Book Two

Here is chapter one of book two. Currently entitled The Paperboy, this novel will be an LGBTQ+ story aimed at the 11-16 age range. This is still very much a work in progress, but this chapter introduces you to Tim. Although not a sequel to Doorway 54, it is again set in Greenwood, and some characters do make a return. I hope you enjoy. JAL.

1.

Today should be the first day of the rest of your life, unless today happens to be a Monday, in which case maybe wait until tomorrow.

It was 6am on a strangely dark morning. It was summer, but a Monday is a Monday and the curtains had blocked the weak morning sun. Last night the town of Greenwood encountered some incredible storms, however any hope that these would break the ongoing humidity were dashed.  Tim Johnson woke up suddenly, dazed and sweating, to the sound of Santa Monica belting out her latest single from the clock radio that he had been given by his parents. The bright red display made him feel as if he was undergoing laser eye surgery as he looked at it with a squint, and the tinny speakers that allowed no bass made her sound like the drill of a dentist. He shuffled in his single bed and turned onto his left-hand side. Santa Monica was one of his favourite singers, in fact he would call himself borderline obsessive about her, however at six in the morning he wasn’t as appreciative of her slickly produced pop music. He sat up slightly and swiped at the large red snooze button with more force than necessary. Pulling his dinosaur patterned duvet up over his head, he buried himself hoping that the extra ten minutes of hibernation would somehow stir some enthusiasm within him. Despite a similar routine being played out nearly every morning for two years, Tim still hated waking up this early. Winter was usually the worst time with the darkness seeming to last forever, but even in summer it was always bad on a Monday. The only saving grace on this day was that it was the last week before the school summer holidays began, and there were just two-and-a-half days of lessons to struggle through before six weeks of freedom arrived. Year Nine had followed the generic pattern of the previous academic years, and he seemed to float around unnoticed amongst most of the other people in his year. He never hung around with the popular kids but saw himself as slightly-less-nerdy than the nerdy kids. Average height, mid-length boring brown hair, occasional glasses wearer and always having to wear the standard green and gold school jumper, Tim fell right bang into the middle of average.

Last night he had stayed up for much longer than his mum had realised, quietly watching an episode of Choose That Guy on the television. Choose That Guy was trash, and everyone knew that, but it was had been the most watched programme in Britain for the eighth week in a row and the newspapers and entertainment websites reported on the daily happenings each morning. It was one of those types of programme that somehow made you less intelligent the more you watched it. As with all reality shows though, it was addictive, and he knew that knowing the latest gossip from it would allow him to join in all the conversations surrounding the developments with his classmates. Kennedy, the sole female contestant, had whittled down the contenders for the prize of ‘the holiday of a lifetime’ from a dozen identikit toned men down to just four. Tim was disappointed that his favourite, Jay, had been voted off and had text his joint-best friend Lydia with anger when it was announced. At the end of the day, none of this really mattered, but he was invested in it as much as the rest of the country.

Underneath the covers, Tim slipped back into a deep sleep quickly, and thoughts of being chased across a courtyard entered his dreams. In his head he had snuck inside a small dark room when there was a thump at the large wooden door, presumably by whatever he was running from. The banging got louder and when the door was final broken down, he woke up with a start. He opened his eyes back into reality and saw the figure of his mum entering his bedroom.

“Get up,” she said briskly. “I’ve knocked a few times, but you chose to ignore me.”

Tim let out a small ‘urgh’ sound before stretching and trying to grab at the covers. In his unconscious state he had somehow managed to tangle himself up in his own t-shirt, and his right arm had gone dead having slept on it. Blinking at the clock, it had now somehow passed six-thirty. Realising that he must have turned his alarm off rather than snoozing it, he leapt out of bed and began to dress rapidly.

“Why didn’t you wake me up earlier, mum?” he complained, blaming her for his inefficiency.

