~ Beginnings ~
by Fingersmith


'Summer - 1974. Hot, sticky and filled with promise. Days filled with nothing but what my imagination could conjure up - and that could be pretty frightening.'

Lou Turner loves Ashley Richards. Always has ? always will. This is her story ? a story spanning thirty years ? from the innocence of childhood to the bitterness of adulthood.

But can Lou use her beginnings to shape her future?

Here I am again ? some people would say I'm addicted ? So. Here we go:

The characters do resemble a couple of ladies from a very well known TV show, BUT they are all mine ? eventually. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those fantastic writers out there who have filled my head with images, stories and fantastic plots for so long. I just hope you get a millionth of the joy I have received from them from reading my story. I would also like to thank all of the people who have supported me with their kind words of encouragement.

Thank you to my beta readers who were fantastic at spotting my many mistakes. Dec and Heike ? you are stars.

Language: English! Definitely in the broadest sense! Be prepared for some good old-fashioned 'effing' and 'jeffing'. My characters are the ones to blame ? they should have their mouths rinsed out with soap and water.

Violence: A little ? that sometimes can get uncomfortable. Especially for the people involved ? tee hee hee.

Sex: Erm ? cough ? yes. It can get a little steamy at times, so if you are under the legal age to read such 'filth', or live in a place where this is illegal ? I'm sorry (honestly ? look at my face - I'm wracked with sorrow). All you have to do is wait until you are a little older. You could even move. Or both, if the mood takes you.

This story is set in Manchester and Norwich ? not at the same time though. If you find any spelling mistakes please put it down to one of three things. Firstly, I'm English. Secondly, I can't spell. Thirdly, I'm just too lazy. And for crying out loud, don't check my grammar!

Please let me know what you think about this story ? try not to be too harsh, as I am really sensitive and will probably cry for weeks ? months ? are we talking years here?

Acknowledgements: I have quoted from various texts, especially poetry, and songs throughout this piece. All music quoted has been used without the permission of the artist. This is not an attempt at plagiarism: just a tribute to their great words.


I could tell you what has happened. But for you to understand, I need to take you back ? right back. To 1974.

When people talk about the 70s, they will fill your head with free love, drugs and rock and roll. Actually, that sounds pretty good, especially the free love part.

But what I'm going to tell you is initially from the eyes of a six year old - me, funnily enough. I know you want to put this down, but bear with me. We all like to peek into someone else's life - however boring it may be.

So. Let's find our setting.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I'll begin ?


Chapter One


Summer - 1974. Hot, sticky and filled with promise. Days filled with nothing but what my imagination could conjure up - and that could be pretty frightening. Streets were packed with children on school holidays, playing 'tiggy-it' and kerby, and avoiding cars as they raced to retrieve an errant ball. Space hoppers were the new black.

I was six years old. It was Levenshulme. Once an affluent part of Manchester, but now filled with students and ethnic minorities. Old radios blasted 'Shang a Lang' and 'Puppy Love' into the street. Mothers bawled at kids climbing the fence to the railway tracks where they would flatten pennies, completely unaware that they could be flattened too.

I loved my childhood. Loved it in a fucked up way. We were poor - dirt poor. I came from a family of five brothers and two sisters, all older than me, and all avoided me like the plague. Except Jo of course. She was sixteen months older than me, and my idol. Her role on this earth was to be my surrogate mother, and to this day she still holds that place. We were like Siamese twins, but without the shared organs. Even our farts smelt the same. Uncanny or what? But Jo still brags that hers don't smell (they always did, but I tried to ignore it and closed my mouth sharpish). We looked completely different, but relatives still confused us, and my mother had to resort to colour coding to differentiate. Of course we mixed and matched outfits just to be little bleeders, and Jo hid her pink-rimmed National Health glasses at family gatherings as the final straw.

Kids. Gotta love 'em.

Well ? I have told you this much, I might as well introduce the other spawns in my family. Five brothers ? urgh! Every girl's nightmare, and if you met them you would understand why. Patrick, aka Sniffer (which characterises his approach to the opposite sex), is the eldest son. Simon, who is fondly known as Ebenezer (need I say more?), is the second eldest. Brian was the third, and in the words of my mum, 'is such a bloody liar'. He was the one where the doctors after the birth, advised my mother to use birth control in the future.

No such luck. Aiden popped out, much to the disdain of my mother, who initially disowned him. Pity she didn't stick to her guns. But then came the crowning glory. Queen Angie, Queenie, Dammer, Screamer. 'Who is this bundle of fun?' I hear you ask. My big sister, sometimes wonderful ? sometimes a psycho - which I found out the hard way. She was a git to all of us when playing chief babysitter and tyrant, when my mum worked at the nightclub. Over the years our relationship has grown stronger though - probably because now I can protect myself.

The last brother finally came ? what a prize! Alan. Our Adge. Skid mark. Yup ? Skid mark, on account of the very fancy designs in his underpants. David Hockney watch out - abstract (f)art.

Then it was Jo's turn (short for Joanne) - the last but one. She had a myriad of names ? but Bulber and Mazda were the main two. Reason being - her head was uncannily shaped like a light bulb, and it looked like her body was constantly having brilliant ideas.

Now me, I had a fine selection of nicknames. So many in fact I had trouble remembering my real name, which didn't add to my appearance of intelligence. Primarily I was known as Bergans (left outside the butchers of the same name for five hours, and not missed until tea was being dished out) and Chunky (generic name with the rest of the family). I introduced myself as Chunky. Other names sneaked in - Henry the Eighth - no - I wasn't a fat polygamist with syphilis ? or a beard. It was just the way I used to eat, you know, like it was the first morsel that had passed my lips in ages.

But wait. I think I need to go back just a little bit further - you know, complete the picture of the darling child I was. I'll totally understand if you don't want to read anymore, but please believe me - it does get better!

I was born (very David Copperfield-ish - not the magician - the sponging whining fucker Dickens wrote of), in the year of our Lord, Nineteen Hundred and Sixty Eight. To say I was a beautiful baby ? would be a lie. I was very long, very ugly, with a bald head, and eyes like a Lemur. Of course I developed into a fat toddler but still with very large eyes, which, fortunately, enabled me to see in the dark when the Electricity Company cut us off.

I was the last of the bunch. One look at me and my mother finally cried 'No more!' Years later, she admitted that if the umbilical cord had not been attached, she would have sworn I wasn't hers. Angie loves to recall the day that they brought me home from the hospital. Her job was chief guard, standing at the front door like a bouncer, barring entrance to the neighbours: 'As not to frighten the womenfolk and kids.' This tale is told at every opportunity, usually between hysterical laughter and finger pointing (in my direction - where I would sit ? glowing). She loves to retell it, like the Ancient Mariner, as she feels 'cursed' to regale it over and over again. She even takes on the features of the decrepit old seaman -dribbling accompanying the overexcitement and spitting.

My mother used to bounce me and Jo down the road in a dilapidated pram, (Jo, who was cuddly, beautiful and always had a ready smile), trying to avoid well-wishers in her path. Jo, of course, removed people's attention from my owl-like eyes, but on the occasions she wasn't present, the focus of the admiration went on the pram. I didn't care as long as they left me alone to chew through the plastic mattress at the base. It was bliss on raw gums ? cool, yet satisfying.

I wasn't the bravest of children. I was even scared of a rabbit once. Yes. You read that right - a rabbit. You may think that rabbits can't hurt you, but they can, as I will prove.

There was a woman who lived up the road from us. Weird bugger. Smelt of bleach and cigarettes. Well ? she was a creative soul and a bit of an animal lover - and I mean 'bit'. In her back garden she had erected a majestic centrepiece consisting of soil, broken bricks and bottles. It was beautiful ? in a soily, brokeny bottle and brick kind of way - almost modern art .. and very underrated by the rest of the community

The hutch itself sat pride of place, resembling an Anderson shelter sawn in half and decorated lovingly with chicken wire. I can remember it as if it was yesterday ? it was class. My sister led me up to the monument that proved women should never be given free reign with a drill. (This was the 70s and I can be Politically Incorrect - just this once). All it took was the aid of climbing gear and (in the words of a Blue Peter presenter), 'a responsible adult'.

The ascent began.

Never in my young life had I been so scared. Thoughts flitted through my mind of what terrible monster would be imprisoned in a fortress like that. So, being an idiot, I started to back off, caught my heel in a broken Dandelion and Burdock bottle, fell backwards onto an artistically smashed house brick that was coyly peeping from the middle of the mound ? and gashed my head open.

Of course , the wailing started. Many of the elderly residents thought the Germans were invading, as they had been secretly and quietly preparing for years. Have you ever noticed that children initially cry with no sound? Their mouths stretched to capacity, eyes dry, but not a sound to be heard. Then suddenly a low whine is discernible, culminating into the loudest, most annoying howl audible to mankind (heaven knows how dogs cope), and the waterworks go into overdrive.

I raced away, vowing silently I would never trust another Blue Peter presenter again, with my hands rising in slow motion up to the cut on my head, needing my mum like I'd never needed her before. All this amidst the initial laughter of the neighbours. Bastards. Concern came later, especially when my family came round to sort out the 'caged monster' and the smelly weird fucker who would allow a child to climb her monument unarmed.

As I said before, Levenshulme was very multicultural - especially of Asian descent. There was an Indian kid who lived down the road, who Jo and I were friends with. One day, his father gave us an onion bahji. We had never seen one of these strange things before. So ? Jo and I played catch with it for a while and then bounced it home. How were we to know that this was a special offering from one culture to another? Just think how offended we would have been if we had given them a Holland's Steak and Kidney pudding and they had played cricket with it. But we were kids ? how were we to know?

Anyway. Jo's best friend, Tina Brace, lived in the road opposite ours. Tina's nickname was the 'Rooter', as most of her playing time was spent rooting through my mum's drawers and the kitchen cupboards. We used to slag her off, but she did come in handy. If we couldn't find anything, Tina always knew where it was and would direct us to it. 'Oh, I noticed that when I was going to the toilet. It's in the Lads' bedroom ? in the cupboard in the far left corner ? second drawer down, right up the back'. She was to be one of many strange friends who would come and go over the years.

I was unfortunate in that I had to share a bedroom with Angie, Jo and the whole Osmond family (especially Donny). This should have mentally scarred me, but it just made me stronger ? and thankfully, when Jo's Cliff Richard obsession kicked in ? I was prepared.

Donny Osmond was Angie's idol. Whatever pop tune rattled forth from between that enormous set of teeth, was like the National anthem for my sister. The whole family had to stand to attention (in absolute silence) for the King of the teenybopper world. When I woke up frightened in the night and couldn't sleep (being a 'whinging little get' as Angie called me), she would try to calm me down with the words 'Donny's laughing at you.'

Right enough he was. Wherever I looked ? he grinned back. Even when I opened the drawers he was flirting with me through the mound of my underwear. God, I hated him ? smarmy bugger - and the rest of his family! I hated Puppy Love and bloody Paper Roses. I hoped he would get distemper, and someone would pour petrol over Marie's roses ? ending with a delicate kiss with a lighted match.

Before I go on to tell you what happened to me when I was six, I need to tell you how I became the distrustful person I am today. Nothing spectacular - but let's just say a lesson learned, okay? You can be the judge.

Would you be tempted with a free glass of lemonade? Especially if all you usually got was Corporation pop (water), or when your mum was flush ? Vimto? I was. Very.

It was an ordinary evening. Quiet ? for some unexplainable reason. And it all boiled down to my sister ? Jo. She asked me if I would like a drink of the aforementioned lemonade. Of course I did! What sugar-craving child wouldn't? The lemonade, as free gifts usually do, came with a catch. I had to carry her on my back, on all fours like a donkey, for half an hour. I should have guessed that Jo did not have any lemonade ? she did not have any money to buy lemonade ? but I trusted her. She was my surrogate mum after all.

On the floor I went, not even four years old and scrabbling around on all fours building up my thirst. I asked intermittently when I was going to receive my well-earned refreshment, only to be told 'Soon. Soon.' Now, looking back, the crooning tone of her voice should have told me something was not right. The innocence of youth, eh?

Eventually, through sheer exhaustion, I rebelled and demanded that I should be paid in full for my services. Jo paid in full ? by the God, she paid in full. The payment of lemonade came in the shape of pee - donated by her - over my back. I can still hear the laughter in her voice as she shrilled 'Enjoy your lemonade, you deserve it!' All I can say is it's a good job that she never promised me chocolate. To this day, she still can't tell me why she did it, just mumbles something about being possessed.

The story doesn't end there I'm afraid. My brother Patrick's latest victim, sorry girlfriend, was staying with us at the time, and every time a police car went past she wanted to play 'Let's Hide Under the Bed'. Once again - children are so gullible. Nowadays I would be at the bedroom window screaming 'She's here ? in here ? under the bed!' Unfortunately, she had to share the room with me, Jo, Angie, and the Osmonds (all of us in a dilapidated double bed), but when she walked into a puddle of pee, I thought the shit was going to hit the fan. Obviously it was my fault ? and she classed me as a disgusting degenerate (my face said 'uh?'), and promptly stormed off to sleep with my brother. Many years later I realised this was her golden opportunity to get between the sheets with Sniffer, and I wasn't really a freak of nature - still not sure about Jo though.

I know ? I'm going off the point.

Oh ? all right then ?

Summer - 1974. Hot, sticky and filled with promise. Days filled with nothing but what my imagination could conjure up - and that could be pretty frightening. Streets were packed with children on school holidays, playing tiggy-it and kerby, and avoiding cars as they raced to retrieve an errant ball. Space hoppers were the new black.

I was six years old. It was Levenshulme. And that's where I first spotted Ashley Richards ? or Ash, as she liked to be called ?


Chapter Two

Ashley Richards. Even today, when I say her name my whole body smiles.

I can still remember it vividly ? the day she fell into my arms ? fell into my life.



In our front garden we had a huge tree in the corner ? huge. I used to love climbing up as high as I could to get away from the brood, and even at six years old I could get pretty high. My mum, to this day, doesn't know I used to climb it. I used to sit above her when she would be bellowing out into the streets the litany of names of my siblings, all in rank order, announcing that 'Your bloody tea's on the table!'

Amazing what power you can possess by being just a little higher than everyone else. I felt on top of the world.

Every teatime it was the same. Until one Sunday that is ?

I had climbed one branch higher than usual and was perched there, gloating. Mum had been and gone and I had watched my brothers and sisters trundle in the front door one by one, ready for tea. I had just climbed down when I heard a distinct rustling of leaves coming from overhead.

It was, or so it seemed, a split second later when something landed on me. It was big. It was heavy. It was wriggling like crazy on top of my battered and bruised body.

It was Ash (as I later found out).

Blue eyes wide with shock and panic - and pain ?. if my aching backside and stomach was any gauge. Instinctively, my arms wrapped around her, and both our squirming bodies meshed into each other. Black hair tumbled forward and part of it went inside my mouth, an obvious distraction when I was trying to scream.

The more we tried to separate, the more entangled we became. A voice from above me hollered 'Stop!' and like the good girl I was - I did. I lay there completely rigid as the blue-eyed girl systematically pulled herself free, allowing my scrawny arms to flop lifelessly to my sides.

'Are you okay?' Concern was evident. The tears I had felt welling up in my throat - you know the ones we try to swallow but become like footballs - miraculously disappeared. Silently I nodded my head, looking at the now towering girl looming above me. I wasn't okay, but damned if I was going to admit it to her.

She held her hand down towards me to help me up, and for a split second I considered the idea of refusing, but the pains shooting up the cheeks of my arse told me to stop being a martyr and accept.

So I did.

Her hands were cool in comparison to my clammy, dirty ones, and with one deft movement I was on my feet ? I don't think I even had the chance of bending my legs. I staggered forward only to be captured by her once again, my head hitting her in the chest. Jesus ? she was so tall. The feeling I had whilst lying on the ground came back - she still towered above me!

'Sorry about that ?' her eyes flicked to the tree, 'I kind of lost my footing somewhere along the line.' I just stared at her, gob-smacked. I wanted to demand why she had been there in the first place, but nothing would come out. I must have appeared simple ? and I think for those few minutes I was. 'Are you sure you're okay?' A quick nod was all I could muster. Her face took on a concerned look ? and my arse was still throbbing to the tune of the birds singing.

After about a minute of staring at me, she stuck her hand in my direction. 'Ashley Richards. Erm ? or Ash. I just moved down the Avenue about two weeks ago.'

I was just about to answer - my mouth had formed around a word and was ready to let it slip through my gormless lips when 'Bloody hell, Lou. Your tea's on the table. In!' Mum. And she was pissed off. Big style.

I turned back to Ashley and flashed her a smile, 'Got to go. See ya around, yeah?' Her face broke out into an enormous grin and she nodded, her hand still outstretched. Impulsively, I grabbed her hand and pumped up and down like I had seen my mum doing to people she had just met. Those cool fingers clutched at mine for a brief moment before my mum's increasing ire got in the way.

'Inside now, lady. You can speak to your friend tomorrow.'

Another smile lit up my face. A friend. Yup. I liked the sound of that.

Before I had a chance to say anything else, she was gone. And I turned back and wobbled indoors, the cheeks of my arse screaming, but the smile on my face said 'Stuff it. I have a new friend.'


Sunday night was always nit inspection night. My mum was like a woman possessed when it came to our six legged friends who liked to party in her kids' hair. So Sunday night was known as 'The Treatment' night.

Every Sunday was the same. Bath. Clean pyjamas. And a thorough grooming, ready for school the next day. Just because we had broken up for school holidays didn't stop the de-lousing regime. Unfortunately. And let me tell you, if you have never had the 'pleasure' of Derbac ? well ? you've been lucky. At least it didn't set in your hair like Suleo.

Anyway, mum would line us up in order of age and douse the louse with the most fouling smelling lotion ever invented. Even today I prefer dog farts. It wasn't just the lotion - it was the combing. I think the person who invented the comb must have done so with the help of a microscope and evil intention. My hair tangled easily, and having something so fine scraped through was agony. The effect was tearstained cheeks, red rimmed eyes and Christopher Lee hair - the lot of us were like a band of extras in a Hammer House Production.

Over time this regime dwindled down to just Alan, Jo and me, as the others had grown and adamantly refused. And they used to sit ? smugly ? in the front room, when the 'infested trio' would have to stay in the dining room and were only allowed to go in the best room if we stayed away from everyone - especially out of line of draughts from the windows, which would waft the smell around the room. God help us if we sat on the furniture. We could have been hired out on Safaris - elephants would have been stunned at twenty paces.

This Sunday was no different. The agony ? the screaming ? the pleading for mercy. And that was just my brother. He was such a boy sometimes. It was funny ? in retrospect, obviously. Especially watching my mum crack the little critters between her nails when she had caught them in the comb. Word of warning - never struggle with your mother when she is de-lousing you - there is only ever one winner, and it sure isn't you. And ? and this is a biggie ? always be ready to run in case her cig sets your head on fire. No. That's a lie. She always made sure it never went near enough to actually catch alight, properly balancing it on top of the gas fire.

But Alan ?Alan was a mard-arse - always was, and most certainly still is.

It still makes me smile to remember him in the throws of a rain dance, wailing to the gods, informing everyone and everything he hated them ? with all his heart. He was always the main attraction on Sundays ? we could have charged admittance, but we were used to it. Every week the same.

Then the doorknocker went. The insurance man had dropped by for mum's contribution ? and we didn't even have time to hide behind the furniture. Not that we could have got away with it, as Alan was in the midst of his jungle fever. Only now I realise my mum was embarrassed by the smell and the noise. No one else actually paid any attention to what was going on - in a household our size it was very unusual to have quiet time.

All the time the insurance man was there, Alan danced. Every question the man asked my mum had to ask to be repeated because of Alan's rantings. Jo and I just sat on the floor, quietly doing Christopher Lee impressions, but inside laughing our asses off. Alan was a knob head - still is.

I still believe this episode scarred my brother. Mainly because he had the lotion on longer than the thirty minutes - I don't know. All that medication soaking through his scalp, breathing in all those fumes whilst screaming must have taken its toll. Definitely the reason why he has never intellectually advanced - or maybe it's because he was always a wanker. Who knows?

After the insurance man had gone, and Alan had been thoroughly dealt with, Jo and I were sent to bed to meet Donny et al. Fucking Osmonds.

It was only after mum had gone back down to give Alan another pasting to stop his crying (go figure) that Jo asked me where I had got my bruises from. Her eyes held concern ? and I knew she must have been worrying about this since bath time, as the bruise started at the base of my spine and curved itself around one cheek. There is no way she wouldn't have noticed it ? although Angie hadn't. She was too busy trying to get us sorted so she could get up the park with her mates.

Donny was smiling at me as I turned to Jo, 'I was standing under the tree ...'

'What have I told you about climbing that tree? I'll tell mum if you go up it again.'

'I didn't fall out of it. Ash did.'

'How on earth can ash cause a bruise like that?' And I started laughing. 'It's not funny, Lou. You'll end up killing yourself or worse.' Nope. I didn't get it either ? killing yourself or worse? Never mind.

'Not ash! Ash!' She looked at me like I was an idiot, 'Ashley ? Ashley Richards from down the Avenue?' Still a vacant look. 'Moved in a couple of weeks ago.' Realisation broke out and I could see it take over the blank expression from earlier.

It was short lived.

'What do you mean Ash fell out of the tree?'

I loved my sister, but sometimes she was too overprotective. It was a full twenty minutes later before she was satisfied I had not been ambushed.

As I snuggled into bed, the big dilapidated double I shared with both Jo an Angie, I smiled to myself.

'I've got a friend.' Then silently wished Donny goodnight.

And I couldn't wait to see what the next day would bring.


Chapter Three

It wasn't long before we were firm friends, although Ash was Jo's age. As for Jo ? well ? she wasn't too pleased my affections for her had been split. But being her, she took it on the chin and allowed me some semblance of freedom.

Days were spent in childish adventure. Ash was so much fun, although she barely said a word to anybody else. Mum nicknamed her my 'shadow', as she was always standing quietly behind me whenever she was in the company of any of my family.

Now, my family were friendly, don't get me wrong. They were just ? big. There were loads of us. The only person Ash hadn't met was my dad. And come to think of it, I hadn't seen him myself for quite a while. He was a long distance lorry driver and spent a lot of time on the road; the time not on the road was spent in the pub.

I remember when I was about four, my mum had got me up in the middle of the night, or so it seemed, to introduce me to him. Years later I realised they had been in the middle of an argument. To put it mildly, my father was a tosser. He didn't give two shits about his family. All he cared about was himself and the pub. I can still remember him sat there in the front room, sunglasses on (at night time) listening to Dean Martin's Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime, and singing really badly.

Mum had ushered both Jo and me into the room and it was like the rabbit incident all over again. Who was this man sat in the chair singing whilst wearing sunglasses? Even to this day I read people's eyes - I don't trust people if I can't see their eyes. I learned that the hard way.

It was only because Jo seemed to know him that I let down my guard.

I wish I hadn't bothered.

Enough about him for now ? you'll hear more about that tosser later.

Ash. I wanted to skip every time I thought of her. She was a lot taller than me even though she was nearly eight (well ? seven and three quarters- eight in October) - but she appeared bigger. Black hair cascaded down her back; her face was slightly tanned through all the outdoor activities we shared. But the most striking thing about her was her eyes. Blue, a light blue, a twinkling blue that captured the sun's rays and made them dance.

It wasn't long before she became the centre of my world. Everything I did I wanted her to be a part of it. Everything I saw I wanted her to see.

We were inseparable. It was fantastic.

Jo backed off from me and spent more time with Tina, telling me I was always welcome to hang about with her anytime. I don't know why, but she didn't really take to Ash ? but at the time I didn't give it much thought.

Summer days were spent in play ? in adventure. Things I had done a thousand times on my own seemed to take on a different meaning when I did them with Ash.

She even showed me how to climb that damned tree properly, although I still had the memory of her plunging down from quite a height.

I trusted her.


I fit quite nicely into her family too. She had two brothers, Stephen and Anthony, one older, one younger. Her dad used to torment her, saying it was an Ashley sandwich. I could tell she was their pride and joy.

It was strange to watch her family together. Her parents were so interested in what they all were doing, taking time to chat to them, ask how their day had been. Her mother was a full time mum, always there for them. Her father was a policeman, and he made my brothers nervous - especially Sniffer's girlfriend.

It made me reflect, in my childish way, about my own parents. I loved my mum so much ? she tried as hard as she could to provide for us, considering my dad was AWOL most of the time. Now I'm an adult I fully realise what she had to go through. Eight children and barely two pennies to rub together. No wonder she had to work at a night club to earn enough to clothe and feed us. A man can't support both the pub and his family, and my father preferred to support the local brewery.

Ash's family semi-adopted me. I spent most of my free time there, reading her books - especially loving it when she read to me. This treat sometimes followed us up the tree where we would sit, hidden from view and she would read to me. I had to be careful I didn't relax too much and fall backwards ? again.

Ash, her two brothers and me used to perform Abba's Waterloo in her bedroom. I don't think Stephen and Anthony really wanted to be Benny and Bjorn - but they didn't really have a say in the matter. Ash could be quite forceful when the mood took her.

We practised for days trying to get the moves right, turning our heads at just the right moment. I still haven't got the hang of coordination, but that's beside the point.

When we thought we had perfected it, we put the single on the small box record player and performed our masterpiece to her parents. I followed her every move ? like usual ? and shrilled out 'My my ? At Wa-ter-loo Na-po-le-on did sur-render ?yeh yeh ?' The applause from her parents was deafening ? nearly as bad as our singing.

I felt on top of the world.


I should have sung the Carpenters.

One of my favourite memories was the day we went to Concroft Park. It was the day I realised Ash was everything I would ever want or need in my life.

It was quite a walk from our house, and we were toting carrier bags full of sandwiches and pop to eat on our day out. Inside the bags were also two books, Ash's jumper, an old blanket and a ball. It was going to be a good day.

And it was.

The very first thing we did was feed the ducks. We stood there, side by side, looking for all the world like a pair of ragamuffins, not speaking in our task but fully content just ? to just ? be. I think we gave them nearly all our sandwiches but we didn't care.

