The park was surrounded on four sides by tall buildings; a slab of green life. The boys sat in a corner by the railings. Andrew imagined it from above; a computer motherboard. The Intel Core, where the magic happened. And themselves, two redundant electrons, waiting idly to be moved by an invisible force.
"It felt like a strange flooding of syrup down my cortex, you know?"
Seb reclined onto a small tree sapling as he spoke, freeing his jumper as it snagged on a the council plaque staked beside it. Fraxinus nigra – “Black Ash”.
"Yes I remember feeling the same. It’s like that, especially the first few times.”
Andrew smiled inwardly at his response; a subtle way of letting Seb know, however well things were going between him and Jess at the moment, that he, on the sex front, was still lagging behind his best friend.
"How did it end?"
“Well we said we’d meet up again, though she did said she won’t want to see me in a while. I told her she was joking because she was wearing the hat with the integral bear ears. She never speaks seriously in that hat.”
Andrew laughed, gazing nonchalantly around the park. Evening was arriving. From the far corner, a crisp packet was being foraged rigorously by a tramp, who sat in the drab shade of a weeping willow. The rustle seemed to travel on the breeze: crepuscular-crepuscular-crepuscular.
“...I mean she was joking. It’s a thing we have with the hat, you know, we...”
“Oh yeah, I know, I know what those things are like,” Andrew responded with a shot of genuine sincerity, angered that his lapse into a vague sadness had constituted a mini triumph for Seb; his side of the power game now pushed beyond its elastic limit. “How many times, then?”
“How many times did you two, you know, do it?”
“4 or 5.”
Andrew felt a heat rise under his skin.
"Though there was some dozing. Or was there? Ha, I can’t remember. We were so red by the end. We drank like 3 pint glasses of water each. We couldn't let go of each other.”
“Did you find with Livvy you text her a lot in the days that followed? Because we have a fair amount, but not so much the last two days, but then I am staying at Dad’s and signal’s hard to get there. I have to do the old coat-hanger-out-the-window trick. He keeps asking tons of questions because he knows something's going on; I’m miles away over dinner.”
“You got that from me.”
“Got what from you?”
“No I didn’t. Everyone knows that trick. It's common signal-acquiring knowledge.”
“Yeah you got it from me, though. I did it at the hostel in Shropshire on the Geography field trip, remember?”
“Yeah but you didn’t invent it, mate!”
A police car siren threaded across the evening air. Andrew’s phone silently massaged his thighs.
“I should go and finish that economics essay.” Andrew got to his feet; Seb immediately followed, mirroring his friend in the kind of awe often shown by boys of that age when in the presence of a more experienced compeer.
“Yeah, yeah, me too, me too", Seb replied. "There’s a nip in the air now anyway, isn't there. Will you be about on Tuesday?”
“Ugh, God knows. Yeah, maybe.”
“Awesome, man, well see you then. And thanks for this evening I appreciate it. Could only have spoken about all this with someone like you. An old friend I could actually trust, you know? Will Facebook you tomorrow, I’ll probably have more news by then. Kind of more scared about the second time than I was about the first. Is that normal?”
“You've just gotta chill, you know, play things more by the ear. Let your lust be the driving force. Don't think about it. Your problem is you think about everything too much.”
They parted at the park gate. Andrew went to turn left. He walked slowly forward one hand in his pocket feeling for his phone. He watched as Seb walked briskly and straight-backed in the other direction. He felt his heart rate increase slightly; the blood seeming thick in his veins. Soon after Seb vanished round a corner he lifted his phone from his pocket, and swiped-to-unlock:
I’m here. Look next to the big tree.
He replied: Come to the gate next to the street lamp.
He saw her approaching. She was 18 and even at a distance, childhood seemed to war with womanhood across her features, though womanhood was clearly winning. The halo of the streetlamp added a deeper yellow hue to soft white skin as she bounded nearer, her skirt gently billowing up with each leap. As she neared, he could perceive the deadly sparkle in her eyes. It was mischievous and intelligent; heaped with suggestiveness. Over her chest a blouse hung distracting low off her left shoulder, her blonde hair above, bunched thickly and tendrilled down over her right. Never had asymmetry been so distracting. Never had hair shimmered as supernaturally. She was a Picasso painting of aesthetic subversiveness. Her breath smelt of Ribena and a sweet, hot, minty stagnancy.
“We need to go in now, I've just seen the park man locking the other gate.”
She kissed him slowly, drawing his bottom lip between her teeth letting it ping back with a blot of pleasant pain.
They walked barefoot over the foamy grass, slightly damp with evening dew, until they found their usual tissue-strewn undergrowth; her, away from parents, him away from his pain. They knelt and let their hands tend their bodies, their bodies quench their lust. A burning mist for several minutes.
“I had to pick up my hat from his today.”
“The bear ears?”
She produced it from her backpack where it’d been shoved among dog-eared notes, beauty products and bleeding pens.
“So was it good?”
“Go on, just out of pure interest. Was it good?”
“Meh, it was fine.”
“How many times?”
“For fuck sake, Andrew, you promised.”
“More than us?
“More than us? Yes or no?"
She picked up the bear hat off the floor and brushed the dirt from its soft fir, carefully disentwining a stick from the left ear. Straightening her back and tucking her legs under her half drawn-up skirt she pulled the hat down firmly over her head. The bear ears stuck up with the pressure. A distance seemed to extend between them, wider than their hideaway, wider still than the Intel Pentium park. Andrew viewed a scene on the back of his retinas he wished he hadn't. He tried to forget it, but couldn't.
In the gloom he could no longer make out her eyes.
“Of course not, Andy." The bear ears silhouetted against the darkening sky, almost indistinguishable from the black wood overhead. "What makes you think I'd lie to you?"