Hanging Around by Daniel Brown is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://waffleandwrite.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/administrative-notes-about-the-license-my-work-is-attributed-under/.
By Daniel Brown
Graham looked at the back of Becky’s neck and felt his breath catch. He felt like a bit of a weirdo for loving that particular area so much, but he just couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was on his mind when he went to sleep, it was there behind his eyelids when he woke up and all day when he was working his mind would drift onto thoughts of her pale, clear skin. He constantly imagined himself kissing it, feeling the wisps of stray hair that were always escaping her pony-tail caressing his cheek, the soft clean smell of her, mingling with the fruit scented perfume she wore and the scent of her shampoo. Her neck consumed him.
Becky looked around the table she was sitting at, then back at the hand of cards she was holding, taking in the faces of the other players, then reached down into the pile of loose change in front of her. She picked up some money then threw it into the pot in the middle of the large pine table.
“I’ll raise by twenty pence. Anyone else comfy with raising the stakes a bit?”
The only two players of the seven at the table still in at this point, threw their cards down and started telling Barbara, the hostess for the evening, to make a cup of tea. Becky leaned forward to scrape the money from the pot into her ever increasing pile, giving Graham a brief glimpse at the small of her back as her t-shirt rode up slightly. He quickly looked away so as to avoid being caught letching, trying to calm his thumping heart as he did so. He couldn’t remember ever being so hooked on a girl that the thought of her neck or lower back set his pulse racing. Backsides and legs…? Check. Boobs…? Hell yes! But the nape of the neck…? That was a new one on him and frankly, it unnerved him.
In order to distract himself, he told Barbara to sit back down and play the next hand while he made the tea for everyone. As he stood up he decided to keep his mouth shut next time. There were eight people crowded around the table, his friend David and Barbara’s husband Jack sitting beside the open fire chatting about fishing, plus himself. Eleven cups of tea in total. He wondered briefly if it was too late to sit back down and let Barbara take care of it after all, when nine people all started telling him how they took their tea and old Bobbie giving him really precise instructions for how to make her instant coffee, because there’s always one. The thought of telling them to stuff it and buggering off home passed briefly through his mind but Becky was there, grinning at him like he was seven flavours of stupid and he couldn’t even think about leaving. This was the first time in the three weeks since she had first walked into Barbara’s kitchen for the nightly card game that she had even acknowledged his existence, to go home now would be to admit defeat, that he was incapable of talking to a girl he actually liked. Sighing heavily, he turned to the kettle and lifted it off it’s cradle ready to fill it when he heard Becky calling to him. He turned back to see what she wanted and saw that same amused smile playing across her elfin features.
“I’ll sort out my Aunty Bobbie’s coffee.” She turned and spoke to Grygor, who’s turn it was to deal the cards. “Leave me out of this hand, I’m going for a smoke anyway so I’ll give Graham a hand with the drinks.” Leaving the game she wound her way past the crowd of bodies clustered around the table, collecting the cups from the previous round of tea and coffee as she went. Reaching the sink she gently moved Graham to one side. “You won’t get very far making a drink with out these will you?” she looked up at Graham and smiled again. “Bet you won’t volunteer for that again in a hurry.” He shook his head and smiled back, feeling like a total pillock.
He desperately tried to think of something to say but, for someone who could usually talk the hind legs off of a donkey, he found himself completely stumped. He turned away and opened the cannister that held the teabags, dropping three of them into the huge metal teapot that Barbara and Jack used when they had a full house. Grabbing the cups from Becky as she rinsed them out under the hot water tap, he lined them up on the bench trying vainly to remember who had asked for their tea in what manner. His heart almost leapt into his mouth a few seconds later, when Becky leaned in close to him, placing her head almost on his chest so as to hide what she said from everyone else in the room. His heartbeat racing madly he leaned down a little so as to hear what she had to say, as it was obviously for his ears only. She motioned slightly with her hand.
