His Year 4 school report gets it right.
Stuart is a purposeful boy. He tends to set his mind to one particular task and will continue to work at it until he succeeds.
There's other stuff, too; about how he "prefers the company of a small number of close friends" and "can be dismissive of the other children". He screws his nose up at that. It's not that he's dismissive -- which he looks up in his dad's big dictionary, propping it open on his knees -- but more that he doesn't want to be friends with boring people. Which is perfectly fair enough, he thinks.
Instead, he wants to make friends like Jimmy.
Okay, so Jimmy always has rubbish trainers and gets free school dinners, which, if the whispered tone it's always said in is anything to go by, is apparently something to be ashamed of. (To be honest, it mostly makes Stuart jealous, because Jimmy's always tucking into jam roly poly and custard as Stuart peels open yet another cardboard-y cheese sandwich.)
But Jimmy also likes The Pink Panther Show almost as much as Stuart does, and who has a battered, but still perfectly rideable, chopper bike. Which automatically makes him cool in Stuart's eyes. Plus he wants a go on the bike.
His mum doesn't really want Jimmy to come round, he can tell, but he's whined and complained and drip-drip-dripped like a leaky tap until he's blue in the face with no result, so really it serves her right that he's asked in front of Jimmy's mum (who's still wearing her gravy-stained dinner-lady tabard) and she's got choice but to say yes.
And so he gets his way. As always.
He and Jimmy go to the park and take it in turns to go head first down the slide until the rain forces them home. When they get back, Jimmy's soaked through, because he doesn't have a coat. Stuart's mum tuts softly, disappears upstairs and returns with a clean jumper and a pair of jeans that Stuart vaguely remembers from last winter.
While Jimmy's getting changed, Stuart notices that the sole of his left trainer has worn through. He rummages through his wardrobe and finds an old pair of his own -- the ones he got from his Auntie Jean and never really liked and only wore when he was dragged to her house -- and throws them at Jimmy when he comes downstairs.
"Dog got your old ones," he says, by way of explanation, and gestures towards Ringo who is snoring innocently by the fire. Jimmy raises an eyebrow, but he doesn't say anything, and Stuart decides he's probably got away with it.
They only agree to go to Anthony's birthday party because the invitation's wrapped around a tube of Smarties and Stu thinks that's probably a sign of good things to come.
Neither of them really knows Anthony, besides the fact that he's shit at football and he laughs so loudly they can hear him from the other Year 6 classroom. In fact, Stu's a little bit surprised they're even invited, given that he's spent most of the last four years' worth of lunchtimes making fun of him. But still, it's a birthday party, which means cake and games and party bags, and they're not disappointed when Stu's mum drops them off at Anthony's house on the outskirts of town.
There's balloons tied to the gate, and a big sign, hand-painted letters on an old white sheet, which says "ANTHONY TIMMS 11 TODAY!" Stuck to the front door is a photo of a chubby, beaming baby that can only be Anthony. Stu points at it and smirks at Jimmy with one eyebrow cocked. Jimmy's still laughing when Anthony pulls the door open and invites them in, his face a mirror of the grin in the picture.
His house is huge, and Stu can immediately see they were right about it being a good idea to come; the dining table is practically groaning under the weight of sandwiches, sausage rolls, bowls of crisps and fairy cakes, all surrounding a giant birthday cake that's shaped like a long, thin tube in an alarming shade of green.
Stu and Jimmy exchange bemused glances.
"It's a lightsaber," Anthony comments, helpfully. "You know, from Star Wars?"
Their blank looks are met with horror.
"You haven't seen Star Wars? Are you serious?"
"You have to see it. It's amazing. Dad, Dad-- they haven't seen Star Wars!" Anthony's practically hopping with excitement. "We'll take you to see it tomorrow, right Dad?" he says, with the confident voice of someone who rarely hears the word "no".
His confidence pays off; the next day Stu finds himself sat between Jimmy and Anthony, both merrily digging into gigantic buckets of popcorn, waiting for the lights to go down.
They emerge, blinking in the sunlight, three hours later, and make their way home in near-silence. Stu's never been to church but he thinks he's probably just had his first religious experience, and from the dazed look on Jimmy's face, he's not the only one.
"It was good, right?" Anthony says cheerfully as they reach the point where they go their separate ways. "So I'll -- see you on Monday?"
He's asking a different question, and Stu knows it, but he's happy to answer both of them with a yes. There's some experiences in life that bind people together forever, and seeing Star Wars for the first time is one of them, he reckons.
The only problem with Timms, Dakin muses, is that he's spectacularly shit at football.
Now they're in secondary school (Cutlers' Grammar, to be precise, all three of them having passed the Eleven Plus -- some with more flying colours than others), they're not Stu, Jimmy and Anthony any more, but Dakin, Lockwood and Timms, which was weird at first but now seems quite natural -- sometimes it takes Dakin half a beat to remember that it's him his mum's talking to when she calls him Stuart.
