Nathan was still in bed when the doorbell rang. He had organised the meet with Kelly by text, the night before. Ten in the morning, giving them all day whilst his Mum was at work. Now he had overslept. He opened his window and sprayed Joop for a 30 second period in order to fumigate the bedroom. No time to make the bed, he dumped the duvet and sheet in his Mum's bedroom, along with two days of clothes, three topless posters, a soft toy he'd received from Faye - his main chick - as a present, and three back copies of FHM. He sprayed more Joop in his room, put on a pair of shorts and then ran downstairs to open the front door.
"Hi, F...Kel. You look nice. Come on upstairs. Jam in my room while I have a shower."
Kelly looked disappointed. "Not even a kiss?"
"I've got to smell good for you. Won't be long."
Twenty minutes later, Nathan was clean enough for sex with Kelly. He had almost called her Faye earlier. Mustn't make that mistake again. This was gonna be sweet. A whole day on the gash.
Kelly was sat on his bed singing along to Girls Aloud downloaded on her mobile.
"Hi Kel. Do you wanna drink or munch?"
Before she could answer she received a text.
"It's from Becky asking me why I'm not at school. I'm telling her I'm with you. Oh shit, my battery's run out. Think it's sent. Not..."
"Leave it, Kel," and he took the phone from her, throwing it onto the armchair at the foot of his bed. He didn't want her texting all day.
They were both sat on his bed, but as he put his arm round her, they were both soon lying on it. He wasn't going to ask her again if she was hungry or thirsty. She'd missed that opportunity. It wasn't long before they were both naked and the first of Nathan's remaining fourteen condoms had been used.
Afterwards, Nathan raided the kitchen and they both drank a fruit shoot and ate a flake cake in bed. Nathan was momentarily distracted from the day's major objective.
"Kelly, don't get crumbs in the bed. That's moist. Just stuff it in."
"My gob ain't as big as yours, Nath."
"I'm sure it could fit on my c..."
Kelly put her fingers in her mouth and pretended to heave.
"Not now, Nath. Not after eating a cake."
"OK, then Kel. You fancy something different, like tryin' it from behind?"
"Nath, all we do is fuck." Kelly complained."I wanna talk to you. I wanna know things about you."
Nathan was surprised Kelly wanted to take the relationship to a dark place - talking was not on his agenda, he thought that she felt the same.
"Talk about what?"
"I wanna get to know you. When's your birthday?"
"September 12th. Now can we…?" He didn't want to talk birthdays. He moved next to her and put his arm around her, hoping to guide her to an orgasm - for him.
"What star sign is that? I think it's Taurus. A bull. That's you alright, babe."
Horoscope bullshit. That's what she wanted to talk about. Man, she could be proper jarring.
"If I'm a bull, I have a big need to take a cow from behind. Let's…" Again he went to move her to a horizontal position, but she again resisted, shaking him off.
"Wait a sec. Don't you want to know about me? My birthday or star sign?
Nathan didn't want to show that he was irritated, so he grinned at her as he responded, in a light-hearted manner.
"Kel, all that star sign shit. It's all bollocks. All you need to know about me is that I'm gangsta and my graf is Clumsey. And all I need to know about is you is that you're chung and I want to fuck your arse off. We can talk anytime afterwards."
Not good enough for Kelly
"Nath, I like you and I wanna be your girlfriend. I don't wanna be a whore like my mum who gets screwed by bastards who keep leavin' her. I want more than that."
Nathan maintained the smile, but he did feel sorry for her. Her mum was proper moist.
"Kel, babe, I do like you. I really like you a lot. I really wanna be with you. You could be the girl for me, but having sex, it's part of it. Part of our relationship. Helps make it…makes you great. Honest, Kel, we don't have a lot of privacy. We can chat all you want when my mum's here later."
That did the trick. This time, she didn't push him away. This time, she allowed him to hold her, kiss her…and take her from behind.
Janice Richardson left work straight after lunch at 12.45, and walked home. She had done very little work at Crouts. She had to admit, she was nervous. The Education Authorities were due to come round at 4 p.m. to talk about Nathan. The solution she'd come up with entailed another appointment at two p.m. Both meetings preyed on her mind. Before she was half way home all her nails were bitten to their minimum.
