If Katie had thought things had been settled and would get back to normal, she was in for a shock. Far from resolving their differences, Steve and Gareth had in fact taken an even more intense dislike of each other and as hard as she tried, neither could be reasoned with.
It seemed all her efforts did was tick Gareth off.
"I don't know what you think, but I wasn't playing alpha male with him." He snapped as they wandered through the crowded, shifting corridors as they made their way to the groups usual spot. As they finally squeezed their way out into the central space Katie spotted an extra figure standing with Jane, David and James. By the visibly tenser look on Gareth's face, he had recognised the figure as well.
"Hey Katie." Steve called as she and Gareth made their way over
to the group. She had already hissed a warning at Gareth to
behave himself, although she was sceptical at how far that
warning would go. Steve's refusal to acknowledge Gareth didn't
Almost before she had dumped her backpack and zipped her coat up against the ever more chill air, Steve was pulling her out of earshot of her friends.
"What's going on?" He demanded shortly, "I thought things were clear."
Katie shook her head in confusion, "What are you talking about?"
Steve shot a quick look over to the group who were talking amongst themselves, plainly not wanting to be the one who dragged themselves into the firing line. Katie watched his face visibly darken as his gaze caught sight of his rival.
"He was supposed to be out of the way."
Katie laughed, surely he wasn't being serious. "They're Gareth's friends as well, I can't make him stay away from them."
"Well, either I'm here and he isn't or I'm not hanging around that lot." He snapped.
Katie frowned, anger tugging at her voice, "Well 'that lot' happen to be my friends as well." She snapped.
"That's not what I meant." Steve replied quickly, looking for an escape, "Look if we're going out then we want to be seen together right?"
"Well, yes." Katie replied, taken aback by Steve's words. "Are we going out?"
Steve laughed, that charming smile returning to his face, "We can be if you want, but I'd want us to hang out. Why don't you come meet my friends?" He suggested brightly.
Katie felt caught suddenly, Gareth would not be pleased if she went off with Steve, but then having a boyfriend of her own...
"I'll grab my bag." She replied brightly.
As soon as Katie was out of earshot, Gareth practically exploded.
"That... I'm going to kill him!" He raged.
Jane glared at him, "Why are you so jealous of him?" She demanded from her usual perch on the metal bench.
"I'm not, I just know what kind of guy he is." Gareth retorted, glaring back at her. For a moment, as the two stubborn teenagers gave each other black looks, the air between them seemed to crackle.
James could see a fight emerging and quickly got up from sitting on his coat to put an arm across Gareth's shoulder. "Come on guys relax, we all just want to see Katie happy. Right?" He added, his tone brooking no argument.
"Sure." Gareth replied.
"Yeah come Jane, it's not like Gareth is trying to upset her." David put in, his soft voice like a balm on Jane's temper.
Jane folded her arms, but the hard glint in her eyes softened, "I guess you're right, I just don't get why you have such an issue with Steve." She added gently, turning back to Gareth.
"This is how it all starts," He explained, his own voice still vibrating slightly with anger, "the longer his has Katie's ear, the less and less we'll see of her, and next thing he'll have dumped her as soon as he's had his fun with her or for the next piece of tail that catches his eye."
"Subtle." David observed, a wry look on his face.
"Look it's true, guys like him get off on being able to control people."
Jane snorted, "None of you have complained about me." She said, hiding a blush as she spoke.
"Your fella doesn't keep you from seeing us." Gareth pointed out quickly.
James nodded in agreement, "Yeah it's not the same thing. You just see you bloke in secret, but you're still here with us."
"Yeah well, Katie isn't so innocent she can't take care of herself." Jane replied changing the subject quickly, glancing around as she spoke.
"Oh come Jane, we all know that's not true." James put in. He had quickly gone back to his relaxed position on his coat. "Sensible, yes. But she is a complete novice with guys."
"She gets the better of you lot often enough." Jane replied haughtily.
"We're not trying to take advantage of her though. And that's the difference for you." David told her, earning a glare for his trouble, "Your guy doesn't seem to be trying to take advantage of you.
"So you're against me as well now?" She cried, "And how would you know if I'm being taken advantage of?" Again her cheeks reddened as she spoke.
"Because you're blushing so much." David grinned.
"All right, fine." She then turned back to Gareth, "Anyway, what makes you so certain of what he's like smart arse?"
"I used to be exactly like him." Gareth shrugged, "At primary school I'd let people think I was their friend and then when I got bored of them, find some new ones."
