The glass doors of SolaBowl swished aside as the magnificent six stormed into the warmth inside. Confidence was higher than a hundred and twenty milligrams per hundred millilitres as they strode past guys and gals drinking at the bar. They stopped at the shoe station. Edwin pulled a box from his duffle bag, removed the lid and carefully pulled back the tissue to reveal bright red bowling shoes. He presented them for inspection. Five sniggered. The assistant raised his eyebrows and smirked.
‘You old tart Edwin!,’ Zak remarked.
The others hired shoes, changed, then passed roaring lanes to lane eight. Clifford, red faced and puffing was the last to get there. Best man Pete was already setting up the scoreboard.
‘Finger out, Cliffy. Simon, your last night of freedom – you can go first. Then alphabetical. OK, Zak?’
Nobody argued. Rog and Zak went to the bar and returned with drinks. They were just getting settled when there was a burst of laughter from the lane next door.
‘Get a load of that, lads,’ Simon nudged Pete who was still fiddling with the scoreboard.
All eyes swung toward six girls whose costumes screamed hen party. When the wolf whistles subsided, Simon leaned across the barrier and addressed an inviting cleavage.
‘Get lost!’ said the owner.
Simon turned to the others, ‘We’re in here, lads!’
Edwin told Clifford to limber up, having him stretch to each bent knee and to try to touch his toes.
‘It’s not the bloody world cup Edwin! Right lads, game on,’ declared Pete.
Simon’s ferocious bowl sent ten pins clattering.
‘Easy boy! Save some for Annette on the wedding night,’ said Zak.
Simon gave a smug smile. Clifford picked up a bowl and immediately dropped it on his foot. He hopped around shoeless. Pete examined the injury.
‘Nothing broken Cliffy, you’ll survive.’ Clifford limped barefoot to the seating area.
‘Where’s Edwin?’ asked Pete.
‘Slash!’ was the united reply.
‘Why on earth did you invite him, Simon? Not a bloody word all night, now he’s pissing every five minutes,’ said Pete.
‘Here comes the nancy now.’
‘Sorry lads, my go?’
‘Take your time Edwin,’ Pete said, looking at his watch.
Edwin postured and bowled a strike with an effortless, gentle precision. He followed through with a regal twirl of the hand.
‘Hey dude, dark horse,’ said Zak.
Edwin grinned like the top of his head would unzip, replayed the action and told Clifford the secret of his technique. Clifford seemed more interested in his foot.
Pete ran up to the mark. At the same time a girl next door slid to the line on her knees sending a cracking shot, scoring a strike with the pins and with Pete. She got up with a victory wiggle to clapping and shouting. He stood and admired her white tutu over red tights, flashing devil’s horn headband and bride’s veil. She threw a glance which said ‘Beat that’. He returned to his mark, fingers sweating. He rubbed them on his jeans to improve the grip.
‘No pressure then!’ said Zak.
All eyes from both lanes were on Pete. He gripped the bowl and ran to the line, putting every ounce of muscle into the swing. His fingers slipped and the bowl flew upwards, cleared the barrier and clattered the deck of the girls’ lane.
‘Nil point,’ Simon said, in an accent he’d heard on the Eurovision Song Contest.
Pete blushed. Tutu smiled. ‘Do you always go bowling up the wrong alley?’
‘Er, not usually. Are you the bride to be then?’
‘Well, Einstein? I mean, white dress and veil?’
Pete gulped. The game paled and he melted, he couldn’t stop staring into Tutu’s blue eyes.
‘You look stunning. He’s a very lucky guy.’
‘Corny! But thanks anyway.’
‘Fancy a set of mixed doubles?’ Pete suggested trying to cling on to a thread of a chance. Zak earwigged and muscled in, looking at Tutu.
‘Yeh, great idea. Bags I partner you.’
‘Piss off Zak, I was here first.’
‘Language boys! I’ll ask,’ said Tutu. Zak weighed up the other talent.
‘I’m not having the fat one,’ he moaned.
‘Pete?’ Simon called, ‘Are you playing? It’s your bowl.’
