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With A Little Help From My Friends

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“How are we going to get the money for it?” His friends frowned, looking up at PJ for guidance. He blinked, trying his best to think on the spot. Being the leader was really a pain when you weren’t much more than a confident moron.

“Well, I guess we’ll just have to steal it.”

Laughter bubbled in the room, until they noticed the look on his face.

“Are you nuts?!”

Fraser, ever the sensible one, was the first to speak up, moving so suddenly in surprise that he had to re-adjust the glasses on his nose.

“Can’t we just hold a talent show or something?”

Debbie bit her lip. Sure, she had a crush on PJ, but he could be such an idiot sometimes.

“Yeah, we could ask Geoff for permission and use the money raised from tickets.”

Gemma was quick to agree with Debbie. She didn’t want to get into any trouble, and this sounded a lot like trouble.

PJ gasped a little, a plan forming in his mind. “Fraser! Geoff trusts you! You can get the combination to the safe, borrow the money, and once we’ve bought it, we can explain everything to him and work together to pay him back!”

“So, to try and raise our part of the money for Gill’s memorial, you’re going to steal from the Grove’s safe? Gill would be proud!” Speedy couldn’t resist a chuckle. Gill had died as just a teen by driving a stolen car into the side of an articulated truck. He could just imagine him egging them all on if he was still around.

Duncan stayed silent, his previous botched attempts at stealing still fresh in his mind. What PJ was suggesting, however, was worse than nicking some petty cash from Geoff’s office. Trouble was, Geoff had helped him through his problems with the promise that the whole situation would be kept under wraps, for Duncan’s sake.

The rest of them were ironing out the details, deciding who would keep a look-out and who would distract Geoff. It was Debbie who noticed Duncan’s silence first. “You ok, Duncan? You haven’t said much.”

They were all looking at him now, waiting for an explanation. He could feel his chest begin to tighten. “Eh, the plan won’t work.”

PJ frowned. “Howay man! It’s a solid plan! Why won’t it work?” His Geordie accent slipped out as he began to get frustrated. Half the reason why PJ was the leader of their little gang was because Duncan always happily went along with his hair-brained schemes. Why wasn’t he doing that now?

Gemma was getting a bad feeling. “Guys…?”

Duncan gulped. Why was PJ pushing it so much? “It won’t work because it’s a stupid idea.”

“How do you know? You haven’t even tried to help yet!”

Duncan began to leave the attic, pushing past a confused Speedy as he paced toward the door. However, before he could get out, he could feel his arm being grabbed.

“What’s wrong with you? You don’t say a word for ages, and then you just storm out like this?”

Duncan’s mouth was dry as he shrugged off PJ’s grip, the words coming out louder than he intended.

“It won’t work because I’ve stolen from him before!”

The room was quiet as the penny dropped. Duncan was gone before anyone could stop him. He wasn’t going to stick around for the aftermath.

Byker Grove Youth Club was basically a castle. Well, technically it was a tower building, but to the teens that spent their afternoons and weekends there, it represented so much more.

PJ found Duncan at the top of the turret, huddled in the corner. His heart ached a little at the sight of his best friend looking so helpless. Making his way from the small ladder to where Duncan sat, he crouched down beside him.

“You’re lucky no one spotted you coming up here, Geoff would’ve had a meltdown!”

Duncan fiddled with his bright blue jacket. He always tried to dress as cool as possible, but PJ had a knack for ending up in the better clothes. Something about how being an inspiring young DJ in the 90s meant that he had to look rad.

“You were the one who was stealing the money.” It came out as a statement. It was all fitting into place – the other teens at the Grove never did find out who the culprit was, the thefts just seemed to stop.

Glancing up at PJ, Duncan’s expression was one of sadness. He proceeded to tell him everything. How a few afternoons at the arcade at the Metro Centre led to him spending all his pocket money. How he ended up getting loans from Gemma’s creepy older brother Paul. How the interest on the loans got higher and higher. How he resorted to stealing the Grove’s VHS player and the petty cash from the Grove’s café. How Geoff caught him red-handed after the Great North Run.

“I just thought, if I could try the level one more time, I’d get even higher. I would, and then I would lose the game again. It just kept going like that. I just couldn’t stop, and it got worse and worse.”

PJ sighed. “Why didn’t you come to me?”

“You, Speedy, Winston and Fraser were busy with Radio Rocket.”

PJ had noticed Duncan’s absence while they were setting up their pirate radio station but thought nothing much of it. Now that he thought about it, Spuggie had been asking around about Duncan, but he had dismissed her.

PJ nudged Duncan’s shoulder gently. “We’ll do the talent show idea. Don’t worry about it.”

“Are you sure? You were so adamant about it.”

PJ chuckled. “You’re my best mate. I’m not doing it if it’ll make you feel bad. If you ever need someone to talk to, you’ve got me. Now and whenever, okay?”

Duncan smiled, his features lighting up a little. “Right back at you.”

Standing up, Duncan gratefully took PJ’s hand as he helped him up. He was about to say how happy he was to have someone as awesome and cool as PJ as a best friend, but the words were stuck on the tip of his tongue.

“Hey, you two! You better not be smoking up there! You’re only fourteen!”

Glancing down past the Newcastle view to the field surrounding the Grove below, they caught the frustrated gaze of Geoff the manager, complete with his trademark moustache.

Waving down at him, they made their way down to the field, feeling a lot happier than they were before.

Yeah, PJ thought, the talent show was a much better idea. That was why they worked so well together as friends – Duncan called him out when he acted stupid, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.