Author's note: Another story set in that mysterious land that we British Southerners call 'Up North'. I know the region that I had in mind, but I can't guarantee that the dialect is accurate, and so apologies to anyone who actually comes from there: no disrespect was intended. THK
When I was eight my dad got a new job, so we were all uprooted and moved north to Lancashire: all, being mum, dad, me and my younger sister, April. Being younger, she hadn't been at school long, but I was mid-way through primary school and I wasn't looking forward to having to start again, somewhere else. I knew that in a few years time I would be changing schools anyway, but I expected that a lot of the people I knew at school would probably be going with me ... but at eight what you really want, without knowing it, of course, is stability. Anyway, at least we moved during the summer holiday, so I had a few weeks to settle into the new house.
I was always a bit shy as a child, but a new year at school wasn't so bad, because I knew, more or less, what to expect; but I woke up on the first day of the new term really wishing that I wasn't there. Mum had asked me if I wanted her to take April and me; but the last thing I really wanted was for the new kids to see me arriving with my mum! The school was only twenty minutes walk away and we had practised the route several times before hand, so Mum kissed us goodbye and we set off in our new school clothes; with me holding on to April, who seemed quite cheerful about the prospect of meeting new children.
I walked with her to the school office, near the entrance: there were quite a few strange looks, but no one spoke to us as we made our way there, as I had been instructed. I took a deep breath before I said: "Please, Miss, we're starting today!" The school secretary smiled at me and asked my name. "I'm Robert Clements, and this is my sister, April."
"Hello, Robert! Hello, April!" the secretary said, in the friendly Northern English accent that we were both becoming accustomed to, "Have a seat both of you, and I'll get someone to come and show you where you have to go!" She picked up the telephone and looked at us and smiled as she spoke into it. After several minutes, two more women came into the office, talking to each other; they came straight to where April and I were sitting.
"Good morning! I'm Miss Lawson and I'm going to be your teacher this year, Robert; and this is Miss Reynolds, April's teacher. If you'd like to come with us, please!" We both stood up and April said: 'See you later, Bobby!" I nodded.
Miss Lawson seemed very nice and she chatted as we made our way through the strange corridors towards her classroom. When we got inside we stood at the front and Miss Lawson said:
"Attention everyone! This is Robert, who's just moved here. I want everyone to make him feel welcome!" I could sense that every eye was on me.
"There's a seat there, next to Aimie, Robert," Miss Lawson continued, " ... she's going to show you around and tell you how we do things. It might seem a bit strange for a while, but you'll soon get used to it!"
I remember that Aimee smiled at me. She had dark hair, tied in two bunches, and brown eyes.
"Ello, Robert! Is that what folk call you? We can be friends, if you like!"
"Well, mum and dad and my sister call me 'Bobby'. Yes, I'd like to be your friend, Aimie!" And so that was it ... my first day at a new school and my first friend there!
What we did that day in class wasn't that different from my old school and I picked it up quite quickly, which seemed to please Miss Lawson. During the morning break Aimie stuck by me as we went into the playground: we just talked, although a couple of others from our class came up to say 'Hello!'
"So where are you from, Bobby?" Aimie asked me.
"London ... Islington..."
" ... Eeh! Our mam comes from London ... Hackney ... was that near you, Bobby?"
" ... Er ... not really sure ... but I've heard of it! Shall I ask my mum later?"
" ... Aye ... you can do! So did you live in a 'ouse in London, Bobby?"
" ... Mmm ... it was on an estate ... but it's nicer here! Where do you live, Aimie?"
"Not far ... Gordon Street. Where are you?"
"Russell Street." This made Aimie smile.
" ... Eeh, Bobby! That's reet near us! We go past your road in't mornings!"
Well, to cut a long story short, Aimie and me became firm friends, as did our mothers, who were both Londoners; and Aimie's mum, Mary Cartwright, helped my mum, Tricia Clements and my family to settle into our new surroundings. Later, when me and Aimie were both 11, we went to the same secondary school, travelling on the same bus there and back each day, and both of us being quite able students, we shared many of the same classes for the next seven years. However, although we were friends, and although we often did things together outside of school, we never actually dated as boy- and girlfriend.
In the autumn of the same year that we left state schooling after A-levels, at 18, me, the more introspective Robert, left home to go to Warwick University, to study Psychology; whereas the naturally outgoing Aimie, who had long harboured the ambition to be a writer, began her degree in Creative Writing and English Literature, at Edge Hill University, about forty miles away from our home town.
Our story resumes when Aimie and I were young adults: both back in our Lancashire home town for the Christmas holiday period. We had last seen each other just before setting off for our respective universities the previous October. The telephone rang at our house:
" ... Hello!"
" ... Oh, hello, Mrs Clements ... is Bobby home yet?"
" ... Oh, hello, Aimie, Love! Yes, I'll get him for you!"
I was still in bed when mum called me, but as soon as she said who it was, I was up and on my way downstairs!
" ... Hi, Aimie! How are you?"
" ... I'm fine, Bobby ... I've missed you! Are you going to meet me for a lunchtime pint, then! I thought The Crown..."
" ... Okay! Do you want me to pick you up: I'm insured to drive Mum's car?"
