from “A Good Man”
In this excerpt from chapter 8 of A Good Man, Paul helps a couple of his friends whose relationship is in danger of collapse even before it really got started.
Kevin wasn’t hard to find. There were some picnic tables in the playground behind the school buildings. He was sitting at one of those facing away from the school, staring into space.
“Kev? Mate? You okay.”
He didn’t answer.
“Just fuck right off and leave me alone. All right?”
Like I was about to do that? I sat next to him and stared out over the deserted sports fields. We sat in silence for a good five minutes before he spoke.
He shook his head and said, “She said she had plans on Saturday, but I never imagined…”
I didn’t want to push him. I knew he’d talk when he had something to say. He’d had a shock and he had to work through it—get things straight in his head.
Eventually he said, quietly, “I thought she had fun on Friday.”
“From what I could tell, she did.”
“So why the fuck…? I mean, for fuck’s sake, Del fucking Stevens and his bunch of morons. What the fuck was she thinking?”
I shook my head. “No idea, mate. Have you tried asking her?”
He grunted. “I’ve tried calling, she’s not picking up so I sent her a text.”
“She hasn’t replied?”
“What do you think?” He looked at the table and shook his head. “I mean, like, why the fuck would she, eh? She obviously doesn’t want me, does she?”
I stood and put my hand on his shoulder. “Go home mate, you’re not doing yourself any favours staying here. You know what they’re like. It’ll be all over the school by now and they won’t leave you be.”
He nodded sadly. “Yeah. I just might do that.” As I turned to walk away, he called, “Paul!”
I stopped and faced him. “Yeah?”
“Cheers. You’re a mate.”
I nodded, turned and went back into the school. I knew Lisa was free period one, so I headed for the library, which was the most likely place to find her. I didn’t know Lauren’s timetable, but Lisa would. As it turned out, I caught her as she going in.
“Lisa,” I said, gently grabbing her arm to stop her. “You got a sec?”
She huffed. “Look, Paul, I had no idea what Lauren was up to when she went out on Saturday, and I still have no idea what she was thinking, so don’t even ask.”
“I just wanted to know what her timetable is. I need to talk to her.”
“She’s not here. Too embarrassed to turn up.”
“So she’s at home?”
Lisa nodded. “But she won’t answer her phone.”
“Can’t hurt to try.” I took out my mobile and pulled up Lauren’s number from the memory. I didn’t expect her to answer, but after five rings, she did.
“Oh, Paul, what have I done?” Not the greeting I was expecting, but still.
“Can I come over?”
“Please. I need someone to talk to and you’re—”
“The only one you can trust. Yeah, that seems to be my role lately. I’ll be over in five.”
I ended the call and put the phone in my back pocket. Lisa was looking at me with that little lopsided smile of hers.
“She wouldn’t have answered the phone to anyone else. You know that, right?”
She gave me an apprising look and said, “You really have no idea, do you?”
“No idea about what?”
“About how everyone feels about you.” She smiled and shook her head. “So you’re going over there now?”
I nodded. “I need to convince her to talk to Kev. Whatever she did or didn’t do, they don’t have to let this come between them. And I’m not going to let it. Those two should be together. I don’t care what’s happened. And I don’t think Kevin does either. I just saw him and he seems more upset that she won’t take his call.”
“Good luck. But I don’t like your chances.”
I hurried over to the Simms’ house. I didn’t even get to knock before the door flung open and I barely had time to open my arms before Lauren jumped into them. She pressed her head to my chest, tears streaming down face as she sobbed.
Her words muffled, she said, “What have I done, Paul? What have I done? I’ve lost him, haven’t I? He hates me, doesn’t he?”
I held her gently with one hand on her back, stroked her hair with the other and said, “No. No, you haven’t lost him. And no, he doesn’t hate you.”
She looked up at me and tried to control her tears as she said, “He doesn’t?”
“I don’t think so.”
“But you don’t know.”
“To be honest, he was a bit shell-shocked when I saw him last. But I didn’t get the impression he hated you.”
Another tear trickled down her cheek.
“Why did you do it, Lauren? What came over you?”
“They all did. Several times.” She gave a half chuckle. “Sorry. Bad joke.” She stepped away from me, wiped her tear streaked eyes on her sleeve and nodded towards the house. “Come inside, I’ll explain.”
She guided me into the lounge and fetched two cans of Coke from the kitchen. After handing one to me, she threw herself down on the sofa.
“I don’t know where to start.”
“How about the beginning?”
Another half-chuckle. “Yeah. I suppose.” She took a deep breath. “Last week I was talking to Kelly about what she’d done and what it was like. She said it was all about fulfilling a fantasy of hers and made it sound so… I don’t know. I do know she enjoyed it.”
“She told me she’d never come so hard or so often,” I said.
“That’s what she said to me too! I was jealous, I guess. I don’t know. I’ve only slept with two people and… Well, they weren’t really interested in whether I got off or not, you know? So when Kelly said she wasn’t interested in doing it again and arranged to go out with you on Saturday instead, I had a crazy idea. If they could make her come, then why not me? If she could do it and enjoy it, why not me? Stupid, huh?
“Anyway, I went to The Vic on Wednesday night, found Mike Thornton and suggested that if he still needed someone, I’d give it a try. Then Kevin asked me out on Thursday and I changed my mind. I mean, it’s Kevin. I’ve been… It doesn’t matter, the point is that I couldn’t do it to him. So I called Mike and told him I’d changed my mind and he said that was a shame ‘cause Del was looking forward to it.
