except on this day my mate Dave had struck up a conversation with Bets while they both waited. That, there, was the first event that I can identify that directly led to my love life. I don’t know what those two were talking about, but they were talking and that changed everything.
The chatting stopped as Daya and I reached them. We had both come out of our front doors at roughly the same time and met our respective friends and split them up. Daya and Bets started to walk together towards school, whispering and giggling, and Dave and I followed them. So far, this was just like all other days except that Bets and Dave had been talking whilst they’d waited.
Today, on the walk to school, Dave wasn’t really listening to me. Today Dave was ogling Bets as she walked to school. He had a silly dazed grin on his face.
“You like Bets?” I challenged him, punching him lightly on the shoulder to get his attention.
He turned to me and grinned stupidly. “Yeah” he confided quietly.
That was a milestone event, right there; up until now, whenever we’d teased each other about liking this girl, or fancying that girl, we’d always been loud and boastful and completely untruthful. This was the first time Dave had ever admitted to really properly liking a girl.
Something had changed in his attitude, and a corresponding something clicked and changed in my attitude, too, because of that. Just like that, suddenly we both became a tiny bit more grown up about girls. Or, in the least, not so childish about them.
So, this is the first event that I attribute to being the first small step to start my love life, but it was quite a while before my love life actually started. But at least it was going to start. It was the start of new friendships that became, as we’ll see, my love life.
We took a circuitous route towards the dozy puffs of white tobacco smoke wafting around the corner of the community centre. There, in the narrow piece of shrubland we knew teenagers were hanging out. Some might be friends, some might be friendly, some might pick on us.
Once we were level with the back wall and could see what was waiting behind it we saw that they were mostly younger than us so Dave and I approached more confidently. Dave plucked a loose cigarette out of the chest pocket of his shirt and tapped his jeans pockets for his lighter. Dave had long since given up offering me cigs; I wouldn’t smoke and he wasn’t going to get me to join in.
The cluster of younger kids eyed us carefully. I glanced along the row. A few nodded a non-committal greeting. Towards the far end I saw my sister, Lucy, turn from me to hide that she too had been smoking just a second before. Her friend grabbed her cig and sucked in dramatically, then exhaled a smoke ring. Momentarily everyone stopped to admire the ring drifting upwards and dissipating and I almost forgot that I had just caught my sister smoking.
“Nice,” Dave said appreciatively. Everyone relaxed, except perhaps Lucy who was fiddling with the wrapper of a pack of polo mints. For a girl she had short nails. Her friend grabbed the packet and helped scratch it open.
“So, Dave, can you give us some fags? We’ll pay you back” one of the boys asked, boldly. Many of the other kids stepped towards him, clustering, ready to pester. You could buy cigarettes, which we called ‘fags’, when you were sixteen. Buying fags for the underage smokers – and almost everyone smoked – was normal social currency.
I stood on the sideline, trying to keep out of the haze of smelly smoke, feeling spare. Lucy eyed me warily. Her friend, who could blow smoke rings, was now sucking on two cigarettes at once and eyeing me with amusement. I think her name was Helen. She whispered something into Lucy’s ear which Helen found hilarious and that Lucy found alarming. They carried on looking at me, watching me, while the rest of the crowd clustered around and pleaded with Dave.
Helen stepped forward, unbuttoning her denim jacket to let her pushed-up breasts spill out. My gaze dropped instinctively, my eyes sucked into the tight dark cleft plunging between the squashed together boobs. She reached into the inside hem pocket and pulled up a small neon green bottle. “Got an opener?” she asked, the timidness in her voice not matching her ballsy swagger.
I shook my head mutely, staring at the ledge of flesh she’d arrayed in front of me. The boobs were so pushed-up that the tops of them were horizontal. I saw her patting her pockets in my peripheral vision. She pulled out a big fat bunch of keys and located her own bottle opener. “Want some Breezer?” she asked me conspiratorially, waving the now-open bottle of Bacardi in front of me.
I took a quick swig of the sickly-sweet pop and handed it back. Rather than taking the bottle from me she just wrapped her tiny hand around mine and lifted the bottle to her own mouth with me still holding it. Her nails were painted a vivid pink, matching her lipstick. I had to step closer to stop my wrist from being twisted. I was playing along. Her open jacket almost touched mine. She was watching me as my eyes tugged inexorably back towards her cleavage.
