Number thirty-two have a beautifully manicured lawn and a broken fence. The fence is broken because us kids broke it, kicking a ball against the stained rotten wood. We aren’t particularly respectful of our elderly neighbours. I forget they are old and proud.
I’m Gemma, I’m thirteen and, like most of my mates, I roam free around the streets of this slightly run down estate. We’re next to the factories and the supermarket so there’s not really that much to do around here ; we sit at the park and write our names on the fence in thick black marker, then watch it fade and erode, day after day, week after week. Like our childhood. Sometimes I get on my bike and cycle down the road with Mike, the boy from next door. Five minutes and we’re in the countryside, racing along the lanes like children from an Enid Blyton novel, me against Mike, while the cool spring breeze hits my warm ruddy cheeks and I battle against his longer legs and more powerful torso.
Soon we are in the woods, leaning our bikes against the rusted metal of a weather-beaten fence where, before us, many generations had done the same. We slid down the dusty soil path, praying it would brush off before we got back home, hoping we don’t hit a tree on our way down. The fresh newly born shoots spurt from the trees and the snowdrops have nearly finished dying off, signifying the end of an innocent winter. Now, like spring, we have been set free to grow and bud. To begin the youthful bloom into our adolescence, our awakening. That moment, we began to realise this would probably be the last time we hung about in the woods, soon to be discovering other, less simple, pleasures.
That day I chased Mike down the dusty path, slipping and sliding in the orange-brown soil. I watched his face change as he looked at me, thick fringe pushed aside from his slightly spotty teenage face. He looked tortured from inside. It made me think about the past thirteen years we’d spent together, the pictures I’d taken with my parents’ camera and how I’d waited for him during that very first day at infant’s school and gripped his nervous hand tightly in mine. I’d never known anyone else. We played rough and tumble games on the playground at break and made sandcastles and played at the water table and then, when it was lunchtime, we sat together and ate matching cheese sandwiches washed down with a carton of apple juice accompanied with a chocolate biscuit.
I hit the bottom of the bank and crash into Mike. He grips me tightly to stop us both falling further than we anticipated, his soft virgin skin gripping mine. He’s held me many times before but it somehow feels different now. Stronger. Firmer. It feels awkward and I am scared. I adore Mike and he adores me.
We regained our balance and our fingers brushed against each other as he let me go. I shivered and I told Mike we should head home. It was beginning to get cooler and Easter would almost be over, then I would be fourteen.