THE CLOCK MAN.
Chapter Sixteen. Ricky Shepherd
Two years might seem like a long time, or there again it might seem like no time at all. But somehow the two years of National Military Service passed for Ricky and it was with that sense of regret we get when the familiar is about to be discarded that he stood with Sophie draped round his neck the evening before he was due to leave the environs of Inkleworth behind for good. She was smiling the smile of she who regrets a conclusion and he could have wept because of it.
She eased him into the darkest shadows behind the dancehall hut. “Just we two,” she breathed into one ear, “just we loving two...”
He felt a good two years older than he'd felt two years earlier, which is logical. He'd learned a remarkable amount, about himself, about engines and the mechanical world that warfare depends on, and about the military life. He'd also been given an insight into the forces that drive people, from bullying sergeants to scared young men, and although he'd been dreading it before it began, now that it was all but over he appreciated a great deal of what the two years had given him.
And he smiled when he realised that more than the obvious skills and knowledge it had given him Sophie.
Always there for me, week in, week out, never demanding, always accepting, but mostly of all the people I've met here, my only true friend...There have been the blokes, from Ian who was tormented deep inside by what lurks in my underwear, the pervert who I ought to have reported but didn't, to Mickie who loved shouting and saluting and leaping to attention and, when he was on his own, crying...
I've seen a lot of life this past two years, and chief of it all has been Sophie, and it's time to say goodbye...
Somehow he'd spent the two years seeing her once, sometimes twice, a week and during that time they'd hardly had a cross word with each other.
He'd never been able to say such a thing about his relationship with Jane, though all-in-all it had been wonderfully close and harmonious. But there had been moments of disagreement which had been spookily absent with Sophie. He knew why, of course. With Jane, they had both had, at the backs of their minds and sometimes in plain view in intimate conversation, that hope that it might last for ever. It hadn't, but the dream had been there, a mutual dream, and they had both been wonderfully aware that the foundations they were laying down had better be good foundations, the sort that need to be tested from time to time, to ensure their firmness as puppy love matures into something powerful and strong.
My folks were good together until my old man died, I think, and I want to be like that: two people in a marriage for life, till death us do part, that kind of thing. That's what Jane and I were aiming for and what Sophie and I didn't waste a moment worrying about...
With Sophie there had never been that tentative building for the future because they had both known the future for them, as a couple, didn't exist, wasn't going to be there. He was going home when his two years were up, and she wasn't going to follow him. Instead, she was off to University, one of the few young women able to grasp that kind of opportunity as the nineteen-fifties nudged ever closer to an exciting new decade.
“I'll not forget you, Ricky,” she promised as she hung from him like an over-sized necklace.
“Nor me you,” he replied, and their mouths touched for the dozenth time that evening. Of all the things they did they both thought kissing was the best, and if it prompted further intimacy they had both thus far always stopped well short of going beyond prudent limits. Future generations wouldn't be so circumspect, but then, future generations had the contraceptive pill.
It won't be easy, saying goodbye to Sophie, thought Ricky as they spent a timeless few moments in their own version of Heaven, she's a good lass, for goodness' sake, and without her the last two years wouldn't have been up to much. But time moves on and maybe Jane's back home, still waiting – if her mum'll let her, that is. Silly woman! I know that I shouldn't have forgotten the time that evening when the clock stopped, I knew even then that we shouldn't have been caught like we were, but it's not as if we were doing anything actually very wrong.
I've touched Sophie there more times than I've had hot dinners this past couple of years, and she hasn't told me to stop or suggested that I shouldn't do it. All lads do it. It's part of getting to know a girl, of letting her know you like her, love her maybe... and in a way I do love Sophie. In a different way, but still in a way.
Meanwhile, Sophie was having her own thoughts, thoughts that brought the beginnings of tears to her eyes. She didn't weep often, and when she did it was because she needed to. And this was one of those times.