“I was just telling Lucy,” she whispered huskily between gulps, “that rings aren’t the only things I blow”
My brain froze up as her words sank in. We were so close I could feel her sugary breath on my neck. Deep down, an animal part of me wanted to grab her and drag her into the bushes. I needed her. I really needed that. And I was too scared to move, to take, to use. Warmth flushed over me as my mind blocked out everyone else around us. I was going to do this!
Her eyes flittered suddenly, betraying a nervousness not matched by the firmness of her voice and body language. Deep inside, she was scared. She was forcing herself to do this. A new feeling hit me for the first time; pity. I felt sorry she was pushing herself into this brazen bit of peer exhibitionism.
She wanted to be accepted. She wanted to be desired. She wanted to be validated. And she had selected me. I shuddered. The games us kids played were all just so superficial!
I sensed the crowd behind me turn and gaze at something new. They had been focusing on Dave, but now they were watching some newcomers approach: Bets and Daya sauntered into view. I turned, too.
“Oh hey, wanna fag?” Dave offered. Bets smiled and reached forward to take one from the offered packet. Dave stared sharply for a moment at the boy who clicked open a lighter for her.
Daya stepped past the crowd who were now clustered around Bets and Dave. She glanced back at her friend, bemused. Then Daya’s eyes turned to us and settled on Helen and her look hardened.
Helen released my hand and grabbed her bottle by the neck, tugging it from my loose grip. She swung it, bottom outwards, towards Daya: the sign of the younger girl currying with the older. They started talking, cautiously at first, and soon I was forgotten, Daya being more advantageous to befriend, perhaps, than me.
No more mention or offer of blow-jobs was given and I fell to the wayside, not included in Helen’s conversation. Left out of things, my mature pity slowly ebbed away as I stole more admiring glances at Helen’s assets and coveted her potential availability, and I began to kick myself for not taking advantage of her when I’d had the chance. That would have been something. Now I pitied myself, instead.
The kids on the estate had a definite pecking order and the kids we’d found behind the community centre today were all in the year below Bets and Daya and two years below Dave and me. For the while, at least, Dave and Bets ruled and Daya had Helen babbling away. Dave magnanimously shared the rest of his fags.
Shaking myself out of my sudden stupor, I stood slightly apart, watching bemusedly as a pathetic Dave struggled to find words when trying to strike up conversation with a carefully aloof Bets.
Lucy sulked, too, not smoking and not being included in the conversation. she and I had more in common than we liked to admit.
A week or two passed and Dave kept chatting with Bets every morning while they waited for Daya and me. And Dave kept ogling her seductively swaying butt as we stalked behind them to school - and I kept teasing Dave about it. When was he going to do something about it? I kept needling him. He must have got a bit tired of me, really, but he put up with me because of the view.
Dave would arrive earlier and earlier to wait for me, and Bets was doing likewise. Soon they were both arriving a quarter of an hour too early to walk to school!
I could see the attraction: Bets had really bloomed recently, and there in front of us was a very pretty blonde girl with trendy, short hair, a very short skirt and a very tight blouse that hugged her flat tummy and rapidly expanding bust. Her skirt was slightly shorter than regulations allowed, and the top button of her blouse was never done up and that was a breach of the school rules, too. Bets was hot and she knew it! A bit of me was jealous that Dave had first dibs.
It was such a contrast to Daya’s softer, shorter stature, sensible, conformal, clean and good-condition school uniform; and long, dark, super-neat hair that flowed down her back and somehow kept still, pointing resolutely downwards, while she walked and her hips swayed.
I quickly worked out that Dave desperately wanted Bets and Daya to walk in front of us so he could ogle Bets safely. He would be morose if he and I left for school first. And so, I began playing along and watching, waiting for Daya to leave her house just before I left mine. It was a transparent ruse, but it worked and it kept Dave happy.
And then, one morning soon after, things changed: Dave had asked Bets out!
Bets and Dave were going to the pictures (that’s what we called cinemas) for the Friday matinee right after school. As Dave and I fell into step just far enough behind the girls he told me all about it.
The way he told it, he had been fearlessly bold, but his blustering and nervousness told another story. Bets was also blushing and, after we’d turned the corner at the top of the road, the girls had both glanced quickly over their shoulders to check on us as they whispered and giggled. There is nothing as seductive as two schoolgirls giggling while they steal glimpses at you.