" ... All right, Bobby ... come round when you're ready!"
We could have walked to the pub from home, but it was quite cold out. It only took me a couple of minutes to make the familiar journey to Aimie's house, which was only three streets away. As I pulled up outside she stuck her head out of her bedroom window and told me to let myself in and come up. There didn't appear to be anyone else home, so I climbed the stairs and knocked before entering her room, as I'd done many times in the past. But in all that time I had never seen what I was looking at now: Aimie was sitting on her bed drying her hair; but she only had on the towel wrapped around her body that just about covered her boobs and finished a few inches below the tops of her thighs! I'd seen her in a bikini, of course; but this seemed much more ... Aimie just grinned:
" ... What's the matter wi' you, Bobby Clements!" Then she laughed. " ... If you look like that now, what you gonna be like in a minute when I take the towel off! Come on, Bobby ... you must 'ave seen naked girls before!"
" ... Yes ... but..." I stumbled. Aimie laughed again.
" ... So you don't like my early Christmas present, Bobby!"
" ... No, it's not that ... I..." She smiled.
" ... Okay ... if you don't want it, you can turn your back!"
I was stuck there, trying to decide what to do: look or turn away; when Aimie jumped up and hurried towards me. And before I could do or say anything, she'd put her arms around my neck and kissed me on the lips:
"Oh, Bobby, the look on your face ... I do love you!" she said, " ... Now close your eyes while I put some clothes on!"
My eyes immediately closed shut, and as I stood there I was mentally cursing myself for being so stupid! "Okay ... danger passed!" she said; and when I opened my eyes again Aimie was dressed in jeans and a shirt and was putting on her shoes. After putting on a jacket and picking up her bag, she said: "Right, I'm ready!"
As I said, in less than ten minutes I was parking the car in The Crown Inn car park. "I'll get these!" Aimie said, once we were at the bar.
There weren't many people in there at that time of day, so I found us seats and watched as Aimie fetched a couple of pints. She'd lived in the town all her life, so she knew pretty well everybody. When she got back to our table she put the glasses down and slid onto the seat beside me, as she'd done ever since we'd started coming here when we both turned 18: but today seemed different, somehow ... Aimie was left-handed and I was right, so I thought it was a bit strange when she took hold my left hand ... we'd held hands before, of course, ever since Miss Lawson's class, but it always felt a bit funny!
All the time since that day when I'd first met her, when we were 8, we'd seemed to be able to talk about anything, so I asked her: "What was all that about in your bedroom, Aimie?" She looked at me and smiled:
"I decided that it was time, Bobby ... time we changed the rules!" I didn't ask the obvious question; I just sat and waited for her to tell me. After taking a sip from her glass she did just that:
" ... You know I started going out wi' lads when I were 15, and that were because I was getting in a bit o' practise for when the boy I really wanted asked me out! Didn't you ever wonder, Bobby, why my friends used to ask you if you wanted to double-date wi' me and whichever lad I were with at the time..."
" ... No, not really," I answered truthfully, " ... we all hung out together, anyway; but I probably wouldn't have asked them out myself!"
"Exactly, Bobby Clements ... and you needed the practise more than I did! And when you were 17, I made sure that Lizzy Crawshaw gave you some practise at other things as well! You know what I mean, Bobby ... I made sure that you went off to uni wi' a bit of experience under your belt, and at least one notch on your bedpost! By the way ... she said that you were a quick learner, and if it wasn't for me, she would 'ave happily carried on wi' your education!"
" ... But you and Terry McNamara..." I started to say.
" ... Aye, Terry were a nice lad ... but that prize weren't meant for 'im! 'E were a good kisser, though! 'Ave you got it yet, Bobby, Lad..."
" ... I think so: you wanted me to..." She gave me one of her beautiful smiles.
" ... Right idea, but wrong tense, Bobby: 'present' not 'past' ... it's still waiting for you, if you want it!" For the second time that day I was feeling really stupid!
" ... I'm sorry, Aimie ... I honestly never knew you felt that way ... we've been friends for so long, and of course I love you: I just never knew that you wanted me in that way! How long..."
" ... Well, it probably sounds daft ... but I've 'ad feelings for you since Day One; although I was too young to really understand them, of course; but in my mind, I kind of staked my claim on you that day, an' I let all my friends know that I had! An' I decided that you were going to be my first when we were 13; but boys are always slower than girls in that way! I did get it a bit wrong, though: I should have applied for Warwick, too, but I didn't! I really like my degree course, though! An' believe me, Bobby, I've had lots of offers from lads there: but I tell them, thanks, but I've already got a fella! So, Bobby, Love ... are you going to keep me waiting: I will, you know ... or are you going to give me the Christmas present I've been waiting for!" I looked at Aimie and grinned.
" ... So, it's just the one pint, then!" She laughed and squeezed my hand.
" ... Looks that way, Love! You do know that we've got my place to ourselves today!"
" ... Okay! Oh, I suppose I ought to get a couple of things while we're here, then!" Aimie grinned.
" ... You ought to know me better than that by now, Bobby Clements ... I've been planning this, an' everything's in 'and ... or at least I hope it soon will be!"