And they're not big fish in a small pond any more, either, but rather tiny little goldfish in a massive lake full of predators. But Dakin knows that goldfish will keep growing as big as their bowl will allow them, and he intends to spend the remainder of his life as a big fish.
Which is why it's a problem that Timms is shit at football.
Football, it turns out, is everything. It's currency in the playground; it's what gets the girls (not, Dakin thinks smugly, that he has much trouble with that); it's how you get your name out there. And there's two names that are already being whispered from the sidelines, almost reverently: Rudge and Crowther. And it's those two names that Dakin intends to get on side.
Crowther's easier, because he doesn't really seem that bothered about football. Actually, he likes acting -- he's already in the drama club, and Dakin's always had a flair for the dramatic, so it's not that hard to find a way in. And besides, Timms has just got a Betamax and Crowther's interest is piqued when Dakin casually mentions that they're watching The Godfather one night.
But Rudge is a bit more difficult. Dakin's always been able to make people laugh, and usually that's his go-to method for befriending people , but Rudge doesn't seem to get him most of the time; just looks back at him blankly, or, at best, with a puzzled frown. But he hits upon the key one day when he sends Lockwood on a mission to engage Rudge in conversation.
"He says he doesn't like football that much," Lockwood says on his return.
"Doesn't like-- What does he like, then?" Dakin asks, exasperated.
"Rugby," Lockwood replies with a shrug. "He prefers rugby."
That afternoon, Dakin goes to the library and takes out every book on rugby he can find. It only takes a weekend to get a grasp of the basics, and once he's quizzed his dad on the subject and listened to a couple of matches on the radio, he's ready. The next time he sees Rudge, he only has to mention the upcoming Australia/England cup decider to have him hooked.
That same lunchtime, Rudge plays football with them, and sets up a beautiful goal for Dakin, who strikes it in without a moment's hesitation.
He knows the hours of research are worth it when two sixth form boys thump him on the back and comment on his beautiful strike. "Nice one-- er--"
"Dakin," Dakin finishes, firmly. For a minute, he briefly thinks about spelling it out for them, but reconsiders.
"Dakin," one of them says, with a grin. "Well, see you around, Dakin."
Before they can walk away, Dakin grabs Rudge and pulls him into the conversation. "And this is Rudge," he says, inclining his head towards him. "He set up that goal for me."
"Good game, Rudge," the other one says, nodding.
Rudge gives a shrug. "Was all right," he says, his gaze already wandering elsewhere.
Dakin rolls his eyes, loops his arm over Rudge's shoulder as they walk away. Sometimes it's a good job they've got him as mate, he thinks, because most of them have no bloody idea.
By rights, the new kid should be everything Dakin hates.
He's got a pen in his top pocket, for crying out loud, and he's writing down everything Tottie's saying like it's a precious gift from above. And Lockwood's already leant over to whisper that he's seen him at church actually looking like he wants to be there. Actually sodding praying, no less. Definitely not friend material.
But there's something about him. His shirt sleeves are rolled up, and he's slumped back in his chair, and when Dakin, smirking knowingly, asks Tottie what King James I meant about George Villiers when he said "Christ had John, and I have George", the new boy doesn't look shocked like Dakin expects.
Instead, without raising his eyes from his notepad, he drawls, "Apollo with his songs / debauched young Hyacinthus... And it is well known that the king of England / fucks the Duke of Buckingham…"
Three years in, Dakin knows when Tottie's swallowing a smile, and she does so now, but she still draws herself up to her full, imperious height, and says "Mr Scripps, I don't know what sort of language was acceptable at your previous school, but that is certainly not appropriate here."
The boy looks up, meets Dakin's eyes, and grins, his eyes crinkling in merriment. Dakin feels the answering grin flash across his face without even thinking about it; he can't help it, there's something infectious about the new boy's smile.
"Sorry, Mrs Lintott," Scripps says, but his eyes are still with Dakin. Then he drops them back to his notebook again, and goes on studiously scribbling notes as if nothing had ever happened.
It's not until Crowther nudges Dakin in the ribs a few moments later and asks him for the answer to question five that Dakin realises he's been staring.
It's not as easy to make friends with Scripps as Dakin imagined it would be. He makes him laugh in class often enough -- and Dakin is uncomfortably aware that the occasions he finds himself in detention have almost tripled in regularity since Scripps first arrived -- but outside of class, Scripps just… disappears. He keeps himself to himself, either sitting in the library scribbling away, or holed up in the music room, practicing piano.
Sometimes Dakin stops to listen from outside in the corridor. Lockwood catches him once, and Dakin hurriedly nods towards the door and says "What a ponce, right?"
He's rewarded with a slap on the back of the head from Hector, who's walking past. "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music!" he cries.
