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All characters are at least 18 years old, except where stated otherwise.
Jake, Amy and their schoolmates are preparing to take their A level exams in late May and early June, before they go on to university in September or October. In this chapter, Jake also mentions GCSEs, which are exams taken by 16-year-olds in England.
Please note that this chapter starts immediately after the previous one ends.
Thanks for reading and please do leave feedback.
“No, that car has definitely been here all night,” a female voice was saying. “The driveway’s dry underneath. And her bedroom curtains are still closed. I’ll go up and see her. You get the boys a drink and I might need a cup of tea after this!”
Young, excited footsteps were running down the hallway towards the kitchen. The door opened and two identical fair-haired boys, about eight years old burst through.
“Who are you?” asked the first, loudly.
“What are you doing in our house?” asked the second.
A tall, thin man, in his early fifties perhaps, followed behind them. “Oh hello,” he said, startled by my presence at the kitchen table.
He ducked back out of sight into the hallway and called, “Jenny, there’s a boy in here!”
Heavy footsteps ran down the stairs and along the hallway. A woman with long blonde hair, rushed into the kitchen, breathless. The four of them stared at me in disbelief.
“I er, um, I’m er Jake,” I said, my throat dry and my hands clammy. “I’m er, a er, friend of Amy’s.”
Footsteps again on the stairs, racing downwards. Amy appeared at the kitchen door, out of breath, still in her pyjamas, her long, dark hair a tangle of curls.
“Mum, Rob, you’re back, so early. I wasn’t expecting you!”
“So I see,” her mother answered wryly. “We’ve just met Jake. I think you have some explaining to do and this needs to be a very good explanation, young lady.”
“Can we talk, just the two of us?” Amy said. She was obviously nervous, but trying hard to appear calm. She looked at the man. “Please don’t make him go, I need to talk to him too.”
The man smiled at her and made to respond, but her mother cut him off. “Jake will still be here when we’ve talked. I promise.”
The two disappeared down the hallway and I heard the sound of the sitting room door shutting.
“I’m Rob, by the way.” The man offered his hand to me, and I stood to shake it. “I’m Amy’s step-dad and these are Ben and Tom,” he said, indicating the two children, who had shrunk back away from me, a little shy.
“Boys, can you sit down at the table please, and I’ll bring you some juice?”
One of the boys (perhaps slightly taller than the other, I wasn’t sure, they looked so similar), pointed at me “But he’s sitting in my seat,” he said.
“It’s OK, I can move,” I said.
“Oh Ben,” said Rob, slightly irritated. “You can sit next to him. Sit in my place!”
The boys took their seats at the pine table, Ben next to me and the other twin, Tom, opposite him.
“What are you doing?” asked Tom.
“I’m trying to work out how the Egyptians built their pyramids,” I said.
“Are you an archaeo- archaeojologist?” he enquired.
“No,” I chuckled. “This is for my maths exam. It’s one of the questions I have to answer. I have to work out how many Egyptian slaves were needed to move a big block of stone.”
Tom looked at me and then at my maths notes spread in front of me, before deciding that my work looked too dull to be worthy of further consideration.
Rob brought over two tall glasses of juice, setting them down between the two boys.
Ben had been staring at my calculator. “We’re not allowed to use calculators at school,” he said disapprovingly. “We have to do all our sums in our heads.”
“Well I try to do my sums in my head,” I said, “but for this question I need to do some trigonometry and I need the calculator to help me.”
“Oh” said Ben, sounding distinctly unimpressed. Both boys turned their attention to their drinks, slurping noisily.
“Would you like a drink?” Rob asked. “Tea, coffee?”
“Tea would be great, thanks,” I replied.
The kettle began to boil and the two boys finished their drinks, giving theatrical, satisfied gasps.
“Can we go outside please Daddy?” Tom asked.
“Is it raining still?” Rob replied, peering out through the kitchen window. “I think you’ll need your coats and boots.”
The boys sprang to their feet and rushed out of the kitchen. They returned seconds later wearing anoraks, racing to open the patio door to the garden. They tumbled outside pulling on their boots, before slamming the door behind them.
Calm returned to the kitchen.
“Milk? Sugar?” Rob asked, breaking me out of my thoughts, as I watched the two boys scamper off down the lawn.
“Just milk please. Thanks.”
Rob brought over two steaming mugs of tea, setting one down in front of me. He sat diagonally across the table from me.
