Three Hoodies Save The World
Interstellar war was not at the top of David’s schedule as he jumped excitedly out of bed. At nine o’clock on Saturday morning such absurdities even plummeted below the trivial status of maths homework. Today, on his actual birthday, all that mattered were the immutable demands on a fourteen year old boy’s life. In strict order these were: looking cool, finding a girlfriend, not getting into trouble and of course, looking cool. A little shallow perhaps, but to a teenager the only realities worth considering.
First his white tee shirt, washed and bleached to the point of disintegration, slipped tightly over soon-to-be-buff shoulders. After a week of being crammed into the bottom of his wardrobe, his new jeans had attained the correct amount of creases, and subservient to the dictates of style, were several sizes too large. They sagged precariously low over his hips, forcing him to waddle like a penguin at times but such was the price of fashion. A week of dragging mum’s leg razor over his chin had left it red and painful but Sad-case, his friend, had assured him of his eventual reward in the form of an imminent growth of bristles.
Finally there was his new hoodie. A vast improvement on the last one which he'd 'accidentally' lost before burying deep under the rose bushes. God only knew where his mum had bought it. With enough material to make a sizeable tent, the thing had hung half way down his legs making him look like a total plonker. In fact he didn’t like wearing them at all, but his friends said it was like a uniform and not having one would automatically include him with the nerds, and a righteous victim of the school seniors. The idea of extracting his head from a filthy school toilet held little appeal; and what it would do to his credibility didn’t bear thinking about.
His one insistence at individualism which made the ‘uniform’ bearable were the half dozen badges of imaginary US fighter squadrons he’d found at a boot-sale and laboriously sewn all over it. All in all, just the biz. His mum had finally got it right. Normally the stuff she got for him was about eight eons out of date. Last Christmas she’d actually bought him a pair of flairs!
Now almost ready, it was time for the all-important mirror shot. Blue eyes gazed with well practised indifference just like he’d seen Vin Deisel do so many times. Admittedly Vin’s biceps were a bit bigger than his, but not for long. Last night he’d managed twenty five press-ups without stopping, and even though he hadn’t been able to move his arms for fifteen minutes afterwards, the effort would be worth it in the end.
A quick pump of his new air-trainers, a careless hand through his unruly blond hair and the effect was complete.
Two whole days until school began again so there was a lot to do. Two days could last forever when you were inventive and the whole world awaited your pleasure. And if nothing else, he was inventive. Aunty Joan had murmured that to his mum a few weeks ago. As usual adopting that deliberately vague tone adults always used in the presence of children when they didn’t really want you to know what they were talking about. And although he’d never been entirely sure there hadn’t some kind of slur lurking within the remark, it sounded good provided you didn’t actually think about it too much. Anyway, who cared?
But this star thing his mum had given him for his birthday present. He knew they weren’t exactly rolling in cash but surely a star must have cost quite a lot? Certainly more than a new skateboard, which was what he’d really wanted.
It was just a dot in an endless sea of other white dots. Even his mum hadn’t been entirely sure which one was his. And why it had it required a clump of his hair to pay for it? Sometimes his mum confused him as much as all the other adults who crossed his path with annoying regularity. Take last year’s birthday present: a walkie-talkie. Great; except there’d only been one in the box. Just like then, this had probably been a last minute panic buy.
The indecipherable photo now lay in the wardrobe with all the rest of his treasures that really should have been dumped years ago, especially the stuffed frog. A bit smelly now, even one of its eyes had fallen out. If the lads ever found out they’d never let him live it down. But it was also the one thing he couldn’t throw away because he’d given it to him.
‘What, an actual star? What a load of old wobblers! I got a mountain bike and it’s the best one you can buy.’ The phone call and Sad’s reaction still rang in his ears as he closed the front door. Even before he’d told him, David would confidently have staked a year’s pocket money on his friend's reaction to it.