“I was getting up late. Anyway, you’re fourteen now so you shouldn’t have to rely on me for everything,” she replied, her voice sounding more hoarse than usual. It was if she had been eating gravel. She was stood staring at him with a magnolia bath towel wrapped around her, and a pink towel forming a turban around her freshly washed hair. The look was finished off with some brown fluffy slippers and the whole look made her resemble a tub of Neapolitan ice cream.

“Why are you speaking like that?” he asked her.

“Like what?”

“Like, well, like you’ve been shouting.”

“Oh, Saturday night’s karaoke was a good one. I think it’s a delayed reaction from that.”

He had forgotten that she had been there. He had been at Mikey’s for a sleepover that evening. On one Saturday of each month his mum would meet up with some of her friends and head to the local snooker club for a Tombola and Karaoke evening. Interest in the event had risen since it had introduced its new compere, Miss Honey Latte. Honey Latte was a drag queen from London who had become involved through a connection with St Frideswide’s, the town’s church, and also some kid who was in my older brother Marty’s class for a bit. It was a weird combination of circumstances for such an extravagant person to come to our small town, but she was extremely popular, and her dresses were much better than anyone else in Greenwood. The snooker club had been doing these events for years and used it as an opportunity to raise money for the local community. It never made a fortune, and it took them two years to raise the one thousand pounds needed to put in a slide down at the playground at the fields. It replaced the climbing frame that had been taken away after a local girl fell and broke her leg. Whether the money was going to a worthy cause or not, Tim was at the age now where he could feel embarrassed on his mum’s behalf, mainly as she never showed any embarrassment herself. He prayed that no parents of his schoolfriends were present this time as he wasn’t sure he could deal with more tragic stories about what she had sung. News in the small town of Greenwood travelled fast and the jokes about her were a monthly feature in the form room. He still wasn’t over last month’s tales. Apparently, his mum had duetted with a young terrified looking bartender on his first ever shift, singing Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, before doing a Tina Turner number that was described by at least three people as being “borderline offensive to all”. He secretly wished that they would ban her but sadly there was no such luck.

His Mum, Katherine, was forty years old, which from what he had heard other people say, is old enough to know better. In her mind she still thought she was a teenager though, and on a night out she sadly still dressed that way. Her hair was still dyed platinum blonde. From what he could remember, it hadn’t been its natural colour since he had started school nearly a decade ago. Tim had thought that she would be more normal if his Dad, Cameron, was about. His parents were very much still married, however he worked overseas a lot. He had been a Navy man when he had met the young Katherine whilst on shore leave down in Portsmouth. She was working in The Ship and Castle pub that sat just inland from the harbour, and he just happened to stumble in, quite literally. She helped him up after he fell over a table within seconds of stepping inside. Tim discovered some photos from that night when looking for pictures of him as a child for a project, and the images had been burnt into his mind ever since, and just thinking about them made him feel queasy. Cameron Johnson had always enjoyed his job and was currently halfway through an eight-week expedition somewhere in the Pacific. He was due to be home at the end of August, and the family planned to go away together once he was back. Tim wanted to go somewhere far away and had been led into a false sense of excitement when he had spotted brochures from the travel agent listing holidays in Europe and beyond on the coffee table a few months back. When he was told that they would be heading to Clacton for a week he was bitterly disappointed. There wasn’t anything wrong with Clacton of course, it’s just that this would be the sixth year in a row that they had gone there.

Back in his bedroom, he knew he needed to leave quickly. He pulled on some black jogging bottoms and threw an oversized hoodie over his torso. He checked the mirror and his tired mousey looking hair was jutting out at all angles, as if he had been electrocuted. He pulled on a baseball cap and headed down the stairs. There would be no time for breakfast just yet. He was already ten minutes late for his paper round, and it would be a real push to finish it all and have time to shower before school.

Greenwood was a funny old town. It was separated into two parts, split right down the middle by the small but fast flowing river. Tim lived on the eastern side, in a three-bedroom semi-detached house at 247 Oak Tree Crescent with his parents and older brother Marty. He liked the name Oak Tree Crescent, but it did make it sound much nicer than it really was. There wasn’t even an oak tree along the whole of the estate. Despite this, the east was still the best side of the town. Those living in the west would claim otherwise, but there was no love lost between the two sides. Everything Tim needed was on this side of the river anyway. His school was here, his friends lived here, the good shops were near, and of course, the newsagents. If each side kept to themselves, the town would remain in harmony.

