Sid Cox owned and ran a garage in Walthamstow, East London. Working with cars was all that he'd ever wanted to do. He had an Uncle Frank, his father's brother, who had a little car repair business in neighbouring Wanstead, and whenever Sid's father needed another car, or the one he had repairing, it was a case of 'Over to Frank's to sort it!'
As Sid got older he often cycled over to Frank's on his own, where he was initiated into the world of the internal combustion engine. He learned a lot from Uncle Frank, but as soon as he was old enough to leave school, he managed to get a job in a bigger garage, where his education continued.
While still only in his early-twenties, he had the confidence to strike out on his own. He had few interests outside of cars, and since leaving school he'd earned enough to rent a small, local garage with a self-contained flat over it, from an old pal of his Uncle Frank, who wanted to retire with a small, steady income. The flat had not been lived in for some time, but the owner had included many of his own tools and equipment in the deal.
Sid's first job was to get the flat habitable, while the owner, Wally Blackwell, continued to trade downstairs; but whenever he could, Sid helped out, and in that way he built up good will, and so kept most of the business' existing customers. Once he'd taken over completely, Sid's priority was now his business, so apart from the occasional evening in the pub, he worked: long days and often seven-day weeks. As a result of which, he never considered marrying.
Over time his proficiency and reputation both continued to grow, he became a 'go-to-guy', who was honest, reliable, and if he promised something he always kept his word. He also kept his overheads and his prices as low as possible, and so he was never short of work, even during the times when others in the motor trade were struggling ... the extent that he was eventually able to buy the property outright from Wally.
Perhaps Sid's work ethic came from the fact that he came from quite a large family, of which he was the oldest child. The youngest was his sister, Victoria, who later became the self-styled 'Vikki' Cox. The novelty had definitely worn off for her parents by the time that she was born, so although she wasn't neglected, they exercised very little control over her, and she developed into what can be described as a 'free-spirit'.
She lost her virginity during a school day trip, and after a succession of usually older lovers, she became pregnant at 18. She and Sid had little in common by this time and weren't particularly close; but in his world 'you look after your own', whether that's family or friends. On more than one occasion he helped his flesh and blood out financially during her pregnancy and after; but he made it very clear that he didn't approve of her lifestyle, and that he had no intention of being her meal ticket whenever she asked.
Vikki had always been a big fan of the Beatles, so when her son was born she named him Paul George Cox after her two favourites. On his birth certificate it stated: 'Father unknown'. Sid only saw his family occasionally ... usually when they wanted 'favours' ... and his little sister even less. As he'd been generous in the past, she did bring the baby to see him occasionally, but then she'd disappear for a few years.
In 1999 she turned up at the garage one day, in a camper van driven by her latest boyfriend, with Paul George in tow. The little boy was nearly five.
" ... Morning, Brother Sid! Say hello to your uncle, Paul! Have you got time for a cup of tea, Sid ... it's important."
"Go in the office and put the kettle on while I clean up," he replied. While he tried to get the worst of it off of his hands, Paul stood watching him.
"I like cars!" he exclaimed, simply. Despite his relationship with his sister, Sid smiled at young Paul.
"That's good, Son! Let's go and see what your mum wants this time."
Vikki and her boyfriend, Kieran, were already seated. There was a mug of tea on Sid's desk. Paul sat on his mother's lap. Sid took a sip of the hot, brown liquid, then sat waiting for his sister to speak.
" ... We're leaving the country, Sid! I'm going to see some more of the world! I don't know how long we'll be gone for ... maybe for good!" she said eventually. " ... But don't worry ... for once I haven't come here for a handout!" Sid looked at her intently.
"For the boy's sake, I'm not going to say what I really think; but have you thought of him. Here, you have benefits and family to fall back on; but what about when you're abroad ... what if you need help and there's no one around to give it."
" ... I'm not completely irresponsible, Sid! Does he look under-nourished or ill-treated. No ... that's why we're here ... I want you to look after him. You may not think much of me, but I know that he'll be better off with you; you can give him security, and teach him good values. I'll stay in touch, and when he's older he can make his own decisions about how he lives his life ... but for now I want you to look after my baby! I've never told anyone else except Kieran, but I can't have any more, so he's precious. I've asked you for things in the past, Sid, but I've never begged you before; but I will if that's what it takes, Brother." Sid didn't think that he'd ever seen his sister cry, but it looked like she was about to, now.
