It was a direct result of my idea about hitching to Spain. It came out that Easter while a bunch of us were sitting in a circle on the filthy floor at James’ friends’ place, passing a joint round. I didn’t want it especially but I liked being in the circle so I took my turn. Gareth was there and Cathy and one or two of the others I knew from school, and they were talking about where they’d like to travel in the future. India and Thailand came up inevitably, and Australia and New Zealand and I don’t know how it happened but I mentioned I was going to hitch down to Spain in the summer and it was one of those moments when the music has unexpectedly stopped and you just blurt something out and you can’t pretend you haven’t. Eventually the sound of Saint Huck filled the room, covering my confusion but it was too late.
The guy sitting to my right I didn’t know. He’d been very caught up in a discussion about politics, and I’d been listening in. Soon he turned to me and asked me what was all this about going to Spain. I’d given it a little thought but if I’d been asked, flat, whether it was actually going to happen I’d have had to say no, not really. Even so, I’d applied for a passport, because, well, why not? This night though I was a little stoned and I said yes – because it was the best way to learn Spanish and I had A levels coming up. He seemed to think that was quite funny but I noticed he didn’t say it was ridiculous. He went back to his conversation and I went back to pretending to be cool with the lack of things going on. I looked across at the other people in the circle. I counted twelve of us. Some of the women were quite nice looking in a punky way. At the time I wore a touch of kohl and a bush of black dyed hair that got in my eyes, I wore black tee shirts, black jeans, black Chelsea boots and swirly psychedelic purple or turquoise shirts. I thought I looked very cool. I didn’t look like anyone else, but then, I was an art student wasn’t I. Chris, the guy next to me leaned in again. ‘Do you want a job down there?’ he said. I straightened up and nodded, not quite ready for this. I knew I’d have to work if I went at all. I had no money to speak of. On the other hand his saying this made it sound as if this trip might actually happen, and I hadn’t bargained on that. It turned out the girl on his right knew someone with a house down there who needed someone to look after the garden while he was away. My first impulse was to grill her for details and get her number and a signed confirmation that all this would definitely happen but then I thought I should try to be cool about it. I couldn’t move much to talk to her because it would have meant sitting with my back to the rest of the circle or shoving in beside her. Instead I got her name (Lorraine) and bided my time. I went to the toilet and then got myself a drink. My brain was just revving. When I got back a certain amount of shifting around had happened and Gareth pulled me down next to him and asked if it was really true what I was doing? He was planning to go inter-railing but he had some savings and his parent’s money to help him out. I said I knew there would be no point asking my folks. I wasn’t even sure I was going to tell them. I pointed to Lorraine and told him she knew someone who might be able to give me a job for the summer and Gareth asked how long I was going for and I said the whole six weeks if possible. He said he’d try to get down to visit. The girl he was with (not Rose I noted) leaned forward and smiled at me. All this time I kept an eye on Lorraine to make sure she didn’t escape. Once, I saw her get up and go out into the hall and, panic-stricken, I got up and followed her only to bump into her on her way back with bottles. I apologised profusely and she grinned knowingly at me. We went and sat back down – she handed me a bottle and asked where I was planning to hitch from and I said I wasn’t sure, maybe Dieppe and she said the best thing to do was go up to Covent Garden and find a veg lorry heading south. She said I’d need to go in the middle of the night to catch one but it was fairly reliable. Then she took my phone number and said she’d be in touch, and I sat there, completely freaked out. Nobody I knew had done anything like this, and I was only just sixteen for f*ck's sake! What was I thinking? I had to make a choice between utter terror or making an utter prat of myself. Could I put it down to being stoned? Not really. The fact was, I really wanted to do it.
Anyway, Yvonne took my mind off it. At about the time everyone else was thinking about going home we were left side-by-side in the remains of the ring, shivering in the night air let in by the open door. We made a fairly unmemorable excuse for a conversation, she fairly stoned, I totally preoccupied. I looked at her in her little black dress and messy black hair and realised she was actually not at all bad looking. She had too much make-up on of course and it had slipped somewhat and there was a pair of rather unflattering, thick, black and white stripy tights and a pair of DMs obscuring her lower half but I was definitely interested. Again, I think if I’d really realised what was happening I’d have been a lot more uptight about it and probably screwed it up. Up until then I’d been looking at her (staring actually, she told me later) and wondering about her but dismissing the idea, making excuses – because she obviously wasn’t my type, because she was dressed like that, because she obviously wouldn’t fancy me anyway, because she obviously thought I was a bit strange (that was why she kept looking at me like that). And yet I was just as convinced that I really ought to try, simply because I ought to be able to do this sort of thing, and because why not? I think that was the last time my old self stepped in and said something like ‘Oh for God’s sake, just say something. Just go and say “Hi” you plonker’ and so I did. The next thing I knew, we were lying against each other on the cushions and kissing and I was wondering if this was it and should I maybe suggest we go somewhere more private.
