6. Us.

I wave my arms pathetically. "Pull me?" I whinge, sticking my bottom lip out looking pitifully up. Jake raises a cocky eyebrow with a smug grin, but does anyway, holding my hands and pulling me up out of the seat. I take a step left and prod Kieran with my foot.

"Come on dog breath."

"I don't need pulling," he says pseudo-desperately, half worriedly, eyes wide like he thinks Jake's gonna make a move on him.

"Boyfriend," I cough immaturely into my hand. He looks pointedly between Jake and me.

Kieran flails his arms and ungraciously trashes, lifting his legs up and rolling up to standing. He walks out into the kitchen and the distinct sound of a messy boy searching kitchen cupboards for food sounds rustling through the open dining room. He's 21; birthday in December, acting it for sure.

"Where to?" he asks, voice slightly dimmed from the other room.

I look sideways at Jake, suspiciously, and raise an eyebrow. He notices and makes the same face back.

"Pub lunch?" I say, sneakily sneakily. Jake smiles, mind apparently on the same thing.

Sitting on the arm of the sofa, I watch him wander through to the kitchen and blink, sighing to myself and subconsciously scan him over. The shirt looks good – the navy sets his skin off well.

"Steal our food!" I hear a mock-outraged shout and there's a crash of a hastily shut cupboard. He comes back in, Kieran in tow with jean pockets imprinted on by what rustles like chocolate wrappers. He's grinning insanely. Sunshine in a goddamn boy here. Jake's hair's still out of place as before, a chunk sticking out at an angle.

I look disappointedly at him and reach up to flatten it, soft brown under my fingers. I take my hand away after patting his head, bemused. He looks down at me, knowledgeable, like I'm simple and loftily flicks his head out to the side towards the ceiling away from me. I ignore him.

"Be a minute," I say, smiling dry at Kieran and walking out into the hallway.

I run up the stairs, stomping bare feet against carpet and leave the boys and their shoes. Behind me, Jake pulls out his shoes from our pile and leans against the wall to pull them on. I stop at the top a second and look down, seeing Kieran, fully prepared with his pockets of chocolate, leans against the opposite wall. It makes me smile.

I'm into our room and I grab my small shoulder bag off the bed. Hurried for no reason, simply out of habit I tear through my bag looking for my purse and find it, slowing. I pull out a twenty and drop the purse and bag back onto the bed, money pushed, crumpled into my pocket.

Shoes on, and we're in the car. I'm in the passenger and watching Jake drive. It's quiet and I flick the music on, pressing the volume up.

When we hit the main roads at the T-junction from the set of streets we live off, we turn right, away from the main congestions of outer-London. I watch the, windows, searching my memory to see if we've been here before. My memory, I hope you understand, can be photographic. It depends how hard or how long I look at things. It can vary from relatively 'normal' to photographic. I was born weird like that, so road systems means I'm able to separate the grey from the grey around here.

I turn away from the window. "Who's driving back?" I ask, rightly nosy and wanting to know who doesn't get to drink.


I look around at Kieran, sprawled in the back behind me, feet up on the aesthetic grey lump behind the two front seats.

He's searching the pull-down hand rest container for signs of life. He looks up at me, distracted for a moment before he scrunches his nose to return to his apparent food hunt.

I rest my head against the window, staring along it to the wing mirror. The grey bushes skim past, tiny green fields stretching until they hit the buildings. I sulk to myself, caught up on the lack of answering, slightly irritated. I think about this for a while, off on a mental-tangent for no real reason. I get irked by tiny, insignificant things. The silence streaks in my ears and I'm distracted.

Jake and Kieran talk as we go and but I don't notice it; a murmur in my semi-conscious mind. I stare for a few minutes, annoyance circulating out of my blood stream, lifting slowly to out until I'm really watching the mirror image of things flickering by. The songs change on the radio, and I'm vaguely aware of singing noises from the backseat. A smile splits into my face.

I'm happier at the end of the song - more relaxed, and we pull off the main road we're on, left turning into a short and bumpy rough-tarmac road.