Swings, slides, roundabouts and reading. In that order. Then, we did it all again, but this time we had a game of catch before we lay back on the grass and just read.

I didn't know how long I had been asleep, I suddenly felt the splodge of rain hit my skin like an ice cube. And again ? and again ? until it was constant. I felt Ash looming above me, her shadow blocking my view, her body sheltering me from the downpour.

'Lou ? come on, Lou. We need to go.' Her voice seemed echoey, distant. The chill from the rain made me shiver. I had only a t-shirt and shorts on and I was freezing. I could see Ash shaking with cold too. Her hand was trembling as it reached down to me, rivulets of water running down the bare flesh.

'We need to get back.' I grabbed her hand and with one deft movement she pulled me to my feet. 'Here.' A jumper was shoved in my direction. My eyes looked into blue, which were clouded with worry. 'Put it on ? you'll catch your death ?'

'But ?'

'But nothing. Put it on ? no arguments.' I watched her as I pulled the jumper over my head, missing the sight of her as the thick red material fell over my eyes. The jumper was barely on my skin before she grabbed my hand and began to pull me along.

Rain lashed against us as we struggled against the downpour. There was no point looking for shelter, as the rain looked as if it would be with us for quite a while.

Ash had the blanket and books (the ball long forgotten) shoved under her arm, her other arm occupied with pulling me along, my short legs struggling to keep up.

We had gone a little way before she pulled me under the bus shelter just outside the park. 'We can't get the bus, Ash, we haven't any money.'

'Shhuuusssshh. We're not getting the bus ? here ? hold these.' She thrust the books into my hands and started fluffing out the blanket. Her face was filled with concentration as she struggled with the chequered cloth, her black hair sticking to the side of her face. I was freezing, and by the looks of her shaking body, so was Ash.

'Come here.' Her voice was quiet, barely a whisper. But I went without question. 'I'm going to try a stop us getting completely soaked.' I looked up at her, forever in awe of my older friend. She made me feel so protected. I knew she would take care of me whatever happened. 'I'm going to hold the blanket over us. Here ? put your arm round my waist and hold on.'

As soon as I slipped my arm around her, which was quite an effort because of our height difference; we were off, the slick and slippery pavement almost a blur.

Ash was determined we wouldn't get any more wet than we already were. The books I held were becoming soggy and heavy, and my grip tightened about them with grim determination. I wanted to keep my part of the bargain.

It seemed like forever. The rain really held us back, but I didn't feel frightened or worried. The presence of Ash calmed me. The feeling of her guiding me both with her body and the top of her arm made me feel secure ? and, strangely enough, happy.

When we got outside her house I fully expected her to dash in and send me on my way, but no, she insisted she saw me to my front door, with a mumbled 'That's what friends are for.' Secretly, I was pleased.

The front door loomed ahead of us, and I could feel her slowing down. It wasn't until we reached the gate that she stopped. 'Go on ? you get in.' Impulsively, I threw my arms around her neck and planted a kiss on her cheek. I think I surprised her because she dropped the blanket to her shoulders and looked me squarely in the face. 'What was that for?' Her voice was quiet, but I heard every word as if it has been shouted.

'For taking care of me.'

'Don't be daft.' But I could see she felt pleased with my words. 'Go on ? get gone.' And she planted a little kiss on my forehead, before she gave me a gentle shove.

I raced towards the door and hammered the knocker, turning to face Ash whilst I waited for someone to let me in.

The image of her standing there will forever be etched into my mind. Rain pummelled down on her, but she just stood there, staring right back at me. Her hair was a tangled mess of wetness, clinging to the side of her face, her fringe dripping water into her eyes. The pale cream t-shirt was like a second skin, transparent and heavy. Rivulets of water raced down her legs and collected at the tops of her ankle socks. Splodges of dirt coated her calves and knees, but they were beginning to become washed away.

'Bloody hell, Lou! You're pissed wet through!' Mum's voice broke through my thoughts, and I turned to face her. 'Get in and get those clothes off before you catch your death.'

Ash's jumper! I still had it on. I turned to speak to her but she was on her way out the gate, the blanket covering her shoulders. 'Ash!' She stopped, and turned towards me, a question in her eyes. 'Your jumper!'

'Keep it ? I'll get it later.' Her face broke out into a dazzling smile and I forgot about the rain, forgot about the jumper, forgot how cold I was. That smile lit up everything and made me feel warm inside.

'Come on, Lou ? in!'

'Laters, Ash.'

'Laters.' And she was gone. Racing through puddles, water splashing up her legs, the blanket billowing out as only soaked blankets could do.

But there wasn't going to be any 'Laters'. 'Laters' had to wait for another ten years.

My father made sure of that.



Chapter Four

After a hot bath, shared with Jo of course, it was tea and an early night. I felt so happy going to sleep, but the happiness didn't last long.

Voices woke me. Not gentle voices ? by any stretch of the imagination. These voices were raised in argument, words spewing forth that no child should ever hear.

It was my parents.

Funny thing is, even though my mum and dad didn't get along as well as other parents, they rarely argued. So, this was a surprise to say the least.

Honestly speaking though, surprise was the last emotion I was feeling at the time.

Fear was top of the list.

'You all right, Lou?' Jo's voice filtered through the darkness, a small hand came and landed on the top of my arm, stroking up and down.

The shouting was getting closer, the anger more evident. I could feel the tears welling up and slipping from my eyes. I began to shake - couldn't stop it - I was scared and confused. I could hear Jo trying to comfort me, but I could hear the fear in her voice also. This must be bad if she was scared.

Raised voices were right outside our door now, the words clear to everyone.

We were leaving. Tonight. Mum had obviously found out about all the affairs my father had been having, and the child his girlfriend from Scotland was carrying.

Only later did I understand the full concept of these revelations. Only later did I overhear my mum telling one of her sisters of a letter she had found, addressed to her, in his work bag. A letter from a seventeen year old girl who was three and a half months pregnant. Only later did I fully understand this man was a total wanker, although I'd always had my suspicions.

Even Donny didn't seem to be laughing now.

Light blinded me as the door flew back and my mum came into the room with a roll of black bags.

'Come on girls. Get yourselves up. We're going on a trip.' She tried to keep her voice cheerful, but we knew this trip wasn't to Butlins. 'Here?' She passed us a couple of bags she had torn off, 'pack as many clothes as you can into these ? Angie's too.'

'Over my dead body!' My father bellowed.

'It can be arranged.' Her voice was a growl, and even my father slunk back, knowing that she would rip his head off if he as much as made a move in our direction.

Not that he would have put himself on the line like that. He was neither brave, nor did he give a damn. His kids and family meant nothing to him. He had proved that with his inability to give two shits about anyone but himself.

My body was shaking. My small hands were grabbing everything and anything, randomly shoving clothes haphazardly. Jo was crouched next to me, tears trickling down her face as she slowly placed each item carefully into the sack.

My world was falling apart ? falling apart ? falling apart. Each refrain mimicked the action of my hands, as they silently packed the few belongings we owned into shiny black plastic. Every muscle seemed to vibrate through me ? panic and fear vying for dominance ?

Until it struck me ?


When could I see Ash?

Could I say goodbye to her?

I didn't want to say goodbye ? a noise danced in my throat ? a wail waiting to be released into the silent room. I didn't want to leave Ash ? she was my friend ? I didn't want to leave.

Tremors shook through me, the wail winning out, the tears flowing freely now. I brought my hand to my face to smear the tears across my cheeks, my nose bunging up, breathing becoming difficult.

'Come on sweetheart. It'll be all right.' Mum was crouching next to me, trying to get me to calm down, her loving hands on my shoulders, quickly rubbing the knotted muscles. 'We'll still be together ?'

Instead of calming me, this thought just made me cry even harder. Loving hands slipped underneath my armpits and I felt myself being lifted into the familiar scent of my mum. 'Shush there, sweetheart ? I've got you.'

It was ages before she let me go. She rocked me back and forth, stroking up and down my spine. Jo stood silently next to us both, her hand tangling through my hair.

That's just like my sister. She must have been feeling just as scared as me, but she still rose above it and worried about me first. That is why I love her as much as I do.

An hour later saw us in the back of a black cab. Mum, Angie, Alan, Jo and me ? five bin bags and not much else. We looked a sorry sight. The rest of the lads decided to stay with their father - their father, as he was no longer mine ? and I doubt he ever was - although biologically I could never escape that fact.

I can still remember the taxi driver reversing into Ash's road, and my eyes staring up to the dark window of her room. I wanted to wake her up ? tell her that whatever happened she was still my friend and I loved her.

But as the taxi pulled away, I felt a part of me stay there in Levenshulme. I just hoped that Ash would find it and know I didn't want to go ? didn't want to leave her.

I had to take some comfort from the knowledge that no matter how long it took ? I would find her again.

That was a promise.


Chapter Five

1984 - Ten years later ?

Loads of things had happened in those ten years. Too many to go into any detail, but the main thing was, I never had the opportunity to see Ash again. Never had the chance to say goodbye.

Every time it rained I thought about her. I know ? weird. Even to this day, as soon as it rains heavily, I still have the image of her standing there, drenched to the skin, hair and body soaking wet, smiling at me, even though she was freezing cold.

I still have those books from that day. They still look like concertinas, all bevelled and ruined. The pages barely separate and they look tired and old. I keep them wrapped up in a bright red jumper. Her bright red jumper. They were the only things I had of hers and there was no way I would part with them.


After my mum left my dad, I found out she had actually been seeing someone else. It was funny in a way, because I had met him on more than one occasion. He worked with my mum at the nightclub - he was the head chef, so I had never thought it was weird when my mum had taken me and Jo around to his flat to meet him.

To tell the truth, I thought he was wonderful. He always had time to chat, always took an interest in what we were doing, and in retrospect I realised he thought the absolute world of my mum. It was good for the soul to see her so happy. Years had been wasted with a man who had told her nobody else would ever give her a second look, but now she was with a man who thought the sun rose and fell because she was on the earth.

Those ten years were not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. My dad had great joy divorcing my mum on the grounds of adultery. All his philandering meant nothing to him, and he glorified in his statement that he would never forgive her for leaving him ? 'for another man at that.' He failed to recognise his own shortcomings - the affairs, the lies, the fact he got a girl who was a year older than his daughter pregnant, believing it was his right to do all these things.

My brothers were on his side, following steadily in his footsteps as womanisers and drunks. All except Alan, and as soon as he was old enough he was off to join the gang. I told you he was an idiot didn't I?

Angie had married a man who looked like Brains from Thunderbirds, although most of the time he reminded me more of Joe 90. Four of my brothers got married and then three of them got divorced. They were definitely like their father. Actually Aiden was remarried ? and wifey number two was getting sick and tired of his absences ? and I don't mean the times he spent in nick either. I doubt they will ever learn.

At sixteen I left school and started college to do my A levels.

And that is when I saw her again.


My Ash. In the flesh. Bigger, taller, darker, and absolutely positively the most gorgeous creature on the planet.

I hadn't been enrolled very long, and was still trying to find my way around Stockport College, when I saw her. Don't get me wrong here. I didn't look at her and say to myself 'Oh look! That's Ash.' It was more embarrassing than that.

A lot more.

Being a 'newbie' we were constantly the butt of everybody's jokes. When we asked for directions we were sent the opposite way; we were told stories about teachers to make us wary of the staff. They took the piss out of us constantly, but that was to be expected. All in all, it worked out fine.

Until the incident.

I still cringe about it to this day, but realise if it hadn't happened I would never had met Ash again.

I had been at college for two weeks, and had made a few friends who insisted I went along to the karaoke night at the student union. As you well know, I couldn't hold a note (still can't), but I'd agreed, on the understanding I would not be getting up there and making a fool of myself.

Big mistake.

I should have stayed home and washed my hair ? watched telly ? read a book. Even studied.

But no. Karaoke night it was.

My friends were there, all cramped around a table with some older students, laughing and fitting in well. I bought a coke from the bar and joined them. They seemed like a nice bunch, although slightly pissed already and it was only eight o'clock.

As the night wore on, more people were getting up the nerve to sing. Not me. I just sat there and sipped my drink, laughed in all the right places, and chatted mainly with Mandy, a girl who was in my A level Sociology course, and at who's house I would be staying over at that night.

I felt quite relaxed, and I think it had something to do with what Ray, an older Art student, kept slipping in my drink. He thought he was being sly about it, but he was too pissed to realise he was being obvious.

Then came the joints. I had never even smoked a cigarette, never mind a joint, but hey - it was college, and everyone else was doing it.

Another ? big ? mistake.

I swear, I only had a couple of drags ? honestly your honour ? just the two. But it felt like I had smoked ten. And that's how I found myself on the stage, in the student's union, singing 'Waterloo'. Fuck.

And then ?

Double fuck.

The lights in the place were blinding. The smoke in the air was making my throat dry up even more than it was already, but for some strange reason I didn't care. I was waving my arm above my head and croaking out the jumbled words to Abba's winning song. I was killing it ? slaughtering the poor song ? hanging it up and slitting its metaphorical throat.

About a third of the way through, I felt someone come behind me on the stage and begin to sing with me. I was overjoyed, and not a little zealous, to thank this person for becoming part of my act. I turned and stumbled into something warm and tall. I knew it was female because my face was pressed into some very impressive breasts. A laugh escaped as I stumbled back and looked up into ?pale ? blue ? eyes.

I froze.

The eyes had me.

The rabbit incident happened all over again. I don't know why I stepped away, maybe it was to focus my attention on the whole package, and not just those blue eyes gazing intently into my own.

Now this was the biggest mistake of them all. I know ? drinking alcohol as a minor, smoking pot, murdering an Abba song - they were mistakes, kind of ? but stepping back ? stepping backwards on a tiny stage and not paying attention ?

That's the show stealer.

I landed squarely on top of a table full of empty glasses, surrounded by amorous young men, ready for a woman to drop into their lives. Plastic glasses flew in all directions, my arse hitting the edge with enough velocity to tip the table forward and enable me to slide gracefully to the ground.

The music stopped. The room was silent for what seemed like an age. And then the laughter began. Raucous laughter that ricocheted off the walls and pounded in my befuddled ears. The room began to spin - not a good sign, especially because my stomach began to spin with it.

A concerned face hovered in front of me, and I struggled to control my wandering eyeballs, which decided to move on their own volition about the sockets.

They landed on blue eyes, twinkling blue eyes that captured me in a tractor beam gaze. I was transfixed. My body ceased to squirm, my eyeballs decided to behave and focus on this vision in front of me.

'Lou?' That voice. So familiar, yet so different. 'It is you, isn't it?' I couldn't answer ? I was struck mute by the situation, the alcohol, the pot, and her eyes. 'Louise Turner? It's you, isn't it?' Her hand came out and stroked my cheek, my eyes fluttering closed.

'Ash.' The word parted my lips in a gesture of hope. I couldn't believe it was her ? couldn't believe after all these years she would just pop into my world again.

'Yup ? in the flesh.' I opened one eye to focus on her, taking in her classic beauty again. My reaction to this vision was one I bet many of you have experienced at one time or another.

I threw up.

All over her.

In a bar full of people.

And then I threw up again.

I told you it was embarrassing, didn't I?


Chapter Six

Grey dawn peeked through the window and nearly blinded me. My eyes felt like red hot coals in snow. Not good.

The taste in my mouth was indescribable, as all the flavours that had spewed forth the previous night came back to haunt me. And I mean spewed ?

The bed I was in was big ? and not my own. And even in my state, I knew I wasn't alone. Shit. What had I done last night?

I tried to think ? but my brain was AWOL ? and the empty space where it should have been sitting was occupied by a full out drum section.

Mandy's. I was at Mandy's. It must be Mandy's bed I was curled up in, and that must be Mandy who is spooning up the back of me with her arm draped over my belly.

Just a minute ? spooning the back of me? With her arm around my middle?

A quick look under the covers told me I was undressed ? a t-shirt that obviously wasn't one of my own was covering my top half, but the bottom half was ? gulp ? naked. Shit ? again. What had I done last night?

Tentatively I turned around, fully expecting to see Mandy's ruffled brown hair on the pillow behind me.

But I was wrong ? oh, so wrong. The sight that greeted me was like a blast from the past. Long black hair cascaded over the pillow, a fine chiselled face angelic in sleep, the nose straight and perfect.

Older, yet still faultless.

Ashley Richards.

My eyes shot open at this revelation. I was half-naked in bed with Ashley Richards. Ash. My Ash. The Ash I hadn't seen for over ten years. And here I was, hung over, with the taste of dead kittens lingering around in my mouth. Shit ? big time.

To say I was embarrassed would be redundant, as images of me puking over her the previous night came gallivanting back into my mind. Not sick on her once ? but twice! How was I going to get away with that one? I wanted to get up, dress, and run. My wild eyes scanned the room, looking for my jeans and top from the previous night.

They weren't anywhere. Fuck.

The idea of going home with just the t-shirt on actually became an option at one point. But could I really do with all the stares on the bus? Well ?

'Morning, Lou.'

Too late! I took too long! I was caught now. Oh crap. I resigned myself to the situation, albeit unwillingly, and said the only thing that popped in my mind.

'Can I borrow a toothbrush?' Sweet, eh? I hadn't seen her for ten years and all I could manage to do was throw up all over her and then ask to borrow a toothbrush.

Her face broke out into an all out grin, white teeth shining in the morning's growing light. She threw her arms above her head, and I felt the loss of the contact immediately. She stretched , making a little mewling noise as she did so. 'Sure ? I'll just show you where the bathroom is and get you a toothbrush.' That smile again. 'I bet your mouth feels like crap, doesn't it?'

Could I go any redder? Nope. Not unless you dipped my head in ketchup.

'Come on then ? I'll show you.' With that, she leapt out of bed, exposing miles of naked legs. Did I say I couldn't go any redder?

I lied.


I spent ages in the bathroom. Ash had told me to grab a shower if I wanted one, and by one quick sniff of my skin, I decided she hadn't asked out of politeness.

The water was like a gift from the gods - cool on my over heated skin, the throbbing of the brass band in my head was calming to a dull roar. Minty toothpaste tried its very best to decompose the lingering tastes in my mouth ? and eventually I calmed it down enough to feel a little more confident about speaking to people.

I had been in the bathroom for a good forty minutes before I realised I was at Ash's house. I knew I was at Ash's house, what I meant to say was Ash's house - from when we were kids. I couldn't believe it. After all these years she was still in the same place where I had left her. I also couldn't believe I hadn't noticed where I was before that.

Blame the hangover.

A sense of sadness washed over me. Why hadn't I written to her? I had missed her so much in those ten years - I could have dropped her a note to tell her what had happened. I honestly can't tell you why I didn't ? I felt so stupid ? so shallow. The only excuse I could think of was that I had been only six at the time, and by the time I could have written to her, tried to find her or made some effort to try to contact her again, too much time had passed.

I wasn't even sure she'd remember me.

What must Ash think of me? What must she have thought when I just disappeared off the face of the earth one night and never even contacted her ? when she lived at the same fucking address she always had?

The sadness flopped into my gut, stopping the churning of misspent youth, and weighing heavily on my conscience. I sat on the toilet seat and put my head in my hands, trying to find some semblance of reason in my fucked up mind.

Then it dawned on me. Like a lightning bolt from the subconscious. Why hadn't she tried to find me? Unreasonable, I know, but anything to pass the buck.

I leaned back against the cool wood of the toilet seat and sucked in a breath. What was the point of going over past events? It wouldn't change anything, would it?

At least I had the opportunity to see her again ? like I always promised myself, but was too bloody lazy to do anything about. A grin split my face. I was here, in Ashley Richards' house, and she was just down the hallway from me. I had the opportunity to have her back in my life once again ? A bigger smile adorned my face.

'Lou? Are you okay in there?' Her voice was like nectar to my ears. I felt like I had been transported back ten years. 'I've made you a coffee ?'

'I'll be right there!' Then I quickly rubbed the towel through my long hair again, threw on the dressing gown she had given me, and opened the door to my future.

Ash. My Ash. Back in my life again.

What a day! What a bloody fantastic day!

Hangover forgotten, I nearly skipped down the hallway to my old friend's bedroom.


Over coffee, Ash told me about her life up to now. She was studying Law, Psychology, Social Sciences and Maths at A level, as she wanted to join the police force like her father. Well, she had the height for it; she must have been getting on for six foot if the length of her legs were anything to go by.

They went on for miles. I don't know what had possessed me that morning, but I had difficulty tearing my eyes from the long expanse of flesh sticking out from the bottom of her sleeping shorts.

Weird. I had never had the inclination to eye up another female's legs. But they were really long ? and I mean really long. Probably because mine are really short.

Time with her seemed to fly by, and we chatted about college courses with ease, but at the back of my mind I really wanted to tell her why I hadn't contacted her, why I hadn't had the chance to say goodbye.

The problem was, I didn't want to broach it ? it was still painful for many reasons. Luckily enough, I didn't have to.

'Sorry to hear about your parents splitting up.' My eyes shot up to her face, captured in the blueness of her eyes. Concern radiated from them ? and once again I felt her protectiveness, her willingness to take care of me ? just by her voice. 'It was a bit of surprise when I came round to get you the next day ?' a small laugh escaped her, and she shook her head from side to side.

'Did you speak to anyone?' My voice sounded small, childlike.

'Your dad, actually.' She shifted in her chair, and I could sense the unease pouring from her. 'He ? erm ? well let's just say he wasn't very forthcoming in giving too much away.'

'What did he say?' My voice was firmer now, and I could feel the hatred I had for my father welling up inside. Bastard. He had still found an opportunity to fuck up my life. No wonder she hadn't tried to find me. I know, I know ? she was only a child ? but I had to blame someone ? I had to try to rationalise what had happened.

Blue eyes looked at me nervously. 'It doesn't mat ?'

'What did he say?' The anger in my throat was choking me; I wanted to scream out for some reason. And this alone made me even more angry. After all these years, he could still get to me. Every time I thought of what he had done ? not just to me, but to us all ? especially my mum ? I couldn't seem to control my emotions.

'Look ? Lou. It's in the past.' As she said this, she leaned forward and placed her hand on my leg. The contact made me suck in my breath and I felt the fight leave just as quickly as it had arrived. 'Don't let him win.' Her voice was so soft, so caring, so Ash. How could I fight that?

My gaze drifted back down to her hand, which by now was making gentle circles on my thigh, and I could feel a sensation building inside my gut.

It wasn't a feeling one friend should have about another. Definitely not.

I jerked back on the chair to escape her touch, embarrassed with this sensation. My eyes drifted to her hand ? stopped ? and ? stared at the long tapering fingers moving serenely over my goosebumping flesh. I shook my head to break the gaze and then allowed my eyes to travel up to meet her face. Those blue orbs just escaped my bewildered look, as they slipped down to rest on the unconscious action of her hand.

Surprise unmasked and raw coated her face, only fleetingly, granted, but still there for the briefest of moments. Without warning, she snatched it away, curling the fingers into a pose of protectiveness, like she had be burned.

'Ash?' The questioning tone I used on her name focused her attention back on my face. Her eyes seemed troubled, like whirlpools. Troubled ? yes, that's the word to describe her look. She seemed troubled for some reason. I don't know why. 'What is it?'

It took less than a heartbeat to change her expression from perturbed to the face splitting grin she always had ready. A shrug of the shoulders, followed by a hard resounding slap on my leg was her next action. A familiar reaction between friends.

I laughed, although she had a good slap on her, my reddening leg living proof. The laughter seemed to break the amounting tension in the room, and it seemed to fit with the situation. Then she joined in, her eyes still seemed a little distant at first, but gradually became softer as the laughter took hold.

It was in this state of laughter that her previous words of comfort came crashing back into my mind.

She was right ? the past doesn't matter, it can only guide us to a better future. A learning process we needed to acknowledge before we could move on.

I decided to move on. And hopefully take Ash with me.


Chapter Seven

It wasn't long after that I got my clothes back (which she had kindly washed and dried because of the splattering of vomit that coated them), got dressed and found I didn't actually want to go home. It felt good being in her company once again.

But, I had to go. I had promised Jo I would go shopping with her, under duress of course. I hated shopping with her ? everything turned into a marathon. It was as if she was on a bet with God, and the bet was she could spot every bargain ? try on anything that remotely fitted her ? and piss me off in the process.

Nevertheless, I had promised. Even now, I can't contain the sigh that escapes when I think of shopping with my sister.

Ash and I exchanged addresses and phone numbers, and I distinctly remember folding the little sheet of paper so neatly and tucking it in the back pocket of my jeans ? it felt like an offering.

As I was leaving, her mum appeared. She didn't look a day older than I remembered - her hair was still jet black and long, just like Ash's. They were similar in appearance except for the eyes ? her mum's were grey, whereas Ash's were blue like her dad's.

'Well I never ? its little Lou Turner, isn't it?'

'In the flesh, Mrs Richards.'

'Well I never ? how long has it been? Ten ? eleven years?' As she was saying it, she was walking over to me, peering into my face just to make sure. I should've known what was coming next, but the years had been kind to me. Mrs Richards had a habit of nearly crushing the life out of you when she was happy, and then, to add insult to injury, she would pinch your cheeks and wobble the flesh up and down until your mouth made a farting sound.

Not a pretty sight ? or noise for that matter.

And it hurt like buggery ? but nevertheless ? it felt good to be remembered, and with such fondness too.

'You're not running off already are you? Stay for a cuppa.' She still had my face in a vice like grip and my answer came out like a wet fart. 'Soon then?' I looked at her wide-eyed. How on earth had she understood my answer? 'Come for tea one night, yes?'

I nodded, and then sighed with relief as she let go of her death grip on my cheeks, the blood had fled in fright, and I must have looked a vision with my pasty fingerprinted face surrounded by a big red blob.

'I'd love to.' As I answered, I automatically turned to face Ash, who was grinning idiotically behind my back.

'Tomorrow, then? Sunday tea?'

'I ? I ? well ?'

'Mum ? don't pressure the poor girl. She's probably got arrangements already, haven't you?'

'Well ? no, not really.'

'So you'll come then?'

There was no point arguing with her, so I just nodded, which gained me a huge smile from both of the Richards women. Women.


Ash was a woman.

