Some depressing news for Brian.
I worked a twelve-hour shift on a track repair train on Sunday and after work, I rushed home to get ready to go out. I looked at the kitchen clock. I was late and would be even later getting to Barfield if I waited for the two buses to get me there. I thought I would go to Barfield on my motorbike, even though it meant seriously cutting down on my drinking, and convincing my parents that I wouldn’t drink at all.
As I rode to Barfield, I was thinking of Helen and of the unfair way I had been treating her. There was a bad atmosphere between us on Wednesday night. I knew something was on her mind and there was something on my mind as well. She was obviously troubled and I thought it was time to be honest with her. I would have to find the courage to talk to her openly about my fears and my inexperience with girls.
As I walked into The Ship Inn, I heard shouting in the jukebox room. George was sitting on a long bench seat and, to my surprise, it was my friend, Tommy, who was shouting at him. Badger was also there, having given Tommy a lift in his works van and he stood by the jukebox looking on. For once the usual smile was missing from his face.
"You're just a no-good shitbag," Tommy shouted. "If you had any backbone, we'd go out to the car park and sort it out."
"I've got no quarrel with you, Tommy," George said nervously.
Tommy glanced over at me before looking back at George. "Yeah, Gutless. You'd do well to keep out of my way from now on." Tommy turned to look at me again. "Looks like you've come here on your motorbike," he said.
"I have, yeah," I replied, looking a bit bewildered by both the argument and the lack of any initial friendly greeting.
"Well don't you give him a lift home later."
"Why? What's going on? What's the matter?"
"Ask your so-called friend." Tommy looked over to Badger. "Come on let's piss off back to Locksford. It stinks in here." He looked back over at me. "I'm not joking. You give him a lift home tonight and you'll have me to deal with." Tommy left the room and Badger looked at me and shrugged his shoulders before following Tommy out.
"What was that all about?" I asked.
"I don't know," George replied. "He just came in and went off his head for no reason." George shook his head but then he seemed to dismiss the matter, changed the subject and began talking about England's victory over Argentina in the World Cup quarter-finals.
It was obvious George was hiding something but I had no idea what it could be. Despite me bringing it up a few times, he was giving nothing away.
We crossed over to the club and I noticed Helen standing with her friends so I walked over and tried to give her a kiss but she moved away.
"I need to talk to you," she said. "Let's go and sit down".
I looked at the girls and noticed the absence of their usual smiles. "Why is everybody acting so strange tonight? Is there something wrong with me?"
"No, love," one of the girls said. "It’s not you. There's nothing wrong with you."
Helen gave the girl a brief look of contempt. "Come on, Brian," she said. "Let's find a table."
We sat by the dance floor but Helen sat looking around the hall. I noticed her distant look and broke the silence. "I've come on me bike so I can give you a lift home." Helen gave a smile and then looked away again. "What's the matter, love?" I said. "What's going on?"
"Brian, there's something I have to tell you."
Straight away I thought that she was going to finish with me. I couldn't let that happen and I spoke out almost in a panic. "I know what you're gonna say," I said. "But just give me another chance. I know I've not treated you like I should but I've got a problem and I've decided to be honest with you. I think we should go away next weekend to Blackpool or Wales, or anywhere you like. We can book in at a guesthouse or something. I really love you, Helen, and I know things will be better between us once we've been away together."
"Oh, Brian!" Helen said, trying to act normal but I could see my words choked her up a little.
"I'm sorry. Have I put it badly? I didn't mean to offend you."
"You haven't offended me. I might just be the bad one here."
"Of course you're not." The disc jockey began to play River Deep Mountain High. "I love this record, this is our song. Come on, let's have a dance."
We got up and headed across the dance floor and I felt pleased I had avoided a disaster. We were near the speakers and the intense music blasting out was stopping us from any conversation. After two dances, Helen walked back to the table but I went off to the toilets while wondering why Helen was avoiding talking to me. I noticed Helen’s friends staring over at me and I smiled at them, but they looked away and began talking amongst themselves. I ran a hand through my hair and scratched the back of my neck. They must have expected her to finish with me, I thought.
When I returned towards Helen I was surprised to see George standing talking to her. He noticed me walking over, gave a smile and walked off. He appeared to be acting very strange like everybody else this evening.