Janice was also indulging in self torture over her own behaviour. Before yesterday, she had been an honest, hardworking, single mum. Now she had taken a three hour lunch break at the Pub, had sex with a man within four hours of going out with him, and was about to lie to the Authorities. Was she becoming a sex mad criminal, and worse, enjoying her new life as a gangster's moll? Or was she the gangster? Did that make Carl a moll, and what is a moll anyway? Did her new role as a femme fatale make her a bad person, a bad mother? And this badness in her, was that the explanation for Nathan's delinquency?
Yesterday's good idea now seemed a ridiculous plot. Lie after lie. It was all so futile anyway. Nathan should be going to school instead of inventing complex cover stories; she should have insisted that he returned. The authorities were no better. So easy for them to point to parental responsibility and discipline, but they weren't mother to a teenage terror.
Arriving home, Janice noted that Nathan had - of course - not tidied round the living room or cleaned up in the kitchen. Janice heard a grunt from his bedroom. "At least he's home," but she started cleaning rather than disturb him. He'd only be in the way and she had under half an hour to make her home respectable.
She had just finished hoovering the living room when there was a knock at the door. Janice opened the door to a tall dark man. He looked like her boyfriend Carl, but was, she reluctantly admitted to herself, a bit better looking. Though he did have less hair and a large spot at the end of his nose.
"Hello, you must be Frank Richards, Carl's brother."
"That's me, the good looking brother, and this is my photographer, Jason." He nodded towards a young man hardly older than Nathan.
"And you must be Mrs Janice Richardson, a workmate of Carl's. Nice to meet you."
For a moment, Janice felt annoyed and upset that Carl had described her only as a workmate. But of course it made sense. No hint of collusion and why should Carl be implicated in this story anyway? Janice recovered her composure.
"Please, come in."
She ushered the two men into her living room and offered them tea or coffee.
Frank refused. She saw Jason was about to say "yes please" but Frank never gave him a chance.
"He can't have one either. Spills hot coffee on that camera and I'll kill him."
Jason took out a video recorder from his carrying case. Frank noticed Janice's worried stare.
"Don't worry about him. It saves misunderstandings later if we record our interviews. And we'll give you a copy of the recording. It's for your protection as much as for us."
The young cameraman took up a position at one end of the living room and began recording. Janice continued to stare at him. Frank's reassurance was not convincing. All the lies. Made into a permanent record. Frank sat down on the settee, leaning back nonchalantly, as he acted as narrator, undeterred by Janice's terrorised expression.
"As I understand from Carl, you are a very hard working single mum, whose 15 year old son is scared to go to school, because of bullying. He has had his mobile phone stolen twice and been chased by thugs and hooligans all over this area. So he is too scared to leave the house."
"Yes that's correct." Janice looked straight at Jason, resolving to go along with Frank's story. No point in being scared, or backing out now. "Nathan is terrified." There it was. Lie on film. Frank rambled on.
"The authorities are refusing to accept these mitigating circumstances and are threatening to take you, as Nathan's parent and guardian, to Court. Is that about the size of it?"
Frank was much more confident than Carl. He had the authority of a headmaster or a politician, as he set out the proposition. Couldn't see her Carl being that powerful. Ooh, she said "her Carl". Sounded weird, but good.
"Janice, have I got this right?"
"Oh, sorry, yes, that's right. He is terrified. Carl said that if I make this public the Authorities would be most unlikely to proceed."
"Of course, we had a case like this a couple of years back. Should attract a good deal of sympathy, particularly as I understand you are doing your best to ensure that Nathan has home schooling and receives at least a measure of suitable education. And Carl says he will sit his GCSEs next Summer."
"Yes, exactly. That's right." There was a pause. Janice began counting lies told so far. Two and rising.
Frank gave her an encouraging, if smarmy, smile.
"Well, Mrs Richardson, are you going to call the young man downstairs? It's Nathan isn't it? We need a quick word, and a photo for the paper."
"A photo, oh no, he won't want that." Janice was thinking about Alec Ridgeon who had accused his former friends of harassment. What would his Mum think if and when she saw Nathan's photo in the local paper as a supposed victim?
