The Corruption of Michael Henderson by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson


Copyright © M i c h a e l J o h n s o n The right of Michael Johnson to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library. ISBN 978 1 84963 207 2 First Published (2012) Austin & Macauley Publishers Ltd. 25 Canada Square Canary Wharf London E14 5LB

Printed & Bound in Great Britain

Chapter 1

I was lying under the bedcovers listening to ‘I’m a believer’ on Radio Caroline; I had it pressed up to my ear so my Mother wouldn’t hear. It was hot so I had taken my pyjamas top off and the window was wide open to try to get some air, I heard Dad’s car on the gravel drive; he had failed to come home for dinner again and Mum had thrown it in the bin; we had sat at the table in silence. Since my brother, John had left for university, it was very quiet; I missed him terribly, although he didn’t take much notice of me except to bully me into running some errand for him, he was always out with friends or with his harem of girls, the whole house revolved around him. As the first born, he was Mum and Dad’s favourite, I came along six years later and believed I was an accident; I overheard them talking about me once when my father referred to me as the spare. John Junior, as we all called him, was to me the epitome of cool; he succeeded at everything he did, whether it was at school or sports or shooting and fishing, he was handsome with blonde hair and flashing blue eyes, a chiselled jaw and muscular build. And I hoped to emulate him in everything I did. The front door banged shut; he came home drunk every night these days. My room is above the hall so I always knew who was coming and going, I heard him go into the kitchen in search of his dinner. ‘Fucking bitch,’ he said, I heard him kick the pedal bin across the room. He came upstairs, went into the bathroom, left the door open so I could hear him peeing, he coughed a couple of times; I knew what was coming so I pulled the sheet closer in a vain attempt to isolate myself. I heard their bedroom door bang against the stop. ‘Get down stairs,’ he shouted; he tried to drag my Mother out of bed, she was hanging onto the brass bedstead. ‘Let go you fucking bitch.’ She was screaming, he dragged her down the stairs. ‘Get me something to eat you witch.’ She foolishly refused and I could hear him punching her. She was yelling, ‘No, please no,’ but the more she begged, the more he hit her. I lay in my bed trying not to listen to what was going on. I turned the volume up, but couldn’t blot it out; I couldn’t stand it any longer, I had to do something, I could no longer let him batter my Mother and not do anything about it, so, for the first time in my life, I was going to stand up to him. I plucked up the courage and I ran downstairs and burst into the kitchen. ‘Leave my Mother alone,’ I shouted. He let go of her and grabbed me; I managed to get a sort of punch in which made his nose bleed, he punched me in the face, it felt like a train had hit me; I went dizzy and thought I was going to pass out. ‘Fucking little shit,’ he swiped me away with the back of his hand which sent me flying across the kitchen. Mother ran across the room and hugged me, curling us up into a ball. He kicked the bin at us, the bag came out covering us in rubbish; he stood laughing for a minute then went upstairs. We stayed on the floor for several minutes waiting to see what was going to happen next; I heard a noise from the hall as something bounced down the stairs then hit the wall across the hall. Eventually, we plucked up enough courage to get up off the floor, Mother picked up the rubbish and put it back in the bin, I went out into the hall. My new

