Dad was a funny one. He only really bothered spending time with Doug if spending time with Doug involved football. Which was fine. Doug liked football. He had serious tekkers. He’d once nutted Bruce ‘Fortress Legs’ Loughshore and lived to tell the tale. But the cold Tuesday nights of Dad leaping from his seat and telling the linesman in no uncertain terms that he, Dad, could do a better job with his head rammed up his very own arse, were not exactly conducive to whispered discussions about Doug’s eternal longing for Heidi Hawthorn and the hatching of a master plan to steal her heart and achieve impregnation and so on, which Doug had been told (by Danny B) is The Highest And Purest Form of Love. At half time Dad went to the bar for a pint and then stood next to Karen for a chat and a catch-up and a gossip. Karen sold programmes before the game and raffle tickets at half-time. She had funny ears. Dad knew her from school, or something. Doug sometimes chatted to Karen too but when he considered their conversation to be snoring boring AKA dull as a seagull AKA tedious set-me-free-dious, he skipped off and joined the other boys from school down by the pitch, where if they were lucky the bumblebee mascot would throw them a gift and the boys, and the crowd behind them, would buzzzzzzzzzzzz as a means of saying thank you oh gigantic bumblebee. The large man in Row G who shouted at everything would rise from his seat and shout cheers sweet honeybee and one of the boys, usually drifty Adam Pearce, would reply who ate all the pies, because the large man was, well, large, and it was very likely that he actually had eaten the majority of the stadium’s pie supply. And then the boys would scramble. Quick, over there. Sometimes back to seat, sometimes to Dad and Karen. Karen always offered Doug a sugarfree polo and when Doug complained about the lack of sugar Karen would tell him that he was sweet enough already. Which was a nice thing to say. But the truth was Doug was also a little on the heavy side. He was already wearing small men’s clothes when the others were barely on 7-8’s and his blubby chins counted one, two, three. Mum said it was just baby fat. She was nice like that. She didn’t ever come to football. Stayed at home and did the ironing and watched a fuzzy old film on Channel 5 which seemed rather boring but then how else and when else would the ironing get done, said Dad, and anyway girls don’t like football much. Which wasn’t true. Heidi Hawthorn liked football. She went to every game with her Dad, who worked at the school with Doug’s Mum. And Heidi was a girl. Definitely a girl. She even had the beginning of boobs, so said Andy Gordon. Her smile shone brighter than the sun and brighter than all of the stars and brighter even than Grandma’s lava lamp, which was bright enough to leave those dull lingering spots in your eyes. Heidi sat in the K block with her family. The K block was three blocks away from where Doug sat and every half-time he meant to go and see her and ask how she was and declare his eternal longing and so on. School was the same. One time when she was sitting behind him in maths she really did pat him on the shoulder and tell him that his Lion King pencil with Rafiki end-eraser had fallen on the floor. And he thought about that moment forever more. And begun dropping more things on the floor: eraser, calculator, notebook, pens, those little leaky cartridges. But Heidi did nothing about those and he fast got a reputation for clumsiness. Miss Potts called him a clutz, which was a little harsh. But that didn’t matter. Potts was a dweeb. And anyway it gave him and Heidi something to talk about if he ever bumped into her at football. Opening line: I’m a little bit clumsy but I really love you.
At the beginning of December Karen disappeared and Dad stood chatting to Ellie the Elf instead who, it turns out, also sold programmes at the beginning of the game and raffle tickets at half-time. She had rosy cheeks and pointy ears and a green felt tunic. Dad told Doug that Karen had most likely jetted off to Australia to see her family and go swimming with crocodiles which was they did at Christmas time. Snappy Christmas, and all that. At one game in the middle of December it started to snow and the dribbles of snot from Doug’s red nose solidified which was something to tell Jerry B at half-time. They sat in the canteen at the back of Block G. You’ve got snot icicles, said Jerry. Cool right, said Doug, like stalactites or is that the other one you know hold tight to the ceiling? Jerry didn’t know so he started talking about the first-half penalty which he pronounced as the Worst Decision in the History of the World. He was captain of the school team, rocked blond highlights and had a Tindr account despite being ten years below the age limit which altogether meant he was Mega Cool but Mum said to tread carefully because Jerry’s dad left home the other month and he, Jerry, therefore had the potential to be a Really Bloody Bad Influence. Doug nodded and ate some chips. He said: any more luck on Tindr? Not really, said Jerry, but it’s because girls in this country are all frigid. Jerry had travelled to India with his uncle so he would know about these things. What about you? said Jerry. Doug finished his last chip and told Jerry that he was waiting for someone special and didn’t want to rush into things and wanted to take it real slow because they’d both suffered super heartbreak before and wanted to progress at a natural pace, maybe not even holding hands before Valentines so the holding of hands would be real special and not to mention the impregnation and so on which would obviously follow and would be even special-er because it was the The Highest And Purest Form of Love. Jerry got up and said that he had to whizz before the start of the second half. So Doug went to find Dad. Maybe if things didn’t work out with Heidi Hawthorn then Tindr would have to be the inevitable route and he would either have to suppress the eternal longing or pour the jilted pain into a cold ninth year on this futile earth as an alcoholic and dabbling drug addict. Mainly Calpol or Honey and Lemon because the tablets are real hard to swallow. But that would be the last resort. Doug barged his way through the steadily drunken crowds and upon approaching Dad, he witnessed something super strange. Dad, in his long grey overcoat seemed to be holding hands with Ellie the Elf. Maybe she was sad. Doug supposed that Elves were sometimes prone to sadness, in situations of panic and despair when there is a marshmallow shortage for example or a nice kid gets coal instead of presents. But she was smiling, and so was Dad. Dad leaned in a fraction closer and stroked her hair and then they kissed. Which was a) really gross, and 2) Mega Confusing. Doug bounced over and was like: Dad what’s going on? And Dad said oh shi- and cupped his own mouth and turned away but Ellie the Elf, without batting an eyelid, knelt to Doug’s level and told him that parents, like your Dad, often send secret messages to Elves who pass on the secret messages to Father Christmas and the best way of sending those messages is whispering them real quiet, lip to lip. She asked Doug if he’d like to try it but he shook his head. She then asked him if he’d like a sugarfree polo and he said why not, and skipped back to his seat for the beginning of the second half.
