Liam flicked the ball into the air, keeping it off of the ground for ten kicks, before it fell to the wet grass on the eleventh bounce. He was smoking a cigarette, and not giving the ball his full attention, it was just something to do. As it rolled out of his reach, he began to shift his weight from foot to foot.
'Maybe he's still asleep, you know what he's like,' Mickey said from the swing as he swayed back and forth slowly. Billy was stood right next to him, his arms folded tight, he just nodded as he exhaled condensation from his nose. Liam breathed heavily, his breath lined with cigarette smoke as he looked down at the ground.
'You might be right,' he said. Mickey and Billy exchanged covert glances as they each sighed in relief. Liam's temper was a short one, and neither of them wanted to inadvertantly wind up on the receiving end if he lost it.
'Still,' Liam said so suddenly that it frightened the pair of them, 'we can't play footie with only three of us. So what do we do now?'
Billy shrugged, 'one-on-one, one in goal?'
'Best two out of three, loser gets in the goal,' Mickey agreed, 'we can always keep trying Jay between goals.'
'Yeah true. Billy, what about Josh? Do you think he'll want to come out for a game?' Liam asked. He was referring to Billy's best friend since primary school. Mickey was taken by surprise, Josh had always disliked Jay, so Liam had actively hated Josh. Mickey wasn't too fond of him either.
Is this some kind of a dig at Jay? Just for not answering his phone this morning? Mickey thought to himself, it's 10am on a Saturday and the kid had a date last night. Give him a chance.
'We could go knock for him,' Billy said.
'Oh, hang on, it's not needed,' Liam said. He was looking off into the distance, and the other two followed his gaze. Walking along the edge of the park, by the main road, was Jay. Walking huddled in his coat, with his chin up. Liam began to call his name, but the figure just kept on walking. It was too far to see details, and Mickey was convinced that Liam was mistaken.
As Jay strolled along the green, his head was in the clouds. He found it difficult to think of anything other than Hope, not even his surroundings. He could hear someone on the green shouting something, but he ignored it as he checked both ways and crossed over the main road. Nothing could wreck the high he was on today.
Twenty minutes later, he was at home. He had the quickest shower he had ever had, changed his clothes, pulling on extra layers to combat the cold, and then he left the house again. As he closed the door behind him, he opened his phone. Dismissing a notification of multiple missed calls, he tapped out a text to Hope, snapped the phone shut, and pocketed his hands, a wide smile on his face.
Hope almost broke her ankle as she bolted across the room to check her phone. It was Jay, 'I'm on the way back. Be with you very soon. X' She could hardly contain the grin that crossed her face, and the excitement that built inside. She had liked Jay for a long time, and finally the two of them were together. They hadn't made it "official", as the awkward ceremony of secondary school relationships demanded through the asking of the question "will you go out with me?", but they had kissed a lot the previous night, slept in the same bed, and had amazing dream-sex. She blushed at the thought. Surely it wouldn't be long before the question would be asked. Maybe even that day, but Hope couldn't quite understand why it needed to be asked. Surely it was enough that they could understand now, that they were seeing each other. They were boyfriend and girlfriend, whether they admitted it or not. Why would they need to ask an awkward question to make it final? She shook away the thought and wandered over to the mirror, checking her reflection, finding herself nervous once again, and wanting to look good.
Jay could not understand what was happening. The world spun in slow motion, the echoes and shouts in his direction sounded as if they came from somewhere underwater. Still on his feet, he felt like he needed to sit down, but somehow he was moving, walking briskly, on autopilot. He just had to get to Hope's house, that's all that mattered.
As he passed into a new street, his overwhelmed brain made sense of things as his heart pounded in his chest, and he felt like he was going to throw up.
He had been walking past the green, on his way to Hope's, when a football had hit him hard in the back. He turned to see where it had come from, only to find Liam pointing a finger at his face, yelling obscenities. 'So this is the way it's going to be now? Your mates can all go fuck themselves?'
The words ran in his head, over and over, as if Liam were saying them at that moment. Jay had tried to process the accusations, had raised his palms to calm his friend, when Liam had swung. It had thankfully misfired, and connected just above the bridge of Jay's nose. The shock of it flashed a white light in the sides of his vision, and for a moment he had no idea what was going on. Liam had stepped back, inviting Jay to fight back, but Jay had just continued to walk on his way. He just had to get to Hope's house.
As he walked, Liam grabbed his hood, swung him in a circle and attempted to stick a leg out to trip Jay to the ground, but Jay had stepped over it, breaking from Liam's grip and continuing to walk, like a zombie. Liam had made to grab Jay again when Mickey grabbed his arm and pulled him back, risking a great deal in doing so.
'Liam, leave it,' he said. Liam was breathing heavy, and for a moment, Mickey feared for his own face. But Liam simply snatched his arm from Mickey's grip,
'This is the last time I do you any favours,' Liam shouted after Jay, and then stormed off in the opposite direction.
As more details swam back, Jay understood what had happened, and what Liam had been upset about. Jay had accidentally ignored calls from Liam all the previous day, and all today. He had been so wrapped up in Hope that he had abandoned his friends. Without so much as an explanation as to being too busy. What Liam had said about being understanding if Jay and Hope got together had been false. It had been barely a day and already they were fighting. The idea of being yelled at in that way retroactively made him angry, but he had to admit too that he was scared of Liam. Jay's heart still pounded hard in his chest, and his forehead felt bruised, but he was thankful the punch had connected in the way it had; no broken nose, no black eye. Perhaps Liam had been holding back, if he wanted to hurt Jay, he would have hurt him badly. As he tried to figure what effects this would have at school on Monday, and how he could fix it, a single tear rolled down his cheek against his will.