That little girl of seven and three quarters was nearly eighteen. A woman.

Emotions flushed through me, happiness, sadness, maybe a little anger too. I had missed the ascent from childhood to adulthood, not just with Ash, but my own also. It is amazing how different your life becomes when one day it's all turned upside down for no fault of your own.

Ash's eyes clouded with concern at my expression, and I staved off the question I knew was bound to come with a beaming smile. Keeping my voice light, I answered, 'I'd love to.'



Stockport market was heaving with people. I can't tell you how many times I lost Jo amongst the crowds. She was like a spitfire, racing around the stalls, holding up the most hideous clothes to me and mouthing 'This will look great on you.'

Yeah ? when I'm dead. Then I wouldn't be able to argue about the shit colour and the crap style. At least it was more fashionable than the creations my mum used to pick out. Jo and I could tell what she was going to pick up even before my mum spotted it. It had to be multicoloured, or just a biddy colour, and preferably with a kitten looking wide eyed on the front ? ball of wool et al.

It makes my stomach churn just to think of it.

As I was saying, Jo was in her element picking up shite and measuring it against herself whilst I was looking my damndest to look alluring, propping myself up against the small wall at the side of the stall. I realise now I must have looked like a prostitute or just plain simple.

The beauty of youth, eh?

I was lost thought, mainly about Ash ? obviously, and didn't hear Jo's question the first time round.

'Oi ? gormless ? I'm talking to you!' My eyes shot up to meet the daggers my sister was throwing me. 'Returned from Never Never Land, have you?' I shrugged. I thought I was so cool ? you know what it's like ? never let your guard down in front of absolute strangers.

'What?' I went for bored, hoping she would take the hint, and take me home so I could lie on my bed and think whilst blasting the neighbours with music.

'I asked if you had a good night last night.' She looked me squarely in the eyes. It was funny, but I hadn't even mentioned to her about bumping into Ash, I don't know why. Maybe it was because I was embarrassed about how it all happened.

'It was okay, I suppose.' I looked somewhat sheepish at this point, and there's one thing you can't keep from my sister. That's it ? you can't keep one thing from her ? she could read me like a book.

'What happened?' The smile slipped from her face and I knew I was on the verge of being interrogated.

'Not much.'

'Really?' She laid the top over the rack and slowly stepped away. Shit. I knew what was coming now.

'Fancy a coffee?' Here we go ? her perfect interrogation technique was underway. She always thought I would crumble if she took me to a café and bought me a coffee.

Funny thing was ? I did.


I didn't expect laughter. What I did expect was a thorough telling off. Especially for smoking pot. She surprised me by laughing, loudly, and pointing her finger at me. When I told her about falling off the stage, then throwing up, she laughed even harder, spluttering words along the lines of me deserving everything I got.

It was strange to watch the total change in her when I mentioned I had met Ash again; and that I had slept over at her house.

She was silent. All the laughter and finger pointing ceased. I didn't get it. One minute laughing: the next, stony silence.

'Are you going to see her again?' The question was so quiet, I had to strain to hear it.

'Well ? erm ? her ? erm?' Why was I acting like a dick head? Why did it bother me that Jo didn't like Ash?

'Are you ? or aren't you?' Clipped words.

'Yes ... erm ? Ash's mum invited me for tea tomorrow.' I looked at her, my eyes wide, one eyebrow raised, and my mouth slightly open. I did look slightly simple, but I think I was waiting for her to say something.

She didn't. She just got up and paid the bill. It was only when she had nearly reached the door that she turned to me, flashed me a huge grin and said, 'Come on lard arse. There's bargains to get.'

I shuffled under the table to collect the three carrier bags of hers she already had me carrying, and scuttled after her.

I had a grin plastered on my face, but underneath I was confused, and a little intrigued. I couldn't help but wonder again why Jo seemed to put a distance between my friendship with Ash and my relationship with her.

Maybe one day I would get to the truth.


Chapter Eight

Sunday tea is always a good tea isn't it. It's the time where you have the opportunity to go all out and make something nice. Now, personally, I love my mum's roast dinners, although my dad (yes ? he's my dad) is the chef. I think it's what you get used to really.

But Sunday tea is still a time where the family get together, and share stories. In my family, we always told stories of the past ? the funny ones ? especially stories about what we did as kids. I used to love those teas ? erm ? still do, in fact. It's tradition. Eat sandwiches and cake, drink bucket loads of tea, and laugh at each other.


Now to miss Sunday tea at our house there had to be a good reason. Near death experience was okay, as long as you had a doctor's certificate ? But general pissing off to see your mates was a no no. It was family time - or as my sister Angie always says (and this is enough to fuck anyone off) 'Quality Time' sounding more and more like a Hallmark greeting card.

I wanted to go to Ash's for tea. Obviously. My parents wanted me there. Obviously. Therefore, there was no competition.

I was going to Ash's ? come hail or high water ? I was going to her house for tea.

Stuff the consequences.

Initially my mum just gave me the look. Instead of explaining, I did what all teenagers did best.

I went 'into one'. Having a paddy ? as my mum always said. I ranted and raved about never having any freedom, and when were they going to realise I was an adult. Mum just shot me another look, daring me to continue.

I'd had enough, and stomped up the stairs, making sure I banged every door on the way. Twice.

After throwing myself on the bed, burying my head in the pillow, and screaming into aforementioned pillow about how unfair my life was, how everyone was out to get me, I did the next best thing teenagers do.

I fell asleep.

It seemed like I had been asleep for hours, although it was more like forty-five minutes, I awoke to a gentle shaking of my shoulder. My head was still buried in the pillow, and for a split second, I thought I had gone blind.

Then unreasonable teenage angst traded places with fear of a life in the dark, as I remembered why I was in that position in the first place.

Muffled warnings about being left alone to grow old and fester in my room, escaped from the confines of the pillow.

'You can go ? I've explained.' Jo. But ?Jo? Jo didn't like Ash. Why would she explain for me? 'Mum said you can go to Ash's, but to make sure you are back before ten.'

Ten! I didn't care I had a curfew ? that would leave me plenty of time to get to know my old friend again.

I turned over, leaving the pillow slightly damp from where I had drooled. Jo was sat on the edge of the bed looking at me with some concern. All the love I felt for her raced to the surface, and I threw my arms about her. 'You're a star, Jo. An absolute star!'

I could feel her smile on my shoulder as I hugged her senseless. Once again, my sister had gone out of her way to make me happy, knowing I was too awkward to do anything about the situation myself ? knowing I was too much like a typical teenager to back down and talk about things reasonably.

Then a doubt crept into my mind. Why would she do that so I could see someone she visibly didn't like? Confusion masked my features until a thought poked itself into my brain.

Because she loves you, dumb ass.

Once again, I felt my face crack open into a grin.

And I love her too. Wouldn't you?


Tea at Ash's house was exactly like ours. There was a huge spread laid out, and even though my stomach was in knots, for some unknown reason, I still could eat half of what was there.

All the family were present. Anthony, Stephen, Ash's mum and dad. Stephen had brought his girlfriend for tea and she sat, quietly, in the corner of the front room watching every move he made.

It seemed like yesterday when I had last been with this family. They all greeted me like an old friend, which of course I was, and made me feel like part of the family.

Tracy, Stephen's girlfriend, just sat there taking in the scene unfolding in front of her, her faced shouted suspicion, but her lips just became thinner and thinner. I was introduced as the long lost family member and she stuck out her hand in gesture, but the sentiment never reached her eyes.

Nobody else noticed but me. Ash was too busy running around finalising the spread; her parents were poking fun at her shouting 'Faster Ash! Faster!' and the lads were talking about football.

It was just me and Tracy.


She looked over her shoulder to make sure nobody was watching, gripped my hand tighter and pulled me closer to her. A harsh whisper spat out of her mouth, 'Keep your fucking hands off Stephen.'

Uh? What the hell had brought that on?

It was only half way through tea that the penny actually dropped - well fell, clinking and cluttering on top of the table in front of me. By all accounts they had all been ribbing Stephen before I came round about how he had had a crush on me when we were kids. He had been nearly nine then, and I couldn't believe his girlfriend had reacted in such a way.

What a gormless mare.

I had to put up with glaring looks from her, the Child Catcher, when all I wanted to do was take her outside and slap her around for a bit. All because Stephen used to have a crush on me ten years ago.

I mean - ten years!

How sad is that?

But my attention was taken as my eyes drifted on their own volition over to Ash time and time again. It was so good to be back with her and her family after all these years, and for some strange reason it didn't seem like I had been away.

It was the same chitchat; the same ribbing, joking and love bouncing back and forth to each member of the family.

I felt reborn.

And it felt good.

Stories were thrown around of childhood experiences ? times that made us all flush with embarrassment. Ash even told the story of how I'd got my foot caught in the flared bottoms of my jeans and I had somersaulted arse over tit and landed, ungraciously, in a heap in the middle of the playing field.

God ? I loved those jeans. Pale blue with embroidery of cornflowers growing up each leg.

Pure class.

Before I knew it, we were clearing the pots away and stacking them in the kitchen ready to wash. The whole family joined in, me included. The only one who didn't help was Tracy, which was no surprise. She just plonked herself back onto the chair and picked up the Sunday supplement from the newspaper and began flicking through the pages.

Everyone took turns giving her a look as they passed, but she didn't pay any attention to them, just carried on turning the pages and ignoring us all. I honestly couldn't see what Stephen saw in her. She was nothing to look at, and he was gorgeous. Tall, with raven black hair that seemed tousled in his boyish way. His eyes were a darker blue than Ash's but still intense ? although they didn't catch the sunlight like hers did.

I caught myself staring. Not at Stephen ? at Ash. She was so beautiful, and had a body to die for, although that rather defeats the purpose I suppose. Every movement she made seemed effortless ? almost like she was a dancer on stage, captivating her audience with her graceful way.

And she was only washing up!

I stood there with the tea towel in my hand, gawping at her ? mouth open ? the works.

'Ah ? we have a fly catcher amongst us.'

Ash's dad had decided to come and stand directly in my line of vision and make a smart arsed comment. I can vividly remember ducking my head to the side to continue to watch, and then feel embarrassed for some reason.

Funny how memories go. I can't really remember much else apart from embarrassment ? the scarlet sheen my face had adopted more than compensated for the memory lapse, and the voices around me took on a definite burring quality.

The next thing I recall was a pair of twinkling blue eyes looking into my own and a firm hand on my arm. Her voice swept through me ? caring tones ? soothing tones ? I looked at her, startled back into reality, and flushed even harder.

If that is possible.

'I have ?' A cough to relieve all the emotion in my voice, changing it from a high-pitched squeak to a tenor with a cold. 'I have to go ? I have to get home.' Why did I lie? It was only eight o'clock, and I still had two hours before curfew.

Worst thing was ? Ash knew this. She looked at me slightly puzzled and her face dropped ? just a little ? but it dropped all the same.

A nod. Swift and sure. She turned around, her back was my only view. 'Okay ? Will you be all right getting back?' She sounded different somehow ? distant for some reason. 'I can get Stephen to run you home if you want ? Tracy will have to lump it.'

'I'm fine ? honestly ? I can walk ?' She turned around so quickly, my eyes spun in their sockets trying to focus.

'You'll do no such thing! Stephen! Stephen!' And she was off, racing into the front room, leaving me standing there in her kitchen like a lemon.

Thirty seconds later, she was back, her grin splitting her face. 'Sorted. Stephen said he'll take you at nine.' I looked at her squarely in the eyes. She cocked her head at me, one eyebrow raised in challenge. 'And you'll still be early.' Her expression begged me to argue with her ? but I was no fool.

Not then anyway.

We spent the next hour in her room, sprawled on her bed, her music blasting from her record player. Every teenager's dream ? loud music and idle chatter. Ash had Yazoo's Upstairs at Eric's playing and we were lying on our backs staring at the ceiling. I had listened to the album before, as it was already a couple of years old, but hadn't really paid it much attention before now.

Then I heard it.

The song.

The song.

Alison Moyet's pure and sensuous voice filtered through the gloom of Ash's room as 'Only You' started.

Looking through the window above
It's like story of love
Can you hear me?
Came back only yesterday ?

And all I ever knew
Only you ?

I felt my heart open and then ? crack ? a splintering splitting noise reverberated through me ?

All I ever needed was the love you gave
All I needed for another day ?

'Lou? Lou? Are you alright?' I snapped myself into consciousness, now fully aware I was sitting bolt upright, my hands balled into fists, the covers of her bed wrapped firmly within my grip. My knuckles white and nails were jabbing into the sensitive flesh of my palms.

For a reason I had no clue about. 'Are you ?'

'I'm fine, Ash ? honestly ? just felt a little bit of cramp coming ? it's gone now.' Her face was so full of concern, and I felt like a git lying ? again ? to her. What was wrong with me? I had developed a deep-rooted need to lie through my teeth.

The song had finished and the next one on the album had started. I couldn't concentrate on the lyrics, as I felt slightly dazed by emotion. It was confusing, to say the least. How on earth ? or should I say, why on earth had I reacted in that way to a song? I had heard it hundreds of times before and ? nothing.

Fifteen minutes later I was in Stephen's beat up Ford Escort, Tracy in the front ? glaring at me ? her eyes screaming 'Fucker!' but her face oozed anxiety at my predicament of being without either a car, or a boyfriend with a car. At least I understood why she was such a troll. A fucking shallow one at that.

I left Ash with a promise of getting in contact in the week; maybe have lunch if our timetables allowed it. She waved vigorously from her doorway, and was still there as her brother's car turned the corner.

I settled down into the back seat.

What a day? Or evening ? I should say. I made a promise to myself to buy Yazoo's album. I don't know why. Especially after my earlier reaction. It just seemed the right thing to do.

But being a teenager at college, money was scarce ? So, I decided to get myself a Saturday job ? up the coffers a little bit. It would do me good to have a bit of cash to spend on things. And the sacrifice on part of my free time seemed a small price to pay for a little bit of monetary freedom.

Bugger. I hated work ? although it does fascinate me. I could, without doubt, watch it all day.


Chapter Nine

The week flew by in a blur, and I hadn't seen Ash at all. This was mainly due to me avoiding all of the usual haunts, and telling mum I was too busy to take messages when she called ? twice.

I felt bad. I don't know why ? and I didn't know why I was avoiding her. I wanted to see her ? really wanted to meet with her for lunch, become part of her circle of friends ? get to know her again.

Then another week passed. This time with no phone calls ? and I was withdrawing more and more into my own little world. I still had friends, but for some reason they didn't seem to be enough. I didn't see Ash at college, but strangely enough, I saw Tracy six times.

Six fucking times!

Each time was an experience, to say the least. Each time made my skin crawl as if I had scabies. A bunch of cronies sporting bad mullets and peroxide blonde fringes always flagged her. How cool is that? Lacy tops showed wife beater t-shirts underneath, and scrawny white arms reflected fluorescent lighting.

In a word - trashy.

I ignored her snide remarks as I passed, but swore one day to paste the living crap out of her. She was trying to intimidate me, thinking I was scared of her. If she only knew the thing that scared me the most was her smile ? now that was freaky. Black kohl pencilled eyes showed a blankness that belied reason. She appeared to have the intelligence of an amoeba ? and the sexual lure. God only knew what Stephen saw in her.

But I didn't care about Tracy ? oh no. It paled in comparison to how I was missing Ash. The pain I had experienced as a child when I had lost her seemed to disappear when I realised how much I missed her now. And I had only seen her twice.

The third time came on the Friday afternoon.

Now there's a memory. Even better than the rabbit incident ? the treatment night and Alan's dancing ? even the free glass of lemonade. Although the overall effect combined caused more fear, laughter and embarrassment than the previous three memories put together.

Do you want to hear it? Tough ? you've got this far ? now deal.

I had just finished A level English and was making my way out of the door, chatting with Sue, another student, when I heard my name being called above the din. I couldn't mistake that rich alto voice.


I turned to see her fighting against the tide trying to get to me. Students shoved and mumbled as she ducked past them, her eyes never leaving mine ? like a tractor beam luring me to her.

I just stood there. Transfixed. Waiting for the ear bashing she was going to give me. I did feel guilty for ignoring her phone calls and the messages to call back.

That wasn't all I was feeling.


Not by a long shot.

Adrenalin pumped through my veins as I stood there waiting for her to get to me. It must have been less than a minute, but it seemed like a lifetime before she was standing, grinning, in front of me, making my heart bounce around trapped within my rib cage. I think it was in fear ? or ? I don't know ? it was just there like a tennis ball rebounding and punching the inside of my chest.

'Hello stranger.' That voice could melt butter straight from the fridge.

Hold on a minute!

Melt butter straight from the fridge? Where the fuck did that come from?

I just stood there and grinned like a Cheshire cat ? clearly the simple looking grimacing beetroot one you don't usually come across in the illustrations for the children's book. I started to nod, my mouth opening and closing, words escaping me and the only sound was that of a captured fish.

She just stared at me, the grin fixed on her face in genuine affection, waiting for my dumb brain to acknowledge her with a simple hello.

When it didn't come, she shifted nervously, the smile leaving her face briefly, but coming back twice as powerful. 'Where've you been? I've called a couple of times ? left messages ?'

Thankfully, the mute spell that had bewitched me, lifted, and I spluttered out an incomprehensible excuse, which only made her grin wider and grab hold of me in a bone-crushing hug.

'Oh ? I've missed you, Lou. Don't ask me why ? but I have.' Her breath tangled in my hair and brushed my cheek. Her arms were strong and I felt the feeling of safety cascade down my whole body ? like I always did when I was with her.

She pulled back and released me, the air of the corridor bouncing off my skin like an alien concept. I missed her closeness for some unknown reason. Weird, I know ? but I did.

'Fancy a coffee?' I started to say no, but the look on her face made my resolve drift away. I couldn't remember why I was avoiding her in the first place. Come to think of it ? why was I avoiding her?

'Love to.' I didn't want to analyse the reason for a teenagers whims ? I must have had a good reason, but for the life of me I couldn't think of it now. All I could think of was the enchanting look on her face; the crooked smile playing on her lips, an eyebrow lifted in question as she waited for my response.

And maybe that was the reason ?

And maybe I should have said no and walked away ?

And maybe I wouldn't have experienced the combination of rabbits ? Derbac ? and lemonade all rolled into one.

Well ? maybes don't build experiences ? and I was on a one-way trip to Experience Land.



The canteen, or refectory as some sad git called it, was packed, and we had to scrunch up in the corner with hot chocolates in polystyrene cups. A couple of art students were sitting opposite us with the traditional dyed black hair, makeup that would make Alice Cooper blush, and pasty white skin. They were giggling and religiously touching each other ? quite inappropriately for a college canteen ? erm ? refectory.

Boys today, eh?

It was a bit of an eye opener that's for sure.

Before long, I had forgotten about why I had tried to avoid Ash and just glowed in her presence. She gabbled on about her courses, what she had been up to, whilst I barely said a word. I was content just to sit in her shadow and soak up all that was her.

It was such a wonderful feeling ? intense ? but wonderful. The smile on my face grew wider and wider as she entertained me about some sad bastard on her course that couldn't even make a cup of tea without adult supervision. He wanted to be a Solicitor ? and couldn't even work the washing machine. I felt sorry for his future clients.

Within thirty minutes, I was laughing aloud at her antics, and was finding it increasingly difficult to breath. My chest ached with laughter ? and with something else, which at that time I didn't want to put a name to. Well ? not as much didn't, as couldn't.

I can't tell you how long we sat engrossed in conversation, but I could distinctly feel the canteen empty ? the touchy feely boys had long since gone, and then it was just me and Ash ? again.

'What are you doing tonight? Are you free?' She leaned forward and looked me squarely in the face. 'Me and a few friends are thinking about going to the Student's Union ? they've got a Karaoke night on.' Still, she watched for any signs of refusal.

But that was the last thing in my mind at that moment. I was caught by her eyes ? I felt the room melt into nothing as I just sat there and stared at her eyes ? transfixed by them ? pulled into her by them ? feeling emotions one friend shouldn't be feeling for another.

She didn't back away. Her body leaned half way over the table and she just kept on staring ? waiting ? and if I wasn't mistaken ?

'Excuse me, ladies.'

Was that voice in my head? That rich, deep voice?

Neither Ash or I moved ? or blinked.

A cough.

Then another ? louder ? more insistent.

Ash leaned back into her chair, her face slowly changing from the absorbed look from moments before, to wield a mask of slight confusion, her eyes squinting slightly as she searched my face for answers.

'Ash?' That voice again. 'Have you forgotten our date?'

The sound of brakes screeching to a halt in my chest nearly deafened me. The room seemed to grow terribly small and I grew huge and very exposed. Ash just blinked once and broke our gaze. Her eyes swung around to rest on the person standing next to our table.

'Ben. Hi.' My eyes followed hers, and took in the tall man standing, and slightly leaning towards Ash. And like a female, I digested everything about him. The blonde hair ? green eyes ? the solid build of his body ? the tight fitting t-shirt that left nothing to the imagination. Which kind of fit in nicely with the tightness of his jeans ?

But it wasn't attraction I was feeling ? not by a huge stretch of the imagination.


It was something I wasn't used to. Never experienced before this moment.

It was jealousy. The anger at being interrupted I had felt before. But jealousy? Definitely a new sensation, and to be perfectly honest, I didn't like the way it made me feel.

I sat there and watched him lean over me and kiss Ash on the mouth ? on her lips ? in front of me ? on the lips. The kiss was featherlike, and lasted all of a split second, but I felt it ? and not in a nice way.

Ben still leaned across in front of me, and tried to stroke the side of Ash's face, but I saw her pull back, only slightly, but she did pull back. I felt a smirk flit across my lips and had the urge to stick my tongue out at his back. Either he didn't notice, or he was trying to ignore it.

'This is Lou ? a very good friend of mine. Ben ? say hello.' He turned his head around to look at me ? but his eyes only rested briefly on my face as they travelled slowly down my body, only to rest on my breasts and then travel back up to my face again. I felt like I had been visibly undressed ? almost an optical rape. Whatever did Ash see in a wanker like that?

'Well ? hello there.' What a creep. He stuck his hand into my face and I lifted mine in greeting - I was well trained after all. Then the slimy fucker kissed me on the knuckles. I wanted to backhand right across the mouth. Instead I ripped my hand away from his lips and gave him a look that could pickle testicles.

Ash looked at me, and I'm sure I saw the remnants of a smile flicker across her face, but she didn't say anything.

'Feisty little creature aren't you.' God ? could this bloke be anymore like a twat? 'I like feisty.'

Yes. He could.

'Glad you two have met.' That flicker again. 'I was just asking Lou to join us tonight.' Her face turned to me in question, and I was just about to refuse when I spotted a fleeting look of pleading swipe across Ash's face.

'I'd love to.'

Where on earth had that come from? I didn't want to spend my evening being leered at by this jerk.

But I did want to spend the evening with Ash.

And that is what it all boils down to isn't it?

The smile she bestowed on me actually illuminated the whole room. Whatever doubts I harboured were all sent whistling into the wind.

Not the experience you were expecting, is it? No. Well I haven't got to that part yet ? give me time.


We arranged to meet inside the Student's Union at seven thirty, and at seven fifteen, I was nervously waiting outside, plucking up the courage just to go in.

For the tenth time I smoothed down my top and ran my hands along my jeans. For the tenth time I licked my lips bringing them to shine. For the tenth time I tried to make my breathing slow down, as I imitated a cross between an asthma attack and a panic attack.

And a little bit of hyperventilating for good measure.

Finally, I entered the lobby to be greeted by the smell of pot. As it drifted up my nose, images of me sprawled on the floor, after falling off the stage, danced about in my head.

I felt my face burn up. Christ ? it had only been two weeks ago. I hoped no one would remember ?

'Look ? it's Agnetha!'


I felt my face burn again, and smiled weakly at the group of lads seated around the stage. The same group of lads who I had landed on two weeks previously.

I think.

I made my way to the bar and tried to hide in the darkest corner. Hopefully my face would return to a more natural sheen after I had been served my coke by the truly inept bartender who was more likely better equipped to serve chips in Mac Donald's ? or not ? as he would definitely fail the health and hygiene test.

After securing my drink, and pushing drunken students off me, I scanned the room looking for Ash. It was dark and smoky, and my eyes worked hard acclimatising to the gloom, especially because the bar area was bright enough to nearly cause a tan.

I could feel her rather than see her. Feel her eyes on me.

Slowly I turned to look behind me. And there she was ? half standing, as if she had just started to get up from her chair. Her eyes focused straight on me and she looked dazed for some reason. Ben, the dickhead, was next to her, but when he went to grab her hand, she pulled it sharply away from him ? her eyes never leaving mine.

It felt weird. Tingles spread up my spine, and for some reason I was beginning to become uncomfortable. So, I waved at her.

No response.

I waved again.

Still no response.

So I began to walk over, feeling a little self-conscious by this point, but pasting a smile on my face to hide the tumultuous emotions racing around inside. I couldn't understand why my heart was roaring inside my chest so loudly I believed everyone could hear it.

Then I saw her shake her head ? just a little shake ? but a shake nevertheless. Her eyes lost the glassiness and began to squint a little. It was my cue to make contact ? so ? I waved again and did the cheesy 'Hi' thing.

This time her face broke out into a grin and I smiled in return, the uncomfortable feeling disappearing, but it was replaced with a feeling of excitement as I approached the table. Ben was eyeing me up and down and I wanted to tell him to fuck off ? but evidently, I'm too much of a lady.

It wasn't until I actually reached the table that I realised the other people around it were Stephen and Tracy. Shit. I liked Stephen ? but Tracy? Christ ? could my night get any worse.


It was fun. Well ? for the most part anyway. I enjoyed being in Ash and Stephen's company, but little could be said about the other two. Ben was an out and out wanker ? I couldn't see what Ash saw in him. All he did all night was hit on girls in the bar. Funny thing was, Ash didn't seem to mind! I'd have gone bonkers.

As for Tracy ? well you know my views on her. She is what is commonly known as a 'Twattette', and spent most of the evening glaring in my direction whilst sipping a Pernod and black. How common. She didn't even realise she had red lines up the side of her face (made by the blackcurrant as she drank) making her look like either the Joker or the Count from Sesame Street.