It'll not be easy, being away from Ricky, she was thinking, because he's been good fun and he's a grand lad. But I guess this is it. We both knew that two years together was the best we could hope for, and two years is what we've had. But in a way I think I love him. I reckon that in a way two years is quite a long time and we've enjoyed every day of them, but we're saying goodbye as friends, which is wonderful.
“We've kissed a lot,” she whispered, “you've touched me secretly, and I've touched you … we've been as close as close without getting too close … if you see what I mean...”
It was put awkwardly and honestly, and he knew exactly what she meant.
“I've seen lives ruined,” he whispered, though in truth he hadn't. But he might have done. In his imagination it would have been very easy for him to have ruined her life. He knew himself, and he shuddered when he considered how close they'd got to the kind of chaos that slices through friendship like a scimitar, the chaos of an unwanted pregnancy.
All pregnancy outside marriage was unwanted. And had they weakened, both of them, it would have wrecked the beautiful friendship that they had.
So she spilled his seed for him in dark corners on darker nights, and smiled with him, and made her plans.
University! Learning, and then on to teaching. And not just teaching, but teaching at the highest level. She had her plans all right and had never wanted a moment's passion to wreck them. That's why she had stuck like glue to Ricky. She trusted him.
“I'll write,” he promised, changing the subject.
She smiled in the darkness, and her smile was so sweet. That's what he called it: sweet.
“And I'll write too,” she promised. “Don't let's say anything daft, like we'll meet again, though who knows, we might...”
“Paths can cross out of the blue and quite accidentally,” he philosophised.
“And ours might.”
“But on the other hand they might not...?”
He squeezed her fingers, gently, and she squeezed his in return.
“But let's not plan for it,” he whispered. “Let's hold each other sacred in our memories … treasure the times we've had, the days that have been...”
“You're poetic!” she giggled. “And the dances we've had,” she added.
“Two years of dancing to the best rock kings of any age,” he smiled.
“Rock around the clock … but not your clock because that clock stopped!”
“Don't remind me!”
“Do you think you'll see your Jane again?”
He shrugged. “I don't know,” he confessed.
“Do you want to?”
He was shocked by the question and even more shocked by his own honest answer.
“Of course I do!” he said, almost too loud. “Of course I do...”
“And us? What of us?”
“We've been two precious years,” he whispered. “And that's more than many people have. Two precious, wonderful, dancing years!”
“I'm glad,” she breathed. “And, Ricky...”
“If I found I was carrying your child I'd be glad too...”
“But you're not!”
“I know. Of course I'm not! We haven't done it … but if we had...”
“It would have been a terrible mistake,” he murmured.
“Sometimes a silly, terrible mistake is all we have at the end of the day...” she said. “And Ricky...?”
“Come round here, out of sight … there's no light shining and there's a wall to lean on … it's my safe time, my love, my safest of safe times... there's no-when safer...”
And his mind was a cascade of confusion as in minutes, mere intense heartbeats,it was done and dusted and over.
We shouldn't have just done that! What made us? Why? This past two years … we've been so careful, so innocent … and now... at this eleventh hour...
“It was safe, darling,” she whispered. “I know it was silly but I wanted it. Two years had to mean … it had to have … it'll be all right, Ricky.”
“It was both of us,” he said, grimly, “not just you, and I shouldn't have...”
“It was as safe as safe can be,” she assured him. “You will write, won't to, like you said?”
“Of course … and you?”
“I love you, Ricky. I really, really love you, and that's why we had to do it. I needed something. And it's why I'll write. Lots of times. Words by the zillion!”
It choked him.
“And I'll write too,” he promised. “Just as many words!”
Her bus arrived, it hooted like it had every week, and she climbed on board.
“From now until forever,” she called, and in an impish moment she tossed the knickers that she was still holding towards him, and he caught them, and wept.
Two years, and goodbye, he thought.
© Peter Rogerson 01.08.13
This is the sixteenth chapter of a little love story I'm quite enjoying writing (not very manly is it, to admit that?) and because Gather is in a parlous state these days here are links to the first 15 chapters in case you've missed out.