Simon was 16, he had just moved into sixth form; still in the choir, he was the last of his 'gang'. As 10 year olds they had joined the church choir together (it being a CofE Church Primary School) and then the choir at 'big' school as they still ironically called it (feeling they were big now).
James had left first, his voice was never one of the best and when it broke it got a whole lot worse; he left by mutual consent with Mr Granger the school music teacher, leaving the church choir just followed naturally. Alex left the church choir first when he realised he was really a Buddhist, then a Bahia, then a Muslim and finally an agnostic (and, it turned out, a pretty intolerant one). Chris left the group entirely when he discovered girls and smoking; he had drifted back into their periphery (or perhaps they had drifted into his) but was always the fifth musketeer now. Tony stayed longest, he was going to take up music as a profession, he had the treble voice of an angel, then the voice of Caruso, the skill of a concert pianist and could play music at first sight. In short he was sickening. His family moved away when he was fifteen; Mr Granger was desolate. Harry took his place in the group, but never in the choir.
So there was just Simon, who accepted the ribbing with good heart and just loved singing. When his voice broke he was lucky; he left school for the summer break a treble and returned a fully fledged tenor. His voice had now deepened to baritone. A good place to be since there weren't many of them so they were regarded as 'special'.
He was not particularly religious, but he did like the church music and it provided a welcome counterpoint to the school tradition of Gilbert and Sullivan. He'd sung the Bosun in Pinafore last term, he was proud of that and he knew he'd never go further; he wasn't good enough, it was just a hobby.
September brought momentous news, the new vicar had insisted, well, cajoled and argued and pleaded and finally won, that with the dearth of new young boys the church choir had to welcome girls to the choir. In that first week Mr Harrison (the organist and choir master) welcomed one girl, Mary. She looked lost and the young boys (all 3 of them) made no attempt to welcome her so Simon made a point of talking to her at the rehearsal break. She was 11, from Saint Winifred's Girls' Schools (the two inverted commas were most important each new girl was told, not one, but TWO). They had been invited to join the choir, two others said they would come but here she was, alone. Simon made an effort to persuade her to stay. And she did.
Rehearsals went on and the evenings grew darker until it became no longer acceptable for the young-uns to walk home alone. That next rehearsal a tall, attractive girl sat at the back of the church waiting for rehearsals to end. Mary insisted in bringing Simon over to meet her sister.
"Simon, this is my sister, ... this is my friend Simon" and rushed off to get her coat, hat, song sheet, school bag, etc etc etc. She looked at him.
"You were expecting someone younger? It isn't what you may be thinking" he smiled, hoping that smile didn't look Saville-esque. "She was the only girl on the first night she came and I just talked to her to cheer her up; she kind of adopted me after that"
"Don't you mind?"
"Not really, she's a nice kid, thinks the world of you"
The girl coloured slightly. She looked nice, even nicer when she blushed he thought in a "she's out of my league" kind of way. She was in the upper sixth (a year older) at Lady Harriets, a grammar school turned comprehensive. It kept the rather twee name, the all-girl policy and the substantial legacy from Lady Harriet (dependent upon the name and all-girl policy).
After that, each Wednesday she came to collect Mary, their mother worked and couldn't leave in time to get round, or at least didn't want to use up a favour for this when a favour might be needed for something else. Each week they chatted briefly and then parted. Friends, nothing more, nothing more expected. End of story? Not yet.
On the Thursday before end of term the school 'prom' was to be held – it used to be a school dance but now had that ridiculous word 'prom' attached. It was still the traditional once a year joint event with Lady Harriets where the boys would talk for weeks about how they were going to spike the drinks and snog some girl and feel her up and cop a good feel of her tits; and where, come the night, 90% of the boys would be at one end and 90% of the girls at the other with a few girls dancing with each other and a few boy/girl pairs talking round the edges (only talking was allowed of course).
