The estate clung to a hill on the edge of town. Darren’s house was detached with a huge caravan growing mossy, sinking into the gravel and bricks on the front drive. Rain slanted in spattering the pavements and panel fencing. The road sign for Parklands was luminous with damp.
James had to walk because dad was away on business. Cars swept past, sending tides of brown water across the pavement, forcing him to walk the verge. His ski jacket barely covered his waist and rain rolled down the front soaking his thighs. His fringe was soaked, plastered to his forehead. He stood in the porch under a carriage lantern, dripping. He squeezed his jacket, balling it at the pockets like a knotted hankie. Groove is in the Heart was playing, thumping through the huge 1960s designed front window. He fiddled with his hair in the reflection and rang the doorbell.
There was no answer. James pressed his face to the porthole. An inner porch was stacked with boots and shoes, umbrellas and coats, so if either door was opened the whole lot might come tumbling out. He thumped the door with a fist and, when that didn’t work, he tapped on the front window. No one came so he opened the side gate and walked round the back of number 27, crunching through the drenched gravel. He peered through the kitchen window. There was a gap in the condensation where someone had scribbled a smiley face. Ross Kent was filling a tumbler from the tap. He opened the door.
‘Is it raining?’
‘You’re funny, aren’t you?’
Ross parted his curtains of hair and sipped from the tumbler.
‘I see you’re onto the hard stuff,’ James said.
Ross handed James a can of supermarket bitter and they went through to the living room. INXS were playing. Darren Maynard was miming the harmonica from Suicide Blonde. Everyone else was slumped on chairs, cushions and a faded corduroy settee sipping punch from beer tankards. No one danced. The room reminded James of a sauna. The walls were panelled with varnished wood and a thick sheepskin rug lay in front of the gas fire. Horse brasses were nailed around the mantel. There were string and nail pictures of ocean-going liners and stagecoaches. Between tracks the doorbell rang.
‘Who’s that?’ Ross said.
Darren shrugged. ‘I didn’t invite anyone else.’
The doorbell rang again. Darren sighed and got up, steadying himself against the arm of the settee. Ross was fiddling with cassettes, asking what they wanted on.
‘Something loud,’ James said.
Ross recorded music off his dad’s record deck and sketched the album covers in pencil, folding them into the plastic cassette boxes. Darren shushed them, snapping the curtain across the front door.
‘Keep it down.’
‘It’s the police,’ Gary Baines said, ‘come to arrest Ross for crimes against music.’
Darren put a finger to his lips. ‘It’s Katie.’
‘Does she know we’re here?’ Claire Fisher said.
James turned the dimmer switch down. He told Ross to put out the candles.
‘I thought she was your friend,’ Claire said.
‘You thought wrong.’ James told them to keep quiet. There were stifled giggles.
‘We could just let her in,’ Claire said.
‘Hey,’ Darren said, ‘she’s getting soaked out there.’
‘Maybe we should let her in,’ Ross said.
‘She looks like a drowned rat.’
‘Keep it down,’ James said.
‘It wouldn’t do any harm,’ Claire said.
‘Says someone who isn’t going to be followed all night,’ James said.
Sophie smiled. Her leg brushed against James’ knee.
‘So ignore her then,’ Claire said.
‘What do you think I’m trying to do?’
Claire shrugged. ‘None of my business,’ she said.
‘She’s going,’ Darren said.
‘About time,’ James said. ‘Who wants a drink?’
They stared at him. Only Sophie smiled and handed him her glass.
‘Oh, hang on,’ Darren said. ‘She’s getting into a car.’
‘There you go then. She’s got a lift and isn’t going to get soaked,’ James said.
Darren shook his head. ‘It’s Mr Swain. He’s coming up the drive.’
‘Don’t open it,’ James said.
‘He knows we’re in here,’ Claire said.
‘And do you want to explain to him?’
‘I’m not the one shutting Katie out, am I?’
Mr Swain rang the doorbell. When they didn’t answer he pounded on the door with his fist.
‘He’s not happy,’ Ross said.
James told them to wait. Darren peered through a gap in the curtain. ‘He’s gone,’ he said.
James ran up to the landing, pushed back the net curtains and watched Mr Swain’s Volvo turn off the estate, the brake lights blinking in the driving rain.
‘Put something decent on then,’ he told Ross.
He drank three cans of supermarket bitter. He was dancing with Sophie when Darren came in with a piece of folded paper.
‘What’s this?’ James said.
Darren handed it to him. ‘It’s for you.’ It was damp and the ink had run spidery. ‘It must be from Katie’s dad.’
‘It’s for all of us, not just me,’ James said.
Mr Swain had written:
You’ve been very cruel. I hope you’re all proud of yourselves.