It’s the day of the wedding, and everyone is celebrating. But sometimes life happens…
The day of the wedding was bright and cold, with a biting East wind off the sea. This didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd at the church, however. It seemed that all the old pupils from the village school were there, along with many of our school friends and plenty of folk from North End. Even Betty was there, looking nervous sitting between Morie and a lady I took to be her Mum. All the bridesmaids looked stunning, but Ruby was, at least in my eyes, over and above all the most beautiful there.
After the service, we all moved across the market square to the private room above the pub. I got myself a beer and sat at a table over to the side, where I could watch the people. I had a kind of empty feeling inside, there were so many emotions churning away that I really didn’t know what to say or do. I looked at my Ben who he was in deep discussion with one of Ruby’s friends. As I watched, he slipped his hand on her knee and carried on as if nothing was happening. I watched as a rugby pal danced with one of the North Ender girls. He was all over her, and she was putting on a show of being annoyed, but also seemed to be encouraging him.
Everyone else appeared to be having a great time, so I went and got a beer, and started to chat with a couple of the boys from the rugby team. Ruby came up just as we were discussing how the season had gone so far, and she wrinkled her nose and went off to talk with her girlfriends. A few drinks later someone suggested we leave the private room where the reception was being held, and head into the pub downstairs.
Without really thinking I went along, and soon we had all the loudest music on the jukebox that we could find. At some point, a couple of girls joined our party, and soon we were all dancing along to the music. The jukebox started a slow dance, and it just seemed natural to one of the girls and me to dance together. Just as naturally we started kissing, and when the song ended, we went and sat at one of the benches, and continued our kissing and grouping. The landlord came over and told us to “Stop that here,” so we went outside to the square, and then down onto the river bank, where we found a bench where we could carry on where we had left off.
She had her hand in my pants and I was just taking off her bra when Ruby found us. She had noticed my absence, and come to look for me in case I was upset by the wedding. My companion, whose name I never did find out, scurried away as Ruby shouted at me and told me how worthless I was, in language that was true North End. I tried to sputter an apology, but Ruby was in no mood to listen. Eventually, she stormed off, saying she should have listened to her Mum and kept away from people like me.
For a long time, I just sat and watched the river flow, without thinking or feeling anything. Slowly I came out of that trance-like state and wondered what was to become of me. I had a newly married Dad, I’d been caught cheating on my girlfriend, or should I say ex-girlfriend after what Ruby had said. I had no prospects and nothing to call my own. I felt like I had no home, nowhere to go and no one who wanted me. I felt alone, really alone for the first time in my life.
Then I had a surge of anger. What right did Ruby have to shout at me, it wasn’t like that girl and I had actually had sex or anything. And what was Dad thinking in getting wed to Mrs. McKinley? Did he really believe I could go on living under the same roof now? So what if no one cared about me? I was a smart kid, I knew how to look after himself. Who needed school and book learning either? I was old enough to take care of myself, and that was what I was going to do.
In my new found anger, I jumped up from my bench and started walking, all the time thinking of plans and schemes, and then cursing the world, Dad, Mrs. McKinley and Ruby in particular. My thoughts carried me right out of town, and I was half-way to our village before I started to slow down. I was in one of the country lanes that surrounded Lynn, and I knew from experience that few cars came down them, so when I saw headlights in the distance I flagged them down, told them I’d got separated from a party and asked if they could give me a lift nearer the village.
I must have looked very odd in my by now a very ruffled suit and a shirt half hanging out, but it probably added veracity to my story, and they said they’d drive me home. Once there I tore off my new clothes and changed into jeans and shirt again. I grabbed a backpack, stuffed it with spare clothes, and grabbed some of Dad’s “emergency money” which he kept in the knife drawer. I looked around for food, found some bread and ham and added that to the backpack.
Then without further thought, I went out into the night again. I had only the vaguest of plans of what next, but I set off for the beach, which somehow felt like my safe place. It must have been in the early hours of the morning that I eventually succumbed to tiredness, found a place in the sand dunes that I could get shelter from the wind, and laid down on the soft ground. As I fell into a deep sleep, I was strangely excited not to have any idea what the morning would bring.