radio, a fourteenth birthday present from Granny Francis, was smashed to pieces all over the hall floor; the experience of the last few minutes and the loss of my radio was too much for me and I broke down, I knelt on the floor and gathered together all the bits and pieces as tears dripped onto the oak floorboards. Later as I was lying in my bed, I swore vengeance against my father and decided that nothing would ever make me cry again. In the morning, Mother cooked breakfast as usual, my father behaved as if nothing had taken place. I was pleased to see his nose was swollen, Mother was black and blue; this was nothing unusual, later she would cover it up with copious amounts of makeup. As soon as he left for work she announced that we were going to leave him and go and stay at Gran’s, it wouldn’t be the first time, he had always managed to persuade her to go back after a few days with promises of changing and giving up drinking and staying out late. He was very convincing, everything would be all lovey-dovey for a while then it would all start over again. She packed our things and put them in her car, and we said goodbye to the house and left for the West Country. It would take at least four hours to get there. Mother never talked much, she wasn’t one for small talk, when she said something it had a purpose so we mostly sat in silence. In the last few months I had started to take more notice of what woman looked like; I had decided that she was quite beautiful, she had long black hair and green eyes and for someone of thirty-nine, she had quite a good figure. She wore a mini skirt and I occasionally took a peek at her long legs as they moved up and down on the pedals, and her breasts jumped up and down when we went over a bump. I’m not sure I’m supposed to be looking at my own Mother this way, but lately my mind was all a turmoil, I wondered why I had suddenly decided to intervene on her behalf. I had been changing a lot recently, hair had started to grow in all sorts of places and I awoke every morning as stiff as a poker. We had lectures in school about masturbating, how it was bad for you, but all the older kids seemed to be at it, I had found several behind the shed where all the sports equipment is stored wanking each other off. My friends, Tim and Chris, had been doing it for months, I think I was slightly late in developing; I had been small for my age but recently I had shot up, Mother continuously had to buy me new trousers as I had grown several inches in the last few months. School was fee-paying and as we only lived a couple of miles away I was a day boy, there were a lot of boys who were boarders. There was a lot of fagging where small boys were expected to run errands for the older boys, I had to go to the prefect’s room once to give him some cake he had managed to blag from the kitchen; when I knocked he said come in, I opened the door to find one of the younger boys on his knees sucking his willie. I was mesmerised. ‘Want to have a go, Michael?’ he said. I was speechless, I had no idea that sort of thing went on. It was a vision that has stayed with me. I suppose I was quite naïve, I didn’t know what a homo was until I was much older; I thought it was a washing powder. The teachers were a vicious bunch, doling out corporal punishments on a regular basis. I seemed to be outside the Deputy Head’s office on many occasions waiting with other boys for our beating, we would be left there for several hours; one small boy was in such a state he wet himself, a dark stain appeared on his trousers and the urine ran down his leg and disappeared into his shoe, then overflowed, making a pool on the floor. He didn’t move as we were told not to. As

each boy was taken in for his punishment, we could hear the screams which would make you even more nervous, my turn came and I determined not to cry out. ‘So Mr Aitkin, what is it this time?’ he said. ‘Miss Salter left the room and while she was out, we made paper airplanes, I threw one just as she came into the room and it hit her on the nose, sir.’ ‘Well, that’s a valuable lesson, isn’t it, Michael.’ ‘What’s that, sir?’ I said. ‘Don’t take so long making your airplane; get it in the air quicker.’ ‘But sir, my plane was better because I took care to make it properly, it flew the farthest.’ He smiled. ‘Pull down your trousers and bend over,’ he said. I heard the cane long before it hit, it hissed in the air; when it hit the stinging sensation was overwhelming. I grimaced and prepared myself for the next one, he issued six of the best; I didn’t cry out or cry. When it was over, I looked him in the eyes. ‘You think you’re a tough guy don’t you, boy?’ ‘Yes sir.’ I said. ‘Go on, clear off and send in the next one.’ ‘Thank you, sir,’ I said. I pulled up my trousers, my bum was stinging like mad but I didn’t show it. When I went back to the classroom everyone cheered, I was grinning. ‘Quiet. Come here, Mr Aitkin.’ I walked over to her. ‘It seems that sending you too see Mr Phillips isn’t having the effect I was looking for.’ ‘No, miss,’ I said. ‘Hold out your hand.’ I tentatively did as she said, I knew what was coming. She walked to her desk and fetched her steel ruler, she brought the steel down onto my hand as hard as she could, this stung even more than the cane, I determined not to let her have the satisfaction of making me cry. She hit me six times with it; I must confess a little moisture crept into the corner of my eye; she had been watching my reaction and smiled when she saw it. I felt ashamed of myself that I had let her win again. I went back to my seat, the whole class was silent and when she turned to go back to the blackboard, I made a rude sign at her, the whole class erupted. She turned and they fell silent. ‘The other hand this time,’ she said. She brought the rule down on my right hand, she wasn’t supposed to hit the hand you use for writing, this was an unwritten rule so she had obviously decided to ignore it and kept going six, seven, eight times, she was staring into my eyes waiting for me to break, the whole class gasped. She stopped. ‘Go and sit down.’ She was shaking with the emotion of it, although it was me that was physically hurting. I had made her lose her cold, emotionless exterior, I smiled and the whole class of twenty boys were grinning at me, I had risen a hundred fold in their esteem. Mother stopped at a Little Chef for lunch, we sat in one of the booths. ‘You look terrible, that black eye is getting worse,’ she said. ‘If we live at Gran’s, what’s going to happen about school?’ I said.

