Sadly, there are no nice dog walks within walking distance of my village, so every day Walkies means a short preliminary trip of four miles in my car. My sprocker (springer/cocker cross) spaniel Sali (Welsh form of Sally) travels in some style, quite regally really, on the rear seat because the boot space in my small vehicle is insufficient.
On Sundays the late afternoon journey to our local wood coincides with the current affairs radio programme File on 4. Unlike much of the content on Radio Four, it has title music: a rather strident piece played on trumpets. There must be something about the particular pitch of it, because every time, without fail, and sounding not unlike the Hound of the Baskervilles, Sali howls in accompaniment.
Recently there was another programme about clarinet playing and again she joined in and howled along, even, very impressively I thought, in the correct key.
And of course you find this doggy singing activity portrayed in the arts too. Arguably the best dog film ever made, Lady and the Tramp (although 1001 Dalmatians perhaps has the edge in terms of cuteness) has the raunchy, Peggy Lee-voiced Peg belting out ‘He’s a Tramp’ with the motley dog pound mutts on backing vocals (or howls).
So why do our canine friends do it, howl? Well, it seems that it’s a throwback to their wolverine ancestry when their forebears, as they still do to this very day, howled to communicate with each other, both within groups and with neighbouring packs. The higher frequencies of howls (as opposed to growls or barks) carried for much greater distances across the vast tundra of the Canadian Arctic or the Gothic Transylvanian wastes than lower pitches.
And why would our four legged buddies’ ancestors (and indeed modern cousins) want to communicate like that, anyway? Well, there are various possibilities. It could be a bonding tactic: joining in. If you (or possibly the pack alpha male) feels like a howl, I’ll obsequiously join in too, to show I’m your mate and not a threat and a good, reliable member of the group. Or boundary demarcation: this is our patch; you others, Johnny Foreigner, keep out! Or possibly a homing beacon, letting far-roaming scout wolves know where the pack is. A sort of wolverine ‘Come in number four.’
Or sometimes, perhaps, howling is a modern domesticated dog thing. It’s to do with the human/dog pact. Some hunting dogs (think for example bloodhound) bay when they chase quarry, and howl to let the human pack leader know when they have it cornered. Or possibly it’s attention-seeking. If I howl, you’ll give me your undivided attention; play with me, tickle my belly or whatever. (Although, it has to be said, Sali doesn’t do that with me. She simply appears several times a day with her rubber toy clamped in her jowly spaniel mouth, tail wagging furiously, mutely demanding that I play tug and throw n’ fetch. Indoors, usually.)
Although for domesticated dogs the biological imperative to howl may have disappeared many, many generations ago, the instinct persists, locked in genetic memory. So when my car radio ‘howls’, Sali thinks it’s me, or perhaps threatening strangers from afar, or whatever, and replies in canine kind.
Whatever her reasons though, she’s brilliant at it. Bless her!
And now here’s chapter five of Secret Shame. Previous chapters can be found at the ends of previous blogs.
Secret Shame 5
Saturday lunchtimes were always lazy. If he was off duty, at least. Still sitting at the kitchen table (he always liked to linger there, savouring the idleness of it) Derek looked at Stacey in barely concealed horror. ‘You’re going out looking like that?’
Stacey rolled her heavily made-up eyes in the general direction of the ceiling; sighed. ‘Yeah? So what’s wrong with it?’
‘Well, you look li . . .’ The instinctive words began to form, automatically. He bit his tongue, not finishing the sentence, not really wanting to articulate what he was feeling. You look like a common little slut, my girl. It would only cause a row. Her eyes would blaze with resentment and he’d probably get an earful of choice words. Julie would try to mediate but, as she always did, would eventually come down on the child’s side. Yes; the child. She was only fourteen, for Heaven’s sake. She might think she was a woman now, with her recently-blossomed and, it had to be admitted, well-developed woman’s body (she was like her mum in that respect), but she was still just a kid.
‘Like a what?’ Stacey demanded, truculently.
