By Jamie Vesta
Ladywell Grove School was like an angular puzzle, all paving blocks and bridges of glass. Children in school ties and wine-red sweaters flocked the corridors, teasing and jostling, darting and shouting. Everything was skiddy floors, steaming anoraks, teachers telling kids to hurry up and get to class.
Marty’s feet were damp from the puddles of last night’s rain. He hated the rough, adolescent tumble of school. Some building work, which had been rumbling on since the summer, had introduced new blocks, passages, steps and railings. He wasn’t even sure where his temporary classroom was. The school had sent a letter, of course, but he had lost it.
The Christmas holiday had slipped away with dreadful speed, and when he had opened his eyes to the muggy light through his curtains that morning, he had blinked, groped for his dreams, lost them, and groaned. He did not want to get up, even less to put on the school uniform waiting for him on the chair like an order of execution. He always felt a little silly in the tie and creased trousers, as if he did not belong in them.
The worst of returning to school was the girls. He barely saw a girl when on holiday, except for his sister Gabby. Here in Ladywell Grove there were hundreds, and they provoked in Marty both lust and fear. A shrill wolf-whistle made him turn apprehensively. Was it aimed at him? He couldn’t tell who’d done it. In your dreams, cow, he thought. They didn’t know who they were dealing with. Yeah, he was a player, a heart-breaker... His stooped neck straightened and thickened, his lanky arms swelled with muscles, his cheekbones shifted upwards. An aura of mystery and seduction tingled around him. Girls gazed shyly at him, aroused, whispering their excitement to one another as he strolled coolly by, magnificent, desirable —
Someone shoved past and Marty barged into a dark-haired girl.
“Why don’t you look where the hell you’re going?” she snapped. “Come and apologise, dickhead!”
Marty mumbled and tried to walk on, but found the girl had gripped his arm tightly. He turned to protest, then faltered. The girl was Emma Lamb.
Normally you were pleased to give Emma a second look. She was a fresh-faced, raven-haired beauty whom you longed to kiss or caress. Her strong young body was enticingly curvy in just the right places, and her ample tits bulged provocatively under her crisp school shirt. The trouble with Emma was that she was brassy and intimidating – one of the school’s alpha females. Her limpid blue eyes were now issuing a challenge unafraid of its consequences. The two girls with her stared at him too.
Shrinking away, he coughed to find his voice and muttered that he was sorry. Emma released him, and as he trudged away she gave him a smart cuff around the head that nearly made him trip over. “Hey!” he protested.
“Oh, you want to lodge a complaint?” she demanded. “Piss off before I wring your balls.” He went bright red and her two friends laughed. One of them squeezed her hands between her legs mockingly, wincing: “Ooh… ouch…”
Marty was mortified. Shaking his head in a big show of disgust, he set off down the corridor rather quicker than he needed to, glancing at his watch as if he was late for an important appointment.
Flapping a brace of papers, Mr O’Donnell was welcoming his tutor group to the new term. His nose was round and flushed, and he fingered it habitually as if suspicious of its having fallen off.
Sidling round the crowded and unfamiliar room, Marty sat down near the back, next to a mousy-haired boy he never spoke to. Thirty fifteen year-olds were chattering and fooling as they waited for Mr O’Donnell to call the register, but Marty hardly noticed them. He was still embarrassed and angry. What gave Emma the right to humiliate him over a little mistake? Girls were so high and mighty.
It was no good, though – his imagination was stirred by Emma’s challenging presence. He pictured her slipping into the chair next to him, her head cocked, mesmerising him with her eyes. He could almost feel her glossy black hair soft against his face and her hand reaching towards his lap to stroke his crotch. Blood surged to his loins and his cock swelled up in his gusset. Shit shit shit! He tried to manoeuvre his erection into a more discreet position, laid his blazer over his lap, then put a book there for good measure.
His erection paid this no attention and strained on, demanding satisfaction. Leaning forward in his seat, he imperceptibly offered it succour with one elbow.
“Martin Welling!” called Mr O’Donnell.
“Yes, sir,” he answered. Every head in the classroom seemed to swivel his way. He was suddenly terrified that everyone had noticed what he was doing. Sweat sprang out all over his skin.
Mr O’Donnell closed the register.
