"Do you mind if I record it? It'll be easier than trying to write it down."
Removing his peaked cap from his head, PC Slater placed it on the table in between us and then settled back into his chair. "Please, go ahead."
"Thanks." Pulling out the chair opposite him, I sat down at the table.
"It's a nice class," Slater remarked, craning his neck to inspect the room.
I nodded in agreement and gave the walls an absent glance. "It's my English class. My teacher said we could borrow it for this period before lunch."
It was quite unusual for me to be in school on a Wednesday as my timetable gave me the day off. Following a positive message from PC Slater telling me that he was able to do the interview, I had to come in when he was free later that week. Obviously it wasn't a big deal, but it was an intriguing feeling to be in school for something other than attending lessons.
Unfortunately, Slater's free period did clash with Zoe's timetable, where she was due to be in class. Although I'm sure her teacher would've let her leave for an hour, Zoe wasn't too bothered about me conducting the interview and seemed more interested in writing up the actual article. It didn't matter to me. I was more than capable of handling things myself.
"So, we have around an hour."
"Yep, but it shouldn't take that long," I replied, checking the list of questions I had laid out on the table.
Flashing a smile, my eyes dropped to his uniform. A black vest covered his top, complete with a couple of small pockets on the front. London Valley Police was embroidered on the right of his vest, while a radio was clipped opposite on the left. Underneath the vest he wore a black, short-sleeved shirt, helping to create quite a smart and professional appearance. Around his waist was his duty belt, comprised of several pouches that allowed him to store larger equipment, including his handcuffs.
Slater's lips turned up the sides as he watched me inspect his uniform.
I averted my gaze. "Sorry. It just looks cool."
"It's alright." He laughed. "A lot of people like to look. I'm used to it."
Straightening up in my seat, I pulled the question sheet closer towards me. "Ok, let's start. Would you mind if I begin with asking a bit about you?"
"Not at all. Go ahead."
"Great." Tapping on my phone, I initiated a new voice recording. "Ok, so how long have you been a police officer?"
"Around three years. I joined shortly after I finished getting my degree at university."
"Oh, what were you studying?"
"Law. Back then I wanted to be a lawyer."
I shifted closer in my chair, his story sounding familiar to me. "Really? Harry, my friend, is studying to be a lawyer too. What made you want to join the police instead?"
"I knew I always wanted to do something with law, but I wasn't quite sure what. After getting my degree, I decided to go into policing instead. My uncle is an officer up in Sheffield and I knew he really liked his job so I went ahead and applied."
"Do you like being a police officer?"
"I love it. Every day is different." He gave a nod. "It's a great feeling when you know you've helped someone."
"Don't you get any bad days?"
He laughed. "I think you have good and bad days with any job, but so far the good has outweighed the bad."
I grinned at him. Our conversation was going much better than I'd expected. Slater really had a great personality and was very easy to talk to. Zoe seemed to have hit the mark on the head by suggesting we interview him.
Reaching out, I switched to the second question sheet. "Okay, let's talk about the new scheme that the police are starting in this area. Could you explain it to me briefly?"
"So what we're trying to do is bring more of a community spirit into schools. Starting with some classes that we're going to be running, we'll have people talking about drugs, internet safety, bullying, and many other topics that affect young adults."
"Wow, I didn't realise there's so much planned."
"Yep. We've got an interesting schedule lined up."
"It sounds like it." I glanced down at the sheet in my hands. "What will your role in this be?"
"I'm the officer in charge of liaising with this school. I'm also here as a direct line to the students, so if anyone has any questions or problems, they can speak to me."
"It seems like you're going to be quite a busy guy."
"I already am a busy guy." Slater grinned. "I'll only be here two days a week, Mondays and Wednesdays, so I'll have to squeeze a lot of things in."
"Will you be talking to every year group?"
"Yes. We're starting with some of the older students, like your class last week, but we'll be talking to everyone at some point between now and Easter."
"Is that when the scheme ends? At Easter?"