The idea that my best mate had a girlfriend took some getting used to. Apparently, that first date went well and suddenly Dave wasn’t hanging out with me half as much as he used to. I even took to kicking the football around with some other kids on the estate in the evenings, even though I didn’t really like the game; that’s how bored and lonely I suddenly found myself. One of my other mates, Steve, had a Nintendo with the games “Mario Bros” and “Top Gun” and we wasted a lot of time that way. Truth was, I missed Dave.
Even when Dave was with us, he was preoccupied and distant and hardly joined in. Of course, we teased him mercilessly and that drove him away from us a bit, too. By the end of the week after their first date, I was only really seeing Dave as we walked to school together, and he was probably only still doing that because Bets was walking with an exaggerated swagger in front of us!
It was then that Bets decided to change gear. One morning, once we’d rounded the corner at the top of the road and were now out of sight of home, Bets tugged on Daya’s sleeve and got her to stop in front of us. Then, the girls turned around and waited for us boys to catch them up. Dave and I walked up to them, Dave as hesitant as I, and Dave gave Bets an urgent kiss on the mouth that lasted a few seconds before Bets pushed him away but grinned happily back. It was the first time I’d seen them kiss.
Anyway, Bets and Dave walked together to school from then on, but they kept the routine of waiting for Daya and me by our gates and then doing the friend-swap once we’d turned the corner at the top of the road. Now Daya and I walked together to school, in silence, having to watch Dave and Bets walk hand in hand a bit in front of us.
Daya broke that subdued silence a few days later by asking me rhetorically, “They are a cute couple, aren’t they?”
“Dave? Cute?” I questioned playfully, “I don’t think anyone has ever described Dave as cute before.”
Daya rolled her eyes theatrically. “Point taken, but Bets ups their average.”
Daya was silent for a moment, her steps faltering as she searched for something more to say, then: “So, what are you doing after school tonight?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged, “perhaps I’ll play a bit of footie”. There was silence as I worked out that I had just killed the conversation. It took a long moment for me to rescue things with “What about you?”
“Oh, I don’t know, probably start on my new project” she turned, watching my face intently, “You can come see it after school, if you like.”
And so Daya had broken the ice, and we could talk while our friends walked to school in front of us, glued as they were to each other by their hips.
That Daya and I now talked actually made things a bit easier for me. I wasn’t feeling so left out now ... now that I had someone to talk to. And Daya, it turned out, could talk! She could talk enough for all of us. She was kinda bubbly and talkative once she got to know you. She was also scarily smart. She didn’t say what her new project was.
Dave and I paused on the driveway in front of Daya’s parents’ garage, looking in through the door that Daya had just lifted. The garages were all in a low row in the alley-way behind our back gardens. Every wall was covered in graffiti and the pavement was littered with discarded fag ends. People were careful to keep nothing valuable in them. As our eyes adjusted, we saw the thing that Daya and Bets were gathered around. We approached carefully, feeling slightly like we were intruding into Daya’s personal, holy space.
“What is it?” Dave whispered.
“It’s a moped, you dick,” Bets giggled. It was obviously a moped.
It was also in awful condition. The seat was torn, the tires punctured and the frame rusty.
“Does it go?”
Daya looked up, a note of caution in her voice, “Not yet. But it will.”
“Where did you get it? A hedge?”
“Yeah” Daya said quietly. That shut Dave up. She couldn’t be serious?
“Can you ride it?” I look advantage of the sudden lull to join in.
“Tell ‘em, girl!” Bets cooed enthusiastically, “Go on, tell ‘em!”
Daya looked up at us “I got my provisional license today.”
As though to stop the conversation, Daya unhooked a baggy blue overall from a hook and started to climb into it. It was clear that Daya was going to do all the repairing herself. We watched her in awe as she flitted around, grabbing spanners and screw drivers and things from the bench at the end and tinkering about with the bike. She obviously knew exactly what she was doing.
My younger sister, Lucy, glanced sideways to check mum and dad were in the kitchen, beyond earshot. “So, I heard Dave and Bets are together,” she confided in a gossipy whisper.
I nodded mutely.
“So it’s true?”
I fixed her in an aggressive ‘shut up or else’ stare.
