A Talk Between Friends
“Let’s go to the crater nearby. I don’t want to go home yet.”
School’s out and Niall, Louis, and Christine are walking back home, the sun a hot, white ball above them much like it was yesterday. The sky is a tropical sea blue, which matches the temperature. It’s really hot, with only a soft, cold breeze as relief from the smoldering heat. It unfortunately only blows every few minutes. Christine wonders how many more days like this they’re going to have. Being cooped up in a building with the sun shining outside, is not pleasant at all. She’s glad she’s finished with school today because she doesn’t know how much longer she could have endured not being outside.
Louis looks at Christine with raised eyebrows, as she makes her request, with a surprised look in his eyes. She’s not surprised he’s looking at her like that because the bomb craters in the city are where little children play, not a place where people of the age of eighteen hang out after school.
Christine, however, doesn’t care about that because she wants to enjoy her freedom after a long school day before going back home to look after her mother again and she wants to do that at the crater near the school. She loves her mother, but fetching water and reheating her compresses can be quite taxing. It’s not as if she’ll suffer if Christine’s two hours later then she’s expecting her, she has someone else that can take care of her needs. Harry is free from his work at the shipyard today and has been looking after her these past hours. She’s in good hands.
Harry is a really nice guy who treats Christine mother as if she were his own. He’s always polite to her and treats her with a lot of respect, he has never once shouted at her. Both Christine and her mother have been really lucky with Gemma and Harry because they just as easily could’ve been hostile towards their father’s new wife and their new step-sister but they weren’t.
Niall is walking back home with Christine and Louis today, unlike yesterday. Both Christine and Louis decided they liked him, so they told him he could walk with them if he wanted to. He told them he was going to take them up on the offer, even though it meant that he had to take the long way home.
“What’s a crater?” Niall asks, a confused look on his face. “I mean, I know what the crater of a volcano is, but there aren’t any volcanos in England.”
“No, there aren’t. This is a bomb crater. During the war, the Pool was bombed by the Germans. According to my dad, they did it because this is a port town.” Louis turns towards Niall as he explains, shuffling from one foot to the other. He has never been good with standing still. “The government hasn’t enough money to fill the bomb craters up, so they’re still here.”
“When I was little, I used to play in them quite often,” Christine tells Niall while smiling at the memory. She had a lot of fun when she was little with the other children who came to the craters. “I pretended I was on the moon or I played hide and seek with the other children.”
Back then Christine used to feel a little lonely because she was an only child, so she would go to the craters often. At the craters were children she could play with, do things she would have done with her siblings if she had them.
She stopped going only when her life had become too busy, with her mother remarrying, having two new siblings and starting at the academy. She’s missed the place.
“Are you coming with us?” Louis asks, shaking Christine from her memories. They have stopped walking because if they want to go to the crater, they need to go the other way.
“My aunt is expecting me, so I’m going to have to decline,” Niall answers, the sun behind him making his blonde hair shine and making it look like he has a halo around his head. His blue eyes flit from my face to Louis’s and back to Christine’s. “But thank you for the invite.”
Niall is living at his aunt’s while he stays in Liverpool. She moved here before the war. That way he doesn’t have to stay with a guest family he might not get along with.
“Maybe you can come with us next time,” Christine suggest, expecting Louis to make his approval of her proposal known. However, there isn’t any reaction and when she turns her head to look at him to see why she sees there’s a strange look on his face she hasn’t seen on there before. It’s almost a look of surprise but at the same time one of awe.
“I’ll ask. She’ll probably won’t mind,” Niall says, making Christine turn her head towards him again. There’s no sign on his face that shows her he’s aware of the strange way Louis is looking at him. “She isn’t too strict with these kinds of things.”
Niall says goodbye, wishing both Christine and Louis a good weekend and for them to have fun at the talent show. Louis returns the sentiment. The weird look has disappeared from his face. Christine says goodbye to the Irish boy as well. Niall gives them a wave before he turns around and walks away.