“Well” he said. “We wondered when Amy was going to bring a boy back, antalya escort but we didn’t think we’d catch him doing his homework on the kitchen table!”
I attempted a chuckle, but my throat was so dry, no sound came out.
He looked at me keenly. “You were in the play, weren’t you? I remember you, you were er…”
“Tybalt,” I said. “Yes, I was the last person to die before the interval, my character that is.”
“Of course,” he said, “Yes Juliet’s cousin.” He paused. “I thought you were good actually, very good. I remember the fight scenes, definitely the best for school production I’ve ever seen. I’m a teacher, so I’ve sat through a few in my time!”
“Well, playing a hot-headed thug obviously comes naturally,” I said, giving a wry smile.
“This is A level maths?” he asked, gesturing at my book and papers scattered in front of me.
“Yeah. Not my best subject, to be honest.”
“What do you want to do at university?”
“I’ve got a place at Cambridge to study veterinary medicine,” I said, trying not to sound too smug. I stopped short. Actually, best not to mention Cambridge again. Amy had applied there for law at the same time as me, but she’d been rejected.
“Well done,” he said, looking impressed. I could feel him warming to me. “Why d’you want to be a vet?”
“My parents are farmers,” I explained, “and I want to carry on working with animals, just not in the family business!”
Living on a family farm, I’d been around animals all my life, but I hadn’t always wanted to be a vet. As a child, I’d always imagined carrying on the family tradition, but one incident at the start of the start of the school summer holidays a few years earlier had set me on a different path. One of our dairy cows had become bloated after the herd had been moved into a new field. It wasn’t a terribly unusual occurrence, normally one or two cows each year would suffer, but we’d need to call the vet out to insert a tube through the mouth and into the stomach to relieve the pressure of the excess gas.
Roger was our local vet. A kindly, yet business-like man in his mid-fifties, he’d looked after the animals on our farm and most of our neighbours for as long as anyone could remember. That particular day, the usual method of inserting a stomach tube hadn’t worked, so Roger had inserted a trochar directly through the cow’s hide into its rumen. It was the first time I’d seen any sort of surgery being carried out and I was fascinated, particularly by the sound of the gas rushing out through the metal tube. So, when he returned a few days later to remove the trochar and to stitch the cow back together, I asked if he’d be willing to let me shadow him over the summer holiday.
Roger took quite a shine to me. His three rather glamorous daughters, all much older than me, had firmly decided not to follow in their father’s muddy footsteps and were pursuing such worthwhile courses as theatre, fashion and design at university. In fact his offspring had such different characters to their father, we would occasionally joke behind his back that his wife had had a long-term affair with the milkman.
That summer, I spent a day or two each week with Roger as he responded to calls at farms around the county and I gained a good understanding of what the job of a vet entailed. I was hooked.
Rob and I chatted amiably as we drank our tea. He was Amy’s step-dad and had married her mum, Jenny, when Amy was about eight years old. The twins were born a few years later and the family had lived in Hampshire, before moving across when Jenny had changed jobs. Rob taught French and German in one of the secondary schools in the neighbouring town.
There was a lull in the conversation. We’d finished our tea and it had been at least half an hour since Amy had disappeared with her mum ‘to talk’. Rob stood up and walked over to the glass patio doors, watching the two twins as they hared around the garden on their bikes.
“They have too much energy,” he sighed. “I did promise we’d go swimming before lunch, but perhaps we should wait. I’ll go and have a kick around with them.”
He opened the door, pulled on his boots and stepped out, closing the door behind him.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I was on my own again. I shuffled my maths notes, trying to make myself busy, but I couldn’t concentrate. I was in limbo, waiting presumably for Amy to come back, but as what? Were we together? Was last night just a mistake, an emotional reaction to a traumatic event? Had I exploited her when she was at her most vulnerable? Did she feel I’d exploited her? Was I, in fact, any better than Ritchie Gasson?
I picked up the two empty tea mugs and took them over to the sink, opening the dishwasher door and placing them inside. I looked out of the window, watching Rob and the twins playing football in the back garden. The life of an eight-year-old was so easy I thought.
The kitchen door opened behind me and I turned to see Amy. She had changed out of her pyjamas into jeans and a dark grey hoodie, kemer escort and her hair was tied back behind her head. Her eyes were puffy and pink, and she’d clearly been crying.