‘. . . like someone much older than you actually are,’ Derek amended, weakly. God, why was it so damned difficult with daughters? There wasn’t this trouble with Emma (although, fair enough, she was only eight). Or with Jack, as far he knew. Now turned sixteen, he was a good lad with a proper sense of responsibility and a respectful attitude to girls. Well, he’d always tried to instil that in him, when they met and got into serious conversations (which wasn’t all that often, true, but he did try to do the parenting thing as well as he could).
Stacey pouted. ‘Well all the other girls do.’
Derek looked at her and sighed. Yes, but when they plaster themselves with make-up they don’t suddenly look eighteen years-old, like you do!
‘Anyway,’ his stepdaughter continued, ‘We’re only going to the pictures, for Christ’s sake! Not going to a wild party or a rave or anything!’
‘And who’s “we?”’
Stacey sighed again. ‘Some of the girls from school. Sam and Grace and Lizzie. And Grace’s boyfriend, James.’
‘And what are you going to see?’
‘The Lord of the Rings. Is that okay?’ The sarcasm in the reply was unmistakeable.
Derek was momentarily wrong-footed. He’d almost hoped she would say it was something Adult and unsuitable. Then he could ban her from seeing it.
‘Oh. Right then.’
Stacey smiled smugly, not bothering to hide her triumph.
Derek didn’t rise to the bait. There was no point. There’d sure as eggs are eggs be a barney followed by a tantrum. But he continued, not prepared to let it go yet. ‘Where’s it on?’
‘Oh; you’ve got to go right into town then. I’ll run you in, in the car.’
Stacey sighed yet again. ‘No, Dad. I can go on buses by myself, you know! It’s quite safe; it’s the middle of the day.’ That was the very last thing she wanted: being dropped off at the cinema by her dad, like a ten-year-old. It would be just too embarrassing, and completely un-cool.
Derek opened his mouth to speak again, thought better of things and closed it again. Julie had looked across at him from her station at the sink (her longed-for dishwasher still hadn’t materialised, but she was still working on it). He knew what would happen if he carried on: Julie would join in and he’d be outnumbered. He might just as well admit defeat in the first place. And perhaps it wasn’t such a big deal after all. Yes, it wasn’t as if she were going out in the evening. Now that would be a different kettle of fish. He would definitely put his foot down about that, tantrums or no.
Scenting victory and the opportunity of escape, Stacey made for the door, flinging a ‘See you later then!’ over her shoulder.
Derek watched her departing back, still somewhat disapprovingly, with her white mini skirt covering barely half the length of her thighs and black top which at least began modestly at collarbone level. Like her mother, she couldn’t wear anything even averagely low-cut without attracting considerable male attention. But it was one thing for his wife to show a little cleavage now and then (in fact he quite liked it when she did in his company and surrounding men tried to look anywhere but at her chest), but Stacey was a different matter altogether. She was only a child.
Julie let the water out of the sink and dried her hands. She never wore Marigolds. She grinned at Derek. ‘Yes, I know what you’re thinking!’
‘Well, did you see the length of that skirt?’
Julie laughed. ‘Ah, come on Derry. It’s what they’re all wearing now, so it is!’
‘Maybe so,’ Derek conceded. ‘But for Christ’s sake, where did her childhood go? Why do they always want to grow up so quickly?’
‘I think it’s called hormones, Love.’
‘Humph,’ said Derek, getting up and heading to the lounge for a Saturday afternoon of TV sport.
Sam, Lizzie and Grace, with her gangly boyfriend James (who looked faintly uncomfortable in the company of so many females) were already there waiting outside the Odeon, keeping a place near the front of the queue, when she arrived. Lizzie, the most outgoing of her school friends (a laugh a minute, really) spotted her first and waved energetically. ‘Hiya Stace!’
Stacey joined her friends, a little breathless from running the last bit of the way from the bus stop. That near-aggravation with Dad had made her slightly late, so she’d missed her planned bus. She bestowed a collective ‘What’s appenin’’ on the group.
The girls and token boy looked each other up and down. In James’s case, Stacey found herself gratifyingly thinking, it seemed to be in furtive appreciation. She didn’t know what was happening to her lately. She couldn’t have cared less what boys thought about her a year ago. Until recently, the make-up thing was really only done just because the other girls at school, especially the older ones, did it. Wasn’t it? So what had changed?
