Recently, a work colleague who’d just read my latest novella asked, “Is it true?” I suppose I should be flattered that she found my writing convincing; but for many of us, trying to explain that the stories we write are works of fiction is often an uphill struggle. Whilst we may be inspired by real life people or events, fiction is still fiction. So, for any of you wondering whether today’s offering is based on my own teenage years, the answer is ‘It’s pure imagination.’
First Dates and Football Socks
I was thirteen when I fell for the captain of the football team.
Mark, my brother, was football-obsessed – always had been. I, on the other hand, was a ‘typical’ girl, with only a vague notion of how the game worked and no knowledge at all of the offside rule.
All that changed, though, when I got my first crush. Dave Thomas was fifteen, the same age as my brother, but he looked like a totally different species. Mark was still at the gangly stage, you see – all arms and legs, not quite knowing how to make his limbs move in conjunction with each other; whereas Dave looked like a Greek hero: tall, tanned and toned. I know it’s a cliché, but my heart sort of snapped the first time I opened the door to him, when he came round to see if Mark wanted to fill in for someone else in Saturday’s friendly.
After that, he became a semi-permanent fixture at our house: he and Mark would disappear into the kitchen together and sit at the table for hours, talking strategy whilst drinking copious amounts of Coke and eating crisps. He never noticed me, of course: I was just a little girl, flat-chested and with skinny legs. I somehow felt that if the boys at school were told to choose girlfriends in the same way we chose our teams for netball and football in PE lessons, I’d still be the one left to the end, standing there miserably, hoping I’d get picked.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I was ugly or anything: just that when you’re thirteen and under-sized and clever, obviously the boys are going to prefer the girls with long hair and curves and make-up. It’s how their brains are wired: they never ever look at a girl and think ‘Phwoar! Look at the personality on that!”
I did, however, take a bit of advice from my best friend, Debra. Deb wasn’t much taller than I was, but she had bags of confidence. She loved clothes and her mum had actually given her a clothing allowance once we started in Year Nine. It wasn’t a lot, but it meant that she could update her wardrobe on a regular basis; whilst I was still having to put up with my own mother’s idea of ‘suitable’ clothes, which, to be frank, were quite atrocious.
In the end, I managed to talk Mum into buying me a top that Deb had seen on Amazon and thought would suit me. I couldn’t wait for it to arrive. When it did, though, I felt horribly disappointed: Deb had one like it (only in a different colour) and it fitted her perfectly; but mine just hung off me sadly, as if to draw attention to my non-existent chest.
What would I look like, I wondered, if I had a proper figure? By this time, I’d gone downstairs to the kitchen, to make a cup of tea, and one of Mum’s bras was sitting at the top of the basket full of clean laundry. My mind was made up: I would give myself a non-surgical boob-job, just to see whether it made a difference.
I’d have to stuff it with something, though. I rejected a couple of pairs of tights and picked up Mark’s football socks instead. That should do the trick.
It did. I gazed at my reflection in the mirror, delighted with what I saw. Perhaps I should wear the socks to school and see if anyone noticed the contrast?
Just then, the doorbell rang. It was only as I was opening the door that I realised I should have removed the socks first – or maybe not. A surprised Dave took one look at my visibly enhanced chest and invited it to the cinema the following weekend. (I think I was included in the invitation, although it was hard to tell when Dave’s eyes remained firmly glued to one spot.) As he and Mark disappeared into the kitchen together, I’m pretty sure I heard Dave mutter something like “Your little sister’s really grown up, hasn’t she?” and my heart sang.
It was only as I lay awake in bed that night, too delirious with happiness to sleep, that I realised the potential pitfalls ahead of me. Now that Dave had finally noticed me – or, at least, two particular bits of me – I would have to keep up the deception; and that meant stuffing my bra every day for school, just in case Dave spotted me in the corridors or playground.
Luckily, once I was wearing my school jumper and blazer, it was hard to tell what shape I was. I’d been having nightmares about some of the boys in my own year group suddenly becoming aware of my changed bosom and teasing me about it. There was still the problem of PE lessons, though: the last thing I wanted was for anyone to notice what was under my shirt and start circulating the story about how I’d stuffed my bra to get a boyfriend. Eventually, I pleaded severe period pain as a reason to get out of PE that Thursday; I’m pretty sure the teacher knew I was lying, but there was nothing she could do about it.
