Right From The Start

Part One
By Claire Hennessy

Bug (left)

Claire

The hilarious, heartwarming, true story of how two High School sweethearts are reunited after a 30 year separation, only to find themselves on opposite sides of the world.

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Chapter One – Our First Meeting
Reuniting with my very first boyfriend after a 30 year separation was always going to be a unique experience, but meeting outside a Waitrose supermarket at nine o’clock on a cold winter’s night would not have been my first choice. Not the most romantic of settings, and one that certainly did not reflect the life-changing importance it would have on me and my family, but there you go, who can say where love will blossom … again. I first laid eyes on him when I was at boarding school. It happened in a sweet shop of all places so I suppose we were destined to meet in unromantic places even then. I was only thirteen years old and had never had a boyfriend before. In fact, as it was an all-girls boarding school, I hardly ever spoke to boys, let alone anything else. He was a couple of years older and had an air of confidence and experience about him which made the age difference seem more than that. The way he wore his school shirt with the top few buttons undone, plus the fashionable black boots under the black school uniform trousers made him seem really cool. He was small and skinny and I remember him staring at me, all floppy
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black hair and intense brown eyes looking out under enormous bushy eyebrows, like a giant hairy caterpillar crawling across his forehead. He said his name was Bug and I wasn’t surprised. We were in the sleepy little village near to my school when we first met, and it wasn’t until over 30 years later that I found out it was no coincidence we bumped into each other, but a carefully orchestrated meeting. There was a lot about Bug I didn’t find out til later … including his real name. It was a lovely afternoon in the long hot summer of ’76 and I was with my friends Tanya, Bucket, Linda and Victoria. Bug was with two other boys and we all walked rather self-consciously back to our school and sat in the playing fields, us girls trying not to be too over-awed by being with actual boys. We were ridiculously shy and silly, so goodness knows why they didn’t just leave and find some more mature girls to hang out with. We laughed at all their jokes, hungry for whatever verbal morsel fell out of their mouths so perhaps that was the appeal. That first meeting is permanently etched in my memory, maybe a sign, now that I look back on it, that meeting Bug was always going to be more than just a casual flirtation in my life.

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We were spaced-out in groups on the grass, boys on one side, girls on the other, one minute trying to be cool and the next breaking down into nervous fits of giggles. I suppose, out of all of us, I talked most to the boys. I like to think it was because my Mum had impressed upon me the need to be polite and make guests feel at home, but I think it was actually because talking is what I do best. I had been shipped off to boarding school at the age of eleven, so maybe the excessive talking had something to do with my parents’ decision! It was a small school in comparison to others in the area, only 250 pupils, and of those only about 50 were boarders. (Very exclusive, darling!) It consisted of gorgeous, well-tended gardens, playing fields, swimming pool (mind you, it was unheated, in freezing Britain, so not terribly inviting), netball and tennis courts (where I spent most of my free time), neatly tended apple orchards and vegetable plots near the pet sheds, where we were allowed an assortment of small furry animals, such as rabbits and guinea pigs. It was not deemed proper for young ladies under the age of fourteen to be courted by boys or, in fact, socialize in any way with the opposite sex. Once you were of age there was a huge list of personal information required by the House Mistress (the lady in charge of the general well-being of all the boarders) about
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the prospective boy you wanted to see. By the time you had acquired everything but his inside leg measurement, the potential suitor had usually been put off and looked elsewhere, which was probably the whole idea. The only reason Bug and his friends weren’t kicked out of my school that day was because one of them was Linda’s brother and they were allowed to visit with each other every so often. At one point Bug, Bucket and I wandered over to the far side of the field where a line of beautiful, large, overhanging willow trees shielded us from prying eyes and thereby enabled us to do things that we really shouldn’t be doing, like smoke cigarettes. Bug took out a pack of Players No 6 cigarettes. Nicknamed ‘Numbies’, they were cheap, came in packs of ten, and were slimmer and shorter than other cigarettes. This enabled Bug to cup a lit one in the palm of his hand and actually hide the still-smoking evidence in the jacket pocket of his school blazer as he walked between classes! He off-handedly offered the pack to us, not really expecting us to take one. Bucket and I had experimented with smoking a few weeks earlier but neither of us had enjoyed it. We had coughed and spluttered as the acrid smoke hit the back of our throats and, with eyes watering, we had quickly stubbed them out and decided that smoking was stupid, pointless and definitely not for us. Now, however, faced with this cool good-looking boy
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offering us a cigarette, we immediately took one so as not to look square and boring. Trying desperately to remember which end to put in my mouth, I lit up and nearly choked on the foul-tasting smoke. “You’re both a bit young to be smoking, aren’t you?” Bug remarked. “Oh, we’ve been smoking for ages, haven’t we, Bucket?” I lied, holding the stinky cigarette far away from me, with as much of a sophisticated pose as I could muster. I caught Bucket’s eye as we tried to look nonchalant and had to suppress a giggle as she made a face to show how disgusting it tasted when Bug was looking the other way. The next few days after that Sunday I was in a state of high anxiety – all I could think about was ‘who does Bug fancy’ as two of my friends liked him as well. I went through one agony after another as I looked at my flaws and the reasons why he would choose one of my friends over me. Bucket has naturally blond curly hair, Linda has perkier boobs, Tanya’s legs don’t rub together when she walks, Victoria doesn’t fart when she’s nervous, and so on. Sometime mid-week Linda got a call from her brother and we all crowded round the old-fashioned telephone booth in the draughty hallway outside the library.

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Who did he like? Who would he choose? Which one of us was the lucky one? God, we were a pathetic bunch, but in those days it was almost inconceivable that a girl would ask out a boy. We had made a girlie pact prior to the call that whichever one of us was chosen, the other two would not get upset or bitchy. Linda spoke to her brother for a few minutes, standing inside the glass walls of the phone box propping open the heavy door with her foot, while we all hopped from one leg to the other in impatience and anticipation. And then we heard her say: “Oh, Bug wants to speak to Claire?” The quiet hallway erupted into loud squeals of excitement and I nearly fainted on the spot. No way was I going to speak to Bug on the phone. I’d never been on a date with a boy before or even received a phone call from a boy, had no idea what to do or say, was utterly terrified at the thought of it. While all these frightening thoughts spun round in my head, it seemed I had no choice in the matter as Linda turned around and thrust the phone in my shaky, sweaty hand. “H-h-hello,” I stammered, blushing madly. “Hey Claire,” came back his deep sexy voice.
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The rest of the conversation was entirely one-sided as, uncharacteristically, I lost the power of speech. Luckily, Bug kept up a steady stream of chatter and I was able to squeak at odd moments, until he asked if he could take me out sometime. “Errr, sure,” I stuttered. I couldn’t believe it. I actually had a date with this gorgeous, older boy. My heart thudded in my chest and I found it difficult to breathe. I was in shock that I had been chosen over all my much prettier and thinner friends. I tried to concentrate as we made arrangements to meet secretly by the fence at the back of the school gardens, near the pet sheds, and as far as possible from the school and prying eyes. And that was how it started.

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