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When Did You Get Home?

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Harry had just got off the train. He had his holdall in his hand and was on his way home. It was a twenty-minute walk and he was thinking about getting a taxi. But impoverished students like him couldn’t afford luxuries like that, not at this stage of life.

The sun was shining on him as he went. You couldn’t beat the days of early spring, he was thinking to himself, when it was all starting to warm up nicely. He had his personal stereo on and was listening to some funky beats, the ones he had been zoning out to on the train on the way here, his head resting against the window and sipping coffee from time to time, as his fellow passengers looked at him disapprovingly. He hadn’t turned the volume down. They hadn’t liked that. They hadn’t liked it one bit.

He took in the sights and sounds of his hometown as he went, crossed the railway bridge, walked through the estate, cut through a couple of alleyways. He was on autopilot. He had been doing this route since he started secondary school. He arrived home eventually, walked down his drive, and up to the front door. He fumbled in his pocket and found his key. It was in there somewhere.

He opened the door, dumped his holdall, and walked through. There was no one in. He didn’t expect there to be. They were at work. He supposed he would have to start doing that at some point. But not yet. He had more time as a liberal arts waster to go before he needed to join the ranks of the nine til’ five. He imagined there would be suggestions that he found a job this summer, to fill his time. They could forget it. He preferred a life of leisure, listening to music, enjoying the sun in the garden or maybe in the park.

He picked up his holdall and took it upstairs. He lay down on his bed and glanced at the poster on his wall, one of the girl tennis players that had been there most of his teenage years, and smiled to himself. Then he looked at the picture of Bowie he had cut out of the NME and stuck on with blue tack. He pulled the curtains shut a little. He was in the mood for crashing out for half an hour. It was a hard life, all that partying back at uni and travelling on the train. He needed to get some sleep.

He was out like a light and away for an hour or so. After that, it was time for some food, to catch up with his parents and give them the edited highlights of his college boy life. Then he got showered and shaved and ready to hit the tiles.

It was starting to get dark when he finally headed out. It was warm tonight, a perfect early summer evening. He had decided to wear an electric blue polo shirt, with white tipping, and light blue sta prest, rolled up a little, sockless with loafers. He headed towards town the way he had come, through the alleyways, over the railway bridge, until he was standing on the street, opposite The Crown. When the traffic had stopped, he crossed over and headed into the pub.

It was lively in here tonight. He knew it would be on a Friday night at this time of year. The Crown was always packed but, tonight, it was going to be busy. He walked in and Sammy and Mark were sitting in the corner, a pint each in front of them. He went to the bar, bought his beer, and had a sip. It was sharp and cold. He took it over.

“You made it then?” said Sammy, looking at him and laughing, his tousled brown mop falling over his face.

“What do you think?” said Harry. “Wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

“I bet,” said Mark.

“When did you get home?” said Sammy.

“This afternoon?”

“How long are you back for?”

“The weekend.”

“Sounds good.”

They sat and drank their beer.

“What time are we off?” said Harry.

“Have a couple here,” said Sammy. “Get warmed up. Then go and see Austin.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Are you meeting Julie first?”

“Hadn’t planned to. She’s busy anyway.”

They looked at Harry knowingly.

“Fair enough,” said Sammy.

Harry smiled. Tonight’s return. It hadn’t been random. Their old school friend was having a party and Austin’s parties were not to be missed. He lived on the new estate, on the outskirts of town. His house was like a mansion, or it felt like it anyway, set back from the road with a lawn that went on forever and a swimming pool.

“So who’s going tonight?” said Harry, Sammy laughed.

“Who’s not going,” he said. “Anyone and everyone. You know what Austin’s like.”

“Party animal, or what.”

They laughed, drained their glasses, and had more. Sammy put some music on the jukebox, an old rock record from years before, and it was loud. After an hour of drinking, it was time to go.

“Come on,” said Sammy. “Let’s go and see Austin.”

Harry laughed.

“Why not.”

