Eddie hadn’t yet told Johnny that he had recently started shaving. They had always done things together, shared experiences, and hadn’t been afraid to talk about the emotional things that were steered clear of by most their classmates at the all-boys day school they attended. It wasn’t that he was ashamed of shaving. Indeed he was secretly proud of it, reassured that he was normal, a real bloke, somebody deserving of respect. It was just that, well, starting to shave is the beginning of the journey into manhood – planning to take the driving test, being offered wine at the dining room table by a jovial uncle, and understanding the world of women, specifically on how bra straps work and how to buy condoms without turning as red as beetroot (there was some urgency here – he’d been getting some meaningful looks from Kara Boardman who lived in a posh detached house with double garage and tennis court only three streets away and he was going to have to do something about it sooner or later). He didn’t want to feel, and he didn’t want Johnny to feel, that he was now different to Johnny, more mature than Johnny, no longer part of the world of childhood they had so enjoyed together.

They had grown up on the same street, gone to the same school, supported the same premiership team. Eddie played midfield for the school’s second team, Johnny was a striker. Their families were close, in and out of each other’s houses. They’d even all been on holiday together – twice they’d hired a couple of static caravans in Prestatyn on the north Wales coast for a week – without any friction between the two families and that’s a sign of true friendship. Eddie’s dad is godfather to Johnny and Johnny’s dad was Eddie’s dad’s best man when they got married in the Manchester registry office soon after Eddie was born.

Eddie and Johnny hadn’t kept anything from each other before, had no secrets from each other, as far as he knew. Johnny had told him about the time that his sister had been warned about shoplifting by the police (it didn’t happen again – and now she’s studying Sociology at Chester Uni) and Johnny knew all about Eddie’s dad’s brief affair with Mrs Hudson who runs Floral Favourites at the far end of the high street and opposite the chippy. So why this reluctance, he asked himself. Johnny can handle this, he thought. Johnny would tell him if the boot was on the other foot. Johnny would be a friend truer than he was being.

Something told him that if he could get Johnny to shave, even if, initially, it was just a case of scraping off the bum fluff once a week, this would accelerate things for Johnny and they would once again be on an equal footing and be able to tackle adulthood together. Making it happen needed to be handled sensitively. He didn’t want to lose his friend or damage him emotionally. He knew what could happen from the time he read The Catcher in the Rye.

That Thursday afternoon walking home along the canal towpath after footie practice, Eddie hauled a brand new twin-blade safety razor from his backpack. “Here’s for you,” he said.

“Wow. This is a surprise. What’s it about?”

“Yeah, well. I started about two weeks ago. Thought you may want to join me.”

Johnny rubbed his soft, smooth cheeks and chin. “Not sure. Doesn’t starting mean that you have to do it every day for the rest of your life? Not sure I want that.”

“It’s going to happen. Best to start earlier rather than later,” said Eddie. “A lot of the team have started now, even Terry Ellis.”

“Wow! Terry Ellis! Him! Well, if he can shave so can I. I mean, he hasn’t scored all season. Nowhere near the goal. So great. Thanks for this. I’ll have a go with it tonight.”

A while later, just beyond the second set of locks, Johnny turned to Eddie and said, “Look, I’ve been wanting to give you some of these for a while,” and passed over a pack of condoms. “Me and Kara, well, you know. We get them at the Co-op. Kara buys one week, me the next. Dead easy.”

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