It was the start of the summer. I was sixteen. I got a job in a cardboard-box factory, worked eight till seven every day and Saturday mornings as well. It was a shit job with shit pay, but there was nothing else to do, and anyway I was saving up for America. Stubbs and the others, they'd still got a year to do. It was the holidays but I only saw them at night, a game of soccer in the schoolyard before it went dark or a bottle of cider in the bandstand. Then it was winter - they'd got their homework, I'd got my cardboard boxes. I was wishing my life away, waiting for my friends. Twelve months went by, until the day arrived. At three-thirty I turned up at the school gates with the same lighter. The summer stretched out in front. A summer like the year before last, the five of us going wild all over again. Then America, me and Stubbs and the rest if they wanted to come. Thumbing it from state to state. Occasional jobs. Getting into situations, getting out of scrapes. That was the plan, and today was the first day. I waited, but Stubbs didn't show. He'd sloped off across the playing fields. Like a traitor. And Tony Football went by on the top deck of a school bus, looking the other way. Like a thief. And Winkie was ill. I clenched the little green man in my fist, dug my nails into the jade. Only Pompous turned up, his blazer torn to shreds by the rest of the morons in his remedial set.
'Barney. Throw me the lighter.'
'Where are the others?'
'Where's Stubbs? I told him I'd meet him here to do the business.'
'I don't know, all right? But he's not going to want his jacket tatching, is he?'
Not if he's staying on next year. What's he going to come to school in - his vest?'