“Then he said… He said it didn’t matter, they’d just use Lisa instead. After all, we’re identical, so he wouldn’t know the difference.”
“Exactly. I mean, there’s no way she’d have done it, but that wouldn’t stop them, would it? They’d have forced her. I know they would. And with Lisa being…” She put her hand over her mouth.
She shook her head. “I can’t tell you.”
“If you’re trying to tell me that she’s a virgin, well, I kind of guessed that.”
I arched my eyebrow at her.
“Yeah, I guess it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”
“Given that she’s never had a boyfriend, yeah, it is.”
Lauren picked up her Coke, took a sip, then put the can back on the coffee table, rubbed her eyes and looked at me. They were red from the tears and filled with emotion. “So do you see why I had to go through with it? I couldn’t let them hurt Lisa. I couldn’t.”
“Oh my God, you can’t tell her. You can’t, Paul! If she ever found out I—”
“I won’t. But you have to talk to Kevin. You have to explain.”
“Do you think he’ll understand?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. But it’s got to be better to find out than not, hasn’t it? If you don’t even try…” I shrugged.
“Should I call him now?”
“No. You can’t do this over the phone. I’ll call him and ask him to come over.”
She nodded. But Kevin didn’t answer his phone. I tried three times, left him a voicemail and sent him a text asking him to call but he didn’t.
“He hates me. I know he does.”
“I’ll go over to his place. If I have to march him over here myself, I’m going to make him listen. I promise you.”
But that was easier said than done. Kevin was adamant he didn’t want to talk to ‘that little slut’. Evidently, he’d got over the shock and the anger had taken hold. He’d get over the anger eventually, I knew he would, but the longer he left it before hearing Lauren’s side of things, the harder it would be. It would be easier to keep putting it off until any chance they had was gone, at which point he’d regret not listening to her. I told him all this but he was too angry to listen. In the end I left him in peace and went back to school for the afternoon session.
Clarissa asked where I’d been all day after our English lesson and I explained but didn’t go into details as we walked back to the lockers.
“I can’t believe you tried to help the little slut. She’s not worth it.”
I glared at her. She’d had the same attitude towards Kelly the week before. Then I’d been able to explain Kelly’s motives and while I’m not sure Clarissa was convinced, she’d accepted that I knew Kelly better than she did.
“She made a mistake. She got in over her head and by the time she changed her mind she was in too deep.”
“But she didn’t have to go through with it, did she? She could have just told them where to go. To find someone else.”
“And they would’ve. Someone who looks just like Lauren.”
“Lisa? Lisa wouldn’t do something like that. She’s too…”
“But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Lauren can handle herself. She’s feisty. Can you imagine Lisa standing up for herself? Fighting those guys off?”
Clarissa shook a negative. “So you’re saying that she went through with it to protect her sister?”
“That’s pretty brave. I mean, stupid to get herself in that situation in the first place, but still.”
“Yeah. Pretty brave. Just a shame it’s going to cost her any chance she had with Kevin. He was pretty angry when I left him. If he’d just listen to her, I know he’d understand. I know they can get past this, but he’s refusing. He’s a stubborn arsehole sometimes.”
Clarissa looked thoughtful. “You know, all you have to do is get them in the same room. He’d have to listen then. He’s too polite not to. It’s easy to be mad at someone who’s not there but a lot harder when they’re in front of you.”
“But how do I get them in the same room?”
“Simple. Don’t tell him she’s in the room before he goes in.”
Before I went home, I found Lisa and told her to tell Lauren to be at my place at ten to six. When she arrived, I phoned Kevin.
“Kev, mate, Vicky’s got a function up at The Hall and had to go in early which means I’m on the takeaway. Fancy coming over for pizza and Monday Night Football?”
“I’m not really in the mood.”
“Well get in the mood. You can’t mope about for the rest of your life. Come over, it’ll take your mind of things, if only for a little while. I’ve been there, mate, remember. When Kelly dumped me, you made me go out. I’m just returning the favour.”
“All right. I’ll be over in a bit.”
“Great. And bring some beers, I’m all out.”
We waited in the lounge and Lauren was on edge the whole time. She nearly jumped out of her skin when the doorbell rang.
“Stay here,” I said as I got up to answer the door.
“What do I tell him?”
“Everything. Everything you told me.”
I answered the door and took the six-pack that Kevin held out for me. I told him to go through to the lounge while I got the pizza out of the oven. There wasn’t actually anything in the oven but he didn’t know that. I just needed him to enter the lounge first. And I had to be in a position to stop him leaving if I needed to. He opened the door and went inside. I’d had Lauren sit in the chair behind the door so he couldn’t see her and have an excuse not to enter the room.
He was a few paces in before he saw her. “What the fuck?” He turned to leave but I stood in the doorway blocking him.
“Just talk to her, mate. No, actually, don’t talk, just listen. Let her explain.”
His anger bubbled under the surface but he was doing a good job of controlling it.
“I can’t believe you’d do this to me,” he growled under his breath. At least his anger seemed to be directed at me rather than Lauren. That was a start.
“You two could have something special. You know that. Don’t throw it away over one mistake. Just listen to her and if, afterwards, you want to walk out of here and never speak to her again… Well, I tried.”
“Kevin. Please. Let me explain.”
He looked at her. Then at me. Then at her. He nodded and sat on the sofa, as far from Lauren as he could.
“I’ll be upstairs if you need me. I’ve got some homework to do.” As I closed the door, Lauren went to sit next to Kevin and reached for his hand.
The last thing I heard was, “I’m so, so, sorry. It was a stupid thing to do. I wish I could go back and…”