I have to thank my LadyCibelle and Techsan for their patience, proof reading, editing skills
Jargon buster: Give over = Please stop that; a friendly retort, normally said to someone who is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
Diane's Gap Year
When Diane told me that she was still going to take her gap year from university, I didn't believe her at first. All right, when we'd first met at a college party some eighteen mouths previous, she had been raving on about how her friend Emerald and she were planning on taking a long trip down to Australia, where apparently some of Emerald's relatives lived. From what I could remember Diane and Emerald had been discussing plans to backpack around the country together.
But in the ensuing time Diane and I had become close and finally engaged, so I had thought she'd given up on the idea. She hadn't made mention of it since just after we started going out together, steady-like. Suddenly she announced that the pair of them are making plans to fly out there, right after the end of term exams.
I had just uttered my amazement at the news; I was stumbling around a bit trying to take it in whilst thinking of what to say at the same.
"Why don't you come with us, Dave? It'll be fun, I promise you," Diane suggested, as I struggled to voice my surprise and bewilderment at this — to me - sudden turn of events.
"You know I can't do that, Diane!" I finally said, "I can't take a year off now. You know I just can't afford it, and besides I thought we are were going to get married after we take our finals next year."
"Oh, that. Well, when I came to think about it, I realised that we might have to put the wedding off for a while, until I've sat my finals the following year," she replied, rather nonchalantly in my opinion.
"Diane, you haven't mentioned this trip down under for over a year. How-come it's suddenly raised its head again now."
"Honestly, Dave, I got so caught up in us, that I almost completely forgot about my promise to go on this trip with Emerald. Besides, lately I've come to believe that things have been going a little too fast for me."
"Hold on there, Diane! If you'd care to think back, it was you who wanted to get engaged and it was you who first suggested that we get married right after our finals next year."
"Well, I've changed my mind. I'm allowed to do that, aren't I? You don't own me yet, you know!" she said with a very antsy tone to her voice.
I think the shock of what Diane had just said gave me a real kick in the guts. Three o'clock in the morning it might have been, but that didn't stop me getting out of bed and starting to get dressed.
"What are you doing, Dave?" Diane asked.
"I'm going home, Diane! You've just given me quite a shock and I've got some things to think about."
"Oh, you're not going to sulk about this, are you?"
"No, Diane, I've got to think about where my priorities lie. Perhaps you should do the same!"
To be truthful I probably was sulking a bit. Christ, you have to react in some way when the woman you love suddenly tells you that she's off around the world on her own.
Yeah, yeah, she did invite me to go along with her. But she also knew that wasn't in the cards for me; I didn't have the time.
When I was fourteen my father had died of cancer. That left me as the oldest of three siblings. Mother had struggled a bit to make ends meet in the following few years so, although a good student with straight A's in just about everything, I'd left school at seventeen so that I could bring some money into the house.
The company I'd gone to work for was a pretty small concern. But the guy running it was sure convinced it was going somewhere and over the following couple of years he kind of took a shine to me. Not wishing to blow my own trumpet, but I think he realised that I wasn't just another of the minions. I had the capabilities of going somewhere as well. He kind of took me under his wing and I joined him in the design office. It was whilst I was working with him in there that he suggested that I go to University.
He found out about all the loans and grants I could get and even organised my interview with the university. Oh, I wasn't going to attend a redbrick college; I was going to one of the older establishments.
He also organised it so that I was on leave from the company whilst at Uni, although this did mean that whilst all the other students were living it up during the holidays I was working my butt off back at the firm. The advantage I had over them was that, when I graduated, I walked straight into a well-paid management position with quite a few years seniority.
You understand now why I couldn't go flying off around the world on a whim.
I left Diane in bed still making sarcastic remarks about my reaction and went home to my own little flat. Mind I didn't sleep very well when I got there as my flat mate had his squeeze in bed with him. So it was either bang, bang, bang as the headboard hit the bloody wall, or 'oh, yes, yes, oh, fuck, yes, ' all bloody night. Why do some folks have to be so bleeding noisy about it? You know what I'm talking about here.
It was lunchtime before Emerald turned up at my door.
"What are you being so selfish for, Dave?" she demanded as she walked right past me into the flat.
"Sorry, Emma, who's being selfish. It strikes me that Diane was being selfish in the way she just announced that you two are going on this trip."
"What are you talking about? We've been planning to go down under ever since we met."
"No, Emerald, you were talking about it when I first met the pair of you. But I haven't heard either of you mention it for well over a year now, and in the meantime Diane has consented to marry me." Then I added, "I think!"
"What do you mean, 'you think'?" Emma demanded.
"Well, Emma, it's usual for the man to ask the woman, and thinking back I believe I did ask Diane to marry me. But the more I think about it, I'm pretty sure that the driving force was Diane. I went along because I love the woman."