“Can we talk?” she asked quietly.
“Of course,” I said, moving forward towards her and holding out my hand. She accepted it and led me down the corridor to the sitting room. I expected her mother to be waiting for us, but, as Amy closed the door behind us, I realised we were alone.
“Can we sit down?” she asked. We sat at opposite ends of the sofa, the same sofa as the previous night. I looked at her, afraid of what she might say. She swallowed nervously, looking up at me through her large, dark eyes.
“I have a lot to say to you, and I’m not sure how to say it,” she began quietly. “But please let me talk, at my own pace and in my own way and I’ll try to make sense.” She smiled weakly, and I nodded, in an attempt to reassure her.
“Last night was, was…” she struggled to continue. “I never thought Richie could do that. He, it, it was horrible.”
“It’s OK,” I said. “You don’t have to say this if you don’t want to.”
“I need to,” she said, almost defiantly. “I can, I can do this.”
“Everyone said we were so well suited to each other, that we were the golden couple, that we’d be Romeo and Juliet in real life, not just in the play. At first, I was flattered, I thought they were right and that maybe it could work. Then he started to get more..” she paused, “aggressive, but maybe that’s not the right word. The kissing for the play was horrible, awful. I used to shut my eyes and try to blank it out.”
I grimaced. I didn’t need to be reminded of the number of times that Mrs Slater had required Amy and Ritchie to kiss on stage. That had been horrible for me as well.
“I’d imagine, imagine I was kissing you instead,” she said quietly, blushing in embarrassment.
I took an intake of breath, I’d been completely oblivious all the way through.
She broke eye contact, “But I thought, I thought, you could never be mine.” She blushed, embarrassed. “I thought you were going out with Lauren.”
I smiled. So I’d been right, Amy had been confused by the husband-and-wife banter with my cousin Lauren, and had misconstrued our relationship as something else.
Amy paused again, summoning up the courage to go on. “Ritchie invited me to the party at James’, and I went. I thought maybe I’d give him another chance and that once the play was over, he’d be, he’d be nicer.
“And we were in the sitting room, at James’ last night, with lots of others. But the music was loud and no one was paying attention to us. You’d disappeared, but I was hoping you’d come back. Ritchie was drunk and he started, he started to touch me, and he tried to kiss me and his breath, his breath, he stank of alcohol. He pinched me, he hurt me. So I ran, I ran and you were there and you stopped him, you protected me,” she looked up at me, through her round dark eyes.
“Then you took me home and you made sure I was safe. You were so kind. You are so kind.
“And I was going to get up really early and talk to you and say thank you to you, but they came back – I wasn’t expecting them so soon. I screwed up,” she was beginning to cry now, a few tears rolling down her cheeks. “I screwed up,” she said again. “It’s my fault.”
There was a long pause, and I wasn’t sure what to do or say. I’d been bracing myself to hear her say that she was very grateful, but that she wasn’t ready for a relationship, or that I wasn’t the one for her. The pause got longer. She’d asked me not to say anything, just to listen, but I thought I had to say something.
“Nothing’s your fault,” I said. I reached out and took her hand again. She didn’t recoil, she just held her hand there, in mine. “You haven’t screwed up. Nothing’s your fault,” I repeated.
There was a long pause, as she took some deep breaths to steady herself again.
“And us?” I asked. “Do you want to try going out?” I continued, trying to sound casual and not too hopeful, yet sincere at the same time. “I don’t want to put you under any pressure, and if you don’t feel ready for a relationship, that’s fine. But I’d like to, if that’s what you want.” I felt my throat tightening as I finished the last sentence.
Amy looked up at me and a smile broke out across her face. “Yes,” she said, “I’d like that a lot, I really would. But can we take things slowly, really slow?”
“Yes,” I replied, smiling back at her. “We’ll take things as slowly as you like – you set the pace. We’ll do things how you want.”
“Oh Jake!” she cried, leaping forwards. “I’m so happy, thank you. You are so kind and I am so lucky.”
We embraced and held each other tightly. She kissed me a couple of times on the cheek.
“My Mum would like to talk to you,” she said nervously. “Is that OK?”
“Yes, that’s fine,” I lied.
“Can you wait here?” she asked. “I’ll go and get her.” She leapt up and scurried out of the room.