“Congratulations, everyone, on making it here for a new term – I’m sure we were all fed up with lounging at home playing video games and eating chocolate, weren’t we? [Groans.] Now before you go off to first period, we have some business to sort out, namely, we need to choose a new library monitor. I’ve been informed that our own dear talented Emily won’t be back for a few weeks due to illness. Of course we wish her well. Now as I hope you know, each tutor group chooses a monitor and then they work lunchtimes on a rota. – Anyone like to put themselves forward?”
Disinterest fidgeted its way through the room.
“Come on, you lot! It looks good in interviews, you know, shows you’ll get involved and take responsibility, all of that. Any of the boys fancy standing?”
There was a murmur.
“Come on, lads, it’s hardly Astrophysics, putting a few books on shelves a lunchtime or two a week!”
“We ain’t putting a boy on,” said Alice Dempsey.
“We ain’t,” said Mr O’Donnell, “or we aren’t?”
“What I mean, sir, is that everyone picks girls for stuff, so we should pick a girl too. Everyone on the Fifth Form Council’s a girl.” (“Not quite everyone, actually,” commented Mr O’Donnell, but Alice was still talking.) “‘Cos girls are smarter, aren’t they? I mean, what does a boy know?” She flapped her wrist scornfully: “Ooh, does this ribbon match my panties?”
“Boys rarely stand for positions of responsibility, Alice, so that’s why I’m keen to encourage one to stand. If the pupil councils are teeming with girls, that’s a good reason to elect a boy to things, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yeah, it is,” Marty spoke up, surprising even himself.
“Ah, you see, Marty gets it. Do you get it, Alice? Please tell me that your excellent brain can see the point, Alice, and that my teaching career has not been in vain?”
Alice sighed. “In principle, sir.”
“In principle. And I should point out that boy library monitors do, in fact, already exist. Marty, would you like to be our library monitor?”
“Wait up,” said Samaira Rose. “My vote’s with Alice.” Yeah, murmured some female voices. “You have to elect the best candidate, and girls are better than boys at everything.”
Marty hated that smug know-it-all Samaira Rose. He hated how everyone was looking at him now to see what else he would say. And he was upset with Mr O’Donnell for picking on him. Marty had never really put himself forward for anything. But after the irritable encounter with Emma, and listening to these bossy, arrogant females in the group, he decided, what the hell, let’s get some boy power here. Do it for Dad.
“Yes,” he said, “I’m a candidate.”
“Good,” declared the teacher in satisfaction, glancing at his watch. “A boy who is thinking of his career.”
Trev Short called out, “Careers are for swots, ain’t they?”
Mr O’Donnell took off his glasses and polished them with the end of his tie, sighing in disappointment. “Careers are for swots, you say? Let me ask you a follow-up question, Trevor. And this goes for every boy here, except for Marty. Why do you bother getting up in the morning? Can you tell me that, hmm? Why oh why do you even bother?”
Despite the sneers of Alice and Samaira, no one else troubled to volunteer, so Marty was duly appointed – he was to report for an induction at lunchtime.
Maths, followed by Physics. A tough double bill for Marty. They were complicated subjects, and he couldn’t see the point in putting much effort into them. He wasn’t going to be a mathematician or a physicist, was he? Through the huge windows the football field was dissolving under a sheet of rain. Ms Blenkinsop frisbeed their exercise books across the room and began discussing electrical current. Marty sat with his mates – Billy Rowan, Peter Hancock and Alistair Blair – and quietly mucked about.
After eating his lunch he reported to the library amongst a dozen other monitors. A Sixth Form girl prefect with a brunette pixie cut and immaculate uniform, who was in charge of the monitors, explained their simple duties and efficiently set a rota. Most of the volunteers were female and Marty felt a bit self-conscious, like he was being a goody-goody. But he was pleased that he’d stepped forward to redress the gender imbalance. He thought, this job won’t be so bad. Dad would be pleased.
The library was one of his favourite places in Ladywell Grove, because there was always a member of staff, and the occupants were unthreatening. It was like a benign refuge from the shrieks, jostling, name-calling and competition of the daily struggle fought out on the asphalt playground below.
Yet even here, life followed and provoked him. As the induction broke up he overheard two boys at a table nearby chatting over a fashion magazine.
“I don’t think that sort of makeup suits me,” one boy whispered.
“I really love that glittery nail polish,” said the other, pointing to a page of the magazine. “That and a pink lipstick looks dead pretty. My girlfriend adores me in it. I’ll lend them to you.”