‘You will have to go to the local one.’ I didn’t know what to make of this, at first I was glad to get away from my old school. But when I thought about it, I would have to mix with all the poor kids who in my experience were all rough and dirty, and would probably want to beat me up as I spoke with a posh accent. We arrived at Gran’s cottage at about four o’clock, she was waiting outside for us; I got out of the car and ran to her, I loved her more than anyone. It was only two weeks since I had seen her when she came for my birthday, she hugged me and pressed my face into her bosom. ‘You’re getting so tall now,’ she said. I stayed in her arms, I nearly cried but my promise would not be broken. ‘Your poor face, we won’t let the girls see you like this, let’s go inside.’ We went in arm in arm. The cottage smelt of baking. ‘I have your favourite cake in the oven,’ she said. The house was tiny compared to where I had been living, black beams crossed the ceiling; they were so low that a grown man would have to bend his neck. We went into the kitchen and she took a sponge cake out of the AGA, tipped the two halves onto mesh to cool. She handed me the bowl of cake mix, I scraped out what was left and sucked it off my fingers, as I had done as a small boy. ‘Dad broke my radio,’ I said. ‘I’ll get you another one. Are you staying this time Patricia?’ ‘Yes, he’s gone too far. This brave boy tried to stop him beating me, that’s how he got the black eye.’ I was looking through a clothing catalogue for something to do when I came across the lingerie section; I had to put the book across my hips to hide my hardness. There were pictures of beautiful girls in bras and panties, and stockings and suspenders, and corsets and petticoats. I was trying to see the nipples but I think they must have had something on under it as it appeared to be see through. ‘What are you looking at, Michael?’ Mother said. I shut the book suddenly, Gran winked at me. ‘Why don’t you take it upstairs with you when you go to bed and see if there’s anything in there you’re interested in having,’ she said. She was giving me a knowing smile. ‘Thanks, Gran.’ I said. ‘I’ll make you a cup of ovaltine, you must be tired, you can take it up with you,’ she said. So, a few minutes later, I made my way up the rickety stairs with a cup in one hand and paradise in the other. It was my first time and once I started there was no stopping me, before I went to sleep, in the morning, when having a bath and any other opportunity. A couple of days later we went shopping and Gran bought me a new radio. My black eye had started to go down so when walking in the street every pretty girl, was the object of my attention. She disappeared into a newsagents and came out with a packet of cigarettes and a brown envelope. We went home with bags of groceries and while they unpacked them, I went upstairs to try out my new radio. There was a knock on the door. ‘Come in,’ I said. Gran opened the door. ‘You don’t have to knock,’ I said. ‘I think I should, I have another present for you.’ She handed me the brown envelope. ‘Enjoy,’ she said. ‘Thanks, Gran.’ She left me alone. I opened the envelope, I couldn’t believe my eyes, inside was a copy of Playboy. ‘Wow! Thanks, Gran,’ I said to no one. I looked

through it, there were stories and pictures of pretty girls on every page, and when I got to the centre I was amazed. I turned the magazine sideways, the centrefold had the most stunning picture of Miss Dede Lind, Playmate of the Month, August Nineteen Sixty Seven. She became my constant companion, until Mother decided to dry clean my trousers and went through my pockets. ‘Michael, come down here a minute, please.’ I came into the kitchen and saw the piece of paper in her hand. It was falling apart; I had folded and unfolded it so many times. ‘What’s this?’ she said. She was holding it by the tip of her fingers as if it was in some way poisonous. ‘Ah, well, it’s Dede Lind, Mother.’ ‘I know who it is, why is she in your pocket?’ ‘Just in case,’ I said. ‘Just in case of what?’ ‘Well, you know, just in case I need it,’ I said. ‘It’s disgusting, Playboy treat woman like sex objects.’ ‘Yes, Mother, I’m sure you’re right, I’m very sorry.’ She threw her into the bin, I stared at it for a few seconds, she was my first love. A couple of weeks later I had to start at the local Grammar school. There were over a thousand children there, it felt very strange, I had to wait in the office for a boy from my class who was supposed to show me where to go. He came in looking very sullen, I bet he was thinking why me. We were introduced, his name was Steve, he would become one of my best friends. When I entered the classroom for the first time, I had to stand at the front while the teacher told them who I was, making sure they knew I was from a public school. ‘It doesn’t matter how posh you are you get the same treatment here as everyone else,’ she said. There were no seats available at the front so I had to walk back through the classroom until I found a desk which had only one boy sat there. ‘You’re not sitting here,’ he said. ‘There isn’t anywhere else,’ I said. ‘I don’t care, no one sits next to me,’ he said. ‘Fuck you,’ I whispered, and sat down. He leant over. ‘You wait until break, I’m going to eat you alive,’ he said. ‘You and who’s army?’ I said. I didn’t realise at the time that he was the toughest kid in the year, I had to stand up for myself or I would be the butt of every bully in the school. Even if he beat the crap out of me, at least I would give a good account of myself. I couldn’t believe how far behind they all were. I found I could answer every question; I started to put my hand up all the time but I was getting some venomous looks so I decided to pretend I didn’t know the answers. I would never fit in if I stood out like a sore thumb.

