Denise looked at the man at the bar with the sharp looks and sharper suit, flicking her gaze back to her mate as soon as his head started turning her way. Becca looked back at her and they both grinned lasciviously, twinkles firmly in their eyes.
“Fuck me!” exclaimed Denise. “You ain’t kidding, Bex… he is fit as fuck!”
“No shit, Sherlock,” replied Becca, deadpan. She flicked her eyes back towards the bar. “Bloody hell! He’s checking us out!”
Both girls reddened automatically and giggled with embarrassment. Becca knew full well which one of them the handsome stranger was checking out, and it wasn’t her, but she was used to it, used to picking up the mates of the fit lads who always threw themselves at Denise. Fair play to her, though, despite this her mate didn’t put it about like some in her situation would, although that didn’t stop Becca from landing a few choice catches once Denise had let her own fish go. Some called her a slag, but she didn’t give a monkeys. She liked to enjoy herself was all, and as far as she was concerned as long as she was safe about it and didn’t end up with a brat scampering round her feet she could do what she wanted and bollocks to the lot of them.
It was close to chucking out time in the Penny Farthing, a nice enough town centre pub a couple of stones throw from the beach. In the Summer it would be full of holidaymakers, mostly drunken lads and lasses out for a laugh, but was just off the main thoroughfare enough to avoid the trouble that often came with such people. The farthing was a pub that people tended to get drunk in then move on, rather than get absolutely bladdered in and cause grief. The girls had spent a lot of their early Summer evenings there a few months ago, but now it was winter they were tending to get cosy early on and just stay there gossiping and looking out for new talent on the bloke front. At the weekend a club usually beckoned afterwards, as it was doing now, the pub clock creeping closer to kicking out time.
So far, it had been a far from fabulous Friday, the Farthing being populated by mostly older locals, happy to ignore the girls in favour of a game of pool or darts, or, worse still, a loud conversation about real ale, something which they had both tried (tired of the nagging) and loathed immediately. They were both quite enjoying the new, bottled, white cider that had appeared quite recently, liking both the taste and the fact it was twice as strong as the usual stuff. They had been content to sip a few bottles and chill out, readying themselves for a more frenzied approach when they hit the clubs. Then, out of nowhere, Mister Fit Bloke had appeared and they had both stopped pretending to be interested in the other’s work gossip. What struck them first was how he carried himself, like he was better than everyone else in there. Not, mind you, because he was cocky, but because it was a simple fact. His suit was classic, smart and fitted him like a glove, but he didn’t look like any businessman they had ever seen. There was a palpable air of danger about him, floating around like the cigarette smoke from his expensive looking fag. What this bloke had couldn’t be bought or learned - it was natural, and the only two choices were to throw yourself at it or run like all Hell was after you.
Denise allowed herself a look back at the new arrival, and was dismayed to find he had turned his attention firmly towards Mike, the Landlord. Words were being spoken in hushed tones, and she could see that Mike was far from comfortable. He was a big bloke, never took any shit from anyone and was happy to toss the occasional arsehole back through the doors, but he looked like a servant who’d been caught nicking the family silver. The conversation ended shortly after it had begun, and the stranger gave Mike a small pat on the cheek, like a father to a child with a good report card. He then turned and left, but not before giving Denise a look that burned through to her very soul, and she knew that if she’d been standing at that moment her knees would have buckled. He winked, shot her a small but devastating smile and disappeared.
“Get yer coat, Den - you’ve pulled!” squawked Becca, before nearly falling off her chair laughing at her mate’s shell shocked expression. Denise just sat there, unable to get that face out of her mind. She didn’t know it at the time, but there would come a time when she would wish on all that was sacred to her that she’d never, ever seen it.
As she poured another pot of overpriced coffee and stuck a piece of overpriced cake on the side, Denise wondered for the thousandth time how she’d ended up working in the Marks & Spencer coffee shop. Okay, so it wasn’t that bad, compared to some of the shit jobs her mates had, but all she ever got were old women, day in and day out. Fit blokes just didn’t come to Marks & Sparks for their daily cuppa, they were in greasy spoons, fresh from fixing up their motorbikes, fag in their mouths and oil down their tight fitting overalls…
“Is that mine, love?”