In lieu of making a decision we lay there, pressed together, propped up in the corner on a bean bag into the small hours while the more experienced stoners mumbled pointlessly about previous experiences on Thai sticks and bongs. I was very sober indeed but also very tired.
Sometimes, considering what a misfit, not to say rebel I’ve always considered myself, I am amazed at how stupidly polite I can be. As she lay with her leg over my thigh, running her hands under my shirt and over my belly and chest and I was handling her thickly clad arse and padded bra I was wondering if she really wanted to spend the night with me or if maybe she was just messing about. Somewhere, back in my memories I knew girls played these sorts of games all the time and I was reluctant to get caught again. As it was we passed out together on the floor there and woke up covered with a nasty smelly rug in the morning. It was Sunday and I didn’t have to be anywhere. Mum and dad weren’t expecting me. I sat up and looked at her through the murky morning light that passed through the make-shift rag of a curtain. I could only see the top of her head and I observed the pale roots through the inky black strands. She smelled of smoke and booze and something mustier that I couldn’t place. I rolled back and looked at her properly and she opened her eyes and I was relieved to see her smile sheepishly. She had a nice smile, open, mature, fruity. She held her hand out and touched my solar plexus appreciatively and I looked at her milky white cleavage. It has to be said that if a woman still looks ok the morning after, with her mascara all over her face and smelling of ashtrays she must be ok. Or perhaps it was the unreleased spermatozoa talking. Anyway I knew I didn’t look or smell any better. I asked if she wanted a drink at all but she said she needed to get home really. We sat up and took stock. She’d taken her boots off at some point and I noticed a red toenail there, poking through her tights. Then, without really thinking about it but knowing for sure that it was the right thing to do I leaned in and kissed her again, hard and strong and she gripped my waist and hips and pulled me against her. Then suddenly, almost breaking my teeth on hers she sat up and said she had to go. She reached around for her bag, panicking a little when it wasn’t immediately present, then fished around in it for a pen and paper. She wrote her name and number down, folded it, stuck it in my shirt pocket and rushed out with a shy grin. It was totally the best night of my life thus far.
On the way home I could hardly stop myself skipping along. I knew that this was something very new. I wondered how soon I could reasonably call her without looking desperate. I had a feeling that women changed their minds suddenly and arbitrarily and I had to move quickly. Something told me it would be good to have something in mind for us to do, rather than just suggest ‘getting together’ or ‘going out somewhere’. I thought about how her body felt, firm and chunky but not fat. I mentally ran my hands over her hips and remembered her waist curved in satisfyingly, and her thighs, gripping me powerfully, and her bum, broad and rounded. I tried to remember her face too but wasn’t so clear on that. The smell I remembered was what I smelled like when I’d been thinking about sex all night. It occurred to me that it might be the smell of other men. I hoped not.
Then I thought of the other conversation and wondered how I felt about that. Well anyway even the idea of hitching to Spain made me seem a lot more interesting than before, even if it never happened, so that was fine. I went back to thinking about Yvonne’s body. Mum and dad got no sense at all out of me that afternoon and I did no work to speak of.
On the Monday morning, in history, Camille came up and asked me if I was really going to Spain in the summer and I said I wasn’t sure but I was looking into it. I’m not sure I’d seen her looking impressed before. She tried hard to hide it of course. Tom and some of the others pretended not to be too impressed too and I modestly confirmed their doubts – that it didn’t sound very realistic and anyway I’d have to find a job out there since I had no money. Graham mentioned there were fruit farms that always needed workers and I should just turn up and ask around. I never paid much attention to what he said actually. He was one of those people who is always certain but often mistaken. He’ll go far no doubt. I just said maybe and let it go. I admit I was half preparing myself to go back to school in September saying ‘Oh well, at least I tried’ without losing too much face. After all no one else was even considering such a thing, except maybe Gareth and we already knew he was extremely cool. Camille also made an oblique comment about where I’d spent Saturday night and I wondered if everyone knew (of course they did). I was tempted to ask her how long I should leave it before I called Yvonne but something told me not to. It was either tonight or tomorrow night. I’d narrowed it down that far anyway. I busied myself checking out what was on that weekend in Brighton.