Funny ? nobody could be arsed telling her. She sat there like Lady Muck from Turd Hall thinking she was something she most certainly wasn't, looking for all the world like she would suddenly shout out 'One Pernod and black ahahahah ? Two Pernod and blacks ?' You get the message.

It's a pity she didn't.

And I for one most certainly wasn't going to be the one to tell her. I know ? but honestly ? would you?

It wasn't until the end of the night that the experience happened ? remember ? the one I threatened you with earlier.

I had just gone to the phone booth to call my parents to say I would be leaving in about twenty minutes and would be on the next bus home, when it all kicked off.

I should have seen it coming, but I didn't.

I should have known she would do something, but let's put it down to the innocence of youth ? or just plain stupidity.

And I should have been paying attention instead of rummaging around in my purse looking for change for the bus.

Silly me.

'Think you're so fucking clever don't you?' Tracy. 'I bet you were laughing at me all night?' She came out of the shadows and came closer to me; her face was devoid of blackcurrant by now. 'I'll fucking teach you.'


In retrospect I should have ducked. In retrospect ? I should have smacked her back ? but I didn't.

Do you know why?


I didn't smack her back because I didn't have to.

Ash did.

Right in her blackcurrant gobbling mouth.

Now for the embarrassing thing ?

'Why the fuck did you do that? I don't need you to fight my battles!'

Ash looked stunned ? more stunned than Tracy, who was on the floor nursing her face by this point. 'But I ?'

'But you what? Think I can't look after myself?'

The bar had gone completely quiet, and I knew people were staring at us ? at me in particular. Someone came up behind me and I felt my whole body tense. A deep male voice spoke firmly into my ear. 'I think it is time to go, love.'

It was the bouncer. And he didn't sound pleased, and neither was I for that matter. I was getting kicked out for doing absolutely nothing, whilst Tracy was being helped up by a member of staff and Ash just stared at me, her face pale.

'But I didn't do anything ?' My voice sounded whining even to my ears.

'It doesn't matter, love ? it's for the best.'

Ash tried to interrupt and tell them what had happened, but I rounded on her, the tone definitely one of anger.

'Look! However hard it is to believe ? I've grown up, Ash ? I'm not a child anymore for Christ's sake.'

With that, I turned and marched away, but not before I heard Ash mumble something. I don't know what she meant, or even if I heard right, but it sounded like 'I've noticed.'

It's a pity she only figured that out when I had given her a mouthful.


Chapter Ten

I spent the whole of Saturday kicking myself ? and wishing I was kicking Tracy instead.

I was at work ? the crappiest job this side of the Pennines. I worked as an assistant on Stockport market, serving cooked meats. It wasn't the cooked meats that were disgusting ? it was the smell of the indoor market.

Fuck me. It was gross.

Imagine the smell of curdled milk mixed with the smell of a cow's stomach lining. Yep ? totally disgusting. Inside the market cheese, tripe, eggs, and cooked meats were served to people who obviously had no sense of smell. It always took me at least thirty minutes to acclimatize myself to it, and this was only my second Saturday.

I worked with six other girls and one lad who was solely in charge of the meat slicer. Very glamorous. It was a long day, nine and a half hours on our feet, and we only got half hour for lunch, which we took in pairs.

I got on with most of the girls, but one girl, Sarah, really stood out from the crowd. Strangely enough, she had taken me under her wing, and for the two weeks I had worked there, we had taken our dinner together.

As I said before, I was pissed off, and Sarah noticed. She kept on asking if I was okay ? if I wanted to talk about it. Each time I turned her down ? I was just angry about things ? about Tracy ? about Ash. All this in between serving people whose main concern was how much sliced ham they would need for Sunday tea.

Lunchtime couldn't come quick enough, and I grabbed my sandwich and bottle of orange, and made my way to the locker room to get out of my overall ? which by this time stunk to high heaven of sour milk and fat.

Sarah was right behind me, and neither of us said a word as we made our way into St Mary's churchyard, where we ate our lunch and looked over Stockport.

It was amazing how quiet it was there. We were completely on our own as we munched our lunch and stared over the hills, the rest of the market din was like a distant memory.

'Do you want to talk about it?' Sarah's voice was low, almost non-existent. And if I hadn't be looking at her at the time I would have missed it entirely.

'There's nothing to tell.'

Sarah looked up from her sandwich and into my eyes. She had blue eyes ? a little like Ash's ? but darker. I felt an ache skip across my chest, and without thinking raised my hand to it and rubbed, all the while staring into Sarah's eyes.

I can't tell you how long we just looked at each other ? but it was as if I was transfixed by the blueness.

'Are you free tonight?' A pause before she continued. 'I was wondering if you fancied going to the pictures or something.' I still held her gaze, and nearly a minute went by before ?

'I'd love to.' My voice seemed distant. Almost as distant as the sounds of the market.

A smile broke out on her face and mine followed suit. 'We'd better get back before they send out a search party.'

I nodded, scrunched up my sandwich wrapper before finishing the last dregs of my orange, stood up and waited for Sarah to join me.

I was still annoyed about last night, and I hadn't heard from Ash ? but ? I had a feeling tonight was going to be more interesting.


I met Sarah outside the pictures at 7 pm. We were going to see A Nightmare on Elm Street, which was an 18, and I was only sixteen (nearly seventeen though). Sarah was okay, as she had turned eighteen in July.

There wasn't a problem getting in, as the boy on the desk looked younger than me ? and his acne ? I won't go there in case you're eating.

We made our way into the darkened cinema, the adverts were blaring out Pearl and Dean's memorable tune, as adverts flashed on and off the screen promoting a mixture of crap and shite ? in that order.

I did a double take as Sarah struggled along the back row, past all of the teenagers who were already snogging before the main feature began, but I just followed behind her, whispering 'Excuse mes' and 'Sorrys' as I tripped over extended legs, trying to duck at the same time. It was not as if they were actually watching the film ? but I felt a little unnerved to say the least.

Finally, Sarah settled into a chair that had a couple of empty chairs around us, and she patted the seat next to her, her blue eyes glowing in reflection of the lights from the screen. I think she knew I was going to sit in the chair that would leave an empty one between us. Don't ask me why ? I just ? felt ? like ? I should for some reason or another.

Before long, the film was underway. And I was not happy. Freddy Krueger frightened the shit out of me ? and not just because of his exceptionally bad taste in stripy tops either. I felt the fear of the characters grip me around the throat, and was scared I was going to fall asleep later and see the melted faced freak coming at me. Sarah seemed cool about all the blood, and asked if I was all right on more than one occasion.

As it approached the end, and nearly all of the characters had copped their lot in one way or another, I could feel the fear climbing up my throat. I had never been one for scary movies, and this was in a class of its own on the fear factor. Seeing the young lad trying to escape something that, to me, seemed inescapable, was playing on my nerves. It took me quite a while to realise I was actually holding Sarah's hand.

The only reason how I realised I was, was the way she smiled at me, and raised an eyebrow when I turned to see her reaction to a particularly gruesome bit. My face must have showed confusion, as she nodded to where my hand was resting on her thigh, totally ensconced in her own.

I looked back at her and was just about to apologise and pull away, when she smiled at me, moved closer until she was firmly pressed against my side, and began to stroke the back of my hand with her thumb. I should have felt disgusted ? a woman was holding my hand, and not in a way friends would usually hold each other's hands, if you know what I mean.

However, I wasn't disgusted. Far from it in fact. I felt a growing excitement build in my gut ? the same excitement I felt every time I thought of Ash ? and her smile ? and her eyes.

Shit ? I didn't know what this meant. Was I gay then? A lesbian?

But I had never ?

Me? Gay? A lezza? A dyke? A queer?

Nah ? I wasn't one of those ? was I? I had been with lads, not ? erm ? like ? all the way ? you know ? but I did fancy lads ? didn't I?

'Are you all right, Lou?' Sarah's face was close to mine and I had an urge to kiss her ? on her mouth ? her lips ? taste her lipstick ? slip my tongue ? fuck.

'Ahem ? yeah ? yeah ? fine.' My face was incandescent. I could feel the glow race around my body, shouting to all who were listening 'Lou's a lezza! Lou's a lezza!'

'Why are you sitting forward like that? Sit back ? come on ? enjoy it.'

What? Enjoy what? Shit! Did she know? Fuck! Was she a lezza too?

As these thoughts trotted around my mind, going to every corner of that grey matter asking for directions, I could feel Sarah's arm sneaking around my back. I could also feel myself stiffen at her touch.

'Hey, Lou ? it's okay ? it's okay ?' Her voice was soothing ? sweet and soft ? and I drifted back into my seat, with her arm around my shoulders and her hand in mine.

We sat this way until the end credits, which by this stage came all too soon.


Sarah had her own car, and had passed her test in the summer. It wasn't anything special, just a old Mini, but at least she had transport. When she asked if I would like a lift home, doubt flooded my mind once again.

Did I want to get in the car ? alone ? with her? What if she ? if I ? if we ?

Never mind. To cut a long story short, I got a lift. Sarah was easy to talk to, and we laughed a great deal on the way home. She was a student at Manchester Uni, and she worked two jobs as well ? one on the market, and one in a pub on a Thursday night. My expression must have said it all ? how on earth could she work on a Thursday when she had to get up for Uni?

She explained student life at the higher level was less demanding. More focus was placed on independent learning, and students didn't have to be there all the time.

And the added bonus was ? she never mentioned the hand holding incident ? or the arm around my shoulders. But ? I honestly didn't know my arse from my elbow by the time we reached the top of my road. Not that I usually do ? but still ? I was becoming confused.

She pulled up on the side road, as my house was on a corner, and turned her ignition off. If you had been there I guarantee you would have heard my heart rate build up and up and up. The silence in the car was making screeching noises ? and was finally put in its place by the thudding in my chest ? gut ? and maybe even a little bit lower. The blood gushing in my ears was beginning to become a problem, especially when I had to ask Sarah to repeat what she had just said.

A sheepish smile flittered across her face, and she cast her eyes down to her lap before raising them to meet my own.

'I said ? I've had a lovely night tonight ? and thank you.' The smile danced along the corners of her lips ? not a crooked one ? but still quite charming in its own way.

'Same here ?'

'Could we ? would you ? erm ? like to do it again ? erm ? sometime?' Why was she so nervous, said me, who had an entire butterfly collection fluttering around in my gut?

'I'd love to.' Her face broke out into a grin and she bit her lip whilst bobbing her head up and down ?

'Good ? good ?' I just watched her, transfixed by this woman seated next to me, watching the lights from the street lamps do wonders with her eyes ? making them glisten and sparkle ? although they didn't twinkle ? I had only ever met one person who's eyes twinkled.

But this is not the time to be thinking about her, is it?

I was sat in a car with Sarah. Not Ash. Sarah.

I looked at her, sat there, staring ahead at the quiet road and really digested this girl who was here with me. She was pretty ? very pretty in fact. Her hair was darker in this light, but it was usually a dark brown. Her face had an angelic quality; her skin smooth and clear. Her lips, although slightly parted, still held a slight plumpness ? and looked soft ? and tender.

Shit. I was a lezza. Why else would I be thinking about how soft and tender her lips were?

Crap. That's all I needed.

But she was so pretty ?

My thoughts were interrupted by a movement ? from Sarah. She had turned herself to face me, and her expression held a question. Obviously, being a wuss, I thought this was the time to make my excuses and leave.

'Well ? I had best get gone. I've really enjoyed myself tonight.'

'Lou?' Her voice stopped my escape, and I turned to look at her once again. 'I've had a lovely time tonight ? really lovely. In fact ?'

At this point, she leaned towards me, and I leaned back on the door, willing it to open and let me out. I saw her come closer and then ?pull back, her face seemed to show the confusion I was feeling. All my senses were in overdrive. I could smell her perfume: it was intoxicating. I could hear my blood whistling through my veins, racing to parts that shall be left unmentioned.

And I could see this situation getting out of hand if I didn't do something ? and quick.

So I did.

I leaned forward and planted my lips to hers, quite clumsily at first, and I think I took her by surprise ? and that made the both of us. I could taste her lipstick in my mouth as I kissed her ? and it tasted so much better than when I tasted it on myself.

When the surprise wore off, I could feel her responding to me, and I followed suit, our mouths moving against each other's in a steady rhythm. I could feel her hand stroking the side of my head, so I lifted my hand and started doing the same. Then she tangled her fingers into my hair and I felt a groan leave my stomach and race upwards to burst out of my mouth and into hers.

She moaned back, and then slipped a very inquisitive tongue into my mouth.

Now this was the first time I had ever kissed a woman. Ever. And I had never thought about kissing another woman. Ever ? or ? had I? This wasn't the time to start questioning what I had or hadn't thought. I was kissing a woman, in the front seat of her car, parked outside my house on a Saturday night ? and I was thoroughly enjoying it.

Her lips were so soft ? softer than I thought they'd be ? and they had looked soft. Her tongue was gently probing inside my mouth and I couldn't help but suck it in. It was getting deeper and deeper. I was falling deeper and deeper into the kiss, the outside world was leaving me behind as I pushed myself into her and felt her do the same.

Sensations bulldozed through me. The feeling of kissing another woman was totally mind blowing and I could feel a definite tingle between my legs; a pooling of want forming there and begged to be assuaged.

Why ? I don't know. All I knew was I was feeling liberation from the inside out ? and I felt completely under its spell. Until ?

Until she moved her free hand and delicately stroked the outside of my breast.

That stopped me.

I pulled back sharply, and looked at her ? her hand was still in my hair ? her eyes closed ? lips slightly parted emitting short pants as she waited ? and waited for me to continue.

'Sarah ? I ?' Blue eyes slipped open and glassily focused on me, and I could see desire burning behind them. 'I ? well ? I ?'

Her fingers left the safety of my hair and she trailed them down my cheek and across my lips. 'Shush ? Lou ? it's okay ? we don't have to do anything you are uncomfortable with.' Her voice was deeper than earlier, almost smoky. I felt the stab in my groin once again and gently kissed one finger, and then another ? then another ? then I slipped one into my mouth and sucked.

The noise she made as I did this was enough to drench my underwear. A low moaning noise seeped from between those soft lips I had just tasted, and I suckled even harder. Her eyes drifted closed again and she leaned her head back exposing her throat.

I was definitely feeling more than confusion by this point ? and it felt strangely good.

After what seemed like hour, but was more like seconds, I let her finger free and she trailed the wetness around my mouth before delicately brushing her lips across mine again.

I breathed in. Quite fiercely, and opened my eyes to look her in the face once again. 'I'd best get in ? I should have been home ages ago.'

Why did I lie? It was only 10:30 and I wasn't expected back before 11:30.

Sarah didn't say a word ? just nodded acceptance and looked kind of sheepish.

'Okay then ? night.' I leaned to open the door and her hand stopped me.

'Can I see you again?' Her voice held a quiet pleading quality that aimed straight at my heart. I nodded and sat back in the seat to scrabble around my bag searching for a scrap of paper and something to write with.

After writing my phone number down, I shot out of the car, round the corner and into my front door without as much as a backward glance, and then felt like a right baggage for not even waving to the girl I had just kissed minutes before.

I didn't even wait to see her turn the engine back on ? make sure she was okay ? nothing ? I was like Zola Budd on Speed.

Jo and my parents were seated around the telly watching a really dodgy black and white horror film on BBC2 - The Curse of the Mummy with Boris Karloff,. My only greeting was an eye flicker and a nod from my parents and the finger signal and a grin from Jo, who was sprawled with her legs up the wall and her head hanging off the chair. Perfect film watching position.

As I stood there, I felt totally exposed. It was as if everyone knew I had just made out with a woman mere feet away, although they'd need good eyesight so see through nine-inch brick. This feeling of exposure punctured the excitement I had been feeling, and I could feel it draining away.

'Ash came round looking for you earlier.'

'What?' I wanted to swear, but I doubted my parents would appreciate it. 'When? What time?'

Jo sat up on her chair, looking twisted and very uncomfortable, and turned to face me. 'Erm ? about ? 8:30 ? and then again at about ten.'

'Ten! But it's only 10:40 now!' I don't know why I shouted out the time ? it just felt right for some reason or another. Jo looked confused at my reaction, but just shook her head and laid back down into sprawl position. 'What did she say?' I tried to keep my breathing under control. Ash had been here and I had been out with Sarah ? kissing Sarah just round the corner ? and we would have been there about 10:15.


What if Ash saw us in Sarah's car?


Me making out with a woman.

Shit. What to do? What to do?

'Just asked if you were in and what time you would be back ? not much else.'

'Where did you say I had gone?'

'Where you went of course. To the flicks with that girl you work with ? Sarah is it?'

I nodded, as I was unable to speak. My throat had dried up big time and I felt the wind leave my sails. I turned and left.

Upstairs in my room, I turned on the record player and aimed the needle half way across the vinyl. Alison Moyet's voice drifted softly around ?

All I ever needed was the love you gave
All I needed for another day ?

I felt depressed. All the new feelings disappeared completely, and I didn't even have the energy to beat myself up about what had happened earlier. All I could think about was I had missed Ash ? twice. And that she might have seen me with another girl.



This was not good. What if she got the wrong idea about me? Thought I went around kissing girls?

But I do.

Not all of the time.

And? Your point is?

This was getting me nowhere. I was arguing with myself and I didn't have any answers. My opinions were trite and contradictory and I was getting on my own nerves.

Next thing I knew I was standing in the front room in front of the telly. My parents were not impressed that they were missing the end of the film.

'What else did she say? Does she want me to call her?'

'For God's sake, Lou ?shift!' I sidled to one side, leaving enough room for both my mum and dad to see the telly, but completely blocking it from Jo's view. I heard her tutt before she raised her eyes from the direction of the TV, rolling them for effect.

'Said something about catching you later. Give you a ring tomorrow or you ring her or something.' I think my expression said it all, and she tutted again. 'She'll ring you tomorrow morning ? okay? Now shift your backside.'

A smile lit my face. Ash was going to call me tomorrow. I might even get to see her.

I turned to go to bed, nearly skipping. And then it hit me. What if she had seen me? What would I say? What about Sarah?

The life of a teenager, eh? Wouldn't trade places for all the tea in China.


Chapter Eleven

I lay on top of my bed staring at the ceiling, arms behind my head, my body giving the impression of being relaxed, when inside I was tighter than a drum.

Thoughts flitted through my mind, and I was only given brief glimpses of what it wanted me to concentrate on ? and it was starting to make me feel rather sick. Names and faces zoomed in and out ? in and out ? and I was becoming more perplexed by the minute.

Images of my clinch with Sarah was vying for first place with the image of Ash's gaunt look at the Students Union on Friday night after I had shouted at her.

Ash had come looking for me ? twice. Come round to my house ? twice ? looking for me, whilst I was out getting it on with another woman.

A groan left me ? not a pleasurable groan like what had happened in the car. God no. This one was a groan of pain ? of confusion ? of not being able to grasp what was happening to me. My arm came in front of my face believing it could block out the images my overzealous brain was conjuring up. Hot breath soaked through the material of my shirt and landed on my arm, as my breathing became more and more laboured the more I thought about what I had done.

I didn't like it ? but I did like it ? I didn't ? yet ?I did. I had no concept of what being a lesbian was all about ? and I couldn't classify what it entailed. All I could muster were images of women who dressed like men, acted like men and slept with other women who looked like men, dressed like men and acted like men.

Yep. Totally naïve. I didn't realise then, lesbians didn't have to be categorised into the stereotypical interpretation most people still put on us lady lovers.

Funny thing was, Sarah didn't fit into this 'type' ? she was absolutely stunning ? and all woman. She dressed feminine; spoke feminine, smelled, tasted, felt feminine. God ? was she feminine ?

I felt moisture puddle once again between my legs, as I thought about the kisses we had shared in the front seat of her car.

A thought drifted into my head ? almost like a voice from somewhere else ? from someone else. It was calming, soothing, pliant and nourishing. A thought. An idea. A concept drilled together by want and guilt. Words welded into sense by feeling and desire ? an option than blanketed the reality of my confusion with a promise of experience versus fantasy.

Being with a woman was a fantasy ? a dream that had been so deeply embedded within me I failed to notice its existence. Until now ? until Sarah.

With a deep breath, I came to some sort of understanding. I would try this discovery ? taste it ? mould it ? feel it and embrace it. If it wasn't for me, it wasn't for me. But I had tried it ? tried Sarah ? tried this new and wonderful gift that had stepped into my path.

Maybe I would understand it more if I held it close to me and nibbled at it ? untied the wrappings with my teeth to find out what was under all the expectation.

A smile graced my lips. A genuine one this time. A smile that made me feel lighter? more in control of the situation.

Yep. Why should I worry about something that may only be a phase? It may go as quickly as it came ? so I should just go with it.

I lifted my arm away from in front of my eyes and stared at the wall straight ahead of me. Cliff Richard stared back. Hundreds of smiles grinning at me, as if he was in on the act. I grinned back, stuck my tongue out, then turned onto my side to see the solitary poster of Madonna gracing the wall, her breasts on display.

I felt the smile slip down my face, as the realisation crashed down on me. Jo had Cliff Richard on her walls, ceiling, draws and stuck all over her headboard. I had one picture of a woman flashing off her tits and pouting for the camera.

Fuck. This was going to be a long phase.


Sunday morning shouted 'Hello!' too bloody early, like usual. This took the form of my dad whose philosophy in life was 'If I'm up ? Everybody's up.' The grating sounds of Conway Twitty's (make what you will out of the surname ? I can guarantee it will be not far off what Jo and I called him) 'Hello Darling' boomed around the house.

The neighbours must have really hated us ? I hated us ? especially at 8:46 on a Sunday morning. Before ten, I hated everyone.

I had found sleep difficult, to say the least. Every time I had drifted off, images came into my mind ? some good ? some very unnerving. Talk about confused? My body and my brain were finding it damn near impossible to keep up with the stirrings within. At one point I nearly woke Jo up to tell her, leaned over to her bed and everything, but the courage left me as my hand hovered over her exposed arm.

I lay there, listening to my dad ultimately kill a dire song and just thought about what I was going to do next. The thought of being 'different' to everyone else still played on my mind ? but the excitement ? the taste of her mouth made my insides crawl around and simper. I knew there and then, whatever happened with Sarah, I would be happy to try.

It was not love ? by any stretch of the imagination. Lust ? a little bit. Inquisitiveness ? most definitely. Just wanting to feel what I had felt last night ? maybe a little bit more.

The grin split my face, and I stretched my arms above my head only to make a little whimpering sound.

Amazing. Truly amazing. Conway Twitty, duetting with my dad, couldn't wake Jo, but a whimper ? bam ? her eyes flew open and she stared at me in the only way someone who has just woken up can do.

'Get your arse out of bed, Cliffy lover.'

'Go fuck yourself ? Madonna lover.'

The grin I had been sporting slipped, painfully, from my face. 'What do you mean by that?' The tone screamed 'GUILTY! I'M A LEZZA!' but the volume was low ? deathly low ? menacingly low and I felt myself sit up in a rigid, back sprain kind of way.

Jo seemed non-plussed, and just stretched, yawning widely and loudly, whilst trying to speak and point at the solitary poster on my wall. 'Cw ?iff ? y ?' Hand to her posters, yawn well and truly underway, 'sh ? ll ?apper.' The hand pointed at Madonna pouting from the wall.

My heart rate should have slowed down at the realisation Jo didn't mean anything by what she said, but it didn't. I think it was because it was closer to the truth than I was ready for ? or would ever be ready for.

That thought haunted me for most of the morning. Until I saw Ash again.


The time was 2:16pm. It was Sunday afternoon. I had just finished the washing up. Yep. I feel like being clipped. Not for long though. It's boring.

As I was saying, it had just turned two o'clock when the doorbell went. Obviously, being a teenager, I had to be told 'three bloody times' to answer the door.

Imagine my surprise when I flung the door back, scowl firmly in place, and Ash stood there looking absolutely breathtaking. Her raven hair was tied loosely into a ponytail, her fringe wisped all over the place, blown by the wind. She stood there, one hand behind her back, one holding her bag, her whole body language screamed submission. I think that was the thing that surprised me the most ? I had never seen her looking this way ? almost vulnerable.

'Can we talk?' The voice of rich velvet crept over my skin and made all the hairs on my arms stand to attention. The newly found knowledge about myself made me acknowledge what I felt every time I looked at Ash.





And love ? I knew I could easily fall into her arms and never want to leave. She was my dream ? my goal ? something I wanted to aspire to again and again and again.

I also knew Ash had a boyfriend ? however much of a wanker he was.

Then I realised I hadn't answered her. She stood there, eyebrow raised ? waiting. 'God ? Ash ? yes ? come in come in. Sorry ? erm come on in ?' I actually saw her lip curl into her crooked grin and my heart went BA BOOM!

My legs felt unsteady, so I gripped the door harder and harder and harder, willing myself to be sensible. Ash stepped forward, and as she did so, she brought the hand that had been hidden behind her back to present me with a bunch of carnations.


'Sorry, Lou ? I ? shouldn't ? I need ? well ? erm ? well ? I ? you ? sorry about Friday.' Jesus. The words came out like a band of juggling acrobats, and I had to blink to tidy them into some kind of order so I could process what she had said. Me being half in a daze didn't help much, especially when I tried to take the flowers, but it came out as a lunge instead, and I fell forward and straight into her arms.

Sounds romantic doesn't It.? Well it wasn't. She was at the bottom of three steep steps, whilst I had been at the top. The top of my head cracked her in the mouth with quite a force and I heard her jaw click. The carnations were flattened against us both and apart from the cracking of her jaw, I also heard the distinct snap of the stems.

She had her arms about me in a flash, and I didn't actually touch the floor. I honestly think I could feel myself melting there ? into her ? into her warmth ? into her smell. God ? the smell of her filled my senses and made me want to curl up into her and stay there forever.

I looked up into her face, which tilted down to my own, her blue eyes twinkling ? yes ? twinkling.

Heaven. I was in heaven. I was being held by an angel with twinkling blue eyes and ? a little bit of blood trickling from the corner of her mouth.