" ... Go on, I need to know more," he said, "Is it legal?"
"Yes, I've been to Citizens Advice: you are now officially his legal guardian until he's 18." She handed two documents to her brother. One a notarised document of guardianship, which only needed Sid's signature; the other, Paul George's birth certificate.
"We've got all his things in the camper; I've even sorted out a place at a local school for the autumn. You see, I've thought this through, and you know part of me still wants to take him with me!"
"And have you told him," Sid asked her.
"Yes, of course: I told him Mummy's going away for a while and he'll be staying here with you ... I hoped you'd say yes."
"All right! When are you going?" Vikki took another envelope out of her bag, which she gave to Sid.
" ... Soon! In here are some photographs and a history of all his inoculations and childhood illnesses and other things ... I've tried to think of everything..."
While Sid and Kieran carried Paul's things up to the flat, Vikki picked her son up in her arms and hugged and kissed him.
" ... Don't ever forget that Mummy will always love you, Paul!" she exclaimed, " ... And Uncle Sid loves you, too, so be a good boy! I'll try and write to you when we get somewhere nice."
Sid had taken off his overalls and he now picked the little boy up in his strong arms and they waved as his mother drove out of his life, for who knows how long. Paul never cried once, but he clung tightly to his uncle's neck, which bought a lump to the tough man's throat.
" ... Right! We've got cars to fix, Paul ... you're now my assistant, so we'd better go and do some work!" Paul just nodded.
Sid Cox had never had much experience with children, apart from his siblings and his classmates at school; but he was sensible, kind, and had lots of patience; so although now in his mid-thirties, he had as much experience as any first-time father needed.
And like any new parent, he had to modify his lifestyle dramatically and there was plenty of learning as he went along. He reasoned, rightly, that the hardest time would be the few months of summer until his nephew started school. He knew what he had to do in the garage, but it was the mornings and evenings that he had to organise ... and quickly. His big advantage was that he'd lived in the Walthamstow area all his life and he knew lots of people who he could call on for favours. For example: a phone call obtained a new bed for Paul, with the promise of same-day delivery.
Back downstairs, he took the little lad around the garage, looking at everything, and carefully explaining all the things that he took for granted, but which were possible health hazards for enquiring young minds and fingers. Sid experienced some frustration during the weeks and months after that, but he never took it out on Paul ... the lad would have to learn, but he was still practically a baby. As he had to have him with him all the time, there would be no farming the boy out to friends and family. He tried to keep Paul busy by getting him to do little jobs for him, but it was a bit like throwing a stick for a dog to retrieve; once a task was completed, he returned to wait for the next one. Sid also now had to finish his working day in the afternoon, as he couldn't leave Paul alone in the flat; neither could he keep him in the garage until eight or nine o'clock at night as he been used to doing when working there alone.
Sid also lived mainly on junk food; that would have to continue for a while, but he did try to introduce more fruit and veg into his weekly shopping basket, so that his ward had at least a part-healthy diet. Thankfully, too, Vikki had provided him with copious notes and instructions, which she had written down in a hard-back note book. Sid sat down to read this once Paul was in bed that first evening, and he was gratified to see that motherhood had had a more sobering effect on his sister than he'd given her credit for! It was like Paul had come with his own instruction manual, and Sid realised that by following the instructions, the task ahead wouldn't be nearly so daunting as he'd thought.
Although Vikki had brought all his clothes with her, there was no school uniform ... if they still wore such things ... but he found the information sheets that the Primary School had provided. Apparently, boys wore grey trousers or shorts, and sweatshirts and polo shirts in the school colours. They even told parents where they could buy them from. At first Sid thought that he'd ask a pal's wife if she could take Paul to get kitted out; but in the end he decided that it would be better if he took him himself, as a kind of bonding experience. So, on Saturday morning he closed the garage for a couple of hours and they went to buy everything that Paul needed for school. He was too old to be carried everywhere, so he happily trotted alongside side Sid: a little hand holding a big one.