Anyway, I couldn’t wait. I thought well, if she’s going to be put off by something as silly as me phoning a day or two earlier than she expected, well maybe she's not the sort of person I want to spend time with anyway. It was a remarkably mature thought but I’d learned to pay extra attention to these sudden insights. The fact that I might be jeopardising my chances of losing my virginity this year made me jittery but I’d never been any good with suspense. I’d rather mess it up and know I’ve messed it up than hang around wondering if I’m going to mess it up, even if rushing it means I stand a better chance of messing up, if you see what I mean. I called her that night. A well-spoken man answered and called to her. I was a little disappointed that I had to remind her who I was (like this sort of thing happened to her all the time) and when she remembered she seemed a little off hand – friendly, certainly, but not overjoyed to hear from me. After I put the phone down I felt extraordinarily depressed.
I’d arranged to meet her at The Wick, a pub near to where she lived in Hove apparently. I’d suggested seeing a band at the Old Vic but she didn’t want to go into town. I reassured myself that she’d wanted to meet sooner, on the Wednesday rather than at the weekend, but then I thought maybe she just wanted to get it over with. Anyway I didn’t feel very optimistic when I got on the bus. It dropped me in Palmeira Square and I walked to the pub. When I got there I found her with a whole bunch of friends already well settled in for the evening and she seemed to be a bit inebriated. It wasn’t really what I’d had in mind. She did look good though – she still had the heavy mascara on, and the back-combed black hair but she had on a full silky purple dress with black lace that showed off her bosom and waist wonderfully, and on her feet were these neat little high-heeled lace-up boots.
Anyway she introduced me to everyone and I discovered they all went to the local college. A very tall guy in a biker jacket called Matt (who I was sure I knew from somewhere) said Yve had told them I was planning to do some travelling over the summer and asked where I was heading for. I said I wasn’t sure yet, Spain anyway.
‘Oh you don’t want to go to Spain’ he said ‘Greece. That’s the place.’
I felt silly telling him it was partly to help with my A level and listened to him talking about Corfu and Lesbos for the next half hour or so. Yve, as I now knew her, was talking to a girl with short red hair and I tried to look relaxed while I waited my turn. Carl, the guy sitting next to Matt said he’d been to Alicante and had a brilliant time and I should check out some friends of his just along the coast. ‘Fucking ace guitar. Fucking flamenco. You should check it out if you like guitar music.’ I said I would but it seemed a bit too literal an interpretation of the discourse to actually ask him for an address. Then I felt Yve’s hand on my thigh, searching around and finally taking my hand. She continued to chat to the couple opposite her but my mood switched instantly and I chatted happily with Matt and Carl about music for another hour. I was absolutely certain I’d met Matt before but I couldn’t think where.
It was ten o’clock before she turned to me and asked how I was. Some of her friends had left by then and others were playing pool so we had a bit more space. Her dress fell over my knees and I could feel her legs against mine. I said her friends seemed nice and she smiled and kissed me softly on the cheek. ‘Thank you’ she said. ‘I hate first dates. I like to meet people with some friends around – see how it goes. Sorry. Perhaps I should have warned you.’