"What? Are you trying to say that Diane tricked you into asking her to marry her?"
"No, I am not, Emma! Please don't put words into my mouth. What I'm saying is that Diane was all-keen on us walking down the aisle together as soon as was practical one minute. Now suddenly she wants to fly off around the world."
"But there's nothing sudden about it. You know..."
"Emma, Diane hasn't mentioned Australia for so long that I thought she'd abandoned the idea. Then last night she brought it up at an inopportune moment and it took me completely by surprise. If you and Diane want to go on that bloody trip, then you go. I would just have preferred it if Diane had found a better way of letting me in on the secret."
"Oh, well, if that's the case, you'd better go round and apologise to her. She's been crying her eyes out all morning. What's that noise?"
"Oh, just my flat mate and his girl," I said to explain the bang, bang, bang of the headboard against the wall again.
"Start early, don't they?" Emma said, with a very funny look on her face.
"No, they are still at it from last night."
"Oh," Emma said as she stood up and headed for the door. "Are you coming to apologise to Diane?"
"No, I think its Diane who needs to apologise to me. Tell her I'll be waiting for her to call."
I could see that Emma was not expecting me to say that. Actually if that headboard hadn't been banging against the wall, I do believe she would have argued things out for longer. But for some reason, that bang, bang, bang of the bed headboard had unsettled her.
Diane didn't call round and I didn't call her. I think I was upset that she couldn't understand my point of view. Okay, yes, I suppose I was still sulking about the whole thing. I spent the rest of the weekend studying and drinking with some of my friends.
It was as I was enjoying a quiet pint in the pub on the Monday lunchtime that Diane walked up and plonked herself down in the seat opposite me.
"What's got into you, Dave?"
"What do you think, Diane? You didn't think of the best time to tell me you were going off for a year without me."
"I'm sorry. I was very thoughtless about that, but I'm so excited about the trip."
"Bully for you. But tell me, Diane, if you were so excited about it, how come you waited until we'd just finished ... Er, well, the time you did, to tell me that the trip was back on?"
"I think I knew you'd be upset about it. But, Dave, I'll never get a chance like this again."
"Maybe you won't, but then again maybe you will. If you want to go Diane, I can't stop you. I'll still be upset and I definitely won't like it. But I will be waiting here when you get back."
A smile came over Diane's face and she scooted around the end of the booth so she was sat at my side.
"Thank you, darling. I'll write everyday, I promise," she said after she had kissed me.
"Don't make promises you can't keep, Diane. Australia is a big country and you'll be doing a lot of travelling. I doubt you'll find time to write everyday."
"I'll do my best. Dave, please understand I really want to go, but I wouldn't if I hadn't promised Emerald."
"Yeah, as you will, Diane. When are you planning to leave?"
"Right after Emma and I finish our exams the week after next."
"What about your visas and plane tickets."
"That's all taken care of. We fly out from Heathrow in three weeks."
I kept to myself the thought that you don't pick up Visas that quickly. Diane had not mentioned that the trip was on until three days ago, yet it was all planned and booked. Also she must have known full well that I wouldn't be able to organise visas and tickets that quickly had I said I would go as well. These were thoughts that I pushed to the back of my mind.
The following couple of weeks were a bit hectic for both of us; they always are near the end of the college year, what with exams and everything. Diane and I saw a lot of each other but she did spend quite some time with Emma going over the final details.
There was quite a party of us to see them off at the airport. Diane's mother and father were there along Emma's parents and her two sisters, Diamond and Sapphire. Diamond is the older one; she's about the same age as me. Sapphire is a year or so younger than Emerald and was starting at our university that autumn.
There were lots of teary goodbyes as there always are when loved ones are going away for and extended time. Diane told me she'd call me on the telephone as soon as she could, then with a last kiss she joined Emma and they walked through the gate.
As soon as she could, turned out to be five days; that's if we ignore the call from Hong Kong. Diane told me that Emma and she had found a job for a couple of weeks in some local pub, I can't say I liked that idea.
Several letters turned up in the first week or so but then they started to fall off quite rapidly. I gathered from her letters that the girls had moved on and were by then backpacking around.
After two months I was surprised to read in a letter that they were back where they had started and Diane - at least - was working in the pub again. I can't say when I noticed that all mention of Emma had stopped in Diane's letters; perhaps it was something I noted with hindsight. Diane had taken to saying things like "us girls did this" or "us girls did that". She had mentioned that they had teamed-up with some other English girls so I didn't really take much notice at the time. "Security in numbers," I think Diane had said in one of her letters.
The summer wore on with me working my socks off. My boss, Frank Hargreaves, was very pleased about how things were going with the company. He even mentioned that he had some Japanese companies interested in the gear we were developing. Jap money coming into the firm would be bloody handy.