Marty stomped past and glowered through the big steamed-up windows. He hated sissy talk. Both boys were wearing tights and short pleated skirts, their shoulder-length hair girlishly styled. One even had a little blue ribbon in his hair. Some boys dressed ‘like girls’ because their mothers gave them no choice, and fine, that situation Marty could understand. But some boys really liked it.
There was nothing new any more about boys being allowed to wear skirts instead of trousers to school: since the uniform code was amended a few years ago, lots of boys at Ladywell Grove wore them, noticeably more, in fact, than girls. Girls these days tended to regard the trappings of old-style femininity with disdain. They outperformed boys in school, won all the pupil elections, took all the jobs and would earn all the money. ‘The future is female,’ the media loved to say; ‘boys are the new girls.’
These were times of change and confusion; they were strange times.
But Marty knew what he wanted. Of course he did. He wanted to stroll cool and assured into parties and for girls in sexy dresses to fancy him and shower him with kisses. He wanted to walk into a decent job without having to swot loads of boring school subjects first. He wanted to know precisely what his place was in the world, and for womenfolk to treat him with respect. And he wanted his Dad to come home.
Marty stared out of the window at the playground below and the kids racing and shouting. He didn’t really want to leave the safety of the library. The world out there was sometimes more than he could deal with.
As everyone streamed out of Ladywell Grove at the end of the day, Marty found Noel Walsh malingering on the school steps, hunched with boredom. Noel’s lip boasted a juvenile, scrubby moustache which he refused to shave off. He greeted Marty by raising his eyebrows while tipping his head rapidly up then down again.
“All right, mate,” he said, gradually cracking a grin.
“New year, eh?” said Marty.
“Yeah,” said Noel, with a sulky wheeze. He shook his head, then stood up and demanded: “How game are you?”
“For what?” asked Marty in trepidation.
“What do you reckon to a fag?”
“’S all right.”
“Ever done it?”
“Nyaaah,” Noel mimicked. “That’s a ‘no’, then. Trouble with you, Welling, is you’re such a wuss. Everyone fucking smokes. I don’t know why I let you hang around me.”
Marty looked so crestfallen that Noel relented. In a very posh voice, he cried: “Kids today! What the blazes is going on in our schools?” They both laughed. “Come on, Marty mate, and get a real education.”
Noel was not much of an academic, but he won admiration from his male peers by messing around and talking back to teachers. He and Marty had been as thick as thieves in primary school. Since starting at Ladywell Grove they had grown apart, but their lives still crossed paths, and Marty was happy enough to follow as Noel led him through the trails of departing schoolkids to a far corner of the grounds. Here there was a secluded cluster of outhouses, next to an allotment kept by the Natural Science department.
“Don’t panic, guys,” said Noel loudly as they approached. A couple of heads peered alertly round the corner of a shed. A small group of boys was huddled in the damp, drawing on cigarette stubs and talking mutedly. Everyone nodded to each other. Noel took out a cigarette packet. Marty was a bit nervous. He didn’t really know the other boys and was worried about what they thought of him. And he was worried too that a teacher would hail them angrily any second.
“Here,” said Noel, extending the open packet. “My fucking last fag. Use it wisely.”
Marty took the cigarette and turned it between his fingers.
“Light up, you spaz,” said someone.
Marty still revolved his cigarette.
“Come on, Welling.”
“All right, lads, he ain’t done it before,” Noel chided them. “Put it in your mouth,” he instructed, “and breathe in as I light it.” As soon as he put the flame to the tip Marty burst out coughing.
“What a loser!” scoffed someone.
“Bloody lightweight!” laughed Noel.
Marty rubbed his watering eyes angrily. It was foul. What did they expect from someone who’d never smoked before? Why couldn’t they be supportive? Abused by Emma Lamb in the morning – now he was being humiliated a second time.
Noel didn’t try and make Marty finish the fag. After a minute or two or bragging with the lads, Noel flicked his cigarette stub expertly into a bush, jerked his head at Marty, and loped towards a gap in the hedge that led to a housing estate.
“I don’t go that way,” Marty called after him.
Noel shrugged, and stuck up two fingers in perverse salute as he vanished into the drizzle.
When he got home, Marty hastened up the stairs to safety behind his bedroom door. The first thing he did was take off his school things and restore his sense of self by pulling on some tracksuit bottoms – until tomorrow, at least.