Jarred from her daydream, Denise gave the coffee and cake to the old dear who had been patiently waiting, flashing her a smile that seemed to remind them all of their bleedin’ grand daughters. She watched the old duck waddle off to her seat, knowing she’d eke out her afternoon treat for at least half an hour, more if a friend joined her as they so often did. She looked at her watch and was pleased too see it was time for her fag break, so she got the nod from the supervisor and headed up to the staff room.
“I have been gasping for this since lunch,” Denise said as she inhaled her afternoon cigarette, breathing a sigh of pleasure as the smoke wafted towards the ceiling.
“I do wish they wouldn’t let people smoke up here,” complained Hayley, who worked on the shop floor in ladieswear. “My mum won’t believe I don’t smoke cos she always smells it on my clothes.”
“You may as well start, Hayley,” said Denise, smiling. “At least that’ll give the old bag something to genuinely have a go at you for.
Hayley laughed, knowing her friend had hit the nail right on the head, as per usual. Her mum was a nightmare, always accusing Hayley of doing things she’d not even thought of. Although a pretty girl, she was still a virgin at seventeen with no plans to become otherwise. Her mum, however, constantly went on at her to go on the Pill, convinced she was shagging blokes left right and centre. If there were any two words that summed up her Mum, then “Old” and “Bag” were the ones. Her dad was lovely, though he wouldn’t say boo to a goose, let alone stand up to his harridan of a wife. Hayley just kept telling herself that her Mum wouldn’t go on so unless she really cared, so she just put up with it, and had even agreed to go and see the doctor next week. What a palaver…
“Earth to Hayley!” said Denise, waving her hand in front of Hayley’s eyes and grinning. “You daydreaming about killing your old dear again?” she laughed.
“Oh stop it, Den. She’s all right, really,” said Hayley defensively. “She’s just worried about me, is all.”
“Yeah, worried you’ll turn into an ‘orrible little slapper,” snarled Denise, putting on a villainous comic voice that always made Hayley laugh like a drain. “Speaking of slappers, you gonna come out with me and Becca tonight? We aren’t going mental or anything, just a few drinks and a gossip down the Farthing”
Hayley took a breath and paused, her eyes darting around the room. Denise dove in before the lie could be formed.
“Come on, Hay. Becca’s a good girl really, she’s just got a lot of front. You’re my mate, and she’s my mate, and I just want my mates to get along. Her problem is she just don’t know you like I do, she thinks you’re stuck up when I know you’re just shy. Come out and have a laugh and I’ll make sure you’re home before your Mum turns into a pumpkin.”
It was the last line that persuaded Hayley, always a sucker for her friend’s sense of humour. “Oh, all right,” she said, caving in. “Where shall I meet you?”
“How about the Farthing at 8?” suggested Denise. “Put a bit of slap on and wear something nice and you’ll get served no worries.”
Whilst the other two were 18, Hayley had another month before her birthday, although they had all been in the same year at school. Back then they hadn’t mixed, with Hayley being the quiet girl who was happy just to not be picked on. It had come as a revelation to her when she became fiends with Denise through work, finding that they had a lot in common when not separated by the hierarchy or secondary school. The main problem for her was Becca, who had been a bully at school and terrified her even now. That said, perhaps Denise was right, and she just hadn’t given her a fair chance. Anyway, Denise wouldn’t let anything happen to her, of that she was certain.
Denise punched the air, like she did every night after finishing work, and crossed the high street to WH Smiths, sparking up a cigarette to wait for Becca. The day had been a big old lump of nothing special, and she was looking forward to a good night out with her friends, glad she’d got a rare Saturday off with the bonus of Sunday as well. She shoved a tape in her Walkman and was soon lost in Soul 2 Soul’s “Back To Life”, which had just been cruelly knocked off the number one spot by that talentless Scouser Sonia, and as a result neither she or Becca would go anywhere near a dance floor when her song, “You’ll Never Stop Me From Loving You”, was playing.
With her eyes closed, blowing smoke rings through habit, she didn’t see Becca coming out of the shop, and consequently jumped a mile when her friend punched her on the arm. Becca, however, didn’t laugh like she usually would as Denise’s headphones flew from her head. Instead, she looked like she could commit murders.
“What’s up, Bex?” asked Denise, worried by the sheer fury in Becca’s eyes. Becca grabbed her arm, making her walk with her away from her place of work.
