As well as working on Blackbrooke III, I've been tinkering with the side story of Denzil and Marie. The first part of their story can be found here and here's the next instalment. I'm writing this for myself but if you want to have a read then please do :-)
Hope you enjoy - feedback always welcome.
His Walkman was the only indulgence he allowed himself from the Outside. And tobacco of course. The other items didn’t matter. He didn’t need them.
Drugs and alcohol were only fun when enjoyed with someone else and as his only friend was clean living, Tony Jackson, that wasn’t going to happen.
As for condoms…as if.
So, he walked home from the Academy, kicking stones in his path, head bobbing to the music blasting through the over-sized headphones.
The Walkman had cost him a pretty penny, most of his earnings from the last year but it was worth it. Music whenever you wanted it. When you walked down the street. In the fresh air. Imagine that!
It was the only time the kids from the Academy considered him with any real respect. Without the Walkman he was the scruffy joker who did the dodgy dealings. No one was unpleasant to him, in fact they were great when they wanted something, but as soon as the order was fulfilled he ceased to exist.
He didn’t care. Passing under the radar was preferable, especially since his parents walked out. He didn’t want to talk about it and as soon as he glimpsed pity, he turned the other way.
He snarled up at the black clouds as it started to rain and pulled his hood up.
His hair needed cutting. He reckoned it’d probably go into a ponytail now. Once he could pull it back with an elastic band, it was time for the scissors to make an appearance. He’d simply cut the ponytail off and then he could leave it for another month or two. It wasn’t the slick hairstyle the other kids were currently partial to but that didn’t matter.
In fact, he made a promise the day his hairstyle started to matter was the day he walked out.
He pushed open the door to Tales from the Crits and shook himself like a dog, a shiver creeping up his spine from the cold rain.
“Gran?” His eyes darted around the shop but she wasn’t there. It wasn’t unusual. Sometimes Denzil would swear she wanted the place to be turned over when her back was turned.
There were swirls of smoke hanging in the air from the sickly incense sticks and he batted his way through it as though there were spider webs in his path.
He pulled the headphones down around his neck and whistled Blondie’s Call Me as he crossed the shop and through the door leading up to the flat.
I’ll find her sitting next to the radio with a pot of tea, he thought with a faint smile. His trainers made wet footprints on the bare wooden stairs.
“If I find her asleep,” he muttered, “then I’ll…”
He trailed off and stopped in his tracks. His brow creased into a frown and he started to make his way back down the stairs backwards. He moved slowly, his mouth hanging open like a goldfish. He pushed open the door to the shop floor and retraced his steps.
“Hi.” Marie Picton was stood in the same spot he thought he’d just seen her in. Lost in his own world, he’d completely ignored her.
Probably dismissed her as a mirage, his thoughts taunted.
She walked towards him and everything seemed to slow in the same way it did in those lame movies his grandmother was partial to.
Marie Picton was an arresting sight in her school uniform, grey socks pulled over her knees and minus the compulsory bulky jumper. Her jacket wasn’t fastened (girls never seemed to do that, even when the temperatures were sub zero). Specks of rain made parts of her blouse see-through, like a tantalising game of peekaboo that was impossible not to stare at. Her single braid was over one shoulder and several strands had come loose, framing her face with gold. She wore a half smile as she moved to him.
He fumbled with the Walkman and clicked it off, tearing the headphones from around his neck.
“I thought you were ignoring me,” she laughed, sounding nervous. Her blue eyes darted to the side. “Erm…were you ignoring me?”
Denzil realised he hadn’t said anything and willed his mouth to cooperate. He wasn’t a pathetic letch, that wasn’t the problem. The problem lay in the issue of Marie Picton standing in Tales from the Crits. No one ventured in there and that’s how he preferred it. He was aware the kids in the Academy thought the shop, and his grandmother, was weird and the last thing he needed was that to be confirmed once they set foot inside.
It was disturbing to see the Blackbrooke Academy uniform in the shop. The fact that uniform was worn by Marie helped even less.
“I-I wasn’t…I didn’t ignore you. Not on purpose anyway.”
She nodded and exhaled shakily. She placed her hands on her hips and surveyed the shop. “This place is great.”
He didn’t mean to laugh. He moved around the other side of the counter defensively. “You don’t have to say that.”