"In a way," he began. "We're aiming to have all classes done by the Easter holidays. We'll then look at how the scheme went as a whole and see if we want to plan anything for later this year."
"If our class was anything to go by, I'm sure you'll be back before the summer holidays."
He gave an appraising smile. "Thanks. It'd be nice to come back. This school has been very interested in the scheme from the planning stages so it'd be good to return this year."
I nodded. Given how Mr Reynolds had approached the whole citizenship class idea, I had no doubt that the school was serious about pushing forward with the scheme.
"Ok, one final question. I heard that one of the primary schools in the town would be getting a visit from one of the dog handling units. Any possibility that we could get a visit too, if you do come back this year?"
Slater laughed. "Sure. If it's something that the students here would like to see, we might be able to schedule a visit."
"Great!" I laughed back. "Thank you for your time, PC Slater."
"You're very welcome, West."
Reaching over to my phone, I tapped on the Stop button and ceased the recording.
Lowering my head, I hovered my chin just above the cue stick as I lined up my shot. My eyes flicked upwards to survey the rest of the pool table, rechecking my angle. Satisfied, I pulled back the stick and swiftly shot it forwards to knock against the white ball. Rolling across the green coloured cloth, the ball collided with the 8-ball and sent it directly into the top-left pocket.
A fleeting sense of pride encompassed me as I straightened up. It was a difficult shot, one I'd seen many other students mess up. Glancing around the deserted common room, I smiled to myself. It was a shame that no one else was around to see it.
After I'd finished wrapping up the interview with Officer Slater, I decided to head to the common room and wait until lunch break. As the interview didn't go on for as long as I'd anticipated, I ended up waiting around for a little while. Normally I would've just gone home, but I'd already told Zoe earlier that morning that we'd meet up after her class to talk about how the interview went.
Sure enough, shortly after the bell rang five minutes later, Zoe appeared in the common room. Sitting down on one of the couches, I began to tell her all about the interview.
"Sounds like you had fun."
"I did," I replied. "PC Slater is a nice guy."
"What's his first name?"
"Dunno. I didn't ask him."
Her eyebrows rose. "You didn't ask him his name?"
"I thought about it but it didn't seem right."
Zoe shook her head and gave a sigh.
"What?" I frowned. "He's still in school so you can go find him and ask."
"No," she replied. "Maybe you're right. He'd probably prefer the other students to call him PC Slater, rather than his name."
"That was my thinking."
"Alright. I forgive you then." She grinned.
"Forgive me? Aren't you the nicest person in...?" I trailed off as my eyes grazed the door, watching as Harry rushed in and anxiously scanned the room.
Sensing that something was wrong, I stood up from the couch. His eyes instantly settled on mine. "West, you free?"
"Yeah. What's wrong?"
Walking towards us, his gaze shifted from Zoe to me. "Probably nothing, but I'll tell you on the way."
Given the seriousness of his demeanour, I knew it wasn't the time to question what he'd said. Grabbing my bag, I slung it up over my shoulder and spoke to Zoe. "I'll send you the audio file when I get home."
Worry clouded her features as she nodded. "Ok."
Harry made towards the second entrance opposite the pool table. "Come on."
Trailing behind him, we cut across the room and stepped outside. Unlike the main entrance to the common room, the second door led directly outside, placing us in the school's front courtyard.
"I think Jack's going to stop Sean on his way home," Harry explained, calling out over his shoulder as he headed towards the main gates.
Quickening my pace, I moved to walk alongside him. "What do you mean 'stop'?"
He flashed me a look, one that didn't need explaining.
"Shouldn't we be walking with Sean then?" I questioned.
He shook his head. "The bastards wouldn't come close if they saw us with him."
"Wait, how do you even know he's in danger?"
"I don't," he answered. "Just that Jack kept giving Sean these looks today during morning break. I have a feeling something's gonna happen."
A wave of unease rolled through my chest. "I hope you're wrong."
"So do I."