Steve was a bit of a loner, he was stood on his own in the playground watching the rest play football so I went over to him. ‘Hi, Steve,’ I said. ‘You shouldn’t have sat next to Matt; he doesn’t like anyone sitting next to him.’ ‘There wasn’t anywhere else.’ ‘You could have sat next to Marina,’ he said. ‘There wasn’t any room, she took up both seats,’ I said. He grinned. ‘Look out, here he comes. Come on, Matt, leave it, he’s new, he didn’t know who you were.’ ‘He’s going to find out.’ He grabbed the lapels of my blazer and pinned me against the wall, he punched me in the stomach, which took my breath away; I grabbed him around the neck and squeezed as hard as I could. Someone shouted ‘fight,’ and all the kids in the playground surrounded us. We fell on the ground and he got on top of me and hit me several times in the face, blood spurted from my nose and mouth, I managed to punch him a couple of times as we rolled around in the dirt. All of a sudden, all the kids disappeared as the Deputy Head arrived. ‘Ok you two, break it up.’ He took hold of us both and lifted us off the ground. ‘Alright, who started it?’ he said. ‘I did,’ I said. ‘No, I did,’ Matt said. ‘Come on someone must have started it. You will stand outside my office until one of you tells the truth.’ He dragged us inside and we stood next to each other for an hour. ‘Well have you decided to tell me?’ ‘I started it, sir,’ I said. ‘No, I started it,’ Matt said. ‘Ok, you will both have to stay behind and write out one hundred times, I must not fight in school.’ So, after school was over, we had to go to the Deputy Head’s office and do our lines. I finished long before Matt so I did some of his so he could catch up. When I got home I was filthy dirty and had blood all over my shirt, Mum was horrified. ‘What have I done? I should have stayed with your father and let you go to your old school.’ ‘It’s ok, Mum, I just had a bit of a fight, don’t worry about me, I can take care of myself.’ The next morning I sat next to him in class and he didn’t object. ‘Cunt,’ I said under my breath. ‘They’re useful, wanker,’ he said. ‘That’s true,’ I said. We both burst out laughing. ‘Me too,’ he said.

‘And me,’ said Steve. We were all laughing when the teacher came in. ‘Silence,’ she said. After this, Matt, Steve and me became the best of friends. Mother decided to get a job; she was a university graduate, it’s where she had met my father. She became the personal assistant to the managing director of a company making rocket motors for missiles. Mum would have to be up early and would wake me before leaving for work, I would get up and take a cup of tea into Gran. I would sit on the bed and tell her all about my feelings, the sort of thing a boy wouldn’t discuss with other boys or even his Mother and father, I could tell her anything knowing she would never tell my Mother. She would sometimes give me advice but would leave to me the final decisions, I found this very useful and she was full of wisdom, and very often made sense. Several months went by and I hadn’t seen my father; he wrote saying he wanted me to go for Christmas but I refused to go, I was happy now without him, I had my lovely Mother who had become more loving toward me, giving me cuddles and kissing me goodnight, and I had my wonderful grandma who was always there for me no matter what I did, and I had the best friends a boy could wish for, the super nerdy Steve who was probably the cleverest kid in the school and followed me around everywhere, and Matt, the coolest boy in the school by far. One day Mother came home all nervous, she had a go at me for being so untidy then went off to the bathroom and spent even longer in there than I did. She went into the bedroom and spent half an hour trying on various dresses; about eight o’clock an E-type Jag pulls up outside and an RAF officer comes to the door. ‘You must be Michael,’ he said. ‘I’m Paul.’ ‘Come in Squadron Leader,’ I said. ‘I see you know the insignia,’ he said. He was tall and had to bend his neck in the cottage; he had a black eye patch and walked with a stick. ‘Spitfire or Hurricane?’ I said. ‘Hurricanes,’ he said. ‘What happened to your eye?’ I said. ‘Gerry shot me up, caught me by surprise, had to bail, done my leg when I landed, bloody parachute was full of holes,’ he said. I was staring at him. ‘How many kills?’ I said. ‘Twenty-three confirmed and another six contested,’ he said. My mouth was agape; he was everything a boy dreamed of being, a pilot and war hero. Mother came into the room. ‘Stop staring, Michael.’ I couldn’t believe my eyes, she looked wonderful. He stood up with difficulty and ruffled my hair. ‘You look beautiful,’ he said. ‘You’ll be ok, won’t you? Mum will be back in half an hour.’ ‘Of course,’ I said.