Trees overhead, pale light filtering through and lighting them but the grey of the sky sits behind them, downcast on the day. We slide past a row of fencing, Jake changing to second gear in the side of my vision, and the path bends a few metres in. Hands turn the wheel and a white-ish building comes into view not far away. Kids scream in a play-park to the side, a tall brown barricade with a slide. It reminds me of being small and instantly makes me nostalgic.

I loved those places on a Sunday – parents sitting on brown benches with open sun umbrellas because I only remember the sunny days. Summer is always sunny to a kid because their memory's like that – it gets rid of the bad shit. Today, most of the umbrellas are shut, blue and white material wrapped down, the pole stuck through the hole in the bench at a skewed angle. Most benches are bare with people sitting, watching kids.

White lines stripe the front of the tarmac by the building, stones crunching under the tyres as the car end swings round, lining up for a reverse between a nasty red estate and an unblemished silver BMW. This makes me smile.

Jake reverses; reaching an arm behind my headrest and leaning round in his seat, body facing mine more and it feels almost more intimate for the time he takes to line the wheels up. I look at him from the side of my eyes and watch his movements. He's so naturally confident, but in a relaxed way rather than an irritating-cocky-bastard way. Goddamn naturally attractive. Brunettes are hot, but it's not just the hair that makes him look so … enviable of the girl who ever gets him. I look away.

The noise of reverse winds through the air and he parks crooked – on purpose I guess. He pulls back and switches to engine off. I push the door open, a wind catching the door and flicking it toward the silver bodywork of the car next to us.

I throw my hand out and catch it, barely. I hold it tightly as I step out, pulling the lever for the passenger seat and tug it forward. Kieran stumbles out, jumping almost as he lands, straightening his shirt and stretching his shoulder back, apparently stiff. He wanders round the front of the car. Jake's door slams and I push the inside bolt down, shutting my own door. Kill for central locking, I would.

I sigh, looking up at the sky for a moment. "They'd better have cod." My mouth suddenly seems the centre of the universe and images of food pop up in my view. "And chips," I add. "And peas." Mmm I think to myself, and make the noise out loud, food obsessed for the moment. I lick my lips, images of sauce and chips sliding into my sight. Kieran makes gobbling noises next to me from over my shoulder and I nearly jump.

My feet crush tarnished tarmac as we cross to the door, trooping through the front door. Kieran goes through into the darkened room and Jake holds the door open for me, gesturing with a swipe and with a lightly sarcastic grin on his face. I go through behind Kieran, following him, disorientated with the change in light. Dark carpet, gold lights, and dark doors match the half-filled pub, a smell of beer in the air and the sound of laughter loud.

I follow Kieran through, past the section where dinner tables are set and towards a wide, open door, grass stretching out behind it and small screams of kids wafting through. We set out again and I blink, semi-blinded by remnants of sun glaring at me through the grey sky, and stop for a moment, not used to light from walking through the inside of the building.

The sun hasn't hit much this month and it's the 24th already. I love the sun; makes everything and everyone brighter and better. It changes lives. Also, inadvertently happens to make my job far easier.

I love the extremes of weather – either heavy rain and dark days or bright sunshine and it looks like we're going through the transition now. It should be over soon, hopefully.

Hands drop onto my waist from behind soft through my shirt, and push me towards a table. Ahead of me, Kieran finishes wobble testing the table and sits down.

The hands propel me to other side of the table and drop. I shuffle onto the bench and Jake sits down on my right. They talk about stuff and I rest my chin on my palms, elbows on the table and stare at the sky. I want my music, I suddenly think, desperately. Personal taste whilst on a job is ultimately banned. I can almost hear it playing in my head, the words soft against my ears, a gravely voice of the singer stringing lyrics out to a guitar brusquely. Beautiful. I can taste it on my lips it's so close.

I think about this, distracted and watching the grey and white of the sky mingle and float, preoccupied away from conversation. It slides past me again and I barely notice talking. I blink, moving my head as if returning from a dream and feel unsociable and lonely. Self-exclusion from conversation does that to you and it's been a few minutes.

Underneath the table, a foot nudges mine from the side. I look across at Jake, leg touching the side of mine in a comforting way and give a sad sort of smile. The table sinks on our side and I look up, Kieran's brown-shirted back walking off towards the inside door.

"Are you Okay?" He asks, head turned across, looking at me. I look up at him and down at the bench, smiling softly again.

