‘He likes you’, Clare mouths, as a hand reaches over the back of my coach seat and pulls my ponytail for the tenth time.
‘No, he doesn’t’, I whisper back. Though, secretly, I hope he does.
Richie Simmons. The best looking boy in Year 10. Floppy dark hair, piercing blue eyes and a battered leather jacket (‘Used to be my dad’s. Wore it to Glastonbury in ’71’). He plays the drums, and is so much more mature than any of the other boys in our year. Of course I fancy Richie Simmons. But then, so do the rest of the girls in Year 10.
‘Got any chuddy?’ Richie’s face appears between the coach seats, like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
‘God, Richie. You’re always on the scrounge’, says Clare, in mock indignation.
‘Here, I’ve got some,’ I say, fishing a Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit from the depths of my school bag.
‘Ah, you’re an angel, Susie.’ Richie takes the stick of gum from me. Clare gives me ‘a look’, and I feel the colour rising in my cheeks.
The best part of any school trip is always the coach journey, and the GCSE History trip to York Railway Museum is no exception. After a day spent looking at boring trains, and answering questions about the 1844 Railway Act, it’s a relief to be heading back to school.
We hand in our worksheets and pile back onto the coach. Richie sits next to me, and I feel like I’m going to burst! I catch Trudy Bickerstaff glaring at me from across the aisle. Mr Wilson lets Darren Smedley play his Now 21 tape on the way home and we all sing along to The KLF, Right Said Fred and Shanice. When Richie starts singing along to ‘I Love Your Smile’, I wonder if he’s directing it at me.
‘So? Are you going out with him?’ Clare wants to know when she calls for me the next morning.
‘I dunno – he hasn’t asked me.’
‘He will do. I bet he will.’
I barely see Richie at school that day. The only lessons we have together are History and Music, neither of which are on a Thursday. I’m walking down the corridor between Science and French when our paths finally cross. I see his big, cheeky grin, head and shoulders above a gaggle of Year 7s, and as he passes, he gives my arm a squeeze.
And I feel like I’m going to burst again.
Friday night is Youth Club. ‘I’m off to Youth Club, mum!’ I call, before heading out to meet the rest of the girls outside The Booze Shack in town. We pool our money and Nicola – who has a big chest and looks at least eighteen – is tasked with buying our drinks. Mad Dog 2020, a bottle of Thunderbird and several cans of Taboo and lemonade.
We take our stash into the park – under a tree just off the golf course is the usual Year 10 hangout. I feel a rush in my stomach as I see Richie striding towards us.
We pass round the bottle of Thunderbird and I can feel myself relaxing as the world becomes fuzzy at the edges. Richie’s mate, Jammo, pulls out a spliff which he shares with Richie and some of the others.
As the night draws in, I begin to regret the flimsy summer dress I’ve chosen to wear. The others start to drift away. Nicola and Emma head to the seafront to try their luck with the bouncers at Waves, fake ID at the ready. Clare is snogging Jammo, pinned up against a tree trunk.
‘I’m cold’, I say.
‘I’ll walk you home’, Richie replies, draping his leather jacket around my shoulders. It smells of Joop and old tobacco. He offers his hand and pulls me to my feet. Fingers entwined, we make the journey through town to my house. We pass a couple of Trudy Bickerstaff’s cronies who sneer,
‘You’ll never get in her knickers.’
‘Fuck off’, Richie retorts. He throws a protective arm around my shoulders, pulls me close, and I’m walking on air all the way to my front gate.
‘This is me’, I say, as we arrive at my house. We face each other, my stomach flipping somersaults. Will he? Won’t he? Will – he does. Suddenly, my mouth is full of his tongue. The taste of cigarettes and beer. It’s the most beautiful thing that’s ever happened to me. Eventually, he pulls away and gives me his cheeky, lopsided grin.
‘So, will you go out with me?’
‘Yes’, I say, ‘yeah, I will.’
I watch him saunter off down our street, his leather jacket slung over his shoulder. I want to stand in the middle of the road and shout:
‘I AM RICHIE SIMMONS’ GIRLFRIEND!’
‘I can’t believe you’re his girlfriend!’ Clare squeals as she and the other girls gather round for our Monday morning debrief. Clare snogged Jammo on Friday night – ‘but it was only a snog’. Emma and Nicola had got into Waves and pulled two lads off the caravan site. But I am the only one with an actual BOYFRIEND. We do the maths and work out that Richie Simmons loves Susie Jones (me!) 73%.
At morning break, Richie is waiting for me outside the tuck shop. We hold hands. I can’t stop smiling. Trudy Bickerstaff stands by the bins with her mates and glares. Crispy perms and secret cigarettes. I know she wants to kill me, but I feel safe with his hand in mine. When the bell rings at the end of break, he kisses me, in front of everyone, and tells me he’ll see me at lunch.
Friday is our one week anniversary. We celebrate in the park with White Lightning and chips. Then he pulls me into one of the seafront shelters and we kiss for hours. Clare’s pissed off because Jammo’s snogging a girl in Year 9 now. But I don’t want to be with anyone but Richie tonight.
On Tuesday, Richie’s in massive trouble for graffiti in the toilets, and the whole school knows about it.
RS❤SJ 4EVA. IDT INDT.
Oh my God, he actually loves me. I feel sick and giddy, and I don’t even care when Trudy Bickerstaff calls me a slag. I write Richie a note and get Jammo to give it to him in Maths.
I ❤u 2. Can’t believe you would do that for me. I ❤u so much!!! C U at lunchtime XXX
My days are a daze. I dream about our wedding, and what our children will look like. I can’t concentrate, and get told off by Mr Wilson for scrawling SJ❤RS on the front of my History text book.
Our three week anniversary! Jammo tells me that he’s never known Richie have a girlfriend for this long. I know it’s something special, and he’s in it for keeps. We’re back in our seafront shelter, sharing a bag of chips. When we kiss, it tastes of ketchup. His tongue is exploring my mouth, and his hand is inside my top. When he tries to put his hand up my skirt, I stop him.
‘Not yet,’ I say. I want to wait.
‘OK, babe,’ he says, ‘I’ll walk you home.’
Monday morning debrief. My life is over. Clare, Emma and Nicola huddle round me as I cry into a Kleenex. Richie snogged Trudy Bickerstaff on Friday night. He walked me home and then went to Waves and got off with TRUDY BICKERSTAFF!
‘You’re worth ten of her, Suze’, Clare croons, stroking my hair.
‘That girl is a slag’, says Nicola, and I know she would punch Trudy Bickerstaff in the face if I asked her to.
The bell rings for the start of lessons, and the last thing I want to do is go to double Music and watch him play his stupid drums. I see Trudy Bickerstaff in the playground. She’s wearing Richie’s leather jacket.
My life is over. I will never love again.