Frank assumed a different cause for her reticence and hastened to reassure her.
"No problem, Mrs Richardson. It will only be a silhouette. We need the photo to add authenticity to the piece, but not even you would recognise him, and no names will be mentioned. I understand that he must be quite a frightened young boy. I have three children myself and although they have never been bullied - too streetwise, I suppose - I can imagine what you are going through. I think Carl used to be bullied - by me!" And then he laughed at his own joke. Nobody else did.
For the first time, young Jason spoke up.
"Mrs Richardson, I was bullied at school. So I know how you must feel. My mum cried for weeks, not knowing how to help me."
"What happened?" Janice felt guilty now. She had not expected a sweet sensitive teenage boy pouring his heart out in an empathetic gesture.
Jason bit his lower lip. Janice was evoking painful memories. He paused the recording and put the camcorder on the table.
"Something happened to make it stop."
"You fought back, I hope." That was Frank.
"No, I started paying him £5 per week from my pocket money to leave me alone, and he did."
"£5 a week, how long did that go on for?" Frank was incredulous.
"Oh, only for a couple of months."
Each time Jason spoke, he pushed his glasses further onto his nose. Little lamb, the glasses weren't loose, he was just such a nervous boy. His black, vertical hair was parted in the middle and Janice suspected that without the glasses and better hairstyling, he might not be such a victim.
"After that he put it up to £10 a week and that was difficult to pay."
"£10 a week. And how long did that last for?" Frank was even more shocked. Janice thought his tone contemptuous, rather than sympathetic. He probably wasn't joking when he said he'd bullied Carl.
"About a year. Then he left, I think, or got expelled. I can't remember. I was stealing from Mum's purse towards the end when my savings ran out, but he never hit me again."
Janice noticed that Frank's mouth was catching flies. This was an awful story. Jason had really been bullied, not like Nathan. The whole charade was so wrong.
Frank shook his head and retook charge.
"Perhaps we should call Nathan now."
This was Janice's last opportunity to stop the snowball. Nathan was not a victim. On the other hand, this was Carl's idea. He had generated the scheme for Janice. She didn't want to let him down. And Nathan was keen on the idea. On the other hand, if Nathan thought it was a winner, it probably should be avoided. What did she want though? She wanted to keep her men happy and she wanted to avoid court action. It was only a little white lie, what the hell. So she went to the foot of the stairs and yelled,
"Nathan, can you come down here please?"
"Nathan, the reporters are here." His mum yelled again.
Kelly rolled off of Nathan.
"Nath, turn 50 Cent off. Someone's calling you."
"Yeah, I heard. It's my mum. We're obviously not being loud enough. She probably wants to make me tea. Just ignore her."
Being yelled at by his mother in the course of mashing the gash was not something Nathan took kindly to.
"No, she said something about reporters."
"Oh fuck!" Nathan had forgotten. He'd had his mind on other things since his Mum had explained to him about the scam that they were going to pull.
He put on his South Park boxers and from the doorway shouted down.
"OK, Mum. I'll be down in a minute."
"No, Nathan, now, the reporters are waiting for you."
"Just fucking wait, Mum, I'll be down in a minute."
"Doesn't sound like a kid who's terrified of everyone," frank observed with a frown.
"Probably a defence mechanism," Jason helpfully explained.
From the top of the stairs, Nathan heard the conversation, and realised he would have to make an effort. He began getting dressed and explained the situation to Kelly. She was now in bed with the sheet protecting her modesty.
"Kel, sorry, I have to speak to these dickheads. I'll explain later but you have to jam here for a bit."
Kelly pouted. "Here on my ones? What am I supposed to do? How long are you gonna be?"
"Could be an hour. Play games on your mobile whilst you're waiting."
"I've no battery."
"Use my charger; it's plugged in by the bed. Or play games on mine. Look, whatever, stay here. Please, Kel."
She smile up at her boyfriend.
"OK, if I must, give us a kiss before you go."
Nathan did so, and muttered, "Safe, Kel," as he opened the door and disappeared downstairs.