“You,” he pointed at her, not meaning to sound quite so aggressive. “I know you probably think its mental.”
She moved her arms so they were folded, erecting her own barrier. “I like it. I like your gran too.”
He coughed. “What?”
Marie moved closer to the counter and he stepped back instinctively. She noticed and was it his imagination or did she look disappointed? “She wanted to have a lie down because she wasn’t feeling well and I said I’d look after the shop.”
Denzil lowered his head in mock despair. “Christ sake, she doesn’t even know you.”
Marie now looked amused. “I’m not going anywhere. If I robbed the place I’m sure you’d have no trouble hunting me down.”
Images of Marie dressed like Rachel Welsh in One Million Years BC while he pursued her flashed in his head and he didn’t know whether to mentally scold himself or laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
Shit. Clearly went for the laugh.
“Nothing,” he sniffed, trying not to smile. “Anyway, what brought you here in the first place? Or did the crazy woman drag you in off the street? Because if she did then I’ll assure you you’re not being held against your will. You are free to leave.”
At this she giggled, which he had to admit was a glorious sound. And he’d made it happen. He hated he was so pleased with himself.
She returned her twinkling eyes to him and licked the corner of her mouth. All of a sudden, all trace of happiness faded and she returned to looking nervous. She reached into her breast pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper, setting it down in front of him.
He eyed it, any excitement of her presence draining away. She was placing an order.
Of course she was.
He unfolded it and she jumped forward. “You don’t have to look at it yet!”
She only wanted one thing and when his eyes returned to her face it was scarlet. He thought perhaps his was too.
“Pack of Durex condoms,” he spat before he could stop. “No problemo. I’ll need the money in advance though.” He held out his hand and pretended to tidy something behind the counter with his other so he didn’t have to look at her.
“Of course,” she rummaged in her bag, producing a crisp five pounds note. “Will this cover it?”
He nodded for her to place it on the counter, now wanting to limit contact with her to a minimum. Any hurt registering on her face was most welcome.
“They’re for my boyfriend,” she blurted, eyes trained on the floor. “I’m not a whore who sleeps around. I’ve never done it before and-”
“Please,” he jumped in with an overly-friendly smile, “spare me the details. I’m just the dealer, I don’t need your life story. No judgement here.” The last sentence wasn’t so convincing.
“You know him," she piped up, not able to stop her mouth from flapping. “You take sports with him. It’s Tate Jacobson.”
Tate Jacobson. Denzil frowned, trying to put a face to the name, before deciding he really didn’t want to. He didn’t know why he cared. Since the brief interaction with Marie in Blackbrooke class where she presented her storm obsession to class of kids who didn’t care, their contact had been minimal. Just a smile on the corridor here and there. He didn’t realise until that moment how much he valued those smiles. How much hope they filled him with.
What a fool.
He slapped his hand down over the money and forced another smile. “Is that all, Marie?”
Her face flushed more. “Erm…yes, if that’s okay. Tate mentioned it’s a fast turnaround and I was hoping to have them for Friday-”
“Today’s Monday,” he cut in.
“Yes, I know.”
“Well, I’ll have them by Wednesday.” The fake smile was starting to hurt his face.
She nodded, clearly flustered. “If I give you a bit more money maybe you can get him a bottle of gin.”
Denzil laughed before he could stop himself. “Gin? A real man’s drink.”
She frowned, looking annoyed. “That’s what he drinks. It was you who got him the last bottle. It’s because he stole it from his mother’s cabinet and ended up with a taste for it…”
She prattled on but Denzil was no longer listening. Instead, an alarm bell sounded in his brain. One so loud, he started to grind his teeth. Suddenly, he was sucked back into a day last week. He’d been passed an order in the sports changing rooms and he remembered it well.
Denzil was roughly clapped on his bare back by another boys from the class. It was one of the rugby meatheads and he rolled his eyes before turning around, salesman smile plastered as always. Before the meathead had even started speaking, Denzil hoped he wasn’t going to ask for steroids. They were a nightmare to get hold of and he wasn’t sure how pure the stuff was that he was getting in. Imagine if he killed someone? He took in the sight in front of him and wondered whether that was actually a bad thing.
Although Denzil was quite tall, this boy had almost a foot on him. Helped by the weird heeled cowboy boots he had on under his school trousers. He was shirtless but had on a pair of aviator sunglasses, indoors. In Blackbrooke, possibly one of the gloomiest towns in the world. Topgun had a lot to answer for…
“How can I help you, mate?” he asked, trying not to laugh.
