Not so deep that you pass out, but deep enough to relax you into a state of such super coolness that you’ll pretty much glide up that finely paved driveway, knock on the door and ask her out. I try a few more deep breaths and then stop before I hyperventilate right here in the street. Her house is in the middle of the street, a semi-detached new build that screams ‘Yes, the area I was built in may be a little troublesome from time to time, but living in this house you’ll forget all that’.
It’s probably got four bedrooms with en-suite, the windows are double glazed, dark brown frames against pale, expensive brickwork and she has a garage that’s attached to the house. Whatever her dad does for a living he must be good at it.
In my head I replay the conversation that got me here.
I was sat on the wall by the art block. Ste, my best friend, was with me. We only had half an hour for dinner but he’d been back to the canteen three times already. As usual on summer days the girls in our year liked to sit in a group on the grass and gossip the time away; a ring of male spectators had gathered, keeping their distance just enough to avoid detection but watching them closely. We were in that ring but I was only watching one girl, Jo. We only had a few lessons together but it was enough for me to fall in love with her.
“She told me she likes you,” said Ste, trying to impale as many chips onto the small, plastic fork as he could manage; those he couldn’t made a bid for escape over the side of the tray, dinner for the birds once we’d left the yard.
“Are you sure?” I asked him again. There were two reasons why I’m not convinced; one, a girl like Jo wouldn’t ever like me and two, I’ve known Ste my whole life and ninety-eight percent of what comes out of his mouth is crap.
“Trust me.” When he sees the look on my face he decides to elaborate. “She told Claire that she likes you-“
“You said she told you herself.”
He waved his hand in the air as though who said what wasn’t really important. I ducked the chips that flew off the folk.
“I meant she told Claire and Claire told me. I wasn’t supposed to know but I couldn’t keep that from you.”
As he fills his mouth with more chips I try to weigh up what’s worse, the girl of my dreams fancying me or her best friend’s shocking morals on confidentiality.
“Should I ask her out here, at school?” I ask myself aloud. Ste thinks I’m asking him. He shakes his head and I’m glad he hasn’t tried to talk with food in his mouth. Eventually he swallows. It’s like a snake swallowing a goat.
“Go round to her house after school and ask her,” he says as if he does this kind of thing all the time. I know he doesn’t since he has the same luck as I do with girls.
I try for the gate and it’s stuck, the bloody thing won’t open. Is this a sign? I’m trying desperately to get it open while at the same time trying to keep a cool exterior should anyone happen to glance out of their window. A small amount of light kicking and eventually it swings open and emits a high pitch screech of rusted hinges, like a warning system. Hopefully not one for an attack dog. Does she own a dog? She’s never said. Jesus, what if I’m savaged in her front garden? There aren’t any warning stickers in the window, though. You’ve got to warn people if you’re housing a four legged, ferocious killing machine. I read that somewhere.
I’m purposely dawdling now, admiring plants that I’ll never know the names of, following the intricate pattern of the crazy paving. The closer I get to the house the harder it will be to ask her. If I continue to panic this much my brain will surely seize.
Get a grip! I tell myself. She’s known you ages, she’ll be pleased, if a little surprised to see you at her door but that won’t matter. Once you ask her and she says yes then you’ve cracked it. You can crack a few jokes and stride off into the sunset leaving her breathless at the front door, unable to contain her excitement at your date the following night . . . you hope.
I’m at her door. Do I use the door knocker or bell? Is there a system? My hand hovers, unsure, between the two. Is the door knocker for friends and family and the bell for salesmen and extremely nervous fourteen year olds? What do I do? Help, please anyone!
“Excuse me, mate.”
I spin around so quick that I almost turn a full 360. A man is standing by the gate dressed in a dark blue courier uniform, holding a clipboard and a package under his arm. I didn’t even hear his van pull up. He looks about thirty, unshaven and quite tough; like an e-fit from Crime Watch.
“Yes?” I say, happy for the distraction.
“Is this 14 Hamble Drive?”
“Erm…” I look back at the door, no number anywhere. Why would you not have a door number on your house? “I er, don’t know.”
“Oh, right. I thought you lived here. It looked like you were unlocking the door that was all.”
“No, I don’t, mate.” Will he ask her for me? He can knock on the door and just tell Jo there’s a very nervous kid on the street who would like to go out with her. She’ll think it’s sweet.