Janice introduced Nathan who shook their hands, wanting this to be finished so he could continue where he left off with Kelly. Jason picked up the camcorder, and began recording. Frank went though his reassurance speech regarding the video, and then began the interview.
"So, Nathan, you've been bullied?"
"Yeah, that's right."
Janice urged a bit more detail. "Go on, love, tell him."
Nathan began pacing the living room.
"Well, walking round these streets at night, there's been time when I've been chased by crews, and had my mobile taken."
"So, you've been out late at night and been chased. Why does that mean you can't go to school?"
"I can't. I don't want to leave the house. Can't take it anymore."
"Yeah, OK, Jason..."
"You don't believe me, do you? I can..."
"Kid," Frank interjected, "it doesn't matter what I believe. There's been 19 stabbings in Croydon over the past two years. People of Croydon will believe it. They wanna believe it. It's a good story. Jason - take a photo."
Jason put down the camcorder and pulled out an expensive Canon camera from his bag. Nathan put his arm out in front of Jason's lens.
"No - I ain't havin' a photo. No way."
"As I told your Mum, it will only be a silhouette. We need the photo to add authenticity to the piece, but not even you will be certain that it's you, and your name will not be mentioned."
"No, fuck that," Nathan said, shaking his head. "I ain't havin' a photo in the paper. My mates…no not mates, but the bullies, they'll see it and it'll be worse."
Jason was on hand to empathise,
"Nathan, I understand. I know what you're going through. Don't worry though; I can take the photo as a shadow. I'll show you." Jason moved to the right and was able to capture a profile shot.
And with that, the following week's cover photo was taken. Nathan wanted to grab the camera from Jason and shove it up the neek's arse, but was stopped by Jason showing the finished product.
At least Jason believed the story. Frank looked less than convinced.
"I think we're done here. Thanks very much Mrs Richardson, Nathan. You'll see the paper next week and don't worry - you'll be completely anonymous. I can see you're terrified."
Janice whispered to Nathan, "Thank God that's over." She was relieved by the first part of the big lie being finished but before Nathan had an opportunity to spend some time designing new positions with Kelly, there was another knock on the door.
Janice showed Frank and Jason out and her next visitors introduced themselves - Mr Black from the Education Authority and Sally Whitehead, a social worker. Mr Black was dressed in a smart black suit and wore a hat. Very 1950s or maybe he wore the hat to hide his baldness. Janice could only surmise. Sally could have been Jason's older sister. She looked more nervous than Janice. Must be her first home visit, or maybe parents usually beat up the school social workers? Janice wished she could be a vicious mum; that would soon scare the crap out of Sally. Sadly, she wasn't much bolder than her visitor.
Janice invited them both in and offered them tea/coffee which they accepted. The prosecution sat on either end of her settee. Nathan sat on the sole armchair. Janice chose to stand as she was in and out of the adjoining kitchen. She had to leave them alone with Nathan in the living room but with the door open, could hear the conversation turn to Nathan's truancy. She stood watching the kettle, willing it to boil faster.
"Nathan, you haven't been to school for six months." Mr Black was chastising. "Various excuses and reasons have been given for this but we are here to advise you that if you do not immediately return to school, both you and your mother will be in serious trouble."
Before Nathan could answer, Janice was back in the living room with biscuits on a plate.
"There is a reason for this. Nathan has been the victim of street bullies and has become too scared to go out. That's why I've been teaching him at home."
She placed the biscuits on the coffee table and stood whilst the grilling continued. She wanted to pace up and down but stayed in one position, and folded her arms in an attempt to appear confident or powerful. Well, more than usual anyway.
"Nathan, is this true?" This was Sally asking compassionately.
"Yeah, that's right. I'm scared to go out."
Janice had seen Mr Black's look of disbelief only ten minutes before, on Frank's face.
"It is so bad, Mr Black, that I have told the local press all about Nathan's situation. They were interested in the story of a boy too scared to go to school and they are printing his story next week."
That was it, Janice's trump card. Hopefully, the officials would leave her and Nathan alone to live their lives in peace. She returned to the kitchen and made the drinks for her guests. Mr Black was whispering to his colleague, when she returned with the coffees and resumed her arms folded stance. Maybe Sally was ever so minutely intimidated. Unfortunately, Mr Black was the key speaker.