Pete downed eight pins and forgot his second go.
‘What planet are you on?’ said Edwin, who was into the game like no one else. Old Clifford was sitting barefoot in the corner talking into his beer glass. Edwin was taking his turns as well as his own.
‘You’re on boys! Girls pick partners, boys buy drinks. Deal?’
‘Wa- hey! Cummon Rog. Let’s see what the girls are drinking. Clifford? The fat one’s yours,’ said Zak.
‘What about finishing this game first?’ Edwin protested.
‘Bugger that. Let’s have a real game.’
Rog and Zak came back with two trays of drinks. One had a jug of beer, the other shorts and mixers and a pile of crisps.
‘Right girls! Pick-your-drinks-and-pick-your-heroes,’ said Simon, doing his best dance floor walk.
Tutu picked Pete. Simon got the cleavage. The fifth girl up was Stella. She moaned that there wasn’t any choice with only Edwin and Clifford left. She took Edwin, sneering at his bowling shoes. The fat girl sat next to Clifford, who had dozed off. She looked at his bare foot which had turned a delicate shade of crimson and kicked off her own bowling shoes. She downed a pint and started on three bags of crisps, different flavours.
‘You’d better leave Sandra out, she looks like she’s had enough,’ said Stella.
Ten crammed the lane and feral bowls rolled around in a mix of random bowling and exhibition pieces. Simon’s ‘two at a time’ scored a strike and a warning from the supervisor. Zak almost topped it with three in a roll down. Rog soaked himself trying to bowl while downing a pint. More trays of drinks came. Nobody was scoring. There was nothing to score except for Edwin, who kept his tally in a diary. Stella, his partner, had long gone to chat up a hunk in the next lane.
Simon nudged Pete. Sandra was snogging Clifford.
‘Do you think he’s awake?’ asked Pete.
Simon smiled. ‘I bloody well hope not. Come on lads, let’s liven it up! How about synchronised bowling?’
‘Yeh, great!’ said Zak, ‘What is it?’
‘Count me out,’ said Edwin. ‘And us,’ said Tutu, ‘we’ll watch. Go for it lads!’
Edwin disappeared to the toilets. Clifford was still blotto, with fat Sandra. Pete, Zak, Simon and Rog lined up with a bowl each. ‘Four-bowl,’ announced Simon. The pins were up. The girls cheered and clapped. Simon counted down. ‘Three, two, one, blast off!’ and they each ran forward, bowled and peeled away. Three bowls rolled down the lane in succession. As Simon turned, Rog clumped him in the wedding tackle with his bowl. The pair of them collapsed and slithered down the lane.
‘You tosser!’ said Simon, clutching his groin as they rolled around in the lane.
The air was rent with a loud whistle blast, followed by the manager and two security staff sprinting across the lanes. The security boys hauled them up. Simon was red faced and stooping. A scream and a loud slap came from the seating area. ‘Get off, you old pervert!’ Clifford had seemingly come to and ventured a hand up Sandra’s skirt. She made no attempt to push him away.
‘Right you lot!’ boomed the manager, ‘Out!’
Silence fell upon lanes seven and eight. The roar of bowls on the other lanes restarted and the musical tinkling of crashing pins continued, as Pete walked Tutu to the shoe station. They checked out together and he held her to one side.
‘I really like you,’ he said, ‘and I’ve had a great time. I don’t suppose…’
She placed a finger on his lips then kissed him on the cheek.
‘That was fun, but you shouldn’t forget that ring you’re wearing.’
Pete glanced at his wedding ring. He leaned forward and surprised Tutu with a kiss on the lips. She jerked away.
‘Woa boy! Don’t spoil it by bowling down the wrong lane again!’
She left him standing alone. He stood watching as she walked away, the hen party singing and giggling, leaning on one another. He twisted the wedding ring on his finger, feeling an itch beneath it, as she faded into the distance. Just before she disappeared from view, Tutu looked over her shoulder and her glance caught his. In his mind, that fraction of a second meant something, something to be kept and treasured.
His heart skipped a beat as he realised what it was.