Ali crept away the morning after she and Terry met. He awoke to find a note on paper damp with the morning air and he crumpled it into his pocket as he stepped out of the door, posting the key back through the snapping letterbox. He slumped out into the drizzle, smiling despite himself, feeling every piece of his skin alive with the memory and the expectation. Ali had said she would be back soon, that she had to go and ‘sort something out’.
She lived a few miles out of the village in a quarry that hadn’t been in operation since the early sixties, hanging out with a bunch of loosely allied travellers in their 'vans, with their kids and their friends and their dogs and chickens. They were sometimes called the Peace Convoy crowd by the locals, but apart from surface detail they really had nothing to do with the larger, more infamous, group of travellers notorious for their eviction battles with police and landowners. Still, whilst it could be a pain to be harassed for the actions of people they barely knew it could also be an advantage. The nearby villagers were always only too pleased that they hadn’t set up camp near them so they were pretty much left alone in the quarry. The police had sussed them out a long while ago and after a few weeks of unsuccessful busts and general low level stuff like the constant checks on their vehicles they were left alone by them too. Once in a while some cider-head local might try to take them on in a town pub, but for the most part they blended in fairly well with the locals and some, like Ali, had been coming back long enough to have made themselves part of the scene.
The other reason that the local surfer crowd at least tolerated them was that they provided a fairly consistent supply of weed, usually filtered out through acquaintances like Joe rather than sold directly. It kept the flow going. Joe in particular was a visitor to their camp most weeks, swapping tales of travelling through Asia and his peculiar blend of spirituality with some of the more zoned out members of what he referred to as the 'Tribe'.
Whatever business Ali had Terry was reassured that she’d be back. She'd planted a lingering kiss on his lips as she pulled on her blouse that morning – in his half sleeping condition Terry had done his best to pull her down again, but she simply pushed him back into the musty pillow and laughed, explaining that she had to get a lift with someone he’d never heard of. But that she wasn’t going to let him get away with just the one night and she wanted to see what else he was good at. He smiled and drifted away again, washed back into unconsciousness by the sound of the ocean beating against the sands. He didn’t even hear the door click shut.
Later, pushing his hands into his pockets he wandered down the road and into the shop to buy some cigarettes. Joe stood behind the counter; Dave was behind him wrapping bundles of magazines in plastic orange twine. Joe did his best not to acknowledge him at first and then broke out laughing,
“So, did she take you home with ‘er then ?”
Terry hesitated; he didn’t much like this aspect of small village life. He didn’t want to let on, but it soon became clear that there wasn’t much to let on about. Joe already knew most of the details, except for the more intimate ones and no doubt he’d filled them in for himself with little difficulty or accuracy.
“Jaz saw you disappear into the flat – we like to think of it as ‘er town house, seeing as how she has a nice little country retreat up at the quarry. She don’t waste no time does she !” He glanced ‘round at Dave who was resolutely refusing to look up, his history with Ali obviously still a sore point, though not for his brother who pushed things further.
“Dave 'ere took a bit longer than that, didn’t you ?”
Dave mumbled something that Terry couldn’t hear, but Joe didn’t stop with his monologue.
“Mind, even if she does look like a boy she does come up well once you get her in a swimsuit. Or less.” He winked. Terry wasn’t enjoying this.
“Look Joe," he finally interrupted, “I’d rather not, y’know, it’s not very cool to discuss stuff like this.”
“Suit yerself” came the reply. “Packet of fags is it ?” he reached behind him and pulled a gold packet from the shelf. “Knew you’d be wanting them, I always do…” He broke into a laugh again. Despite himself Terry found himself laughing along, Joe’s laugh, hearty and genuine, had a way of sucking people into his orbit and his view of the world, even if only temporarily. Most people forgave him pretty much anything once he allowed them in. Dave meanwhile stayed silent, crouched into a smaller version of himself, trying to be invisible.
Joe threw the packet half way across the shop to where Terry was standing, he caught them with one hand and Joe gave an approving nod. Terry paid and headed out. The wind was lighter and the swell cleaning up, the first of the cars had pulled in to the beach top car park and there were already two or three candy striped windbreaks dotted on the dry sand, staking their claim to their piece of the universal freedom of the English beach.
Bleary eyed he wandered down the valley, to where his tent was. When he found it the zip was open and inside lay Jaz.
“What the ... ?” Terry didn’t really know what to do. He kicked Jaz’s protruding foot, shoes lay outside and his socks were damp with the dew and mist.
No reply. He kicked it again and some sort of primal animal noise came out of the canvas, slow and quiet at first it grew and grew as the prone body tensed and stretched and then finally crescendoed to a roar of ape like proportions. To Terry it came out as nothing more than a sound, then Jaz’s foot kicked back at his shins and, sounding dry and cracked, he groaned,
“I said 'morning' ! You got no manners then ?”
“Er, morning….” Terry wondered what to say, addressing as he was a pair of feet and not much more. So he said the obvious. “What are you doing…..in my tent?”
“O ho, sharp you are aren’t you? Didn’t seem like you’d be back last night and I couldn’t face the hill, so I thought you wouldn’t mind…..How’s Danger Girl ?”
“Look – she’s, she’s….what the fuck are you doing in my tent ?”
“Told you, couldn’t face the hill. S’alright, I only slept in it, didn’t do anything you’d disapprove of….”