There was a big game coming up on Boxing Day so Doug spent the majority of Christmas Eve drawing up the blueprint of the master plan to steal Heidi Hawthorn’s heart either at half-time or after the game. It was drawn with crayons and smelly gel pens. One option involved abseiling from the roof of the stand. But heights were a bit of an issue after going all wobbly on the London Eye last summer and unfortunately Doug just didn’t have the abs for abseiling, which was something to add to the Big List of Big Improvements for the new year. Get in shape, and all that. Another option involved asking Mum to put in a good word with Heidi’s Dad. Doug worked on the master plan periodically and did all the usual things such as leaving a carrot and a mince pie outside the front door (for there was no fireplace and Santa had a special house-key) and helping to peel the vegetables where he achieved the peeling of one entire potato. Pretty good work according to Mum. And whilst Dad was at the pub he and Mum visited Uncle Jim who showed them pictures on Facebook of his new girlfriend, Shelley, and gave them chocolate digestives that smelled and tasted of tobacco. In the car on the way home Doug announced that Uncle Jim needed to get a grip of his life and Mum laughed. Which was nice. She was usually too busy being a Mum and teaching him things about life to stop and have a good laugh. At bedtime she read him The Night Before Christmas even though they both knew he was getting a little too old for a bedtime story. But it was also nice. Mum closed the door and the minute Doug was certain that she and Dad were in their bedroom and pretty much conked out (ascertained by monitoring frequency of foot movements and muffled discussion) he grabbed the torch from his Essential Supplies under the pillow and sat up to form a kind of pyramid den under his duvet. A Top Secret Mission Base, or somesuch. He read over the master plan to steal Heidi Hawthorn’s heart. It was a great plan but needed the final touch, a little bit of Christmas help from Santa Claus. Doug wrote: Dear Santa I know you’re busy but I’m in love and I need a bit of your magic (spelt: magik) to make Heidi H love me back, or if that won’t work then ask Angelina (spelt: Angleena) Jolie please. Then there was a noise from downstairs. Definitely from downstairs. A kind of bang. From the living room? Doug tip-toed to his door. It was cold so he grabbed his Frozen dressing gown which was real snug. More noises from downstairs. A real dilemma, thought Doug. Chance of it being a burglar: 44%. Chance of it being a creepy ghost: 1%. Change of it being actual Santa Claus: 88%. The big man has his very own key remember. Then: 99%. This was perfect as Doug could deliver his last-minute request for true love to the Big Man in person. With torch in hand Doug slowly plied open bedroom door and edged down the stairs with deftness of foot and even holding in breath to minimise noise. The light was on in the living room and sure enough there was Santa with his red coat and his white beard, putting some presents under the tree. Doug watched from the hallway. It was a Slim Santa. Probably been on a sprout juice diet after Mrs Claus nagged about the outrageous amount of saturated fats in his normal diet, which is something Doug had heard about on TV. Oh and Mum was there in too. Why was Mum there? She was whispering to Santa about the presents. Santa looked a bit tired and like he didn’t really know what he was doing. This didn’t inspire a huge amount of positivity re: Mission To Make Heidi Love Doug. When Mum and Santa were done Mum stroked the bit of Santa’s cheek above his beard and then gave Santa a little peck on the lips. Mum? said Doug. Mum’s eyes went crazy big and she whipped Doug out of the room and marched him upstairs and sat him on his bed where he felt like crying all of a sudden. Mum knelt down and held him by the shoulders. Her cheeks were red. Sweetie, said Mum, I always try to tell you the truth and I won’t lie to you about this as you’re growing up fast, but you see Dad loves Father Christmas and sometimes on Christmas Eve Dad likes to dress up as Father Christmas the same way you like to dress up as Spiderman whenever you watch Spiderman. So that was Dad? said Doug. It was Dad, said Mum. So you weren’t sending Santa a secret message with your lips? asked Doug. What do you mean? said Mum. Doug explained about the lip-to-lip communication and Mum seemed really baffled about the whole thing as if it was completely new to her, so Doug then explained about Dad sending a secret message to Santa lip-to-lip with one of his elves, Ellie the Elf, who is always hanging around half-time selling raffle tickets at the football this time of year. Mum looked a bit worried all of a sudden. As if she’d just eaten a clump of earwax thinking it was a toffee truffle. Her bottom lip began to wobble as if it was going to fall off. But then she pulled it into a smile and told Doug to please go to sleep as it was Christmas very, very soon and he needed to rest otherwise he’d be falling asleep in his Turkey. Which was unlikely. But Mum was boss so he got under the covers and thought about how it was a little weird for Dad to dress up as Santa but it made sense because Santa was pretty cool and so was Spiderman. And then he had a eureka moment. The costume! The Ultimate Final Touch to the master plan to steal Heidi’s heart was his Spiderman costume which was in the cupboard or under the bed or something. Doug smiled, and fell asleep.