Dakin rolls his eyes. "You don't seem to need music to express yourself, sir. If you don't mind me saying."
He hears a chuckle from the music room, and a soft murmur of "Pot, kettle…" and finds himself uncharacteristically flustered, equal parts annoyed that Scripps caught him listening and amused by his response.
But besides that, their interactions have been limited. Dakin does spot him having lunch with Akhtar a couple of times, though, and wonders if maybe that's his way in.
He doesn't know Akhtar well, apart from the fact that he's apparently got a fit sister in the year above. Killing two birds with one stone never hurt anyone, he thinks; then adds as an afterthought: Well, besides the birds.
It's no good, though. Three months later and he's fast friends with Akhtar, who turns out to be smart and funny and with a mean streak a mile long that makes Dakin hoot with laughter on a daily basis, and he's already snogged Akhtar's sister about seven times and managed to touch her tits (through her jumper, but it's a start), but he's no closer to knowing Scripps.
And ostensibly, he's given up at that -- determined or not, he's not going to beg, for Christ's sake, there's plenty more people to be friends with. But there's something about Scripps that keeps drawing him back in; he's funny and sarcastic and sometimes Dakin suspects he's taking the piss out of him; and Dakin's not used to that, not used to it at all, but he's surprised to find that he maybe kind of likes it.
It's a year since Scripps started at Cutlers', and beyond once borrowing his notes, Dakin's hardly exchanged more than a dozen words with him outside of lessons. He's laughed at his jokes, laughed at him, thrown things at his head and even flirted in his direction, just in case Scripps is that way inclined. He is, as far as Dakin can see, not -- but then again, as far as Dakin can see, Scripps isn't any way inclined. Except maybe towards God.
But he's sure that it's always Scripps who picks up on things the quickest -- if Dakin's trying to rattle Hector with a sly bit of innuendo, or irritate Tottie with some tongue-in-cheek schoolboy misogyny, it's always Scripps who catches his eye first -- and although he doesn't usually join in, he'll sit there with a growing amusement on his face, occasionally feeding Dakin the odd line or two with an air of utter innocence.
After one lunchtime detention, brought on yet again by taking things a bit too far due to Scripps' silent encouragement (seemingly imperceptible to anyone else, teachers included), Dakin decides that it's not fair that Scripps gets to enjoy the fruits of his labours without actually being his friend. So that's going to change. Today.
At afternoon break, he spots Akhtar and Scripps eating lunch on the playing fields, Scripps lounging back on his elbows, his face turned towards the sun.
"All right lads?" Dakin says, plonking down beside them.
"All right, Dakin?" Akhtar says affably, and Scripps nods in greeting.
There's silence for a few moments, and then Scripps gets up, brushes the grass from his trousers and raises his hand in a wave. "Well, must be off," he says.
"Off where?" Dakin protests. He's painfully aware of how accusatory he sounds.
Scripps doesn't reply, just disappears with a grin and a little shake of his head, and God, Dakin thinks, that's just irritating beyond belief.
It's as if he knows what Dakin's doing, and that's what's really annoying. Dakin prides himself -- or at least, he has done since Hector introduced them to The Prince -- on being something of a Machiavellian figure -- getting people to give him what he wants without them even noticing they're doing it. And it's worked on pretty much everyone else.
But with Scripps it's not working. And Dakin is pissed off.
When he gets to history that afternoon, to make things worse, someone's sitting in his usual seat. It's Posner, who's recently been moved up from the year below, and Dakin's mood, which was fairly black already, now turns somewhat apocalyptic.
"You're in my seat," he thunders.
Posner looks up at him. "So?"
"So get out of it, idiot," Dakin says, thumping his books down on the desk.
"There's plenty of empty seats, Dakin," Posner replies, primly. "In fact, you're welcome to this one next to me." He pats the chair. "I don't bite."
Normally Dakin might find it quite funny, that he's gone in here guns blazing and instead of jumping to attention, Posner's just… is he flirting? But then he hears Scripps chuckling on the other side of the room and he's just had enough.
"Piss off, Posner. You're not old enough to try flirting with anyone. Come back when you've actually hit puberty, eh?"
Posner's mouth goes very small and a flush rises over his throat and cheeks. There's a hiss around the room and some of the boys laugh, which is enough to spur Dakin on.
"On second thoughts, don't bother -- I doubt you'll be any more appealing when your balls have dropped."
Posner doesn't say anything in reply, just stands up, gathers his books and stalks out of the classroom, his back very straight.
Dakin smirks as the other boys laugh, but then he spots Scripps, who has jumped to his feet and started to follow Posner.
"Where're you going?" he says, his words directed at Scripps' back. Scripps stops, and Dakin can see the muscles in his jaw working.
