People used to call me Jodie’s shadow. Half the time it was him following me, but that didn’t matter to no-one, cause Jodie was the one people noticed first. Also, Jodie was the only one of all of us who could drive. His brother had moved to London and left his car behind, so that became our car. We used to drive up and down the main street on Fridays and Saturdays, getting noticed. The girls would always talk to Jodie. Sometimes, they might make a joke and look at me for a reaction, but mostly they’d talk to Jodie. I didn’t much like them anyway. The way they laughed when what he was saying wasn’t even meant to be funny. There was one girl, Siobhan. Jodie used to say she was gagging for it. She got in the car once, and Jodie made me sit in the back. Then he drove right out of town, up the country road. He wanted to show her how fast he could go, but she got bored and made us take her back. After that, Jodie lost interest in the local girls and instead of driving up and down the main street, we’d drive into the country and Jodie would put the pedal to the floor.
The first time we saw Betty’s, we didn’t even stop. It just looked so weird and wrong at the side of a battered old road in the middle of the countryside, this shiny old burger place, like something from a film. But we did slow right down and we had a proper look and the strangest thing about it was that all the cars parked around it were old cars. Cadillacs and T-Birds. And the waitresses that were coming out to the cars on rollerskates with trays, they had that old-fashioned American look about them. All tarted up but pure underneath, like a vanilla sundae. And everything sort of glowed in this red light. The other weird thing is that Jodie and me never spoke about it afterwards. Even the next Friday night when we was driving round and round the moors, and I knew he was trying to get to Betty’s again, and it wasn’t where he remembered it (it wasn’t where I remembered it), we didn’t speak about it again until we found it.
It was a wet night and that red light seemed to stick to the rain and the wet road like paint, and even to the clouds. That was how we found it again. We followed that red light three miles across the moor. I felt like we was crashing some party when Jodie parked his 306 among the hot rods and dream machines, but nobody seemed to treat us different, even though we was the only ones not in fancy dress. We was only sat there for a few seconds when the waitress came out. And her name was Barbara. She had curls of red hair and freckles on her nose and lips the colour of strawberries. And she was American and said things like “no sweat” and “hipsville”. And Jodie liked her, and kept her talking for ages without ordering any food. Then she brought us both a milkshake and said, “Catch ya later,” and did a little twirl and winked at Jodie as she skated away.
We went back each week, even though Betty’s never seemed to be in the same place it was the week before. We always found it eventually, we always parked in the same spot, and we always got served by Barbara. After about a month, I started to wonder why I came along. Jodie’s chats with Barbara got longer and longer. The fifth time we went, she actually got in the car and I had to sit in the back. I heard her call me a wet rag. Then, the next week, Jodie called me to say he felt sick and didn’t feel like going out, and I knew he was going without me.
And that was it for a while. I went down to the town on Saturday nights like me and Jodie used to before he got the car. I made fun of Jodie cause he wasn’t there. And I got off with Siobhan. Then one night Jodie came back. I was sitting at the bus stop with a couple of the boys from the New Town and he pulled up in his 306 and told me to get in.
All the way up the road, all he kept saying was how much he loved Barbara. We went straight there – no messing about getting lost – and when we got there, the red lights was all switched off and the car park was empty except for this one black hot-rod. And standing next to it was Barbara, and this greasy looking boy, who was all dressed up like the Fonz. We pulled up next to them and then Jodie turned to me.
“I’m gonna race this geezer,” he said, “And if he wins, we can never come back.”
“What happens if you win?”
“If I win, you need to go home and tell everyone what happened.”
And then he opened the door for me to get out and started revving. The Fonz vaulted into the driving seat of his hot-road. It was an angry-sounding thing, like some sort of animal, and smoke was piling out of the exhaust. Then Barbara stood between the cars with her arms up and then dropped her arms to her sides and they was off into the darkness.
It was dead quiet then. Barbara just stood with her back to me, staring at the exhaust trail the cars had left behind.
“What’s going on?” I said. I thought I heard her sigh but she never answered me. Then I heard the old hot-rod, although I couldn’t see it at first, and then I saw it, coming towards us out of the mist. And when it got really close, I could see that it wasn’t the Fonz driving anymore. It was Jodie.
Barbara was jumping up and down, and when the car stopped, she jumped on top of Jodie and started kissing him. After a while they broke off and Jodie turned around and he said to me, “I can’t come home now. Not ever.”
And the weird thing is, I sort of understood. And then the moon broke through the clouds – a full moon. And it lit up the road, but the diner, and the hot-rod and Barbara and Jodie stayed dark. And got darker, and darker, until they weren’t there anymore. It was just me looking at a country road, and a long walk home.