The magazine was lying open on the ground and stopped us in our tracks. David poked it with the stick I found at the park.
I caught the image of the woman on the page and looked away quickly.
I looked up and down the alley, “What is it?” I said.
It was the first thing either of us had said since our row at the park over the stick. We had walked in silence all the way back because I had seen the stick first and made the mistake of pointing it out to David. As soon as I opened my mouth and mentioned it, I realised what I had done and raced forwards to try to get it first but it was no good. He was faster than me and that was all there was to it. Sometimes boys are just better at things my dad says and my mum says I shouldn’t be playing with the boys anyway, but it’s not my fault we live in a street full of them. I don’t think they’re better than me. I even spend a bit of time after school racing up and down our street to get better at running than David. I go the back way so I don’t have to go past his house. If he saw me he’d come out and race with me and that would totally wreck my plan.
David held the stick on the magazine and the corner flapped up in the wind. I studied the picture for a few seconds and felt the heat in my cheeks. I looked away, checking the alley again for signs of life. It was still empty.
“We should go” I said, avoiding looking at the magazine.
David swung the stick over his shoulder in one quick movement and for the first time looked up and down the alley. He clearly had other plans.
“We should hide it” he said smiling wide. I opened my mouth to speak but couldn’t think of anything to say. I didn’t like the way he was including me in his plan. “What for? we don’t need it, it’s for weirdo’s” I said and moved from foot to foot. He looked at me and I flicked my eyes down towards the magazine.
“I want to show the others” he said. I didn’t think the others would want to see it, but I wanted to get out of the alley too before someone came and found us with it so I looked along the alleyway for a place.
“What about in that bush?” I said pointing to the biggest one in the alley. It was a concrete alley lying between the backs of the houses, full of back garden doors, there wasn’t much choice. David looked at the bush then walked closer. Telling me to stay with the magazine. I shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot again while he walked along to the bush. I stole glances up both ends of the alley willing someone to walk along so we’d have to leave. He stood over it for a few minutes poking it with the stick. My stick.
He made his way back along to me shaking his head, “it’s no good” I was starting to get more nervous.
”We’ll have to take it with us” he said. I felt my cheeks go hot again. “No” I said quickly. I looked at him and he looked into my eyes . As always the silent understanding that we always did what he said passed between us.
We’d been friends since he moved into the street a few years back. I had watched the removals van with the other kids in the street, elbows perched on the handle bars of my BMX. He came out from the house and looked us all up and down a few times. There were five of us in our street, Hayden, Kirby, Pete. Lola and me but Lola was only 5 so she didn’t really count. Pete and Kirby were brothers. Hayden was the oldest. He was at secondary school and until David moved into the street we all did what he said. “Cool bike” he said to me and I had shrugged. A casual comment that immediately set us out to be friends and we spent most of our time at the BMX track after school or running in the park. The others sometimes came with us but usually it was me and David. I preferred it when it was. Pete sometimes cried too long when he got hurt and Kirby didn’t have a bike, Hayden used to be ok but lately he made everything into a competition with David and it was annoying waiting while they both tried to outrun each other or jump higher on a ramp. I secretly thought Hayden was annoyed with me for always being with David and tried to get me to go and play just with him. We’d always played together before. He was still fun but David was different to the others, he was one year older than me and had lived in Spain before moving to the street. Most importantly he never treated me like a girl. Sometimes the others said ‘oh Helen can’t do that, she’s a girl’ like it was an excuse or something and it made me want to punch them.
“I dunno” I said looking up and down the alley. I just wanted to go, but when David got an idea in his head we always carried it out, sometimes it was fun and sometimes it wasn’t.
“If we want to read it we have to hide it” he said simply.
“ I don’t want to read it” I said quickly.
“I’ll hide it up my jumper and we can hide it in the Den”, he carried, I don’t think he was listening to me much.
I could feel my heart beat a little bit faster in my chest. Taking the magazine with us meant we had to walk four more streets to get to the Den. All kinds of thoughts ran through my head while David picked the magazine up, shook it, then stuffed it up his jumper.
