A Step out of Time
‘Pink socks. He’s wearing pink socks!’
‘...and he’s too skinny. This is boring.’
‘Shut up, will you.’
Maddie persisted, ‘C’mon, we can cadge a fag before History.’
‘I’m listening to him...’ appealed Julia.
‘Well, I’m going. See you later, babe.’
Later, in the lunch queue, big-eyed in vain hope that the dinner lady would be generous with their portions of chips – she never was – Maddie caught up with her friend, Julia.
‘What the fuh was that, Jules?’
‘The guy in the pink socks, well one pink one orange to be precise. You fancy him?’
‘Sure, fluorescent socks, gets my juices going.’
‘Seriously, Oxfam, antiques, boring, boring, boring? What are you on about?’
‘Nothing, I just was interested that’s all. Did you catch his name? I missed the beginning.’
‘Mathew something. His wee brother is in Brian’s class. Gardner, that’s it, Matty Gardner.’
‘He’s in our year though?’
‘Yes, he was in your English class last term.’
‘Didn’t notice, must have worn matching socks.’
‘Nah, back then you only had eyes for Johnson.’ Maddie mimicked a cuddling and kissing action which resulted in a punch to her shoulder.
‘Ow, so when’s the engagement.’
‘Shut it, Maddie.’
At lunch break the next day, Julia spotted Mathew hanging out with a couple of other guys outside the school library. She walked across.
‘Yup?’ He turned and stepped away from the others.
‘I enjoyed your talk yesterday ... at the work experience thing.’
‘Sure,’ Matthew looked behind her. He had never been this close to any of the five girls who were universally acknowledged as the hottest in the sixth form – well among his gang anyway – let alone had a conversation. ‘Is this a wind up ... are you taking the piss?’
‘No, I’m interested in what you said about how to value old stuff.’
Julia looked around. ‘Look, I don’t want to talk here. Do you want to grab an espresso sometime after school, Friday maybe?’
Matthew was still in doubt and thought to further question her sincerity but something in her look or his teenage hope made him decide to go along with it. ‘Sure, if you are serious. Giuseppe’s?’
‘No, away from prying eyes. Do you know The University Cafe in Hyndland?’
‘I think so. the small Italian on Byres Road?’
‘You got it, so, see you there at ... half four, Friday?’
Julia looked at him directly and smiled as she turned to walk back towards the school hall.
‘What was that, Mat?’
‘I got a date with Julia Barham.’
‘Fuck off ... Are you coming to Ally’s tonight for Dungeon’s and Dragons?’
Matthew’s doubts increased during the two days he had to anticipate his meeting with Julia. He was annoyed, with himself mostly, about the way this distraction was affecting him.
He had made it through senior school, just. Now, finish your exams, lark around in summer term, then off, hopefully to a new life at uni. He can’t imagine that they would actually let him into Cambridge, but anywhere would do. Anywhere away from Glasgow. He quite liked his group of oddballs. In sixth year, the gang learned to enjoy their differences playing on it sometimes to watch others get irritated. A few girls had chosen to join them in their singularly unadventurous activities: playing board games, listening to music, reading and occasionally going to an arthouse film. A confidence had grown, over last summer, in them all not just himself. He had an easy relationship with Ellen. It was pleasant and platonic now. In the early days, they had experimented with an odd kiss and grope, usually at a party, but it had felt so uncomfortable that they agreed to stop but remain friends. He then, as a friend, had to listen to Ellen’s later numerous excursions into exploring her sexuality. Most of them failures although through their discussion, he now much felt better informed, if somewhat under practised.
As Mat walked round the block for the fourth time – waiting for the minute hand to make one more step towards completing the fourth hour – his quiet emergent confidence had all but dissipated. He had called in at his house to change out of his uniform. From the limited selection of clothes on the bedroom floor, he opted for black flared jeans and a lilac grandad shirt and desert boot. His donkey jacket would keep him warm.
The prospect of a conversation with Julia Barham had initially unnerved him. This feeling grew, and now, forty-eight hours on he felt wobbly kneed, tongue tied, and defenceless - seventeen going on thirteen.
Julia and her gang – she wasn’t the leader – bloomed early around the start of year three. They had been the primary sexual stimulation of the senior boys over the last three years. They weren’t any more badly behaved than anyone else; they been guilty only of gaining an early physical maturity. Mat realised, only this year, that maybe it was not as good place to be as it appeared; it was not an easy journey to travel. His friendship with Ellen had brought out an empathy in him for the role of an attractive girl in a largely male environment. But the prospect of this meeting today, in nine minutes, had demolished any supposed progression in his emotional maturity and also, sadly, reduced Julia to a wonderous image, an unobtainable icon. He might as well have been meeting Blondie.
As his Casio watch flicked to 15.59, he pushed open the door of the café. Despite the Anglicized name, it was Italian in style, dark wooden high-backed benches at tables of four, or six at push, orthogonal to the walls. He immediately wished he had looked in earlier as he had no orientation. Small groups of young people filled most of the tables. Students, smoking, chatting, nothing threatening. A waitress approached him, as, fortunately, he heard the second louder call of his name. ‘Matthew, I’m over here.’