Marty’s room was typical of a ‘traditional’ boy. There was a bed with a striped duvet cover, and an IKEA wardrobe with one door that didn’t close properly. A small desk was littered with school bric-a-brac, CDs, a pair of plastic aliens from a cereal packet. The floor was strewn with trainers, socks, bits of paper and long-rejected action figures with missing limbs. He stepped closer to the wardrobe mirror and examined himself critically: the wrangle of hair that never took on a style, the indecisive eyes, and the slightly jug ears. He tried to assume a cool air, half-closing his eyes, raising his chin, momentarily transforming himself into a respected street kid. Intimate with the underclass, he could handle himself if there was any trouble, slipping cigarette packets to his followers, like a mafioso keeping cronies loyal with wads of dirty cash.
There was a knock on the door, and his sister Gabby filled the doorway. Wearing jeans and a checked shirt, she had short, ash-blonde hair and a snub nose. One finger hooked in her pocket, she studied him with the proprietorial air of an elder sibling.
“Have a nice day at school, Marty-mouse?” she grinned.
Marty put his hands on his hips in annoyance, but she stepped in regardless, brushing aside his things with her foot. “Yeah, yeah, fine. Just walk in, why don’t you?”
“Get yourself a girlfriend?” she teased, ignoring him.
“Eh? Give me a chance…”
“You don’t need a ‘chance’, because you’re my little Marty-mouse and you’re gorgeous.” She pouted as if to kiss him and tugged his cheek and he pulled away, but she kept on coming and they ended up grappling around the room.
“Don’t push me around,” he gasped, “I’m a library monitor now and we don’t take any shit!”
“Surrender,” she said through giggles, “or I will kick you and you know where.”
“Oh, I surrender,” said Marty.
“Thus are the library monitors fallen.”
They got their breath back for a few seconds. “Well, I have something for you,” she said. “Hang on.” She went briefly to her room next-door and returned with a corduroy skirt draped over one arm. “Here. I’ll never wear it and you’re about the same size as me.”
“What would I want with it?” he muttered.
“To wear, silly,” said Gabby. “You know loads of boys are wearing skirts these days. Try it: it would suit you, I think.”
“I don’t want it!” he protested aghast. “I’m a boy. You know: boy?”
“That’s the last time I do you a favour!” Gabby sniffed. They stood staring at each other for a few seconds. “Well you might as well take it, I don’t want it lying around my room.”
Marty blustered, but she began to smirk at his discomforture, and this was worse than giving in. He took the skirt gruffly to shut her up.
“You’ll get a girlfriend in no time dressing like that.” With a growl, Marty shoved her unceremoniously out of the room. “I’m just saying!”
When she was gone, he collapsed onto his bed, and brooded. It was all very well joking around, but he didn’t want to wear skirts and wasn’t going to. Really, what an idea. He wished he did not have to get up tomorrow morning. It was a bloody awful time to be a boy.
Marty and many other boys seemed to muddle through school unable to find a purpose. Boys were being pushed into a corner: demoralised, confused about themselves and what masculinity meant in a world where the breadwinners were mostly women. Gabby, by contrast, was expected to earn straight As in her A-levels. She was talking of studying law, or management, or politics – she could do anything she chose. Today, girls were the high-fliers. They knew their star was ascendant, and were blooming with ambition, energy and pride. How had they done it? Where did they get their brains and confidence from? It was a mystery to Marty.
He secretly admired and envied girls because they could achieve anything. But he was also annoyed when he recalled his cowardice with Emma that morning. Noel at least would have stood up to her and given her some mouth.
Emma – ah, glorious, gorgeous Emma Lamb! His hand slid to his crotch, which he massaged slowly. There must be scores of boys in love with her. Here she was, slinking into his room and peeling the clothes from her lovely body. But his orgasm came before she was quite naked.
“Marty, have you done the washing up?”
His mother’s voice floated in from the hall. Marty called out, “I’m doing it!” Hands wet inside the rubber gloves, a sheen of sweat on his brow, he had paused for a long time over the hot sink to dream about Emma and the intoxicating loveliness of her body pressing against his. Now he got back to work, vigorously scrubbing the black-bottomed pan till his arm ached.
Mum came in, setting her briefcase down on the table. It was two weeks into term now and the January weather continued to be miserable: her overcoat was spotted with rain.
“Is Gabby in?”
“She’s doing homework.”
“Did you put the washing in?”
He started. “Oh, no – I forgot.”
“Don’t worry, but there’s two loads need doing, and Gabby’s school things need ironing. I won’t have time...”
“I’ll do it, mum.”
