As I took a drink of water, I fumbled through my bag, locating my mobile. Missed calls registered. Several of them. And all from an unknown number. Full of misgivings, I dialled voicemail.
With my ear glued to the mobile, not liking what I was hearing, I ran out of the room and sprinted down the corridor and out on the street as fast as I could.
The police station was a couple of bus stops away. After missing a bus, then having to wait a whole half hour for the next one, I had to sprint to the station once I hopped off the bus. By the time I reached the entrance to the station I was out of breath and in a rotten mood. I had never before in my life had reason to walk into a cop shop. Thanks to Mike, I was about to experience this particular dubious pleasure for the first time.
I was still flustered when I reached the front desk. The police officer manning the desk looked up. No doubt he was accustomed to seeing mostly rattled citizens in his line of work.
‘Excuse me, I’m looking for…’ Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of Mike sitting in a chair in the front waiting area, his arms crossed defensively in front of him. His head was hanging low, his chin touching his collar bone.
He looked over, but didn’t seem overly relieved or happy to see me.
‘What the hell happened?’ I asked, as none of the voicemail messages had gone into that much detail.
All I had been asked was to show up at the station, and Mike’s name was mentioned. I had no idea what to expect. The worst case scenario was that Mike had got into some sort of an accident and something serious had happened to him. But then it wouldn’t have made sense for the police to be contacting me instead of Tom, not unless they couldn’t reach him for some reason. My mind had been reeling with all sorts of possibilities, none of them too pretty, so I was relieved that Mike was okay.
Mike studiously avoided my gaze and wouldn’t answer me. I felt an unexpected surge of anger welling up inside me. He owed me an explanation. But it wasn’t just that, I realised. It was the thought that he no doubt equated me with the adult world, with Tom and the teachers and the police, when in fact I couldn’t have been further from them. I was mad that he couldn’t see it. But I was even madder at myself for not having made an effort to make him realise I was on his side. As I stood over Mike, the police officer got up and approached us.
‘Have a seat. Are you the minor’s guardian?’ he asked me.
‘I’m his… yes, his guardian.’ I was about to say I was his half-sister, but corrected myself in time. I sat down next to Mike.
‘What did he do?’
‘He was caught shoplifting,’ the officer explained.
I looked over at Mike, disappointed. Then I turned to the officer, realising there were practical matters I’d have to handle before dealing with Mike.
‘What happens now?’
‘Most likely nothing.’ The policeman looked bored.
I wondered how many petty crimes he had to process each day. I reckoned only a highly unusual or sensational crime might pique his interest.
‘I’ve had to fill out a juvenile report as your brother is still a minor,’ he continued. ‘But the shop owner has opted to sign an affidavit barring your brother from entering the shop in the future. It’s essentially a formal complaint. If he ever tries to enter the shop again, he’ll get done for trespassing.’
‘So this will be on his permanent record?’ I enquired, concerned.
‘But he’s only thirteen! Everybody makes mistakes!’ I tried to plead with him, hoping for some lenience.
‘Sorry, Miss, formalities.’ The police officer opened his arms wide, in a gesture of powerlessness. ‘It’s out of our hands. This is not our call, not when an official complaint has been filed.’
Then a thought occurred to me. ‘What if the shop owner were to withdraw the complaint?’
‘Then it would be erased from his record, but good luck with that.’ The officer’s raised eyebrows signalled his doubtfulness of such an outcome.
He then returned to his desk, considering our matter concluded. I stayed sitting for a moment, contemplating what should be done. I felt responsible for Mike, which was a first, and possibly because I had been summoned rather than Tom. The possibility that Mike trusted me touched me, even though I was too angry with him for having done something so stupid to let him know that.
‘Right, let’s go.’ I purposefully grabbed Mike.
‘Where are we going?’
I didn’t respond. He could do with sweating it a bit.
Mike pointed towards the building. The shop front was unprepossessing. You could easily walk past and not even notice there was a record store behind the entrance doors plastered in posters advertising gigs, musical instruments for sale and music tuition. The sign above the door announced the shop was called ‘Sway Records’. I wondered whether that was a good omen and if I’d be able to ‘sway’ the owner to change his complaint.
‘I still can’t believe you actually went and stole records! What were you thinking?’ I said at least, after a silent journey from the police station to this part of town.
‘That’s the thing, stealing isn’t my deal,’ replied Mike sincerely. ‘That’s why I got caught. I’m telling you, it ain’t ever gonna happen again, for real.’
‘What’s with the legal guardian thing?’ I enquired, wanting to know why I was his first port of call.
‘I didn’t want to stress out the old man. You know how it is,’ said Mike lamely.
‘No, actually, I don’t know how it is.’ But I knew it wasn’t the concern over Tom’s stress levels that was at the top of Mike’s list. It was the punishment that Tom would mete out that was his real worry.
‘Wait here,’ I instructed Mike, not wanting to get into a lecture.
Mike nodded. I could tell that, underneath his bluster, he was traumatised by the whole situation. Just contemplating the repercussions of his actions had probably been punishment enough. He didn’t need to hear any preaching from me, I decided, even though I could have done with some venting of all the anger and frustration that had been building up inside me. Thankfully I had enough self-restraint not to lash out at Mike.