Taking a deep breath, I sank back konyaaltı escort into the sofa cushions and closed my eyes, trying to bring some order to my mind. In the hour and a half that I’d been away sorting out Danny, Ritchie had come on to Amy, and I was now acutely aware that if I’d returned five minutes earlier or later, something serious could have happened without me being there to stop it. Mind you, if Danny hadn’t reacted in the way he had to Becky and James getting together, the whole incident could have been avoided in the first place!
I stood as Amy’s mother entered the room. She was a little taller than Amy, with long blonde hair, but had a similar build to her daughter.
“Hello, I’m Jenny,” She offered her hand which I shook. Formal and business-like.
“Jake,” I said, “pleased to meet you.”
“Please sit down,” she motioned to the sofa as she down in the armchair opposite me. I sat, rubbing my hands on my jeans to dry the moisture from my palms. I swallowed nervously.
“Amy has told me about last night,” she said. “I’m still in something of a state of shock, but I must thank you for doing what you did to stop an incident which could have developed into something more serious.”
I smiled weakly and nodded. Amy shared some of her mannerisms, but there was a more clipped formality to her voice. I wasn’t sure how much Amy had told her mother, but suspected that she might have given a somewhat sanitised version of the previous evening’s events.
She continued, “What Amy should have done was to call me, and I would have come to pick her up and take her home. But, I’m grateful to you for bringing her back and she tells me that you had not had any alcohol before that.”
I smiled again. That part wasn’t strictly true, but with ferrying Danny back home, I hadn’t touched a drop since late afternoon.
“She also tells me that you stayed here last night, at her request,” she added, frowning a little now, “and that you slept here in this room.”
She paused. “Jake, I need to you to tell me what happened last night. In your own words. What you saw, what you heard and what you did as a result.”
I took a deep breath, my throat dry, unsure when to begin. “I was about to go home,” I said. I was in the bathroom downstairs at James’ house, just drying my hands and I heard shouting. So I opened the door and there was Amy running past, with Ritchie behind her. She was shouting something like “leave me alone” or “get off me”. So I stood in the hallway and blocked him so he couldn’t follow her.”
Jenny nodded, but said nothing.
“I told Ritchie to leave her alone, but he said she was just playing hard to get. But I still didn’t move.” I stopped, hoping not to have to reveal the next part.
“Go on Jake, what happened next? Did he threaten you or did you threaten him? Did you hit each other?”
“He told me to get out the way,” I continued, “but I wouldn’t. So he swung a punch at me, but I dodged. And he lunged at me and I kinda deflected him against the side of the stairs.”
“Did he hurt himself when he fell?” she asked.
“He hit his head,” I said, “but he didn’t cut himself, not that I saw anyway.”
“And then, what happened?” she asked gently.
“I told him to leave Amy alone and to go away,” I said, paraphrasing my expletive-loaded outburst.
“And other than deflecting him against the side of the stairs,” Jenny asked, “did you hit him at all?”
I shook my head. “I might have pushed him away,” I admitted, “but not hard enough to hurt him.”
“And before you confronted Ritchie,” Jenny asked gently, “did you see him and Amy together, was he bothering her, or harassing her before then?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I wasn’t there.”
“You mean you were in a different room?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I went back with my friend Danny to his house for an hour or so. I didn’t get back to the party until about half nine, which is when it happened. I was actually about to leave to go home.”
“And earlier in the day, did you see Amy and Ritchie together?” she asked.
“And did anything happen then that might have given you cause for concern?”
“No,” I said, “they were just talking, but they were talking to everyone. She was talking to me a fair bit.”
She paused and thought for a few moments. “Thank you, Jake,” she said. “I think I have a better understanding of what happened now.” There was a look of relief on her face, as if reassured by my words that her daughter was telling the truth.
“Will Ritchie get into trouble, because of this?” I asked, suddenly worried that I’d just given a witness statement and that Jenny was about to send the police round.
She shook her head. “Legally no,” she replied. “This is just a brief heated argument between teenagers that resolved itself quickly. There’s no criminal case here.”
I leant back in the sofa, relieved.
“The other thing I need to talk to you about is Amy herself,” Jenny said.
I swallowed nervously again.
“Jake, Amy is very vulnerable right now,” she said. “She’s been through a traumatic experience, when she was with people she knew and felt she trusted. Admittedly things could have been significantly worse, but what happened will have shaken her considerably.”
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