‘Good lad,’ he said. He squealed the tyres as he left and gave me a wave. I couldn’t believe it, I had spoken to a genuine Battle of Britain fighter pilot and he was taking my Mother out. I couldn’t wait to tell the lads in school, they will be green with envy. Mrs Miles gave me lines for talking in class, I was not the only one who had been talking but she always singled me out. Just as I finished, the school bully came in; he was sixteen and as big as a house, I was still small for my age but catching up fast. He pinned me against a table. ‘I want your dinner money, hand it over.’ ‘Fuck you,’ I said. He punched me so hard my legs turned to rubber, he swung another punch at me and split my lip, I could taste my blood in my mouth, which always makes me gag. I was trying to get away from him, he was about to punch me again. I managed to escape his grasp, I grabbed the nearest object which happened to be a chair, I swung it at him and one of the steel legs caught him on the side of his head. Blood spurted from his ear, it seemed to be hanging down and flapping to and fro. Just then, Mrs Miles came in the door. I opened my mouth and blood ran down my chin and dripped onto my shirt. I coughed to clear my throat of blood and was sick with a mixture of my lunch and my blood. She started screaming. Several members of staff arrived and they called an ambulance; I had to sit opposite him and he was glaring at me, I didn’t look away but returned his gaze. My Mother came to the hospital to fetch me; I must have looked awful covered in blood and sick. They couldn’t find anything seriously wrong with me; the bully had to have his ear sown back on. I was suspended from school until they decided what to do about it. Mother had to attend several meetings as the threat of expulsion hung over me. We wouldn’t find out until after Christmas so it ruined the holiday. Over Christmas I had to attend church with Mother, I wasn’t a believer but she took it very seriously; Gran went but she wasn’t as obsessed as Mother was. Mother had a cassock but I had to kneel on the cold hard stone floor; the heating didn’t seem to work and we were all freezing, the vicar told me it was character-building. We thought that John Junior would come for Christmas but he went to my father’s, so I now hadn’t seen him for six months. I managed to get a replacement for Dede in the shape of Reagan Wilson, Playmate of the Month October 1967 and I mean shape. I had to be more careful where I kept her, if I didn’t want her to end up in the bin with my first love, Dede. Mum’s affair with the fighter pilot didn’t last very long, soon after she took me to stay on a farm with a man called Kent Smith. We stayed for several weeks after Christmas; he was a big man with receding hair and a ruddy complexion. He was pleasant enough; I liked being around the animals and he let me ride his grown-up daughter’s pony, I had ridden before so was fairly proficient; his sheep dog, Tag, followed me everywhere, I’m not sure if it liked the company or was keeping an eye on me. I rode bareback with just a bridle as there wasn’t a saddle; I galloped around the farm lanes and got some of the fat off it as the pony hadn’t been ridden for a couple of years. I had a devil of a job catching it at first, I enticed it with sugar lumps then tried to put my arm around its neck but it wasn’t having any of it, eventually I managed to get a rope around it and slipped the halter on; once I had caught him he settled down. Kent didn’t have a TV but had a radio gram and hundreds of records; he let me play them while they disappeared upstairs. My favourites were Connie Francis,

