Read by Tim Selby
“Barney Hodges, you drink like you did when we were at school!”
Paul slapped my back so that I coughed up my beer. I walked towards the toilets. He threw a bag of nuts at my head.
In front of the urinal, I thought back ten years ago to my high school graduation ceremony. That was the last time I had seen Paul. When his name was called he’d approached the stage in a wheelchair he’d ‘borrowed’ from a shopping centre. He wheeled himself along and frowned at the two steps in front of him. The Headmaster turned a steaming beetroot red as parents began shaking their heads and muttering at the poor arrangements made for those students with disabilities. Paul pretended to cry then reversed out of the hall, knocking over two presentation tables. Paul Slayer, the boy who did what he wanted, to me, to others - whatever pleased him.
I washed my hands and wondered if Paul ever thought about our times together. I was jealous of Paul’s guts. Everything I had done was for the typeface bold on my CV. I was shocked to receive my first ever email from him last week. Apparently he had travelled the world and now he wanted to throw nuts at my head and get me drunk.
I returned to the bar and my blood ran cold. Paul was typing on my mobile with a massive smile. I ran over and he hit me hard in the groin. I went down on the floor in a heap.
“Haha! Barney Hodges, you are as slow as ever!”
He took some money from my wallet and announced it was my round again. I hurriedly tried unlocking my phone but he’d changed the password.
“Paul, this isn’t funny – I use this phone for work too. Come on, we aren’t at school anymore.”
He raised my arms in an innocent gesture.
“Barney, have I ever done anything to hurt your career? Put your phone away - you can worry about that silly Facebook status later.”
I was about to protest, but Paul shut me down with a firm look, like a pet dog gone nasty when it’s snatched a bone. I felt we were in the playground and I had tried to back out of one of his ridiculous pranks or threatened to tell a teacher what he had done.
They called Time and we stumbled outside. Paul had his arm around me tightly and was confessing. Apparently one night at camp he’d slept with the girl I had fawned over for years.
“Really?” I asked.
I may have been drunk but I was not as gullible as I had been when Paul had told me laxatives made you swim faster. He patted my shoulder solemnly.
“You slept with Abigail Porter? But… she…”
His smug face confirmed to me he wasn’t lying.
“I didn’t want to tell you at the time, Barney, you’d have got all emotional again.”
I pushed his arm off me.
“I don’t believe you.”
Paul started laughing again.
“Don’t you remember?! You’re the only friend I have had who believes a Midnight Feast actually involves eating snacks.’
He let out a massive howl. He was big and loud.
“We were playing strip poker. Everybody was half-naked except for you in your fifty layers. I told you to go back and get the crackers with the weed in them.”
Paul arched his back, his laugh booming. I tried to recall what had happened at camp. I had gone back to our tent to look for weed but I never found it. Paul’s bag had been totally empty.
“Barney Hodges, you’re the daftest man I have ever met. Who would put weed in a cracker? I mean, how is that even done?”
He punched my arm.
“Come on,” he said, “let’s go back to school.”
Paul was driving. He was drunk, but my protests, as usual, were futile. I leaned my head against the window as he talked, his voice still as childish and excitable as a decade before. He was full of stories of his escapades, frequently at my expense. Fire alarms he’d set off after gluing my trousers to a stool; the glitter on the blades of a ceiling fan above my desk; the rumours I had tried to kiss a male lab assistant. He admitted to them all and laughed louder and louder.
By 3am we were at our old, deserted school campus. It seemed to be about a quarter of the size since we’d last seen it. We climbed the gates and as I landed he hit me in the groin again, then sprinted to the main building. I caught up with him on the roof. It was high up. It was beautiful. Paul sat on the edge and urged me to join him. We swung our feet out, our shoes now at least six sizes bigger than when we’d first met, when he’d pushed me over in the canteen. Silence drifted in and we stared at our old playground. Seizing what seemed to be a serious moment from his immature persona, I plucked up the courage and asked him why he had wanted to spend time with me, of all people. His eyes moistened.
“Barney,” he said, and pinched my arm painfully. “You never stopped me from having fun. Please don’t think I am not grateful for that.”
I felt a lump rise in my throat. Did he finally want to be proper friends? He reached for my phone and unlocked it. He took a photo of us right there. The flash scorched our skin to a youthful pallor.
Then my old school bully stood up and yelled, “Abigail Porter, what a woman!”
His voice echoed off the walls. I looked around nervously, in case a security guard was coming. I heard a shuffle and when I turned back, Paul was already in the air. An elegant, beautifully executed swan-dive off the edge of the school. I reached out to grab him but I was too late and he knew that.
A moment later I looked down at his awkward shape and the pool of blood that was expanding around him. I called an ambulance, even though it was pointless. I clambered down the roof and approached his useless body. My phone beeped and I looked at the dazzling screen. I swiped it and was taken to my Facebook account. Paul’s words, like well-articulated graffiti filled my status:
“I, Barney Hodges, really fancy Abigail Porter. She has enormous breasts that are very succulent. I still wet the bed and collect children’s toys which I play with on Sundays. The best person I know is Paul Slayer - he is a legend. I forgive him for all the bad he did to me at school. His penis is bigger than mine.”
I looked at his mute corpse. I swear he was still smiling.
I read on: “It will be Paul Slayer and I’s last night together because he has an inoperable brain tumour and will die very soon. I will miss him.”I heard the ambulance sirens. They weren’t far away, so I headed to meet them.