My lack of denial must have clinched it for her. “Oh my god, so it is true!” she giggled triumphantly. “So, are they doing it yet?”
I didn’t know what to say. I just stood there, frozen, trying to suppress my anger and gather my options. Lucy stared at me intently, waiting, as her patience ran out.
“Why won’t you tell me?” Lucy pouted, “What’s got into you? I want all the details! You always give me details.”
Her face slowly unsmiled as she stared into my eyes, studying me. “Oh!” she gasped and subconsciously brought her hand to cover her gaping mouth, “Oh my god! Andy? You like her too?” her eyes were darting all over my face now, trying to read my emotions “You’re jealous! You secretly fancy Bets?”
“No! No, I don’t! She’s hot, but its absolutely nothing like that,” I spat gruffly, struggling to keep my voice down and avoid swearing, “We just shouldn’t gossip about their private business, is all.”
Lucy started giggling, venting the tingling, embarrassed energy between us. “Oh Andy, since when are you all grown up? Just you wait until I tell my girl friends you can keep their secrets...” and she slipped away and headed towards the front door with an exaggerated swaying of her hips “Well, I’ll find out everything anyway! Everyone else knows what they get up to, already.”
“Bitch,” I whispered nastily as she passed.
“Prick,” she fired back.
It felt nice, having stood up to Lucy.
“Mum, Andy’s being mean me. Make him stop!” I heard her whiny complaint coming from the kitchen, her voice sounding all young and innocent and in need of defence. Some things never change.
The April showers gave way to the ‘darling buds of May’ as the weather became warmer and brighter as summer approached. On the other hand, Dave and I had our final exams (called GCSEs) approaching, too, and we were a bit too stressed to notice. I actually started to use the time Dave’s trysts had freed up from my meagre social schedule to revise and such. In a sense, I probably owe Bets the improvement in my grades. Anyway, love was in the air and Bets and Dave were in love.
It all exploded a couple of weeks later, in mid-May. Somehow, Bets’s family found out about Dave - and they did not approve. They really really, really, did not approve! I hadn’t realised it was being kept secret from them, but it had, and that perhaps explained why Dave and Bets only walked together to and from school when they were out of sight of our houses.
Bets’s older brother - a couple of years older than us - punched Dave. It was a glancing shot across the bows and Dave only had a black eye and a warning ringing in his ears that he should stay away from Bets if he knew what was good for him. Everyone in our street knew about this within minutes of it happening; for example, I got told by my younger sister Lucy and then my mate Steve dropped by to excitedly tell me, too.
To this day I don’t know exactly how it happened; nor what exactly Dave had done to earn their wrath; nor what her parent’s problem was; nor how they were caught; nor what they’d been caught doing. I am reasonably sure the stories I heard about them being caught doing a sixty-nine on her living room sofa were a complete exaggeration.
Dave hadn’t been telling me how far he’d got with Bets, but he surely hadn’t actually done very much, yet. There hadn’t been time, and they hadn’t seemed in a hurry, and there was a distinct lack of opportunity, too. Other couples and causal couplings had, from time to time, disappeared into the bushes behind the community centre, but when they did, everyone saw them do it, so everyone knew they were doing it. And nobody came up with stories about them like that.
As I said, on that first date at the very beginning of all this romance, Dave and I had suddenly grown up a lot about how we talked about girls, and Dave had stopped telling everyone the details.
Although neither Dave nor I had ever had real girlfriends before, our other friends who had had them when we were younger had always been boastful and indiscrete. But not now, Dave. And, somehow, I was on his wavelength; I’d grown up a bit too.
What didn’t change, after the epic showdown, was Bets’s infatuation with Dave. If anything, the attack on her boyfriend made Bets keener! But they had to become even more secretive. The first few days, they even walked separately to school, with Dave walking with me and Bets with Daya again - just like the olden days. Dave was morose company and I missed Daya’s light teasing banter.
That’s when Dave first asked Daya and me to cover for them. Dave arranged for Bets to go to the pictures (as we called the cinema) with Daya, whilst Dave and I went separately, but ended up watching the same film: “Beauty and the Beast”.
The girls actually wanted to watch the cartoon film; they’d seen it before (the selection of films was rather meagre in those days) and thought it romantic. And as boys, we just put up with the choice; we didn’t get much say, anyway, and just wanted the girls to be happy.