Unconsciously, I lifted my hand to wipe it away, my eyes staring at it as if it would suddenly grow wings and fly away, and just as my fingers connected ?

'Lou! Phone! Someone called Sarah!' My eyes shot up to meet Ash's, which seemed so much closer than a moment before. I felt guilty ? standing there in her arms, thinking unnatural thoughts, thoughts I doubted Ash had ever thought I would have about her. And then I was reminded about how different I actually was ? the proof was waiting on the other end of the phone line.


Shouldn't I be feeling something other than guilt right about now? Shouldn't I be racing to the phone and be giddy just about now?

What I was feeling wasn't giddiness or excitement ? just plain old guilt ? plain old confusion at my sudden traitorous emotions ? traitorous body.

I felt Ash lower me to the floor, my bare feet hitting the concrete in cold realisation. My arms loosened from around her and I felt hers follow suit. The height difference became apparent, and I looked up at her only to be met by a confused smile. I was captivated.

'Lou! For God sake! Phone!'

'You'd better get it.' Such a sweet voice ? so soft ? so ? so ?


'Right! For God's sake ? I'm coming!'

Ash's hands left the safety of my waist and I staggered back, smacking the back of my foot of the step, but barely feeling it ? all I was feeling was the loss of her arms.

Then I felt embarrassment, and the blood raced to fill my cheeks ? and then I felt heat devour my body like I had stood in a flame. 'Come in ?' They were the only words I could squeeze out of my mouth.

With that, I turned and bounced (even with a throbbing ankle) up the steps, down the hall, and grabbed the phone from my dad's hand. He was not best pleased to say the least, and I heard him mumbling as he shuffled off back into the living room.

'H-ello.' I had forgotten it was Sarah. Der. How could I forget something so important? I turned to face the door, and there was my reason. Ash stood there, her back leaning against the wall; her face turned towards me, eyes hooded ? lips slightly parted.

I didn't hear Sarah. I couldn't. There was too much noise in my head to hear her. Blood is a very loud substance when it is whipping around inside your head, did you know that?

'Lou? Are you there? Lou?' Reality forced me back to the voice at the end of the line.

'Sarah ? hi ?'

I spoke to Sarah, but my mind, and eyes, were fully on Ash. I could hear a little confusion from the other end of the line, and I did feel bad. That is the reason I agreed to see her again that night. Seven thirty. Here.

I hung up the phone, stuck my hands in my pockets, and then smiled the weakest of smiles at Ash. Inside I felt I had just screamed out 'I'm going out with a woman tonight! On a date!'

Ash leaned forward, and it seemed as if it happened in slow motion. I was mesmerised.

'Are you free tonight?'


'I said ? are ? you ? free ? tonight?' Her face held a huge smile that aimed straight at my heart, and if truth be known ? a little lower. I just stood there, mouth open ? fish impression firmly in place. 'Tonight. You and me ? do something fun. Are you up for it?'

Fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck fuck.

I didn't say anything. I was stunned ? erm ? maybe stunned is the wrong word here. Gutted was more like it. Yes. I was gutted.

'I can't.' It came out as a whine. I realised I was getting good at whining, especially when I saw the smile slip from her face and know it was because of me. The world had lost sunshine because of me. 'I'd love to ? but ? I've ? just ?' What? Said you'd see your girlfriend tonight.

She isn't my girlfriend.

Really? That's not the impression I got when you had your tongue down her throat.

What don't you just fuck off?

Touchy. Are you ashamed of being a lezza?

Just fuck off!

You are, aren't you? Ashamed ?

Why I am having an internal monologue, which actually consists of two voices? Mine and ? erm ... mine. Why am I feeling the pinch of coming to terms with a growing confusion of my sexuality? Why am I so upset that I had just made arrangements to see Sarah when all I wanted was to do was sit in Ash's shadow?

And all the while I was deliberating, she waited. Silent. Patient. Content to wait for me to finish the sentence I had started.

' ? made arrangements with a friend from work.' Friend as in girlfriend. 'Maybe tomorrow?' The hope in my voice was apparent, but it disintegrated as I saw Ash shake her head, and I knew what was coming next.

'Can't make tomorrow.' My heart sank even further, if that is possible. 'But Tuesday's good for me.'

Was I metaphorically skipping? Most definitely.


Chapter Twelve

Sarah was on time. I was early. Call it nerves.

Ever since Ash had left, I had been replaying the events from the previous night. Sometimes it was me and Sarah ? and sometimes Sarah was replaced by someone else ? and I don't have to tell you who that was.

She took me to a café in the heart of Manchester. It was trendy, and students from the university surrounded us. Conversation once again came easy, as we talked about what our futures would hold. Sarah wanted to go into Social Work and I was leaning towards that field too, although I also knew I would change my mind many times before settling on a career.

Before we knew it, it was ten o'clock and we were being ushered out of the door. I have to admit it ? I'd had a good time. Relaxed ? casual.

On our way home, I could see Sarah keep sneaking looks over at me. Excitement burred inside my gut at the expectation of kissing her again, although I did feel weird getting my knickers in a twist at the prospect of kissing another woman. Doubt vied for dominance. This wasn't right. Wanting to kiss someone of the same sex wasn't right ? why did I have to be different to everyone else? Why did I have to want something different to everyone else?

Apart from Sarah. A snigger held itself behind my lips and waited to be freed. Not tonight ? that snigger was staying put.

Once again I had missed Sarah asking me a question. I just said the first thing that popped into my mind. 'Whatever.'

And this led to a very interesting evening. A very interesting evening indeed.

Good job I hadn't been listening, right?


The question must have been 'Would you mind going somewhere else before I drop you off?' I doubt I would have said yes if I had been listening, so ? in retrospect ? I'm glad I have the attention span of a fruit fly.

I watched in fascination as she manoeuvred her car down the dark country lane that led to the Vale, a nature reserve that was reputedly the high spot for couples. Anticipation guided my thoughts as she pulled up underneath a tree that blocked out the last vestiges of light from the night sky.

The car was strangely silent, and I am sure I heard a pin drop somewhere outside. The squeak from her leather seat made me start, and I turned to face her, barely making out her features, just her shape.

I felt her hand take mine, cool, yet slightly shaking. Her thumb brushed over the top in much the same manner as she had done the previous night at the pictures. My breath caught in my throat and I wanted to reach forward and kiss her again.

The moisture in my mouth was beginning to form, just as it was between my legs. I must be gay ? must be. I had been in situations like this with boys and all I felt was boredom ? nothing in comparison to this wild, unchained feeling that decided to make itself known to me tonight.

Her voice whispered to me in the darkness, sending messages to all parts of me that needed to hear it. Soft, smooth, alluring, enticing. The words she said were nothing spectacular just 'You know I really like you, Lou?' But to have a woman say them to me ? phew.

My tongue poked out and wet my lips. She mimicked the action, making me want to do it all over again just to see her repeat it.

She leaned towards me and I followed suit. This was it. The kiss I had been anticipating all afternoon, all night ?

Her lips slipped onto my own as if they had always known the way. And I melted ?

Slow movements at first, but they gradually began to build and build and build. Our breathing was getting heavy, panting, unrestrained. Snuffling noises matched the sloppiness and wetness of two mouths thoroughly engaged in combat. Tongues were slipping in and out ? touching and caressing swollen lips. Hands began to tangle in hair and I felt Sarah pull me into her, and I went willingly.

God I was horny. She was horny. We were both so horny ? so fucking wet. I felt her hand sneak down the side of the seat, and before I knew it, the chair was reclining, taking both of us down.

She was above me, her lips never leaving mine. Her body was hovering slightly over mine and I could feel a rhythm starting within her ? her hips were moving up and down ? up and down, trying to find purchase on something.

And I should know, because I wanted the same thing. God ? the ache building up within me was crazy ? agony ? bliss. I lifted myself up from the seat, a mammoth task in the space provided, and attempted to slip one leg between hers.

Her mouth left mine and began to kiss my face before moving down my throat, her hot tongue tracing a line down the overheated flesh. A groan left my lips, which was shortly followed by a moan from Sarah ? a moan that travelled along my skin, between my breasts, down my stomach and straight into my groin.

Hot lips suckled my neck, and I could feel Sarah's fingers fighting with the buttons of my top. Pop. Pop. Pop. Slip. Stroke. Stroke. Fuck me ? the sensations rattling around were becoming overbearing. Sarah was pushing the suffocating material away to expose my bra, which by now only half covered my breasts. Wetness enveloped my nipple, bringing it to attention even more than it already was. Jesus ? it was ? oh God ?

Sarah's lips were in control. I felt as if my whole body was taken over by a greater being ? a greater need. And I didn't care ? God no.

My breathing was laboured, my heart was working so hard I felt the vestiges of delirium take me. My fingers were in her hair pushing her face into me ? wanting her to eat me whole ? eat me alive. Hips were pumping against legs ? jeans chaffing my need, hoping for something more ? something solid.

A fleeting image of Ash's face flickered in front of me, and I felt a tinge of shame. Whatever would Ash think of me if she could see me now? Surely she would think this was wrong ? this unnatural act between two women. Wouldn't she?

A pause. Only briefly, as I attempted to dispel this emotion. Sarah didn't notice and began to caress the other breast, and I pushed it into her hand in attempt to recapture the magic of seconds before.

However hard I tried, the feeling of shame gripped me. What was I doing? This wasn't right.

My hips stopped, and I gently untangled my fingers from her hair. Sarah started to slow down, as the realisation dawned on her that I wasn't as into it as I had been, and lifted her face to look into my own.

Concerned eyes, darkened by the night, searched my face for some rhyme or reason. I felt my heart crack just a little when she asked, so softly, so beautifully, so tenderly, 'Lou ? are you okay?' A weak smile trickled onto my face, and I nodded. 'Am I going to fast ? I know ? well ? I think I know ? this ? erm ? is your first time, right?'

I nodded again, and found difficulty looking into her eyes, which I believed had the power to read my mind ? don't ask me why. 'God ? Lou ? I'm sorry ? so sorry.'

With that, she lifted herself up from over me and plonked down back into the driver's seat. She stared straight ahead of her into the blackness. I lay there, sprawled backwards on the seat, my legs spread, my breasts exposed. The cool air whipped around the exposed nipple, causing the wetness to feel like ice, yet dry it off at the same time.

Slowly I sat forward, fumbled at the base of the seat to bring me back to sitting position, before popping my breast back into my bra, and, with unsteady fingers, began to button up my shirt.

It was totally quiet. I honestly believed I could hear the buttons pushing back through the material.

Sarah's fingers were gripping the steering wheel, and I could see her head dropping forward, her eyes scrunching up ? her lips twisting into a grimace.

What if she didn't want to see me again? What if she thought I was frigid?

Panic shot through me. I know, I know ? one minute I was so turned on I didn't think anything could stop me, the next shame, then fear. In hindsight, it was probably the most natural feeling in the world for the newly discovered lesbian ? well ? not even just for lesbians ?

'I'm sorry, Sarah ? '

I didn't get the rest out.

Sarah's head shot around so quickly, I had to refocus my eyes. 'No! I'm sorry Lou ? God ? I really like you ? really like you. I've blown it haven't I?'



Her hand came out and gripped my own, her face panicked. 'I'm sorry ? I don't know what got into me ? God ? I went too fast didn't I?' I tried to say she hadn't, that I wanted what she had wanted, but she didn't give me chance. 'I promise, I won't do it again ? you mean too much to me ? too much. Can I have another chance? Please?' I could hear the pleading tone in her voice.

To say I was startled would be an understatement. To say I was touched would be redundant. So, I did what any right minded girl in my position would do.

I leaned over and kissed her.



An hour later saw me at home, dishevelled and smiling like a Cheshire cat. I didn't even notice that my shirt was buttoned up completely wrong, and only got an inkling when I saw my Mum look down at my now ruffled top.

Good job it hadn't been Jo ? as she wouldn't have been as forgiving. The ultimate twenty questions would have been well underway less than thirty seconds of me closing the front door. Thankfully, she was staying over at 'a friend's house', or as I knew it ? her boyfriend's. But my parents, bless them, were truly ignorant of their children's nocturnal meanderings.

After making them both a cup of tea (with mutterings of 'personal slave'), I feigned tiredness, trundled upstairs, performed my ablutions, and slipped under the covers.

Images of what had transpired between Sarah and I danced about my head. We hadn't progressed past the kissing and breast fondling stage, but boy ? we were both panting before Sarah put the brakes on things.

I just wished she had told my libido that it wasn't getting anything else. My groin was throbbing with unrequited need and I knew sleep would be a long time coming.

Especially if I didn't find some kind of release.

I lay there in the darkness thinking of Sarah's kisses, her smile, her lips, her mouth, her tongue ? on my breast, and I felt a surge of desire scoot southwards. A thin line of sweat formed on my top lip, and I licked it off enjoying the saltiness that greeted me, enjoying the sensation.

God. I was dying here. I was being consumed by a need that far out weighed anything I had ever experienced before. Unconsciously, my backside pressed into the mattress, pushing my wetness into something firmer. It felt good ? not exactly enough, but a start.

Inquisitive fingers slipped underneath my t-shirt and grazed the underside of my breast. Now ? that felt good ? but still not enough.

A little more boldly, I ventured to the centre, only to be stopped by a very aroused and taut nipple standing waiting for some company. With the tips of my nails, I flicked it from side to side, whilst quickly holding the gasp within my mouth. My eyes fluttered closed. This felt good ? really good.

Using my index finger and thumb, I casually rolled the nipple around, causing a fluttering to concentrate in the area, causing a pooling to congregate between my legs. Hips had decided to begin a dance, as I pressed and released my hips from, and into, the mattress. I crossed my legs and glorified in the contact as I squeezed the limbs together.

Obviously, still not enough.

I needed more. Definitely ? something more.

Using my free hand, I brushed the outside of my shorts, above the throbbing, and stifled a groan. Before I knew it, my hand was inside, fingers combing through the soft downy hair before venturing lower.

Much lower.

A solitary finger dipped between the folds and was greeted by a wetness.

And it felt wonderful.

I pushed down even further, and pulled the lonely digit back up to nestle in the hairs again, sighing at the same time.

A second finger joined the first, and they both slipped, effortlessly, between the folds, straddling my clit, just adding enough pressure to make the tingles turn into to sparks of light.

And back up.

And down ?

And up ?

The moisture was becoming thicker and more needy ? or was it me becoming more needy?

I had set a rhythm up ?slow pushes ? slow pulls ? slow pushes ? slow pulls. But this was becoming increasingly more difficult to keep up. The hand fingering my nipple was increasing the tempo, increasing the pressure, so therefore ? harder pushes ? harder pulls ? quicker pushes ? quicker pulls ? hard quick pushes ? hard, almost grasping, pulls. Hips joined in, aiding the pace, the mattress was a good battleground for the fight in my hand ? my increasingly wet hand ? the hand that was becoming progressively more frantic with this growing desire within me ? this raging desire that threatened to knock me unconscious ?

But ? I was loving it ? loving the friction this hand, this mattress, these fingers could inflict on my unspeakable need ? my growing delirium.

Nipples were forgotten as I grasped the whole breast in my hand, and squeezed and rubbed. The hand down my shorts was increasing the pace and I was panting unrestrainedly. I was clenching my legs around my hand ? falling deeper and deeper into this sensation.

In my state, I imagined blue eyes in front of me ? like they were part of this experience. The image only made me pump harder with both hands ? my breast was loving the attention, but not as much as my wetness. God ? it was loving it ? I was loving it ? loving being loved ?

I was staring straight ahead, enraptured and captured by the blue gaze ? the crooked smile ? the twinkling blue gaze ? twinkling ? twinkling ? twinkling ?

'Fu ?uh ?uh ? uh ?ck!' It came out as a hiss, as the orgasm ripped through me, leaving me shaking ? leaving me wanting ? leaving me craving those blue, twinkling eyes.

The eyes of Ashley Richards.

Not Sarah's blue eyes ? as it should have been ? but Ash's.

I turned onto my side feeling an emptiness fold over me like a blanket. I should have been ecstatic. But I wasn't, obviously. I should have felt the droplets of sleep envelop me. But I knew sleep would be a long time coming. I should have been content with what I had with Sarah. But I wasn't.

She wasn't enough for me, although I wished she was. Because the person who could fill this ache didn't think of me that way. And it was something I had to live with.

Ashley Richards.

Now ? she would be enough ?


Chapter Thirteen

Tuesday night eventually crawled around and stood languidly at my door, saying in an off hand manner 'Whatever.' I must have lost weight, as my appetite plummeted and every thing I put in my mouth tasted, and had the texture of, cardboard.

Sarah had called just before I had left and asked if she could see me that night. I didn't even feel bad when I told her I had made other arrangements, but when I heard the disappointed 'Oh ? right' and then the silence, I suggested Friday. I could hear her smile down the phone. Jo had been watching from the doorway, feigning reading the back of the newspaper, but I knew by her stance she was ear wigging.

As I placed the receiver back down, her eyes popped over the top of the page and I could see a question forming. But then ? nothing.

It was just that brief look that put me on my guard. I felt exposed all of a sudden, well ? all of the time, and believed everyone could see what I was up to ? how different I was to everyone else. Sadness washed over me so quickly, only to disperse like a sprinkling of water on a summer's day. The urge to tell her rose to the surface, and I had to physically reign it in.

I loved my sister ? still do ? but I didn't know how to tell her I wasn't who she thought I was. Deep down I thought she would be fine, and help me make the right decision. But there was still an area of doubt, which played with my sensibilities. What if she thought I was a freak? What if she disowned me ? told me I was an abomination? I couldn't bear to think of her thinking of me that way ? You could say I always tried to be what she wanted me to be ? whatever that is.

For two days, I had been a bag of nerves. Don't ask me why ? I couldn't tell you ? well apart from the fact I was infatuated with one tall, dark haired beauty who still thought of me as her six year old friend. And apart from the fact I was suppose to be involved with another woman ? a woman ? Jesus ? a woman.

I digress.

I met Ash at Granada Bowling in Belle Vue. Quite out of the way, but definitely worth the trek on the 317 bus with all the people who were going into Manchester for the evening. I did feel a little out of place, sitting on the top deck with all the smokers, watching the world go by. But I didn't care ? I was going to see Ash. And that made me smile like an idiot out of the window.

I had always ? and I mean ALWAYS ? been shite at bowling. I was definitely 'Miss Gutter Ball 1984'. Every well meant lob with the excruciatingly heavy ball (with the sticky holes), ended up rolling complacently down the side and into the gutter. I did manage to scrape a 36 in the first game, which I was quite proud of. I ignored all the well-laid advice Ash told me ? I think it was more out of embarrassment than thinking I knew better.

Eventually I caved. Ash, my saviour, took it upon herself to teach me how to play. Her first move was to change the weight of the ball I had been brandishing about from a 14 to a 10.

Secondly ? and this is the point I liked the most ? she stood behind me, manoeuvring me into position of the arrows. The feeling of her standing so close behind me: her body pressing into my back and side; the smell of her filling my nostrils like an enchantment.

Whatever she said, I can't tell you. Whatever she did is a blur. All I could concentrate on was the feeling of her hands moving over my arms and back ? even the view of the top of her head bewitched me as she knelt down in front of me moving my feet into position. I could see her lips moving but I couldn't hear a word. I was deaf ? and mute by all accounts. I just nodded like the proverbial village idiot and grinned vacantly.

Ash was a good player ? well in comparison to me anyone was. But to put it into some kind of real perspective, she scored 186 in her first game. And I think I put her off ? trying to hold in all that laughter ? yeah ? sounds about right.

Obviously, with all my free tuition, my game escalated to a grand score of 92. To Ash's 179 ? I was getting better and she was going down, which I held great delight in ribbing her with. Mutterings of 'I've gone up fifty six and you've lost seven points.'

She just smiled, that crooked smile, but the rest of her face said 'You wait lady.'

But I was flying by this stage. Not because of the score ? not by any stretch of the imagination. It was just being with her ? her and me ? Lou and Ash ? Ash and Lou. My heart was singing, I was floating, and my blood was bubbling like a wild stream rushing down the side of a mountain.

Yep. That corny. But that's how I felt ? corny. My blood was doing Julie Andrews impressions and I was loving it.

Until the third set.

I should have quit whilst I was ahead.

I should have plucked off those freaky stripy shoes, jumped on the 317, and gone home whilst I still had any credibility left.

But no.

I stayed and took it like a man ? woman ? teenager ? whatever.

Ash was relentless in her heckling. I thought she was trying to help me, not make me fuck up more than usual. Just as I was about to throw the ball down the alley, she would cough, sneeze, mutter something obscene (which I quite liked) ? generally, she was out to teach me a lesson.

After the fourth consecutive gutter ball, Ash jumped out of her seat, raced over to me, and as I was nearly fully around, threw her arms around me to deliver a bone-crushing hug. My feet lifted off the floor as she swept me in a circle, the room spinning around me but not because of the movement.

It was the kiss on the cheek that was my undoing. A full smacker right on the left cheek, the onomatopoeic slap on the skin informed me it was slightly wet, as I had no sensation left in any part of my body ? apart from the places where her body encountered mine. Skin pulsed and grew hot under hers and once again, I was totally lost in her ?

I didn't even realise I had done it. I felt such a fool ? but I couldn't help pushing my face into the nape of her neck and inhaling her scent. She smelled perfect ? perfect ? perfect ? and I was lost into her for those brief seconds before she lowered me back onto the ground. I missed the closeness of her, but she didn't let me go straight away. I looked up into her face and a small splodge of air slipped out from my mouth.

Her eyes were slightly hooded, and the cock sure smile she had sported had vanished, only to be replaced by a look of confusion ? of indecision. Lips slightly parted in wonder: the fullness mesmerising. I wanted to stretch up onto my toes and just ? brush my lips across them.

Just the once ? and I would be contented.

Just the once.

But no. Reason gripped me before I made an even bigger fool of myself than I already had, and I pulled out of the encirclement of her arms. I watched them fall limply to her sides and she looked a little dishevelled ? but beautiful.


'Your turn.' Was that my voice? Small and distant? I felt like a ventriloquist's dummy, the mouth moving but the noise coming from another person.

She nodded, but stood there for a few more seconds, before she walked past me, picked up her ball and threw it down the lane without even focusing.

And she still knocked down nine pins.

And I lost ? miserably ? 49 to her 198.

I think it was all the touching ? or the thoughts of touching that made me lose the plot big time.

It was worth it though.


After the games, we sat in the café area sipping coke in polystyrene cups with straws. What is about drinking coke through a straw that makes you feel like a kid? Or maybe it was sitting with Ash that made me feel like a kid ? who knows?

We chatted as if nothing had happened, although my mind kept on drifting to the feel of her arms, hands, body ? the smell of her ? the longing to taste her however briefly.

What was wrong with me? Couldn't I just have her friendship?

The internal struggle was trying to choke me ? I wasn't concentrating on what she was saying, and before I knew it I was agreeing to bowling lessons every Tuesday. Not that I minded seeing her every Tuesday, but ? bowling? My arm was throbbing as it was ? Jesus ? I'd look like a one armed weight lifter before I even hit the hundred mark.

But I would see Ash ? definitely see Ash ? once a week. I could feel the smile sneak up from a dark place inside me and trickle onto my face.

Now ? that was definitely worth the pain.


Stephen picked us up from outside the Bowling Alley. It saved me clambering on the bus by myself, as I didn't really fancy travelling back on my own ? buses at night were not the safest of places for a young girl to be. Plus the fact Ash would have been getting on a different one.

And ? this way, I got to spend just that extra bit of time with her.

Thankfully, Tracy was nowhere to be seen. I couldn't deal with her glaring looks ? and no one mentioned her absence, which gave the indication she was still in the bad books.

I felt like gloating.

Ash insisted sitting in the back with me, even though the passenger seat was empty.

Now that was the straw that broke the camel's back.

The smile I sported could definitely be defined as a gloating one.


Chapter Fourteen

The next few weeks were filled with a seesaw of emotions. On one end of the seesaw was my growing relationship with Sarah, whilst at the other my definite attraction for Ash.

Don't get me wrong; I didn't just see Ash when we went bowling. No. We saw each other quite often at college, had lunch or a coffee, and we did see each other at least one evening over the weekend.

Well ? most weekends anyway.

Every time I saw her, this innate need to be more than what we were would fill me up, and I found it more and more difficult not blurting out how I felt. This lead to a rising sexual frustration that could rival any teenage boy's ? that I can guarantee.

Evidently, these hormones, these wild wonderings of my sexually befuddled brain were tantamount to agony, and the only cure I had was Sarah.

Poor Sarah. Poor sweet Sarah. I really liked her ? honestly I did. But she wasn't ? well she wasn't ? Ash.

But being filled with these raging hormones, hormones that needed avenging, what else could I do but to try and get some satisfaction from the only person I could. And that wasn't me ? as I had nearly grown hard patches on my right hand ? my left hand ? my fingers ? you get the drift?

So Sarah it was.

And ?

I did feel bad ?

? but I also felt incredibly horny too.

Evenings with Sarah had developed into something more carnal that I had anticipated from the first night at the cinema. I was still wary about who knew ? and nobody did ? but I was finding the deceit difficult to conceal, especially when I would flush beetroot every time somebody mentioned either of their names, even though I wasn't involved with Ash.

We hadn't had sex as yet, but it wasn't for the want of me trying. Our explorations had increased in pace, but not below the waistband. The upper halves of our bodies were explored thoroughly, with hands fingers, mouth, lips and teeth. But the achingly wet part went without.

Sarah was cautious ? a little too cautious. I think she was still wary about frightening me off, although me trying to shove my hands down her pants should have convinced her otherwise, not to mention my begging her to let me touch her ? for her to touch me.

It was just before Christmas that I got my wish.

After a very sexually frustrating afternoon drooling over my unobtainable friend, I met Sarah nearly panting. She had to physically drag my hands from her groin at one point.

As I sat there breathless, willing my throbbing need to behave, she asked me a very simple, but extremely promising question.

'What are your plans for Saturday night?'

Not much of a question, I hear you say. But I haven't finished yet ?

'Would you like to stay over at my house ? my parents are away for the weekend?'

