Barney looked at his watch. If he cut through Tesco’s car park he’d just get back in time. He could still get home before his mother started calling his mobile. He started to jog.
As he got to the entrance of the store he realised how thirsty he was. Perhaps he could buy a bottle of water on the way through. Damn! There was a long queue even in the less than ten items isle. The kiosk was still open though and the queue there was slightly shorter. And he really couldn’t go on without a drink. Barney stood behind the others who were waiting.
It seemed to take ages. He glanced at his watch. Ten to ten already. It couldn’t be. He took out his mobile to double check. Oh no! It was out of juice. If he wasn’t back in ten minutes, his mum would be calling his mobile. And then calling Nick’s house if he didn’t answer. The man in front of him was almost finished. He started to slip his change into his pocket, but then turned to ask the sales girl another question.
“Hurry up,” muttered Barney to himself. “Come on, come on!”
“Can I help you, love?” asked another assistant who had walked over from the lottery tickets. “Only we’ll have to be quick. We shut in five minutes.”
“Yes. Can I have a bottle of water please?”
“Of course you can. What size would you like?”
“Oh, um, large.”
“That will cost you 17p. That shouldn’t break the bank, should it?”
“Oh. I em.” Barney fumbled in his pocket. He’d forgotten that he and Nick had bought ice cream down at the shore. Or rather, he’d bought them both an ice cream. He doubted Nick would pay him back.
“The small actually cost more,” said the woman. “The large bottlers are loss-leaders.” She stared at him as if she thought he was a bit mad.
Barney blushed. Then, thank heavens, he found a 20p piece in his pocket.
“Yes, please give me the large,” said Barney offering her the 20p.
The woman nodded and handed Barney the bottle of water and his 3p change.
As soon as he was outside, he pulled off the top and took a large swig of water. After two more mouthfuls his thirst was quenched. Should he dump the bottle or take the rest home with him? It was still quite heavy to carry. He really ought to get into the habit of carrying water with him, though, and if he kept this it might save him having to buy more. Then again at 17p it was hardly extravagant.
“Hey, Barney,” he heard someone call. He looked round. Then he felt his cheeks burning. It was Cynthia Paridge and some her friends from school. Cynthia’s hands smoothed down her short tartan skirt and Barney couldn’t help looking down at her slim legs. He felt himself getting even hotter.
“You been round Nick’s?” demanded Cynthia, her mouth working hard at the chewing gum which slurred her words.
“Er, yeah,” mumbled Barney.
“The poor thing,” Cynthia almost spat. “Is he all right then?”
“Not too bad,” Barney murmured. But Nick was bad. And getting worse. How could he tell them that?
“You should bring him down the park with us sometimes,” Cynthia suggested. “Do you good. And him. See a bit of life, like.”
Some of the other girls began to giggle.
Barney could imagine just what sort of life Cynthia meant.
“It’s a shame, a good-looking fellow like you, cooped up all the time with poor Nick,” Cynthia continued, “you need a bit of fun now and then.”
She was now standing right next to Barney, her head almost touching his shoulder. Barney moved away quickly. She stank of cigarette smoke.
“Oh, what is it Barney,” Cynthia whined, “don’t you fancy me?”
The others giggled.
“Er, I’d better get going,” said Barney, looking at his watch. It was almost five past ten now and he had been due home five minutes ago.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” said Cynthia. “Has he got to be home with his mumsy-wumsy then?”
The others laughed again. Except for one. Sophie Gray was just staring at him. Sophie’s pale blue eyes seemed to be looking right into him. She wasn't wearing as much make-up as the others. She didn’t need to. She was gorgeous. Barney suddenly wanted to put his hand out and touch her long wavy blond hair. It looked so soft.
“Oh, come on then. Let’s go and find some real talent,” Cynthia called to her gang.
They all followed her laughing and joking. Sophie dawdled behind. She smiled at Barney.
“Isn’t he any better? Is he really getting worse? I mean will he…”
It was her turn to go red.
“Yeah. That’s about right,” said Barney.
“Oh dear. It’s so sad.” Barney thought she was going to cry. “But wouldn’t he like to come out sometime?”
“Well actually,” Barney began. Why didn’t people realise that he and Nick often went out? It was just that sometimes Nick would get tired. And sometimes people were embarrassed. Barney hesitated before he carried on. It was so hard to explain.
“Yes, you see,” said Barney. “We do go out. We go and watch the boats in the harbour.” He suddenly realised he was almost shouting.
“Oh, good,” muttered Sophie. She was looking down at the floor now.
“Oi! You comin’ or not?” Cynthia was standing with her legs apart and her hands on her hips. She was still chewing and she was frowning at the same time.
Sophie shrugged her shoulders and set off. Barney wished he had said more, that he had tried to explain. Sophie seemed really nice. And that hair!
Barney looked at his watch again. Twenty past ten! There would probably be a row when he got in.
It was raining when Barney got outside. It made it seem even darker. He pulled his jacket over his ears so that it almost covered his head. Then he ran . Fortunately it was downhill all the way to his house.
At least this running's good for my training, thought Barney as he pounded down the road.
The television was on in the lounge when he got back.
“Sorry I’m late, Mum,” he called. He could tell his mum was only pretending to be watching television. She wouldn’t normally watch horror films.
“Oh, and why are you late?” she asked. She was obviously trying not to sound angry.
“I stopped to buy a bottle of water. There was a bit of a queue,” explained Barney.
“You should think to take some with you,” said his mum. “That boy again. Always thinking about him and never about yourself. What you do for that boy!” She got up off the sofa. “Well, I’m going to bed now. And you should too. You’ve got to get into that pool tomorrow, first thing.”
Barney heard the study door open upstairs.
“Is that Barney?” called a deep voice.
“Yes!” answered Barney and his mother together.
“Well get to bed! You have got to beat your front crawl time tomorrow.”
Barney opened his bedroom door. The geography homework lay unfinished on his desk. But he would have to leave that. He felt very sleepy now. And there was that horrible early start tomorrow. Then he’d got to work on Nick’s pictures.
He felt tired enough to go to sleep straight away. But then, after he had got into bed, he couldn’t stop thinking about everything that was going on. Nick was getting worse. He was never going to be good enough in the swimming lesson tomorrow. He couldn’t keep up with his homework.
He remembered the scene in the supermarket. He had never really noticed Sophie Gray before. She'd always just been one of the crowd, and not one of the ones who stood out at that. But tonight she had seemed really special. And he had not known what to say to her. He wished he knew how to talk to Sophie.
Sophie! That lovely soft hair and the pale grey-blue eyes. She was concerned about Nick. The others didn't seem to be. She was quieter than the rest of the girls as well. So different from all of the others. AND the best of all was that she seemed just a little bit interested in him. Finally, he fell asleep.