In the dark of the auditorium we all moved up the steps up the side towards the back row. All the younger kids and some of their parents – this was a kid’s film – were mostly clustered down the front, nearer the screen. As soon as we reached the shadows up at the very back, Daya and Dave swapped places and Daya and I sat together a few seats along, away from the lovebirds. While the dim lighting was on they were very upright and proper, but soon it was dark and we could no longer see what they were doing. I guess they weren’t watching the film!
Daya shared her popcorn with me in companionable silence while we did watch. Every so often, when the screen was bright and shone light back towards us, I stole a glance sideways, but Daya was always watching the screen intently, sometimes with a piece of popcorn hovering just in front of her mouth.
Afterwards, we stood around the foyer and talked about the film, comparing Dave and Bets to Beauty and the Beast and so on. After a while, I became impatient and turned to go find them, but Daya stayed my arm - “Perhaps Dave needs a while thinking about Mrs Welch before he can stand up straight?” Mrs Welch was a games teacher at school who looked like a particularly ugly toad and who was the butt of all the unsexy-teacher jokes. Daya’s point taken, we both burst into giggles. We ended up talking foolishly for quite a long time whilst we waited for the secret couple to emerge.
After they had finally managed to extract themselves, they joined us and we all together walked together towards a local cafe where all the local youth hung out. We had been so careful to enter the film separately, but now the girls walked with us and it was clear to everyone who cared to look that Dave and Bets were still together. But somehow, we had forgotten to carry on hiding that.
There were too many familiar faces around for Dave and Bets to get all kissy so we sat upright and respectably apart and talked together, all four of us, instead. Dave and Bets slowly cooled down and started acting respectably. Daya just looked mildly amused at their awakening awkwardness.
“So, it was a good film, then?” Daya asked playfully.
“Uh, yeah” Dave nodded.
“So, Dave, which was your favourite bit?”
Dave just stared at Daya, lost. We all burst into another fit of giggles at his discomfort. Bets sucked on her straw and blushed, too.
“Oh my god! You didn’t? ... You did, didn’t you! You slut!” Daya played along.
For a quick moment Bets shuffled her thumb and finger rapidly up and down her straw as she sucked on it suggestively and then got too embarrassed to carry on. Dave still looked dazed.
“So what was your favourite bit, then, Miss Goodie-two-shoes?” Bets fought back, trying to regain her composure.
“Oh, I like it all,” Daya whispered meekly, “You know me and fairy tales.”
“Yeah, you two would make a sweet Beauty and the Beast.”
Daya shrunk slightly; “I’m not beautiful.”
“Girl, you so are! Isn’t she, Andy?”
Jerked back into their conversation, I stared first, at the challenging Bets, and then the meek Daya, speechless. Put on the spot, I just stared, goggle-eyed, and nodded, stupidly.
“You look like Pocahontas,” Dave joined in, trying to help take the pressure off me. I nodded more enthusiastically. Daya looked up, confused, and Bets looked angry. Bets turned on him and fixed him in a nasty, penetrating stare that demanded an explanation. “Well, she’s, she’s...” Dave floundered, “ ... Indian?”
Bets’s mask flicked back and forth between anger and amusement. In the end, amusement won; “You stupid berk” Bets burst into giggles and poked at him. I glanced at Daya; she was looking down into her milkshake, stirring it slowly with her straw, her cheeks slightly darker than normal. Was she embarrassed? Scared? Angry? It was difficult to guess.
Everyone slowly calmed down and there was a pregnant pause.
“So, what do you want for your birthday?” Dave asked me, deftly starting a new topic.
My sixteenth birthday was in just a few days, making me one of the youngest in my class. The English school year starts in the autumn and everyone who will have the same birthday in that school year is in the same year together.
I think that what most sixteen year-olds want for their birthday in Britain is a bit different from, for example, the United States. In England, you can’t drive a car at sixteen and there’s also no real culture of getting jobs and saving towards getting a car and things, although when you get a bit older that does start to happen. No, in England, at sixteen, you pretty much want all the things you wanted when you were fifteen and fourteen. Sixteen isn’t a particularly special birthday in that respect.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged.
It would have been easy to say I wanted something unobtainable like the new Play Station, or a CD or DVD player, or a TV in my own room. It would have been easy to say I wanted something attainable like some music tapes, or to go to a concert, or something. There were lots of easy things to ask for. But what I really wanted - and it was only a very recent realisation - was privacy. I felt I had no privacy even though I had my own bedroom. My parents and younger sister didn’t knock, or didn’t wait very long, before barging in on me.