Now ? I imagine you are thinking I whooped for joy, or jumped her bones, or screamed out 'Yes!' into the darkness.

But no. I sat there and stared at her ? mute ? stupid ? silent ? stunned.

It was here. At last. My chance to relieve this tension, and I couldn't respond. Inside my head I was screaming 'Tell her you idiot ? say yes!'. But on the outside I looked like a statue, completely rigid: emotionless.

Only with Sarah's movement ? her nervous movement ? the slight shaking of her hand ? did I break free from the spell that had befallen me. My eyes moved at first, as I watched her gingerly take the steering wheel in both her hands and slowly increase the pressure. She was facing forward by this point, her eyes digesting the night sky, trying to appear nonchalant, but coming out pensive instead.

I lifted my hand slowly to her cheek and brushed my fingers down her face, past her jaw, down her throat, until they rested on her collarbone.

Blue eyes dipped to take in her hands before turning their gaze into my own waiting green eyes. It was not until I knew I had her full attention, did I utter those three little words ? softly and tinged with promise.

'I'd love to.'

The smile that rained over her face could have melted the ice caps in the Antarctic.

We had a date.

And my aching need couldn't wait, although my heart wasn't too sure.


Saturday night came around.


My shattered nerves said 'About bloody time,' as seven thirty arrived, and so did Sarah. And I had only left her two hours before.

My parents didn't say a word about me staying out all night at 'a friend's house'. I hadn't told Jo, as I had only seen her briefly. I had walked in from work, and she had been on her way out to meet her boyfriend at the ice skating rink in Altrincham.

Not that I could have told her anyway ? I couldn't lie to her about what I was up to ? and why I had to stay over at Sarah's house when there was a perfectly good bus service running from her house to mine. And she may have got her boyfriend to pick me up, as they would have to pass Sarah's to get home.

I'm procrastinating aren't I?

Okay ? I'll skip the journey ? the offer of a drink ? the desperate need to use the bathroom every two minutes ? the polite conversation ? every thing up until the part I know you want to hear.

The consummation.

The deed.

The act.

The bountiful display of the beast with two backs.

The event that changed my view on life, love and sex. The event I believed kicked out the last clinging vestiges of heterosexuality.

The event that spliced open the bare longings of a sixteen year old girl in lust.

I knew it was on the cards ? I knew tonight was going to be the night ? I knew I was shitting my pants ?

But I still didn't expect it, if you know what I mean.

We were sat on the sofa listening to an album Sarah's Dad had brought back from his trip to the States. Bruce Springsteen's gravelly voice had just emitted 'Hey little girl is your Daddy home' when she made her move. Her hand came out and caressed my thigh, and I nearly dropped the glass of wine I was nursing.

'I got a bad desire'

Tell me about it Bruce.

Sarah leaned over and gently released the glass from my death-like grip, placing it on the table at the side of the couch.

'I can take you higher'

Her face came closer to mine and her lips brushed against my mouth in a butterfly kiss.

I tasted her lipstick, and leaned forward to capture those lips once again. A little harder this time. I could feel her pushing back into me, and slipped backwards onto the sofa, taking Sarah with me.

The kissing was getting more heated now, and my heart was fit to saw through my chest and scream into the night.

'At night I wake with the sheets soaking wet'

Like my underwear. Definitely soaked.

My hands were on a mission, and were definitely going under cover.

And as her tongue slipped into my mouth, the last thing I heard was ?

'Only you can cool my desire
I'm on fire.'

Oh yeah ? bring it on.

The kissing was passionate to say the least. All my inhibitions had packed their bags and headed for the airport. I was on a one was trip to Satisfactionville, and Sarah was the driver. And God ? could she drive ?

Drive me to the brink of want ? of need ? of desire. Drive me to the insanity of a yearning to be touched that belied rhyme or reason.

God ? she was hot ? and I was dying ? she was so fucking hot ? and I was squirming underneath her trying to purchase my hands onto her bare flesh. Her fingers fumbled on the buttons to my shirt, nervous fingers struggling with the smallness of the shiny adornments, trying to force them out of their slits, her lips digging deeper into my own.

Cool fingers slipped underneath my cotton shirt, and tentatively stroked below my nipple, which was already ready and waiting for contact. Her thumb pushed the material down and rubbed the nipple flesh on flesh. But like the impatient child, I pushed my breast into her hand, wanting her to take it all ? move things along.

My hips were pushing upwards, craving to introduce one wet need into something firmer. And then back down. And back up ? down and ? up ? constant ? rhy ? thm ? up ?staying ? and ? pull ? ling back.

The contact of her thigh felt wonderful. The feel of her hand on my breast, divine. The pressure of her mouth on mine ? bliss.

But this wasn't enough. I needed more ? God ? how I needed more. I gripped her backside, such a firm, rounded backside, and pulled her into me.

Still not enough.

One of my hands snaked underneath the base of her bra and cupped her soft breast, and squeezed. Tracing my thumb across the erect bud, almost expert in this field by now.

Her moan filled my mouth, so I squeezed harder. Another groan ? well more like a moan. I broke my lips from hers and rained tiny kisses over her chin and throat. She raised her head to allow me access, which I took gladly, sucking and teasing the skin between my lips, silently begging for her to strip me naked and ravish me.

'Jesus ? Lou ? god ?' I kept on kissing her throat, 'I need ? we need ?' I know ? tell me about it. 'We need to go upstairs ?'

My lips pulled away, realisation dawned on me.

I was just about to go upstairs and have sex. With a woman. First time ? with a woman ? or anyone for that matter.

I didn't know what to do.

Don't get me wrong ? I knew what I wanted to do ? just didn't know how to do it.

My face must have said it all. I actually felt my jaw drop and my face slacken. Sarah pulled herself away from me and ducked her head down to capture my gaze. 'What's up, love?'

I couldn't answer her, but I did close my mouth ? nothing more of a sexual turnoff than a gobsmacked expression.

Sarah looked at me intently, concern radiating from her. She thought I was backing out ? that I didn't want this. 'It's not you ?' more concerned looks, and I hastily added 'I just ? well ? I ?'

Confusion scrambled onto her features, suddenly to be replaced by a growing understanding, then a smile ? a reassuring smile that warmed my belly and made me feel a little more in control. 'Don't worry, honey ? you can leave that up to me.' I didn't know if I liked the sound of that, and my expression said so. 'I mean ? well ? I'll show you ? guide you ? and it's a case of doing what feels right ?'

That was better. I planted a soft kiss on her lips, and nodded my head in acceptance of what was to come.

Without a word, she took my hand and kissed the palm as I curled my fingers around her chin.

And from a distance, I could hear my voice saying 'Let's go.'


Nervous? You bet. Scared? Granted. Excited? Well ? I think that's a given.

Sarah had led me upstairs to her room, her thumb brushing the back of my hand reassuringly, taking shy looks over her shoulder as we neared the place where I would soon lose my innocence, and hopefully this ache in my gut, chest and groin.

Her room was like any other student's room, but I could tell she had tidied it up for my visit, as the smell of polish still clung in the air. The lamp next to her double bed was on already, and the corner at the top of the duvet was folded back in invite.

I heard the door close behind me and then felt Sarah come up behind. I closed my eyes and waited for her touch.

I didn't have to wait long.

Her hands slipped onto my shoulders, and she gently caressed them. My eyes fluttered ? it felt good. Her body came closer to mine and I could feel her breath hitting my neck in short gasps. Then her lips ? tentative in their quest ? hovered over the nape of my neck, making all the short hairs at its base quiver.

I could feel her push herself into me, her breasts against my back, her hands slipping down my arms in one long stroke only to snake around my waist and up the front, to cup my breasts.

Nipples strained ? I pushed into her hands ? the butterflies in my stomach transforming into something more carnal ? more wanting ? more ? just more.

Before I knew what was happening I was naked. Sarah had slipped my clothes from my body ? and I allowed her, completely unresisting under her hands ? her lips ? her mouth ? her tongue. My knees were beginning to weaken, all my energy concentrating on the building up of sensation that was crawling over me like a rash ? a very ? nice ? rash ? a very ? demanding rash ? an erotic rash ? a consuming rash ?

I turned in her arms and cupped her face to stare in her eyes. I don't know what I was looking for, but for a split second I felt the rush of disappointment, as what I had been searching for wasn't there. But ? I carried on anyway. She turned her face and planted a delicate kiss onto my palm, reassuring me with her eyes.

Her lips were moist and inviting. Her flesh was pliant and warm. My hands were nervous ? shaking ? trying to fulfil a need that I knew would kill me or drive me mad.

I undressed her, marvelling at her body; the body of a woman; the body of the woman I was going to sleep with.

Well ? not exactly sleep.

The bed was soft yet firm as I sat on the edge. Sarah sat opposite. Touching. Stroking. Caressing the fears and anxieties from me.

Desire was building and forcing the fear below ? and down ? and away. Mouths sought mouths ? tongues sought tongues. Nipples were licked and nipped. Stomachs were treated to tentative fingers searching southwards. Southwards to the pooling wetness of want that had collected around my now dominant need.

Fingers parted lips and pushed down to the core of this moisture ? this rising flood ? this pit of delight. And like a good student I followed her actions, to be greeted with a short gasp from her parted mouth, the air rushing against my face.

I could feel myself falling backwards ? in slow motion, the movements sure and steady ? a complete juxtaposition to how I was feeling.

A hot body covered my own ? smooth and supple and ripe for the taking. Skin brushed against skin, the sweat mingling in a growing sense of neediness ? the rhythm becoming erratic.

I pushed my thigh between Sarah's leg and she clamped her own around it, capturing our foraging fingers inside, and her hips picked up the tempo, her breathing hoarse and fast ? my breathing keeping pace ? my hand rubbing her clit with growing confidence. I was mimicking her actions ? nothing was truly me ? nothing was what I had thought of myself ? just a copy.

But that didn't stop it from feeling good ? from feeling incredibly good.

I looked into her face ? grimacing with promise ? her teeth biting her bottom lip as she thrust herself into me ? onto me ? her hand becoming more confused. I knew she was close.

'Fuck me, Lou ? for god's sake fuck me!' But ? I thought I was? I was doing everything she was doing ? 'Fingers ? God ? fingers ? inside ? now ?'


I lowered my hand to her entrance, and waited outside, revelling in the feel of her juices dripping down before pushing myself into her ? just one finger ? slipping effortlessly ? 'More ?' Just the one word, which was gasped out into my neck, her own hand raging with tension on my craving desire.

A second followed, then a third. I could feel her pushing down and swallowing them inside, the tightening of her walls crushing my fingers. A low keening moan broke free from her. I knew she was cumming ? and I forgot my own want and watched her ? watched her ? mesmerised by the agonisingly rapturous expression distorting her beautiful face as she came ? falling forwards ? her mouth open on my throat ? the wail of her orgasm bouncing off my skin just before she sucked on my flesh.

Then I felt her smile, her lips twisting in the post-coital smile of the satisfied. Teeth nipped my neck and travelled upwards, along my jaw line, until they reached my mouth, where they covered my lips in a wet, contented kiss ? soft and consuming.

Her hand came up to my breast and teased around the edge, slowly, until expert fingers rolled the nipple around, gently pinching at the same time. A spark of adrenaline rushed from all parts of my body to dissect itself and charge to my breast or a more southerly region. Both were ready. Both were willing. Both were stoking a fire of expectation.

'Your turn, love.'

With that, Sarah began her descent ? kissing and nibbling all my exposed skin along the way, building and prepping the fire burning below decks; the once smouldering heat was turning into something a little out of control.

And it felt good. So fucking good.

Fingers reached their destination before her head, and began to slip through the waiting wetness before moving to one side as her mouth lowered and ? a tongue ? licked ?

'Jesus?' The sensation was mind blowing. Tender yet perfectly pressured along my clit. Just the tip of her tongue slipping with practiced ease along the top. My backside pushed upwards, forcing my want into her face. She just pulled back and kept the same amount of pressure.

I felt a flicker at my wetness, shortly followed by a moan as she dipped at my opening. I wanted to spear myself onto that thick, wet muscle, allow her to sample the juices I had conjured just for her. The flat of her tongue rested at the base until it began its ascent, coating my clit in an unbearably slow movement that was ? just ? right.

And then she went down again ? then up ? then down ? up and down ? slow and sure ? then a little quicker ? and harder ? and my hips joined in the dance of the mouth and the tongue ? making a threesome of rhythm ? a glorious rhythm ? a tempo leading to the upcoming crescendo.

Her hands grasped my hips and pulled myself into her face, making the contact exquisite. Lips covered my clit and sucked and I could feel the orgasm raging ? racing ? ravaging through me like a stampede ? unstoppable ? dangerous ? I watched her head bobbing up and down; saw the whitening of her knuckles as she gripped my pelvis stopping me from meting out my desire in panicked thrusts.

Then it all changed. The image I mean. The dark brown hair seemed black in the light; the rounded cheekbones looked chiselled ? the eyelashes darker ? the arms more toned and longer. She flicked her eyes to meet mine and I saw them lighter ? I saw them twinkle ?

'FFFFFuuuuuuuccccccccckkkkk yeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssss!' I was over, my hands tangled in her hair, fingers twisting the thick locks into a frenzy of knots ? hips grinding into her with a need to satisfy. My eyes were tightly closed, and they were begging my brain to keep the image of those cheekbones ? those eyelashes ? those eyes, as I rode out my cumming on someone else's face.

God I felt alive. I felt every nerve ending stand up and scream 'YES!' as I dragged out all the sputtering sparks that had helped me to reach my goal. Blood pumped to the key spot and collected, swelling the bud that was safely captured in Sarah's mouth. My breathing was erratic and my chest heaved in labour.

But my heart was empty. I felt as if I had sold myself for a quick fix ? sold out my heart for an orgasm. I felt shallow.

Sarah lifted her eyes to meet mine and a stupid grin covered her face. And my heart ached with guilt. I had used her. Used her. Used her to forget my attraction to Ash.

I felt awful.

My smile was weak to say the least, but I don't think Sarah noticed ? just thought I was weak from my climax. She clambered up my body, placing soft, wet kisses along the way, until she reached my mouth. I could taste myself on her lips ? musky ? a little sweet ? different.

And evidence of what I had just done.

But it didn't stop me licking around her lips trying to capture the taste of my traitorous body.

I think Sarah wanted to go at it again, by all the soft stroking, kissing and nuzzling she was doing, but I just couldn't ? not then. My kisses became more chaste, intermittent with shy smiles and tentative strokes, until she finally accepted there was going to be no round two ? well ? not right away.

She slipped to my side and pulled me over to her, my face pressing into the dip of her throat. It felt comfortable lying on my side being held by her. Not fantastic, or that it filled me with peace or completeness ? just comfortable.

Deft fingers stroked my arm, calming me for some reason, lulling my eyes closed ? chasing away the demons of doubt ? allowing me to doze off ?

And that's how the evening ended. Me in Sarah's arms, sleeping the sleep of the exhausted.

Although, the exhaustion came through the depletion of emotions that had ravaged my body, the guilt, the yearning ? the longing for something else ? something different ? someone ? different.

And the knowledge that that someone could never be mine.


Dawn found me lying on my side with my back to Sarah. She was spooned up behind me with her arm draped over my stomach, and I could feel her breath on my skin. It was pleasant, but not the all-consuming emotion I had been expecting after making love for the first time.

I liked Sarah. A lot. She had introduced me to the part of me that was so well hidden I would have needed an archaeologist to uncover it. I liked kissing her, touching her ? making love to her. I liked the sensations her mouth, tongue and fingers brought out in me. I enjoyed the orgasm ? the first one I'd experienced with someone else other than myself.

But I didn't like the fact it wasn't Ash.

And I didn't like the fact I had used Sarah to fulfil the constant craving I had for my friend.

What to do?

Did I tell Sarah? Tell Ash? Go without sex? Rely solely on my right hand for comfort and contentment?

Or did I play the game ? accept what I had with Sarah and just carry on.

Thoughts whirled around my head, thoughts of Ash versus Sarah ? and although I really wanted Ash to win, reason made me go with Sarah. The old adage 'Better the Devil you know' was the only thought I could muster.

A sigh escaped, and I felt Sarah's arm tighten around me.

Here goes nothing ? or everything, depending on how you looked at it.

I turned in her embrace and began to kiss her throat. A contented whimper broke loose from her and I could feel her fingers trailing themselves along my spine, down to my arse to cover the flesh with goosebumps.

The fire began once again ? at first a flicker ? then a flame ? and then control was given over as I fell into her and her desire for me. Hungry kisses, touches and whispered words spewed forth into this fire.

I just had to be careful I didn't get burned ? or burn Sarah along the way.


Chapter Fifteen

Later that day saw me leaving Sarah and making my way home. My heart was heavy, but I was definitely sore in certain places ? a nice kind of sore, if you get my drift.

Jo was waiting for me as I entered the bedroom, and hardly gave me moment to catch my bearings before she bombarded me with questions. Mainly, where had I spent the night.

It was too much. The heaviness in my chest split open and seeped throughout the rest of my body seeking release. I stumbled towards the bed, bag dropping to the floor, and fell into a heap, barely catching myself.

The sob wracked through my body and broke out into the stunned room. A distinct wail ? a howl of agony ? a definite realisation of what I had done. I had had sex with someone for the wrong reasons ? used someone to satiate my own longings. And I was ashamed.


Ashamed of my own inability to say no. Ashamed because I used that sweet girl. Ashamed because I enjoyed it.

But mainly I was ashamed because I was gay ? and I had held it inside, bottling it all away to fester and become something sordid and freakish. I knew it wasn't ? how can two people loving each other be wrong, whatever sex they are.

The thought of telling anyone made me nauseous ? collected in my throat and physically choked me. Tears rained down my face, and I could feel the heaving sobs rattle and spill onto and into the covers of my bed. Jo was behind me, her smooth comforting hand on my shoulder softly rubbing along the heaving muscles trying to soothe me.

Which, obviously, made things ten times worse and my sobbing increased. I could hear her trying to shush me ? calm me ? comfort me ? words jumbling over each other in an attempt to redeem themselves ? in order to redeem me for some stupid reason.

I felt her lift me, turn me, capture me in her comforting embrace and I buried my face into the safety of her, believing this would be the last time it would happen.

I cried ? and cried ? and cried some more. Jo stroked my face, removing the tears with loving fingers, planting soft sisterly kisses on my head, gently rocking me into a disturbing sense of oblivion.

'Come on, Lou ? it can't be all that bad.' And I was off again, turning my face into her and burying deep, trying to hide my shame. 'If you are crying for what I think you're crying for, then don't. It doesn't bother me who you sleep with.'

I stopped mid sob ? it kind of jammed in my throat in surprise, until I trickled it out, all the power from it evaporating.

I lay there. And ?

? waited.

All I could hear was our breathing (mine definitely more ragged), and the sound of my heart chasing the blood back into the shocked veins in a dire attempt to bring all my senses back to life.

'What do you mean?' It came out small, distant, accusatory.

Jo sucked in a breath. Deep and full. 'I mean ? I don't care who you sleep with ? I'll still love you no matter what.'

I lifted myself up and stared into her face. She couldn't mean what I thought she meant. How on earth would she know about whom I slept with, or whom I wanted to sleep with for that matter?

Hiccupping sobs broke free, sobs of the child who has cried too long and too hard, and I met her eyes full on.

Clear and focused. Truthful. Caring. Open.

Just Jo. My Jo. My sister, Jo.

I felt exposed. All the experiences from the night before came back and played themselves out in my head. I felt my head shake itself from side to side, trying to dispel the image of Sarah between my legs ? my hand on her wet ?


Reality snapped back and I just stared at her in awe. Once again Jo had shown she loved me ? whatever. And at his moment I needed all the love I could get. But did she really know what, or should I say whom, I was crying about? How would she feel when she realised I had used Sarah? Would she be as forgiving then?

'Tell me ? whatever it is, I will still love you. I'm your sister ? you should know me by now.'

Images of Jo comforting me when my life crashed ten years ago. Sounds of her voice comforting me after bad dreams ? words of advice ? caring messages over the years. The feel of her hugs when I felt low ? the pat on the back when I had done anything good ? the ear I moaned to when I felt like a moan. Her laughter when I told her a funny story ? the tears when I explained why animal testing was cruel ? the jokes ? the friendship ? the always knowing she would be there ?

? no matter what.

And she had been.

Always there ? always there ? for me. In every way, shape or form, she had always been there.

So why would now be any different? She loved me. And I loved her.

The breath I sucked in seemed ice cold in my throat ? like the winds of change. This was it ? I had to tell her what had happened. I had to let her know who I really was ? what I had done.

I sat up, leaned over to my bedside cabinet and snatched a tissue from the box. Jo watched intently as I wiped my eyes, and then blew my nose vigorously. I was shaking inside ? quaking with fear, but I knew this was the right thing to do. I had to come clean ? had to share this secret with someone before it burst from me.

I fiddled about with my top, smoothing the wrinkles to no avail ? wasting time.

Jo still sat there. Silent. Waiting. And I pratted about ? nervous, swallowing rapidly.

I could tell she was just about to say something, but I beat her to it.

'I'm gay.' Short and to the point.

Jo's face didn't change at all. She just stared at me and allowed the simple sentence to be fully digested. I thought I had done the wrong thing, as images of her slapping me ran rampant through my head.

And then she made her move, and I physically shrunk backwards as her hand stretched out towards me.

Her eyes clouded with dismay as she realised what I thought she was going to do, and she gentled her movements before pushing a stray lock of hair behind my ear? cocking her head to the side to stare into my eyes again. Such green eyes ? a little lighter than my own, but filled with ? understanding.

'I know.'

Huh? How did she know? I only found out I had feelings for women a few months back.


'Just call it sisterly instinct. Sometimes I know you better than you know yourself.' Relief formed and swirled inside me, but I didn't feel I had control over my feelings yet.

Jo knew. Jo didn't care. Jo still loved me.

It all seemed too much to accept, and I had to quickly swallow the tears back down again as she took my hand and gave it a squeeze. 'It's not the end of the world you know?' I looked up at her, head held in submission. She smiled at me, a soft sweet smile in the hopes to reassure me. Tentatively, she sucked in a breath, bit her lip and asked the million-dollar question.

'Did you stay at Ash's last night?'

'Why would I do that?' At least I think that is what I said.

'Well ? erm?' Cough. 'I thought you ? her ? erm ? well ? you know?'

'Me and Ash! Together!'

Jo leaned backwards, probably to escape the volume of my voice. Her face showed surprise at my shrill tone and look of total disbelief. I drew in a sharp breath and tried to mentally fiddle with the volume settings of my voice box before repeating my previous statements, but now as questions. 'Me and Ash? Together?'

'I thought ? well ? there has always been ? oh never mind.' She looked nervous to say the least, but not as nervous as I felt. I was sitting here, in my bedroom, telling my sister I was gay, and her response was to think I was shagging my childhood friend.

If only.

Yes ? if only.

Sadness welled up inside and began to squirm its way upwards and outwards. I wanted to be with Ash ? God, did I? And what would Jo make of me sleeping with Sarah knowing she wasn't the one I wanted to be sleeping with?

'It's Sarah.'

I could tell Jo didn't know whom I was talking about, as Sarah had never come into the house, she had always met me outside ? and the closest she had been was the front door.

'Sarah ? who I work with ?' A spark of recognition hit home, but then she smiled the smile of someone who is completely without a clue. 'We started seeing each other about three months ago, but ?' Could I actually say it? 'We only ? erm ? slept ? together ? forthefirsttimelastnight.' The last bit was a bit rushed, but at least I got it out, although my face was near incandescent by this stage.

So was Jo's. But there was something else underlying the red glow.


And this made me confused ? even more than I already was.

Seconds turned into minutes, and minutes felt like hours. The air in the room was becoming smothering and I could feel the heat travelling up my body in waves, achingly aware I should say something ? anything.

Expressions such as 'What about United then?' didn't seem the right way to go for some reason.

A little bit more time elapsed, until I put my blonde brain into gear and came out with a well-thought through question.

'What's the matter?' Pure genius, if I say so myself. Short. To the point. Succinct, yet oddly full of possibility. I watched her squirm on the bed, looking at Cliff on the walls as some kind of support. 'For God's sake, Jo, ask me ? or tell me ? just say something.'

Her lips pursed, readying themselves for action and then ? nothing. I stared at her; the nerves rustling around my stomach had mogged off, fed up with the wait to flutter and be all-dramatic. So, I poked her in the ribs, which did bring a much-needed smile to her face, and I felt her physically relax.

'What is it, Jo? Have I disappointed you?'

'Why on earth should you say that?'

'By not being what you wanted me to be ? you know ? straight?'

The next bit surprised even me, and I had known this girl as long as I could remember.

She laughed ? head back laughing ? laughed ? yep ? laughed. I know ? I'm repeating myself, but she ?l-a-u-g-h-e-d.

Not happy.

Not in the slightest.

Here I was, pouring out my innermost secret to the one person who I respected and loved, and she sat here laughing AFTER telling me she already knew.

Not a happy camper, by any stretch of the imagination.

Ire niggled inside me, and I wanted to stand up and stamp my foot, in the most adult way possible, obviously. But I didn't. I just sat there and glowered, waiting for her to stop, which she eventually did when she noticed my straight thin lips and firm jaw.

'Sorry ? I'm sorry, Lou. It's just ? just ?'

'What? Just what?' I glared, and she tried to stop the spluttering laugh escaping from her mouth. So, like the injured party, I glared some more.

'You.' Well that made me feel better, that's for sure. 'How on earth could you feel I could ever be disappointed in you, whatever you did.' She put her arm around my shoulder and pulled my stiff body into her arms. 'Maybe we don't always agree on things, or I don't like the things that you do ?' I made a move to interrupt. 'No ? hear me out.' With that she shoved my head firmly underneath her arm, as if holding it in place.

'As I was saying ?' I could feel the words rattling around her chest, echoey, thudding. 'I could never be disappointed in you ? ever. It is all about acceptance ? accepting we are not infallible. Accepting there are times in our life where we say and do things we are not proud of, but accepting we made a mistake and move on.'