“If you would, love. I have a governors’ meeting this evening and I need to look through a report.”
He was making coffee as Gabby breezed in, tucking her hair behind one ear. “Babe, haven’t you ironed my things yet?”
“Yeah, yeah, soon.”
When they had gone he put the radio on and set to work, sipping his hot sweet coffee. He carefully manoeuvred the iron over his sister’s shirts, put a crease on her trousers. Turning the radio up, he paused to mime guitar. “D’you know what I meeeeean...” He began to strum, prowl, and strut, a rapacious young troublemaker. Mum put her head in. “Can you turn it down? Your sister’s got studying to do.”
“She never minds disturbing me!” Marty complained.
She sighed impatiently. “It’s hardly the same thing, is it, Gabby has university to think of.”
“Just ‘cos she’s a girl!” he sulked as he turned it down.
“Don’t be ridiculous. She finishes her A-Levels this year. – If you’re going out, just see if she wants anything, dear.”
Marty was meeting his mates at the youth club, so he looked in on Gabby as soon as the ironing was done. She was stretched out on her bed, reading a textbook.
“Mum says do you want anything done?”
She glanced at him languidly. “Have you ironed my things?”
“Yes, they’re downstairs.”
“What use are they down there? Bring them up!”
Gabby could get moody and this was clearly one of her days. He fetched the ironing and crossly laid it on her chair, growling: “I wouldn’t mind seeing you do some housework round here!”
“I have more important things to do.”
“Yeah, yeah, big career girl.”
“Yes, and you’re my little brother, and you know what that makes you? My bitch.”
Furious, he banged out of the house and marched headlong down the road. What was he, her personal servant? Why should she call him horrible names? As he pounded the damp paving stones, the scene whirled around his head. Don’t you dare talk to me like that, you cow! You do my ironing, you cow. “Yes, Marty, I’m sorry, Marty, I’ll do it straight away.” Passing through the park, he turned his phone on. A message from Alistair: won’t see you at the club, mate. And another, from Dad. Brilliant! A message from Dad! He rushed to a bench and sat down to read it.
“Hey kid. Hope new terms going OK. Pull your finger out, Marty, your a smart lad and I dont want you throwing that away. Sorry to report I’m still out of work. Plus housing benefit cuts = cant afford my room so got to find new one. Harassed! Love, Dad.”
Marty frowned. He hadn’t see his father for two months and he hated how things kept going wrong for him. Life could be confusing for a man these days, and when you wouldn’t adapt, well, your wife kicked you out, and as a man surviving on your own was particularly hard. Marty still hadn’t really forgiven his mother. He tapped out a couple of supportive sentences as he trudged, much slower now, through the park.
The youth club was based in a long, low community centre. Kids from Ladywell Grove sometimes liked to hang out there on evenings after school. Marty found his mates Billy and Peter sitting lugubriously with Noel on a couch in the lounge hall. A few groups of kids sat around the edges of the room chatting and thumbing their phones. In the centre a group of five or six girls were laughing around the pool table. Marty noticed that Emma was with them. But he was so pissed off by Gabby and his Dad’s predicament that he didn’t look at her.
The boys were bored and didn’t have much to say, sitting forward on their seats, heads plunging down from their shoulders. Between the silences they discussed the latest developments in the men’s Premier League and compared scores at the latest shoot-‘em-up.
Noel boasted about how he’d pulled a girl at a party. “You should have seen the talent there, lads,” he grinned. Marty nodded and grinned in turn – just imagine going to a party and chatting up girls… He couldn’t expect to snog Emma at a party, or anyone, probably. Oh, why was he so crap and boring? If he only had some money he could smarten himself up. But then he’d have to explain himself to Gabby, who’d tease him intolerably.
“I wouldn’t mind groping some of that lot, for example,” Noel went on, nodding towards the pool table.
The boys glanced over and their gazes lingered above all on Emma Lamb. Emma was quite something. She took pride in her appearance, always clean, well-dressed and beautiful, her hair shining and carefully brushed back, and she carried herself with graceful self-confidence. She was extremely bright. She looked at people with clear, honest eyes. She expressed her opinions so forcefully that you didn’t dare contradict her. She was generally patronising towards boys and took the superiority of her sex for granted. She was, in short, the quintessential modern girl.