The others were all dolled up too, of course, although to be honest, they had less to work with than her. Sam was plump and red-faced; Lizzie, the bean-pole opposite, was Goth-like and pale, with her black-dyed hair and almost panda-ish mascara-ringed eyes. Grace was a decent compromise, with shapely legs, which she also was displaying to great effect with a black stripy miniskirt, but she had no tits to speak of yet, poor cow. And her face wasn’t what you’d call pretty, not really. Stacey wondered what James saw in her, not that he was any great screen idol, with his receding chin and acne, either.
Lizzie said, sounding a little envious, ‘That’s a cool skirt, Stace! New, is it?’ She herself was in skinny black jeans, which didn’t enhance her figure at all.
Stacey grinned. ‘Thanks Liz! Yeah; first time wearing it. Got it from me Mam’s catalogue. Me auld fella nearly had a fit when he saw it!’
‘Why, what’s wrong with it?’ Grace put in. ‘It’s pure fit, isn’t it James?’
‘Erm, yeah,’ said James, uncertain as to how much enthusiasm he dare show.
Suddenly the doors were opened from the inside and the human caterpillar jerked into motion. Soon they were borne in through the doors to the pay kiosk and thence to the confectionery stall. Stacey, Grace and James bought popcorn; Sam and Lizzie prudently saved what was left of their pocket money (after allowing for bus fares home) for ice cream later.
Inside the auditorium Grace and James made a bee-line for the comparative privacy of the back row with the girls following. James may not have been much of a looker, but Stacey envied Grace all the same, knowing what they’d be getting up to.
It was an absolutely brilliant film though, completely enthralling, especially the action scenes with all the CGI and everything, and was so long there had to be a break halfway through. Stacey thought she really must read the book by that Tolkeen fella, or whatever his name was, although she couldn’t really believe it could be as good as the film.
By the time it was over and they’d emerged blinking and still dazed by the spectacle into the sunny July afternoon, it was gone half-past five. Stacey was supposed to be heading back for her tea, really, but it was so nice, being out with her friends. They stood in an uncertain group outside the Odeon as people parted and swirled around them, making their way home.
‘What shall we do now then?’ said Grace.
‘Well I suppose I ought to be making tracks home really, d’ya know warra mean? ’ said Sam, sounding reluctant. ‘Me Mam will be wondering where I am.’
‘And me,’ Lizzie agreed. ‘Brill film, wasn’t it?’
‘Yeah,’ said Stacey. ‘Can’t wait to see the next one, next year.’
Sam and Lizzie said, ‘In a bit,’ left the group and wandered off along Whitechapel to their bus stops.
Grace looked at Stacey. ‘Warra you gonna do now then, Stace?’ She seemed to be ignoring the presence of James.
‘Dunno, really. Don’t really warra go home yet.’
Grace pondered then seemed to have a brainwave. She looked at James. ‘Hey Jamie; why don’t we go back to yours for a bit, like? Didn’t you say your folks were away this weekend, at a wedding or somethin’? We could buy some bevvies and have a bit of a piss-up!’
James came instantly to life. ‘Yeah, right!’
Stacey felt a flutter of excitement in her chest. It was a wicked, exciting idea. But then pragmatism kicked in. ‘But how will we buy it? We’re all well under age!’
James snorted. ‘No probs! We’ll get it from the offie on the corner of our street. They aren’t very fussy about checking ID in there.’
Grace piped up, ‘Anyway, Stace, you look eighteen. You can do the buyin’.’
‘That right, Grace? Do I?’ Stacey was flattered.
‘Right,’ said Grace. ‘Doesn’t she, Jamie?’
‘Yeah,’ said James, enthusiastically.
The trio walked to the bus stop and waited for the next one out to Woolton. On the bus, sitting together upstairs on the wide back seat, they pooled their available money. Stacey tried to mentally calculate how much to keep back for the bus home. She’d probably have to catch a bus back to the city centre again and then another to Huyton. She’d have to go home sometime, she thought dismally, and not leave it too late, otherwise Dad would go mental. She reckoned she could contribute eighty-seven pence, all her small change after keeping two pounds back for getting home. Bloody hell; it wasn’t very much.
