In this excerpt, Tony goes to Big School, and finds that girls aren’t all that bad…
When I was 13, I started Secondary School in Lynn, meaning a long bus ride every day. Somehow, with my new schedule, it was hard to make time to see Mother and Ben, and my visits become less frequent. Even when we did meet, it seemed that our paths were diverging. Ben had always been the smarter one, and it was no surprise that he was in the top form of his school, while I still struggled to get by with the academic work we had to do.
I was more into physical things, and I was excited at all the options my new school gave me. I found I was good at rugby, and made it to the school’s first team after only two terms. Rugby taught me lots of things, some of them on the field. I learned the practical skills of the game, and I learned to take and inflict pain. I learned about teamwork, and when to screw the team, and just go for want I wanted. Off the field, I learned more about drinking and which pubs would serve you without asking awkward questions about age. I also learned about the back alleys where you could get into a fight just for the hell of it, and which emergency hospitals to go to afterward. And I learned something about women too.
Ruby was a year older than me, went to the same school, and she and her mates used to hang around the same places the rugby team drank in. One evening the team had scored a resounding victory over our main rivals, and a few of us were celebrating in a pub where the landlord didn’t really care about age and more about taking our money. We were well into our session when Ruby and the girls turned up. Egged on by the others, I asked Ruby for a kiss, and rather than slap my face, she grabbed hold of me and gave me a long, intense kiss. I was vaguely aware of catcalls and rabid comments from the lads, but at that moment, nothing else mattered than Ruby’s sweet lips against mine. It was electrifying, and I felt that kiss in every part of my body.
On the way home that evening, all I could think about was Ruby and how soft and exciting her kiss was. I dreamt about her all night and actually looked forward to going to school the next day, just so that I could see her. But on the bus into Lynn, I started to have second thoughts. What if she really didn’t care for me, what if I was a bad kisser and she didn’t want to talk to me again. By the time I got to school, I had convinced myself that Ruby would not want to see me, and I was angry and sad all at the same time.
The morning dragged by, but eventually it was lunchtime, and I went off in search of Ruby; I just had to know the worst. I saw her with her friends, and when she saw me walking towards her she smiled, and my heart melted. She had the most wonderful legs I had ever seen, and a great figure, but it was her smile that won me over.
Stumbling over my words I asked if she would like to walk with me, she said yes, and we walked together for a while. Summoning up all my courage I reached for her hand, half expecting it to be pulled away. Instead, she twined her fingers around mine and gently squeezed my hand. The feeling was unbelievable, and I wanted it to last forever. Sadly the bell rang for us to go back to classes, but just before we went our separate ways, I asked if I could walk her home after school. She paused for a few moments, and then said: “Yes, that would be nice.”
I sure I was more distracted than normal that afternoon during classes, and then at closing bell I waited by the school gate for Ruby. As I waited, it occurred to me that I knew almost nothing about her; I didn’t even know what part of town she lived in. Then she came into view and a strange feeling of happiness and contentment came over me, and I realized that I didn’t care about anything other than being with her.
It turned out she lived in North End, about a 30-minute walk from school. As we strolled, hand in hand, we exchanged stories about our families. I found out that her Dad worked on a fishing trawler, and her Mum ruled the household with an iron hand but a soft heart. Ruby was the third child of the family, and she had 2 older brothers and 2 younger sisters.
Getting to the corner of her road I started to worry about meeting Ruby’s family, but I was swept along and soon we were sitting either side of a big kitchen table with Mum fussing around getting cups of tea and sandwiches for various children that came in and out. It seemed that the house was the hub of the community, with people from different families apparently mingling without anyone minding. It was chaotic, but in a warm and friendly way, and everyone seemed to be getting on with each other.
I was wondering when it would be a good time to go home, but Ruby had apparently thought of that. When her big brother Johnny came in, she asked him if he could give us a ride on his motorbike and sidecar. I noticed the “we” and felt really proud to be connected with Ruby in that way. Johnny seemed happy enough to take us, and we were soon roaring through the countryside to my home.
It was impossible to talk while we were riding, but as soon as we stopped Johnny turned to me and gave me a hard stare. “I hope you’re going to do right by our Ruby,” he said. “Because if not, you’ll have me to answer to.” Ruby was indignant. “Hey, keep your nose out of my business” she shouted, “I can look out for myself!”
Just then Mrs. McKinley came out to see who was visiting, and introductions were made all round. I had not mentioned Ruby to her or Dad, and would probably not have done so for a long time, but now it was not possible to keep it quiet.
Under the eyes of Johnny and Mrs. McKinley, I dared not try to kiss Ruby, even though my whole body was crying out to do so. Johnny bombed up his motorbike, and Ruby climbed on the pillion seat, giving me a brief glimpse of more of her legs, which made me hot with embarrassment. Then they were off with a roar, which slowly disappeared into the distance. After the bedlam at Ruby’s house and the bike ride home the mansion seemed strangely quiet, and Mrs. McKinley, sensing maybe that something big was happening, took my arm and led me into the kitchen.
That night I was quizzed about her and her family, and I assured Dad that I’d be careful. Us country people were traditionally suspicious of the North Enders, who had a reputation for bad behavior, but I already felt right at home in their world, even if a bit overwhelmed. I went to bed that night with my mind in a whirl and found it hard to sleep. I was feeling so many emotions so quickly, and when I finally fell asleep my dreams were full of the North End and motorbikes, but mainly of Ruby