First stop, Edna’s Caff, the closest thing they had to a fast food joint in this small town he now called home. Derrick and Sad-case would both be waiting, eager to know what his birthday had brought in the way of stuff. And Sad-case, well he’d be just like he always was when someone got something new. Nothing could ever impress him since he both owned and knew absolutely everything, or claimed to, anyway. He’d seen the film and bought the tee-shirt; although he hadn’t read the book. In fact any book unless it contained large colour pictures.
Not that he was thick or anything but Sad had a fundamental philosophy: if he had time to do anything even remotely constructive, like homework, then why not use it to antagonise a girl, or better still, annoy a grown up. And with his unusually large and heavily muscled body he usually got away with it. David remembered the science teacher mutter to the janitor that he was either a mutant or a throw-back. He had no idea what either meant but guessed they probably weren’t compliments
Sad-case wasn’t his actual name of course – even his parents didn’t hate him that much. But his utter loathing of his given name and his subsequent refusal to respond to it, regardless of the hideous punishments meted out to him by teachers, David had finally pronounced him a terminally Sad-case. His strange new friend seized the tribute with a strange pride and thus he had become.
David’s introduction to his new school had been at exactly the wrong time, which is to say half way through term long after all the other kids' friendships and alliances had already been formed. After wandering into his new classroom to find Sad-case scrawling something obscene on the blackboard, youthful intuition told him that this enormous boy would either become his greatest friend or his worst enemy. And as if hearing his thoughts, Sad-case had considerately offered to beat him senseless. Knowing there would be but one chance, David in return, had promised him a Vulcan nerve probe effective enough to make his eyes squirt out of his ears. A grudging respect had quickly grown into a firm friendship. Still, his middle name should have been piles because sometimes he could be a complete pain up the bum and absolutely no way would the throw-back spoil David’s big day. It only happened once a year and he was going to enjoy every moment.
‘Yeah, my own star. Beats a train set.’ This was true. The others nodded begrudgingly. A star of one’s own shouldn’t be sniffed at – metaphorically speaking.
Sad-case rubbed his slightly swollen jaw and frowned while blinking several times. His eyes were normally brown but today completely bloodshot. He hadn’t yet told them what he’d done to earn such a severe beating, but he would in his own time.
His hoodie, made of actual leather, looked like it had been run over by one of those machines the council used to tear up old roads, and bore some strange scorch marks on the back. All of which, David assumed, were the required effects of the rasp he’d borrowed from school. And he’d torn his own new jeans on the lathe, much to the consternation of their metalwork teacher who'd been forced to repair the bearings, again. As one of the few teachers actually larger than Sad; if he ever put two and two together, his friend wouldn’t be alive for his own birthday.
The third member of their gang burped disgustingly. Derrick’s mouth and chin, liberally coated with the triple cheese-burger he now savaged with zeal, dripped half chewed meat into an already stained lap. He might have been wearing his obligatory hoodie but neither of them felt brave enough to check. As usual it looked like a mobile version of what they often saw on the road outside pubs and curry shops on Saturday mornings.
‘What...oops.’ Thrusting a meaty arm carelessly towards his milk shake Derrick missed, spattering David's cola messily over his carefully prepared jeans. ‘Soz.’ Although much brighter than David or Sad-case - not that they would ever admit it to his face, he was also the clumsiest noid either had ever met. Though the word, little, hardly did him justice. Derrick's face, bereft of any distinguishing feature save numerous green-headed zits and a chin which wobbled obligingly every time he moved. He claimed to have an under active thyroid. And apparently this intangible medical condition bore no relation to the approximately half ton of food he forced down his neck everyday. A bit of a lard bucket perhaps; but their lard bucket and nobody would dare mess with him when they were together.
That such disparate characters had found friendship might have surprised others but they had never considered the ambiguity. Good friends were hard enough to find when the streets, and the schools, were just teeming with people ready and willing to do you harm. And that was just the teachers.