The paper round that Tim had held for two years saw him look after the deliveries on six of the housing estates in the east. Although they were small estates, there was still over one hundred papers to deliver each morning. He’d got quite good at it by now though, and having tried and tested every different possible route, he now had the art of it worked out and could get everything completed in just over an hour (His current personal best was sixty-four minutes and twenty-three seconds). He tried to leave the house at 6.20am every day, except on a Friday where he would leave a little earlier as this was the day where he dropped off the bills to the customers, and in return he would get a fair few pounds in tips. He always made sure that he was at his politest towards the end of the week. Those living in Ash Street, Pine Close and Birch Avenue often slipped him a couple of silver coins, but it was at the richer estates where the big tips would roll in. Those in Elm Meadow and Beech Close lived in detached houses, some with electronic gates and double garages. It was rare when at least one of those residents didn’t pass over a five-pound note to him whilst disguising the transaction in a handshake. This made him feel like a spy being rewarded for giving a solid tip-off to a secret agent. Tim was mostly well liked amongst the adults, and many people often referred to him as ‘Singh’s Boy’ when they saw him in public. The Singh in question was Mr Mahmood Singh the newsagent. He had owned the shop on Bridge Street for many years and everyone was a friend to him. Tim had always got on well with him too, and Mr Singh often told him to help himself to a chocolate bar at the beginning of each round (he chose a Wispa every time). The only gripe was the name of the newsagents. It was currently called Singh Stars, which was a pun that worked about ten years ago maybe. Most locals just called it Singh’s, so it shouldn’t really be important but the jagged font and the large cartoon microphone on the shop front just made it look a bit dated. It was a good enough job to have though and would save him having to do washing up in local restaurants for money instead.

Tim turned the key in back door and was greeted by rain pouring down heavily. It was mid-July; the weather shouldn’t be like this. Feeling a bit deflated, he headed to the cupboard near the front door to swap his hoodie for a waterproof jacket and was caught by his mum as he slung it on. She was bounding down the stairs, still undressed. He had tried to escape the house before she had come down as he knew what she wanted even before she opened her mouth.

“I’ve got the leaflets for you to take today Timothy,” she said as if on cue.

Tim groaned and fell back against the hallway wall. “Can I do them tomorrow? It’s raining, and I haven’t got time today.”

“Time will cost us money young man. You know that Monday is when my customers expect to find out what I have for them this week.”

Tim wanted to argue, but he knew that it would prove pointless. His mum always made it sound as if she was the head of some really important business, but the truth was that her scheme just added more ammunition to those at school who wanted to mock him. For the half of his school year who didn’t know her from the karaoke, Katherine Johnson was well known for her business adventures. She worked from home and seemingly had an endless supply of job-lot items to sell. Each week was something different, and she roped Tim into helping with the advertising not long after he had got his paper round. He didn’t know for sure if Mr Singh knew it was happening, but Tim would have been surprised if he wasn’t just turning a blind eye. Each Monday morning, his mum would leave a stack of leaflets on the kitchen table, which he would then deliver to all those who had papers. Any remaining ones would be delivered after school to the houses nearby. There must be a million employment laws being broken, but his mum always bought him magazines and clothes in return for his help. Tim was easily bribed. He had tried talking to his Dad about it once, but he was very much in the ‘I’m staying out of this’ brigade. Tim was dreading what he would have to advertise today. Last week it had been Tamagotchi’s. Small key ring sized things with a screen where you had to feed and pet an imaginary animal in order for it not to die. His mum had said that they had been popular in the nineties and hoped their time would come around again. In fairness, a lot of people did buy them for their children, probably for their own nostalgia rather than the child’s amusement. Tim kept one for himself, but the novelty wore off after his had died within forty-eight hours because he didn’t take it for some imaginary exercise.