I didn’t know what to say. I was struck by how confident and mature she seemed and how much I liked her rather upper class drama school accent. It was very obvious anyway that she was a little older than I was and very much in charge. Well that’s fine I thought. Lead the way. I asked her about who had answered the phone and she said it was her step-dad. ‘But he’s cool. You’ll really like him’ she added. She lit a cigarette very elegantly and I offered to get her a drink. I took the time at the bar to steady myself and clear my head. I turned and looked over at her and found her studying me. I saw the right leg crossed over the left, the stripy tights again and the little black boot bobbing in time to the music on the jukebox. She held the cigarette by her ear between her fingers. I leaned on the bar and studied her in return. She gave me a broad grin. I wondered about maybe buying some condoms in the loo, but where would we go? Maybe she thought I had a place. She had to be at least twenty. What would she think of me still living at home? Then I realised that of course she still lived at home too so that was a relief. I forced myself to relax. I paid the man and took the glasses back. As I sat down she leaned forward and kissed me on the lips. ‘Do you have to go home?’ she said. I said no and she said good. After that we collapsed in on each other, leaning in, kissing and kissing and kissing, coming up for air only when Carl and a couple of the others came back and broke us up with threats of buckets of water. It was getting on for eleven – time to leave. The lights came on, the cool spring air and the sound of taxis blew in and we stood up. For five minutes I stood aside as she talked to her friends. I felt oddly severed, as if fused to her body had been my natural state. I waited as patiently as I could then said I was going to the loo. I got three packs of two from the machine and had another piss. When I re-emerged she was alone, her hands in the pockets of a little black silk jacket, waiting for me in the doorway. I asked where we were going and she said not far and we walked arm in arm toward the sea.
Her parent’s place was huge, in one of those crescents along Brighton sea front. She let us in and I trod silently up the stairs. I still couldn’t shake the idea that I’d completely misunderstood something. It was our first date after all and we were entering her parent’s house, presumably to have sex (Or not? Maybe I’d totally misread the situation). She led me into a very posh kitchen, opened the fridge and took out a half full bottle of wine. She pointed out where the glasses were and then lead me through to the lounge. It was empty but had the warm fragrance of being only recently vacated. She poured the wine and settled at one end of the sofa. I settled at the other and then she put her feet up on my lap and asked me to take her boots off for her, which I did. I looked at her stripy feet on my lap and began to massage them. She lay back and sighed softly, then suddenly got up, went out of the room, and came back seconds later and resumed her position, now without the tights on. I held her feet, studied them, a little clammy and slightly ripe but totally female (I wouldn’t have let her touch my feet, that’s for sure). I massaged the tendon behind her heel and under her instep and between her toes. Then I ran my hands gently over her calves and felt the light stubble there. I’d never been in this situation before and yet somehow I knew exactly what to do. I gently caressed behind her knee and moved as if I might go further but always turned back. That made her moan a little. After a while she wearily lifted herself up and sat beside me. She put her arm over my shoulder and kissed me luxuriously. ‘That’s enough for now’ she said and kissed me some more and I pulled her onto my lap so her legs were spread either side and she could feel my bulge pressing against her. She bit her lip but then laid her head sideways on my chest. ‘Not tonight’ she said ‘Ok?’
Reluctantly I said ‘Ok’ and I knew there was an intervention from my past going on again. Previously I’d have been angry and frustrated and failed to hide it, or else tried to be too cool and appear unconcerned. That night I let her know I was disappointed but also that it was ok and I could wait and she gave me that look that showed she understood and appreciated it.
‘Now’ she said briskly, visibly calming herself. ‘You can have the spare room if you like or I can get you a taxi. Which would you prefer?’
I really wanted to just pass out but I said I’d get a taxi. She said it really wasn’t a problem if I wanted to stay and did I know how late it was. I looked at the clock – three-thirty. Bloody hell. I let her lead me through to the spare room and there she kissed me and left me alone. My balls were aching and I had to use the bathroom to relieve the pressure. Then I sat on the loo and thought about where I was. I suppose a lot of blokes my age would have been put off by a woman being so perhaps prematurely hospitable but I didn’t mind. I could worry about that later if necessary. I really felt like I was on my way.
I arrived home at ten in the morning and the contrast couldn’t have been much more stark. Two hours earlier Yve’s mum had been relaxed and urbane and greeted me with a handshake and a glass of real orange juice and told me to help myself to cereal or whatever. Yve flitted about already made up and in her finery for the day – black jewellery and tailored leather coat. She was good naturedly impatient with her mother and discretely flirtatious with me. She had a nine o’clock lecture so I was left to chat with her mother for half an hour. We got on fine and I caught the bus home at nine thirty. The house was empty and there was no evidence that I’d been missed. I made coffee and looked at the neat, mean little kitchen and functional décor. There was just no sense that a house should be a place of comfort. It wasn’t the poverty I minded. We weren’t poor anyway, but there was a terrible frugality to it, a kind of Puritanism. I went upstairs to get changed and there I found a note to say that a Lorraine had called about a job in Spain and there was a number to ring. This’ll be interesting, I thought.