OK folks, here's the next instalment.
Donald Roger Paley had never been what you might call a ladies' man. He'd always wanted to be, mind, but his success with the opposite gender always seemed doomed to failure, largely due to his nervousness and outright shyness around girls. He just never knew how one was supposed to strike up a conversation with a woman, and on top of that he never had quite figured out what one was meant to say to keep the conversation going past the first sentence. If he hadn't got the job at Baritone's when he was 20 years old he would have never met Mo, the checkout girl at the supermarket next door, and if it hadn't been for Mo, who chatted to him every time he went in the place about the weather and music and books and films and TV and cars, then he probably would still feel uncomfortable around girls and might never have gotten laid. This is the sort of thing Don thought about regularly. As it was, he still was fairly shy, but at least he wasn't afraid of women any more. Or at least he wasn't afraid of talking to a woman. There were still other aspects that were frightening. Like commitment, marriage, living together... and children.
It's not that Don didn't like the idea of having a long-term relationship and all that it entailed. It is that he was terrified. Terrified of committing to one person for ever and ever, in perpetuity, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Terrified of knowing that someone was relying on him. Terrified of even going up to a girl and saying anything to her. True, he had had girlfriends. Well, they might not like to think of themselves that way, but essentially that is what they were. Women who had had a brief relationship with him, be it for one month, one week, or even just a day and a night. But there really was only one woman who had captivated him, and since that time no-one else really measured up. This one girl that he had dated for perhaps two months (and we use the term dated in its broadest possible sense), back when he was sixteen, pimply, short and a nervous wreck around girls. Looking back on it, he could not even remember what the hell it was she had seen in him. But whatever it was, she had had this profound effect on him, and it tainted his view of other girls.
Her name was Stephanie. Well, no, it was actually Helen, but her whole family referred to her as Stephanie, and she preferred it that way, so who was he to rock the boat? Stephanie it was. He remembered how unlike other girls she was, right from the time he had first met her at school. She was pretty, he could see that, although most schoolmates thought she was not exactly phwoaarrr material, due to her glasses, her braces, and her enormous brain, filled as it was with an inordinate amount of knowledge for one of his peers. Yes, she was a swot. A bookworm. Forever at the top of every class she was in. Don, therefore, didn't really think much about her to begin with. He had other things to fill up his mind with, such as Not The Nine O'Clock News and Top Of The Pops.
It was one day in mid-October of 1980 whilst sitting in Mr. Taylor's maths class, bored as usual, when Stephanie strutted up to Don's desk and handed him a neatly folded piece of paper. He was all excited about this at first until he noticed her handing folded notes to several other members of the class. When he unfolded the paper, written in very neat girlish handwriting, was this:
You are invited to attend Stephanie's birthday bash on October 30th 1980 at 7pm.
Remember, we rely on you for music. Please bring some records and we'll have some fun!
Wow! A party! A proper party, with records and stuff! The next few days leading up to it had seemed a blur. He remembered at the last moment that it was a birthday party, so he quickly nipped to the local neighbourhood grocery to see about buying something feminine and affordable that would work as a present. He flew into a panic as soon as he got to the shop as the selection was desperately thin, but he was on his way to the party itself and there was no time to try any alternatives. They were all in the other direction. He plumped for a large unusually-shaped bottle of some pink bubble bath and a card with something funny on it. He always went for the funny ones.
At five to seven he arrived at the house and was ushered in, bag of singles in one hand and card and bubble bath in the other. The interior had been readied – chairs pushed back against the wall, dining chairs included, table groaning with all kinds of finger sandwiches, sausage rolls and the like, kitchen counter heaving with cans and bottles of pop, and under the window that faced outwards onto the patio sat the stereo on a table, speakers sitting on the windowsill facing outwards. Outside in the back garden was a roaring bonfire and he could see some firework containers over by the shed. The patio had been cleared and was obviously a makeshift dancefloor. Stephanie's dad was grilling sausages on the BBQ grill and he could see some potatoes wrapped in foil which were going to go into the dying fire embers later on to bake. This was a great party setup.
There was a small table outside where people had already started piling Stephanie's presents. He added his and the card to the heap, strategically placing it next to a shiny large present that looked expensive. Her Dad came over and proffered him a beer. Whoa. Don had only ever had half a Heineken before, so this was new territory. He accepted and drank it slowly, but he didn't really care for the taste. However, he did care about the way it made him feel after a while, kinda loose and relaxed.
Several friends started turning up and they began to drink, eat, talk and dance the evening away, and it wasn't until about 9 pm when he was out on the patio that he noticed Stephanie staring in his direction. He started to panic when she began walking his way, and she brazenly came right up to him and asked him to dance. He did not know where to put himself. This had certainly never happened before, although he had secretly wished that it would. Well, what could he do? The lady wanted to dance. So he took her hand and they began awkwardly prancing on the dancefloor. They danced for what seemed an eternity, until they were close together, his hand around her waist, her hand clasping his, getting ever closer, until he was cheek-to-cheek with this rose-cheeked angel and smelling her long, silky, mouse-blonde hair. “Oh, oh, your hair is beautiful...” he crooned lamely with the song. “Ah, tonight.... atomic.” That about sums it up, he thought. Atomic.
After that, as well as seeing her every day at school, he visited her house quite often, and even took her to the school disco one Friday night where he won a prize for Best Male Dancer. His prize, a couple of singles and posters, were clutched tightly in his hand as he walked her home that evening, when she said, “Well.... aren't you going to give me a goodnight kiss?” and he experienced his first real deep soul kiss, a true Frenchie, which in spite of her braces, was just about the biggest thrill of his life. After bidding her good night he ran home with the energy of Sebastian Coe.
She dropped him like a hot brick after the Christmas hols, which is not surprising, really. Boyfriends are supposed to go round to their girlfriends' houses more than once during the winter vacation. The poor thing was probably terrified that he'd lost interest, which wasn't the case at all. Families have a way of monopolising your time during Christmas and New Year's, what with all the grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins and the other extended hangers-on wanting to see your cherubic face. So it was not Don's fault. Well, that was his story and he was sticking to it.
A few years after they had left school he had bumped into her only once more, working behind the counter in a clothing shop. She was on summer break from her university studies and was home for a few weeks. How like her to get a job, he thought. God, she looked amazing. The braces were gone, and the hair had become more golden, and was now cut into a gorgeous Theda Bara bob, which looked incredible paired with her small red-framed rectangular glasses. They exchanged a few words, just small talk, but he was entranced by her again, and was walking on air just for having seen her for the rest of the day.