Stupid Cupid and Andy Williams, Music to Watch Girls By. Mum was obviously sleeping with him so her moral code only seemed to apply to my pictures of beautiful girls. One day I went for a bath and I was looking for a clean towel when I found his stash of porn at the bottom of the airing cupboard, I stole a couple of good ones, I thought the boys in school are going to love these, I kept the best one for myself. This affair didn’t last very long either so we were soon back with Gran. The governors decided to keep me at school, I’m sure a lot of it was down to my Mother who turned up for all the meetings looking beautiful and speaking eloquently. One of the school governors, a local businessman, called Richard Henderson befriended Mother; he was a widower and had a daughter called Sophie who was at the junior school just down the road. The first time I met them Mother and him were going to a dinner dance, so he brought his daughter to stay the night with us so Gran could look after us both. He was quite a big man, six feet at least, had receding fair hair and a chubby, smiling face. Sophie was ten years old with blonde hair and bright blue eyes, she had a cheeky grin and chatted constantly, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise; I decided I liked them both. Mum and Richard left the cottage and went off in his Jaguar XJ6. It was a lovely spring evening so Gran took us for a walk in the woods, Sophie seemed irrepressible, she skipped to and fro, bringing Gran flowers and pointing out wildlife; she was so pretty in her gingham dress, with her blonde hair flowing out behind her as she ran about. We sat on a log and watched her, I was captivated by her and so was Gran, she was smiling even more than usual and had her arm around my shoulders. She ran over to us and took my hand, ‘Come and look at this,’ she said, and she skipped beside me until we came to a badger set. ‘Have you ever seen a badger?’ she said. ‘Yes, a long time ago there in they’re now, asleep, they only come out at night,’ I said. ‘I want to see them, can we please, can we?’ she begged. ‘If we came here very early in the morning we might be able to see them.’ So, when we got home, we sat in the corner of the sitting room and planned our little escapade. ‘When you go to bed, keep your clothes on and have your coat nearby, I will come to your room and wake you up at four o’clock, it will still be dark so I will bring a torch. We can sneak out without anyone knowing and be back before they get up.’ She was so excited she looked like she would burst. ‘What are you up to?’ Gran said. ‘Nothing, Gran,’ I lied; I don’t think I had ever lied to her before. We giggled when she went back to the kitchen. When she wasn’t looking, I took two pieces of cake out of the tin and wrapped them in tinfoil and put it in my pocket, we went to bed early about nine o’clock. For the first time in months I left Reagan Wilson in her hiding place, I had forgotten all about her. The alarm sounded, I switched it off as fast as I could and listened to see if it had woken anyone, nothing happened. I got out of bed, I already had my clothes on, I put my coat on and picked up my torch, and opened the Suffolk latch which always makes a loud click. I crept to Sophie’s room and carefully opened the door, she was sat on the bed grinning at me; we crept downstairs, I hadn’t noticed before how much they creak, every tread seemed worse than the last. Once we were in the

porch, I put on the light and we put on our shoes. ‘Ready?’ I said. She nodded; I turned off the light and waited until our eyes got accustomed to the light. I opened the front door, pushed up the catch so it wouldn’t lock and closed it carefully. We walked along the road holding hands for about a mile, climbed over the gate and started into the wood; it’s strange how creepy it looks at night, the huge oaks with their branches hanging down looked like arms trying to catch hold of you; Sophie let go of my hand and gripped my arm. ‘It’s ok, there’s nothing to worry about, it’s all in the imagination,’ I said, pretending I wasn’t scared; she kept looking behind us to see if anything was following. I tested the wind with a wet finger to make sure we came up to the set downwind. I turned off the torch and we stood for a minute to get used to the light, it was surprisingly bright even though there was only a quarter moon. We came upon the set and found the tree we had picked out during the day, we had piled leaves at the bottom to lie on; I leant against it and wriggled into a comfortable position, Sophie sat next to me and leaned on my shoulder. After an hour, I took the cake out of my pocket, it was all broken up but we tucked into it anyway, it was delicious. She started to shiver as it was quite chilly, I held out my arms and she got onto my lap and wrapped her arms around me, and snuggled up to me, I wrapped my coat around her; after a while she stopped shivering and dropped off to sleep. I felt very protective of her, it was a strange feeling which was new to me, I was determined that nothing would ever hurt her while I was still alive. I could feel her steady breathing, I had only known her for a day but I already loved her; I hoped that Mum and her Dad would get married so we could always be together. I heard some rustling nearby, I had dropped off to sleep as well and the noise woke me, it was very early dawn and there was a misty light which made the whole scene ethereal. I gave Sophie a prod and put my finger on her mouth, she opened her eyes and looked at me, I looked toward the rustling and she followed me, two badgers were snuffling the ground around the set, they could probably smell the scent we had left on our daytime visit. They hadn’t noticed us we were well hidden behind some tall weeds and probably blended into the darkness. It gradually became lighter and after about half an hour, two cubs came up out of the set and started gambolling around, occasionally stopping to have a look in our direction, if they were suspicious they took no notice. I looked at Sophie, she had the biggest grin I have ever seen. The cubs stayed out for at least twenty minutes, then Mum appeared in the hole and they ran over to her and they all disappeared underground. We stayed where we were to see if there were anymore. ‘Let’s go home, I’m cold and hungry,’ I said. She stood up and brushed the leaves from her clothes. I was stiff as I hadn’t moved for three hours and had Sophie sat on me as well. I stood up and stretched my muscles; Sophie put her arms around my neck and kissed me. ‘Thank you for bringing me, it was lovely to see the little ones,’ she said, I didn’t know what to do with my arms so I left them awkwardly at my sides. We walked hand in hand back through the wood and when we got to the road, she skipped along beside me, chattering about badgers and scary woods, and how much she wanted us to be friends forever. When we got back, far from creeping in quietly before anyone was up, there was a reception committee. Sophie’s Dad, Mum and Gran were all in the kitchen.