He was wearing his blue jumper and you could clearly see the edges of the magazine. He looked at me, the stick and then down at the magazine protruding from his jumper. With an audible outlet of breath he handed me the stick. I took it quickly and smiled. “Look after that for me” he said, making sure I knew it was still his. Part of me wanted to chuck it on the floor and leave him to work out to get the stick and the magazine back to the street but I nodded.
He folded his arms across his chest and did a good job of hiding the magazine. “C’mon” he said and we walked down the alley. My heart beat loudly in my chest as we walked the four streets. It felt like they had somehow grown longer since we last walked them to get to the park. We walked quickly and I had no time to try the stick out, I was sure I could lean on it and jump down the road. Turning into our street we looked at each other and made our way towards the Den.
The Den was a street effort. Hayden, Kirby and I had built it last summer when David was on holiday. Pete and Lola played outside while we moved bits of wood and collected things from our houses to make seats for inside. There were only four seats which meant we had to take turns to sit inside and Pete always cried if he was left outside so usually me and David would stand and wait our turn. I think Hayden thought the Den was his as he had found the place to build it but we had all spoken about building one before David went on holiday. When David came back and we showed it to him he looked annoyed with Hayden. He talked about building a bigger one for a few days but couldn’t find a good spot. Fom time to time if we discovered a new place he would say “now this would make a good place for a Den” and look at Hayden but he never did. I was glad because the Den we already built was pretty cool. I was really proud of it. It was built in 73’s front garden and you had to crawl through the bush at the front to get into it. Me and David sometimes sat in it when it rained and we hadn’t been called inside yet. We bought snacks with our pocket money or biscuits from our houses and sat in the Den eating them. I liked sitting in there just with David. When it was just the two of us we told silly jokes or stories or talked about TV. Sometimes we just sat and that was the good thing about having a best friend.
As we made our way down our street and along to the Den, the other kids were no-where to be seen. With a last look to the left and right we crawled through the bush and into the Den.
Now the coolest thing about the Den was the way you had to crawl in and out, right through the bush of 73’s front garden. We’d made it especially like that. It was something you couldn’t rush and today this made it too late to turn around once we were inside and saw Hayden.
“alright” said Hayden
“alright” said David
I looked at David and crawled quickly to a seat. I knew my dumb face was hot again.
“Where’ve you been?” asked Hayden, he was chewing gum.
“Park” David and I said at the same time. We looked at each other and I looked at his jumper. The magazine was now sticking out.
“What’s that?” Hayden asked after a few seconds of looking at it.
“Nothing” said David quickly and Hayden shrugged.
We all sat in silence and I wanted to leave because my dinner would be ready and Auntie Jean would be mad but I knew I couldn’t leave David with the magazine. With a long look at me and then David, Hayden eventually moved towards the exit and said bye. David looked through the exit to check he was gone then took the magazine out of his jumper with a loud sigh. He stuffed it under one of the seats. “We’ll move it in the morning, we can come early” he said. I nodded quickly said bye and we crawled towards the exit. Out in the street we raced towards our house and he beat me. With a smile and a wave he disappeared into his front garden. I moved to go into my garden when I heard Hayden call my name. I turned to find him standing behind me.
“alright” I said
He looked at me in that way that always made me feel bad for playing with David more than him.
“What did David have under his jumper?” he asked and I felt the heat return to my cheeks.
“Nothing” I said quickly.
Hayden looked at me with a smirk. “ I know he had something” he said “so you might as well tell me”
I looked at him in the eyes and shook my head, “he didn’t have anything”
Hayden looked at me for a few seconds then he turned and looked down the street towards the Den.
I touched his arm. “he didn’t have anything” I said again. He turned his head slowly to look at my hand and then turned it slowly back towards the Den. I still had my hand on his arm when he started walking towards the Den. “Hayden” I said but he shrugged my arm off and carried on walking. I watched him go and was about to follow when my Auntie Jean opened the front door and called me inside in a tone that told me I was in trouble. With a quick last look at Hayden legs disappearing into the Den I walked down my garden path and into the disapproving glare of my Auntie Jean. For once it didn’t scare me.