“You don’t know?” Bets sounded incredulous. “I have, like, a list as long as your arm! And a pony!”
“I’ll give you something as long as your arm!” Dave joined in, earning a frown from Bets for interrupting.
Us others barely noticed. Daya had been watching me pause to answer that question, and she might have noticed my face momentarily darken in deep thought. “Will you have a party?” she smiled warmly, “Your mum always used to invite me.”
It was true; back when my mum still arranged birthday parties for me, Daya had always been invited. Mum had mostly invited the neighbours and not so many of my friends, although she didn’t mean it nastily. It was just her idea of who I played with and reality didn’t align exactly. Of course, teenagers didn’t have mums arranging parties and so that had all died out.
It was a happy memory though, and I cheered up and smiled back at her. Daya looked pleased.
“Will we be invited?” Bets joined in happily, waving her hand between Dave and herself. “Oh I love planning parties!”
And then we started talking about the girls’ birthdays, instead. Bets’s birthday was in January, which made her almost exactly one year younger than Dave, and Daya’s was in August, which made her one of the oldest in her year. Daya was only a month younger than me but fate had put her in the school year below.
“So, girl, what’s on your birthday list?” Bets fired at Daya, diverting our attention in that direction.
Daya went red.
“An adjustable spanner?” she croaked, lamely.
“Don’t you already have one of those things?” Bets wondered.
“Yeah, but I’d like a metric one,” Daya grinned.
Daya wouldn’t say what she really wanted for her birthday, and Bets wouldn’t stop teasing her about her reticence.
There was a throaty roar, the puny little engine amplified into a monster in Daya’s echoey garage. Then it sputtered and died, belching out a puff of acrid, black smoke.
Bets and Dave and I exchanged disappointed glances. Daya ignored us and squatted down next to the matt aluminium block and tinkered for a moment. Then she stood up and gave the pedal another kick. The engine sounded more even this time, starting smoothly, and settled down into a steady rhythm.
Daya tugged the moped off its stand and wheeled it out onto the drive way. Released from the confines of the garage, it sounded strangely quiet and tame as it ticked over. Daya smiled brightly at us all and then twisted the handle, revving it. It whined higher, sounding not at all like a monster, now it was out in the open. Then she leaned over and turned the key, killing it. After tugging it back onto its stand she did a little twirling victory dance, pumping her arms in the air and wriggling her butt happily. Her audience clapped and grinned as we felt the happiness flow over us, too. Daya had done it! Daya was amazing.
The next phase of Bets and Dave’s secret relationship actually caused me to see Dave a bit more often again. The secret couple started to use my house for secret liaisons towards the very end of the school term. Of course, this meant I saw Bets and Daya more, too. The routine quickly became for Bets to visit Daya whilst Dave visited me straight after school, and then for Daya to immediately lead Bets around into my garden by the gate from the alleyway behind our back gardens.
My parents were oblivious to the subterfuge, as they were often out. And this lack of parental supervision is why we were meeting at my house and not another’s. We had nearly an hour after school before my mum got home from work. Daya’s mum, Prisha, thought that the girls were just dumping their school bags before going out to play; she had no idea where the girls went after they passed through her house in a hurry each day.
A lot of English housing estates have much the same layout with much the same houses, but you can tell the affluence and safety of the estate by how well the gardens are tended. Our estate was fairly prosperous and safe working class and the gardens - small narrow strips behind each house - were well cared for and established. Our own back garden had a fairly high row of bushes down each side, like a hedge, and a patio by the back door. It was south facing, making it warm and sunny, secluded and private.
The first couple of times we hung out together right after school, we just sat on the patio and talked and joked quietly. The back door led into the kitchen and I served everyone with coca colas from the fridge. Of course, by the second time, Bets and Dave were getting a bit confident and frisky even though Daya and I were with them.
“Can Bets and I borrow your room?” Dave just blurted out in the end. Bets looked at me, her eyes glinting with excitement; it looked like it was her idea.
I froze, shocked, while I processed this. Of course, I should have seen this coming, but actually I hadn’t anticipated it, so it made my mind momentarily glitched like a scratched record. I looked at them, gaping.