But the other two had more to offer. James handed over everything he had: one pound seventy-two. And Grace reckoned she could give one pound ninety-six. They totalled it up. Four pounds fifty-five. How much would that buy? None of them really knew. They got off the bus at the nearest stop to James’s house and walked into his side-street. The off-licence, painted in a garish rainbow of pink, green and purple, walls and all, was on the next corner. The red-lettered sign identified it as ‘Kapoor’s Booze.’
They hesitated outside the purple and green door panelled door. ‘Go on then Stace!’ Grace urged. Stacey nervously entered. To her horror, the shop was deserted. A young man of obviously Indian sub-continent extraction glanced up and then did a double-take, distracted from his magazine, at his station behind the counter.
‘Eighteen, are you Loov?’ he enquired half-heartedly in a Scouse accent you could have cut with a knife.
Stacey looked at him, eyes round, like a startled rabbit caught in a headlight.
‘Erm, yes. Yes!’
The young man took her in, blatantly appraising. ‘Okay then. Anythin’ I can help with?’
Stacey exhaled, relieved. He wasn’t, it seemed, going to ask to see ID.
‘Erm, no. It’s okay, ta.’
She looked around wildly at the bewildering displays of wines and spirits, and beer and lager and cider in bottles and towers of cans. She hadn’t a clue what to pick up, really. Why hadn’t Grace advised her, the unhelpful cow? It had been her bloody idea. Or Jamie? He seemed to know all about it. Mam and Dad rarely kept alcohol in the house, so she had no real knowledge of it, like about brands and so on, at all. It had to be something in cans though, she thought. So that meant beer. She’d had a little taste of it last Christmas and hadn’t liked it at first, but thought she might acquire the taste, if the girls at school were right about how it felt to get drunk. Or there was cider. Although she’d tried that too, but hadn’t liked it at all.
In desperation she picked up a six-pack of something that called itself Special Bitter beer. It was three pounds ninety-nine for the pack (she hoped). She carried it to the counter and put it down, scrabbling nervously in her purse for the collection of coins. There was only one pound coin and one fifty pee; the rest was in smaller coinage, some of it one pees. Her fingers were trembling a little and she fumbled and counted out the value, losing track halfway through and having to start again. The young man watched her, impassively. Finally he said, ‘Put all your money on the counter, Loov. I’ll sort it out.’
Gratefully she put it all down in a heap and he deftly extracted three pounds ninety-nine, rang up the value, put it in his till and wordlessly handed her the receipt. She muttered thanks, put the unwanted coins back in her purse and, red-faced, fled the shop.
At James’s he let them in and they climbed the stairs to his untidy bedroom. He straightened the bed and they sat in row, as there was no other seating. Grace grabbed the six-pack and tore away the cardboard sleeve. She liberated three cans and distributed them. Stacey pulled the ring pull on hers and put the can to her mouth as the gas fizzed up her nose, surprised by the sharp, bitter taste and trying not to wince. But she couldn’t demonstrate dislike. It was a matter of prestige. She’d probably get to like it.
James took a swig of his, put it on the bedside table, got up and crossed the small room to the chest of drawers and his tape collection stacked on the floor against it. He picked a selection out and brought them back to the bed. Stacey was impressed. It was a belter! He’d got all the latest: Lighthouse’s Hanging By a Moment, Eve’s Let Me Blow Ya Mind, Train’s Drops of Jupiter. All of them. Grace wanted to hear Eve, so he put that into the slot of his radio cassette and turned up the volume as it began. Well, there were no disapproving parents around to do anyone’s head in.
Stacey tried another, bigger mouthful of beer. Yes, it was definitely a taste she could get used to. A proper grown-ups’ taste, not a sugary-sweet kids’ drink. The trio worked their way through James’s music collection, deafened. James finished his can quickly and reached for a second. Grace hastily finished hers too, anxious to keep up. Stacey found she had to follow suit. She wanted the last can. She wanted to try out this getting-pissed business. James and Grace were beginning to giggle, finding every remark made absurdly funny. Stacey could see why; she was getting the same thing. She was also losing the power of speech. Words, particularly multi-syllable ones, were becoming difficult to properly form, and every time she failed, it, too, struck her as hilarious.