‘Where the hell have you been? We have been worried sick I was just about to call the police,’ Mum said. ‘We were in the woods looking at the badgers, that’s all,’ I said. ‘It was wonderful, we saw cubs playing and everything,’ Sophie said. ‘Michael, you’re going to be fifteen soon, don’t you think it was a bit irresponsible to take a ten year old girl out to the woods in the middle of the night?’ Mum said. ‘I was perfectly safe, Mrs Aitkin, Michael looked after me,’ she said. ‘They’re home safe that’s the main thing. If you want to do something like this again, please tell someone where you’re going,’ he said. ‘Yes, sir, I’m sorry to have worried you,’ I said. ‘I bet your starving,’ said Gran. She took eggs and bacon from the fridge and put them on the AGA, Richard held out his arms for Sophie and gave her a hug. ‘Please don’t be angry with Michael, I begged him to take me,’ she said. ‘It’s ok, darling, I’m not really angry, I was worried about you, that’s all.’ ‘As soon as you have had something to eat you can go back to bed for a couple of hours,’ Mum said. ‘Why don’t you and Sophie stay for lunch?’ she said to Richard. ‘That would be lovely.’ He gazed into Mothers eyes, I looked at Sophie and we smiled at each other. A couple of months later, Mum and I moved in with Richard and Sophie. The house was a large, detached four bed, I couldn’t believe my luck as it was not only next door to Matt, but Steve only lived two streets away; Steve’s Dad worked for the company that built them. Sophie showed me around the house, my room was next to hers, Mum and Richard had the master bedroom with the en suite, and then there was another double room used for guests. Downstairs there was a large sitting room and dining room, a kitchen/breakfast room and a den. Outside was a large garden with a summerhouse and a double garage. Our school was only a ten minute walk so no more busses for me. In the autumn, Sophie would be going there as well. I was bouncing up and down on my bed to test it, Sophie got on the bed and we lay looking at each other and holding hands. ‘This is the best day ever,’ she said. I tipped my clothes onto the bed; she folded each item as I picked it out and put it neatly in the drawer. We had put it all away except my kacks, she picked one up and held it against herself, we were laughing, I grabbed them and we had a tug of war over them I could have torn them from her grasp but that would have spoiled the fun. I gave them a tug and she fell on the bed, I leapt onto the bed and tickled her tummy, she was wriggling about and laughing so much she had tears in her eyes. Mum came in. ‘Michael, what are you doing?’ I stood up, ‘Nothing Mother,’ I said.