After a moment, he turns his head. "Jesus, Dakin. You don't have to be such a-- twat," he shoots over his shoulder, and then strides out, shaking his head.
Dakin's wrong-footed, lost for words for a moment. "Oh, go fucking… cuddle him all better," he calls after Scripps, but it's too little, too late. Well sod him, then, he thinks, and resolves to quit trying from here on in. See if he fucking cares.
He spends the rest of the lesson sulking. Not that he'd ever admit it.
Posner's all right, really, once they get over the desk incident. Which happens fairly quickly, because Dakin doesn't need to hold grudges, and frankly, Dakin thinks, Posner can't afford to.
Actually, Dakin grows to like him, in an odd sort of way, because he's funny and game for a laugh and doesn't really mind being the butt of everyone's jokes.
Well, not Dakin's jokes, at least, because apparently Posner is in love with him. Of course he is. Which is fine, Dakin decides, if a little bit irritating at times.
Quite a lot of times, actually; it's been almost a year of having Posner hang off his every word, occasionally actually fucking swooning, which Timms in particular seems to find absolutely hilarious.
"Oh Dakin!" he cries, clutching a hand to his chest and affecting a high, grating sort of whimper. "Let me carry your books, Dakin! Let me serenade you, Dakin!"
"Ha bloody ha," Dakin retorts. "It's hardly his fault that I'm so incredibly attractive and irresistible, et cetera et cetera."
There's a soft snort from the doorway. Scripps is there, arms folded, leaning against the doorframe, giving him a look that Dakin can only interpret as meaning "what a twat".
Dakin rolls his eyes, feeling his amusement turn to irritation almost instantly. Just what he needs.
"It is quite pitiful, though," Timms continues. "He follows you around like a lost puppy, or something."
"Only unlike a puppy," Crowther puts in, "He isn't rewarded with any treats."
"Unless he is," Akhtar says, speculatively.
Timms explodes with shrill laughter. "You mean while we're not looking, Dakin's letting him su--"
"That's enough, for fuck's sake," Dakin hisses. "He's just a kid, leave him alone."
The room is silent.
"And you can all fucking talk," Dakin continues, his voice raised. "You sodding follow me round and all. Well, you can bloody well go find someone else to annoy because I've had enough of it."
And with that he stalks out the room, pushing past Scripps with a huff. He's halfway down the corridor, feeling vaguely nauseous and rather foolish, when he hears the room explode into laughter, and great, he is a twat. A complete and total--
A hand on his shoulder interrupts his thoughts and he turns to see Scripps, his face wearing a look of concern.
"Oh, fuck off, Scripps," he starts, but Scripps squeezes his shoulder to stop him.
"I just wanted to make sure you were okay," he says, dropping his hands to his sides and stuffing them into his pockets. "It's not like you to take things so-- personally."
Dakin raises an eyebrow. "Are you taking the piss?"
Scripps half-smiles, turns his head away. "It's just that normally you're the one winding people up and being an idiot rather than the other way around."
"Oh, cheers," Dakin replies. "Thanks very much, very helpful. Very Christian of you."
Scripps chuckles, the sound deep in his throat. "Jesus teaches us to tell the truth."
"In that case," Dakin says, taking a step forwards towards Scripps, "You can tell me why you avoid me."
Scripps steps backwards, crossing his arms over his chest, and sighs. "I don't avoid you, Dakin. I just don't… actively go out of my way to spend time with you."
Dakin tuts impatiently. "Semantics. Why don't you want to spend time with me, then? And make sure you tell the truth," he adds, his tone mocking. "Jesus would want you to."
Scripps is silent for a few moments. "I just don't think you needed to… gather another member for your fan club."
"Gather-- fan club--?" Dakin starts, incredulously, but stops midway. He thinks back to that morning, when he'd walked into the classroom and been greeted with cheers. He supposes it's a fair enough assumption.
He shrugs, and says "They're just my mates, that's all. Sometimes they're idiots," he adds, shooting a dark look back at the classroom door. "But they're my mates."
Scripps raises one eyebrow.
"Oh, all right," Dakin says, impatiently. "Sometimes I'm an idiot, too. Sometimes," he adds, hurriedly, seeing Scripps' look of triumph. "Not very often. But that's what friends are for, right?"
"Do they tell you when you're being an idiot?"
Dakin thinks for a moment. "No. I s'pose not. Not always."
Scripps looks at him for a moment. "Guess you're going to need someone to tell you when you're being an idiot, then."
There's silence for a moment until Scripps smiles, uncrosses his arms and pushes his sleeves to his elbows. "Are you free after school?"
Dakin nods. "Yeah, why?"
"Want to go into town or something?"
It's funny, Dakin thinks, how sometimes you don't get what you want until you stop trying to get it. He grins. "All right, Scripps."
"It's Don," Scripps says, with a nod. "You can call me Don."
From that day on, Dakin does.