"Yeah," I say. "Just tired I guess," I add. I need to catch up on my sleep; when I'm tired I have random feel-shit moments, and go on a mental wander of self-exclusion.

"Early night," he says grinning. I poke him, frowning sarcastically. He winks.

"Shut up," I mutter, laughter in my voice. He looks wounded, and I rest the side of my head against his arm as I look crookedly up and stick my tongue out in a childish way – rather than a cutesy-cute way.

"Poor baby." I look up at him without moving my head, eyes wide open. I spy him looking down at me and stick my bottom lip out, pouting sarcasm.

He swings his other arms around me and rocks me so I'm almost falling off the bench backwards. I shriek as gravity grabs my head and it feels heavier as grass comes into view. I grab his arms, a foot hooked under the seat opposite.

"Bastard!" I shriek and start to pull myself up, holding onto his arms. He grins cheekily and I swat his arms.

He swipes back and it contacts on my arm. I aim, contacting with his head and grin, nose scrunching. He makes a low "ooh," noise.

"You didn't just do that," he states and reaches out quick as hell grabs my sides, relative of a rugby tackle, fingers tickling my sides. They push into my skin, pressing against the bone and I squirm, his arms tight around me. I wiggle uncontrollably and can't help it.

I yelp, making more unintelligent noises and squirming. My focus goes haywire, concentrating on nothing but the fingers and sensation of my side; half tickling, half uncomfortable prodding that I can't help but react to.

"Argh, stop!" makes it out my mouth but he doesn't stop and it aches now, my breathing sharp and I'm almost in pain. I make another unintelligent noise and gasp air. "Stop it," I whisper, moving only in short squirms. He sniggers by my ear, holding me lock-tight, jaw tracing my shoulder. It's the slide of skins that reminds me of reality, my mind overtaken by the pain in my sides.

He does and I breathe heavily, light-headed, distracted and wondering why I can manage to fight for minutes and be fine but being tickled makes me breathless in seconds. It's whacked.

"Bastard," I mutter, not meaning it.

There's a slight movement as he leans into me and kisses the top of my head. It's soft, although I really only feel a slight press through my hair. It's lovely, but makes me feel sad he's doing it for show. "And there will be no more hitting me on the head," he grins sarcastically.

I'm amused: Boys, and proving their points. I look across at him obviously from the corner of my eyes.

"Where's Kieran gone?"

"Drinks," he says. There's a pause. "I think."

I lean in front of him a little and look down at his watch on his left side, holding his wrist up. He co-operates. It's coming up to 2pm. I wasted so much of today watching T.V. Gotta love the job.

I put my hands on the back of the seat; fingers spread, and push myself up on my shoulders, leaning back. "Are you at work on Monday?" I ask, looking across simply at him.

He blinks. "Yeah. Uh. Going in at nine."

"Gimme a lift," I ask him.

"Naah. Don't think so," he says.

I toss my head away, all melodramatic. "So mean," I tell him, straight-faced. I shake my head, over-exaggerating disappointment.

"Lazy bastard Kieran's got a good job where he doesn't have to work," I'm told, pseudo-bitterly.

"He started as your friend," I remind him. I pause. "What does he do?" I ask, curious. I haven't asked.

"Suit work," he says.

I cock an eyebrow. "Suit work?" I ask, scathingly.

"Wears a suit, goes to an office." He pauses, enunciating each point. "Drinks delivered coffee all day. Does no work. Gets cranky. Flirts. And gets paid a lot," he finishes. I love his description of work. He's just jealous cause he doesn't have a secretary, I swear.

I tell him so.

"And he gets sandwiches delivered," he tells me, my comment going straight past him.

Ahead I see Kieran coming back with a brown tray of drinks, eyes fixed on the tray. He sets them down, brown sleeves rolls up to just under his elbows. I love his shirt; button-up and gorgeous. I could really fancy this guy. Or maybe just his wardrobe.

He sets the tray down and sits. "Delivered coffee?" I demand, pseudo-indignant nonetheless. "Sandwiches!" I shake my head lightly, disgusted. "What is this?" I rest my elbow on the table, hand by my head, "A secretary! Of all the things."