There was a click and then a cloud of smoke blew out of the mouth of the tent. Terry sighed. Jaz sat up and blinked out at the cloudy sky, ruffling his hair into a mop which seemed intent on having every hair point simultaneously in different directions. Stubble pricked his chin and his breath stank of smoke and stale beer. He leant up to Terry and offered him the joint.
“Man’s gotta have one before breakfast don’t you think ? Sets you up for the day”
Terry recoiled as he took it, his senses assaulted by Jaz’s morning breath.
“Eh, don’t get so precious. At least I know I look like a right state – have you seen yourself this morning ?” True enough Terry hadn’t. “You look just like I feel except that you, you lucky bastard, have got that just shagged smile over the top of it all and that I suppose makes it alright.”
“Well,” said Terry, aggression deflected, “It does to me.” He took a deep toke, coughed and handed it back to Jaz.
“Listen mate,” he crouched down by Jaz,” I’m starving, fancy a bacon sarnie ?”
“If you’re paying. I’m all out”
“Yeah, come on then you slacker – seeing as how you spent the night in my bed I guess that I might as well complete the whole thing and buy you breakfast too… Come on, hold my hand and we’ll have half the village talking before dinnertime...”
“You have to be joking,” replied Jaz with a grimace that screwed his face into a parody of itself, “Though I might do after that bacon sarnie…..”
They laughed and somehow it was all alright. Terry felt that at last he’d cracked it. Here he was, he’d been adopted by the locals, he’d pulled the most fantastically sound and gorgeous woman and within 24 hours he’d spun around 180 degrees to where he could look at other tourists and feel superior, that, after all, was justifiably what being local was all about.
After breakfast Jaz and him took to the water and surfed for hours. Jaz laughed at his attempts, alternately helped him and ridiculed him. That Jaz was good was not in doubt, he rode one of the newer shortboards and could get out the back far easier than Terry’s outdated 8’ 6 board was ever going to. He was also fitter and more knowledgeable than Terry. He caught waves that Terry avoided because of their height or power. He swum more strongly through the white water, expertly dipping in and out of the rip to save him time and effort. Terry floundered, caught one wave to every ten of Jaz’s and went for totally unsuitable waves that flipped him and spun him round and round with the board a constant threat.
Once the water began to get more crowded they left and lay on their boards at the top of the beach, laughing and swapping stories. Jaz was a guitarist, he fancied setting up his own band but no-one down here wanted to play much besides long prog workouts, which were not his thing. Terry’s hair had been the thing that made him talk to him, wondered if he might be a player too.
“Sadly no. not like that anyway,” Terry sighed, “you don’t want me anywhere near an instrument. I tried and tried, but it wouldn’t really come together, some have it, I don’t and I’ve given up on the heartbreak of trying. These days, well, I just listen to it a lot.”
Jaz nodded, “Still, saw some of the cassettes you had in the tent, not half bad, the ones I’d heard of that is. Can I borrow a few ?”
“Be my guest…” Terry saw Jaz’s attention wander to a woman walking down the beach, long curly hair and a curve to her that was enough for most people to look twice.
“Watch this then city boy,” said Jaz conspiratorially, “works most of the time anyway,” he backtracked just in case.
“What ?” asked Terry
“Just watch…some things that you can get away with doing on a beach, even in this weather, actually more so in this weather cause nothing else much is happening, that you just couldn’t get away with half a mile inland. People stop using their brains when they come down here, dunno why, but it gives plenty of scope for those who do.”
Jaz stood up, pretended to be picking up his board and then caught the gaze of the woman, she was maybe five years older than him. He held the gaze, smiled in an awkward, almost embarrassed way, but Terry could see that was part of his plan and watched with a grin. Jaz looked away, then looked back up again to meet the woman’s eyes as she looked straight back at him. Again he held it and, just as it became that moment too long he broke away and turned to Terry, with a stage whisper he announced he was off to the café to get some drinks and Terry saw the woman smile, running her hands through her mass of hair and down her sides as if to check that she really was just quite as desirable as Jaz had somehow indicated with his smile.
She walked on as Jaz disappeared in the opposite direction, but within minutes she was walking back up the beach and, with perfect timing, Jaz emerged carrying two waxed paper cups of tea, smiled broadly at her with a boyish enough grin to melt even the most cynical of hearts and for his trouble received a wide and knowing smile in return. As she passed he made sure that he looked back over his shoulder at the exact same time as she did and their eyes locked again. Jaz sat down next to Terry
“Told you.” Was all he said. “Fucking easy.”
“How do you even start to do that?” asked Terry who had observed the whole act with a growing sense of incredulity verging on embarrassment.
“S’easy. Rule one is that there’s nothing more attractive to a woman, or a bloke for that matter, than someone finding them attractive. It’s the best aphrodisiac in the world, the idea that somebody wants you – as long as they’re not really repulsive obviously….even then after a few beers even you can do it, look at last night !” He laughed at himself ignoring Terry’s pained expression.
“Yeah but she’s gone now, so what good does it do ?”
“You just wait boy, time enough to reel in when the baits been taken all the way down….”
Sure enough after another five minutes had passed whilst Jaz lay there on the sand apparently unconcerned the woman walked back past them again. She stopped momentarily to adjust a strap on her red one-piece as she passed and caught Jaz’s eyes just for a second, then, with a slower pace walked down the lane to the campsite. Jaz leapt up, left Terry with the boards and ambled after her in the most purposeful attempt at not looking purposeful that Terry had seen. He didn’t look back.
One for the boys...