After a hurried ten-minute hike, Harry and I arrived at one of the playing fields in town. If Jack was planning to stop Sean at any point of his journey home, it would've been while he passed through the field, at least if he wanted to do so without anyone seeing.
"There they are!" Harry pointed towards a small outcropping of trees and bushes. At first I didn't notice anything, until I made out the shape of four people, one of them sporting bright, almost white hair: Sean.
"This way." I flicked my head towards a row of trees and hedges that ran alongside us. Approaching head-on would only encourage Jack, and whoever else he was with, to flee. The closer we got without them noticing us the better.
Hidden from view, Harry and I came to a stop on the other side of the bushes, less than five-metres away from them. Crouching down, we pulled off our bags and placed them on the grass. They'd only get in the way if we needed to move about quickly.
"What's with your friends, Jack?" came Sean's voice through the undergrowth. "You too scared to take me alone?"
Harry tapped on my arm and gestured forwards. Nodding my assent, I followed him through a small opening in the bushes. It was time to make our presence known.
Jack stepped forward towards Sean. "I ain't scared of you."
"He's got a point, Jack."
Spinning around in surprise, Jack locked his eyes on Harry and me as we came bursting through the bushes.
"Three against one?" Harry continued, manoeuvring to stand in front of Sean. "Doesn't make you look very brave."
"Why do you care?" Jack sneered, glancing over his shoulder to check my position.
Returning his stare, I slowly circled around the small, repulsive group, placing them between Harry and me. I wasn't sure where I'd learned that tactic but it seemed to be quite effective against Jack, who was having a hard time trying to decide whether to remain focused on Harry, or follow my movements.
Eric was smart, he kept his eyes centred on me, as did the boy standing next to him. I didn't know his name, but I had seen him around before. Tall and thin with brown hair. No doubt Jack had enlisted him to try to project more of an offensive image against Sean. He'd actually succeeded at creating that, only I used a different definition of the term.
"Why do you care?" Harry countered. "What's your big problem with Sean?"
Coming up around Jack's left, I finally stopped next to Harry. I briefly studied Sean from where I stood, noting his heightened state. Opening my palm towards him, I indicated to stay back. If Jack and his friends decided to get too excited, anything could happen. We didn't need Sean getting caught in the middle.
"Stay out of it!" Jack sneered. "This is between me and him!"
Harry flicked his head towards Eric and the tall boy. "So why are they here?"
"Fine." Jack glanced over his shoulder to the two boys. "Leave me alone with the gay boy. I don't need no help."
"No one's fighting anyone," Harry retorted. "You should go."
"You go," he spat. "I'm staying here."
Snapping my head back to Jack, I slowly began to pace towards him. I'd had enough of his big mouth. It was time to see if he had the nerve to back up any of his cheap talk.
Clenching his fists, Jack held his ground for several seconds and then peeked over towards Eric, who'd retreated a few metres. Knowing he was in for a losing fight if he remained, Jack snarled at me and backed away. "Fuck this."
Anger piqued inside me as I watched him walk away. We'd been in that same position twice before, with Jack ultimately backing down against us only to return even more heated. Clearly Harry and I only served as a deterrent. If Jack thought he was going continue his little game later on when we weren't around, I'd give him something to look forward to.
Jack froze and faced back towards me as I approached.
"West..." Harry warned, unsure of what I was intending to do.
Coming up next to Jack, I moved my lips beside his ear. "If you ever touch or threaten Sean again, I will fucking destroy you." Stepping back, I stared at the defiant flicker in his eyes. "Go ahead and try. See what happens."
A silent beat passed before Jack kissed his teeth and walked away from me, travelling back down the path. Eric and the taller boy hurried along after him, nervously checking over their shoulders to see if I was in pursuit.
Fighting the immense urge to give chase and pound Jack into the ground, I exhaled and shook my head. I spun around to Harry and Sean. Ignoring eye contact with either of them, I made for the bushes to grab my bag. "Let's go."
I remained silent during the ten-minute walk to Sean's house, lost in my own thoughts as I pondered our latest conflict. My anger had started to dissipate, but the feelings remained potent.
