1. Boy Kisser

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Jonty Wickens told all of Year 8 I was born deaf.

He told them I left the womb addicted to opiates, and a bunch of doctors had to operate on my brain through my ear hole so that I wouldn't grow up stupid.

Extra stupid, he added on after, as if I hadn't already felt the sting. But really, he was the one who was stupid, because everyone knows you can't operate on somebody's brain through their ear hole.

But he was right about the other things, though: I was born blotchy-skinned and rushed straight off to a detox unit within minutes of taking my first breath, and yes, I am deaf.

That second part isn't anything to do with my mum's poor life choices during pregnancy though. Jonty Wickens liked to make the two sound related just in case I ever forgot how much he hates my guts. I guess it was because I trapped him in a wheely bin once when we were seven, and apparently that makes me an asshole.

So no, don't listen to Jonty. I'll tell you how I really lost my hearing, and it has nothing to do with drugs or brain surgery. In fact, not even my mum knows the truth about the accident, and I've been keeping it a dark, nagging secret for almost a year.

In case you're wondering who I am, my name is Rainer Breese and I turned twelve in December 1998. I know I have a dumb name. It's all part and parcel of having an Estonian mother and a Welsh father, and neither of them seemed think the name combination through before signing my birth certificate with legitimate permission for weather-related jokes a thousand times a month.

That's the older boys for you, though. And even some of the girls who knock around with them. Except Tisha. I don't really mind Tisha, if I had to pick one. She seems kind of cool in an acceptably weird way, even though we've never hung out before, but I've never told anyone I feel like that.

I've never hung out with anyone, if truth be told, which suits me fine, because it means there's nobody to tell tales on me if I ever got caught doing the thing I do. The thing I do is how this whole story escalated, but to start with I have to tell you how I made an enemy of seventeen-year-old Darren Worter in the first place.

 The thing I do is how this whole story escalated, but to start with I have to tell you how I made an enemy of seventeen-year-old Darren Worter in the first place

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Every night, between 8pm and 10pm, I played out a routine. I'd stop off at Terrance the old military enthusiast who'd lived in B Block and he'd pay me two Pall Malls and a can of Barr's Dandelion & Burdock in exchange for walking his two Alsatians. After that I'd head out on my own and smoke them, one after the other, walking the streets at snail pace while the smell on my breath faded away before returning home.

I lived in a part of the city known as Fairview Court, though there was no truth in the name and nobody had ever tried to disguise the fact either. It was a quad of tower blocks looking down on us like geometric gods, built in the late 60's housing boom with the dirtied gravel facades to show for it.

The council had erected a shiny new skate park a couple of years ago to brighten up the place, but it had lasted only a month or so before the choicest of locals redecorated with graffiti, vomit stains and condoms. The same could be said for the Court's single bus stop, but the prizes to be found there were nothing when pitched against the bounty of the garages; a lane of numbered tin sheds where people stored tools, solvent paint, bikes and other oddments I enjoyed browsing through without the owners' permission.

If there was one place more notorious for misconduct than the skate park, it was here. I still carried the small screwdriver I stole once, concealed in my waistband just in case. You could never be too sure who else was snooping around the sheds at this time of night, nor the wacky stuff they'd snorted. It was usually rare I'd meet anyone, and if I did, we went about our business with an unspoken mutual agreement that neither of us officially saw the other and we'd certainly never speak of it.

If only the same could have been said for that particular night.

A muffled voice came from between the first block of tin sheds and the second. Not even a talking voice; like a stifled groan, as though the guy was trying hard to unscrew a jam jar. I tiptoed a little closer to the sound, praying I wouldn't trip up in a pot hole and give myself away.

Memme, my Estonian grandmother, had always said I had a prideful little habit of sticking my nose in where it didn't belong, though when I found the source of the noise, it was quite clear it wasn't a jam jar the guy was screwing.

"Fuck off outta here, you little prick!"

It was Darren Worter from C Block; I'd recognise that kind of language anywhere. He marched out of the shadows before I could so much as even hunker down into a sprint. He approached with that side-to-side swagger like he was weighing me up for a pub-brawl, and the veins in his temples danced the salsa.

"Oi, shitface, what did I just tell you?"

His glower turned him pallid and ugly, despite the older girls in Fairview Court thinking he was otherwise hot. I never understood what made him so desirable, if truth be told, unless it was that insufferable macho attitude he swung about the place.

"What did you see?" He said it through his teeth.

Terrified into silence, I shrugged.

"What did you fucking see?"

"I... I... just, I dunno. I just saw you. There. Around. Doing something. And him. I dunno." I paused before I said it, regretting the words before they were even out of my mouth. "Hey... you weren't... kissing him, were you?"

He knocked the wind out of me. My hand found my screwdriver just as I crumpled to the tarmac. I don't cry at little stuff, but I nearly did at the shock of hearing my own ribs break. I had the bruise for weeks after, too, all gnarly in sickening shades of yellow, blue and grey. It was kinda cool, but also possessed the grotesqueness of a Try It At Home science project.

I probably deserved that punch for being insensitive, but I'll admit straight up I was a bit shocked to see him fondling his friend Ervan Marriway when both of them had girlfriends. But that's about all. I guess I was too naive to understand why he should feel ashamed of it, but he did, even if he never had to say as much.

It seemed Darren had more of a problem with being caught kissing than I thought he should, because for reasons I didn't understand at the time, me being a witness to it also made me a nasty little problem.

It seemed Darren had more of a problem with being caught kissing than I thought he should, because for reasons I didn't understand at the time, me being a witness to it also made me a nasty little problem

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