Kerry made her way up South Parks road, right to the end where the pavement gives way to a country path.
It is one of the most secluded places in Oxford; the perfect lovers spot.
She thought about the time she walked here with Craig. Dithering, hand-in-hand, while he chattered excitedly at her.
‘Do you know any interesting collective terms for animals?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well you know how a group of dogs is a pack, cows are a herd? Well most animals have something like that, some of them a pretty cool. For example, a group of cats are a pounce.’
‘Talking bollocks mate’ she’d laughed back.
‘It’s true. A group of porcupines is a prickle, crows are a murder, and peacocks are a bouquet – like they’re flowers. That one’s pretty sweet, right?’
Kerry remembered it all vividly. She could see in his face that he wasn’t taking the piss; that Craig just wasn’t that type.
She remembered asking, ‘how does anyone know this random shit?’
‘Documentaries, magazines, that kind of thing.’
None of Kerry’s friends would ever even think about nature, let alone spent time reading magazines about it. As for voicing the thought that a bouquet of peacocks was a “sweet” idea – the best you could hope for was a lifetime of piss-taking.
She retraced their steps through the foliage – there that was the tree he had pulled her against.
‘Kiss me’ he’d said, quietly commanding.
‘No’ she replied, trying to break free. ‘I’m so bad at kissing, believe it or not.’ Craig had kept her hand.
‘See I think bad kisses are like fans of that band – the Lighthouse Family. If they exist I’ve not encountered one yet.’
Kerry laughed at that and allowed herself to be drawn back into his embrace. Against her better instincts she allowed the kiss to happen. She knew then that she kind of liked Craig. That he was a good person: caring, funny, and interested in the world.
She must have looked sad as they broke apart. Craig blushed a little. She started walking onwards.
‘Sorry’ he managed catching her up, ‘that was too forward. I just fancy the pants off you is all. But I get it – you were with your ex for a while, right? There’s bound to be residual feelings, conflict, whatever. That’s just natural. I won’t take offence if you need more time.’
The men Kerry had been with wouldn’t have said something understanding like that. They would have taken what they wanted. Or at least remind her that it was her who had sent the messages promising to go somewhere private for sex, so why be so precious about a kiss?
Craig had just let love cloud his judgement she realised, clearly he wasn’t thinking straight.
She arrived at the clearing where Lee and four of his friends waited for them both. As they emerged from all sides encircling them, Craig’s first thought was to protect her – shouting that they’d been followed and that she should run.
She wondered, were there more tears running down her face now or then?
Lee told Craig everything as he and his friends beat the living shit out of him. Told him he just fell for the honey-trap. That Kerry’s interest in him was only ever at Lee’s request – revenge for some time Craig had answered back and embarrassed Lee in a bar so many weeks ago Craig had forgotten all about it.
Kerry shouted at them to stop it, that enough was enough. Lee span to address her, his face contorted into an expression of pure blood-lust. He told her to shut the fuck up, or she’d be next.
She crumpled to her knees. ‘I never thought they’d kill you Craig’ she whispered to the empty clearing. It was something she’d told herself many times over. A half-truth. No one told her how far they would go, but really, what did she think they were going to do to him out here? What difference did it make?
Lee was caught, along with every one of the boys there that day. They successfully pled manslaughter, their sentences running between five to seven years. Lee winked at her as he was led away as if to promise that her part in the matter was sworn to secrecy. And now she was alone. Alone with the guilt.
Kerry finally stopped crying. The cold night air drying her face off quickly. She felt herself sinking into the autumn leaves; sinking further into oblivion. She wanted to find Craig and tell him she was sorry. The alcohol and the painkillers were kicking in – fifty paracetamol and a half bottle of vodka.
It took them three days to discover Craig’s body. She couldn’t help but wonder if she would be found sooner or later.
Jake Kendallwrites sad jokes and nonsense from his hometown of Oxford. His writing can be found in Here Comes Everyone, Burning House Press, Idle Ink, Coffin Bell Journal, the Mechanics Institute Review and the Cabinet Of Heed. His twitter is @jakendallox