It was a crystal clear September morning, and Nick Davis was due to start his final year of secondary school. It had felt strange, getting out of bed that morning and putting on his uniform, knowing that a year from now he’d be off to college somewhere. The commute would be longer, but it would be worth it to get out of this stupid town, thought Nick as he got into his sister’s car. And calling Windfield Green a town was very generous for a place with a few thousand inhabitants, half a public library, three pubs and a Tesco’s.
Upper Windfield Grammar School wasn’t far, and Nick had been going there since he was eleven, but Zoë had insisted on taking him anyway.
There was no Lower Windfield Grammar School. In truth, there was no Lower Windfield, nor an upper one, for that matter. When the school was built and named, nearly a century before, they must have been meaning to expand the town (presumably downwards), but it was still just plain old Windfield.
As they pulled out of the drive, a blond boy on a bicycle flashed by.
Nick gritted his teeth. That wasn’t the same bicycle that Dave Thompson had had before the summer. The spoiled brat was showing off, as usual. ‘Arrogant prick…’ muttered Nick.
Zoë glanced at him from behind her glasses, then shook her head, causing a ginger curl to unravel from her ponytail. ‘Aren’t the two of you ever going to grow up? You’re fifteen!’
‘Not as long as he keeps being an arse,’ said Nick. ‘Which would be never.’
‘But if you tried to be nice to him, maybe he wouldn’t be such an arse,’ said Zoë. ‘Maybe you could put all this behind you and be friends?’
Nick laughed out loud at that. ‘Are you very stoned?’ he asked. ‘I have no intention of being his friend!’
Zoë shrugged. ‘What won’t a boy do for the honour of his sand castle…’
Nick looked out the window and frowned, unwilling to admit to himself how stupid it all was. And who was he to stop now? After all, being enemies had nearly grown to be a kind of hobby. Besides, Dave had started it.
The very first day they met, in nursery, Dave had smashed Nick’s sandcastle, and from that moment on the two boys had hated each other. They fought constantly, and always tried to sabotage one another.
Their relationship did not improve when they reached school age. Dave was immediately the popular one. He was refined, extroverted and clever, while Nick was awkward and quiet. As they grew older, the differences between them only became more prominent. Dave was tall and blond, with radiant blue eyes and a flashing smile. Nick was slight, with plain brown hair and grey eyes. Dave was handsome and well-liked, while Nick never could make friends, and the opposite sex seemed to have no interest in him.
Dave’s parents were wealthy and successful, and as tall and blonde as was Dave himself. Nick’s parents were divorced, and his father had moved to Plymouth. Nick received postcards from him for Christmas and birthdays, but had not seen him since he left. After the divorce, Nick’s mother had gone through a series of nervous breakdowns and was in and out of hospital all the time. She lived with her sister in Coventry, while Nick had stayed in Windfield with Zoë, who was nine years his senior.
Dave parked his new bicycle in the shed, before going off to join his friends, Alan Bradford and Chas Arden. Several girls turned their heads after him as he made his way over to the front steps. Over the summer, Dave had grown another inch or so, and he was sporting a fresh tan. His sun-bleached hair was longer, and he mussed it up with his hand as he went, grinning at a few of the prettier girls.
‘How was your summer, mate?’ asked Alan when Dave reached them. Alan had been Dave’s best friend for almost as many years as Nick had been his enemy. He was a little shorter than Dave, but powerfully built, with dark hair and heavy eyebrows.
‘Oh, you know, nothing special,’ said Dave, leaning back against the railing and scanning the courtyard for short skirts.
Chas, also known as Chas the Chav, was large and slightly fat, and, when out of uniform, dressed as if he’d stepped right out of a gangster rap video, despite being one of the whitest people Dave knew. He hid his short-cropped ginger hair under a Yankees baseball cap most of the time. ‘Yo, you get any o’ dat, BAM, know what I mean, bro?’ he asked in his mock black south London accent. Chas wasn’t very bright, nor particularly interesting, but he was good muscle.
‘Oh, well, you know…’ Dave trailed off, grinning, and winked at one of the girls flitting past, who blushed furiously.
At that moment, Nick entered through the gates, carrying a book.
‘Look who it is,’ said Alan, indicating with his head. ‘And here I was hoping he’d be gone come autumn…’
Dave watched as Nick came towards them, seemingly unaware of their presence, his nose buried deep in his book. Dave nodded to Chas, who grinned and placed his bulk in front of the steps, blocking the way for Nick.
Nick looked up. ‘Move,’ he said sourly.