Jack Price. What a total waste of a life. I was all but willing him to lash out against me. Hell, I'd almost attacked him first. I wasn't an aggressive person, but the guy had definitely flipped a switch inside of me. On the plus side, I'd been able to send a clear and forceful message. Still, I couldn't help but think that Zoe was right. Maybe Jack did just need a good slap in the face.
Arriving at his house, Sean thanked Harry and me for our help. I wasn't sure if he was just thanking me because Harry was there or whether he actually meant it. The former was probably the most accurate, but I couldn't care less by that point.
Leaving Sean's house, Harry and I briefly made small talk before we parted ways. Aside from a few comments, we didn't speak much about what just happened. There was still a lot of anger and frustration in the air. It wasn't something that either of us had signed up for, yet we were the ones cleaning it up. Then again, we had little choice when the alternative pointed towards Sean getting hurt.
Returning home by myself, I went upstairs to my room and forced myself to relax. In some ways I probably would've been a lot calmer had I just attacked Jack. At least there would've been an outlet for my heated emotions, rather than having it bottled up inside me.
After spending a few hours by myself, I was finally able to achieve a sense of peace. It did however, leave me feeling extremely bored. Checking the time, finding it to be just after four o'clock, I decided to get out of the house and do something I'd thought about the week before. Knowing it'd be rude to show up uninvited, I pulled out my phone and sent a brief text. I received a reply a few minutes later, welcoming me over. Heading downstairs, I pulled on my coat and shoes, and left the house.
It took me a little under half an hour to walk to Tess's house. Rather than speeding through the streets, I took my time instead, trying to get the most out of the sliver of sun peeking through the clouds. While it made for some picturesque sights, winter was my least favourite of the four seasons. I relished the warmth that summer provided, greatly preferring the higher temperatures and all-round nicer weather. It also negated the need for having to carry around my coat all the time, something I'd long considered to be a real annoyance.
Arriving at the house, I reached out and pressed my finger against the doorbell. Several seconds later, Tess appeared as she opened the door. I gave a silent sigh. Of course you'd be the one to welcome me in.
Her eyes instantly narrowed when she realised it was me. Trying to ignore her persistent stare, I cleared my throat. "I'm here to see Josh."
"Why?" she shot back.
I wanted to counter her claim with a smart retort of my own but I bit my tongue, knowing it was the better thing to do. "I want to see him. He knows I'm coming."
She made no effort to move, her disgruntled expression remaining unchanged.
Giving a sigh, she stepped aside and widened the door.
"Thank you." Entering inside, I removed my coat and shoes while she closed the door behind me.
"Sean told me what happened earlier."
Hanging up my coat on the side, I gave her a sideways glance. "Oh?"
"He said you almost knocked Jack out."
I faced her head on, finding it interesting that she'd start with that comment. "I almost did."
"Maybe you should've," she replied, brushing past me as she walked over to the stairs. "Josh!"
I watched as she hung beside the stairs for a moment and then walked off into the lounge without saying another word to me.
"You're allowed to come up."
Lifting my head, I stared up at Josh as he stood at the top of the stairs and smiled at him. "Sorry. Didn't want to be rude."
"You're crazy." He grinned, beckoning me towards him. "Come on."
Although I'd been inside of his house twice before, I'd never seen the inside of his room. Arriving on the first floor, Josh ushered me inside, allowing me to take my first look around.
The room was laid out in a very minimalist fashion. The floors were covered in a white laminate and the walls were finished in a matching pearly colour. A frosted-glass desk sat over to one side, home to his large-screened computer, next to a series of black, floating shelves. The opposite end of his room housed a black-quilted double bed, along with a large window that overlooked the front of the house.
"There's a few little things that still need to be finished," Josh commented. "But it's pretty much there."
"I really like it." I walked towards his mirrored wardrobe. "Looks like you had a designer or something."
"Thanks. It was all me."
"You have good taste," I remarked, circling around to face him. "I can't believe how big it is."
