By the Butterfly Tree – Part Thirteen

For the new year comes the next part of my story, the first one in the third and final section. If you haven’t read the previous instalments, then please go here to read about how this little effort began, and then follow the links.

It was Ross McGeoch’s first ‘day release’ Tuesday. Instead of heading to the metalwork and engineering firm where he was now an apprentice, he had headed into the city, to the new technical college so symbolic of post-war Britain. All kinds of work-related subjects were taught to young people, under one roof. The local bus company even put on special college services.
The morning had been full of getting to know the place, finding classrooms, meeting tutors, and generally getting a feel for college life. A kind of life that seemed good to Ross. You were on your honour much more than in school. He was determined to show everyone that he could, and would, take it seriously. He’d done well at school, and the head, and everyone else, had expected that he’d enter the sixth form. But Ross had been adamant. He wanted an apprenticeship with the firm he’d done ‘holiday work’ for, and to study engineering at college. And so far, this had worked out.
He was reflecting on this as he now sat in the dining hall, a plate of spaghetti bolognaise in front of him and a bowl of apple pie and custard at his side. Breakfast was a distant memory. An awful lot seemed to have happened since then. A typical lad, his mum would have said…

He was roused from this reverie by a muffled chorus of female voices. A group of girls had walked into the servery area. They chatted spiritedly as they selected their meals and queued to pay. Two of them called to another. “You sitting with us, Laura?”
The three girls were obviously new to the place, like he was, Ross thought. Then, as they walked by to find a table, the one bringing up the rear looked around her. Catching sight of Ross, she smiled for a moment before walking on.

A fraction of a second that blew Ross McGeoch’s mind.

As he made his way to the first afternoon lesson, he realised he had a problem. College, he could cope with. Lessons, he could cope with. Walking up to a girl he’d only just half-met, to ask her out, he struggled with.

Especially if she was, in his estimation, the most beautiful girl in the world.

 * * *

It was a Tuesday late in November when the whole area was blanketed in thick freezing fog. As students returned to lessons after the college lunch break, an announcement was relayed to each classroom. The bus company had telephoned to advise the college that no special services, and few general ones, were now expected to run that afternoon. The principal had decided to end the teaching day after the first afternoon lesson. All students were advised to make their way home as best they could. At two-twenty, Ross fastened his coat and slung his haversack onto his shoulders, then made for the main exit. As he pushed his way through the swing doors, a silhouette came into view ahead of him. As he stepped forward, it became clear that this was another student, preparing, no doubt, for a long walk.
“We just stride it out, eh?” Ross called out, cheerfully. Then he blinked as the other student turned in response. “Oh… It’s Laura, isn’t it?” Goodness, she could even send that smile through fog, he thought. Then, rather self-consciously, he asked “You got far to walk?”
It turned out that she lived about a mile from Ross’s own home. Falteringly, he suggested “We could walk together, if you like…?” When she readily accepted, his heart leapt.

Conversation was stilted, at first. For one thing, they had to find their way through the fog, to roads they were familiar with. Then, gradually, they began to talk more freely, to compare themselves with each other, first of all as far as college went, and then about life in general. Laura was doing a secretarial course and was hoping to progress to accountancy. She worked for a plumbing and heating firm, at their office, not too far from home. Or rather, her cousin’s home, where she lived. At Ross’s prompting, Laura went on. It never occurred to her that she had never told so much of her life story to anyone before. Some long time afterwards, she admitted that it had something to do with a pair of intense blue eyes…

Laura had been orphaned in the war. Her father was killed in action, her mother in an air-raid. Thankfully, her aunt had taken her in and treated her like another daughter, Her cousin, Sarah, was twenty-two and married. As her aunt and uncle’s home was in a village some miles outside the city, and a long way from Laura’s work and college, her cousin had recently offered her a home. She still saw her Auntie Katherine and Uncle Fred quite often.
“Sorry I’m so nosey,” Ross cut in. “I didn’t want you to talk about stuff you’d rather not.” He thought about what it would be like to hardly know anything about his own mother, and suddenly felt awkward for asking so much.
“Aw, no, that’s all right – I mean… I don’t think it’s nosey…” Laura began to laugh. “Anyway, you’ve told me as much about you.”
Soon they turned into the main road near to Sarah’s home, on a new estate. It was now very dark, and they had to pick their way from one street light to the next. They said little for several minutes. Ross knew that Laura’s journey was nearly complete. He gulped for a moment…

“I never thought today would turn out like this, but I’ve enjoyed walking and talking with you. Would you… care to come out with me, some time?”

There. He’d said it. He waited. Laura’s voice was almost a whisper in the fog.

“I’d like that, Ross. Thank you.”

They agreed to meet the following Saturday, and go to watch a film. But, as she walked through the gate of Sara’s house, Laura realised that it wasn’t really the prospect of a good film that mattered to her.

You can now read part fourteen here.

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