“Don’t you want to wash the teapot out first, before putting fresh teabags in?” she whispered. Graham looked at the teapot for a second, embarrassment welling up inside him. He felt a curious sense of detachment as the blush surged up, seemingly starting at his toes and setting his whole body alight as it made it’s way up to blossom on his face. He wondered if there was any way out of the situation with his dignity intact, but he couldn’t think of one so just let his mouth go onto autopilot.
“Full marks for observation there, Becky. Next time I’ll be testing you’re ability to listen carefully by randomly inserting a word into pineapple the conversation and seeing if you notice it.” Becky laughed.
“That’s you’re story and you’re sticking to it, right?”
“Like glue.” he told her. She shook her head at him and carried on rinsing cups. After about ten minutes and a great deal of confusion, he and Becky managed to unite everyone with the correct hot beverage and retreated outside to have a cigarette in peace and quiet.
“So are you going to give me one, or what?” Graham stared at Becky, unsure if he had heard her correctly or what the hell to say if he had. She let him squirm for a few seconds, with that “you aren’t half a pillock.” smile on her face, before pointing to the cigarette he was dragging on furiously to cover his confusion. “One of your smokes, I had my last one before.” He stared at her again for few seconds, hugely relieved and deeply disappointed at the same time, then remembered that she had actually wanted a reply to what she had said.
“Erm, yeah of course.” He scrambled madly through his pockets, temporarily unable to remember which one of them held his cigarettes or, judging by the amount of fumbling he was doing, how his pockets worked precisely. After what felt like a ridiculously long time he was finally able to fish his smokes out of the needlessly complex contraptions his pockets had turned into. He handed one over, relief flooding through him that the stupid ordeal was over with.
“Could I have a light as well? I’ve left mine in my handbag.” Oh shit! thought Graham, Not again. He started the whole rigmarole of searching his pockets once more, cursing internally as he went. Finally he was able to give Becky a light when a thought occurred to him, the first coherent one since she’d spoken to him inside.
“If you haven’t any smokes left, how did you think you were going to get one?” he asked. Becky smiled again.
“’Cos you’re a soft touch, that’s why.” she told him. “Grygor’s always scrounging them off you and so is Jack. You’re too soft with people, you should tell them to bugger off now and again. It’s not up to you to keep them in smokes when they don’t buy enough of their own to last them.”
“Says the lass who’s just scrounged one from me.”
“Yeah well, that just proves my point, doesn’t it?”
“Not really. Grygor’s teaching me to play the guitar and Jack often slips me a few eggs from the chickens he keeps in his allotment.”
“So why do I get a smoke from you then?” she asked. Graham felt the words of his reply forming before they left his mouth. He tried to stop them but he could only observe himself, powerless to stop his big mouth running away with him.
“Because you’re pretty. It cheers me up to see you after I’ve spent a whole day being treat like crap, just ‘cos I’m the Y.T.S. kid.” Bollocks! he thought. She’s going to think I’m weird or something. Once more he found himself wracking his brain for something to say, but his mouth went into standby mode. He found himself just looking at her while she tilted her head to one side,no doubt deciding on a scale of one to ten, just how creepy his last remark was. She pinched her cigarette out halfway down and put the remaining half in her pocket, presumably for later.
“That’s what us trainees are for isn’t it? I’ve been at the hairdressers for three months and all I’ve done so far is make tea and sweep up hair. I work thirty five hours a week for less than thirty quid and don’t get to actually learn anything. I’m not sure why we bother.” With that she turned and went back indoors, leaving Graham standing alone on the doorstep to ponder if things could have gone any worse. As best as he could tell, in the space of five minutes he had managed to look like an idiot who couldn’t work his own pockets, implied she was a scrounger and then paid her a really smarmy compliment. Short of insulting her parents and maybe flicking his cigarette ash into her hair he couldn’t think how much worse he could have made it. Finishing his own smoke Graham went back inside the house as well, figuring that he would say his goodbyes and get out before he humiliated himself any further. He only wished his eighteenth birthday would hurry up and arrive, so that he could go to the pub and drink away memories like those of his last conversation.