"Yeah, it takes up most of the extension," he answered. "Mum and Dad got an en-suite out of it though."
I flashed a smirk. "Did your parents promise you this to make sure you stayed here for uni?"
He laughed. "I keep saying that to Mum, but she says it isn't true. I think she's lying."
I grinned back, my eyes briefly drifting down his body and then up to his face. Judging from his smart clothes, he'd either just returned home from being out or he was planning to leave shortly. Dressed in a designer pair of jeans and a light blue shirt, he looked really good.
Aware of the growing silence, I quickly thought of something to say. "I, uh, actually came here to say thanks."
He gestured towards his three-seater couch. "I didn't really do anything."
I sat down against the soft surface, feeling the coolness of the black leather seep through my clothes. "You listened to all my craziness. I think that counts for a bit."
"It wasn't that crazy." He sat down on the opposite end of the couch. "How are things anyway?"
"Uh oh." He smiled. "What's happened now?"
Taking a breath, I proceeded to give him a brief recount of what happened earlier that afternoon. Once I was done, Josh sat back against the couch.
"You're a busy guy, aren't you?"
"I don't mean to be," I replied. "This time I really was pulled into it."
"I guess. At least you didn't end up fighting him."
"Yeah. Probably would've felt good though."
"Probably." He laughed. "But then you'll have a second interview to deal with, only this time it'd be that Officer Slater interviewing you."
"True." I laughed back, another thought coming to my mind. "My sister saw you the other night when you came over mine. She wanted to know if you're gay."
"Oh? What did you say?"
"I said maybe you were," I answered. "She thought you were hot."
An amused look grew on his face, coupled by a pink tinge to his cheeks. "She said that?"
"Yep." I was tempted to tell him about the remainder of that conversation, where Georgina was teasing me about my door lock, but I wasn't quite sure how he'd react to that.
Josh shifted on the couch. "You know, I've been thinking about this Neal guy you told me about."
Although I'd only spoken face-to-face with Josh a couple of times, we'd actually communicated back and forth quite a bit over text. One of the things I ended up talking to him about late one night was Neal, including the whole deal surrounding the wedding. I wasn't entirely sure why I'd told him, but his thoughts on the matter did help to give me another perspective, namely that I should keep a close eye on Neal.
I grimaced. "Oh, that weirdo."
"Yeah, him." Josh laughed. "You know, it might make things easier if you just said you had a boyfriend. He might leave you alone then."
"But I don't," I replied. "I think he'd figure it out."
"You don't have one yet."
I raised an eyebrow. "So you think I should get a boyfriend just to keep Neal away from me?"
"It'd make a good added bonus." He smiled.
"Right, I'm sure some guy would love to be used as a cover."
"I dunno. He might like the idea of helping you out."
I rolled my eyes. "He'd have to be totally mad."
After a brief pause, Josh gently bit his bottom lip. "Are you busy on Friday?"
"Not really, aside from writing up some of the interview. Why?"
"How about later in the day, around six?"
I shrugged. "Having dinner at home, I guess. Why'd you ask?"
"Do you like Italian?"
"Yeah..." I frowned, unsure of what he was hinting at.
"I was wondering if you'd like to try out this new restaurant in town. It's supposed to be quite good."
Ready to fire off another question, I suddenly paused when I realised what he was alluding to. Are you asking me out? I sat up on the couch. "Who else is going?"
You are asking me out! But isn't it too soon? Shouldn't we... wait, isn't that the purpose of a date? To get to know the other person better over dinner?
My prolonged silence caused his eyebrows to dip. "We don't have to, if you'd rather not."
"I do." I insisted, my heart-rate quickening in my chest.
His hazel eyes met mine. "Yeah? I could pick you up at six, if that's ok?"
"You have a car?"
He shook his head. "I'll borrow Mum's or Dad's. They won't mind."
"Yep. Now stop answering me with more questions," he said softly, a grin forming on his lips. "Do you really want to go?"
A warm, tingling rush rippled through my body. "Yes."