“What’s the name of the family that live here?” He asks, while placing the clipboard on the wall and checking the parcel over. My mind’s gone blank again, I’ve managed to forget my future girlfriend’s last name, and I thought exam stress was a killer.
“I don’t know,” I tell him, weakly.
“Are you a friend or relative?” He looks concerned. Concerned that he’s got a chance to unload a parcel but he can’t tell if I’m an idiot or not.
“Erm…not really.” Oh god, I’m getting flustered, he’s making me even more nervous and I’m doing my best not to show it.
“Not really what?”
“I’m a friend.”
“You weren’t sure a second ago.”
“I’m a friend,” I assure him, but he doesn’t seem assured. He reaches for the pen behind his ear and taps the parcel. He’s weighing me up, sussing if I know what I’m talking about. It won’t be long before he realises I don’t.
“A friend of whom?”
“Claire.” That’s not her name, you fool. “No Joanne, I mean, Jo.”
“Are you sure you know them?”
How has none of her family heard this conversation? There’s a man getting ever more incensed by a pointless conversation with a school boy in their garden and so far not one person has ventured outside to investigate. The Courier’s not keen on going anywhere because he’s now resting on the wall by the gate. Maybe I could reason with him? Explain the situation to him and he might understand. He might have been an idiotic fourteen year-old once.
“What are you doing at the door?” The laid back approach he had before has now disappeared and he’s looking at the other houses in the street when he asks his question. He thinks I’m up to no good, like her father will.
“I was going to knock.”
“You looked like you were fiddling with the lock.”
“I’m expected,” I lie. None of her family will back that story up if it comes down to me having to prove it. The Courier knows this.
“Well knock then.”
“Why?” I try to stall, but he knows what I’m doing.
“Because you’re expected.”
“No.” I tell him straight.
“I knew it,” he says. He begins to rub his chin while he thinks what he could do with me. There’s a sound of a door unlocking and Jo’s next door neighbour sticks his head out. I can tell he’s going to be a problem; he looks like he should be in magazines, selling life insurance or stair lifts. Eighty with grey hair and moustache, military look about him, the sort of person who sees nothing but bad news with anyone under the age of thirty.
“What’s going on?” he asks, straining at the neck like a tortoise.
“I’ve come to deliver this parcel and I’ve found this kid acting suspiciously by the front door,” the Courier tells him, instantly creating two against one.
“He was acting suspiciously by the front garden, earlier.”
“How?” I ask, tone a few octaves too high.
He’s outraged I’ve questioned him. “You were stood looking at the house for ten minutes,” he says, stepping out into his garden. He’s dressed in trousers, shirt and tie and a v-neck jumper. I almost expect war medals as well. Unless his house has air conditioning, wearing that outfit in this heat can’t be good for anyone, any age. “I thought you were lost but you were looking to see if anyone was at home.”
“That’s what I thought,” said the Courier, holding his hands out now he’s found someone who agrees with him. He points at me. “But he says he’s expected.”
“You’re expected?” the old man repeats, shaking his head.
“Yes I am.” Throughout all this the panic isn’t fading and I don’t move from the spot. I feel like I’m on trial.
“Who’s expecting you, then?” the old man asks.
“Jo,” I stress. “Jo is expecting me.” I pray this will end it.
“Well, you’ll struggle there I’m afraid,” he informs me. “She went out with her dad, earlier.”
A wave of relief crashes over me; I won’t have to embarrass myself. It’s instantly followed by a tsunami of realisation that I’ll be no closer to getting the girl of my dreams.
“I’m phoning the police.” The Courier takes out his mobile phone.
“Hang on a minute,” I protest, hands flapping about wildly.
“There has been a spate of burglaries around here,” states the old man pointing at me and raising his voice as if he wants the entire street to know. “I knew it was kids. You’ve got some nerve stealing from houses in broad daylight.”
“But I know Jo.”
“From school, that’s probably how you found out the house was empty,” says the Courier, as if he’s just solved a mystery on Scooby-Do. He puts the phone to his ear. “Yeah, police? I want to report an attempted burglary . . .”
“I’m not a bloody burglar!” I shout.
The old man has shuffled over to the fence in his slippers, getting very excited at the prospect of me being arrested for something I haven’t done.
“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” he says to me. “Margo saw someone the other day in Mrs Higginbotham’s garden; she’ll be able to say whether it was you or not, won’t she?”