Like most of the other kids, Emma had changed into her own clothes after school. Under her white jumper the top of a turtleneck made a black band around her elegant neck. It drove Marty mad thinking of the lithe young body beneath. Her buttocks rolled in her tight trousers like fruit. Not for him, he thought wrathfully, there was nothing there for him. So screw her and screw them all.
The female group chatted loudly, dominating the hall with their laughter. There was a cheer as one girl potted the final black.
“Could play pool,” Noel drawled, with an exaggerated wink.
Billy shook his head. “Those girls won’t give up the table.”
“Told us to piss off, earlier,” said Peter. He tittered, trying to turn it into a joke.
“That’s not bloody fair,” Marty complained. “It’s for everybody.” He was in no mood for bossy girls.
“Yeah, well, we know you ain’t going to do anything about it,” said Noel. “We all know Emma Lamb’s a ball-breaker.” There was a murmuring of agreement.
Emboldened, Marty spoke up. “No, we’ll put our money down and bag the next game.”
No one spoke.
“Anyone got any money?”
No one spoke.
“I’m broke, mate,” Peter shrugged.
“I’ve got some change,” said Noel, becoming interested. He rummaged in his pockets.
Marty took it and approached the pool table, drawing courage from having his mates there. Noel called out loudly, “Go on, my son!” and sniggered.
“Today library monitor,” said Billy in a dramatic voice, “tomorrow the world.”
The girls, who were themselves fingering coins, stopped and stared as Marty walked up and put the money on the edge of the pool table.
“What are you doing?” demanded Emma. He doubted if she recognised him from that incident on the first day of term – it was two weeks ago now and they didn’t share any classes.
“Booking the table for the next game.”
The girls formed a circle around him and his heart began to pound.
“We told you lot already,” said Kerry Laverne, a pretty mixed-race girl with green, almond eyes. “We’re using it.”
“Oh come on, you hadn’t put any money down to bagsy the next game. The pool’s for everyone, we share it.”
“Not if we say you can’t,” Emma said, folding her arms. She stood square on to him, making him recoil slightly, and leaned close. “If the girls want to play pool you have to do as you’re told – and get lost.” Their proud grins betrayed no fear. What could he do? Intimidated, he stomped away.
“Oh, daaarl-ing,” called Emma. “You forgot your eighty pee.”
Red-faced he returned to scoop it up, and tried to ignore the girls’ scorn as he trudged back to the couch, his moment of courage crushed. What made it especially mortifying was that he had felt bolder than normal and even that hadn’t been enough. Instead his pluck had swilled out through his feet, like water out of a sink, the moment the girls directed their brash, almost physical confidence at him.
“Girls are really getting above themselves,” he moaned in frustration. He stole a look back. Asha Bhaskar noticed and rolled her tongue around her mouth in mock temptation. She was a sexy cow and she knew it. Damn them all!
“Fuck ‘em,” said Noel. He started to complain about how boring the youth centre was.
“What are you lot whingeing about?”
Emma had walked over to their couch. She stood over them, turned and without asking sat down in the gap between Marty and Peter. She was a big girl and they had to quickly shift aside to make room for her. Her leg pressed firmly against Marty’s. Wow! she was hot.
“We reckon this place is shit,” said Noel.
“Well of course it is, if all you’re going to do is sit here and get depressed.” Emma leaned back and took out a cigarette. “Anyone got a light?”
“Foster’ll kill you!” gasped Peter. The youth club director was, of course, firmly against smoking.
“Foster!” She found a lighter in one of her pockets and lit up. “You’re such a bunch of cowards.” (“I ain’t,” snarled Noel, but she ignored him.) “Skulking and whining and bunking off school. – Move over.”
“Sorry, Emma,” said Marty, giving her more room. She had a nerve, after what just happened, pushing in to their group as cool as you please. To his regret their legs no longer touched, but the incendiary pressing of limbs had been enough to excite his boyhood, which stiffened and pulsed in his trousers. In a fog of arousal, he dreamed of how easily he could reach over and grasp her firm and lovely tits.
Emma took a long, calm draw of her cigarette. “Look, we were a bit rude just then. We were only taking the piss.”
“You’re telling me!” said Marty. Oh my God, oh my God, she was right there, so close he could see her lips gleam and her breath, made seductively visible by the smoke, kissed the air about him. He tried to breathe in the smoke, from her lungs to his.
“Now, now, don’t be ungracious. You lot can play after this frame if you want.” Emma inspected them for a second. The boys, painfully conscious of her sex appeal, were craning forward, keen to be absorbed into her conversation, though too awkward to know what to say. “Any parties coming up?”