Well, they got through that first summer more or less unscathed. Paul was so enthusiastic about his new lifestyle, that he was eager to get down to the workshop each day, and Sid replaced the extra chairs in his office with a two-seat, leather settee, so that Paul could go in there to play or nap, if he wanted to. But like a typical child, he was full of curiosity and Sid got used to answering the barrage of questions about cars; stopping to give practical demonstrations wherever necessary, and like a sponge, Paul soaked it all up, impressing Sid by how much of it he could remember. Sid wasn't unintelligent, he just wasn't very interested in much at school, apart from the practical things, and it looked like Paul might be the same.
Paul's mother, Vikki, had also grown up in Walthamstow, so she knew which school was closest to Sid's garage. She had taken her son to see the headteacher at the school and explained the circumstances. The head, Mrs Finlayson, was keen to help if she could; but what perhaps swung it for Paul, was that she was a regular customer of Sid's herself!
And so on his first day of school, Sid walked Paul the short distance there. He had never been a demonstratively affectionate man, but he was going to miss the little mechanic around the workshop every day, so they hugged and kissed like all the other parents, and he stood and watched and waved as Paul trotted into the school building and out of sight.
There is not really a lot that needs to be said about Paul Cox's school years. He fitted into the new regimen quite comfortably and he was a likable and popular boy. That area of East London isn't particularly prosperous, and there is a great ethnic and cultural diversity among the population, so Paul never stood out because he was being brought up by his uncle. In fact some of his classmates lived in real, relative poverty, whereas Paul's life was never lacking; either materially, or emotionally.
His mother had taught him to read some time before he started school, which gave him a definite advantage ... especially as some of his new classmates barely spoke English, let alone read it! And his practical knowledge of cars, which was already far greater than some adults', had taken his mind in a certain direction, which although it didn't make him a genius, did mean that his faculty for solving problems, by seeing connections, was quite advanced for his age.
As he progressed through the successive education tiers, he absorbed and applied information sufficiently well enough never to struggle; but very little of what he learned ever really sparked his imagination enough to go on and discover more. Perhaps he lacked ambition, but why did he need to be ambitious, for Paul was already heading inexorably for that thing that he most wanted ... to work with cars like his Uncle Sid.
When he got home from school each day he changed his clothes then did his homework. As he got older he often prepared his and Sid's evening meal, and when that was over, he joined the older man in the garage; preferring that to sitting and watching television. Sid had always liked collecting car manuals: and not just the cars he worked on, but the exotic variety that may pass through Walthamstow occasionally, but rarely stopped. These manuals also became Paul's preferred leisure activity when not down in the garage; although when there were car shows or rallies in London, Sid would try to take Paul along to see them.
One interesting little side-shoot of information, regarding his school years, was how he came to acquire a nickname. It is not unusual for children to pick up on a character-trait or particular physical characteristic of another child. Sometimes this is done deliberately to hurt, but other times just to be playful. Paul happened to grow up to be rather athletic and broad like his uncle, and he had a sweet disposition, so his particular moniker was most likely to have emanated from the latter of these reasons. In fact it was derived from a group of young friends just sitting around chatting idly one day. They were comparing their names, when one of the friends commented on Paul's initials. "PG ... that's almost 'pig'," he commented. They all laughed, including Paul, who actually quite liked it! And of course the paradox was that, a good looking boy, he was the most un-pig-like person you could ever meet! But because he'd enjoyed the joke, it continued and he never objected, and so he became to those who knew him well, and some that didn't, 'Pig', or alternately, 'The Pig'.
This harmless assigning of a nickname did bring to mind a reminder of Paul's mother, however, as he recalled how she had told him how he came by his birth name; and how she always played the Beatles songs and sang along to them ... even his babyhood lullabies were from their musical catalogue.
He had pictures of his favourite cars on his bedroom walls, but there was a space near his bed which was where he kept the photos that his mother had left with Sid. She'd kept her promise to write, but it was only a postcard, and quite a few months after she'd left England. After that, communication was sporadic; although most years he got something on or around his birthday. But the postcards, at best infrequent, were becoming increasingly more so, and the few photos and postcards were now all that was really left of her in his consciousness. He had now lived longer with his uncle than he'd lived with his mother, and it was now Sid Cox, who he'd always shared a name with, that he thought of as his parent.