# # #
Back in the house the game was still in full flow, Becky seemingly continuing her winning streak after her short break. Graham moved over to the kitchen bench where his tea was cooling and took a sip, hoping his arrival would go unnoticed and he could slip off quietly when he was finished. David saw to it that he wouldn’t.
“Come back to lose some more money? Someone as crap at cards as you are should learn when to pack in.” David cried from his habitual spot in the armchair beside the fire.
“I don’t see you at the table showing your skills.” he answered.
“That’s right. I know when it’s somebody else’s lucky night.” David laughed and started talking to Jack again, arguing over the finer points of which beach was better for fishing and which rod to use.
“Do you want dealt in for the next hand?” Becky asked him, startling Graham somewhat as he didn’t think she would ever want to talk to him again. He felt himself begin to panic, not knowing whether to say yes so as to spend more time mooning over her and losing money hand over fist, or tell her no and go home before the night got even more embarrassing and expensive. Finally caution won out and he chose the latter.
“No thanks, I’ve lost enough money for one night I think. Besides, I’ve got to be up at half past six for work tomorrow, so I’d better get my head down.” He cursed himself for a coward even as he said it, but couldn’t face putting his foot in his mouth again.
“Okay. Can you wait quarter of an hour though? I’ll give this lot a chance to win some of their money back then you can walk me home, I’ve got to be up for work as well and Aunty Bobbie’s going to playing for a while longer, so I can’t walk home with her,” Aunty Bobbie looked a little surprised, but rallied magnificently, unseen by Graham in his blind panic.
“Erm, yeah? I’ll be playing for ages yet.” she told him. “Absolutely ages, about an hour after you leave probably.” she addressed the last part to Becky, who nodded and studied her cards intently telling Graham “I won’t be long, just let me play another few hands and we can go.” Graham shrugged his agreement and jumped on to the bench he was leaning against to wait it out.
As he sat waiting for Becky, three feelings crept over him. The first was a sense of profound terror, as he realized that he was going to have to spend at least fifteen minutes alone with Becky while his brain shut down and his mouth ran away with itself making him look like a buffoon; the second was elation that he would get Becky alone for fifteen minutes or so, which thrilled him more deeply than he thought possible. The third feeling, the last to float to his conciousness, was a sensation of cold, spreading damp around his buttocks and his heart, so recently aflutter, sank as he realized that he should have wiped the bench dry before perching on it. He was going to have to walk Becky home with a wet arse… his mind went into overdrive, trying desperately to fathom a way out of the situation. Various solutions came into his mind and were dismissed instantly as impractical, rude or downright silly. There was no way of reaching his coat without everyone sitting at the table seeing the whopping great wet patch that was no doubt spread all across the seat of his trousers, he couldn’t leave his coat behind and edge out of the room sideways, because everyone would think he was simple and just making a dash for the door without waiting for Becky was downright ignorant. Fear sweat broke out under his arms, both cold and too hot all at once as he realized what his only solution was; he was going to have announce his stupidity and brazen it out.
“Hey Dave,” David looked over at him, “you know when you sit on a bench?” David nodded, wondering where Graham was going. “Make sure that you’ve wiped all of the cold tea off it first.” David started roaring with laughter, along with everyone else in the room including Becky, as he hopped off the bench and made his way over to stand in front of the blazing coal fire, hoping the heat would dry him off a little. His ears burned almost as fiercely as the flames from the fire, while he stood there feeling the back of his jeans get progressively hotter, hoping that they would dry quickly so that everyone would stop looking at him and shaking their heads or rolling their eyes.
Graham winced internally when Becky announced that she was all done, and started clearing the pile of loose change from the table and into her purse. He stepped away from the fire, pulling up short almost immediately as pain shot through the entire lower half of his body. He clenched his teeth, desperate not to let the agony show on his face as his overheated jeans brushed against the back of his legs, making him feel as though his legs and backside were cooking in their own juices. Trying furiously to walk as though everything was normal, he made his way over to the coat rail hanging in an alcove beside the fireplace and grabbed his coat and was reaching for Becky’s when she spoke to him.