Having caught up with what I'm saying, he looks up from across the table, bemused. "It's a job," he says. "An important job," he adds grandly.

I acknowledge this, shaking my head with a conceding expression. "But flirting!" I say, sticking my thumb up on my raised hand to count one.

He looks smug. "Excessive use of the photocopier for inappropriate reasons," I make up, putting up another finger, two. "Contaminating the water-cooler in an inappropriate and childish manner." Three. I raise an eyebrow and prop my head up with the raised hand. "Continued sexual harassment of the male boss," I add, four.

He smirks crooked at me, nodding slyly. "Oh yeah," he says smugly. He looks across at Jake. "You told her?" he stage whispers earnestly.

I reach across to the untouched tray for my drink; a coke it appears, the other two having beer. Life is cruel – but then it looks like home-brew so I'm not too worried. I set the drink down in front of me.

Jake waves his hand as a maybe. "Can't keep secrets," he says.

"Why have you got home-brew and where's my straw?" I ask indignantly. The two guys look at me. I shake my head, disappointed. "You're useless," I say, standing up and untangling myself from the bench, starting to head inside.

"I'll have cod and chips," comes Jake's lazy voice form the table. I turn round, looking affronted. He shrugs and I thumb at Kieran, questioningly, jerking my head slightly. Jake looks at Kieran, expectantly.

There's silence and I look at Jake, frowning faintly, bemused. He looks across at Kieran, busy staring at the table and looks back to me, tapping his head and thumbing back to Kieran: he's thinking.

I nod, oh right.

"Same," he finally says. "With peas." Jake looks up at this, pointing to himself and mouthing "and me." I nod OK at him.

"Peas?" I say to Jake, pointing a Kieran.

Jake looks across to Kieran. "Peas?" he asks. This is stupid, I think. Kieran nods. Jake looks up at me, but I raise my hands defensively.

"I got it," I say, smiling wryly.

I turn to go inside. It's not far to the door and I have the reverse effect once I'm in: it's darker and I can't see anything. I walk forward going by what I can see faintly, becoming clearer as my eyes adjust. I head to the bar, leaning over and waiting for the guy to come.

He does, greyed hair and a grin. "Can I get three cod and chips? And peas," I add.

He nods. "Where're you sitting?"

"Outside." I gesture, thumbing over my shoulder to the door. "Straight out the door," I say.

"That's £9.75," I'm told and I reach into my pocket, fishing for change. I pull out a ten and a five, reaching across to hand them over. The till dials and pings like the sitcom where the till takes the guy's hand off, and the change comes cold into my palm.

"Can I get a straw, sorry?" I ask, grinning.

The guy laughs faintly, "Sure," and reaches to the drinks shelves behind him, pulling a straw out of a pot like an 80s wine cooler. Hygienic, I think.

I take it with thanks and head back outside, looking up to see still a few kids on the barracks, one at the bottom of the slide with another trying to climb the wrong way up it, trainers squeaking against the metal.

I sit back down with a thump. Kieran pretends to steady the bench with his hands flat on top of it.

"Thanks babe."

"Yeah thanks," he adds and I'm appreciated.

"Home brew!" comes Kieran's indignant late response. "This is Amstel." I look up at his much-prided Amstel I dared to call Home-brew. He looks offended.

"Good as then," I say. I'm a Kronenburg girl, if anything, and Amstel is pigswill, unless I'm bordering desperate.

I happily put my straw in my bottle of coke. I look at it; dark drink with neon yellow straw and smile, lifting the glass. It's gorgeous on my tongue, sweet and achingly delicious. A refreshing touch in my mouth and it makes the moment. I should be in advertising for sure.

"Man, the 5-aside are gonna be doomed without you." They're back to whatever it was they were talking; football it seems.

"I can't be arsed. It's nine in the morning," Jake laughs at this obscenity.

"Nine in the morning? That's obscene. How do they get five people playing for them with that?"

"Dunno. It's bullshit."

"Too fat to play," I add, patting his stomach condescendingly. This is crap.

"Mmm," Kieran makes an agreeing noise and swipes his glass from across the table. "No more drinks for you," he says happily. "Ah ha ha," he laughs slowly and smugly at his ingenious joke. I smile through my cheeks at him.