The boy rubbed his chin and looked around as though any of the other pupils who were getting changed actually gave a toss. “Can you sort me out with some…stuff from the Outside.”
Denzil let out a tight laugh and pulled on his shirt. “I have a rule about taking orders in the Academy.”
“I know.” The boy grabbed Denzil’s arm as he turned to pull his jumper out of his locker. “I’ll be quick and there are no teachers around. I’ve checked.”
Denzil looked at his pleading face and sighed. He pulled his battered note pad out of his bag and clicked his pen. “Shoot.”
“Yeah…” The boy cleared his throat for what must have been the hundredth time. “Can you get a bottle of gin. Large.”
Denzil resisted the urge to raise an eyebrow. He impatiently pushed his hair out of his face and clicked the pen again. “Is that it? I’m going to need the money in advance and you’re looking at a tenner. At least.”
The boy pulled out a crumpled twenty and placed it on Denzil’s notepad. “Can you get me some rubbers as well?”
Denzil didn’t flinch and picked up the note, placing it between his teeth as he jotted ‘johnnies’ on the pad. “I’ll have it in forty-eight hours. Don’t expect change.”
“Sure.” The boy smiled, revealing perfect white teeth. He visibly relaxed after placing the order and Denzil had a horrible feeling he was going to try and carry on the conversation.
He was right.
“If you could keep it on the down low about the rubbers, I’d be grateful.”
Denzil slung his bag over his shoulder and slammed the locker closed. “Mate, I don’t even know your name.”
“Haha! Good one!” The boy pointed as though Denzil had made a joke. He didn’t have the heart to reiterate that he didn’t actually have a clue. High school was as famous as this guy was ever going to get. Who’d want to rain on that parade?
To his dismay the boy followed, still pulling on his clothes as they exited the changing room onto the corridor.
Denzil was two steps ahead but it didn’t deter him as he jogged to keep up. He squeezed Denzil’s shoulder as though they were firm friends. “The thing is, I know it’s against the rules but my girlfriend is something else, she really is.”
He needed a cigarette. Badly. But he knew he was still at least two hours away from the next opportunity. Instead he reached into his bag again and pulled out one of the lollipops he stole from the shop, ripping the wrapper with his teeth and throwing it into his mouth.
“The only problem,” the boy drawled, draping an arm around Denzil’s neck, “is she’s frigid. You know what I mean? Doesn’t matter what I say, she won’t be prised away from those frilly knickers.”
Denzil moved the lollipop around so it clattered against his teeth in an effort to drown out the boy. He would have told him to bugger off but he could really do with that twenty. Especially if he wanted to keep buying medication for his grandmother from the Outside.
“Minor problem though,” the bottom corners of the boys mouth turned downwards as he spoke, “I’ve been seeing her friend on the side. And let me tell you, Rathbone, the friend doesn’t need any convincing. Little slag. Pretty little slag though.”
Now Denzil turned to face him, he clamped his hands on his shoulders and forced a smile. “What class do you have now?”
The boy was caught offguard and looked disappointed Denzil wasn’t more impressed with his story. “English.”
“Shucks, I have maths. Opposite direction, we’ll have to part ways, my friend. Great talking to you.” He walked backwards and outstretched his arms. “I felt like we really connected today.”
“Yeah!” The boy flashed a hopeful thumbs up.
As Denzil rounded the corner he knew that once Maverick had his gin and johnnies, he wouldn’t speak to him again. Until next time.
“…so I want to show that I do actually care about him and that I’m ready.”
Denzil blinked and looked up at Marie who’d clearly babbled her way from gin to johnnies. She looked back at him as though she expected a response. He, of course, hadn’t been listening.
“So, this guy is your boyfriend?”
She nodded seriously as though being addressed by a police officer.
“And it’s your first time?”
He felt heat in his cheeks again. The question didn’t sound quite so creepy in his head. He glanced down at the five pound note and slowly removed his hand covering it. He pushed it back towards her.
“I’m sorry.” He stood up straight and cleared his throat. “I can’t get you what you need.”
She folded her arms again. “What? Why?”
He shrugged, searching for the words. Any words. “I just can’t.”