"Oh yeah? What changed?" Jane demanded.
For a moment Gareth said nothing, instead he looked away, concealing a blush on his face. "I met you guys." He replied, his usually loud, boisterous voice almost at a whisper.
James put a hand on his shoulder, while David just nodded. Jane smiled warmly at him, "It wouldn't be the same without you." She told him.
"All right, enough of this mushy bollocks." Gareth snapped, trying to wipe the smile from his face as he spoke.
"You're just a big softy really aren't you?' David laughed, earning a sharp whack from Jane.
"Be nice." She ordered.
James and Gareth both laughed in unison.
Katie's mind was still reeling as Steve introduced her to his friends. Shamefully, the only name she could place was Julie Harper, a girl her own age with a reputation for being someone not to be tangled with lightly. Rumours about when she had lost her virginity were rife, all sounding pretty fantastic, and she had over the years been the first for many young men. Her reputation stemmed from her lack of inhibitions when it came to her conquests' performances in bed and several guys had been utterly destroyed because of her.
"So you're Katie huh?" The dark haired girl asked. Katie could
only nod in reply. "You don't have to be nervous around us, we
won't bite you." Julie added brightly. Despite her words or
reassurance, it was hard not to be intimidated by her. As well as
a fearsome reputation, Julie was indeed a stunningly beautiful
young woman, with her dark, almost black hair contrasting her
light skin and deep blue eyes. Somehow even her humble school
uniform added to her beauty, with her black trousers fitting like
a second skin to her shapely legs. In fact Katie found herself
wondering what on Earth Steve could see in herself with a friend
As she stood there, dumbstruck, Julie swiftly drew Katie with her to meet the group of guys she and Steve spent their time with. With three other guys and Steve to content with, Katie found herself admiring Julie's obvious ability to stick up for herself.
"Aren't you the girl with an alcoholic dad?" One piped up as Julie introduced her.
With an almost superhuman speed, Julie's right hand delivered a resounding slap. "Watch your mouth Chris!" She snapped, reminding Katie in that moment of Jane.
"Yeah come on mate, leave off." Steve put in smoothly.
Chris glowered at Julie but said nothing. Julie simply smiled at him, then turned to Katie.
"So I imagine Steve is the most experienced guy you've had." She began, a light conversational tone in her voice.
"Well, yes but not for that reason." Katie replied shyly.
For a moment, Julie's face darkened and her eyes narrowed, turning her beautiful face into a evil mask. "Is that so?" She replied slowly.
Before she could reply, Steve had practically dived between them and dragged Julie a short distance away and a heated conversation began.
"Those two at it again?" Chris asked, now standing beside Katie.
She looked over at him, his cheek still bearing it's ugly red mark from Julie's slap. "Do they have a history or something?"
Chris laughed, "Depends who you ask, both of 'em have said; 'yeah', both have said; 'no', go figure."
Katie said nothing, but the pair seemed finished. Steve came over and planted a gentle kiss on her cheek before turning to the guys, "Whose got a tennis ball?"
With a ball located, the four charged off to locate a prime piece of concrete for a quite game of football.
"You want to be careful." Came Julie's voice, seemingly from
right behind her.
Katie turned to see a slightly sad, almost sympathetic look on her face. "Why?"
Julie sighed, "Steve has a...way. A lot of girls have climbed into bed with him for the first time and had their hearts broken for their trouble." She said frankly, "My advice; dump him before he dumps you."
"You sound very certain." Katie replied swiftly.
Julie smiled, "I've known Steve for a long time."
Katie folded her arms, "And yet you're friends with him," She pointed out, "if he's that bad why are you two still friends?"
Again the smile that probably melted the hearts of teenager guys the world over, "It's a long story." She replied, her voice sad for a moment, "Hey let's go grab some lunch, I like hearing Steve's chat up lines, they make great ammunition taking the piss out of him."
Katie smiled, nodding quickly in reply, again seeing something of Jane in her face.
While Katie was prepared to give anyone the benefit of the doubt,
she was careful what she revealed to Julie, a difficult task as
it turned out. Julie had a true knack of putting people at ease.
Even just sitting in the crowded, noisy lunch hall munching over
some obviously cheap sandwiches, she was easy to talk to.
However, she only asked about her mum once. When Katie explained
that it had been due to a heart attack, Julie had dropped the
"Sorry, I was just curious. A few theories have flown around, about your dad and that."