“You can say ‘no’” Daya sounded firm, her jaw clenched, giving me moral support and making it clear she thought it a bad idea. To change the subject, she then looked up at the back of the house and asked me which bedroom was mine.
Our house had three bedrooms; all the houses on this side of the estate had three bedrooms, and their layouts were identical (although the two houses in each pair were mirrored). Daya was looking up at the back bedroom’s window while she asked. “The front one,” I replied quietly.
“Same as me” she shrugged. It was quiet again and Bets and Dave glanced around awkwardly.
“Perhaps, Andy, you could show me around inside? You know, give these two lovebirds a bit of privacy?”
“Wait, you can’t just leave us out here! What if somebody sees us?” Bets gulped nervously. She was already sitting on Dave’s lap; if they’d already been seen by a vigilant neighbour, then it was already obvious they were still ‘seeing’ each other.
“Well, don’t do anything that will get you into deeper trouble than you already are” Daya replied brightly in a tone like chastising two naughty children. Then, she jumped up from her patio stool and tugged me up, too, and led me into my house.
Inside, Daya closed the back door quietly behind us, shutting Dave and Bets out. Then, she led the way into the front room and looked around appraisingly. It was probably, I realised, the first time she’d seen the inside of my house since the birthday parties all those years ago. “Nice big telly” she smiled, having eventually found something to compliment. “So, are you going to show me around, or what?”
I was on autopilot, a bit dazed and distant at how events were unfolding. “You want to see my room?”
Daya just nodded mutely, biting her bottom lip. I led the way upstairs.
My bedroom was at the front, over the front hallway and above the front half of the living room, with a north window facing the street. Daya marched in and looked around intently.
“I have a wardrobe in almost exactly the same position as this, on the other side of that exact wall!” she exclaimed excitedly. “And my bed is, like, right there, too! You know, when we sleep, we’re like only a foot or so apart?” She held her hands out, just a foot apart, to emphasise the proximity.
Daya didn’t wait for an answer; she just stepped right up to my wardrobe and threw the doors open. “Ugh, clothes! At least they’re clean and ironed. Bet your mum still does this for you?” Daya paused for breath, but not expecting any reply before continuing, “Wouldn’t it be so cool if this was like a secret door or something? Like Narnia?”
Daya had swept onwards to my bookshelf, leaving my wardrobe doors wide open behind her. Now she was pulling out books and running her fingers down the spines of my tape cassette collection, assessing my taste in music: Blur, Pulp, Stone Roses, Suede...
All this time, I was watching her silently as she inspected my room and my belongings. She wasn’t asking any more questions and her commentary had stopped. It felt like time stood still, but really time was ticking by extra fast.
Suddenly, Daya glanced at my bedside clock and squealed “your mum’ll be home in a min, Andy! I’d better be going!”
Dave and Bets sprang apart as Daya bolted out the back door. Bets’s blouse had come untucked and her school tie was askew. Daya grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her off, out of the back gate at the bottom of the garden, giggling. Dave was a bit dazed and speechless until my mum popped her head out of the back door a few minutes later, and asked us how our day had been.
The next morning on the way to school, Daya and Dave swapped places once we turned the corner into the big road, just as they normally did. This time, though, Daya was studying me more than watching the couple in front of us.
“I have something for you” she said happily, her deep dark chocolate-brown eyes sparkling, as she started rifling in her satchel. She quickly found whatever it was, and pulled out a tape. “It’s a mix I’ve recorded from pirate radio. I think you’ll like it”
I turned the tape over in my hands. The label, written down the spine in Daya’s super-neat little handwriting, said only ‘Andy’. I smiled at her and the anxiousness evaporated from her face.
As was now routine, Bets went home with Daya and Dave followed me into mine straight after school. And then just a short minute after that, Daya and Bets would duck into my back garden to meet up again.
Daya deposited a grinning Bets in front of Dave and left them, tugging me into my house with her and closing the back door on them. “Where had we got to?” she smiled and skipped as she led the way upstairs.
When we reached my bedroom Daya turned to face me. “What do you think those two are doing right this second?” she asked playfully.
“Kissing?” I guessed tamely, shrugging.
She looked suddenly timid and embarrassed. Her big shiny deep brown eyes, instantly scared, darted all over me, scanning me, searching to read my emotion. “You don’t like me?”