So lost were they in the high-octane music, they didn’t hear footfalls on the stairs until a head poked itself around the ajar-standing door. It was dark haired, the hair gelled and spiky. The face beneath was wide and broad-nosed, with twinkling hazel eyes. ‘What’s ‘appenin’ our kid,’ the owner of it addressed James, shouting above the noise. ‘What’s all this then?’
He took in the girls, settling on Stacey. ‘Oh, got company, like?’
James grinned. ‘Hi Luke. Just playin’ a few tunes!’ he said, unnecessarily.
‘Yeah, well I could hear yous half way down the road! Mrs Dodd was just complainin,’ d’ya know warra mean?’
James got up, staggering slightly, and moved to turn the volume down.
Luke looked at the empty cans littering the floor. ‘Looks like you’ve been havin’ a few scoops an all.’
James smirked and slurred, ‘Yeah. Just a drop, while the auld fella’s nor ‘ere, like. Cat’s away an’ all that.’
Luke grinned. ‘Okay, well I won’t clat on you; he’d go mental if he knew. But you’re a bit young for it.’
He looked at Stacey again. ‘An’ who’s this fine little bird then?’
‘Oh, this is our mate, Stace,’ James explained, then added for her benefit, ‘Stace, this is me brother, Luke.’
Luke grinned at her, his gaze flickering up and down her torso, blatantly. He looked faintly puzzled but not unappreciative. ‘What’s ‘appenin’, Stace.’
Stacey felt herself blushing violently. ‘Hi,’ she returned, shyly.
She took him in. Well you wouldn’t have taken him for James’s brother, not really. He was a couple of inches taller and thicker set, in quite a muscular way, his physique shown off to great advantage by the turquoise tee-shirt tucked into his jeans. He must be a lot older; almost a man. And definitely better-looking. He could be straight out of some band or other.
Coming out of her rather woozy trance, she suddenly realised that Luke was still talking, back to James again now. ‘Well I’m ready for a bit of scran, like; dunno about you, Jamie.’
James said, ‘Yeah, me too. Must be teatime. What time is it?’
Luke glanced at his watch. ‘Quarter past seven. Shall we get us a Chinese, and mebbe a few more bevvies?’
Stacey gasped. ‘Oh God, is it that time? Me d – I’ve gorra go!’
Luke looked disappointed. ‘Eeeehh, you don’t have to, do you? The evenin’s still young!’
‘Yes, I really must! Sorry!’
Luke frowned, considering things. Where’ve you got to be then, Loov?’
‘Is that where you live?’
Stacey hesitated. ‘Yeah.’
He grinned. ‘Ah, very posh!’
She blushed again, embarrassed. ‘Sorry!’
Luke laughed. ‘Okay, only kiddin’. Tell you what. I’m going out for the scran anyway, so I’ll give you a lift. Save you the bus fares. How’s that?’
‘Yeah, great. Thanks!’ Stacey said, relieved and grateful. She’d be ages getting home otherwise and there’d be absolute hell to pay.
The journey back had been like a dream. He’d chatted incessantly, joking and making her laugh although she was in the mood to laugh at almost anything just now (she could feel a bit of a headache coming on though). He was wonderful. He didn’t make her feel like a child at all. He told her about himself; how he was an apprentice bricklayer and nineteen, and how he and James got on well enough with their ma and auld fella (although he was a bit strict sometimes), who worked at the Land Rover. He asked her age, and she quickly, because she didn’t want to appear a child, blurted out seventeen, but still at school. That seemed safer than inventing a fictitious job. Best not to tell two fibs. He seemed to accept all that: that she’d have school friends a lot younger than herself. He didn’t ask, so she didn’t tell him that her dad was a copper. It was always a bit embarrassing, that. But she owned up to having a younger brother and sister.
She had enough nous though to ask Luke to drop her off in a nearby street, not outside her house. He pulled to a stop and she unbuckled, ready to thank him and get out of his ancient rally-striped Ford Escort with extra lights on the front. But he switched off the engine. He turned to look at her, left arm going along the back of the passenger seat.
‘What did you reckon to the fillum then?’
‘How do you know we went to the flicks?’