"OK, Mrs Richardson, Nathan, cards on the table. Nathan has a police record. Two years ago, he was cautioned for harassing another boy, Alec Ridgeon, but perhaps of more relevance, last week, on November 4th, Nathan received a caution for possession of fireworks and was caught with a gang of lads on the streets of Coulsdon. How do you reconcile this with a boy too scared to leave the house?"
Janice opened her mouth allowing a kestrel to build its nest within. No words came out. Nathan, however, was at hand to continue digging for dung.
"That was the first time I'd been out for ages. I was OK coz I had my mates with me."
Mr Black could form Sceptics Anonymous with Frank Price.
"You don't have that great a fear of going out, do you, Nathan? This nonsense should stop here because once it goes to court it's out of all of our hands and the consequences will be serious."
Janice was ready to throw in the towel. They had fought but were losing heavily on points. But Nathan was young and fearless and willing to box on.
"I'm too scared to go out, that's the way it…."
He never finished his sentence. The sound of stamping feet running down the stairs could be heard. The living room burst open. Kelly erupted into the room, carrying two mobile phones.
"You fucking bastard, Richardson! I fuckin' hate you!"
She threw both mobiles at Nathan. They missed him but one hit Mr Black and the other, more seriously, struck Sally Whitehead on the head, and she fell off the settee. Janice couldn't be sure if the phone's force had knocked her off, or whether an avoidance manoeuvre had failed and caused her to slip.
Kelly didn't care what she had done. She was crying and screaming and hitting Nathan as she pointed out his failings.
"You're a fucking cunt, you are. I charged my phone like you said, and read my texts. Kim and Becky told me you've got someone else. It's Faye, innit? Coz I read your texts on your phone. You're a lying piece of shit. You told me you liked me. I let you do me up the arse. You're a cunt, and I hate you."
Finally, Nathan had been silenced.
Mr Black helped a dazed Sally back to her feet.
Kelly eventually ran out of vitriol and Janice, trembling, told her to get out of her house.
"Glad to get out of this dump." And then to the shocked Mr Black and Sally as she picked up her mobile and left, "What are you staring at? Freaks!"
At the door, she turned round to give Nathan a parting shot.
"Oh yeah, dickhead. I sent Faye a few texts on your phone. Don't think she'll be buying those rubbers for you. Anyway, I told her she'd need to buy extra small."
With that she was gone, leaving the other four dazed, both mentally and physically in the case of Sally.
Janice fussed over Sally.
"Can I get you a cold compress for that, or would you like a cup of tea?"
"No, I want to leave," Sally whimpered.
Mr Black shook his head in bewilderment..
"You people belong on Jerry Springer. We are going to make our escape before another crazy chav turns up."
Janice attempted to defend the indefensible. "There's no need..."
Mr Black swung round to Nathan.
"I am not going to ask you, Nathan, how you managed to have two girlfriends whilst you were apparently unable to leave the house. I think this charade is done with, Mrs Richardson. He is back at school tomorrow or we'll all be seeing each other in court."
The pair ran from the house.
"Didn't go quite as we planned, did it, Mum?"
Whilst tending to Sally's injury, Janice had not had time to contemplate. Now she faced the prospect of court because their attempt to cheat the system had failed so miserably. She sat down on the settee, noticing spilled coffee stains all over the arm.
"Oh God, Nathan, what are we going to do? I'm going to end up in jail because of your truancy."
"It was a mad idea, wasn't it, Mum? Not one of your best."
"Well, actually, it wasn't..." Janice stopped mid sentence and decided that this was not the best time to tell Nathan about her new man's cunning plan. Her mind was in turmoil, wondering if Mr Black might report her to the police; the lies; the disastrous charade. She could hear the cell door slamming shut in her mind. And when she'd finally found a decent man in her life. How bloody cruel this was.
An unlikely saviour came to her rescue.
"Look Mum, fuck it, I'll go back to school. Might as well. Who's gonna cook my dinner if you're nicked? Anyway, I'm getting bored hanging around all day and it's not as if I'm going to be able to knock about with Kelly."
Janice looked at him. And for a couple of moments they both shared a laugh together.