Harry smiled again. He had done it. He had managed to avoid Julie, that was what he was thinking as they walked out of the pub and onto the street. He couldn’t have her turning up and spoiling the fun he had planned. He hadn’t said anything to her. He hadn’t told her about the party, that he was coming home for the weekend, or what he was aiming to do while he was here. Now he was out of The Crown, he wouldn’t see her. She went in here occasionally when he wasn’t there, but not much. Now he had avoided her here, he wouldn’t have to worry about bumping into her unexpectedly.

Sammy went straight up to the shop on the corner and the little bell rang as they went in. He walked up to the beer that was sitting on the shelf at the back and picked up a six-pack of lager. Mark and Harry did the same. They went up to the counter and the man put them in plastic carrier bags, standing in front of the rows of cigarettes and jars of instant coffee, and they paid him.

They went out onto the street, beers in hand, and Sammy tried to hail a taxi. A couple drove by at first. They weren’t supposed to pick up passengers here, they knew that well enough. Finally, one slowed down and pulled up next to them. One would always stop eventually if you waited long enough.

They got in, with Mark and Harry in the back, and Sammy in the front. The driver drove off quickly and turned down the main road that went out to the new estate. The window was open and a cooling breeze wafted through. Sammy turned from time to time and asked Harry how it was going at uni and when he was coming back for the summer. Harry laughed and said it was going fine. But he wasn’t going to impart all the sordid details of his college life, certainly not now. He was coming back in a few weeks, ready for the long hot summer that he knew they were going to have.

“Are you still up for that holiday?” said Sammy. “Ibiza?”

“Why not,” said Harry. “You’re only young once.” Though the issue of money came into his mind. It was something for another day.

A few minutes later, they arrived at Austin’s house and the taxi stopped outside. They could hear the music from the street, all bass and shouting and the odd scream.

“Have a good night,” yelled the driver as Sammy paid him and he pulled off. 

They turned and walked to the door. Mark gave it a knock and it was opened by a girl Harry recognised vaguely from the last time they were here. A couple of seconds later, they were inside and walking through to the kitchen to swap their beers for cold ones from the fridge. Harry pulled open his ring pull when he had one in his hand and a little bit of beer gushed out. He put it to his lips and had a drink. It was as sharp and refreshing as his first pint in The Crown.

“Come on,” said Sammy. “Let’s join the fun.”

They took their beers and headed into the lounge, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, settees lining the walls, coffee tables, cushions scattered around, and low lights in the corner, augmented by two lava lamps. The partygoers were in full swing, dancing around a makeshift dance floor in the centre of the room, loud dance music blasting out of the speakers. The tune that was currently playing had a samba feel to it, beats and bass, and horns that made you think of a carnival. The patio doors were open and there were whoops and screams from the swimming pool outside. Some of the bathers had joined the party, the girls in bikinis and swimsuits, the boys in shorts and trunks.

They were standing, taking this in when they were accosted.

“So you made it,” said a booming voice. Harry looked round.

“Evening Austin. Good party.” Harry looked at him and smiled, his black mane falling over his face and down to his shoulders, in a skin-tight blue t-shirt and shorts. His tan exuded the Riviera.

“I’m glad you like it,” he said. “Looks like it could get lively. When did you get here?”

“Just now.”

“How long are you back for?”

“Until Sunday. Maybe Monday.”

“I’m glad you could make it.”

“So, where are the folks tonight?”

“Holiday. Somewhere. Best place for them.”

Austin laughed, loudly and from the gut. But that was all the attention they were getting from their host. A couple of seconds later, he was whisked away by a girl with long, dark brown hair, in a red bikini, who seemed enthusiastic about making sure he was on his own, in her company.

Harry, Sammy, and Mark went and joined the party, drank more of the beers, and danced. Everyone was here tonight, the entire population of the town’s ravers, who had come from everywhere. The music blasted out of the speakers. They danced for a few songs and Harry was feeling warm and in the need of cooling down. He stopped dancing and headed outside, through the patio doors and onto the terrace. He thought about joining the ravers in the pool but realised that he had forgotten to bring any trunks with him. So he stood and watched everyone enjoying themselves, getting in the mood to rejoin the party, and leant against a wall.