“Would Marty be able to deliver them today instead?” Tim asked in a last attempt to get out of it for the week.

“He’s got karate after college today so won’t be about,” came the reply. “Also, if you don’t do it, I won’t take you on holiday with us.” Tim didn’t let on that this was not even a mild threat, and either way there was no chance that his parents would trust him at home alone. They didn’t even leave him at home when they did their big shop on a Saturday afternoon, not unless Marty was home anyway. Admitting defeat, Tim took his paper bag and scooped up the leaflets from the kitchen table before heading to get his bike.

“Don’t forget to close the back door” he whispered to himself as he stepped outside. It was like his mums very own catchphrase. Sure enough, a second later, she croaked the phrase at him before he was even fully through the door. He waved a leaflet over his should and slammed it shut. He darted to the cover of the shed, rain finding its way down his neck as he fumbled with the lock. Once sheltered inside, he hunched over and discovered what it was that he would be selling today.

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Jesus. Who wants to buy their biscuits from a mad woman down the road? And what is a party mix of biscuits? It would literally be cheaper for people to get their own from the shops. The ones from the shops would be in date too, unlike the ones that were being stored presumably in his parents’ bedroom. He sighed, put the leaflet back with the others in the bag and jumped on his bike. The pigeons that had gathered in the back garden scattered as he clambered through the back gate and headed off to Singh Stars.

***

“Morning Mr Singh,” Tim said cheerfully as he entered the newsagents. He was feeling partially upbeat still, despite being soaked through to the skin from the weather already. His waterproof coat was proving to be anything but and the flow of water ran from his hood, all the way down his back, and into his boxer shorts.

“Good morning Tim,” came the reply, accompanied by a wide smile from the centre of his bright white short beard. “I thought you’d got lost,” he said, but without any hint of annoyance.

“I overslept by accident. Mum was sleeping in so didn’t notice.”

“Oh yes. Your mum was out on Saturday so she may need the rest.”

“…were you there?”

“I was.”

“Did she embarrass herself?”

“It depends how easily embarrassed you get, son.”

Tim was worried.

“It doesn’t take much when it involves Mum, Mr Singh.”

“Every mother is embarrassing.”

“Not to the same level though. Do I want to know what she did this time?”

“I am not one to judge or to divulge my thoughts,” said Mr Singh, smiling.

Tim would have to wait until school to see if any stories rose up in gossip during break time. He knew that whatever she did would not reflect well on him or make his life easier. Whilst Mr Singh started counting the papers into his bag, Tim browsed the shelves.

“Help yourself to a chocolate bar,” said Mr Singh as usual, and Tim slipped a Wispa into his inside pocket. Tim perused the magazines, finding out the sports section. Annoyingly, the way the magazines were laid out meant that the ones he liked were on the second shelf down, so anyone watching might have misunderstood and thought that Tim was trying to catch a glimpse of those just above. The ones with the foiled front covers hiding their contents were not of interest to Tim at all. He had seen them, of course, being handed around school, but it hadn’t really fazed him. He was much more into sport than anything else and picked up a magazine about the Olympics to flick through. Ever since the London Olympics had taken place when he was small, he had been into a lot of the less popular sports. For the last couple of years though, he had wanted to give diving a go. There was something about diving that he connected with, although when he first had these thoughts last summer, he hadn’t even been able to swim, which is kind of a fundamental element to being allowed to join the local diving club. He didn’t think the dive teachers would appreciate having to pull him out from the pool with a stick like some kind of hook-a-duck game at the fair. He was halfway through an article about one of Britain’s top divers when he was interrupted by Mr Singh, ready to hand his heavy bag of papers across.

“Um, Mr Singh, can you keep this magazine for me please? I’ll buy it with my wages on Friday if that’s okay?”

“Not a problem. I’ll put it under the counter.”

“Many thanks. Righty-o, see you later!”

