“He, Barney,” he heard someone call. He looked round. Then he felt his face go bright red. It was Cynthia Paridge and some her friends from school. Cynthia’s hands smoothed down her short tartan skirt and Barney couldn’t help looking down at her slim legs. He felt himself getting even hotter.
“You been round Nick’s?” demanded Cynthia, her mouth working hard at the chewing gum which slurred her words.
“Er, yeah,” mumbled Barney.
“The poor thing,” Cynthia almost spat. “Is he alright then?”
“Not too bad,” Barney murmured. But Nick was bad. And getting worse. How could he tell them that?
“You should bring him down the park with us sometimes,” Cynthia suggested. “Do you good. And him. See a bit of life, like.”
Some of the other girls began to giggle.
Barney could imagine just what sort of life Cynthia meant.
“It’s a shame, a good looking fellow like you, cooped up all the time with poor Nick,” Cynthia continued, “you need a bit of fun now and then.”
She was now standing right next to Barney, her head almost touching his shoulder. Barney moved away quickly. She stank of cigarette smoke.
“Oh, what is it Barney,” Cynthia whined, “don’t you fancy me?”
The others giggled.
“Er, I’d better get going,” said Barney, looking at his watch. It was almost five past ten now and he had been due home five minutes ago.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” mocked Cynthia. “ has he got to be home with his Mumsy-wumsy then?”
The others laughed again. Except for one. Sophie Gray was just staring at him. Barney felt himself getting hotter still. Sophie’s pale blue eyes seemed to be looking right into him. She wasn't wearing so much make-up as the others. She didn’t need to. She was gorgeous. Barney suddenly wanted to put his hand out and touch her long wavy blond hair. It looked so soft.
“Oh, come on then. Let’s go and find some real talent,” Cynthia called to her gang.
They all followed her laughing and joking. Sophie dawdled behind. She smiled at Barney.
“Isn’t he any better? Is he really getting worse? I mean will he…”
It was her turn to go red.
“Yeah. That’s about right,” said Barney.
“Oh dear. It’s so sad.” Barney thought she was going to cry. “But wouldn’t he like to come out sometime?”
“Well actually,” Barney began. Why didn’t people realise that he and Nick often went out? It was just that sometimes Nick would get tired. And sometimes people were embarrassed. Barney hesitated before he carried on. It was so hard to explain.
“Yes, you see,” said Barney. “We do go out. We go and watch the boats in the harbour.” He suddenly realised he was almost shouting.
“Oh, good,” muttered Sophie. She was looking down at the floor now.
“Oi! You comin’ or not?” Cynthia was standing with her legs apart and her hands on her hips. She was still chewing and she was frowning at the same time.
Sophie shrugged her shoulders and set off. Barney wished he had said more, that he had tried to explain. Sophie seemed really nice. And that hair!