By the time the sun streaks through the clouds, it's later and the remnants of food are on the plates. I stab a piece of bread-crumbed fish onto my piece and wave it around as I look distractedly over my shoulder, seeing who else is left around us. It's relatively empty and I look back round to eat my food.

Kieran's fingers jump back from hovering pincer-style over my food from across the table. I frown and put the food deliberately into my mouth, snapping my mouth shut around it and putting the fork on the plate.

"I think you should sit in the back on the way home," Kieran says loudly and quite seriously.

I look up, pseudo-hurt. "Why?"

"Because of your obscene and personal jokes about my beer."

"That's not very gentlemanly," I say.

"Nor were you."

"I'm female."

"Mmmm." Jake makes an obnoxious noise to this. "Yes. Yes you are." I look sideways at him.

I look at the table and grab a knife, pushing a bug off the table.

Kieran looks straight blank at me. "And that's cruelty to animals," he exclaims. "Does your cruelty have no end?" Jake tuts.

"It appears not," I say, prodding the knife in his direction and scowling savagely, making a face that makes me think of Russia. "Caerr-fvul," I warn him, voice clinging to my throat on the way out. "Or yoo vill be nexst."

"Shit. Beat her up man," he tells Jake, who mock-punches my arm, which barely skims it.

"That's abuse," I point out, dead straight.

"Iai'm go-eeng to get yooh," he says making a face and waving tickly fingers at me menacingly.

"Ouh nuh!" I freeze. "Sheet," I swear, and look across to stage left, and stage whisper to Kieran: "this is your fault, you insufferable bastard, and you are going down."

His face changes: drops completely. He stands up, backing away and looks wildly around. "I'm going to the toilet," he says, all get-out clause and everything. I pick up a half-full pint from the table where Jake's drinking the other one, distracted, and wave it threateningly at him.

The Russian accent's still going strong: "I duhn't think sso." I look up, pout and cold glare and he turns and strides off quickly in the other direction which breaks into a run and in that second I'm dashing after him, with the pint left behind on the table and I can see Jake in my head putting his pint down with a clunk and looking up and his face, and Kieran's making way on me. I can't speed up much: society dictates.

My feet are across the grass, Kieran's ahead and the pub garden isn't too big and he's heading towards the kid's play area with the double-storey wooden barracks. I'm maybe twenty metres behind as he grabs a rope on the side that goes up to the top.

There's an instinct you can see – if you're us – where he grabs the rope and his feet haven't even caught the side of the barracks to walk up where he's pulling himself up with two hands - and you know he could do that for metres on end without stopping - and it's so instinctive that you can see the point he automatically catches himself and uses his feet to help him, before he slides out of view onto the top floor, his back slips out of view.

I pull myself up, although slower – much slower, and he's stopped at the top, all pseudo-panting though I think part of it might be real because of the temporary beer gut from this afternoon. As I drag myself over, onto the flat top, Kieran's sitting there with perfect breathing like mine, sprawled lazily on the floor.

"Stupid boy," I intone as I sprawl next to him under the sheltered end, leaning against the short wall.

"You ran," he says. "You ran!"

"Yes," I say. "Damn this physical exertion and such. I blame you."

He makes a squidgy face. "Where is Jake?" I ask.

"I don't know. Did we leave him with the bill?"

"No. You pay at the bar," I remind him.

"Ahh yes," he says. "That old routine." He nods sagely.

I look up, over the small barrack wall opposite and into the sky. It's going to rain – give it a few seconds, I swear. It's got that spilling over quality where you can almost feel it before it starts.

"I want Polos."

"Would you like 20p?" I ask simply.

"Oh. Um. Gosh," he stops. "I'm sorry, I'm not used to such generosity."

I rummage in my pocket and pull out change, looking at it flat on my palm: one 10p, and two 50ps, one five, and other assorted two and pences.

"Never mind," he says. "I couldn't take your fifty. I'd feel like I was taking advantage or something."

"It's a lot of money," I agree. "Ask Jake when he comes."

"How do you know he will?" And it's co cliché because there's the over-done scrabbling noise at the bottom of the rope and I could roll my eyes but I don't.

"We have a psychic bond. It's luuurve," I say stupidly.