Saturday finally arrived and, with it, disaster. Mark’s football socks were nowhere to be found. I finally tracked them down in the washing machine – five minutes after the load had started. Mum must have seen them on my bedroom floor and helpfully scooped them up with the rest of my laundry. The wash cycle took an hour and forty-five minutes, but I was supposed to meet Dave at the cinema in just under half an hour. What could I do?
I tried to recreate the effect with a couple of my own ankle socks, but it was a dismal failure. As time ticked on, I began to panic. Dave would be devastated if I wasn’t accompanied by the boobs he’d fallen for. I desperately googled the internet to see if it could offer any solutions to my predicament. It didn’t.
When I finally arrived at the cinema, Dave looked at me curiously. “What are you wearing that massive jumper for? It’s twenty-two degrees outside!”
I said nothing, hoping that the baggy garment would disguise my re-flattened chest.
“Hurry up,” he continued, checking his phone. “The others are inside already, buying popcorn.”
It was as we entered the cinema foyer that I realised our ‘date’ wasn’t as exclusive as I’d thought: I’d been visualising a romantic afternoon with the two of us sitting side by side in a darkened cinema, holding hands maybe, or even kissing (and, yes, I had been practising on my pillow), but Dave seemed under the impression that we were playing football, judging by the number of other people he’d invited along. I think I counted nine other boys, none of whom I knew, so we definitely had enough for a full team, if you included me.
I didn’t get half the names Dave mentioned as he started introducing me to his mates. After dark-haired Baz and chunky Robert, I sort of lost interest. I mean, if you think about it, it was like going out with ten different versions of my brother – and I saw enough of him at home to know that fifteen-year-old boys still have a lot of growing up to do.
Take the popcorn, for instance. Most people would assume you buy popcorn to eat while you watch the film – not this lot. Apparently, what popcorn’s really meant for is throwing at the people who’re sitting in front of you. And if any of it actually hits them, you score bonus points. It was like sitting with a group of six year olds – except I think six year olds would have been marginally better behaved.
I can’t remember now what the film was about because I spent most of the time hiding my face in mortification at the boys’ antics. There was only one who wasn’t joining in – either because he was a bit more grown up than the others or because he was really into whatever superhero was on the screen.
Finally, the film ended, and we all piled into McDonald’s, en masse, to order food. I was already regretting coming by this stage, and the food fight that ensued once Dave and his friends had got their orders just confirmed that feeling. With the exception of Gary, the boy who’d actually watched the film, everyone was flicking fries and splattering ketchup. It was really embarrassing.
After a few minutes, Gary turned to me. “Shall we just leave them to it?” he said.
I nodded, and we left the restaurant. It felt odd to be on my own with a boy I didn’t know, but it felt comforting too. Gary was only a few inches taller than me, a bit geeky looking, with glasses and curly hair. He had a gorgeous smile, though, and a wealth of funny stories which he shared as we sat in Costa, drinking lattes and enjoying a much more civilised time together. After a while, I felt sufficiently relaxed to remove my jumper, noticing, as I did so, that Gary’s eyes never left my face for the whole of the afternoon.
Of course, I knew there would be repercussions for me dumping Dave and going off with one of his friends; but, to be honest, I didn’t care. When Mark told me the following day that Dave was really pissed off with me for what I’d done, I felt a pang of guilt – but that was over very quickly.
“He still doesn’t understand what went wrong,” Mark said, sounding as if he didn’t get it either.
I sighed, remembering how easy everything had been with Gary: how we’d talked and laughed and sipped coffee; how he’d kissed me gently at the bus stop when the number 47 arrived to take me home. Superimposed onto that was the horror that had been the food fight at McDonald’s, the popcorn party in the cinema and the awkward moment where Dave’s hand had tried visiting my chest without a visa. If our date had been a football match, he would have earned not just a yellow card but a red one as well.
“Just tell him,” I said slowly, “that the substitute scored and he didn’t.”