When the club was closing we set off on the motorbike towards Helen's house. George was standing by the bus shelter on his own and it looked as if he had missed the late bus.
I pulled across the road to speak to him. "Hang on here. I'll drop Helen off then come and pick you up."
"Thanks, Brian, I was just about to call a taxi. It cost me a fortune last time and I had to wait ages as well." As I pulled away George shouted, "Goodnight, Helen," but for some reason she ignored him.
I parked the motorbike at Helen's house and began to kiss her but her lack of response was obvious and she soon pulled away from me and unlocked the door.
"What do you think then, Helen? Shall we sort something out for the weekend?"
"Don't make any arrangements till we've talked on Tuesday." Helen walked into her house and partly closed the door. "Brian, whatever you hear, please don't think I don't love you because I love you so very much."
"I know Helen. But what is it, Helen, why are you upset? Are you angry because I'm going to pick George up? You seemed to be a bit annoyed with him. Did he say something to you in Minstrels?"
"No, no of course not. I'm sorry, love, I've got to go." She closed the door leaving me feeling disappointed and further puzzled.
"Helen," I shouted. "Helen, tell me what's the matter," but there was no sound from the house and the lights went off. I thought of George waiting for me. "I'll see you on Tuesday then," I called, and I set off to the bus stop.
I entered The Ring O'Bells on Monday night just as the oak-cased clock behind the bar began chiming for eight o'clock. I walked into the smaller room and greeted Badger and Kenny who were sitting on the padded bench seat across the room. I sat down at their table and Badger looked at me and gave a false laugh before standing up and going off to refill his glass.
“What?” I said, aiming the question at Badger’s back as he left the room but Badger gave no reply.
"He's some mate, isn't he," Kenny said. "Giving your woman one?"
I stared at him, turned my palms up and shook my head. "What are you talking about?"
"Shit, I thought you knew. Hasn't anyone told you?"
"Told me, told me what?"
"Oh, well someone has to and it looks like it's me. That so-called mate of ours, George, has been messing about with your girlfriend."
"No," I said. "He can't be. Helen wouldn't do that to me; I know she wouldn't.” Kenny shrugged his shoulders and I sat looking at my beer reflecting on the strange way people had been behaving at Minstrels the previous night. I looked back at Kenny. “I think you've got it wrong, Ken," I said, hoping there was some kind of rational explanation.
"Don't think so, kid."
Badger returned to the room carefully carrying his pint. "Badger, what's going on?" I asked. "What's all this about George and Helen?"
"It's all over town up there," Badger said as he sat down. "And here in Locksford for that matter. George has been screwing Helen." Again Badger gave out a short burst of false laughter. "If there's a waiting list, can you ask her to book me in for Thursday night?"
I ignored Badger's remarks and looked down at my glass again but things suddenly began to make sense and I looked back at him. "Is that what Tommy was shouting about last night?"
"Yeah, he wanted to batter him and he would have done if you hadn't walked in."
"Should've battered him anyway," Kenny said.
"And there's more yet." Badger continued, seeming as if he were enjoying the revelations. "He was seen down the Labour Club with her Tuesday night and apparently he stopped the night at her house last Sunday, you know, that night when her parents were away. But don't worry, Brian, it might have all been innocent. Maybe they were just playing a friendly game of poker. The only thing is, George was doing the poking." Badger's burst of false laughter went on longer than usual this time. "Cor, you can pick em, kid."
"Hey, don't let it get to you," Kenny said. "Laugh it off. I know it's hard but when you see her you have to pretend you don't give a shit."
"Yeah, well maybe I don't."
"And when you see George, you tell him there's no hard feelings and invite him down here for a drink and when he walks in, I'll knock the bastard out." I forced a laugh. "That's the way, mate, sod em. Anyway, there's a girl I know who right fancies you. You want to see her. She's a big girl if you know what I mean. It'll turn a few heads if you strut round Minstrels with her on your arm."
"Sounds good to me. I was thinking about chucking Helen anyway. It's too far to travel to Barfield all the time." My lies fooled no one, least of all me.