“That fucking bitch is at it again,” she fumed. “I swear, Den, I’m gonna do her some damage if she ain’t careful. Every fucking evening she stops me just as I’m scooting off, making me do some bullshit thing that could easily wait until morning. Tonight it was ‘Straighten out the birthday cards, Rebecca, there’s a good girl’ - I nearly punched the cow!”
Becca’s impersonation of her snooty bitch of a shop manager Mrs Binns was so spot on that Denise had to giggle, despite her friend’s anger, and in turn Becca calmed down a little, having got her story out to someone.
“Good girl, Rebecca!” Denise said in a posh voice, patting her friend patronisingly on the head.
“Piss off,” said Becca, smiling now. “It just winds me up, doesn’t it. So,” she said, changing the topic, “we ready for a girly night out, then?”
“All systems go,” said Denise, mock saluting. “You okay to meet at the Farthing around eight?”
“Sounds good to me,” agreed Becca. “The dynamic duo ride again, eh?”
“Well, sort of,” said Denise. “More of a trio tonight, as I’ve invited…”
“Don’t tell me, it’s that drip Hayley isn’t it?” interrupted Becca, her mood changing again in an instant. “Bloody hell, Den, you know I don’t get on with her.”
“Oh come on, Bex,” pleased Denise. “You ain’t really given her a chance, have you, really. She’s really nice, just a bit shy. She thinks you’re dead brilliant,” she added craftily, knowing her friend’s vanity was always ripe for plucking.
“Yeah, well,” said Becca with a small smile. “Girl’s only human, ain’t she.” She looked at Denise, who was giving her pleading eyes. “Oh, all right, Den. I’ll give her another chance, but for fuck’s sake tell her to try and liven up a bit. Hey - maybe we can get her laid!”
“None of that, Bex,” warned Denise. “She ain’t into all that and you know it. Just be nice to her, will you? For me?”
“All right mate. Just for you,” agreed Becca. “Here’s me bus - I’ll see you later.”
“Later,” said Denise as Becca hopped on the bus back to her parents house. She hoped she’d done the right thing, inviting Hayley out, and managed to put a mental gag on the small part of her that said tonight was going to be nothing short of a disaster for all concerned.
As Denise put the finishing touches to her make up she heard a crash from downstairs, soon followed by the slamming of the front door and the inevitable sobbing from her mother. She sighed, knowing she should rush down and offer comfort but she didn’t want to have to come upstairs again after to finish herself off. So, gritting her teeth, she forced herself to complete the job she’d started, practising a few smiles and a wink or two to see just how she’d come across later should she actually find a bloke worth wasting a bit of time on. Satisfied she looked as good as she was going to, she made her way downstairs to find her mother, as expected, on the sofa with her face in her hands, sobbing. Moira Daniels looked up as her daughter entered, rubbing her eyes and trying a small smile.
“You look gorgeous, love,” she said, meaning it. “Just be careful, eh?”
“What did he do, Mum?” asked Denise, spotting a red welt on the side of her mother’s face. “What flimsy excuse did he have for hitting you this time, eh?”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” said her mum, flapping a hand dismissively. “It’s my fault.”
Denise took a deep breath, knowing this wasn’t the right time to argue the point. Whenever her shit of a Dad hit her mum, it was never his fault, and she always meekly soaked it up, agreeing with whatever excuse he felt made it acceptable to give her a slap. He’d never seriously hurt her, but he was a drunk and a bully and Denise hated his guts. On one hand, she couldn’t wait to leave and set up on her own, but on the other she didn’t want to leave her mum with him on her own, poor cow. She knew that if she pushed it now her mum would just get even more upset, so she swallowed it and plastered a fake smile on instead.
“Well, he’s buggered off down the pub now, eh?” she said, leaning over to wipe her mum’s bleary eyes. “How about I get you a cup of tea before my taxi arrives?”
“Thanks love,” said Moira, sniffing. “I’m sorry I’m such a wet blanket, love. You going anywhere nice?”
“Mum, we live in Weston-super-Mare, or course I’m not going anywhere nice!” joked Denise from the kitchen, and they both laughed. It was great to hear a laugh coming from her mum’s mouth, she thought. “Nah, just me, Becca and Hayley out for a few. No work tomorrow so don’t wait up, okay?”