Nice one, Den, he thought. That’ll do it.
“No!” she shouted, surprising him. “I’m not having that. You sell all sorts to the boys but as soon as a girl wants something you get on your high horse and refuse. Well, I’m a human and I have…needs and this is what I need. And you will get me what I put on the list.”
He let out a laugh. “Darlin, you can’t even bring yourself to say what you put on the list. Do you really think you’re ready?”
She narrowed her eyes. “You patronising bastard. Of course I am. It’s none of your business. I’m going to surprise my long term boyfriend-”
“With sex?” He looked to the heavens. “Whatever happened to a good old fashioned mixed tape?”
She flushed redder if that was possible. “Of all people, I really didn’t expect you to be judgemental after all of the requests you get.”
He shrugged. “I can’t help you, Marie.”
She snatched the note back and turned on her heel.
He watched her snatch the door open and winced as the bell jangled madly. She stopped and her shoulders raised as though sucking in a deep breath.
“Uh oh,” he muttered as she stalked back.
“You know what your problem is?” She pointed in his face. “You’ve never had a girlfriend, you’ve probably never been kissed. You don’t know what it’s like to love someone so much you’ll do anything for them. You’ll put their needs before your own. He loves me and I love him. I’m not selling myself, I’m not shagging boys behind the sports hall like some girls I can name. I’m doing this right and I’m being responsible. You should be congratulating me. Applauding me for not risking getting knocked up before my seventeenth birthday. I’m doing the right-”
“He’s banging your friend!”
He hadn’t meant for that to happen.
She recoiled as though he’d slapped her in the face. She shook her head. “What did you just say?”
Fight or flight, Denzil.
His heart was hammering and he felt irrationally angry all of a sudden. Unfortunately for Marie, there was only one person for him to take it out on. He stepped out from behind the counter and advanced. When he spoke his voice was low. “I got talking to your so-called boyfriend last week when he placed an order for his pansy-arsed bottle of gin. At the same time, he placed an order for the very same thing you’ve just asked for.”
She edged away from him with every step, still shaking her head. “He didn’t say anything-”
“Of course he didn’t say anything!” Denzil grabbed his hair and let out a laugh. “Said plenty to me though. More than I wanted to hear. That his girlfriend was frigid so he was going to bang, and I quote!” his voice was getting louder but he didn’t care. She was now eyeing him as though he was a wild animal. “Her 'pretty little slag' of a friend. But shhhh! Don’t tell my girlfriend!”
Something fell off one of the shelves and smashed onto the floor as Marie knocked into it. She let out a little cry but didn’t take her eyes off him. He knew he was going too far. He knew he was scaring her but he couldn’t help himself. The girl he’d been thinking about non stop was nothing but a beautiful fool and the disappointment was overwhelming.
“You’re lying,” she choked.
“Why would I be lying?!” He yelled, his voice cracking. “I don’t give a toss about you. Why would I lie about something like that?”
“If you don’t give a shit about me,” she shouted back, boldly taking a step forward so they were almost toe to toe, “sell me the condoms.”
They fell quiet. Breathing ragged, staring at one another.
Denzil lowered his voice. “Sure you still want them?”
She opened her mouth to speak but closed it again. She rubbed her lips together and Denzil thought for one terrible moment, she was going to cry. Instead she swallowed and stood straight. “I’ll get them myself.”
She wouldn’t. He could tell by how hurt she looked there was no way that was going to happen. The only action her boyfriend was going to see from her was an awkward conversation.
She yanked the door open again and turned to him. There was a fire in her eyes and her top lip curled. “He’ll kill you. You know that, right?”
“He won’t.” Denzil stuffed his hands in his pockets. “He’s too stupid to talk his way out of it. And besides, I’d like to see him try.”
He really didn’t but that was besides the point.
“It wasn’t your place to do this,” she whispered.
He’d heard enough and turned away, waving over his shoulder. “You’re welcome. Always happy to help someone out and have it thrown back in my face. Goodbye, Marie. Get out of my shop.”
He didn’t turn back and thought she’d gone. He was surprised when she piped up. “Say goodbye to your grandmother from me.”
He saluted, flicking the pages of the comic he’d left in the counter. He didn’t look up as she slammed the door.
He only looked up when he knew she was gone. He watched her stalk down the high street in the rain, arm over her face to cover her sobs.