The sea glittered beneath the bright summer sun, blue waves lapping at the pebble beach. I had left my shiny new red bicycle propped against the wooden pier and me and my dog Spot were sitting on the bench, sharing an ice cream. The others hadn't arrived yet, they were late, always late. I checked my watch, not entirely sure what it meant but Mum had told me that when the little hand reached eleven, my friends would be here.
Spot noticed Nick before I did. He went bounding up to him, racing the boy on his bike. Spot loved to race and chase us just as much as he loved being made a fuss of. Nick was a dark little boy, curly black hair that fell into his scowling brown eyes, constantly being pushed back by small greasy fingers. He never seemed to be in a good mood, but that didn’t stop us from involving him in our games and antics.
He stopped his blue bike next to mine and hopped down onto the beach, hiking up a backpack and plonking himself down onto the bench.
"The beach is too far away Sam," he grumbled.
"We only come here because Jake and Dylan's grandparents can watch us from here," I replied, nodding towards the seafront café. Nick took the backpack off and started rummaging through it. It must have been half the size of him.
While Nick moaned and groaned to himself I looked over to Eddie’s Café. Actually, greasy spoon seemed a more appropriate term. Eddie’s specialised in fry ups, bacon butties and big plates of chips. It was the best café in the area, especially frequented by builders and dustmen. I could see Jake peering through the window, a tray of chips balanced precariously on the windowsill. When he caught my eye he smiled the biggest, broadest smile, showing me his missing front teeth. They hadn’t come out due to ‘natural causes’. He’d managed to come flying off his bike, over the handlebars, straight into a street sign. After the initial shock and tears, he proudly displayed his missing teeth as a badge of honour.
Jake rushed outside, shouting 'goodbye' to his gran who was behind the counter. He reached us in four big bounds, excitement just pouring out of him.
"Chip?" He slid next to Spot and gave one to the dog before passing the tray round to me and Nick. In the back of mind we must have noticed that Jake and Dylan were not as wealthy as the rest of us. Only in the small things, like clothes that were slightly too small, furniture that was ‘fixed’ with duct tape and haphazardly placed nails. My mum occasionally asked me to take a bag of clothes to the café but I didn’t think anything of it. We just had fun with the twins, and a constant supply of food and drink. Apart from Harry's parents, our folks were happy for them to play with us.
Harry had always had rich, red hair and a smattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks. Other kids took the mick but all the other parents were envious of his cherubic looks. Even my mum thought he was 'adorable'. She didn't know the real Harry Taylor. He was pushing his bike. It was a new fandangled thing, built for ten year olds, not five year old Harry and had a menagerie of bells, gears and buttons. It looked far too complicated. I gathered this was why he was pushing it. His parents made him take it with him wherever he went even though he couldn't climb up onto the saddle. But he didn't seem to be too annoyed by this. He happily took a few chips and started on some story about ghosts and pirates. One we'd all heard before but listened to all the same. Harry had always seemed beyond his years. He had a wild imagination and could talk his way out of any difficult situation. With his angelic looks and fast tongue, Harry was parent proof.
There were only one more left to arrive and I had expected him to arrive with his brother. But despite being twins, they were about as similar as chalk and cheese, especially when they opened their mouths.
Jacob, was a sweet kid, but as dumb as they come. Two sandwiches short of a picnic as my Dad might say. When he opened his mouth, nonsense came out, but it kept us entertained. Jake was fearless too. Harry called him stupid, but I thought it was pretty brave to do all of the things he did. I never had the guts to do anything like that. You would never see Jake without greasy fingers either; he was constantly tinkering with his bike or his toys, or helping his Dad with the car.
Dylan looked the same as his brother, sandy brown hair, large, innocent, chocolate eyes but he was much more reserved. If he really tried, he could probably beat Jake at racing and all of his stunts but it was like he knew he was smarter, and would let Jake win so he could have the glory. Dylan was a bookworm. He spent all of his time with his head in a book and would actually read in his head. The only other one of us that could do that was Harry and that was because he was brilliant at everything.
A green Morris Minor creaked, groaned and rumbled to a stop outside Eddie’s and out stepped the infamous Eddie himself. He was a tall, powerful figure of a man in a shirt and tie, and could be quite intimidating when he wanted to be. Of course, most of the time, he was Jake and Dylan’s friendly granddad, who always had a sweet in his pocket and a twinkle in his eye, but you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. Dylan climbed out the passenger side, lifting a big bag from the foot well. I couldn’t see what was in the bag, but I believed I could make a good guess.
"Come on Dylan!” Harry shouted. The boy looked up at his grandfather who gave him a reassuring smile and ruffled his hair. Dylan lifted the bag onto his shoulder and staggered across the road under the weight of all the books.
“Where have you been?” demanded Jake.
“Library,” muttered Dylan, using the pebbles to steady the bag, and drawing a book carefully out of the bag. He treated it like it was the most precious thing he had ever seen, using his index finger and thumb, gently turning the pages.
"Who wants to play Frisbee then?" said Nick, with a sigh. He made everything sound depressing but none of us noticed. We clambered up from the bench and took over our section of the beach. Spot jumped up and tried to join in. We left Dylan by the bikes to read and finish off the chips. We'd done it every day since the start of summer and thought nothing of it. Dylan always preferred reading and although Harry had initially argued, the rest of us didn't care. In fact it made us worry less about our possessions.
After about twenty minutes of play the midday sun was starting to get to us. We had been slathered in sunscreen, I could still see white streak on Harry's arms, but my shoulders were burning through my clothes. I'd had continuous sunburn for a while now. The summer of sixty five was turning out to be a hot one. Jake suggested we do a bit of paddling. We weren't allowed to go swimming, that was the rule, but we could do some paddling.
I kicked off my sandals and rolled up my jeans, wincing at every sharp pebble but embracing the cool water on my skin.
"Is Dylan coming? He likes the sea," said Nick. Jake glanced back at the bench; we all did, peering under our hands thanks to the blinding sun. The plastic bag rippled in the summer breeze. Dylan was gone.