Over a decade after he'd gone to live with his uncle, Paul was in his last year at school. He was taking exams because it was obligatory, rather than because he wanted to; but because Sid had told him that it wouldn't do him any harm to have them, he had tried his best for the last two years, and was expected to finish up with the optimum A-C grades in all subjects ... even English, which was perhaps his least favourite.
And as far as Paul was concerned, he was going to finish school on one day and then start to work for Sid the next. There was no need for a training programme: that had started the day that Paul had moved in and had been an ongoing process ever since. It had been several years now since he'd begun to work on customers cars without his uncle's supervision. He told Sid what he thought the problem was, and how he intended to fix it, and if parts were needed he even ordered them on Sid's accounts. He was, to all intents and purposes, Sid's partner, rather than just his nephew; but his uncle wanted him to have a few years at least without the full pressures and obligations of business ownership. They were all set for many more years of trading under the name of 'Cox Motors', but life still had a few more unexpected twists in it's tail!
Carolyne Jayne Abbott was two when her younger sister, Rachel, was born. She would sit near her mother while she was nursing the baby, watching as Rachel was put to one breast then the other. This carried on until Carolyne was over three.
"Mummy, me get boobies!"
"I expect so, Love!" was her answer. Later, as she got older, more articulate, and more inquisitive, she asked her mother:
"Why did you call me my name, Mummy?" Marie Abbott always believed in telling her daughter the truth.
"Well, when I was a little girl, my mummy and daddy ... your nanny and grandpa ... used to listen to something called Radio Caroline, and I always liked the name Caroline, but when you were born, we spelled it a bit different. And when I met your daddy, we used to see films on the telly about a man who lived in Africa, called Tarzan, and Tarzan had a girlfriend called Jane. Well, mummy and daddy played a game where he pretended to be Tarzan and I pretended to be Jane."
"What sort of game, Mummy?"
"Oh, just a game!" her mother replied, " ... Jumping around and stuff. A bit silly really!"
Well, little girls get bigger every day. By five years old Carolyne's boobs hadn't, but by then she had grown into a bit of a tomboy, anyway. But whereas her chest had not grown in the way she'd once hoped it would, her hair on her head was quite long and thick and a coppery-brown and rust colour. It was not unattractive, but little Carolyne failed to see the attraction; especially when it took so long each morning and night for her mother to comb the tangles out.
"Ow! Mummy, please cut it off!" she begged. And although her parents and grandparents and friends and neighbours thought it was a shame ... she got her wish. The only problem was, although it was much shorter and certainly was more manageable, no matter how well it was cut, it never looked 'right'.
And although as more time passed and her boobs still refused to grow, Carolyne Jayne Abbott grew out of her tomboy phase. She was never a girly-girl, but she was quite pretty, and she did quite like the feminine clothes that her mother wanted her to wear: although she never liked pink and frills! She even learned to live with her hair ... although she could do little more with it than keep it tied back off of her face.
However, by the time that she was ten, almost eleven, and about to change schools, it had finally happened: the changes to her body that she'd been waiting for. She had grown taller, a little rounder, a little hairier ... and, yes, she had real boobs! Still nothing like her mum's, of course; but enough for her father to have noticed and playfully teased her about them; and also enough to make CJ ... as she'd decided she preferred to be called ... embarrassed and self-conscious. So her mother had taken her shopping, and not just for, so-called, 'training bras', the real deal!
CJ was still quite shy, in some respects, but at least she would be going to secondary school a proper girl. She had all the other girl's growing-up stuff to contend with as well, but her mother had prepared her for it, so it didn't come as a shock when it happened the first time. But no one had prepared her for what she'd encounter when she got to her new school.
Within hours of getting there on the first day she'd met Chrissie Madeley, who was to become her best friend at school, and afterwards; although once CJ had left at sixteen, while Chrissie stayed on, they only socialised very occasionally. There were other friends, too, but the two 'buds' were inseparable between the time they met up in the morning, and the moment they went their own ways in Walthamstow at the end of the school day.