Both Louis and Christine turn around as well and start to walk in the opposite direction, the small houses paid for by the state giving them some shade. Louis is quiet as they walk side by side, his eyes on his feet and his body a little rigid. It’s not normal behavior for him, he’s always relaxed and talking non-stop. He’s only silent when someone else talks or sometimes when he has to be silent. None is the case right now.
Christine would like to ask him what the matter is but she doesn’t want to be intrusive. She’s learned from her mother that as a woman you have to be careful with asking a man personal things as they may think you’re a busybody, which is an undesirable trade in the weaker sex.
However, Louis is her friend and she cares for him. If something is bothering him, she wants to know what it is. He has been so nice to her these past years, she wants to do something back. Even if it’s just sharing something that’s on his mind. Christine’s almost positive he won’t be bothered with her if she asks him about it.
Before she can ask him, though, he suddenly grabs her arm and looks at her with a big grin, one that almost splits his face in two. It appears his mood has been lifted for some reason. “Let’s race to the crater. The last one there is going to pay the other’s entry fee to the talent show.”
Christine’s not surprised at the sudden outburst because it isn’t the first time Louis has done something impulsive. It isn’t the first time he has suggested an impromptu race either.
“Deal, but we have to start at the same time,” Christine warns him with a chuckle, having experienced more that once that Louis starts running before she even knew the race was already on.
“Alright, but you’re still going to lose,” is his cheeky reply, his blue eyes shining with mirth. The warm summer breeze ruffles his cinnamon-colored strands and causes some of them to fall in front of his eyes. “I’m quick as a horse. You can’t keep up with me.”
“We’ll see,” Christine counters, her mouth mirroring her friend’s smirking one. You wouldn’t say by looking at her but Christine’s a really fast runner.
Louis doesn’t look impressed, one eyebrow raised and his eyes fixed on her as he looks down his nose at her. That’s going to change when she beats him. He isn’t going to know what hit him.
“We’ll start on the count of three,” Louis lets go of Christine’s arm and bends his knees like athletes do on the race track. It looks a bit silly him doing it, with his tweed trousers and button-up that’s not tucked in the way it is by most of the boys. “One, two, THREE.”
Both Christine and Louis are off like a bullet from a gun, dodging the few pedestrians walking the streets as they run as fast as they can. Both of them are really competitive, so neither of them wants to lose.
It’s past a block of houses, an old church that looks like it can cave in at any moment and a big clothing store. After that, they run through a small park and down two blocks of houses.
Christine is the first to arrive at the crater, having left Louis behind early on in the race. She passed him when they ran through the park. She’s won the race with a landslide and Louis isn’t going to like it.
As Christine tries to catch her breath, her eye falls on the crater in front of her. It isn’t big, with a six meter in diameter, and its slopes aren’t too steep, it’s no feat for a child to climb in and out of it. Kids must love this place, an assumption that is confirmed when she hears children voices yelling from the crater.
Christine’s body protest as she walks to the edge of the hole, her lungs burning with the lack of oxygen almost as fiercely as the muscles in her legs do. She’s put quite some strain on her body.
Little rocks dig into her skin as she sits down on the brown earth, her long skirt not thick enough to keep them away from her skin. They’re going to leave little indents up and down the skin of her thigh.
Christine almost jumps out of her skin as Louis suddenly appears next to her, not having 8heard him approach. Apparently, he wasn’t as far behind as she thought.
“It appears I won,” Christine gloats, a slight tremor in her voice because of the fright he just gave her. She’s looking up at Louis because he hasn’t sat down yet.
Louis’s hair is sticking to his forehead with sweat and his chest is heaving with the effort to get oxygen in his lungs. A fond smile graces his lips as he nods his head. “Yes, you did. I underestimated you. Luckily for me, the tickets aren’t too expensive.”
“I’m really excited for tomorrow,” Louis comments as he sits down next to Christine. The sun is making his cinnamon-colored hair glow with a reddish color. It makes him look like a young boy even more than he normally does. It makes Christine realize once more how handsome her friend is.
A few girls have been interested in Louis’s boyish charm these past two years. He may not have the same appeal as Zayn but doesn’t mean girls don’t fall for him. If he wasn’t Christine’s friend, she would’ve probably gone down that road too.