“Bloody hell, you’ve got a hot arse!” Graham froze.
“You what?” He looked over shoulder to find everyone in the room staring at his rear end.
“Look at it!” she cried, “It’s got smoke coming off it!” Graham twisted himself around, contorting to see the seat of his own trousers. His eyes were greeted by wisps of steam, rising from the still evaporating tea soaked into the denim.
“Glad you noticed, good to know the exercises aren’t wasted.” Nice one, he thought, make yourself look big-headed. He put on his coat, glad that his backside was no longer the focus of attention, passing Becky’s to her as he walked towards the door, in a hurry to get out of the kitchen before anything else could possibly go wrong. Becky trailed after him, saying her hurried goodbyes as Graham chirped a quick “See you later.” over his shoulder as he passed out of the door.
Outside at last he let the cool night air soothe the burning of his face and ears, a blessed relief from the constant embarrassment he had been labouring under for the past half an hour. He had to admit it was nice to feel a chill wind around his buttock region as well. The door closing behind him let him know Becky was out and ready to go.
“Have you left the oven on or something? You were out of there like a shot.” she asked.
“Sorry, I just needed some air.”
“I’ll bet you do, your arse must have been burning in front of that fire. The look on your face when you moved, I thought you were going to go screaming round the room like Yosemite Sam looking for a bucket of water to dunk it in.” Graham couldn’t help himself, the build up of tension, excitement and embarrassment overwhelmed him and he let out a bellowing laugh, one that just kept going and going. Just when he thought it was over, he looked at Becky and seeing the look of bafflement on her face set him off again. After a few seconds, he managed to gasp out the words,
“I’m sorry, it’s just the thought of me with my arse on fire…” and he pantomimed running around clutching his buttocks, screaming and collapsed into fits of laughter again. Becky’s mouth twitched a little, then suddenly she was off as well; a high pitched, monotone tee-hee-hee sound that set Graham laughing even harder.
For two or three minutes that was all they could do, stand and laugh uproariously, the sound of each others laughter egging them on to even deeper fits of giggles. They almost had themselves under control when they saw Jack and Barbara at the kitchen window pointing at them and looking puzzled, which set them off again. Becky was already doubled over, clutching her sides with her legs tightly crossed and the sight of Jack and Barbara proved too much for her. She waved her hands frantically for Graham to come over to her, so over he went, and was almost stunned out of his giggling fit when she clung onto him, both arms flung round his shoulders for support and her head buried into his chest as tears of mirth rolled down her cheeks. His own shock at her touch, something that would have mortified him a few minutes before, was now one of the most hilarious things he could imagine and for the first time he found himself comfortable in her company.
After another few minutes had passed, they were finally able to control themselves enough to start walking. Graham tried hard not to pay attention to the fact that Becky was still holding onto him, her arm around his waist now, as they strolled up the narrow alleyway that led into the village proper, so he left his arm around her shoulders and tried to act as natural as possible so that she wouldn’t remember herself and pull away from him.
“So where do you live anyway?” he asked.
“With my Aunty Bobbie.”
“And she lives… I’m not from here remember?”
“Oh, right. Hollis Road, where the village joins onto the motorway, what about you?” he pointed back the way they had just come.
“With my Brother, three doors down from Jack and Barbara.” she looked a little guilty and started to apologize, but Graham just laughed and told her to forget it, not wanting the evening to end yet. He couldn’t bear the thought of getting this far, feeling at ease around her for the first time and making things awkward again by leaving her to walk alone after dark; besides, what kind of prat left a woman to walk home alone at night, even in a village as small as the one they lived in? He tried to change the subject quickly.
“So why do you live with Bobbie?” he cursed himself for it worried that it was too personal, but to his surprise she told him. She talked about her parents, the constant arguments between her and them over the fact that she wanted to be a hairdresser rather than going to college and becoming a nurse like her mother or an IT consultant like her dad and older brother. She told him about her little sister and the constant hairdresser jokes, the perpetual sniping about not being clever enough to do anything but cut hair and her parents tacit approval by not chastising her sister for the remarks.