It was then that it happened. He saw her. It was Kimberley. He was leaning against the wall and she suddenly appeared, through the patio doors and into his vision. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. He leant back and watched. She was just as she had been the last time he was home, long blonde hair hanging loosely back from her high, smooth forehead, over her shoulders, and down to the small of her back. She was wearing a white summer vest top, the sort the girls were all wearing now the sun was out, and spray-on cut-offs, in the lightest denim you could imagine, pure as the clear blue sky.

Was she his reason for coming home tonight, for making sure he was at the party? He smiled and reflected on his motives for being here. He had met her at Christmas, in similar circumstances, in this very place. The swimming pool might not have been used then but most other things about the party were much the same. It seemed a long time ago now, looking back. He supposed it was, in a way. It was funny how quickly the days and weeks went by back at uni, when he was there, doing his thing. Time flew by. There was nothing he could do about it.

As he was standing there, she spotted him and started to walk across. His heart was in his mouth. She came up to him.

“Harry,” she said. “Fancy seeing you here. How are you?”

“I’m good.”

“You look it.” She laughed in the way she had. “When did you get back?”

“This afternoon.”

“How long are you back for?”

“Just the weekend. Though I’m back for the summer in a few weeks.”

“That’s good.”

He started to move towards her, like he had at Christmas. But he was stopped in his tracks. As he was about to get closer, there was a new arrival. A boy walked up, put his hand on her waist, and she moved towards him. He had hair as blonde as hers that he wore down to the bottom of his neck. He had that look about him, the one that said he could have walked out of the pages of a glossy magazine, the sort that she devoured.

“I’ve brought you a drink,” he said and handed her a glass of wine.

“Thank you,” she said, taking the glass and putting her arm in his. He leant over and kissed her on the cheek. “You’ve not met my friend, have you.” She looked over. “This is Harry.”

The new boy looked Harry in the eye.

“Hello Harry,” he said. “Pleased to meet you.” Harry didn’t say anything, he just looked at the boy. Kimberley was about to speak when the boy got in first. “Come on. I think we need to mingle.”

“You’re right,” said Kimberley. “Harry. Good to see you. I’ve got to love you and leave you.”

Harry stood and watched them go, across the terrace to some friends they knew. Kimberley didn’t look back. Harry had finished his beer now and he reached for a half-empty one that was on a table. He had a drink from it. It was lukewarm but it would do.

He looked down the garden. The lawn went on for what, years ago, he used to imagine was miles. Now he knew it didn’t go that far, though It was big enough. He looked back at Kimberley and her new beau. She had her arm in his and occasionally put her head on his shoulder. Once again, she didn’t look back.

Harry moved away from the wall and picked up another stray, half-drunk can of beer. He walked down, past the pool, where everyone was still screaming and whooping and shouting, towards the bottom of the garden. Soon, he was far enough away for it to be shouting in the distance. There was a seat and he sat down. It looked out, over the countryside and into the blackness. He finished the first half-drunk can of lager and started the other, which was equally lukewarm. He needed to get back into the house and get another. But that could wait. For the moment.

It had never occurred to him that he had delayed things, and stayed away from this small town for so long. He supposed everyone had an element of conceit within them, that it was their world and no one else’s and it would wait for them to do whatever they had to do elsewhere and then come home, to find it exactly as it was when they left. Sometimes It was like that. Sometimes it wasn’t. He thought about his life back at uni. Would that be the same when he got back?

He sat and looked round. That was when he spotted her. It was Julie. She had a boy with her as well, one Harry knew by sight from nights in The Crown. She hadn’t seen him yet, though it was only a matter of time. He sat and waited for her to come across, and ask when he had got home and how long he was back for.

 

Published 
Written by BillySoho
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