Katie smiled, "Don't worry, I don't care. People can think what they like, I know the truth."
Julie grinned, "Good for you!" She cheered. "Guys think they push around because we look good, they should know they can't."
"Yeah, did you have to hit Chris that hard."
Julie rolled her eyes, "Yes, he comes off as a nice guy but he's a complete twat, don't ever trust him."
"Nice friend to have." Katie observed wryly
"Chris is a good mate to have around, just not the sort you run to when you need a shoulder."
Katie nodded, Julie probably upset an army of guys, it must help to have some brawn laying around. Julie laughed when she told her as much.
"I never thought of it like that, but you are so right." She agreed, "Chris is not the sort of bloke to pick a fight with. I hear that mate of yours James is something of a sledgehammer when he wants to be." She added, her tone becoming mischievous.
Katie made a face in reply, "James? He's a softy. Protective, but a softy."
Julie put her sandwich down on the plastic tray and gave Katie a hard look, "The last time someone picked a fight with him, there was two of them and they lost. Badly." She pointed out, "And that was two years ago!"
Katie laughed, "Steve better watch himself then."
Julie's reaction was not quite what she expected. Instead of laughing, Julie's face seemed to freeze, becoming momentarily unreadable.
"Julie, can I ask you something?"
"Is there a history between you and Steve?"
Again the unreadable expression settled on the teenagers beautiful face and she shook her head gently. Not a subject to dwell on then.
"You don't mind me, well being on the scene?" Katie asked gently.
Finally the expression faded, "No of course not, at least you have half a brain." She grinned, "Half the girls Steve has dated have been brainless barbie dolls."
Katie frowned slightly, "How many girls has Steve dated?"
Julie froze, almost as if she wasn't sure how to reply, "I would say that's a question for Steve." She told her slowly, "Not really my place to say."
Katie nodded, unsure if she was reassured or discouraged by her reply.
Julie was obviously looking for a change of subject as she toyed
with her hair. "I hear you do a lot of helping out at
Katie grinned, "You mean you've heard I never go out. I know what people have said." She added, seeing the look of shock on Julie's face. It was quite a boost to her confidence to see such a well known girl looking so surprised.
"I'm sure it's not from choice." Julie replied eventually, her voice slightly subdued.
Katie shrugged, "I do what I need to." She explained, "Things would be a lot harder at home if I did nothing."
"My parents make me do so much around the house, I'm amazed that my mum was ever able to keep it clean on her own." Julie replied, her smile returning.
"You're not like your reputation makes out." Katie told her, simply blurting out her thoughts in a fashion her sister would probably be proud of.
Luckily, Julie just laughed, "Thanks, I guess I can find a compliment in there somewhere."
Katie's face fell, "I didn't mean that to sound so horrid."
"Forget it, I'm glad to be honest. Teenage guys with their brains in their dicks bring out the worst in me." She shrugged, "It's my own fault really."
"Aren't you worried that you'll have scared off your perfect guy?"
"Katie, we're in high school." Julie told her bluntly, "I very much doubt the bloke I'm going to marry is worth dating right now. I don't care what people think of me and guys respect me." She paused, "Mostly because they're scared of me, but at least I'm not a play thing for them."
As Katie thought on her words, the bell signalling the end of lunch shrieked over the din of the hall. As she stood up, gathering her back and glancing at her phone, Julie fixed Katie with a smile, "I'm glad I've been able to meet you, see you again?"
Katie nodded, returning the smile.
"Julie Harper is a 'nice' girl?" Gareth howled.
"She is." Katie protested. She had quickly found her friends as they made their way to classes.
James made a face at her, "She does have a massive reputation."
"Yeah for chewing up guys and spitting them out all over the place for kicks." Gareth put in.
"Oh shut up Gareth." Jane snapped, before tuning to Katie, "Gareth does have a point."
Almost as one, her four friends stopped and stared at Jane's words.
"What?" She demanded hotly, "Look I spend so much time with him that I'm bound to agree with at least one thing he says." She protested, gesturing to Gareth as she spoke.
"See, I must have a point if Jane agrees with me." Gareth grinned.
Katie rolled her eyes, "Look she seems nice, she reminds me of you actually." She told Jane. Again, the group gaped almost in unison, this time drawing a laugh from Katie. "You lot should see your faces."
"Perhaps this guy of yours should watch out." David teased, causing Jane to blush hugely.