“What number’s this house?” the Courier asks the old man. He still doesn’t know if he’s at the right address.
“Fourteen, Hamble Drive.”
The Courier looks at me as if to say you should have just accepted the parcel. The old man is already making his way across the road to the adjacent house where, I assume, Margo lives. He knocks on the door and an old lady, about his age, greets him. They spend a few minutes having a hushed conversation. The Courier hangs the phone up and stares over at the old couple talking.
“The police will be here soon,” he says to me.
“I’ll just head off home.” I begin to make my way out of the garden but the Courier blocks my way.
“Too late, mate. You can’t sneak your way out of this.”
The old man has obviously asked Margo but she’s struggling because she’s pointing at a tree. He moves her arm in my direction and she nods wildly. What can only be described as a sprint for an eighty year-old brings him back across the road, shaking with either excitement or illness, hard to say which.
“She says it’s him,” he says. “She’s a hundred percent sure. She says you were trying to get into Mrs Higginbotham’s shed. Probably trying to steal her lawn mower and sell it for drugs.”
“I’m not on drugs,” I protest. The Courier laughs; at least someone is finding humour in all this.
“You all are,” says the old man. “You probably have a knife, as well.”
“You could put any kid in this spot and that old woman would say that’s who she saw in the garden.”
I’ve horrified the old man. “Are you calling Margo a liar?”
“I think he is,” says the Courier, enjoying himself until the police arrive.
It’s not long before I can hear a car and judging by the curtain twitching from every house on the street I know it’s the police without having to look around. It’s just my luck to get a policeman eager to break the world record for the fastest response to crime in progress. I’m sure the Courier has phoned him directly.
All I wanted to do was ask Jo out. Why is everything I ever do marred by unrelenting problems? Nothing ever seems to go right for me. Will this continue into my late teens, early twenties?
The police car pulls up in front of the Courier’s van and I can see eager heads bobbing about in gardens down the street. A father has even put his child on his shoulders to watch the teenager get arrested; they’ll probably start chanting for me to be tasered. I’m going to be arrested for a crime I didn’t commit. Maybe Jo will hear about this in school on Monday and she’ll rush to see me in court before I’m sentenced? Maybe not.
The policeman unfolds himself from the car and begins to walk his six foot six frame over to Jo’s garden. He’s the same age as the Courier and looks like he’d be better suited to smashing down the doors of suspected drug dealers, or chasing rioters with a shield and bat. The Courier has left his post hoping to meet the policeman and give his version of events before I get the chance. The old man also has his back to me, but that doesn’t stop him pointing at me.
I decide, against better judgement, to make a run for it.
It’s difficult to know who shouted first, the old man, the Courier or the policeman. As I jump the front gate I can hear all three at once; and as I frantically run in the direction that has the least spectators, I realise that the Courier and the policeman are giving chase. Whatever story the Courier told him must have done the job because the look on the policeman’s face tells me I’m in deep trouble if he catches me. I’ve never been a keen runner but I have found that when pushed it can change.
I look on this whole episode as an argument for why we need email and social networking sites rather than face to face communication. I know all this could’ve been avoided by simply sending a text message to her, but I thought maybe knocking on her door might add to the romance. I’m still thinking about this as I take the next turn off the street.
And a car hits me.
Or maybe I hit the car, both seem plausible as the car was going under the speed limit and I was trying to break the speed limit when we connected.
There’s a scream and I glance up to see a man, early forties, his face as white as chalk sat behind the wheel and doing his best to comprehend that he’s just hit a child with his car. I’m surprised to see Jo in the passenger seat, hands over her mouth in shock. I smile at her as I slowly begin to slide off the bonnet and onto the road.
The Courier and the policeman have caught me up and are trying to help me. I try to count how many organs have ruptured being careful not to confuse winding with internal haemorrhaging but the way this morning is going I wouldn’t rule out a slow and painful death.
Jo climbs out of the car and kneels down beside me; she is crying and gathers my head (still attached to my body) in her arms. She’s been riding horses, there’s a strong smell of manure. Her long blonde hair falls across her face and she looks gorgeous, if a little puffy eyed. She strokes my forehead and tells me it will be alright, and that I’m not to worry.
Her dad hitting me meant not only was there no objection to me taking Jo out on a date but I also got to pick the film. She still flatly denies there was any cryingor head holding, she claims she stayed in the car until the ambulance arrived.