During their first year they took note of everything and everyone of significance around them ... usually with an air of mild indifference ... but when they came back in the autumn of 2004 to begin Year 8, they were both different: they were both now aware of boys! Not just aware in the sense of acknowledging their presence, of course; but also in the sense of recognising that they were 'different' and 'interesting', in a way that hitherto they hadn't been. And although the two girls had always liked the boys around them, they had now begun to concentrate on the way that boys made them physically and emotionally feel about themselves.
Their respective mothers could probably have explained it to them perfectly; having already experienced the same things themselves; or even older sisters if they'd had them. But at that time they only shared with each other, and like others their own age, what they shared was mainly hearsay, conjecture, and speculation. The regular breaks between classes, which even the previous year were taken up mainly with children's games, were now dominated by 'boy-watching'.
CJ wondered why she hadn't really noticed him before ... perhaps because he was older than her.
"Who's that?" she asked Chrissie one day.
"That's Paul Cox!" her friend said in reply, referring to the tall, black-haired boy, who was walking along with a group of mixed friends. "He's one of the hottest boys in the school ... all the girls fancy him! Do you fancy him then, CJ!"
" ... Mmm ... what, no, of course not ... well, maybe a bit. He is lovely!"
And that was it: the hook was in deep, and no matter how she wriggled and squirmed after that, she stayed well and truly caught!
After that, she and Chrissie continued to talk about all the other boys, but it was never the same again. It was an obsession ... not the scary kind, where you follow people around and stuff ... it was the kind that preoccupies you, to the extent that sometimes you cry yourself to sleep at night, thinking about a person, and telling yourself that they will never be interested in you, and you can never have them ... that sort of obsession!
What followed for CJ Abbott was a year of suffering the joy and pain of unrequited young love; sometimes better, other times worse. The school summer break was better ... at least she didn't have the constant visual reminder of seeing him every day, often in a group containing girls his own age, one of whom must surely be more than just a friend.
But then she was getting ready for another year of purgatory; but at least she would be 14 during it, and her parents had said that she could see about getting a part-time job.
Perhaps one of the residual effects of her tomboy days, was her interest in cars. Both her mum and dad could drive; which was handy now that the Abbott's had moved away from Walthamstow and were living in Chingford. CJ hadn't wanted to leave her school, her friends, and teachers she liked, so after some emotional leverage had been applied by her, they had agreed to take her each morning, if she made her own way home in the afternoon. It meant a longer day for her, and no chance to see her friends after school any more, but she accepted the compromise.
But cars were definitely a big interest. Her father had always been an avid fan of motor racing and motoring programmes on TV, and when CJ was little she sat on his lap while he watched them; not really understanding what they were about, but fascinated by the sights and sounds of sleek cars and powerful engines. They had even had those career sessions at school, where they were asked if they had any jobs in mind. CJ had said that she hadn't, but she'd quite like to work with cars.
"Oh!" the careers teacher had said, "There are opportunities for females to work in the motor industry: as customer service advisors, or doing admin in the office. Or if that doesn't appeal, a lot of women work in petrol stations ... but I'm sure that you have more ambition than that, CJ."
"But can't I work with cars; you know, fixing them, and things!" she'd replied.
"Well ... I suppose so..." the teacher, a woman, had told her, "but it's a very male-dominated world, and I don't know how easy it would be for a young girl to get a foot in the door. There are usually college courses, though..." She had gone home and told her mother:
" ... It just doesn't seem fair, Mum! I know there are some jobs that different sexes can probably do better, but to not even get the chance to try is all wrong!"
" ... I couldn't agree more, Love! Why don't you talk your dad when he gets home; he's got pals in the motor trade, and if you're sure you want to have a go, perhaps he can have a word for you."
When her father came in that evening, CJ let him eat his meal, then she made him a cup of tea and sat down to talk to him.
" ... Well I've got an old mate ... Sid Cox ... we grew up together; he's a the man who always sorts our cars out if we've got problems ... a bloody good mechanic! His nephew lives with him, Paul; I think he goes to your school, but he must be a couple of years older than you."
The penny dropped: Paul Cox ... my Paul Cox! Her mouth went dry and her heart beat faster.
