Peter would have done anything to impress his friends, even if “friends” was a very loose term – it was barely mutual. They moved and shook as a tight social world, while Peter just sort of orbited around them. Yapping nervous little jokes. Every now and again, when the suns lined up just right for them to acknowledge him, the boys would agree to ask Peter to do something for them.
“Oi, Pete.” One of them called down the park steps, where they roosted.
“Yes?” Peter jumped and caught the call, vibrating with excitement.
“You know, it’d be really cool if you got us all some of those doughnuts from Somerfield. You know, the cream ones.”
And Peter fell back and crumbled, knowing he’d disappoint. “Sorry lads,” he said. “I don’t have any pocket money left after I lent it you all to buy the ciggies off that bloke.”
“That’s cool. Just steal them.”
“Yeah, don’t be a pussyhole.”
Peter definitely didn’t want to be a pussyhole. Soundless, he got up and shuffled all the way to Somerfield, propelled by jeers of “Go on, kidda!” and “Yes mate!”, until he found himself blasted by the air conditioning, in front of the baskets full of pastries. A veritable tower of thick-fresh smells, not even pushed aside by the spilled cream cheese in the next aisle. And there sat the doughnuts, “CREAM FILLING” on the paper, and “£2” in the red circle – which Peter didn’t have. He knew he didn’t, which is why he felt strange picking it up, and stranger still shoving it under his school jumper. The paper was rougher on his skin than it had looked, and it made him look like he was pregnant with a misshapen baby.
He practically skated on his own sweat when he headed toward the automatic door, which didn’t open for him, and a huge hand clasped his entire shoulder.
“How could you, Peter?” his mum asked that evening. “I taught you much better than that! How could you?” she was sobbing. Peter didn’t say a word. “Was it those boys? Did the boys and school tell you to do it?”
Peter looked at his shoes. And sort-of-nodded.
“I knew it. I knew it! Why did you do it?”
“For God’s sake, Peter. If they asked you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?”
He was orbiting them again the week after, on the bridge at the park. This was the backup place to hang out, after the community police officers had shooed them off the steps yesterday for causing a nuisance and – almost neatly – coating each step in a layer of crisp packets.
“Drop it, dickhead!” one of the boys screamed. “Leave it!”
“Mate, I just need to borrow your phone!”
They wrestled pathetically for a blocky old device – wrestled until the knot of hands hung over the side of the bridge, over the river. And it dropped. When they all looked over, they saw nothing except the black flow; pondweeds hanging on for dear life.
“Look what you did!” the boy was livid. “Look what YOU DID!”
Everyone, who wasn’t the boy who lost his phone, started to laugh. Laughed in his face. Even Peter jeered, a small distance away from the rest. When they all called the boy an idiot, so did Peter. And they stopped. Glared at Peter, their smiles dropped into nightmare-faces. Then one said:
“Pete should get it.”
Another: “Yeah, he should.”
“I’m not sure about this, lads.” Rattled Peter, doughnut incident still freshly-baked in his memory.
“It’s just water.”
“Yeah. Don’t be a pussyhole.”
Yet another opportunity for Peter to not be a pussyhole. He breathed as much air as he could through his big nostrils, and began to climb the wall. They were jeering again. “Go on kidda!” one said. “Yes mate!”. He went over the wall, and dropped out of view and splashed from existence.
They all looked over – all of them, looking over – and saw nothing except the black flow; pondweeds hanging on for dear life. No screaming. Nothing. Then they looked at each other, silently agreed on something, and skittered back home.