I remained in the room with my friends trying to give the impression I wasn't too bothered about Helen and George. However, I felt betrayed by both of them and depressed in the knowledge I had lost her. I tried to forget about it but Badger was not going to let that happen and he seemed to get a lot of pleasure from continually bringing the matter up. Badger's remarks were beginning to annoy me so I decided to leave early and set off for home after telling my friends that I had an early shift in the morning.
“Urrm, where have I heard that before,” Badger commented and then gave a laugh.
Tuesday night I pulled up on my motorbike outside Helen's house. I didn’t have to wait long until she walked out the front door and across the short path to her front gate. By the look on her face it was clear she was troubled, worried almost, maybe she was even feeling a bit guilty.
"Well, how was it with your mate George then? Good in bed, was he?" Well, she now knew that I knew. I was hoping for a denial but was not over-optimistic.
“I’m really sorry, Brian. I didn’t mean for…”
“You’re sorry. Oh, well that's okay then, is it?”
Helen gave a deep sigh before answering. "You're entitled to have a go at me, Brian; find some way to punish me if that's what you want but please try to understand. I do love you, I love you so much, but I need love in return. I badly need some attention from you. Why don't you just show a bit more bloody interest in me?"
"What, like you did with George?"
"It happened, and I'm so, so, sorry. I wish to God it hadn't, but it did. I love you, Brian. We can get over this."
"No, Helen, I don't think we can."
"We can. I know we can, but it needs effort from the both of us. You can't just show up twice a week stringing me along. I need more from you. I don't understand. I don't understand why you keep coming here if you don't want me."
"It's you that doesn't want me, that's why you're doing it with George."
"I don't want to do it with George, for Pete’s sake, I want to do it with you. But I feel so lonely, so frustrated because you're pushing me away all the time as if I have some nasty disease or something."
I sat on my motorbike looking at her. I wanted so much to tell her about what happened with Amanda. I wanted to tell her how much I wanted to make love with her but was reluctant because of my fear of failure. I realised I should have told her weeks ago. Maybe now it was too late and I knew it was not really Helen's fault, it was mine.
"Well, bloody-well say something then," she said.
I gave a twist of the throttle, revving the engine briefly before flicking the gear lever and causing a clunk in the gearbox.
"Well, what's the effing point, Brian! Why the hell did you bother coming here tonight?"
Without saying another word I looked away and accelerated off like a racer.
I stopped at my sister's house. My brother-in-law Bob passed me on his way out to an evening of fishing and I laughed and declined the offer to join him. I walked into the living room and my sister looked up from feeding her son.
"I'll just finish his bottle then I'll make you a brew," she said.
"Give him here. I'll do that."
"What! Are you sure? Am I hearing things?"
I laughed. "I'll do anything for a drink." I sat down and took my nephew while Linda went off to the kitchen. She was soon back and shook her head as she looked at me.
"Give him back here. You haven't got a clue, have you?" She put the cup on the coffee table and took her son so I could drink my tea. "Where's Helen? Is she meeting you down here?"
"No, it's all over between us. I've finished with her."
"What again! What's the matter with you two?" Linda shook her head. "I suppose you'll make it up again next week."
"No, we won't. It really is over this time. She's been two-timing with my mate George."
"What! I didn't think she was like that. You wait till I see her."
"No, don't have a row with her. It wasn't all her fault. It was probably my fault really." Linda was looking at me as if waiting for an explanation and I took a deep breath before continuing. "I think that, oh I don't know, it's hard for me to say. You won't laugh at me, will you?"
"Don't be silly, of course I won't. Whatever it is you have to get it out of your system. I'm here to listen, Brian, not just now, but any time and you should know that."
I smiled at her. We had always been close and I had often confided in her, sharing secrets, asking advice or discussing personal matters with her, though I had never spoken of Amanda. "I think that I was annoying her, I think she wanted us to do it, but I've never done it and I know it sounds stupid, but I was scared to do it with her in case it all went wrong. If only I'd been a bit more honest with her. I should have told her." I looked at Linda, and saw the uncomfortable look on her face. “I'm sorry, Linda; I shouldn't expect you to be my agony aunt. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“It's okay, I’m not embarrassed; just a little unprepared. And as for Helen, you don't have to stick up for her as if she didn't know you were nervous. She must have known, Brian. Bloody hell after six weeks she must have known."