He grinned. ‘Our Jamie told me he was going. Good, was it?’
‘Oh yeah! Pure fit!’ Stacey enthused.
‘D’you fancy going again next weekend?’
‘Oh, I can’t afford it again so soon. Had to save up for today as it was!’ She bit her lip. Shut it, you silly cow! What’s he going to think?
But if he noticed, he didn’t let on. ‘Ah, don’t worry about that. It’ll be my treat.’
‘Really? Oh; right then. Yeah. That’d be great!’
His face lit up. ‘Nice one! They’re showing Pearl Harbor at the Picture House. It’s supposed to be really good.’
‘Oh? What’s it about?’
‘You know! About the Japs bombing that American harbour in the war. It’s what brought them into it.’
‘Oh,’ Stacey repeated. No, she didn’t know, and if it was a war film it didn’t appeal at all, to be honest. But she said, ‘Yes, right, okay then.’ She would have sat through anything. Anything if it was her first date, and with such a grown-up lad, and one with a car too!
‘Fine! Great!’ said Luke, delighted. ‘See you next Saturday night then?’
Stacey’s heart sank. Oh God, no! That would be impossible. Dad certainly wouldn’t allow it if he knew, or allow her out at night for any other reason for that matter, unless carefully supervised.
‘Erm, I couldn’t make it at night but I could the matinee?’ she said, trying not to sound pleading. Oh sod it; he’ll know how old I am now!
Luke’s face fell a little, but then he said, rather to her astonishment, ‘Oh; right. Okay then. Yeah, we could do that if you like.’
Stacey said quickly, before he could change his mind, ‘Right, yes. Definitely up for that!’
‘Good! Nice One!’ Luke repeated. ‘So; see you next weekend then? I’ll call for you.’
‘Yes. Erm, could you pick me up from here then?’
‘Sure. Which is your house?’
‘Erm, it’s just up the street a bit. But this is fine?’ She mentally kicked herself. She was turning it into an imploring question again.
She saw his eyes narrow a fraction, but again he seemed unfazed.
‘Yeah, okay. Boss. What time shall we say? About half-one?’
‘Okay.’ Stacey sat, uncertain what to do next. She knew what she’d like to do: just sit here talking to this gorgeous fella all evening. But she must tear herself away. Dad would probably give real grief as it was. She daren’t be any later.
And then he really surprised her again. He leaned across her to open the car door and at the same time planted a kiss on her cheek. He pulled back. ‘Right then. In a bit, kidda. See you Saturday.’
Stacey could only stutter, ‘Yeah.’ And climb out to stand there like an idiot, a divvy, watching as he started his car, gave her the thumb’s-up and roared off down the street. She wandered home in a daze. She didn’t believe it. Had she really just been asked out by a fella, and such a pure fine one, at that? It couldn’t really be happening, could it? She reached home and rooted around in her shoulder bag for her front door key. She opened the door and crept in, greeted by Casualty on the television. It said five past eight on the ship’s clock on the hall wall. God! Dad would go ballistic! She debated whether to just creep quietly upstairs to her room, but it was too late. Derek’s voice called from the lounge, ‘Stacey?’
Her heart nosedived. ‘Yeah?’
‘Come in here! Now!’
She dragged herself on leaden legs into the room. Derek reached for the television remote to mute the sound. It was going to be a major bollocking, she just knew. His face was like thunder. ‘And where the bloody hell have you been, madam?’
‘Just out. With me mates,’ she said in a tiny voice.
‘Really? And what have you been doing until now? The film must have finished hours ago!’
‘Just chillin’. We went to James’s house to listen to music.’
‘And who’s James?’ Derek demanded, having forgotten already.
‘I told you. Grace’s boyfriend.’
‘Did you?’ Derek was momentarily wrong-footed.
‘Anyway,’ he resumed his diatribe, ‘what bloody time do you call this?’
‘I know. Sorry. I forgot what time it was.’
‘We were getting worried about you, Love,’ Julie put in.
‘Yes, we were,’ Derek raged. For Christ’s sake Stacey! You don’t just swan around without telling us what you’re doing. You’re only fourteen! I was beginning to think I should ring the station and report you missing. Bloody hell!’