“Hayley?”, repeated Moira. “Will she be safe with Becca? Her Mum’s a right worrier, you know, you don’t want to give any more ammo.”
“Mum, I’ve been over that with Becca. I’ll look after Hayley, make sure she doesn’t get in over her head. She’ll just have a nice time, I promise. I’m sure she’s not as innocent as we all think, there’s hidden depths to that one, I am sure.”
“Well just be careful,” her mum finished.
“You know me, Mum,” said Denise. “You’ve got nothing to worry about, I promise. Now here’s your tea, you put your feet up and watch a video or something. I’m gonna go outside and wait for my taxi, cos it should be here any minute. Will you be okay?”
“Oh you know me, love,” replied Moira. “You go and have a good time, and don’t go off with any strange boys!”
“As if I would!” laughed Denise, closing the door behind her.
Hayley breathed a small sigh of relief as she saw Denise enter the pub, giving her a small wave. There had been a tiny part of her that thought no one was going to turn up, that she was the victim of a stupid joke or something. It was admittedly only a tiny part of her that thought this, but sometimes those tiny voices find a way to speak the loudest.
“All right, chick?” said Denise as she sat down at the round table with her, a bottle of cider in her hand. “Sorry I’m a bit late, the bloody taxi kept me waiting around for ages.”
“That’s okay,” said Hayley, smiling. “I haven’t been here long, really. You’re only ten minutes late.”
“I’m not used to having someone waiting for me,” replied Denise with a smile of her own. “Becca’s always late. My Mum says she’ll be late for her own funeral.”
Hayley laughed politely at the old joke, glad that Denise had arrived first. She looked stunning, as well, not just simply pretty. She was the only girl in the coffee shop at M&S who didn’t look dowdy in the crappy uniform they were provided, and away from her work clothes she took on a new level of life and vitality. Oh well, she thought, at least it’ll stop any blokes bothering me.
“You look nice,” said Denise, making Hayley suspicious she was being sarcastic. No one at home ever told her she looked nice, although her Mum had said tonight that she looked like a hooker.
“Really?” said Hayley. “Are you winding me up?”
“Seriously!” exclaimed Denise. “You look really cute, especially with your hair up like that.”
“Th-thanks,” said Hayley, automatically lifting her hand to pat her hair, which had taken her ages to do by herself. “You look great, too. You’re so beautiful.”
“Get a room, you lezzers!” came a loud voice as another bottle of cider was banged down on the table, making both girls jump with fright. They looked up to see Becca grinning down at them. “Fuck me,” she said. “I thought you tow were gonna start kissing or something. Oh you’re so pretty!” she said in a little girl voice. “Why no, it is you who are so pretty!”
She sat down, laughing, and Denise joined in, used to her friend’s sense of humour. Hayley smiled politely, suddenly feeling like a third wheel.
“Hey,” exclaimed Denise. “Doesn’t Hayley scrub up well?”
Becca scrutinised her, then to Hayley’s relief broke into a smile. “Yeah, she don’t look too shabby at all. You up for a laugh then, Hay?”
Hayley raised her drink, and the three girls clinked them all together. “Why not,” she said.
There was a queue to get in at Mr B’s club, and the girls stood on the stairs patiently, having filled up at the linked bar below. It was busy, with locals and holidaymakers mingling and sometimes fighting as the night went on. Hayley had been ready to go, but the others had cajoled her into having ‘just one more’ upstairs, knowing that once she was up there she’d be fine. Hayley was more than a little drunk, and didn’t take much persuading. She’d had a fun night, and was enjoying herself too much to go, really. She’d been hit on by loads of blokes, getting several free drinks in the process. She’d quite liked the last one, Davey, but Becca and Denise had dragged her away to go upstairs. He’d looked a bit annoyed as she’d left, but no harm done. As they paid their money and stumbled into the club proper her eyes went wide. She’d never been in a nightclub, and she was mesmerized by all the flashing lights and the loud, thumping pop music. Her feet seemed to move of their own accord, and although she could see Denise and Becca giggling at her, she couldn’t stop herself, throwing her hands in the air and letting the music take control. Sod her Mum, sod her job, and sod everything else - she was having fun.
