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Thebrakes of the school bus squealed as it shuddered to a stop, and thedoor swung open violently to let Aide off. As usual, it had stoppedat the far end of the harbourside, having passed his house already,but Aide knew from his fifteen years of experience that the driverwould only stop in the allotted space, a good four hundred metresaway.

Aidestood on the pavement and dropped his rucksack to the ground. Helent his huge A2 sized art folder against the bag and removed hisfavourite black and grey hooded sweatshirt. He tied the sleevesaround his waist. Normally, he wouldn't been seen dead without hisemo-regulation hoodie, but the sun was so strong that even hecouldn't justify the sweating and discomfort in the effort to lookcool. He lifted his bag back onto his back and shoved his art folderunder his sticky armpit. He brushed his long black fringe out of hiseyes and prepared to run what he called 'The Gauntlet'.

Theharbourside walk in Port Tanow also doubled as the town's mainstreet. Opposite the long grey stone harbour wall were a spread ofshops for the locals. There was the usual array; an overpricedconvenience store, some pubs, an off licence, Stone's chippy, a glutof grockle shops selling trinkets and fudge to the tourists, and atthe far end was Aide's house, the local fishmongers. Aide called it'the gauntlet' as he found it impossible to walk its entire lengthwithout being accosted by someone he knew. This was largely because,as with any small town, Aide knew everybody. Or rather, everybodyknew him.

Aideidled alongside the harbour wall. He would normally try to get homeas soon as he could, but the heat was so stifling that he couldn'tmanage much more than a saunter. He looked up briefly to the brightJune sun, hoping to see a large cloud that may offer some respitefrom the unforgiving rays. No such luck. It was set to be thehottest summer on record, so the telly said, and everyone'sconversation had turned to the most British of subjects; the risk ofdrought.

Aideplayed a game with himself, as he always did on these afternoons. Heattempted to get from the bus stop to home without encounteringanyone he knew, avoiding all eye contact, and not breaking his stridefor anyone. It was a fruitless task, as he hadn't made it more thantwenty metres when he was accosted by Mrs Trevithick and Mrs Catley. They were old friends of the family, and they always liked to stopand tell him how tall he had grown.

"AlrightAiden? You's getting big, hmm?" smiled Mrs Trevithick.

"Hi,"said Aide, monosyllabic. He tried not to be rude, but knew thatsince retirement Mrs Trevithick spent all day roaming theharbourside, and chatting for hours on end with anyone she could nab.

"Hotinnit? Don't know how you cope with all that hair. I just had toget mine chopped, feels like a weight off my mind!"

"Lookslovely Jean. Senior special?" said Mrs Catley, admiring herfriend's hairdo.

"How'sthat brother of yours? Playing Sunday?"

"Yeah,"said Aide. "As usual."

"Youseen him play Dianne? He's got his dad's legs, that one."

"Notmy thing Jean. You play Aiden?"

"Nah. Too skinny."

Theold girls laughed. Aide tried to use the opportunity to escape.

"Sorry,I'd better...Dad's waiting."

"Don'tlet us stop you my love. Tell your Dad I'll have me usual turbot,and a big pot of winkles for my Clive. Pick'em up Friday."

Aidenodded consent and walked on, hanging his head towards the ground toavoid the glare from the sun. Mrs Trevithick carried on talking inwhispered tones, although she was still audible to Aide, just a fewpaces away.

"Soquiet! Never been the same since his mum left us, God rest her. Hard for him, that was, being so close."

"Whatabout his brother?"

"Sprungback well. They always do, the young'uns."

Apitying sigh emanated from them. Aide trudged on. He had not walkedmore than a hundred metres when he saw through his fringe two largefigures sat on the harbour wall. They were directly opposite thechippy, and nursed a bundle of paper and chips in their arms. Aiderecognised them from school, but they were a couple of years abovehim.

"Phwoar! You smell that Ad?"

"Blimey. Thought a trawler had just come in."

Beanieand Ad were friends of Rainer Stone, whose dad owned the chip shop. They were older, bigger, and had time to waste. Aide walked on,maintaining his speed, ignoring them as best he could.

"Alrightfishboy?" called Ad as he passed.

"Howsyer sprats?" Beanie joined in.

Aidewalked on. Their taunts were pretty pathetic as insults go, but theystill bothered him. They stood up and began to walk a pace behindhim.

"Whereyou going?"

"He'sgot to get back to the sea before he suffocates."

"Likethe man from Atlantis!"

Theylaughed, although Aide hadn't heard a joke worth laughing at.

"Youain't ignoring us, is yer Jonesy?"

"Oi! Emo-boy!"

Asoggy chip hit the back of Aide's head. He walked on, seething.

"E-MO! E-MO! E-MO!" they both chanted, a volley of chips hitting hisback. Aide's face was red with anger. He wanted to turn back andface them, fight them, hurt them, but there were two of them, andthey were bigger. That's what they want, he thought. Hewalked on. The boys got bored quickly.

"Leaveit Ad, we're just wasting chips here."

Theboys dropped back, leaving Aide to calm down and a flock of ravenousseagulls to scavenge the chips.

Aideapproached home, hoping he didn't smell of chip fat, and wonderinghow his life had become so predictable. The pitying sighs, thepathetic taunts. He also knew what faced him when he walked throughthe front door. He took a deep breath and went to face his father.

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