Dave reached around his friend and snatched the book out of Nick’s hand. It was called American Gods. He looked it over for a moment, then turned to Nick. ‘This isn’t America, you know, Nicky-poo.’
‘What, I can’t read a book with America in the title just because I’m not in America?’ asked Nick, an eyebrow raised. ‘Anyway, it’s written by an English author, so joke’s on you.’
‘Whoa, this one’s clever!’ said Dave with a grin. ‘How much time do you spend reading, anyway? Get out of the house every once in a while, won’t you?’
‘Well, when you ain’t got no friends, dere’s not much else to do, innit?’ said Chas, smirking.
‘You know what?’ said Dave. ‘I’m gonna do you a favour, mate. I’m just gonna hold onto this for you, and you can find something else to do in your spare time. Something a bit less camp than stupid books about Yankee gods, eh?’
‘Piss off, Thompson, give that back!’ growled Nick.
‘Ooh, he’s feisty!’ Dave laughed. He walked around Chas and stood face to face with Nick, dangling the book above his head. ‘Suck. My. Cock!’
Nick reached for the book, but Dave was too tall. He scowled at him and gave him a two-finger salute instead. The head teacher chose that precise moment to stick his head out of the front door to the school.
‘You two!’ he barked at them. ‘My office! Now!’
Dave shrugged and dropped the book on Nick’s head before turning around and heading into the building behind their teacher. Nick took a moment to scramble for his book before following.
The head teacher of Upper Windfield Grammar School was a tall, thin man in his fifties, with a moustache and a well-groomed comb-over, named Mr. Reynolds. When they reached his office, he gestured for them to sit down in front of his desk, and sat himself down in the comfortable armchair on the other side.
‘First day back and already you’re in my office,’ he said sternly. ‘I keep hoping for a change, but here you are, Thompson and Davis, the bane of the classroom.’ He looked at each of them in turn from under thick, grey eyebrows. ‘Well, I won’t have it anymore! You’ve been allowed to get away with a lot of things until now, but you’re sitting your GCSEs this year. I will put you both in detention if you disrupt teaching, and you will be suspended if I hear of you starting any fights.’ He sighed and sat back, his expression milder. ‘I also hear from all your teachers that you’re both very bright and able. Surely you have more in common than you think. Is it so impossible for the two of you to set aside your differences and try to be friends?’
‘Friends?!’ exclaimed the two in unison.
‘Sir, that’s just not gonna happen,’ said Dave.
‘Yeah!’ agreed Nick. ‘I can’t see the two of us ever getting along!’
‘Well, at least you’re agreed on that,’ said Mr. Reynolds bemusedly. ‘Fine. Go on hating each other. Just keep it out of the classroom.’ He looked from one to the other. Then he stood. ‘All right, then, lads, off you go.’
The two left together, walking side by side through the corridor. Dave glanced at Nick, feeling suddenly awkward. He felt like he ought to say something.
‘Who does he think he is, huh?’ he tried, with half a smile. ‘Old git…’
‘Yeah,’ said Nick, glancing at him. ‘Who’s he to to try and stop us from doing something we’ve been doing for our entire lives?’
‘Exactly!’ said Dave. They had almost reached the auditorium for the start of term assembly. ‘He did have a point, though,’ he said, stopping.
‘Huh?’ Nick turned around and stared at him. ‘That old… What do you mean, he had a point?’
‘Well,’ said Dave, ‘we do agree on one thing.’ He reached out his right hand towards his companion. ‘We agree to be enemies.’
Nick looked at his hand sceptically, before taking it and shaking it. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘We agree to be enemies.’
They let go and then stood there for a moment, sizing each other up. Nick was first to look away, sticking his hands into the pockets of his black school trousers. His brown hair stuck up at the back and his green tie was slightly loose, and Dave found himself smiling.
‘You’d better straighten that tie before we go in,’ he said. ‘You’ll get in trouble.’
Nick looked up at him again, and Dave thought he saw a faint tint enter his pale cheeks. ‘What? Oh, yeah…’ He reached up to his neck, fixing the tie a bit. ‘Stupid thing,’ he muttered. ‘Can’t wait to start college and not have to worry about uniforms anymore…’
‘Yeah, tell me about it,’ said Dave, grinning.
‘You should probably go on ahead,’ said Nick, looking away again. ‘Wouldn’t do for people to see me arriving with you. I have a lone wolf image to maintain, you know.’
Dave snorted. ‘Yeah, ’course,’ he said. ‘See you around, Davis.’
Nick turned his grey eyes on Dave, and Dave couldn’t quite interpret the look in them. ‘Yeah. See ya.’