When Shane was in the common room, his music was usually on. No-one ever cared enough to stop him monopolising the stereo. Wearing his usual non-reg black jacket and crazy grin, he snapped the sound off but kept singing the tune into the silence, as loud as he could get.
Dennis shook his head, marvelling at him. Shane spun about on one foot, like a dance move, and offered him the tape. ‘There, bitch!’
‘Cheers.’ Dennis took it.
‘You will enjoy my excellent taste in sounds! Learn all the words so we can say fuck together and be musical!’ He grabbed his crotch. ‘Hee-yah!’
Scott came into the room, and Dennis noticed his face register disapproval. Shane ran over to him, giving him the finger with both hands and dancing about. ‘Ooh Scottie Scottie, with the hot hot body... hee-yah!’
‘Fuck off, Pennywise.’
Shane giggled and collected his bag.
Dennis gave Scott a nod. ‘How was stats?’
‘Fuck, man. You can’t wag that class. I go mental if you wag that class.’
‘Can you blame me?’
‘Not really. Boring as shit.’
Dennis flashed him a grin. ‘You staying ‘round after school? I’m in the mood to do something. Having a good day.’
Shane’s ears perked up visibly. ‘Wait a second – you’re having a good day?’ He pointed at Dennis.
Dennis struck a pose in response, arms akimbo and head cocked. ‘Yeah, I’m having a good day!’
‘Give me my tape back then!’ Shane was laughing. ‘You only get it on a bad day, because I only lend my shit to baaad motherfuckers!’
Dennis scooped up someone’s shoe from the floor and hurled it at Shane. It bounced off the door. They could still hear Shane’s laughter as he headed off down the corridor.
‘I don’t like that freak,’ Scott said.
‘Just get a bad feeling from him, you know? He’s out of control.’
‘He knows exactly what he’s doing.’
Scott wasn’t convinced. ‘He loan you some music?’
‘Where does he get that shit from? It isn’t from any music shop.’
‘Bootlegs. He trades them with people all over the place. You won’t hear this stuff anywhere else. So anyway, you in? Here, after class.’
‘Hell, I’ll be here. I’ve got a free period and intend to spend all of it asleep on this couch.’
‘What, not enough sleep in stats?’
‘Ha bloody ha.’
Dennis clapped him on the shoulder and headed out.
‘Room for a pair of white guys?’ Dennis yelled. The wind rippled the grass, the soil giving slightly under his school shoes. He had the sun on him.
The game in front of them slowed and halted, the rugby ball spinning into waiting hands. ‘Fuck, I don’t want any honkeys on our side!’ someone called loudly, to much laughter.
‘Awww, what say one white boy each huh?’ suggested Chris, welcoming his basketball teammates. ‘We got Collins.’ He collected the ball and spiralled it out to Scott to underline the point, kickstarting things.
Dennis hung back a bit, getting the measure of it. A crunching hard tackle on a giggling fourth-former and the ball went to Scott. Dennis watched him take off, remembering some old moves, stuttering his step, dodging sideways as he got hemmed in, passing off again. There was another tackle and a pass, and then Dennis found his line. He reached out his arms and collected the ball and shifted forward and was through half of Scott’s side before anyone could react. A burly fifth stomped in his way but Dennis slipped around him, sprinting the final steps to the try line.
‘Shit,’ someone said, ‘not bad.’
The game restarted and Chris wandered near to Dennis, grinning ear to ear. ‘I didn’t know you played rugby.’
Dennis scratched his chin. ‘Yeah. How about that?’
The sun was covered by a narrow train of clouds, and without it the cold was piercing. Scott zipped up his jacket but Dennis didn’t. They were sitting on the bonnet of Dennis’ car by the side of the river. The water came down from the hills and mountains, miles of pressure pushing forward in a roiling current, out to the harbour where it would disperse outward into the calm enormous sea. The tide would push it on to the beach and then suck it back, drifting sand and shingle, losing all definition. It would be like dying. ‘Getting cold,’ he said.
‘I kind of wish I could swim. At the pool last week I felt like a dick.’
‘You could learn.’
Scott humphed. ‘You got anything to smoke?’
‘Go on then.’
Dennis fished out a cigarette and lighter.
Scott looked up at the sun through the clouds. ‘I went to lessons once. The instructor pushed my head under the water, all that fucking chlorine – it freaked the shit out of me. My mum yelled at her. Never went back, never got taught.’ He shook his head at the memory. ‘When did you learn?’
‘On the beach. Older brothers, remember.’ Den let Scott pull a cigarette from the pack, took one for himself. ‘If they could swim, then I could as well.’
‘You told yourself that?’
‘I always tell myself that.’
‘We didn’t hit the beach too much. Dad hated salt water.’
‘Can’t stand the stuff.’
They both lit up and took a few drags. The wind picked up again, incessant.
Scott changed the subject. ‘So. You and Richard. How pissed off at him are you?’
Dennis adjusted his sunglasses. The sun stayed behind clouds, the wind stayed freezing. He shrugged. ‘His attitude is irritating.’
‘Is that all?’
‘What, you’re gonna analyse me now?’
Scott shook his head. ‘I would if I could. But you’re unreadable. Dick.’
‘I wouldn’t worry about it.’
‘Worry isn’t the word.’ Scott savoured the cigarette, huddled a bit tighter against the wind. ‘So what actually happened between you and Kirsty?’
This again? ‘Not much. Went out a couple of times. Short-term.’
‘Why’d you dump her?’
‘I didn’t. Just stopped calling her. She was getting a bit weird.’
‘Said she loved me.’
‘More than once.’
Scott was surprised. ‘She seems so damn grounded.’
Scott nodded. ‘Huh.’
Dennis threw away his cigarette, only half-finished. ‘Rich and Kirsty were lucky. They got a no-fault breakup. Neither of them had to be the asshole, both got out with their precious self-image intact.’
‘And here I was thinking you were a romantic.’
‘No. I’m a realist.’
The wind in his face, through his hair. He closed his eyes. It made him cold.