But it was only a matter of time before my self-control crumbled and gave way to fury. And unfortunately for the record store owner, that moment was very close. With something of a warrior attitude I entered the record shop, anticipating a showdown. There was music playing, but I didn’t recognise the tune. Scanning the rows of vinyl, some marked as ‘Imports’ and some as ‘Breakbeats’, I realised I may as well be reading double Dutch. This was hipster hangout central, and if there was one thing I was allergic to, it was pretentious hipsters thinking they were far cooler, and therefore far superior, to anyone else.
The only person in the shop was a young guy in his mid-twenties cleaning records at the counter. At first glance he looked unkempt, but as I got closer I could tell it was a very carefully maintained sort of dishevelled look. Each loose strand of hair had been designed to fall a particular way, and the nonchalant way he wore his clothes was just as misleading. The threadbare grey T-shirt probably cost half of someone’s weekly paycheque and the distressed charcoal boots looked similarly pricey. My mood being what it was, it was little wonder that I took an instant disliking to him and his poser store.
‘Are you the owner?’ I didn’t want to waste time beating around the bush.
‘At your service.’ He stopped cleaning the record in his hand and did a mock curtsy.
I couldn’t tell whether he was being sarcastic or trying to be charming. I didn’t care either way. There was only one thing I wanted to find out from him.
‘Do you make it a habit of signing formal affidavits against every kid who happens to steal some dusty record from your shop?’ I began with more force in my voice than even I had expected. ‘Never mind all the kids who illegally download hundreds of pounds’ worth of music every day and get away with it. No, you decide it’s the one who steals some poxy records from some unprofitable hipster hangout who has to pay the price. The kid who makes off with a couple of old, useless albums that no one was probably going to buy anyway.’
‘Hey, back up a minute,’ said the guy when I stopped to catch my breath. ‘Let’s get one thing straight. The kid…’
‘My brother,’ I corrected him.
‘Your brother was helping himself to some very expensive albums - which, by the way, happen to be classified as new imports,’ he explained.
‘New imports? From when? The last century? Or the last millennium? No one produces vinyl anymore.’ I wasn’t going to let him inflate the value of Mike’s theft items. ‘The kid’s thirteen, for goodness sake. Did you really have to call the cops?’ I was on a roll.
‘Hang on, what gives you the right to march in here and act like I’m the one breaking the law? I’m not the one who committed a criminal act,’ the owner reminded me.
'Because… well, because…’ My mind couldn’t come up with a valid counter-argument, and I suddenly realised I had come on far too strong. The guy had a perfectly valid point. He had done nothing wrong; it was Mike who was the guilty one, no matter from what slant I chose to view the situation. It wasn’t the guy’s fault that I had had a lousy week and an even lousier day.
‘Because I’ve clearly lost the plot,’ I admitted. ‘My bad. I’m sorry.’
An awkward silence followed, during which we appraised each other. With some surprise I began to notice that the guy was actually rather handsome, once you got past the preening façade.
‘Could you do me this one massive favour and at least drop the formal complaint?’ I asked in a far more humble tone than my opening speech.
‘Complaint? What complaint?’ the owner asked with mock confusion.
I let out a sigh of relief and smiled. ‘Thanks.’
‘Now could you drop the overly-protective bordering on psychotic older sister act?’
I didn’t know how to react to this except to offer a sheepish smile. Put like that, I had to concede that I might have been a touch psychotic in my approach.
‘The kid’s got good taste in music, I’ll give him that.’ This was a clear peace offering.
‘Thank you.’ I felt like I needed to repeat those two words for at least another hundred times.
‘Toby.’ He put his hand out. ‘And you’re welcome.’
He held onto my hand for a moment longer than was the norm and I realised he was waiting for me to introduce myself.
‘Heather.’ There was another pause, but less awkward this time. ‘And I am truly sorry. For what Mike did and for how I behaved.’
Once again we had run out of conversation. Feeling self-conscious under his gaze, I pretended to study the leaflets scattered across the large industrial-type counter, when one particular leaflet caught my eye.
‘Hey, you run DJ classes?’
‘Why? You want to sign up?’
‘Oh, no, not for me,’ I replied. ‘For my brother. He wants to be a DJ. In fact, I think that’s why he tried to steal your records,’ I explained as I pocketed a leaflet for Mike.
‘I’ll give you a family discount if you come along too,’ Toby offered.
‘Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.’ I smiled once more then made for the door.
As I was opening the door, Toby called out. ‘Heather!’ I turned around.
‘There’s a great DJ playing tonight.’ He handed me the flyer. ‘If you want to see the kind of thing an unprofitable hipster hangout supports, to quote one particular source…’ he smiled.
‘Oh, I really didn’t… I mean, I don’t… um, I’m sorry.’ My cheeks were beginning to flush.
But Toby was still waiting for an answer. The glint in his eyes made me pause.
‘Wait, are you asking me out?’ I cocked my head.
‘Maybe,’ Toby grinned.
‘Maybe?’ So he wasn’t going to commit to asking me on a date. Fine. Two could play that game. ‘I’ll have to check my diary.’
With that, I left the shop. I briefly glanced back when I closed the door behind me, and I saw an amused look on his face as he returned to cleaning his records.
I couldn’t stop grinning when I stepped out onto the street, where a very anxious Mike was waiting for me. I had actually been asked out! And by a guy who looked really cute. In the space of time it took to reach the exit from the counter, I had gone from thinking he was kind of alright-looking to really cute. I had to fight the urge to look back yet again.