It was almost closing time. Behind the counter, Kenny Kemp bounced alternately on the soles of his feet, trying to keep his legs warm. The not-quite-18-looking kid who'd just bought 10 Silk Cut hadn't shut the door properly, allowing a chilly breath of winter to creep into the shop and sneak up the behind of its owner.
That was the problem with football shorts; there were times when they just weren't practical. Cold weather was one. Weddings, funerals and christenings too. Ignoring the stares of celebrating guests and placating insulted mourners was hard at first, but Kenny persisted.
That first winter, Christine asked him when he was planning to put his trousers back on.
" I don't mind, Kenny," she said, "I love your legs. But there's something about serving the customers. They're.....looking at you."
Kenny just smiled. It hadn't been deliberate, not at first. It was a fresh air thing. But as more and more people turned their heads – in the cash n'carry, the library and at the toddlers' group – so it delighted him that they were looking. It added to his status. He'd be talked about one day. 'Kenny Kemp,' they'd reminisce, 'he had the best legs for miles. Great player. Used to buy spuds off him, we did...'
Harder still was Christine's embarrassment. His wife sort-of understood when in the warm summer of 1988 he began wearing, on a daily basis, full Leeds United football kit. He did have good legs then; plenty of shape and tone earned through his semi-pro status with Westfield Villa. He was 25; he'd just bought the shop as an investment in case the footballing didn't work out. But he was certain it would.
She begged and cajoled and pleaded, and begged some more. She was wasting her time. By the April of '89, somewhere around the time of Hillsborough, he'd been bare-legged for a year. Christmas had been awkward, what with the turkey's scalding fat simmering dangerously close to his plump thighs and his mother-in-law's equally blistering stares, but he came through it and by spring his legs felt like strong new shoots. There was no going back to itchy wool-mix or bland brushed denim.
The years went by and the stares and whispers continued. When Kenny turned up to a funeral in full replica 1995/96 kit – white and blue, with the return of the distinctive swirly 'LUFC' logo and sponsored by Thistle Hotels – the vicar refused to let him in. If his mother had been there she'd have stood up for him; not a word was said against 'Our Kenny' in her presence. Sadly, she was the coffin's occupant, and incapable of saying anything. Only the intercession of his grieving father, and the deep embarrassment of his brother and sister, made the vicar change his mind. The incident was talked about around town for years, but Our Kenny wasn't giving an inch - and certainly not below the knee.
The shop's electronic bell bleeped as the door opened. In walked two lads, 17-ish, trackie hoods pulled up over their perma-caps. Kenny sighed. The pair had been coming in since primary school, and had always been cheeky little tossers. Post-school, little had changed.
"Alright Kenny mate!"
"Alright George.....what're you two after then?"
The lads shuffled and nudged each other. Jason cleared his throat. Kenny eyed him carefully. The lad was cockier than his mate. He'd kick off the evening's fun.
"We want a DVD," he grinned. "Of, like, short films...."
"Oh aye," said Kenny, "what've got in mind?"
"Dunno really....just, like, nothing that's pants, that's all."
"I don't keep anything that's pants in here," Kenny snapped. As quickly as the words tumbled out of his mouth, he regretted ever opening it. He'd played right into their hands.
George looked away, fighting to smother a laugh. Jason smirked, just about holding it together. Kenny noticed that the rims of his eyes were red.
"Get out, you pair of twats," he bellowed, "and don't come back!"
Jason and George shoved each other towards the door, laughing like hyenas.
"Are you mascot again next Sat'day, Kenny?" Jason yelled as the door banged, prompted another great gale of hysteria.
"Wankers." Kenny watched the departing pair, shoving each other into the leaf-stuffed gutter beneath the orange light of the streetlamp. The sort of lads he never was; silly little stoners, undisciplined and idle. Kenny had his football and his shop. He worked hard at both. Fuck everyone else. Instinctively he leaned against the counter, flexing his hamstrings, warming up, warming up, warming up.