Her grip loosened around me and I took the opportunity to look into her face. A weird angle, though, as I could see her face from the chin up, but she was still perfect in my eyes. She was staring straight ahead, totally focused on what she was saying.

'So, Lou. Accept yourself ? accept who and what you are ? what you have done, and what you will do ? faults and all. And if people love you ?' a soft kiss on my forehead, 'whatever it is ? they will eventually accept you. Disappointment is a brief emotion, something we look back and learn from, not something we build our lives upon.'

Wow. What a speech. Now, you already know how much I love my sister, but this took the biscuit. I felt my chest swell with pride for even knowing someone like this.

It was so true. We spend our lives in fear of disappointing others, but we fail to think that within this time we are disappointing ourselves. Something to chew over ? definitely.

We sat there, snuggled up on my bed and just listened to the sounds of each other's breathing. I felt so calm, so at peace, so ? well ? serene in a way, although I knew the feeling wouldn't last.

Then Jo broke the serenity.

'I honestly thought you were shagging Ash ? you go on enough about how bloody fantastic she is.'

I shot up, peace ? tranquillity ? calmness shot to pieces, and my response came out so quickly; I think I nearly gave the game away. 'You must be joking, right? Me and Ash ? as if?' Maybe not the response, but the speed and the fake tone of incredulity made up the guilty parties.

And then she laughed again. A knowing laugh. A cocky laugh that made me wriggle with teenage anger.

'Right. I believe you, but thousands wouldn't.' And then she laughed again.



Chapter Sixteen

Christmas was just a week away, and college was coming to the end of term. Flyers announced a 'Chrimbo Get Together' at the Students' Union, and promises of cheap drinks, music and 'Lots Lots More', whatever that entailed.

It was to be hosted on the same night as Sarah's Christmas get together at Uni, and she had asked me to go.

But ?

Ash had asked me to go to the one at college.

Decisions ? Decisions ? no decision ? Ash won out.

Sarah was gutted I wouldn't be going with her, as she had planned something 'special' for afterwards. The worst part was I didn't even feel guilty, well ? I did a little ? erm ? okay ? I did feel guilty ? She looked so lost when I told her I had already made arrangements, and even offered to skip her own shindig and come to mine.

My heart stopped in my chest. No. She couldn't come to my do - Ash would be there, and ? and ? and ?

And what? It's not as if you two are sleeping together is it? Well ? I am sleeping with Sarah. But not Ash ? so where's the harm?

What if Sarah suspects I like Ash?

What if Ash suspects my relationship with Sarah? And is disgusted?

No. I couldn't let that happen. The more distance I could put between those two the better.

Don't get me wrong, they both knew the other existed, but they didn't know what I thought about the other, or what I did with one that I wanted to do with the other.

Yes ? definitely confusing. Imagine how I felt?

Friday night came and I was a bag of nerves for some reason or another. I was to meet Ash, and the rest of them, at 7.30, and my stomach actually got there before I did.

Wizard's 'I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday' greeted me as I entered the smoky bar. Students packed the place to the rafters, and all I could see were a sea of red Santa hats.

But I couldn't concentrate on anything but looking for Ash. Santa hats be damned.

It took me fifteen minutes to actually find her, well ? for her to find me.

I had nearly given up hope and just gone to the bar and to grab a drink, when I felt her behind me. When I say felt her, I mean felt her ? felt her presence. It was like an electric charge scooted up from the base of my spine and into my hairline ? shuddering shocks. Obviously, I didn't know it was her until she touched me.

And it was then I nearly swooned. The charges, or sparks, intensified dramatically, and raced around me looking for appeasement. She had placed her hands on my hips and pulled me backwards towards her ? nothing sexual ? but God ? it felt it to me. Especially when I felt her breasts in my back.

Stranger still, I didn't even know it was her at this stage.

My body was reacting in a way that was beyond my control, and I tensed in her embrace. Ash felt this, and instead of releasing me to fall to my knees, she did the worst thing possible.

She put those beautiful lips close to my ear and whispered 'It's okay, Lou. It's only me.' Her breath brushed against my skin and made every single hormone in my body sit up and beg. I don't know what got into me. I still can't believe the next thing I did.

It was like I had no control at all left in me to stop myself ? to stop my hands, that covered her own ? to stop my head turning to face her ? to stop my eyes fluttering closed ? lips parting in expectation ? to stop me reaching upwards to meet her divine lips ? to ?

'There you two are!' Stephen. Bugger. Or should I say lifesaver.

My eyes shot open to meet the intense blue stare of Ash, who I think looked even more startled than I did. Funny thing was, I know I had leaned upwards to kiss her, but I don't think I could have actually got that close to her ? she was so close I could feel the tip of my nose touch her cheek. And although our faces were on an angle, it would have been the matter of an inch and a half before my lips would have covered hers.

A paltry inch and a half ? an inch and a half and I could have tasted heaven. An inch and a half and I could have experienced the sensation I had only dreamed about.

An inch and a half and I would have a lot of explaining to do.

Moving away from her seemed like it was performed in slow motion. Our heads moved backwards but the gaze stayed intact, albeit confused. I lifted my hands from hers to release her, but they still lingered on my hips for a few moments more, as if they were stunned and had to have time to recover.

Or was that wishful thinking?

In all this time, Stephen had stood next to us, waiting. He looked slightly self-conscious, and I think if he could have escaped, he would have ? willingly.

I rapidly swallowed, although the dryness in my throat made this task seem like one of the twelve labours of Hercules. But I was trying to kick-start my mouth into action, before the situation became even tenser than it already was.

'Hi, Stephen ? there you are. I was looking for you.' No I wasn't. But what did you expect me to say? That I was looking for your gorgeous sister? Or, why did you interrupt me trying to lay one on Ash? What about ? Thank you for stopping me make a total dick head out of myself? Now that's a good one.

'We're over here.' And with that, he turned and nearly tripped over himself to get away.

Both Ash and I stared after him, fully expecting to actually see Cerberus chasing him.

'Come on. I'll take you back to the table and then get the drinks in.' Her voice wasn't as self-assured as usual, and a seed of worry planted itself in my gut. What if she had realised what I was going to do?


Double buggeration.

I nearly made my excuses and left ? nearly. But how could I go home and know I could have spent the evening with Ash? There was no way I could have done that ? no way. I just had to be more careful with what I let show ? tighten the reigns on my feelings ? even more tightly than I already was holding them.

And up to five minutes ago, I had held them pretty tightly.

But ? as you can see ? I wasn't very good at reigning these emotions in.

But ? I would have to learn. And quickly.


The evening was fun. It was loud and garish in a Christmas party kind of way.

You can imagine what it was like. A room full of teenagers, alcohol, and the freedom to act in the way they had not allowed themselves to act for the first few months of term.

We were all relaxed, well to a degree. I was still reeling from the near social faux pas from earlier to allow myself the freedom of going anywhere near the object of my desire. It would have been too tempting to just make a lunge at her, but ? I couldn't do that. She was my friend, and however much I longed for her ? yearned for her ? craved for her touch ? her mouth ? her lips ? However much I needed to feel her in my arms, I couldn't, no ? wouldn't do anything that would jeopardise our friendship.

All evening I kept on taking sly looks at her, devouring her with my eyes. She was so beautiful ? so absolutely beautiful. I loved the way she really looked at people when she talked. The way her hands moved when she was chatting ? the way she held a finger up to people when she wanted their attention ? the way she tilted her head to the side ? or threw it back in laughter.

One of the things I found breathtaking was the way she licked her lips, soft caresses from the wet muscle around lips that had been carved from rose petals. And the way she would bite her bottom lip when she was acting coy, or thinking.

I could sit here all night and list everything I loved about her. Could spend eternity spouting her beauty, like Shakespeare's sonnet:

And yet by heav'n I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare

Nothing compared to her ? nothing could match the blueness of her eyes, the rose hue of her lips and cheek, the sound of her voice ? her voice ? her voice. I don't believe I actually listened to the words ? I just got lost in it ? allowed it to swirl over me and consume me.

All this from a few surreptitious looks.

Imagine what I could say if I was allowed to fully digest her?

It was strange, though. Many of the times I stole a look, she would already be looking in my direction. One time, her face was completely lost in thought, her eyes fixed firmly on my face. The previous times I had looked at her and she was looking at me, she had quickly turned away.

But not this time.

This time she just ? stared. Her eyes seemed preoccupied, with what I don't know. They seemed to be looking at my mouth, but I think it was just wishful thinking on my part. Funny how self-conscious you become when someone is looking at your mouth, it is nearly impossible not to lick your lips.

So I did.

And so did she.

It was like she was mimicking the action, those perfect lips were stroked by that perfect tongue, then the bottom lip, once again, was caught between her perfect teeth.

I felt the groan leave my mouth before I had chance to stop it.

I don't know if it was that that made her jump back, as if she had been slapped, the confusion evident on her face. Or maybe it was the reality of the situation.

But I know for definite, for that split second she kept my gaze when she was focused, she must have seen everything I had tried so hard to keep hidden. There is no way she could have missed it. It was there for the taking. All the love that had been so carefully hidden had drifted to the surface for that brief moment ? the brief moment she had looked straight in my face.

I felt exposed ? betrayed by my own inability to hide.

And as well as feeling exposed, I felt ashamed.

After a few minutes, I made my excuses and went to the Ladies ? or pretended to.

Within ten minutes, I was sat in the back of a taxi on my way home.

How could I stay when I knew she knew? How could I face her? How could I?


How could I?


Chapter Seventeen

I arrived home a little after eleven. Both my parents were surprised to see me back so early, but I rested their questions with a mumbled excuse about having to get up early for work the next day.

As if I cared about work. Or anything for that matter, except the look on Ash's face when she had seen all there was inside me.

I felt dirty.


I felt like I should be kept away from anyone half-decent. I should have known being gay wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I had accepted the fact I was different, and foolishly thought the rest of the world didn't matter ? mainly because they didn't have to know. Really, I thought I could keep this huge, dark secret tucked up inside myself and never tell a soul.

The innocence, or should I say, the stupidity of youth, eh?

Blackness enveloped me as I trudged up the stairs, into the bathroom, into the shower to scrub this 'filth' from me. But it didn't cleanse me like I hoped it would.

How could I have been so stupid? So fucking stupid? So ignorantly fucking ass-wiping dick scraping stupid?

The despair I had been feeling turned into anger ? anger at myself for being who I was ? for being different.

My bedroom was dark when I entered and I couldn't be arsed to turn the light on, just threw myself onto the bed, and screamed into the pillow.

'What's up with you, lezza?' Jo's new nickname for me rang through the air like a punch waiting to happen. I stiffened on top of the bed, the pillow half in my open mouth ? and waited.

The reason I waited is because I knew if I had said anything at that precise moment, I would regret it. 'Oi, Lou! What's the matter?' The jesting had left her voice and I could hear concern coming from her. I could also hear her getting up from her bed and shuffle over to mine.

I could barely see the outline of her as she leaned over me, silhouetted by the light coming through the crack in the curtain. I wanted to tell her to fuck off and let me rot in peace, but I couldn't ? just couldn't.

A warm hand landed in the centre of my back and waited ? no movement, except for my breathing, which was becoming laboured because of the pillow half suffocating me.

Time elapsed. I don't know how much, but it seemed an age. I could feel myself drifting off into a fog filled haze, my long wet hair sticking to my face, arms and neck. Her voice came in through the mist and seemed like a dream of some description, a fantasy ?

'Tell me, Lou. Tell me ?'

I was open to telling her, mainly because I didn't have the capability to stop myself. The words fell from my lips like a confession, maybe because they were.

'I'm in love with Ash.'

Total silence. It actually felt like I had just spoken into the empty air, and I was beginning to believe the sensation of Jo's hand was just that ? a sensation, until she spoke.

'Does she know how you feel?'

'I think so ? I think she's guessed.' A calmness was in my voice I didn't expect; dreamlike once again. It is funny how you can experience one emotion and then juxtapose this with its opposite in the matter of an instant.

'What does she think about it?'

'How the fuck should I know? I didn't stick around to get my face slapped, did I?' I turned sharply, releasing the pillow ? releasing the anger that had been welling up unbeknownst to me in the last five minutes?releasing the frustration and hurt and agony and despair that comes with being in love with someone you just ? can't ? have.

'How do you know she would slap your face? You may have been surprised.'

That was it. I was boiling now. How dare she surmise how and what Ash would be feeling. How dare she try to make ? try to make ? try ? to ? make ?

? me feel better.

I was sat upright now, my body invading her space, the stance threatening, but she didn't flinch. Just stared me in the eyes. 'I said, how can you possibly know how Ash would have reacted if you didn't stay around long enough to find out.'

I didn't move: I was stock still, staring.

'I never took you for a coward, Lou.'

Could I possibly answer that? Could I be angry at what she had said, considering it was the truth? I was a coward. Plain and simple. A girl without a spine. And I felt even more ashamed of myself than I already was. I felt the life seep from me once again and I sat back against the headboard and closed my eyes.

'You have to tell her ? let her know how you feel.'

A whispered 'I can't' wisped itself from half closed lips.

'What have you got to lose? You can't go on like this Lou ? I've noticed for a while you weren't happy, ?' I made a half-hearted move to interrupt, but she shushed me. 'No ? this is not about you and Sarah. Even after you told me about you two, you still seemed sad for some reason.'

I shrugged, and muttered 'I'll get over it'.

'But why should you have to get over anything? Why can't you just put your cards on the table and level with the girl ? you may be surprised.'

That was the second time she had said that ? that I'd be surprised. I looked at her, the question evident.

'I don't know ? it's just you two ? well ? even when we were kids there was something I couldn't put my finger on.' She looked sheepish at this. And I looked intrigued.

'Go on.'

'Erm ? you two just ? erm ? well seemed to fit, if you know what I mean?' I shook my head and waited for her to go on. She released a deep breath, shook herself and then looked at me. I knew she felt uncomfortable, but I needed her to say it ? say what my heart wanted to hear.

She coughed, and then coughed again.

'I always felt like a spare part when I was with you two ? always felt like I wasn't needed ? shush Lou, let me speak. I felt you had a connection, something none of us could understand at the time. Didn't you wonder why I didn't hang about with you two?' I nodded. 'It wasn't because I disliked Ash, although I know you thought I did. I just felt ? erm ? out of place somehow.'

The proverbial penny clunked into my head like a two-ton weight. No wonder Jo always said for Ash and me to do our own thing, but always gave the option to join her if I wanted to. Not Ash ? just me. I kind of drifted off for a minute in an attempt to recollect anything that could have given Jo the impression she wasn't wanted ? well ? needed is more the word.

I have to admit I could see her point of view. Even as a kid I had always felt complete with Ash ? like we fitted together in some strange way ? like we were meant to be friends.



Not lovers ? but friends.

That word stuck in my throat and choked my future. Friends. How could I expect her to want anything more than we had already? I had waited ten years for her to come back into my life and there was no way I was going to bugger it up by making a pass at her.

If all I ever got from her was her friendship, than I would be happy with that, as I couldn't bear not having her again.

But I loved her so much ? so much ? so much? How could I be around her all of the time and not lean forward to capture that perfect mouth with my own? How could I sit close to her and not drown in her eyes?

How could I face her again after tonight?

'Lou?' Jo's voice broke through my reverie in an attempt to bring me back to earth. I faced her with a sad smile and the threat of tears at the back of my eyes. 'You are going to tell her, aren't you?' Slowly and carefully I shook my head in the negative. She frowned at me, pushing her bottom lip out like a child in an attempt to make me laugh. But that was the last emotion I felt like having.

She sighed, shook her head whilst expelling a stream of breath. 'You are a fool, Lou. Tell her ? for fuck's sake ? what have you got to lose?'

I didn't miss a beat with my answer. What was there to consider?

'Everything, Jo. Everything.'

With that I turned onto my side, dismissing her with my back. There was no way I could tell Ash how I felt. In her eyes we were just friends ? friends who barely knew each other after ten years. Imagine what she would do ? say ? if I was to proclaim my undying love for her? She would think I was an idiot ? or a pervert ? or both.

The pain in my chest was clawing at the inside of my rib cage, the heart was attempting to rip out of its nest and scream its agony into the air. But to anyone watching I was still ?rigid.

'Just think about it, okay? Life's too bloody short to hide behind fear. We'll speak tomorrow, right?' I didn't answer ? couldn't. 'I said ? we'll speak tomorrow, all right?' Her voice was firm and brooked no argument. I nodded, as I didn't trust my voice to be in charge of what I was feeling. 'Okay. Now get some sleep.'

A light kiss landed on my head, and I pushed my face in the pillow once again.

A very good way to muffle the sobs that were breaking out. And it saved me wiping the tears that were pouring freely down my cheeks.

Life is a bitch, isn't it?


Saturday saw me trying to hold down the contents of my stomach once again, as the smells of the indoor market nearly strangled me. That was a mean smell ? Jesus ? everything smelled off. It wasn't just the fact of the market, but the lack of sleep I had had the night before.

Jo's words had danced around my head and made me re evaluate my situation, both with Sarah and with Ash. I had cried on and off all night, especially when I kept envisioning Ash's face the last time I had seen her. The blue eyes ? the startled expression ? her lips wet after she licked them. Emotions inside me were an oxymoron, as they both contributed to the agony of love ? of my love for her.

Funny thing was Sarah looked ten times worse than I did.

I could see she was fighting the smell of the cheeses ? a definite sign of a mega hangover. Her eyes looked dull and lifeless, and her skin had a pallor associated with the dead.

Even when I said hello, all she could muster was a watery smile, but she still gripped my hand as she passed behind the extremely small counter and whispered 'Missed you last night.'

And of course I felt bad, because I had barely given her a thought. I conjured a smile from deep inside and she gazed into my face before saying, 'Jesus, Lou. You look like I feel. Did you drink too much?'

I just nodded. What was I supposed to say? 'Well actually, Sarah. No. I didn't touch a drop. I just spent all night crying about how I love Ashley Richards.' The words 'lead balloon' and 'going down like one' sprang to mind.

The morning passed in its usual blur of activity. Customers queued and queued and queued for what seemed like eternity. I couldn't wait for lunchtime ? the quicker it arrived the better.

Five minutes before I was to go off duty, I felt a sensation creep up my spine and travel through my body like a shock of electricity. I had my back to the counter, but I knew if I turned around I would see the reason why my legs had lost their ability to hold my weight up. I gripped the side, my knuckles going white, and Sarah sidled next to me her face full of concern.

'Are you all right, Lou? You look like shit.' I didn't feel all right. Not by a long stretch of the imagination. A couple of deep breaths ? a couple more ? then a couple more for good measure.

I turned, the action nearly my undoing. And there she was ? like a vision.

She was leaning back on the end of the counter opposite ours, her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes fixed on me, although she couldn't quite see my face. There was no smile ? just the look. Stern and commanding. I was trapped in her gaze like a rabbit in the headlights of a car.

'Who's that?' Sarah's voice sounded distant, and I had difficulty answering her.

'That's Ash.'

'Ash! As in your Ash?'

I wish.

'Yes. My Ash.' My voice sounded dead, lifeless ? defenceless. I watched Ash rearrange herself, pushing her hips forward and trying to get some amount of comfort from the glass cabinet.

'What's she doing here, then?'

I wanted to snap 'How the fuck should I know?' But I didn't. For two reasons. One ? it wouldn't have been fair to take out my frustration on Sarah.

Two ? I knew.

I knew she had come to have a go about last night ? and I was hoping it was just for deserting her and not saying goodnight. Not for catching me drooling over her. Please. If there is a God ? please don't let her know how I feel ? please.

'Right you two. Are you going to lunch now or what?'


Double crap.

Crap times infinity.

I always had lunch with Sarah ? always. And there was no way I could face having them both together, not after last night ? not with feeling as rough as what I did. I couldn't cope with Ash having a go at me ? especially if she came right out and said ? you know ? about what I had showed her so clearly last night. What would Sarah do? Would she 'out' me, say that we were sleeping together?


I felt sick to my stomach. My stomach felt sick to my teeth. My teeth had gone numb ? so had my brain, which had broken all ties with my mouth, leaving me mute and stupid.

'Come on, Lou ? it's our turn.'

I followed Sarah down the counter, and from the corner of my eye, I saw Ash push herself away from the counter and start to follow us.

Not good.

'Lou! Lou! Wait up!' I could hear Ash behind me, and it took all the gumption I had to turn and face her, plastering a smile there for the initial contact ? pretending nothing was the matter.

She was racing up to me, pushing people out of the way in an attempt to get there quickly.

'Hey, Ash. I was going to call you later.'

That stopped her in her tracks ? for about two seconds.

'Didn't you see me? I was waiting opposite your stall.'

I could feel Sarah next to me, waiting to be introduced. Ash's eyes flicked to her in acknowledgement, and then came back to rest on mine. 'No ? I didn't see you ? we've been busy.'

Sarah was nearly pushing into the back of me by now, and I could feel my nerves shredding. I could tell Ash didn't believe me, but what else could I do? I couldn't tell her I what had been going through my mind ? I just did the 'running away' thing that I did so well.

'We need to talk,' she looked over my shoulder at Sarah. 'Alone.'

What to do? What to do? It all seems so small and harmless now when I look back, but at the time I was terrified.

I nervously looked at Sarah, my eyes adopting a beseeching look. She looked pissed off, which I didn't blame her for. So I gave her the puppy dog eyes once more, adding a smile into the kitty. I saw the resolve leave her, and she nodded her head in assent, albeit begrudgingly. 'I'll see you later, Sarah, okay?'

She just nodded, turned and walked downstairs to the locker room. I turned back to Ash 'I have to get out of this apron; I'll meet you at St Mary's ? at the back of the churchyard, okay?' I didn't even wait for a reply, just scooted down the steps and into the changing room.

Sarah was brushing her hair and glaring at me in the mirror. I smiled at her reflection, but she just lowered her eyes.

Saying I felt like a prize shit would be redundant at this stage ? I think it is obvious. I walked up behind her and put my hands around her waist, lowering my lips to her tied up hair. 'Sorry, honey ? I ? well ? Ash and I had a bit of an argument last night.' Why was I lying ? again? But I couldn't stop myself. 'I think she wants to talk about it.' Sarah was still tense, so I went one-step further and started to kiss the back of her neck.

Soft, tender kisses, breathy kisses, kisses filled with promise, kisses that said 'I want you.' Her body visibly relaxed, and I could hear her breathing becoming heavy and expectant. She turned in my arms and covered my mouth with her own. A hot kiss ? a wet kiss ? a tongue begging entrance to my mouth, which I allowed. I could feel myself getting lost in her, and the sensations her lips ? her hands ? her fingers were doing to me.

I could feel a pooling forming between my legs ? an ache building ? but they weren't for Sarah. They were for a certain woman who was now waiting for me in the churchyard ? and if things went badly, at least I was in the right place. They could just bury me.

I pulled away from Sarah, a little too quickly, because she gave me a dazed look. 'Got to go ? see you when I get back, yeah?' She nodded, and tried to summon a smile from deep within.

I took off my apron and washed my hands, surreptitiously watching her in the mirror. Her gaze never left mine ? I don't think she even blinked.

'Laters, then.'

'Can I see you tonight? My parents are out if you want to come round?'

I was going to say no ? honestly. But her face ? she looked like she would crumble if I turned her down. I couldn't ?

'Okay ? great. We'll sort it out when I get back, yeah?' Her smile swallowed me, and she grabbed me by the hips and planted a kiss on my mouth.

It's such a pity I couldn't return the affection.

With a weak smile, I turned and left her there.



Ash was pacing in the churchyard, and I had only twenty minutes of my lunchtime left. I had tried to think of a plausible explanation about what she 'thought' she had seen written on my face last night. But they all came out lame or an obvious lie.

I had convinced myself that whatever she said I would just deny it. There was no point admitting it ? I needed a spine to do that, and I didn't have one. So I would go for the 'deny' or 'no comment' rule.

She had her back to me, but as I got nearer she turned abruptly ? startled, her face showing confusion for some unaccountable reason.

I smiled at her, hoping to stop the accusations before they even got started. Then once again another lie popped out of my mouth. And I didn't even expect it.

'I'm sorry I didn't say goodnight last night ? I felt really ill ? and I just had to get home.' Well ? it could have been the truth, I did feel ill - but not in a poorly sick and can't eat custard kind of way. The sickness was how I felt about myself, about what I had done; the fact I had shown the one person whom I didn't want to know, exactly how I felt about them.

Ash just looked at me with the same startled expression on her face, her poise was slightly askew, as her shoulders twisted round. She didn't move ? just stood there and waited until I was right up close to her.

I stood and waited for her to answer, or even remark on what I had just said, and I finally realised I didn't think she had heard me so I repeated it.

'Did you feel it?' Huh? 'Did you feel that ? that something?' My face informed her that I didn't have a clue what she was talking about. 'That tingling sensation ?'

I stared at her ? I knew exactly was she was talking about; I had felt it when she had been watching me at work. It was a weird feeling ? almost electrical.

But, me being me, I just shook my head, and I still believe I saw disappointment flash across her face. She lifted her hand and brushed it through her long raven locks, completing its journey with a waggle of her fingers. 'What did you say?'

I had to swallow before I could answer her. 'Erm ? just that I was sorry about last night ? I didn't feel well so just went home.'

Concern flooded onto her face. 'Are you okay now? Should you be at work?' She came towards me and put her hands on my shoulders, her body close to mine, her face closer. 'You look all pale and blotchy all of a sudden ? come ? sit down.' I did feel pale and blotchy, but it wasn't because I felt ill ? more like the sensation she evoked in me. I think all of the blood raced from my face to a more demanding region, but it had left some stragglers behind.

I let her lead me over to the bench and lowered me down to the seat, her arm completely around me. I was in guilty heaven ? I could smell her perfume, so light ? so addictive ? so her. I was entranced.

So entranced I realised I had shut off the listening part of my brain, and tuned in to hear the last part of what she was saying '? and then I came looking for you. It was the doorman who told us you had left in a taxi ten minutes earlier.' She was rubbing my hands between her own, as to get the blood back I think, but take it from me ? the blood was staying exactly where it had shot to minutes before. The hand rubbing guaranteed that.