Luckily for her, she didn’t because he hadn’t been interested in any of these girls. He was nice to them and flirted from time to time, but he had never asked them out or asked them to go steady with him. Why that is, Christine doesn’t know because she never asked him. He may be her friend, but what he does or doesn’t do for that matter with girls is none of her business.
“Harry likes rock’n’roll, right?” Louis asks as he starts to swing his legs back and forth. His eyes go over the children playing at the bottom of the crater and follow two boys running around hand in hand. “Because I don’t want him to get bored and start complaining.”
“Harry loves rock’n’roll,” Christine assures Louis. “He and I used to listen to Radio Luxemburg.”
Christine smiles at the memory as it plays inside her head; Harry and her sitting glued to the radio while listening to Elvis Presley coming through the speakers, one eye on the door so they won’t be surprised by their parents coming home. They didn’t like their children listening to what they called ‘rubbish’, claiming it was a bad influence. Only Gemma knew what they were listening to the days their parents went out to visit friends.
“Does he know who the Beatles are?” is Louis’s next question. He turns his head towards Christine and adds with a grin, “Is he as big a fan as me?”
“I don’t think there’s anyone as big a fan as you,” she tells Louis, only partially joking. He is a big fan of the Beatles and she hasn’t met anyone yet who has as much passion for them as he has. Then there’s also that he was already a fan when people still thought they were from Germany.
The Beatles are so different from the rest of the bands around here, that people coming to their performances thought they couldn’t be from this city. The posters claimed that they had performed at the Star Club in Hamburg, so everyone just assumed they were from Germany. Only after a while they had realized that the band was homegrown, they were from Liverpool not from Hamburg. The realization didn’t diminish their popularity and they’re still as popular as ever.
Christine has only seen them perform once but that one time was enough to make her a fan. They have a huge stage presence and are cheeky as hell, even by British standards. They’d stole a part of her heart that night. It had been clear to her why they were so popular.
“I told Harry about The Beatles, so he knows who they are,” Christine continues. “He told me he wanted to see them for himself before they become as big as I said they are going to be and he would be unable to. He’ll be happy to come.”
When Christine told her brother that the four lads in leather are going places he had looked at her skeptically, his eyes had been like that of a parent talking to a naïve child – he tends to do this when she talks about something he thinks she knows nothing about. Christine never likes it when he does it, it makes her feel like he’s belittling her. She sometimes wonders if he would take things she says more seriously if she was a man.
Christine never had this problem with Louis. He values the things she says and listens to them. But then again he isn’t her brother but her friend, he doesn’t have to educate her about the ways of the world. That’s the task of her brother Harry.
“Let’s hope he’s going to like them, then,” Louis declares, referring to the Beatles. His eyes go back to the children in the crater, one of them having fallen over which prompts a girl to run over to him.
“How can he not? You can’t see them and not fall in love.”
“Do you think Niall likes rock’n’roll and skiffle?” Louis asks, his eyes still on the boy and the girl.
Christine hasn’t really thought about what kind of music Niall likes, so she doesn’t answer immediately. She thinks about it for a few seconds but apparently it’s a few seconds too long because Louis answers his own question a few beats later.
“He probably does. Every teenager likes rock’n’roll.” Louis lets out a breathy laugh and shakes his head. “He may be Irish but that doesn’t mean he’s all that different.”He seems to have forgotten for a moment that his own mother’s half Irish.
“No, he isn’t,” Christine confirms, smiling at her friend’s strange behavior.
Like always, Louis has fags with him which he carries in his jean pocket and often shares with Christine – he knows she usually doesn’t have the opportunity to buy them herself and he doesn’t mind sharing. The two friends light two of them as they continue talking about Niall and the talent show.
When the sun starts to set, they decide they’ve been at the crater long enough and that they need to head back home. With a new fag between their fingers and the sun glowing orange at the horizon, they walk back the way they came.