Tim heaved the fluorescent yellow bag over his shoulder and walked out the door, the bell clanging gleefully as he swung it open. He took the leaflets out of his pocket, where he had stored them out of sight of Mr Singh and struggled on his bike down the road. Although the rain slowed him somewhat, he still made it home for 8am. Each time he had approached a house he reluctantly slipped in a biscuit leaflet before delivering the paper through the letterbox. Surprisingly he had made it home with just enough time after all to have some cereal after his shower. He was feeling strangely alert and felt that this Monday wouldn’t be so bad after all. This soon changed when he remembered that today was the annual inter-class football tournament. As there were only twelve boys in his class he was automatically included in the squad, but he had neither the desire nor the eye-to-foot coordination needed to be of any use. Add to the fact that he was too scared to header the ball in case it knocked him out, being on the team would be more of a hinderance than a help. He felt a bit deflated with every PE lesson, and hated being out in the cold, only warming up in the even more awful communal showers afterwards.

Being the last week of school, he would much rather be doing literally anything else. He wanted to hang around with Lydia and Mikey, but they would be off with their own classes doing football or hockey. Tim would have preferred to be playing hockey instead, but sadly the school still gave no choice in these games and insisted that your gender defined which sport you can do. Lydia and Mikey were the two people who were most similar to him, and they had formed a bond on their first visit to the secondary school a few weeks before finishing at primary. They always stuck together as a threesome during years seven and eight and had been disappointed when the school had split them between three separate form groups when moving to Year Nine. Tim would have to do his usual during today’s football tournament. This meant standing in shorts and long socks on the touchline, whilst those who could play better than he could (everyone) kicked around on the pitch. His form tutor, Mr Stevenson, would always try to make Tim play in one match in order for all children to have their chance and not feel left out, but Tim was perfectly happy not being included. In fact, last year he had run away to hide in the changing rooms so that he wouldn’t be dragged into the starting eleven. This was the only problem with the end of term; all these ‘fun’ social activities were more of a hassle for most involved rather than resulting in anything positive. On top of the football tournament, there was also the end of term disco in the school hall which was due to take place tomorrow. With all the other students being invested in American teen dramas on TV, they’d even called it a prom. Tim didn’t like this Americanisation of a very plain English school. When the idea had originally been floated, Tim had been asked to sit in on the student committee in charge of organising the event, but only lasted two short meetings before being told that he was ‘anti-fun’, and that his negative attitude was causing alarm for the other, more eager, members.

“Oh, you’re back,” said his mum as she entered the kitchen as he poured a bowl of cornflakes. She was dressed now finally. Well, she had a tracksuit on at least, although it had never been within the vicinity of an actual track. “Would you be kind and help me after school please?”

“I was going to see Mikey and Lydia.”

“It won’t be for long; you can see them when you’re done.”

“Done with what?”

“It’s the biscuits. We need to pack them up into boxes for the people who buy them.”

“I only took the leaflets this morning though. What if no one buys them?”

“We have to be prepared for when they do. If you have spare leaflets, I’ll deliver them for you as compensation. These could be a winner. You saw how well those tamathingys went last week.”

“Tamagotchi’s. But yeah, an out of date biscuit isn’t going to keep a kid occupied for long.”

“It will only be ‘til 4.30pm, I promise. I’ll pay for you to have a McDonald’s or something for tea. Mikey and Lydia can help pack the biscuits if you like?”

“I don’t want them anywhere near here whilst I’m doing it. I don’t want anyone to know how weird you are.”

“It’s normal.”

“No Mum, it’s not. It’s weird. Anyway, they probably have better things to do.”

“You said they were going to hang around with you, so that’s a lie.”

She kissed him on the head and busied herself making coffee. She recently had been given a new fancy coffee machine that promised to make better coffee than a café, but she hadn’t mastered the skill. Last week the frothy milk had fired directly at her instead of her cup, and most coffees seemed to be a bit lumpy at the bottom, for reasons unknown. Tim pulled himself onto the counter and ate his cereal quickly, before quickly dumping his bowl in the sink and grabbing his hoodie before setting off to school.

“See ya later, Mum” he shouted as he bolted outside.

“Don’t forget to close the back door!” came a shout from inside.

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