Weekday mornings were always a struggle for Danny. To be precise, school day mornings. His mother had to drag him out of bed all the time. She hoped he would wake up with a sense of responsibility on his fifteenth birthday, but it’s been three weeks since then and he’s showed little evidence of that.
“Every morning you come down here with a face like a wet weekend. You used to be such a happy child. I’m fed up with all your teenage sulking,” said Danny’s mum. “Snap out of it. You hear me? Snap out of it.”
It wasn’t easy for Danny’s mum bringing up two boys on her own. Ever since their father died she’s worked two jobs to make ends meet. It was a strain plaguing her health, yet she’d never let on to the boys. She was old school, part of the grin and bear it brigade.
“I’m sorry, Danny.” She grabbed him while he was sat in the chair and pulled him towards her, at the same time stroking his head. “I love you. I’m sorry.”
She released her grip and walked over to her handbag. Danny sat there agitated, trying to put his hair back in order. During the commotion his little brother Billy was watching quietly eating his cereal. He got up from his seat and handed Danny a drawing.
“Here. Have this,” said Billy.
The picture was of a big red balloon drawn in charcoal.
“Balloons always make me happy. I hope this one makes you happy Danny,” Billy said as he returned to his seat.
“I know they do Billy.” Danny gave Billy a smile. “Thank you, that’s exactly what I needed.” He folded it up and put it in his pocket.
Danny’s mum returned to the boys holding something in her hand. “Here, take this fiver. Get your brother and yourself some sweets on the way home. We should be back from Billy’s hospital appointment before you get home. It will cheer him up. You know how ill he gets after his treatment.”
After the breakfast dishes were cleared away, Danny gave them both a kiss and left for school.
Outside the school gates stood three fat teenage boys. They were giving dirty looks and hurling abuse at anyone that passed through the gates.
“If it ain’t the poor little orphan Danny,” said the fattest one.
“Good one Gaz,” said the fat boy on his right.
Danny tried to ignore them, upping his pace.
“Hey, fuck face. I’m talking to you.”
All three boys moved to block Danny’s path.
“Gis it up. Gis ya money, ya fucker,” said Gaz. He started poking Danny in the chest.
These boys weren’t just fat, they were tall too. They towered over Danny. He didn’t have a chance against one troglodyte, let alone three.
“Oi, you boys. Stop your messing around and get into school. The bell has gone,” shouted a teacher from the other side of the gate.
“Ya lucky for now. We’ll get ya later,” said Gaz as he and his companions backed away.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. The troglodytes spent little time in school, always skiving off spending their hard-earned extortion money on artery clogging snacks. It wasn’t easy to maintain their physique, it took a lot of dedication.
Danny walked home via the Spar shop. He was planning on doing as his mum asked and getting some sweets, however his attention was diverted when he noticed next to the shop stood a middle-aged tubby man selling helium filled balloons. There were all sorts and sizes. There were some with writing on them: ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘I’m Sorry’, ‘Good Luck!’. There were some of those horrible foil looking ones which Billy hated, and there were some good old-fashioned rubber ones. Sitting in the middle of them all was the perfect balloon.
“Could I have that big red balloon please?” said Danny.
He parted with the fiver his mum had given him and headed home. He knew his brother would love this balloon. It was a much better present than sweets. He stepped round the corner and walked into trouble. Standing in front of him smoking were the three troglodytes.
“Wot have we ’ere? Little Danny has got ’imself a balloon. Looks like a dumb fuckin’ baby,” said Gaz.
Danny wasn’t sure what to do next. If he ran he’d probably lose the balloon, if he stayed he was likely to get the balloon popped and a beating to boot.
“Hey guys. Sorry about before. This is all the money I have left.” He rummaged around his pockets trying to find any peace offerings.
“We don’t want ya money. Too late. Ya gonna get a kickin’.” Gaz gestured to his henchmen to grab Danny.
Before Danny could turn and run they grabbed his arms. In the struggle the balloon broke free and floated away. Gaz walked up to Danny and punched him in the face.
“Hey what the hell’s going on here?” The balloon salesman heard the commotion and came round the corner to investigate.
The henchmen let go of Danny’s arms and he fell to the floor. Gaz was now in the line of sight of the balloon salesman.
“Fuck,” said Gaz.
“GARETH! What are you doing?” The balloon salesman marched over to Danny and helped him to his feet. He didn’t take his eyes off Gaz.
“Nothing dad, nothing. We were just messing around,” said Gaz.
“Nothing my arse. You’ve been bullying this poor boy haven’t you?” said Gaz’s dad. He checked Danny to make sure he was okay. Gaz stood petrified. His henchmen tried to form an orderly queue behind him, hoping they could hide in his shadow.
“I warned you, if you got in trouble again you would pay.” He looked at Danny. “What’s your name son?”
“Well Danny, did you know Gareth’s late mother was a big John Wayne fan. So much so, she insisted on giving Gareth John Wayne’s birth name. My son’s full name is Gareth Marion Chesterfield.” Gaz’s henchmen started sniggering. “He was a cute toddler and his mum used to enter him into beauty competitions. If you go on the internet and Google ‘Derbyshire Herald 2006 Cute Kid Competition’ you should find some photographs of Gareth wearing a little cowboy outfit.”
“Come on dad, no more please.”
“What do you think Danny? Has he learnt his lesson?”
Danny stared at Gaz trying to gauge the way this was going to go.
“Gareth, I don’t think Danny will use this information against you. However I’m not so sure about those two thugs.” He nodded towards the henchmen. “Now you’ve got a chance of getting away scot-free here, but it will depend on how you play it. You leave Danny alone in the future and everybody else you’ve been picking on. If I so much as get a sniff of you causing trouble I will be printing off those photographs and sticking them all around your school with your full name underneath them. You’ll then see what it’s like to be picked on. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes dad. I’m sorry. Sorry Danny.”
“Now get home.” He looked at the henchmen. “I know both of your fathers. They have some secrets about you two too. Play along or your fathers will know. Understand?”
The henchmen’s eyes were full of fear. They almost tripped over each other in their desperation to get away.
“Sorry Danny. Let’s get you home.”
Danny’s mum was at home preparing dinner and getting her things together for her evening job. Gaz’s dad explained everything that had happened and apologised profusely. He asked if there was anything he could do to make up for his son’s misdemeanours. Danny had an idea.
The next morning Danny was the first out of bed. He woke his mum and together they went to get Billy. They all went downstairs to the living room encouraging Billy to lead the way.
Billy tried opening the door but there was resistance. He pushed it harder and the door opened slightly. He looked at his brother and mother giving them the brightest and biggest smile they’d ever seen. He pushed with all his might until the door gave way and opened up. He was immediately submerged in a mountain of balloons.
Danny’s mum gave Danny a hug and kissed him on the forehead. They both watched as Billy disappeared into the balloon filled room, leaving an excited scream in his wake.