"I don't know. All I know is, I love her and I'm gonna miss her terribly."
"Come on, Brian. If she's been carrying on with your best mate then you're better off without the pair of them. There's plenty of other girls out there." We heard the street door bang and then Judy walked into the room.
"But not this one," Linda said.
"Not this one what?" Judy said.
"Nothing. Just talking to Brian about his girl."
"Oh," Judy said, and turned her attention to me. "Is that your motorbike outside, darling?"
I flicked my eyelids a few times trying to disperse the wetness that had formed and hoped no one had noticed. "Yes, that beauty is mine."
"Well, do you fancy taking me out for a ride one day?"
"I think you'd better rephrase that," Linda said. "Something like, take me out one day on your bike."
"What would I want to go on a motorbike for?"
"Oh, you're getting worse. You'll have to find yourself a man, you'll be after my Bobby next."
"Mmm, now there's a thought. You wouldn't consider hiring him out, would you?"
"No, I wouldn't. Haven't you got anything to do other than trying to seduce my family?" Linda spoke jokingly, though it was clear she was feeling a bit protective towards me.
"Well, I have yeah, I've got to go up my mum's and cut my little brother's hair for him but I'm sure Brian would rather that I stopped here and we all got to know each other better." Judy glanced at me with a dreamy pretence. "Wouldn't you?"
"I didn't know you cut hair. Can you do mine?" I said.
"Don't be silly," Linda said. "All her stuff's at her mum's and my scissors are no good for cutting hair."
"Well, I guess I can fetch the scissors tomorrow, I don't mind but I thought your girlfriend done your hair for you?"
"I don't have a girlfriend anymore."
"Oh!" Judy was silent for a moment before continuing. "So that's what you two were so secretive about when I came in was it? Well, how do you feel about being a free agent again?"
I smiled at her, but didn't pursue the matter. "So if I pop round here tomorrow afternoon, will you do it for me? I don't mind paying you."
"Well I don't mind doing it but I don't want paying. If I do something for you then you can do something for me and I can always cut your hair as well, can't I?"
Linda forced a laugh. "Oh leave him alone, Judy," she said.
"Linda, I'm only joking aren't I." She turned to me. "But I don't mind doing your hair for you tomorrow."
"And I'll repay you with a dance if I see you at Minstrels," I said.
"Ooooh, lucky me. I don't remember ever seeing you in there though."
"I'm in there every Sunday."
Judy turned to Linda. "And you never go do you, Linda? Turning into a right stay at home, you only want to go to bingo."
Linda laughed at Judy's comments. "Me and Bob often go out, though not as often as we used to. Anyway, I don't like the pubs in Barfield."
"Neither do I. That's why I meet the girls at Minstrels?"
"Can't afford to go there anyway. Time you pay to get in and the drinks are expensive."
"I know all the bouncers; they all sign me in as a guest as long as I'm not with a lad and they'll sign you in as well if you're with me. And don't worry about the drinks. I take a half bottle of Bacardi in my bag and just buy the Coke. You can do the same. Sometimes if I'm lucky I don't even open the bottle. There's lots of idiots eager to buy a drink for a dance or two, isn't there?"
"Anyway, I'll feel funny if Brian's in there."
"Why? My brothers are in there sometimes; it's nice, and they even dance with me. Anyway, I go there every Friday and like I said, I've never seen your Brian in there."
"I don't go to Minstrels on Fridays," I interrupted, but I thought maybe I will start if there's a chance of a dance or two with Judy and who knows what would develop.
"There you are then Linda, what's the problem? Aha, maybe you don't want to get caught flirting with all the good-looking men in there."
"You're just being silly now. I'm not going to Minstrels, so you've no need to keep on."
"All right, I'll see you tomorrow night for the Bingo."
"Now you're talking," Linda said, with a grin. "So, who's for coffee?
I decided to skip the coffee, thinking I needed something stronger and I got up to leave. "I'm off to The Ship," I said and looked over to Judy. "I'll see you tomorrow then."
I arrived at Linda's house at mid-day the following day expecting to see Judy there, but she wasn’t. I stayed until after four o clock before giving up on her. I left feeling annoyed because all afternoon Linda kept telling me that Judy wouldn't show up and I wondered if she had said anything to her after I had left the previous day.