Christmas Day was great but at breakfast on Boxing Day Mum was telling Doug that Uncle Andy would be taking him to the football and didn’t really explain why Dad couldn’t make it all of a sudden. In fact, where was Dad? But Doug didn’t question it as he needed to get Mums approval on something or there would be Big Trouble, double bubble. He gave Mum a hug and thanked her for her cooking yesterday. She hugged back a bit tighter than usual. Then he said: Mum, can I wear my Spidey costume to football? And she said yes. Which was a Mega Result. But she carried on with the hugging forever and ever and ever until he managed to wriggle free from constriction and ran up the stairs to initiate Stage 1 of the HHHHL. The Heroic Heidi Hawthorn Heart Liberation. He donned the Spiderman costume and pretended to fire web shooters and get sudden spidey-sense about the inevitable baddie lurking under his bed and then a forward roll and whammo, a sticky web in the face. Take that, dweebo. Mum yelled up to tell him that Uncle Andy was here. And Doug was like I’m coming already. Uncle Andy was quiet and serious. He was losing his hair. He was in a fair amount of denial about losing his hair. In the car he kept asking Doug if he was alright. He’d say: you alright there buddy, you sure you’re okay? And Doug was like, jeez, I’m fine I’m not dying from rat poisoning or anything I’m fine, quit asking. At football Uncle Andy didn’t shout things at the players or the referee or the manager. Not once did he tell the linesmen that he could do a better job with his very own head up his very own arse. Instead he occasionally muttered: pass the ball pass the ball pass the bleeding ball. But Doug wasn’t really concentrating on the football anyway. He was counting down the minutes until halftime and when the fourth official raised the board to announce seven minutes of extra time Doug almost jumped out of his seat to tell the poor guy that he could do a better job of calculating extra time with his very own head up his very own armpit. When the whistle blew Doug feigned the needing of an urgent pee and dashed through the tunnel to the bar at the back of the stand. On his way through he noticed that Ellie the Elf had been replaced by another Elf and he heard an old man ask the new Elf where Karen was today and Doug briefly considered telling the man that Karen was in Australia but he had no time to spare on such distractions. Sorry Mister. Not really in the caring spirit of Spiderman but sure the old geezer would understand given Doug’s relentless and unabashed pursuit of Young Love. He jogged to Block K. He’d found out from Mum that they sat somewhere in the region of Row 30 to 35. And sure enough there was Heidi Hawthorn sitting next to her Dad and eating from a bag of Haribo, all wrapped up snug with a red bobble hat and smiling from one ear all the way to the other. Doug climbed the steps in a steady approach. His planning was a little hazy from here on out. Something about saving a random from dying or danger with his spidey-powers and proving to Heidi that was the Real Deal, kind but heroic, charming but bold, sensitive but daring, in summary; the Hot Stuff. But there was nobody around in need of saving so instead he stood at the beginning of Row 32 and stared a little at Heidi and her Dad. Like a lemon. Luckily her Dad noticed and waved a can-I-help-you-lad wave in Doug’s direction. You’re Lucy’s boy? said father of Heidi and future father-in-law of Doug, who had the kind of ginger beard that inspired both fear and respect. Doug nodded. Take a seat, said Heidi’s Dad. So he sat next to the Love of His Life with his hands between his legs, instantly regretting the choice of superhero attire. Should have gone tuxedo. Blown it. But then Heidi turned and said: Doug, right? He nodded. I’m sorry to hear about your Mum and Dad, Doug, said Heidi. Doug said: it’s nice to meet you too. And then did a weird little laugh with his shoulders and said that he better be heading back to his seat before the start of the second half because Uncle Andy would be wondering and panic-dialing Mum and before you know his name would be read out over the tannoy, and so on. And then Doug was out of there. Best to leave her wanting more. But he’d done it. He’d smashed it. He’d totally won her heart. Oh what a day. He should be carried shoulder high to the centre circle and celebrated with fireworks and jet cannons and cheerleaders, and the crowd chanting Doug, Doug, Doug, Doug. Oh what a day. Cupid had fired his sparrow, or somesuch. Her Heart was his, the day was won, and True Love had finally begun. But hold on a second, what exactly did she say about Mum and Dad?