Peter said: “Dunno. Don’t think so. I think Natasha’s having one for her birthday but hers are a bit crap.”
“Come on, Peter, a party’s a party, it must be worth getting out of the house for.” She lowered her lovely eyelids, edged closer with a luscious smile. “Listen to some good tunes, move that bod. There must be parts of you that never get used for anything.” She crossed her legs in Peter’s favour. Peter’s face went red.
Marty thought, what about me? I’m here. Fuck it, what about me? It’s Kerry Laverne that Peter fancies.
“Dancing, boys, I meant for dancing,” Emma went on, pleased with herself.
“I thought I’d go,” said Marty.
“Yeah, you should all go along, wear some nice dresses. Boys look so sexy in dresses. If I was headteacher the first thing I’d do would be to take the trousers option off the boys’ uniform. It would be so cool to see you all in compulsory skirts. Trousers for the girls of course. What do you reckon?”
“Leave it out,” spat Noel. There was a male consensus that this should be avoided at all costs.
“You bunch of dinosaurs!” Emma leaned over and rapped on Noel’s head with her fist. “Hello – modern world calling! Time to get pretty, cretins!”
“Leave it out!” said Noel.
“My little brother loves dresses,” Peter admitted, to keep Emma’s attention, and got dark looks from his mates.
Marty was growing more upset by the second. He resented Emma’s beauty, her complacency – and her flirting with Peter, even though it meant nothing to her. “People should wear what they like.”
“Yeah, well, as time goes on you will probably find yourselves wearing dresses anyway,” sniffed Emma, “because your wives will tell you to. Let’s face it, no scrotes are going to be making any decisions because scrotes are a bunch of losers. Girls are loads more intelligent and better at everything – even the thickest girl in school’s cleverer than you lot. All the blokes nowadays are keeping house and living out their wives’ wallets. It’s a woman’s world now. We fucking rule. So you’d better get used to girls telling you what to do.” With these prophetic words she gave herself a luxurious stretch.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Marty demanded. “I’ve had enough of bloody girls getting above themselves. That’s people’s lives you’re talking about and you don’t care so long as you get your power trip. Well we’re just as good as you are and you’re… you’re all bitches.”
The word, still looming in his imagination from earlier, came out unbidden, and its insulting power stunned the group. Emma looked amazed. “Don’t you talk to me like that, you little prick.”
“And what are you going to do?” he demanded, suddenly afraid.
“Smack you in the goolies, is what.” She leapt up and loomed over him, jabbing a finger in his face. Shit, Emma was a scary girl. For the second time this term he met the challenge of those clear blue eyes. “You don’t call me a bitch, not me or any girl.” He shrivelled backward. He knew he was no match for her. Ghastly anecdotes of her aggression raced through his mind – girls wrestled to the ground by their hair, boys reduced to whimpers by testicles wrenched, gouged or booted.
The other boys stayed quiet. The girls at the pool table noticed something was happening.
“Take it back, then.” Emma folded her arms. Oh, why would she not let up? He couldn’t capitulate in front of his mates and anyway, this was for Dad. Yeah, one for you, Dad. Why wouldn’t his mates speak up for him? What a bunch of limp cocks.
Everyone waited in the tense silence.
“Fucking take it back!”
“No,” Marty stammered. “You shouldn’t stir it up.”
She began a movement, on the brink of smacking him in the face. Then her arm fell as Foster opened the far door and swirled into the hall in her maxi skirt, a fat file clutched to her bosom. Close to retirement, her eyesight wasn’t great. “Everything happy, youth clubbers?” she called, but she always said that.
“You’re going to regret it,” Emma hissed into Marty’s face. “Say goodbye to your balls while you still have them.” She paused for a threatening moment, then turned and strutted magnificently back to the pool table.
Billy whacked him in the arm. “God’s sake, Marty, watch your mouth! You know what Emma’s like.”
“She pissed me off. You should have been pissed too.”
“She was only teasing. If you give her mouth, she’ll break all our balls. You can’t give those girls shit, Marty, they won’t take it.”
“Fucking ballbreakers,” said Noel. Throughout the encounter he had leaned back in the couch, a lanky, cynical observer. He nudged Marty. “Hey – I think she fancies you.”
The girls’ stares were blistering. “I’d get home before Foster disappears,” said Billy, and this advice was deemed wise by all.
(To be continued...)