“She’s gone chicken oriental!” laughed Denise, pointing at Hayley as she bounced to the music.
Becca smiled at her then turned back to the bar to collect the drinks. She’d ordered three cocktails, making sure Hayley’s was the strongest of the three by far. She was enjoying watching the stuck up little madam get more and more pissed, and was determined that by the end of the evening she’d see her sitting in a pile of her own vomit just like a normal human being. She plastered on a big smile and caught Hayley’s attention, waving her over and presenting her with the pink drink, knowing the colour would appeal to the soppy cow. The three girls raised their glasses and threw back their drinks in one, Hayley coughing like a bastard afterwards to Becca’s secret delight. On the surface she made all the right sympathetic noises and patted Hayley on her back, leading her to a vacant table to ‘have a sit down for a bit’. Afterwards, she went back to her real mate, Denise, and the two of them scoped out the talent.
“How about him?” suggested Becca, pointing at a boy who she knew Denise wouldn’t touch with a shitty stick.
“You must be joking!” squealed Denise. “He’s got more zits than your little brother!”
“At least you could play join the dots if you got bored,” suggested Becca with a twinkle in her eye.
“Oh sod off,” Denise replied lightly, scanning the room. “It’s like dickhead central in here tonight, I can’t see any… oh!”
“What?” asked Becca, peering in the same direction. “What’re you loo… oh…”
It was the bloke from The Penny Farthing , large as life and twice as gorgeous. The two of them just stared at him for a moment, then Becca punched Denise in the arm.
“You should go over and speak to him,” she said. “Go on - I bet he ain’t forgot you.”
“But what if he has?” argued Denise. “I’d look like a right nob. A desperate nob at that.”
“Hang on,” interrupted Becca. “He’s looking over! Look - He’s clocked you!”
Sure enough, he was looking over, very pointedly staring at Denise, who reddened under his piercing gaze. He raised a hand in greeting, and when Denise hesitantly did the same he patted the empty seat beside him and raised his eyebrows in a questioning way.
“Go on!” said Becca, prodding her in the back.
“I can’t!” objected Denise. “What about Hayley? I promised to look after her.”
“ Oh don’t be daft - I’ll look after her for a bit. You go and get yourself some of that. Blokes that look like him don’t come along every day, Den.”
Denise was torn, but if she was honest it wasn’t that hard a decision. Hayley was having a good time and wasn’t at all as reserved as they’d thought she would be. She was pretty drunk, and would probably just stay at the table from now until they left. Anyway, Becca was going to keep an eye on her, and they’d been getting on really well, so there was nothing to worry about, was there? She looked at the bloke once more, and he made an exaggerated shrugging gesture, coupled with a dazzling smile. Sorry Hayley, she thought, but this is no contest.
Hayley’s eyes were getting a bit fuzzy as she watched Denise and Becca having a chat, but even so was a little surprised when Denise wandered over to chat to some bloke. Okay, he was bloody sexy, but she was supposed to be looking after her tonight. She pouted a little, then giggled, which turned into a snort, which made her giggle even more. She didn’t even realize that Becca had come over and sat down until she spoke.
“Blimey! Exclaimed Becca. “Looks like you’ve had a good time then, eh?”
Hayley looked her and couldn’t stop herself giggling again. Becca glared at her and was pleased when she saw a spark of panic in Hayley’s eyes as the giggles subsided.
“Sorry, Becca,” mumbles Hayley. “I can’t stop laughing.”
She looked like she was about to cry now, so Becca decided to throw her a bone.
“That’s okay, “ she said, smiling evilly. “It’s just the booze making your brain all funny. I’ll get you something to balance it out, then we’ll go and get ourselves a couple of blokes to round off the night, yeah?”
“Uh… yeah!” agreed Hayley, desperate to stay in Becca’s good books now that Denise had buggered off. She looked over to see her friend laughing with the bloke, getting on like the proverbial house on fire, and decided that maybe she wouldn’t mind a bit of that herself. Why not? Her Mum thought she was shagging blokes left right and centre, may as well at least have a bit of fun, although nothing more than a kiss and a cuddle, of course.
“Here you go,” said Becca, handing her another cocktail, a blue one this time. “Down that and you’ll feel brilliant.”
Hayley did as she was told, oblivious of the horrors the night was yet to bring.