Hope opened the door with a wide smile on her face, but it subsided almost immediately. Jay did not look happy.
'What's wrong, Jay?' she asked. The sweetness of her voice almost caused Jay to cry, but he said nothing, instead stepping up into the doorway, he put his arms around her and hugged her tight. Kissing the top of her head as he did so. They stayed like that for a moment, before Hope broke the hug, taking his hand and leading him up to her bedroom.
Jay's mood had improved considerably the second he had passed the threshold into the blue bedroom. He lay down on the bed as Hope put her MP3 player on shuffle and then joined him.
They talked and flirted mildly while listening to the music, but Jay didn't tell Hope what had happened. She wondered about it, but had a much harder time trying to shake the images of her vivid dream from her head. She feared that if she could not get rid of the thoughts, she may act impulsively and ruin everything. Especially if Jay wasn't feeling too happy, he probably wouldn't like that. She looked at Jay now in a different light, nothing bad, but she knew that she'd be OK with that progression in her relationship, whenever it happened; even if that was now, she would feel ready to.
'What's this one? I like it, but I still don't know what it is,' Jay asked, stroking Hope's hair gently as she lay on his chest. He was sat against the headboard. Hope was listening to Jay's heart beating, and her eyes had been closed. When he asked the question, she had opened them and lifted her head just slightly to refocus on the music.
'Hands Down. It's by Dashboard Confessional,' Hope said, resettling herself against the rhythm of his heart and closing her eyes again. Her lips smoothly and slowly curved into a contented smile. Jay nodded softly, repeating the song name and the artist in his head to memorise it; he closed his eyes and leaned his head back, listening to the words of the song. He could feel Hope tracing patterns on his body with her fingertips, which somehow made him feel closer than when she hadn't been doing it. His left arm was wrapped around her, and he brought up his right arm to squeeze her tightly to him. She sighed as he did; a happy, contented sigh.
They simply lay together, in silence, enjoying the music and the company of eachother. The sun shone through the window, but the November day was very cold and so Jay and Hope enjoyed the comfort from the warmth they got by holding eachother. As Hope lay, drifting slowly to a conscious sleep, Jay's mind wandered.
I've never felt this before, he thought. Not only am I completely comfortable around her, not shy, not awkward; but I'm not even lusting after her. I'm happy to just lay here and... Love? No, surely it's far too soon for that. But I definitely feel something; I feel totally different to how I usually do with girls. I'm even acting differently. Am I purposely changing myself to make her happy?
Jay opened his eyes and looked around the room, he could not remember closing his eyes and was unsure if he had slept or not. The MP3 player still played quietly in the background, and Hope still breathed softly and calmly against his chest.
'Hope? Are you asleep?' he asked in a near-whisper. She breathed in sharply through her nose and when she answered, her voice sounded like she was complaining.
'Why did you have to speak? Why couldn't you just shut up and continue being a good pillow?' she said. It took a moment for Jay to realise that she was making a joke; then he had to make her pay for that. He poked her lightly in the side, and she squirmed away from his finger, giggling as she did so. Jay poked her again, and as she recoiled, he caught her with his other hand and began to tickle her. As she tried to fight him off while giggling hysterically, the two of them fell to the floor, where they rolled around as Hope tried to put a stop to it. Finally, she managed to overpower him, and the two of them rolled over. Jay flopped onto his back, Hope straddled him, her hands pinning his wrists down on either side of his head. She leant close enough to his face to kiss, and through the now-messy hair that hung over her eyes, she spoke through her teeth. The voice came out more seductive than she had intended, 'bad boy.'
'This, I like,' Jay said after a second, and tried to kiss her. She pulled away slightly and he struggled to reach her. Finally she let him kiss her and she loosened her grip on his wrists. He placed his hands on her sides and the two of them kissed on the floor. Hope could feel him through his jeans, hard and pressing against her, straining to get out. This could have been the moment.
Jay wondered if she could feel his hard-on; it made him slightly embarrassed that he was so easily aroused, and he only hoped that she wouldn't mind. As their kiss broke, Hope sat up, towering over him as he lay on the ground. A devilish grin beneath a messy fringe told him that she had felt it, and he immediately felt his face turn bright red as they simply stared at each other. Without a word, she rolled over to lay beside him, her head once again on his chest at the crook of his arm. She had waited for him to make the, and she would wait until he did so.
As they calmed once again, their breathing returning to a steady pace at the same time, Jay thought of something he had once heard.
"Girls openly want love, a lot more than guys do. Guys ignore their feelings and shrug them off; but the thing is that it takes a lot longer for a girl to fall in love, than it does for a boy. Men can fall in love in the space of a day, but it could take forever for the woman he loves, to love him back."
In honesty, it was a grim thought, but it made sense to Jay, and it confirmed that what he was feeling for Hope could indeed be love.
They lay without another word, having moved from the bed to the floor, and passed – without Jay's knowledge – through a moment of severe sexual tension, when he could have easily seized what he had always wanted, and they were both very happy as they listened to the words of Hope's music.
Over an hour later, neither of them had moved an inch.