"I'd really appreciate it if you could ask him, Dad."
"No problem, Love! I'm not working Saturday, and I haven't seen Sid for a while ... do you fancy a run over there? I think Paul works with Sid; a pretty good mechanic himself, I hear." CJ produced her biggest smile.
"Yes, please, Dad!"
Cox Motors was a two-storey building in a side street in Walthamstow, East London. It was a pretty run down area, but a mechanical engineering business had been on that spot for nearly fifty years. Sid Cox had been there for nearly twenty of those: first renting, then owning the property. It hadn't always been a garage, and from the front it looked like maybe it was offices over a factory, as the ground floor front had no windows, only an entrance. Johnny Abbott parked his car on the narrow forecourt that morning, and then he and CJ went into the building via the front door.
Inside it was like another world for CJ: the walls and ceiling were painted with white, high-gloss paint, and the floor was shiny, light-grey. Spaced equally apart in the middle of the workshop were three, yellow, hydraulic car hoists, with cars on each: one raised, two at floor level. In the wall behind each hoist was a full-height shutter; each now open, letting the daylight flood in and reflect off of the walls and ceiling. And through one of the shutters, she just had time to see a yard containing quite a few other vehicles. Leaning into the engine compartment of one of the cars was a blue, overall-clad figure; CJ couldn't see his face, but she was pretty sure that it was Him!
Paul Cox looked up for a moment, smiled, and then returned to his task. CJ would have stayed there, watching, but she heard her father say: "This way, Love!"
Sid Cox was very like his nephew in appearance: the same black hair, cropped short; the same shaped face. The eyes looked a different colour, but when he smiled there was no mistaking the relationship!
From the neck down, Sid Cox and her father were physically the same build: both looked like they could rough-house it with the best of them, if necessary; but CJ knew what a pussycat her father was, so maybe Sid was the same. And if he was an old friend of her father's, he must be okay!
"All right, Sid, Mate! Keeping busy I see!" Johnny said, " ... Sid, I've come to ask a favour. Do you remember Carolyne here, our oldest ... she prefers to be called CJ, by the way, for some reason. Well, the girl's mad keen on motors, so I've come to ask you if she can come here on Saturdays, and maybe other times during her school holidays. She says she wants to be a mechanic when she leaves school, but she's still got a few years to go. If she takes to it we'll support her decision, but if she finds out it's not what she thought, at least she will have had a go!"
"I don't see why not, Johnny, I'm all in favour of giving young people a chance. What do you think, CJ? It's not for the faint-hearted here ... we earn our money. It can be dirty and tiring work, and because you'll be working with my nephew, Paul, most of the time, who's pretty good already, you've got to learn to take orders. We all muck in to get things done: and that includes making tea and clearing up. We'll treat you like a 14 year old ... but not a 14 year old girl. When do you want to start: today or next week?"
"Today, please, Mr Cox," CJ replied.
"Fair enough! And it's 'Sid', not Mr Cox, and that's Paul."
"I already know him from school, Sid!"
"That's good, then." He called out to his nephew. " ... Paul, have you got a minute!" The younger man left what he was doing and came into the office.
"You know Johnny, Son, and this is his daughter, CJ ... she says you went to the same school. She's going to be working here, part-time, starting today: can you find her some overalls and show her around. She's keen to learn, so I want her to work with you. Don't worry if she asks lots of questions and slows you down ... I remember a certain little lad who used to do that to me!"
CJ stood up to go with him ... she smiled at her father. She was so excited just to be there with Paul; but somehow she felt much calmer than she thought she would. There was a row of hooks on a wall where she could hang her jacket. Paul looked her up and down: she was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but for a moment she almost felt naked before him. He vaguely remembered her from school, but she was in school uniform then, and he hadn't paid much attention ... But she is quite pretty, he thought.
" ... So whose class are you in at the moment, CJ?"
"Mr Turner's. You were in my cousin's class ... Amy Richards ... she really liked you, but she said you weren't much interested in girls ... and that they called you 'Pig'! Why was that?"
"Well, you're certainly not shy, are you! You can tell Amy I liked her, too! And I was interested in girls: but just not in having a girlfriend; I've been too busy here. The 'Pig' thing is no big deal: my initials are PG, which one of my mates said looks like pig. So what does CJ stand for?"