Their conversation doesn’t falter as they walk the almost deserted streets in a bit of a hurry, as their parents had expected them home hours ago – time flies when you’re having fun. They’re now on the subject of school and subsequently Zayn Malik. The sun has sunk beneath the horizon and darkness is starting to set in.
“You really have to watch out for Malik.” Louis’ eyes are narrowed as he turns his head towards Christine. His hand inches closer and brushes hers as he walks a little bit closer. “I know you know what they’re saying about him, don’t think too quickly they’re just rumors.” Louis’s cigarette has burned up which prompts him to tosses it on the street before crushes it with his toes.
“Do you know something about him?” Christine doesn’t try to sound too eager because she doesn’t want Louis to think she’s after Zayn, like every other girl at the academy. It’s true he fascinates her, but she knows he’s trouble and she’s not the kind of girl who looks for trouble because it excites her. She likes a quiet life.
“No, but I know there’s always some truth to tales people tell.” Louis stops walking and because he has a hold on Christine’s arm, he forces her to stop as well. His eyes look at his friend pleadingly as he makes his request. “Please, promise me you aren’t going to give into him.”
This is a strange plea to come from Christine’s friend, who normally doesn’t pay any heed to rumors. He is a guy who doesn’t believe things easily.
Christine opens her mouth to tell Louis he doesn’t have to worry, as she doesn’t see a reason why Zayn would be interested in her, but before any sound can leave her mouth, a scream sounds from the alley they‘re standing only a few meters away from. The voice sounds like a mix between male and female.
Christine’ heart is suddenly beating out of her chest and her hand holding the cigarette starts to tremble because it is clear the scream she just heard wasn’t one of joy. What she heard was a scream of terror.
What is she going to do now? She can’t just storm into the alley and come to the rescue of whoever is in peril. There’s nothing she can do to help them. She’s only a girl, she can’t be a hero. But can she leave them to their own devices? If she was the person being attacked, she would want someone to come to her rescue.
Louis makes up her mind for her as he begins to drag her towards the alley while muttering, “We need to get out of here. We just have to make sure they don’t see us.”
The words Louis has uttered under his breath are a friendly reminder that these type of situations are a common occurrence. Liverpool is rich with groups of Teddy Boys who fight each other because they fancy themselves the teenage versions of the gangs of New York. They even attack innocent bystanders, but they draw the line however at using violence on girls and old people, which is decent you could say. Which means, Christine’s save but Louis isn’t.
When the two friends pass by the alley, Christine’s curiosity gets the better of her and she sneaks a quick peek into the badly-lit stretch of road between the two buildings. Despite the lack of light, she can see a group of boys, all of them dressed in drainpipe trousers and leather jackets, hunched over a slumped figure, laying against the side of one of the brick buildings, his quiff disheveled.
Suddenly, the figure on the ground stomps one of his attackers and for a split second Christine can see his face before he turns his head back to his attacker, who knocks him unconscious with his fist. Christine recognized the honey-brown eyes, the sharp cheekbones, and the dark complexion. But it couldn’t be. It couldn’t be Zayn, being beaten up. It must be because of the bad lighting.
Within seconds, Christine and Louis have left the alley behind them and when Christine is sure they’re out of hearing range, she allows herself to ask the question she’s been holding back these past few seconds. “Louis,” she hisses, walking a little bit faster so she can talk with her friend. “Was that Zayn back there in the alley?”
“I don’t know, it could be. I didn’t have a proper look,” Louis answers, not slowing down. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was him, though. I’ve seen him run around with other Teddy boys a couple of times and some of them looked right scary.”
So, that’s why Louis warned her that the rumors about Zayn might the grounded on some truth. He’d seen the other boy run around with Teddy boys and they had looked up to no good. It may have been him in the alley after all, then.
Louis brings Christine all the way to her doorstep – there is no cigarette between her fingers anymore because she lost it when they were hurrying away from the Teddy boys – and when they say goodbye he makes her promise that she’s going to try to keep her distance from Zayn. He doesn’t have to push her to swear she will do so because if it was Zayn in the alley, Christine wants nothing to do with him.
What do you think Zayn was doing in the alley?
Let me know what you thought about this chapter.