“I’m not thick,” she continued “I’m not shallow either, I just love doing something where nearly everyone you see walks away happy and more confident. It’s nice to see people pleased with what you’ve done rather than just relieved that you haven’t left them in the shit, like an office job.” Graham noticed that they weren’t walking any longer, but were standing outside the door of a terraced house. He smiled at Becky, not for any particular reason, but because he couldn’t think of an answer to everything she had told him that didn’t sound trite, stupid or both. She cocked her head at him again, as if sizing him up.
“Why are you smiling?” She asked. Graham looked at her for a second, took a deep breath and told her. Everything.
“Because tonight, now, is the first time I’ve been able to talk to you. I think you’re gorgeous and funny and clever, much cleverer than I am and every time I try to talk to you my mind goes blank and my tongue dries up. I’ve got nothing to say and even if I did I wouldn’t be able to say it. My heart races, my stomach starts churning and I break out in a sweat, so that I’m frightened to stand near you in case I stink. I can’t stop thinking about you, except when I’m near you, in which case I can’t think at all and just now, when we were talking and you were holding on to me was the most exciting and most frightening thing I’ve ever done.” he paused for breath, putting his hands in his coat pockets so that she couldn’t see them shaking. “There, that’s why I’m smiling. If I’ve just freaked you out that’s fine, just say so and I’ll leave you alone, I just wanted to say it while I had the chance.” he braced himself then, for the laughter or the look of horror that would tell him just how enormously he had screwed up by telling her how he felt. Her expression never changed, she just stared at him with that same look of deep thought on her face. And then it happened.
Suddenly and without him being aware of her moving she was in his arms again, her lips pressing into his own, driving all of the uncertainty and fear, all thought of any description out of him. His head swam as he placed his still shaking hands around her waist, feeling her mouth open slightly and her tongue flicker against his. His whole body caught fire, from the top of his head all the way to his feet tingled, like the most exquisite pins and needles. Beyond his control, he felt himself begin to grow hard. He was about to pull away in embarrassment, when she rubbed her hips against him, breathing deeply through her nose as a small moan of pleasure escaped from deep in her throat.
Becky broke the kiss then, planting small kisses along his jawline and back towards his neck, all the while pressing herself ever more firmly into his grasp, her hips seeming twitch of their own accord as she gasped and wriggled against him. As the delicate warmth of her kisses and the soft caress of her breath reached his ear, he moaned aloud himself, the first sound he’d made since he’d finished talking, the pleasure almost overwhelming him with it’s intensity. He thought he would faint, as she whispered into his ear, the faint tickling as she breathed “Do you want to come in?” almost as much as he could bear. Not trusting himself to speak, he could only nod his agreement. Becky pulled away from his embrace, fumbling madly in her pockets, almost dropping her keys as she fitted them into the door.
Graham was dizzy with a combination of nerves and happiness, unable to speak or form a coherent thought, he merely stood there unable to believe what was happening, when he saw it. Becky had her back to him and he could see her neck; the pale, soft skin that had consumed his thoughts for weeks, a small patch of white between the collar of her coat and her tied up brown hair. As she she opened the door, Graham stepped forward, placing his hands on her hips and moving her ponytail aside with his nose. He pressed his mouth into the nape of her neck, feeling Becky’s shoulders drop as she rubbed herself against him, another gasp of delight coming from her as he did so. At last he felt the sensation of his lips nuzzling against her beautiful neck, breathing in the mingled scents of her perfume and shampoo. He made a small noise of contentment as he felt the gentle touch of the loose hairs that had escaped from their binding brushing against his cheeks. Rather than take his lips away from the object of his passion, he took a deep breath through his nose and reality finally hit him. The loose hairs that were caressing his cheeks so softly, moved into his nostrils, tickling his nose so vigorously he pulled away involuntarily and spluttered. Becky half laughed, a husky chuckle that set his pulse racing. Turning around into his his embrace, she nuzzled his throat and told him,
“For god’s sake, just come in and shut the door.”