‘Sorry. I was quite safe though.’
‘Yes, but we weren’t to know that, were we! Anything might have happened! You tell us where you’re going and what you’re doing and what time we can expect you back, in future, alright?
‘Sorry!’ Stacey was finding it difficult to keep tears at bay.
‘It’s all very well saying sorry, but you’re getting a big girl now. But if you’re going to act like a thoughtless little kid, I’ll just have to keep ferrying you around until you get a bit more sensible, whether you like it or not!’
‘I’m sorry. I’m really sorry!’ her tears were falling now.
Derek’s voice softened a touch. ‘Okay then. We’ll say no more about it. But if this happens again, staying out just because you feel like it, and worrying your mum to death, you’re grounded, right?’
‘Right,’ Stacey snuffled.
Mum said, ‘Have you had any tea, Pet?’
‘No. We were going to have some at Jamie’s, but then I realised what time it was and I came home.’
Julie rose. ‘I’ll get you a bit of something then.’
‘No, it’s okay, ta. I’ll just go up to bed,’ Stacey said miserably.
Stacey lay on her bed, utterly dejected. The telling-off had been no worse than she’d expected. But the thought of being grounded, that was too much. Or of still being chauffeured by Dad, like a little kid. And now she couldn’t see Luke! Oh bugger! She stared glumly at the ceiling. Just when it was starting to go right, too!
There was a gentle rap on the door and Mum came in. She was bearing a tray with a plate of sandwiches, a slice of Swiss roll and a mug of tea.
‘Come on Lovie; you must be famished. Eat something now.’
Stacey swung her legs off the bed and sat up. ‘Okay, thanks Mum.’
Julie sat down beside her, putting the tray on her lap. ‘Don’t take things too bad, Stace. Your Dad means well. He only gets cross because he cares about you. And we were starting to get really worried.’
Stacey managed a thin smile. ‘Yeah, I know Mum. I was thoughtless. I’m sorry.’
Julie put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder blades; massaged gently. ‘That’s okay. Don’t worry.’
Then Stacey said, ‘Thing is though, Mum, Grace wants me to go out with her and the others again next weekend, and I’ve said yes now. But I don’t want dad to take me. I’m not a little kid!’
‘No, you’re not, Stace,’ Julie agreed, ‘but you’ve got to show us you can act sensibly and grown-up though, haven’t you? Show more consideration, you know?’
‘Yeah, I suppose so. But can I go by myself if I promise to be home by, say, seven or somethin’?’
‘Well I’ll talk to your dad about it,’ Julie said. ‘He’ll probably be okay with that.’ She leaned closer. ‘Can I smell drink on your breath, young lady?’
‘Erm . . .’
‘I can, can’t I! Holy Mother of God, Stace; it’s a good job your dad didn’t smell it!’
‘Well it was only a little.’
Julie got up, closed the door and sat down again.
‘And how much is “only a little”?’
Stacey squirmed. ‘Well just a can.’
‘And how did you and your friends get hold of drink?’
‘There was some at Jamie’s house.’
‘Oh yes? And what were his parents doing, encouraging you to drink?’
‘They didn’t! They weren’t there . . .’
‘Right, I see. And what else did you get up to? Not smoking, I hope. Of any sort. Or anything else? No other boys there, were there?’
‘No, Mum! Really! We were just chillin’, listenin’ to tunes!’
‘You’re sure about that?’
Julie looked at her daughter. ‘Right. Well I’ll believe you. But believe me Stace, you really don’t want to get into drinking, so you don’t. Or any of the other things. Trust me; you don’t!’
Stacey looked contrite. ‘No, Mum, I won’t. She paused, wondering whether she dare pose the question. ‘Erm, you will still talk to Dad about next Saturday, will you? Please?’
Julie looked at her, severely. ‘Yes, I will. But you’ve got to promise me, Stace: no doing anything you shouldn’t. Because if I find you’re lying to me, your father will get to know, and you know what’ll happen then. Then you will be grounded. Okay?’
Stacey felt close to tears of gratitude. ‘Oh, yes Mum. I promise! Thanks!’
Julie smiled. ‘Alright then. Now eat your tea.’