As September approached, I made my plans to return to college. As a third year student I was required, or I should say I had been asked to return early. It was considered part of the older students' duties to be around when the new intake arrived. We'd show them around the college to let them know where everything was, also help them sort out any problems with their accommodation and the like. Lastly and more importantly in most new students minds was we showed them where the student hangouts were and explained the best ways not to upset the local residents and the local constabulary. Someone had done it for me in my first year, so now it was my turn to reciprocate.
I was standing in the students' union office going through the list of expected arrivals when I noticed that Sapphire Wendal's name had been crossed off the list. I think I was possibly looking for her, thinking that it would be nice for her to be met by a familiar face. I couldn't make any sense of the code that had been written beside it though.
When I enquired from one of the other guys what the code meant he told me that for some reason Sapphire had decided to put back her starting University until the following year.
"There's normally a couple like that every year," my friend said. "Probably didn't get the grades she was expecting or she's short on cash. Don't worry; from her interview report she'll turn up next year. Oh, shit, you'll be gone then, wont you? Cramped your style a bit, has she? Thought you were onto a sure thing with Diane away."
"Give over!" I replied to him and then went off to find my little band of new arrivals.
It was in the second week back at college that I saw her! She came into the pub one evening, actually whilst I was sitting there reading the latest letter that Diane had sent me. Emerald didn't see me at first as she was at the bar buying herself a drink. When she turned around she spotted me staring at her.
"Hi, Dave. How's it going?" Emma said as she sat herself down beside me.
"What the hell are you doing here, Emma?" I asked in astonishment.
"Flunked one of the end of term exams, didn't I? I had to dash back home for the summer re-sits. Didn't dare leave it until next year. I struggle a bit as it is," Emma said in a very nonchalant manner.
"But who's with Diane in Australia?" I asked, still somewhat in shock.
Emma kind of went slightly red when I asked that. More of a mild shade of pink I'd say. She seemed to think for a coupe of seconds before she replied.
"Sapphire flew out to take my place, when I got the news."
"Why didn't Diane tell me this?" I asked.
Again I noted that there was a slight delay before Emma answered
"God, I don't know, Dave. Just had too many things to think about I suppose. We were dashing around quite a bit over there, you know."
"Seems very strange to me that the reason she gave for going out there was because she'd promised to go with you. Then you come back home without her and she doesn't even mention it."
Again that slight delay.
"Dave, I'm not Diane's keeper. She does what she wants to do."
I noted that Emma appeared to be hurrying her pint now. I bet she wished she'd only brought a half.
"And what's that supposed to mean, Emma?" I asked quite sternly. I was sure that there was something that Emma wanted to tell me, but wouldn't because of her friendship to Diane.
"Nothing, Dave. Look, I've got to dash. I've just remembered I'm supposed to be meeting a guy."
Then Emma was out of that bar like lightning.
For the following few weeks Emma made a very bad job of trying to stay out of my way. Or should I say, I made a very good job of turning up unexpectedly at places I knew she frequented. I had the poor girl running around like a tit in a trance. I'd come in one door of a pub and she'd leave by the other.
I didn't mention that I'd seen Emma in my letter to Diane. I wanted to see how far she'd take the deception. But eventually Emma must have written to her and told her about out little conversation. Diane didn't actually say anything directly; she just started to mention Sapphire in her letters.
Christmas came and went with Diane and Sapphire by then on the East Coast of Australia. Emma's relations lived around Perth on the West Coast somewhere. To be honest, by this point I was not in a mood to care anymore. I had been expecting a "Dear John" letter ever since I had discovered that Emma had returned to England. But in Diane's letters, although they were pretty infrequent, she kept vowing her undying love for me.
On the other hand, I was being extremely careful about the exact phrasing I used in the letters I sent to her.
It was around Easter time that in one of her letters, Diane told me that Sapphire and she had cashed their air-tickets in. The plan now was for them to hop from country to country on the way back home. Then there was silence as far as I was concerned, excepting the odd postcard that usually had very little written on them.
In July I had gone home from Uni, knowing that I had my BA under my belt. Back at the office after some really extravagant celebrations - even if a little premature; my exam results hadn't been announced - Frank told me that the Japanese were buying out the company. I looked at Frank a little shocked because I had thought that my future was with that company.
"Don't worry, Dave! The Jap's are taking over this company, but I've got other's ideas you know. Once the cash comes through, you and me are starting all over again. And from here on in you'll be a partner. I tell you, lad, you'll be a rich man before you know it."
Maybe I'm a cynic, but I couldn't understand why this man would want to make me a partner in anything.
"But why, Frank? Jesus, you hardly know me!"
"Well, that's not exactly true, boy. I know that you were a top scholar at school. Know that with a university place being a sure thing in your future, you threw up your education to come and work for me for a pittance so that you could give your wages to you mother.