Their usual eatery seemed particularly dreary today cowering beneath low, rain filled clouds hovering mere feet above their heads. Edna's Caff wasn’t one of those bright flashy burger bars adorned with enough mirrors to make it seem as if there were twenty thousand people in there like on those telly adverts. Built about the time of the Second World War, or the Boer War, Sad-case had once sagely observed, it was small and gloomy with a low cobweb-covered ceiling and badly cracked support beams. The whole rotting edifice cowered beneath the side of an old slag heap the size of a moderate mountain and sometimes juddered alarmingly, promising to come down on their heads should there ever be a really serious rainstorm. No pretty girls with bright uniforms and even brighter smiles here. Just six cramped tables covered by garish and grimy plastic tablecloths huddled into an area about the size of David’s bedroom.
Admittedly Edna, if she really existed, did have one mirror. It hung from three rotting screws above the grotty orange box which served as the counter. A large jagged crack running from one corner to the other oozed grease so old it had grown hair and upon which were scrawled in red crayon several lists of burgers and varying species of fried food. It had obviously been there for some years if one were to believe that a sausage sandwich had once cost ten shillings, whatever that meant.
Maybe Edna might know, however the small balding man of indeterminate age and possessed of an infinite collection of cardigans that ran this micro empire was clearly not Edna. Unless this long-suffering person had an even greater abhorrence for his name than Sad-case. He ran the café with such benign dignity that by unspoken agreement none of his patrons, usually the kids from the local school, could find it in their hearts to misbehave. Even Sad-case didn’t want to see a grown man cry.
After taking a long breath Derrick’s eyes sparkled mischievously.
David and Sad-case cringed, both shielding their faces in a vain attempt at protection. For moments later a staccato torrent of words roared over them, followed simultaneously by hurtling shards of masticated cheese burger. They both knew what he’d said of course, but they always made him say it again on principle.
‘What’, he reddened, carefully eyeing Sad-case’s fist, and spraying both of them anew, ‘is it called? How far away is it? What’s its classification?’
‘How much did it cost?’ Sad-case’s usual question.
‘Dunno’ David absently extracted particles of mincemeat from his hair. ‘It’s written on the back of the photo. It’s all just foreign words to me.’
‘You got a photo of it?’
They both ducked as a solid tidal wave of whatever Edna called the dog meat this week splattered them and the neighbouring tables. Much to the disgust of three girls sitting nearby and previously being far too cool to acknowledge the existence of mere boys. This was especially annoying since one of the girls naturally had to be a fifth former David had been surreptitiously eying for the past three weeks.
‘Yeah, yeah.’ He dismissed the subject, tiring of it already. There were things to do - important things. ‘So are we going to the pool or what?’
‘You betcha.’ As always Sad-case seemed willing, eager in fact, to peer through the hole in the girls’ changing room at the local swimming pool. Ever denying the coincidence of the aperture being almost exactly the same diameter as the now mangled blade of a chisel that had briefly gone missing from their woodwork class. His eyes gleamed redly as he envisaged the delights to come.
‘Not me. Howard’s got some new beta software.’ Surprisingly Derrick demurred. Normally he would have fought Sad-case for the chance to gaze upon girly flesh.
‘Better? What’s better than looking through the hole and seeing girls with no...’
‘Not better, beta,’ Derrick said slowly, enunciating both syllables carefully. ‘Bait...er. Bait, like what you use when you go fishing. Gerrit? It’s the final version of a computer game before it hits the street.’ He offered a superior smirk to David. ‘He wants me to test it. They don’t call me Fastest-Fingers-In-The-West for nothing.’ Actually nobody called him that, but he could always dream.
Sad’s eyes narrowed. Derrick was straying perilously close to painsville and Sad-case probably did have the strongest fingers in the west, which he would happily demonstrate if Derrick got too gobby.
‘Never been fishing, have I.’ he muttered quietly, his neck surprisingly wide for one of his youth and beginning to glow red – never a good sign.
Available now: Three Hoodies Save The World 2!!