"Good god." And you know he's staggered by the ingenuity of it all.

Jake appears over the top, pulling himself up with ease, and he thuds down next to me, arm going round my shoulders.

"Stop," Kieran says.

Jake looks at him. "That's legal," he says, obviously.

"No no. Give me some money please," Kieran says. "I need polos."

The arm goes from my shoulders as he digs in his pocket and pulls out a pound, throwing it to Kieran who left-hand catches it and slides off down the metal slide to the grass below.

"Such a little kid," he says, and I smile to myself.

"So cute," I say with a grin. He rolls his eyes dramatically, wounded. "You. Are so cute." He nods.

"Yeah." He looks down at me, face soft and with serious eyes and dark hair messed round his head. Christ, something in my twitches, says "oh gosh, this guy," and I'm making the comparisons again with life. I shouldn't be. This is incredibly unprofessional.

The dynamics between us are harder in a way; Kieran's dead easy to get along with because he's just Kieran and we gel somehow. Also, we're just friends. With Jake, he's.. slightly different, and slightly more serious, and it's harder between us – for me, anyway – because we're 'closer' and it's got to be more than natural. It's got to be instinctive, and I might not quite have it yet but I know if a day or two - though to be fair, it should be quicker in a professional capacity – that thing will click and the job'll get so much easier. I can't wait. It'll be a load off my shoulders. And anyway.

The rain starts spitting, like it's just emerged from in front of my face, and I shuffle along until I'm in the corner against the wooden walls, and Jake's pulled up by my side and we're curled up, and the rain's getting worse. It's like suddenly clapped out and the sky's greyer than it ever was an hour ago. It's OK though because we're sheltered, and the wind can't get in.

Jake's soft against me, pulled up, and I've leant my head against his chest and his arm's round me and it's comfortable and snug and warm, and nice. He drops a kiss on the back of my neck and we sit.

"Do you get a sexy uniform from work?" he asks. I roll my eyes.

"Yeah. It's like a white unisex tunic. Maybe I can get you one," I say.

"That would be pretty hot," he says. I think about this and snigger, disturbed. "Wait, do you get trousers, right?"

"No," I lie. "It's ankle-length. And you get a bit of rope to tie around your waist to stop perverts in case there is a strong wind."

"Around your waist…?" he says in a thoughtful tone. "But surely if a strong wind…?" and he trails off, with me knowing what he's thinking.

"It's a very heavy tunic.

"But if it was a strong wind."

"Shhh. It's a shirt and trousers," I tell him. "No tunic. I lied."

"That's cruel," he says. "I hear the nun thin is really hot this year."

"More like the monk thing," I say.

"The monk thing? Really? You think I should get a haircut like that, too?"

"Of course. It'd really suit your bone structure," I explain.

"I think I'd look pretty good. I might look at that."

"Maybe it's not the haircut," I ponder. "Maybe it's the whole Christian thing. Or maybe the fatness." I do a look, though he can't see it. "I see you're working on that."

"I could drink you under the table," he says.

"I'm sure that illegal in public places," I say.

"Excuse me? I.. I don't understand. Are you still talking about Beer?" he asks, desperately concerned.

"Of course." I cough.

I can hear the wind over the top of the barrack walls, and see the rain splattering through the sky. I sigh, and snuggle down into Jake's warm chest. Cosy.

He drops a kiss on my neck again, and it's so sensitive and careful but passionate somehow, and I move my neck as his mouth works its way round my neck and over my jaw. His lips meet mine and I move my head to the side and lean up, and he leans down and we kind of melt into each other. His hand slides behind my back and mine rests on his side and this is the first real one that pointedly starts the ongoing public façade, and it's … lovely.

It's delicate but – loving? I suppose that's the acting on each side. My mouth's alive, and I turn my head to the side to breathe, leaning my head against him and staring at the brown wood of the wall just past his shoulder. I feel his lips touch as he kisses my hair and I shift so my legs are stretched out in front of me and I'm leaning back against him. It's like a domino effect up to the wall.

I lean my head back up towards his and our lips touch again, tantalisingly slow until something gives and we're fused again.

Suddenly there's a ping, and the moment's ruined by a polo landing on the floor by us.