"It's Carolyne Jayne: but everyone except relatives calls me CJ now ... but Paul's nice! What do you want me to call you?"
"Whatever you want," he said, but he smiled. "Come on, we'll find you some overalls for today, but we'll probably have to get you smaller ones for next time."
There was an enclosure ... it was more like a cage than a room ... where any spare parts that had been ordered for cars were kept until they were needed. It also contained the general materials they used regularly. On one shelf there were several pairs of folded overalls like his. The shelf was labelled 'Sid' and 'Paul', and by the time she came again she would have her own label. He took a pair of his own overalls from the shelf and unbuttoned the front.
"Here, come and sit on the steps and put them on! These steps go up to our flat: you might need to go up there sometime."
The overalls were much too big, so she could get them on over her shoes. As CJ pulled them up over her body, her T-shirt rode up exposing her belly; Paul smiled as he quickly reached inside and pulled it down for her. She was still intoxicated by his proximity, and still having trouble coming to terms with actually being there! It was like being a little kid again: having her sleeves turned up by her mother, and also several inches of trouser cuff.
" ... Those trainers won't do, though! Sid's a stickler for protective clothes and shoes. What size do you usually take?"
"Four in shoes." Paul laughed.
" ... That might be a problem ... I'm not sure they do protective boots for children!" CJ wasn't offended ... she liked his laugh.
"It is an adult size," she said, " ... I'm not a baby!" He smiled again.
" ... Mmm ... I can see that! Come on: let's see Sid; maybe he can get you sorted out. Those overalls are 38, and they're way too big, so maybe a 32 for you."
Paul was still too young to drive legally on the road, so Sid took CJ to a safety footwear supplier and she came back with new protective footwear and several pairs of overalls: big enough for her to grow into, but for the moment she kept Paul's spare pair on.
By the time Sid and CJ got back it was lunch time. As she hadn't known she was staying, Sid gave her some money and sent her a few streets away to the convenience store, to get him a newspaper and herself some food. When she came back, Sid and Paul were already in the office where she'd been with her father only a few hours before.
"Have a seat," Paul said, "I'll get your tea. Milk and sugar?"
" ... Mmm ... please!"
She still felt a bit intimidated in this adult world, with people she hardly knew; but she also felt good to be there. Sid hadn't spoken to her much when her father was there, but now he asked her about her interest in cars, and she told him about watching it on TV with her dad, and what the careers teacher had told her. Sid's response had been much the same as her parents':
" ... It's up to you to prove you've got what it takes, CJ, but if you're anything like your father, you probably have ... we're both grafters! Paul's been living here with me since he was five, so he probably thinks the same way I do now. We work long hours sometimes, but we enjoy the work ... and if you enjoy the work, you'll get tired, but it won't seem so hard. But if you find out that you don't enjoy it ... walk away ... no one will think bad of you if you do. But before you get anywhere near a spanner, you'll be doing all the dirty, boring jobs..."
It was CJ's first, real introduction to the world of work: she listened and she did as she was told. Sid left it up to her, but she stayed until six that evening: by that time she just about had the strength to take off her boots and overalls, which she left in the storeroom, before she said goodbye to Paul and climbed into the front of Sid's van.
When they got to Chingford, Sid paid her for her day's work. She didn't want to eat, so she went up to her bedroom and after a quick shower she laid on her bed and went to sleep ... where no doubt she dreamt about a certain young car mechanic with black hair and a lovely smile.
One of the things that Paul was really looking forward to doing was learning to drive, but when CJ started working at Cox Motors he was still some months shy of his seventeenth birthday: although there was a gated compound at rear where cars could be parked, and Sid let him move them in and out of the workshop.
Paul had his driving licence before he was legally allowed to use it, but as soon as he was, Sid fixed him up with driving lessons, and because he already had the confidence and good car control, it wasn't too long before he'd put in for, and passed his test: and a little car of his own wasn't long in coming after that; although the insurance premium cost much more than the car was worth! But it did mean that he could now take CJ home to Chingford after work. The two of them were by now good friends and very close: but that was the way that it looked like staying...