But it was her eyes that captivated me ? those deep pools that looked into my face with absolute concern about my welfare; I was so lost in them I didn't even feel bad about staring. All I wanted to do was to lean forward and just ? catch ? those ? perfect lips in my own and drown into her. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I loved this woman who was half kneeling half sitting before me. The woman who was holding my hands in hers ? holding my heart in her hands.

I just wanted to take those hands of hers and place them on either side of my face, just to show her ? to show her ? I was hers ? always hers. To show her I would be forever lost in her ? my heart was forever lost.

'? and then I remembered you worked on the market today. So here I am.'

Yes. Here you are.

'Sorry about leaving and not telling anyone.' My voice sounded like my head was under water ? muffled and distorted, but Ash didn't seem to notice. She just flashed me one of those brilliant smiles that lit up the world ? slightly crooked and filled with promise.

'Forget about it. We were just worried about you.' She patted my knee. 'Anyway ? what are your plans for tonight. Fancy you -me - the pictures - there's a good film on. The Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger.'

I physically felt my face light up, and my heart screamed out 'YES!' but then I remembered. Sarah. I had promised Sarah I would see her tonight.


And then ? fuck ? again.

'I can't ?' Ash's face fell. I saw the expression literally go from ecstatic to depressed in the blink of an eye. 'I've already made plans with ? erm ? Sarah.' She tilted her face to the side, the expression questioning. 'The girl I work with ? we ? erm ? we ? are going to ? erm ?' I couldn't say go to the pictures as Ash would have asked to come along. 'Erm ? going to her friend's eighteenth in Stalybridge.'

All the time I was deliberating with my tale, she watched me. It felt as if she knew I was lying but didn't like to say anything. That made me feel more like the giant shit I had felt earlier. 'But I am free tomorrow ? or Monday ? Tuesday ?' Was I throwing myself at her? Most certainly. All the ideas of avoiding her crumbled into dust and flew into the wind, swirling its way around the stone structure of St Mary's church taking my inhibitions with it.

The smile I so loved about her, trickled its way back onto her chiselled face, spreading like sunshine and making me feel giddy just to be in its presence.

'How about all three?' She cocked her head to the side and waited for my response, which was to allow my jaw to drop and for me to sit there catching flies. A laugh came from deep within her making me snap my mouth closed once again. 'Look ? I miss you. Is that a crime now? Just thought we should see more of each other.' She grinned. 'And by seeing you for three nights on the trot ? well ? let's just say ? it would be my pleasure.'

And mine ? God ? and mine.

'And ? next time I ask you out on a Saturday night, maybe you wouldn't have already made arrangements with someone else. You'd be all mine.'

God ? I wish ? I wish ? I so wish I was all yours Ashley Richards. From the bottom of my ba booming heart.


Chapter Eighteen

Saturday night saw me with Sarah, but not with her, if you know what I mean. Physically I was there, but my head and my heart were definitely somewhere else ?

Even when she had her head between my legs, fucking me with her mouth, I was elsewhere. All I could do was think of Ash, and wish it was her there sucking and licking and kissing my most intimate place ? wish it was her fingers that were playing with my nipple; her hand that was holding my hip down; her head bobbing up and down.

I didn't even try to stop my thoughts from straying ? I just accepted the fact I was head over heels in love with Ash, and wanted her more than I wanted to breathe. No guilt this time ? nothing ? except a fantastic orgasm that ripped through me and made me scream into the air, whilst thrusting myself onto Sarah's face over and over again ? savouring the jolts spluttering from me ? sweat coating my skin ? cum coating my thighs, her face and mouth.

So as I said. Having illicit thoughts about Ash didn't stop me having an orgasm. In fact ? it definitely helped.


Christmas came and went, and the majority of my time was spent with Ash now. Sarah, quite rightly, was becoming more and more jealous. Even though I wasn't technically cheating on her - I was. Well ? in my head ? and definitely in my heart ? and I knew I had to stop what I was doing to her.

I did like Sarah ? really like her. She had been my first ? and would always hold that special place in my heart as she had shown me exactly who I was ? and still am. I did feel bad ? I knew her feelings for me ran deep; I could tell every time she looked at me.

And I knew I was actually doing more harm than good being with her, and I had to find the courage from somewhere to do something about it. Deep down, I just wished she would get fed up with me cancelling on her and go and find someone else.

I know ? the true coward's way out. And I agree with you ? I didn't deserve anyone, especially if that is how I was going to treat them.

New Year's Eve arrived resplendent and ready for action. I'd made arrangements to spend the evening with Sarah ? out of guilt I think. Ash had been disappointed when I told her but had accepted it with little fuss, but her eyes had given her away ? and I felt torn.

Bloody hell. Why on earth should I be in this situation? Why couldn't I just be happy with Sarah? Why did I have to always go after the unobtainable?

Life, I suppose ? the little things that are here to drive us slowly mad with longing.

Ah well ?

Anyway. I digress. Per usual.

Ash told me where she would be going, and told me and my 'friends' to pop in if we were passing. Yeah ? I could see that happening ? me and Sarah popping in to see Ash, her brothers, the wonderful Tracy (who was back on the scene again after worming her way back in to Stephen's affections. Twat. Or twatette ?), and all our mates from college meeting in The Plough in Heaton Moor.

Manchester was heaving with people, and Sarah and I had tickets to New York New York, a gay bar, which had a live act on, and a disco. At least we could be natural ? well as natural as I could be being underage and with the wrong woman.

All evening I sat with Sarah, refusing most of the drinks thrust in front of me by everyone and their mother (not really their mother - an expression if you will). As time dragged by I became increasingly depressed, and was constantly clock watching. And like all clock-watchers, I found time fucking about with my sense of reality. What seemed like an hour had been five minutes ? I'm not even going to go into what an hour felt like, but believe me ? it was agony.

Eventually, it was Sarah who couldn't stand it anymore, and broke the silence between us. I heard it smash into smithereens as it hit the wall with force.

'I know you are not happy, Lou. Have I done something to upset you?' Her face was pained, the anguish clearly standing out making her features appear gaunt and deathlike. Her eyes seemed haunted as she waited for my response, and I knew she wanted me to say something that would make this better ? make us better.

What could I do? I could lie and just accept this relationship, or ? I could tell her the truth.

'Of course you haven't ? Sarah ? I ?am happy ?' But just not with you ? just not like this. 'You know I think a lot of you, don't you?' She nodded, her long hair flaying around her head as she nodded, her expression waiting for me to end this pain I could see written all over her.

Why am I just about to tell her another lie? Why am I treating her like this? This wasn't fair on her ? she deserved so much more than my half-hearted attempts at a relationship. I knew I would never have a relationship with Ash, but that didn't give me the right to treat Sarah like second best. I had to learn to be on my own for the right reasons ? not with someone because it was convenient.

She was still waiting for me to carry on. Still waiting for me to burst her bubble. Still waiting ? and I could feel her breaking inside ? and I knew exactly what she was going through, because I went through the same thing every time I was with Ash. I also knew that one day she would be me ? sitting there, waiting to get my heart broken.

'I'm in love with someone else.'

I can still remember her face when those words came out ? stunned ? lost and broken all at the same time. Visibly the colour drained from her face, the whiteness stark in the club's lighting. Then slowly, the face began to fold, crumble, fracture, splinter ? rupture. Her hands flew outwards to mine in a vain attempt to capture my hands; a keening sound emanating from the pit of her stung my ears and my chest ached, as I knew it was my fault.

'Please ? no ? Lou ? don't leave me ? don't ? leave me. I ? I ? love you ? love you ?' the first time she had used those words, and the last. Tears rained down her face and she lunged across the table trying to grab me, but I pulled away, tears rolling from my eyes too. I can't tell you how I felt ? can't tell you what emotions were running through me by now. All I knew is that I had killed something in that girl ? she was devastated ? and it was all my fault, for wanting something, or should I say someone, else.

People were looking over at us, but I didn't care. I knew I should comfort her in some way, but how?

She had leaned back into her chair by now, her hands over her face, trying to stop herself crying, trying to regain some composure.

'Sarah I ? I ? never meant to hurt you, you must know that?' No answer - just muffled sobs. ' I didn't even know myself until after we had started seeing each other ? didn't even know I could have feelings for another woman.'

Her face peeked over the tips of her hands, her mascara smeared all over her cheeks ? and it was all my fault ? all my fault. I watched her swallow rapidly, before she looked me straight in the eyes and said. 'I understand ?' such a soft sweet voice. 'Truly ? Lou ?' She stopped again, swallowed again, looked at me squarely in the eyes ? again. 'Just remember ? I ?love you ? always will.'

And she was gone.

And I was left searching the whole place from top to bottom for thirty minutes, but it was as if she had vanished off the face of the earth.

Finally, I resolved myself to the fact she had left the place, collected my coat and headed towards the exit. Eleven fifteen on New Year's Eve and I was going home. Good place for me, as I felt awful. I'd broken that girl ? not just her heart ? but her. And I doubt even to this day I have ever forgiven myself for it.

If I was heading home, can you please tell me why, at eleven forty, I was pushing open the door to The Plough?

Beats me. But that's where my homing device had taken me. It had taken me home ? home to Ash.


I could see her standing with her back to me, and she was deep in conversation with some guys from college. I just stood there and watched her. She was so beautiful ? so natural ? such a catch for any guy in here.

And that was the problem ? it was the guys she was interested in ? not girls. Like me.

As I was watching her, I saw her stop in mid sentence and rub the back of her head, the side of her face quizzical, like something had just hit her. I looked around but couldn't see anyone laughing, and more to the point, I hadn't seen anything hit her either.

In slow motion she turned ? and looked straight at me, her face stunned for a split second, before she released the smile that was always ready and waiting. Then ? she screamed out 'LOU! YOU MADE IT!' and hurtled towards me, throwing her arms around and crushing me into her.

I was lost and found in her ? the feel of her ? the scent of her ? just ? her ? all of her. My lips were so close to her neck ? the special place on your neck where the throat meets the shoulder ? the little dip. It was so tempting to just kiss her ? suck in her skin ? taste her. And to tell you the truth, I did have a little brush against it. It was bliss.

She thrust me back, and I thought she had caught me, but her expression said otherwise. 'I am so happy you could make it ? with just over fifteen minutes to spare too.'

Then, dear reader, you know what she did? Do you? Have a guess.

Oh I can't wait around for you, I'll just tell you.

She kissed me. On the mouth. Her mouth on mine. Bam. There ? flesh on flesh ? lips on lips ? her arms around me, kissing me.

About bloody time, I hear you all say. But hold your horses, it wasn't a kissing kind of kiss ? it was a 'Hey ? I'm so excited to see my friend' kind of kiss. But who cares? She kissed me ? on the mouth! And I nearly died ? not of embarrassment ? no way ? of lust. The kiss was perfect, and I even got to sample a little bit of her spit, which I savoured after she pulled away and turned to shout the rest of them over. I pushed my lips into my mouth and sucked, just in case there was a little bit left over lurking outside that I could have missed.

I know ? I'm a sad fucker ? but I bet nearly all of you have done the same thing at one time or another. Go on ? have a think ?

See ? I told you so.

I was bustled forward into the group, where I was met by everyone. I could see Tracy hanging back, trying to calm herself. And I wanted to laugh. I must have really pissed her off. Ash left me for a few minutes but I didn't really get the chance to miss her as everyone was asking me questions about what I had done and why I had finally come to my senses and come.

I tried to answer them all, but Ash was back carrying a glass of something bubbly, a cheeky grin splitting her face.

As I looked at her, I felt a jolt of guilt for what I had done to Sarah pass over me ? albeit fleetingly, but there nevertheless. Ash saw it. Would you believe it? She saw the expression flit across my face and her own reacted to it, roughly mirroring my own. So I smiled at her and she smiled back, slightly at first, and then a full out beaming smile.

'Come on, Lou. Let's get ready for the countdown.' Then she grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the crowd and closer to the DJ, her fingers cool and long in my own sweaty stumpy ones. I allowed myself to be dragged by her, couldn't resist really.

'You're not allowed a sip yet ? you have to wait until midnight, okay?' I nodded and then placed my glass on top of the speaker before leaning back and looking at my friend. She followed suit. Her long frame stretching out as she leaned back, her hips pushing out, her arms flat against the speaker.

When she turned to face me she was nearly on my level, and I felt the air catch in my throat. How on earth am I going to get through tonight without telling her, without touching her, without losing complete control and kissing those faultless lips?

Restraint. And lots of it.

'What are you thinking about?' She was so close, I could just ?

'Not much.' What else could I have said? The truth? I think I'd had enough of being truthful for one evening, don't you? 'Why?'

'You looked so serious.' I play slapped her in the belly and she pretended I had winded her, and we both laughed, before leaning back onto the speakers, totally comfortable with each other.

When the DJ announced there was only a minute before midnight, I fully expected her to drag me off again to find the others, but she just leaned forward and pulled me into standing position in front of her.

I stood there, like a piece of clay waiting to be moulded into any shape she wanted, totally at her mercy. She placed both her hands on my shoulders and stared at me ? so deeply ? so fully, I actually began to have difficulty swallowing. Then she lifted one hand and grabbed one of mine and placed it on her hip, before she did the same with the other one.

And there we stood. Her hands on my shoulders, mine on her hips ? waiting for the countdown, although my heart was definitely waiting for something else.

'Ten ?' She just gazed into my eyes ? no expression readable. I stared back ? transfixed. I actually missed the next few seconds, as I couldn't concentrate.

'Four ?' People were chanting the numbers now, but I couldn't speak ? I was lost in her eyes ? in her touch.

'Three ?' I licked my lips, nerves or expectation, I don't know.

'Two ?' She licked hers, just a mirroring reaction.

'One ?' I couldn't breathe now ? the thought of what I wanted to happen was eating me alive.

'Happy New Year!' I didn't hear the cheers around me, the people going wild and beginning to sing Auld Lang Syne. I didn't know anything but the most tender kiss I had ever experienced in my life brush against my lips, once ? twice ? three times.

Then she pulled me into her again, leaving me stunned and my blood racing. Her breath was in my hair, her voice muffled, but my nerves made it seem as if she had shouted it. 'Thank you, Lou. For coming back to me ? for coming back to me.'

Did she mean tonight? Or generally?

To tell the truth, I didn't care. I folded into her and just accepted what she was willing to give, losing the last vestiges of control along the way, her presence consuming me, ingesting me ? mind, body and soul.

And there we stood, wrapped in each other's arms for what seemed like a glorious lifetime, and all the while I knew this would probably be the last time I would experience this bliss, this heaven on earth. The first and last time ? as I knew this was only a reaction to seeing me again after all those years apart.

Stephen interrupted us ? again, shouting his New Year's greeting and expecting hugs and kisses from the both of us. I pulled away first, and I watched her eyes slowly open and focus on mine. They looked dreamy, for some reason. 'Come on you two ? you haven't even toasted the New Year yet.' With that, he thrust my glass into my hand, grabbing me around the waist and planting a sloppy kiss on my mouth, before grabbing his sister and picking her up to jiggle her around.

She threw her head back and laughed that really deep and sexy laugh of hers, and I felt a smile creep along my face. I lifted the glass in toast, and silently mouthed, 'Happy New Year, Ash. And thank you for coming back to me.'


Chapter Nineteen

It was nearly a week before I saw Sarah again. And she looked like crap. I had tried to call her the day after, but she wasn't taking my calls. Although it wasn't actually said, I could sense it in her father's tone of voice when he said she was out.

It was not very welcoming to say the least.

The time I saw her was at work, but not really at work if you know what I mean. She popped by to hand in her apron first thing on the Saturday morning, and it took her all her time to look at me, even after I kept on calling her name.

What did I expect? Hugs and kisses?

I tried to get her on her own, but she wouldn't have any of it, and kept on edging away. Although she looked generally ravaged, it was her eyes that disturbed me the most.

They were sunken and haunted. The sparkle she used to have had completely gone, and I knew it was all my fault. I had broken this girl; shattered her belief in me ? her belief in life. Well that was what it seemed to me.

She only said two words to me ? two words that stopped me in my tracks ? two words that made me step back and away from her.

'Lou ? don't.' It wasn't what she said, it was her face ? her tone, that made leave her alone. It was all too fresh - too open a wound for my inexperienced mumblings to slightly compensate anything she was going through. And although I had caused all this pain, I did actually know when to back off.

That was the day she quit the stall, and left my life. I never saw her again, not even in passing, although I did hear she had met someone else.

The reason for me never seeing her again will become obvious soon enough.


Ash and I were constantly with each other, and I was in heaven. She was everything one person looked for in a friend - truthful, trusting, honest, witty ? I could go on and talk about her intelligence, beauty and her wicked sense of humour, but I think you will guess I can wax lyrical about this girl.

In a nutshell ? she became my world.

Ben was completely out of the picture (I bet you had wondered about the blonde haired wanker hadn't you ? he had moved on to another victim), so she was all mine ?

? all mine ?

? all mine ?

? in a platonic way of course.


We spent nearly every night either at her house or at mine. We still kept up with the bowling, and I was getting better - although not by much. Why would I bother improving if that would mean I wouldn't get the guidance from her? And that amounted to lots of touching and full body contact. My favourite was when she came up behind me and wrapped her arms around my waist to turn me into position. She laughed every time and called me a fruit fly, because I couldn't remember which of the little 'arrowy things' to stand near, and then which position to place my body.

Which of course I remembered. Perfectly, actually. But there was no way on this earth I was going to let her know that, was there? Not a chance.

The weeks flew by, and I was totally smitten with her - everything about her. But I should have known this piece of heaven couldn't last, and it came totally out of the blue. And not what you are expecting either. I didn't balls things up ? profess my undying love for her ? make a pass ? let anything slip. I was completely innocent to the falling and breaking apart of my world.

It was my parents actually.

They told me we were moving.


Far away.

Far away from Manchester ? from Stockport ? from Ash.

I could tell you how I reacted, but that wouldn't change a thing. I could tell you how I screamed at them, ranted ? threw things ? ignored them ? refused to eat ? But that would be superfluous wouldn't it? You should know me by now to realise my whole life had been tipped over and stamped upon. Everything I knew was crushed. Everything I had would be snatched away from me.

And that 'everything' came from only one thing ? one person actually. But you know that don't you.

I didn't tell her about the move for nearly a week. And then it wasn't me who actually told her.

Once again it was my parents ? my mum in fact.

I still remember her reaction, Ash's reaction that is. Such a simple sentence spewed forth from my mum's mouth ? such simple words ? all ordered together perfectly, but simple nevertheless.

'Didn't Lou tell you we were moving to Norfolk?'

The smile Ash had been sporting froze ? and I witnessed her physically struggle to keep it there, lips twitching, the surrounding area spasming ? until finally it gave up, and slipped ? slowly from her face, leaving her face blank - wiped clean - vacant.

Slowly, she turned to me, the question in her eyes but as yet silent. I watched her lips struggle to collect themselves into some kind of action, fight with the incredulity of the situation, until finally ? 'Lou?' A cry of sorts. The word hovered around in the air expectant, waiting for me to disprove what had been said. But how could I?

I remember leaning forward, my hand outstretched as it had forgotten that it couldn't just reach out and touch her, in case it became carried away and couldn't stop ? couldn't stop ? touching her. I stopped. Drew back the rogue hand and clasped it into a ball, holding the traitor back with its twin.

'I ? I ? was ? erm ?'


Her voice held so much hurt, almost like I had betrayed it by not telling her.

'I was ? erm ? going to tell you ?'

'When? As you were driving off?' Her tone sounded bitter ? or should I say hurt. I know I would have been hurt if she hadn't told me about something as life changing as this.

'No ? I ? well ? erm ?' My mum watched the interchange with interest; watched me struggle to get the words out; watched Ash, pale and wan; watched me grip my rogue hand tighter.

Watched as my world came tumbling down, like Jack and Jill. But this time it was Lou and Ash.

'Why don't you go up to your room and talk?'

I nodded at mum's suggestion, as words had left me there to fend for myself. I indicated to Ash that she should follow me, and she did.

I walked up the stairs like Orpheus who was valiantly hoping Eurydice was following, but was terrified if he looked back she would be gone. I fully expected the sound of the front door closing to greet my ears, but all I heard was the creaking of the stairs.

Eventually, I was stood in the room with my back to the door, and I heard the sound of it closing behind me. Then ?


Complete silence.

Well except for the booming of my heart, which had decided this moment was as good as any to start performing a drum solo. I knew I had to get this over ? knew I had to act as natural as possible ? knew it would half kill me when I told her.

I turned around and forced my eyes to look at her face, adding a weak smile into the mix for good measure, hoping I wouldn't just curl up at her feet and beg her to love me ? beg her to save me ? beg her to tell me I would be with her, or she would wait until I moved back ? like I promised myself I would as soon as I reached eighteen.

A face completely devoid of colour apart from blue eyes and the blood red lips ? lips I had coveted ? lips I wanted to take and smother and never ever let go.

'Come ? sit on the bed with me.' I turned away again and plonked onto my bed, turning myself onto my side. She just stood there, and stared at me before I saw her leg push down and propel her forward, as if she had been pushed.

It seemed as if it took her forever to get to me, and I watched her every move, albeit surreptitiously. She seemed sluggish ? reticent. I wanted this to be all over as soon as possible; get it all out in the open so I could start mending my aching heart once again.

Sounds dramatic, doesn't it? But ? if you have ever been in love you will know exactly what I mean. The constant longing I felt inside hurt like buggery (to borrow another expression from my mum's vast list of expressions). No ? I can't say that now, as it would lose the effect of the agony I was going through. I was ? dear reader ? trying to save you from how I was feeling, but I think you deserve to know.

As I was saying, if you have ever been in love you know how it feels. Even if it is reciprocated, there is a longing ? a yearning deep inside ? a fear that at any one moment it could all be taken from you and you would be left gasping like a fish out of water.

And that is how I felt at that exact moment in time. Like a fish out of water. Gasping. Mouth smacking open and closed ? fins flaying ? everything becoming dim ? distant ? detached. All I needed was for Ash to untangle the line and throw me back in, save me in some way, but I doubted that was going to happen.

It was Ash who finally spoke ? thus untangling the line in my mouth and loosening the hook. 'When are you going?' And although the hook was gone, I was still out of the water.

I just shook my head and lifted my face to hers, which was now inches away from mine. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. So I tried again.

'I'm not sure ? About six to eight weeks.'

'Six weeks! Six ? weeks!' She shot off the bed so quickly it made me fall back. Then she marched over to the other side of the room and stood facing the wall, her shoulders rising and falling rapidly.

Cliff was watching. It reminded me of Donny all those years ago. The feeling inside was exactly the same, but now I knew why I was totally devastated.

It was because now I knew why I didn't want to leave her, and this time it wasn't just because she was my best friend.

'When were you going to tell me?' Her voice was quiet now, defeated. I just shrugged, and obviously she couldn't see me, so she asked me again, but this time she turned her head to look at me over her shoulder. And this time her voice was sterner ? more forceful ? insistent.

'I only found out last week.'

'You've known for a week and you didn't say anything?' The tone of incredulity again, but there was a hint of bitterness harbouring there too. She turned to face me, hands on her hips, nostrils flaring. 'So when did you think you might get around to telling me, hmm? The night before? On the day? ' I couldn't understand why she was so angry. It was so unlike her to react like this. If anyone was going to be angry, it was usually me.

I was stunned, to say the least, which didn't help with the situation. She wanted answers and she wanted them now.

So, me being me, I tried to answer, but it didn't come out the way I thought it would. I opened my mouth to speak, and kind of choked around the enormous lump that had formed in my throat. I felt my face crease up and fold into a wrinkled mess, and tears plopped over my lids in a bid to escape the inner torment inside me. Shuddering sobs tore from within, and eased themselves through my teeth to greet the suffocating air of my bedroom.

She was in front of me in a flash, bending before me on one knee ? oh I wish. Her eyes had lost the coolness from minutes earlier, and now held the warm tenderness of the girl I loved.

'Hey ? sweetheart. Come on ? don't cry.' What a beautiful voice ? so rich, yet soft. And this of course made my crying escalate. 'Hey ?hey ? come here.' Two strong arms folded around me and then pulled me into a very warm and very full chest. I tried to breath her in, but my crying got in the way. Every time I tried to suck in the scent of her, I shuddered with sobs. It was a perfect opportunity to be close to her ? to feel her next to me ? to be in her arms, and I wasn't getting the benefit.

This thought made me cry even harder. Therefore making her more comforting ? more loving ? more enchanting ? and it also made her hold me tighter, pulling me towards her and into her. I could feel my body responding to her touch ? feel my face turning towards her throat ? feel my lips opening up to kiss her neck ? taste her neck ?

'Lou?' Reality came crashing back, and I tried to pull myself away from her, but she held on tighter, her face pressing against the top of my head.

I mumbled a response into her skin, illicitly enjoying the way my lips felt on her neck, until I felt her body tense around me ? and then it went quiet for a minute ? a bloody long minute at that.

A cough, which I could feel moving up her chest, and then rapid swallowing. 'It won't be the end of us will it? We'll still see each other won't we?' More rapid swallowing, but this time it was from the both of us.

'Of course we will ? I'll be starting Uni next year in Manchester ?' (I hoped) ' ? and then we can be just as we are now ? ' (or closer). 'And you can come and visit any time ?' (all of the time) 'Or I could come and stay with you.' (please)

She gripped me harder, and I returned the gesture. To anybody watching we looked like a pair of star-crossed lovers ? but the only audience we had was Cliff ? and Madonna, and they didn't really count.

Ash pulled back and stared into my eyes ? long and hard ? like she was exacting a promise of sorts from me. It took all the strength I could muster not to just capture her mouth with mine ? not to tell her how I was feeling ? not to look away in absolute terror that I would do the previous two.


'I promise, Ash. This isn't the end ? just a blip ? we've survived once before, I'm sure to God we can do it again.' I swallowed before I lied. 'And best friends will always be together, right?'

I didn't just want her as my best friend, but I was still playing the 'living in her shadow' phase.

And as I folded myself back into her arms, inhaled her scent, glorified in the feel of her, I truly believed what I had just said.

The innocence of youth, eh? More like the idiocy.


Continued in Chapter 20

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