Instead of rushing out of the house first thing the next day, I complained of a sore tummy. My mum took my temperature and narrowed her eyes. “You don’t feel hot” she said but I looked downcast and refused breakfast. “Hmmm..I’ll have to get your Auntie Jean to come and sit with you, go back to bed then” she said with a sigh as I walked slowly back upstairs. I picked a book from my shelf and climbed back into bed. Safe under my covers I heard my Auntie Jean arrive and my mum leave. Sometime after the doorbell rang and I heard my Auntie Jean tell David I wasn’t coming out to play.
I tip-toed out of bed and slowly pulled back the curtains. David was leaning on my garden wall, looking right up to my window. I jumped back from the window and closed the curtain. My heart was beating loudly in my chest.
I managed to play sick for two more days before being sent out ‘for fresh air’. I swung on the front gate and looked longingly back towards my house.
“hi” said David from behind me, I jumped off the gate and turned around.
“where were you?” he said, he sounded a bit cross. In his hand he had the stick. My stick.
“I was sick” I said and looked down.
When I looked back up at him he was scowling at me.
“the magazine’s gone” he said
“oh” I said and tried to look surprised. I pulled a leaf from the bush and started to tear it down the middle “did you find a place to hide it?” I swallowed.
“no” he said quickly, “it was gone the next day”
“Oh” I said, I discarded the torn leaf on the ground and picked another.
“did you take it?” he said looking at me.
I stood up straight and looked him right in the eyes “No I didn’t” I said my cheeks flushing, “why would I want that dumbass thing”. His eyes widened at my curse but he carried on looking at me. I stared defiantly back. I wondered if we were going to fight.
We stood for a while and then he rested back onto my garden wall, I picked another leaf and began tearing it down the middle.
“Do you want to go to the Den?” he said eventually.
I shrugged. I was glad he was still my friend. We walked down the street towards the Den and climbed in. We sat in silence opposite each other. It didn’t feel much like fun.
“Have you ever kissed anyone” David said suddenly. I looked at him. Why was he talking about kissing. We didn’t talk about stuff like this.
“No” I said.
“Do you want to?” he pressed on.
“No” I said.
We sat in silence for a few more minutes.
“shall we ride our bikes?” I said
“No” he said quickly
We sat in silence a bit longer.
I let out a few big audible sighs, trying to show him I was bored.
“I think you’re pretty you know” he said
I looked at him and felt my cheeks go hot. The heat went all the way up to my ears.
I wanted to get out of the Den and go and ride my bike.
“I wonder what the others are doing?” I said finally.
“I’ve kissed a girl before, in Spain” he said ignoring me.
“Oh” I said. I didn’t know what to say and I really didn’t want to know. Kissing was stupid. Kissing is what my Dad did to my Mum when he left for work.
“Helen?” he said.
I couldn’t look at him. “Yeah?”
“Can I kiss you?”
I looked at him and the silent understanding passed between us that we always did what he said. I looked away.
I thought about it. I didn’t want to kiss. I looked across at him sitting opposite me in the Den. He had his blue jumper on, my stick was across his knees. He was watching me, waiting for my answer. I thought about Hayden and last summer. He had suddenly started trying to hold my hand. At first he did to help me up when I fell over. Then he did it for no reason. I would catch him looking at me, not saying anything, just looking. We had sat in the same den last summer when he asked if he could kiss me. I had shrugged and we did. Things turned awkward after that and I started to play with David more. Sometimes I missed playing with Hayden and I knew, I just knew things would be weird with David too now. I wondered what my dad would say. I know my mum would say I shouldn’t be playing with the boys anyway. I sighed. There was only one way to win this.
“Ok” I said slowly.
” but’ I paused, ‘ only if I can have the stick”.
He looked down at the stick for a while then shrugged. I put my hand out for it. He handed it over.
Then he leaned forward, pursing his lips, I copied him and our lips briefly met somewhere in the middle of the Den.
I pulled backwards and wiped my mouth.
He pulled backwards and wiped his.
I couldn’t look him in the eyes.
We sat in silence for a few minutes but it seemed like forever.
“Do you want to ride our bikes now?” I said
“Yeah” he said diving towards the Den exit, “bet I can beat you there”
I smiled and scrambled after him, taking my stick.