She shook her head and left us, and we burst out laughing. I threw the pants at her. ‘Yuk,’ she said. I started to throw the rest at her and she was throwing them back, I took a pair and put them over her head. ‘Err, yuk,’ she said, just then Mother came back. ‘Michael.’ I took them off her and picked the rest up off the floor, and put them in the drawer. ‘Sophie, go to your room,’ she barked. She shut the door. ‘I can see I’m going to have to keep an eye on you. I won’t have that sort of behaviour, you must remember that she is only eleven and you’re fifteen, some might say your relationship was inappropriate.’ ‘What do you mean, Mother? We were only messing about.’ Matt, Sophie and me walked to Steve’s house on our way to school. His sister, Diane, was thirteen and came as well; she was two years ahead of Sophie, and two years behind us. Sophie and I always walked hand in hand; it was my responsibility to get her there safely. Diane looked similar to Sophie with long blonde hair and blue eyes, but she was a good six inches taller, was very thin and gangly-looking. After school, I was sat on the wall outside waiting for Sophie, Matt and Steve had already left; she had been playing hockey and they were all late. Soft hands covered my eyes and a voice said, ‘Guess who?’ It wasn’t Sophie, I think it may have been Diane, so I went through every name I knew except hers, she took her hands away. ‘You!’ she said. It was Diane. I smiled at her. ‘I knew it was you, I was just kidding,’ I said. Her face lit up with her smile, she sat on the wall next to me. ‘I saw your sister in the girls’ toilets, she’ll be out soon,’ she said. Sophie came skipping over to us. ‘I scored a goal,’ she said. ‘Clever girl,’ I said and I took her into my arms and gave her a kiss. We walked home; I had Sophie with her hand in mine on one side and Diane with her hand in my arm on the other. I went next door to Matt’s garage; Steve was already in there. ‘Shut the door,’ he said. I pulled down the steel door, there was a window on the side but it was covered in ivy and let in very little light. I passed around the cigarettes we had all been smoking for some time, I tried to keep it a secret from my Mother, Gran smoked but she didn’t. Matt took a tin from his pocket and made a strange-looking rollup which he made from two papers, he put the tobacco in then took a small packet of tinfoil out of the tin opened it up broke a piece off and then sprinkled it over the tobacco, then rolled it up and lit it. He took several long drags from it then passed it to Steve, he did the same then passed it to me, I knew what it was but hadn’t tried it before. I took a couple of drags then gave it back to Matt, I wondered what all the fuss was about but soon after I began to feel more relaxed and after another drag, I felt an overwhelming feeling of well-being and euphoria and everything seemed much more funny; very soon, we were all in hysterics laughing at things we had done in the past; Steve couldn’t stop talking which is unusual for him as he’s normally a quiet lad. When I got home I was starving and made myself a sandwich, then had a packet of crisps and a piece of cake. ‘What’s the matter with you; it’ll be dinner time in an hour,’ Mum said.

Richard was looking at me, ‘Look at his eyes,’ he said. ‘What’s wrong with them?’ I said. ‘What, apart from being bloodshot and with huge pupils?’ he said. He was smiling. ‘Why don’t you go to your room and listen to some music?’ he said. As I left he was chuckling. ‘What’s going on?’ Mum said. ‘Nothing to worry about, dear, just growing up,’ he said. I put Traffic on the record player and lay on my bed, for some reason I heard bits of the record I had not noticed before. Sophie came in, got on the bed and put her arms around me and lay her head on my chest, and I stroked her hair. I had left the arm off so it repeated over and over, we must have drifted off to sleep. Richard came into the room. ‘Wakey, wakey,’ he said. I slowly came round. ‘I have been calling you, dinner’s ready. Sophie, go and wash your hands for dinner.’ ‘Ok, Daddy,’ she said. She got off the bed and went to the bathroom. He shut the door and sat on the bed. ‘Sophie loves you, you won’t do anything bad to her, will you? You’re growing up fast and I remember when I was your age I had sexual urges which I struggled to control.’ I was gazing at him. ‘Never, I would never do that to Sophie, no, never.’ I said. ‘That’s ok then, she’s at an impressionable age, she doesn’t seem interested in her friends any more, only you, so be careful; and another thing, experimenting with drugs is all part of growing up, don’t let it get a hold on you, it will ruin your life,’ he said. He stood up and made to leave. ‘Richard?’ ‘Yes, Michael.’ ‘Can I call you Dad?’ I said. ‘I would love you to, I would like you to change your name to Henderson when we get married, we’re just waiting for your Mum’s divorce to come through. What do you think?’ ‘Yes, I will,’ I said. He patted me on the shoulder. ‘Come on, let’s have dinner,’ he said.

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