Simon was standing with Harry, James and Alex, Chris was standing talking disconsolately to his latest 'squeeze' (he really did say that), she looked like she would smash him if he tried to squeeze her; at the other end he saw Mary's sister. She caught his eye, they nodded in a non-committal, non-obvious way. But, he thought, she's acknowledged me, hell, yes, let's do something different. The walk from one end of the hall to the other was longer than crossing to the North Pole. He could have gone round the edge but that would have been just wussy and he was determined not to be wussy in front of the girls (and the boys ... and the teachers!). A rebuff would be like Napoleon's retreat from Moscow; but he told himself, at least he would have made the effort.
At the other end she saw him set off and inwardly went bright red, "Do you know him? He seems to be looking at you." said Judith. She went red outside too. "He's in the same choir as Mary". She could tell a judgment was passed immediately. When he reached her she made an overly enthusiastic greeting to show her friends she wasn't ashamed to know him.
"Would you like a drink?" (fruit juice punch, strictly, strictly non-alcoholic, thoroughly policed by Miss Chambers). Actually she didn't but she did want to move away from her friends. "Yes, I'll come with you"
In the punch room Terry Butcher was being told he could be banned from school dances for trying to spike the punch – that was like threatening a murderer with a comfy chair for life! Terry had two left feet and was strongly of the opinion that girls were for fucking, women were for having babies and old women were for fleecing (kind of family motto since his mother had had 7 children and his grandmother was always paying over the odds for shopping her grandchildren got for her).
They moved towards the punch, she wondering if he would disapprove of the miniature bottle of rum she had in her bag, he wondering if she would be shocked by the miniature of whisky inside his sock. The ice was cracked by her saying "I'd love to spice my drink up" and broken by "me too!"
He got two glasses of punch and then bent down to tie his laces while she engaged Miss Chambers in the briefest of conversations about University choices. When he stood up the deed was done, two glasses with half a miniature in each, the bottle neatly stowed behind the empty juice cartons.
On the way out she opened her bag. All bags had been searched, as had pockets, he knew they wouldn't go for a full body search so his ankle was safe, how had she smuggled in a bottle in her bag? Inside the bag she showed him a box of tampons. He gulped, was she saying couldn't dance because of her period? Opened the top, there, peeking out was the top of a small bottle of rum.
"The searchers were two teachers from each school, our teachers aren't going to empty out a box of Lillets with a man standing beside them are they?"
Was it the tiny amount of alcohol that reduced their inhibitions or the feeling that it should? People have been known to get happily drunk on de-alcoholised wine after all. Back on the dance floor they set about bringing their two sets of friends together. The girls wanted to dance, and really not with each other (again!), the boys wanted the kudos of dancing with a girl. They all agreed, in theory, to switch partners after each dance to make it all less stressful. In practice that wasn't necessary and their bold move brought others onto the floor. At last! A school dance that was a success! The later sharing of their second bottle further cemented their relationship to the extent that a slow dance had Miss Chambers (now relieved of duty at ruining the fun in the punch room, she had decided to spoil it on the dance floor) asking them to separate a little (perhaps his hands had crept close to her bottom; though she hadn't objected, and he could tell she would definitely inform him if she had).
The dance came to an end with a couple of the teachers congratulating their little group for starting the ball (the dancing that is) rolling. If the teachers smelt any alcohol breath they said nothing; after all it wasn't as if they had danced on the tables or performed a manic Passé Double. They had just used the alcohol as a lubricant for a pleasant evening.
Outside people drifted away to cars collecting them or walked away singly or in pairs until only the two of them were left. Her mother was meant to be coming but there was no sign so eventually she returned and asked to use the office phone.
"The car won't start! It just won't bloody well start! What will you do? Can you get a taxi?" She never suggested taxis, they were expensive, and anyway how safe would a taxi be? Any safer than walking home?
"I'll walk you home" said Simon
"You sure? It's very late. Mum someone will walk me home, it's no problem, really, take a deep breath and calm down"
Simon now used the phone to ring home, he was supposed to be in by 11; it was 10 to 11 now.
.... There is more of this story ...